The Curmudgeon Abides

This month marks four years since I finally stopped renewing consulting contracts, which made me officially retired.  Since then, I have continued to maintain my pro bono client lists, and took some time to learn enough Python coding to put up a custom webcam at home, but have let my professional organization memberships lapse and do less coding than ever.  I have continued to create bad videos of our too-infrequent bicycle rides, but the technical skills are gradually eroding without some stimulus to keep up.

Recently, that stimulus came with signing up for the Quora social media site, in which participants can ask questions about random subjects, which get directed to members who have listed some level of expertise in those particular subjects.  So, I get asked questions about software engineering, Linux, operating systems in general, and other related fields which are fading from memory, forcing me to do a bit of research to verify facts I think I know for sure, but which invariably turn out to be not true [or at least, any more].

As a result, my rambling and sometimes oblique discourses on things about which I know very little, but about which I have strong opinions yet, get thrust upon the world, or at least the segment of the Quora community interested in such things.  Some questions are inane, badly formed, or prompt me to ask myself, “People do that now?”  At any rate, a lot of questions get multiple answers, and the answers are ranked by how many members (which may or may not include the original member who posed the question) “upvote” a particular answer.  Quora tends to encourage continued participation by announcing who has upvoted your answer, but that is tempered by statistics showing how many people have seen your answer.  Which, if you weigh that against the paucity of upvotes, means most users glanced at it and moved on.  At least I haven’t seen any “downvotes,” yet.

The social engineering model is fueled by advertising: if users bother to read your post past the opening paragraph, they are greeted by an advertisement before getting to see the rest of the response.  So, Quora has a vested interest in getting lots of responses to questions, and generating lots of questions to be answered.  A large percentage of the questions I get fed are apparently generated by an AI algorithm rather than a real person.  The majority of questions submitted by real people are ones that come from those interested in how to advance in the field, or aspiring programmers curious about pay scales.  Students wonder about the downside of struggling to become a code monkey: how to advance without a formal education or survive in the industry long enough to pay off student loans.  Some, I assume, are looking for answers to class problems without doing their own research.

There are the usual Linux versus Windows arguments, and some loaded questions, possibly posed by ringers to justify promoting a point of view.  A number of the respondents to questions have impressive résumés, and are much better qualified to answer the questions authoritatively than I or many of the others that offer what are clearly biased opinions not grounded in fact.  Many of the questions appear to come from practitioners and aspirants who are in the global marketplace, not many with down-home American monikers like Joe and Charlie, which leads me to fear that the U.S. heartland just isn’t growing a lot of technologists these days, but have relinquished progress to ambitious immigrants and the growing tech sector in the developing world.

So it goes.  Besides keeping my personal technical knowledge base current, and maybe passing on some historical lore to the new generation of coders and admins, I’m preserving a tenuous connection with the community, albeit virtual rather than face-to-face.  However, after a long career of being either the lone “factory rep” at a customer site or the lone Unix guy at a Windows shop, dependent on USENET or other on-line forums for community, it isn’t much different.  It’s as close as I can get to being part of a “Senior Net,” offering advice and guidance as a community service.  And, I get to learn new things, or at least remember the old ones better.

 

 

Internet Purgatory

I’m writing the draft of this post on a word processor (LibreOffice, naturally), for a good reason. We’ve had the same web hosting provider for 17 years, ever since we moved from Missoula to Hamilton in Montana and lost access to ISDN services. For two years before that, we had hosted our own web sites and email from a couple of servers hung from the floor joists, in the basement.

When we needed to find a new home for our Internet presence, Modwest, a new and growing Missoula company, stepped in. The plans they provided were ideal: running on Linux servers, with SSH (Secure Shell) login access and the ability to park multiple domains on one account (at that time, we had two already: parkins.org and info-engineering-svc.com). Everything worked fine, and we added and deleted domains over the years, for ourselves (realizations-mt.com and judyparkins.com) and, temporarily, for clients (onewomandesigns.com). It just worked, and we also added WordPress engines to our personal/business domains. My programming sorted out which domain got served which landing page, and the links from there went to subdomains to keep the filesets separate.

We finally retired the old quilting web site, realizations-mt.com, when the registration expired in early 2018, but rolled the legacy pages into a subdomain of judyparkins.com to keep her client galleries on-line. Then, this spring, Modwest announced they had sold out to Intertune, another web hosting provider headquartered in San Diego. Billing transferred to the new host, with the same pricing. Fine. But, eventually, they told us, the websites and mailboxes would be transferred to the Intertune servers. The Internet thrives on economies of scale—the bigger the organization, the fewer resources are needed for failover, backup, and support.

So, at an inconvenient time (we planned to be out-of-town for a week), they informed us that our parkins.org account would be migrated, so we dutifully switched the collective domains to the new servers, upon which our blogs disappeared, and the other two domains disappeared entirely, along with mail service. Frantic exchanges by phone and email ensued:

Them: “Oh, we’re only migrating parkins.org at this time.”

Us: “But, they share a file set, database, and mailboxes, and have subdomains. It’s one account. And you didn’t migrate the subdomain content at all.”

Them: “Oh, gee, we’ve never seen anything like this. (ed. Note: almost all web hosting services support this.) Switch the others back to Modwest. We’ll get back to you.”

Us: “Unsatisfactory—they are all one and the same, just different names in DNS.”

Us: “Hello? Is anybody there?”

Us: “Our blogs still don’t work, and our mail is scattered across several mail servers.”

Them: “OK, we’ll do what you said, for judyparkins.com and the subdomains.”

Us: “You didn’t. The subdomains sort of work, but the WordPress installation doesn’t, because the three domains are intertwined.”

Them: “OK, try the judyparkins.com now.”

Us: “The blog works, sort of, for Judy’s, but mine doesn’t, and judyparkins.com isn’t receiving mail.

Them: “Oh, wrong mail server. Try it now.”

Us: “OK, now do the same thing for info-engineering-svc.com”

Us: “Hello? Is anybody there? It looks like your servers are pointed the right way, but the email and blogs still don’t work.”

Them: “Oh, wrong mail server. Try it now.”

Us: “OK, the mail works now, but the Larye blog is totally broken: I can’t see blogs.info-engineering-svc.com at all, and the admin page on blogs.parkins.org is broken yet. I can’t publish anything or respond to comments, nada.”

Us: “Hello? Is anybody there?”

Us: “Hello? … Hello?

Now, we could have decided early in this process to not trust them to migrate this successfully and moved everything to a different hosting service, but that would involve a setup fee and transferring all of our files ourselves—which, for the web, isn’t a big deal, but migrating 20,000 emails sitting in hundreds of folders on an IMAP server is—and working through an unfamiliar web control panel, so we didn’t. We should have, as the same level of service, with more space, is actually cheaper on the web hosting service we had before we moved to Montana in 1999.

But, meanwhile,  we’re busy, so a few days passed, and they still hadn’t replied to my latest comm check.  Rather than risk exposing my latent Tourette Syndrome with an expletive-laden outburst via email, I rechecked their servers to see if the info-engineering-svc.com site was working again.  It was, so I switched the domain pointers in ICANN, and waited.  The blog still didn’t work, and I sent another, unacknowledged message to say so.  But, finally, the info-engineering-svc.com blog started working [no reponse from Intertune, but it’s not magic, so they did something], at least in the display mode.  The administrative pages still did not work.

In between guests and visiting relatives, I decided to troubleshoot the WordPress installation, as something was definitely amiss, now that everything was on the same server.  But, changes to the configuration files seemed to have no effect, and a check of the error logs showed the same errors, which didn’t reflect the changes I had made.  A comparison of the installed file set with my backup I had taken before the migration showed no differences: The light begins to dawn, that my blog installation doesn’t match what Intertune is actually serving.

Sure enough, there is a ~/blogs folder, which I had instructed Intertune to configure as the blogs subdomain, and a ~/www/blogs folder, a different version of the wp-admin file set.  After a quick check to make sure that the dozen or two different files in the wp-admin folder were the only differences in the several thousand files in the blog, I copied the version from my backup into the “live” folder, and violá! the admin dashboard appeared, and here we are, composing the rest of the story on-line.

As it turns out, Intertune did not follow my instructions, but did something different, and did not tell me (not for the first time, either).  Somewhere in the middle of the migration, my blog installation got updated, and Judy’s did not, when the blogs were split between Modwest and Intertune, so that the update was only partial, breaking the installation when Intertune took it upon themselves to migrate files I had already manually installed, but to a different location.

So it goes.  One clue was in the WordPress FAQ, which suggested that a HTTP 500 error might be corrected by re-installing the wp-admin directory, which turned out to be the case. Whether we stay with Intertune or not depends on whether we meet any more difficulty with a tech staff that seems incredibly inept, and how much more work we want to do to move our Internet presence to yet another new hosting service, with new rules, and setup fees.  Our old webmail installation no longer works, being reconfigured by Intertune to use their web mail client instead, but we can live with that, and it’s less work for us, though with also less versatility and customization.  Now, to finish tweaking all the PHP-language scripts in the webs for compatibility with PHP 5.3.29.

Rites of Passage: Remembering STP 1983

Thirty-five years ago, in the winter/spring of 1983, I was 39 years old, and at a crossroads in my life.  A rocky marriage had finally crumbled into dust, and I was car-less and homeless, living in a camper in a co-worker’s back yard.  At least I still had my job, which my boss had pulled out of the fire by sending me to a counselor.  And, I had my bicycle, a well-used 1979 Fuji Gran Tourer  12-speed I had bought new after my also well-used toy-store C. Itoh 10-speed had been stolen from outside the bar in Newport, Rhode Island, where the crew gathered after work, and where I had spent too much time.

In 1983, I was working in Poulsbo, Washington.  The 4th running of the Seattle-To-Portland Bicycle Classic (STP) was coming up in June.  I had heard of the first event, in 1979, not long after getting the Fuji, my first quality bicycle. Having been a bicycle commuter since 1976, I had begun to consider the possibility that one could actually ride farther than the 8-10 miles per day I spent cycling back and forth between home, work, and the customer site.  The idea of a 200-mile ride was intriguing, to say the least, but, at that point, only a curiosity.

But, now, having boosted my commute from 4 miles one way to 17 miles one way after transferring to Washington State and having lived nearly a year in ’79-’80 without a car, long-distance cycling progressed from a curious anomaly to an achievable goal.  The bicycling season in the mild climate of Puget Sound begins with the Chilly Hilly, a 50-km tour of Bainbridge Island, and I signed up for the 1983 edition.  The Chilly Hilly is also opening day for registration for the STP, and I got an application.

The STP application form stated that the event was “a grueling test of endurance for those who have properly prepared themselves.”  So, I bought a $300 car (i.e., about the same as I had paid for my bicycle), started training after work instead of commuting to and from work, had my steel rims replaced with aluminum alloy, and settled into a progressive endurance training regimen.  On Mother’s Day, 1983, I rode my first century (100 miles/ 160 km), a ride which included three ferries: Port Townsend-Keystone, Clinton-Mukilteo, and Edmonds-Kingston.

After a few more 125-km rides on weekends, I thought I was ready.  The day before the event, went home with my boss, Bud Williams, who lived on the Edmonds side of the ferry run.  We got up at 3:00 am, and he drove me downtown Seattle, where the one-day ride started at City Hall, with nearly 800 riders registered.  The two-day riders had left the day before.  At 4:00 am, the first group of us pushed off, headed south up the Green River Valley.

It was a shock to ride with so many other cyclists.  A peloton of 100 or more riders formed for the run up the valley, at a speed I knew I couldn’t sustain for long, running at 35 km/hr.  Before long, the group broke up, and I settled into the 28 km/hr that was my sustained commuting cruise speed, cranking up the hill between Puyallup and the aptly named Summit with relative ease, at a comfortable pace.

By the time I reached the town of Yelm, in Thurston County, I realized my food plan was inadequate for the long ride.  In my commuting and even long training rides, I had not worked out a nutrition and hydration plan.  For this ride, I had brought a supply of granola, traditional backpacking fare, and a bag of Gatorade powder, as I had read that electrolyte replacement was necessary for endurance cycling, but hadn’t tried it before.  I stopped at a local diner and ordered a meal, cutting into my overall speed considerably.

Out on the prairie, the flow of riders continued, punctuated by vans supporting organized teams of riders, scantily clad women tossing water bottles and musettes to the riders as they passed.  In those early days of the STP, little thought was given to event-provided support along the way.  After several hours of riding, nature calls were a problem, but the more organized teams solved it in the classic Tour d’ France method: groups of riders pulled off the road, faced the pastures, and let fly.

After passing through Centralia and crossing I-5, the route climbed into a rolling plateau, through the tiny towns of Winlock and Vader before paralleling the freeway.  I stopped again near Castle Rock for yet another meal at a roadside diner.  I removed a layer, setting my shirt temporarily on the rear rack, remembering too late, miles down the road: by that time, the shirt was gone.  By now, the ride was well past my previous training distance, and I was in new territory, physiologically.  Soon, Longview and the Columbia River came into view, with an exciting climb over the high bridge, the shoulder littered with chunks of bark and other debris from the logging industry.

Once on the Oregon side, the effects of eating large meals, drinking too much Gatorade, and hours of strenuous exercise took their toll: a sudden bout of intestinal cramps sent me off the highway up into the woods, miles from the nearest town.  Seized again by cramps a few miles later, I spent some time at a convenient gas station rest room, then continued down the road, only to turn back a mile or two later for a return engagement.  Remember this was early in the start of the extreme sports craze, and most of us were clueless to the effects on the human body and how to properly fuel and hydrate for such an event.

Meanwhile, us slowest of one-day riders began overtaking the slowest of two-day riders as we approached the city, so navigation into Portland was a matter of following the line of bicycles to the Portland City Hall, where we checked in.  My time:  14 hours, 50 minutes, 570th place among the 750 one-day finishers.  The winning time that year was 9 hours, 30 minutes, by a female tandem team, both U.S. women’s racing champions, who had passed me near Bucoda, surrounded by a squadron of domestiques.

The registration forms had offered shared hotel rooms, intended for people traveling together, but most of us, simply looking for a bargain, checked the box, and got—to the consternation of the front desk—paired up with complete strangers for our overnight accommodation.  While waiting for my assigned roommate to finish showering, I stretched out on the bed.  And awoke at dawn, very hungry, and still in my shorts and jersey.

In the early days of the event, the ride started on Friday and Saturday, with a big brunch buffet and awards ceremony on Sunday morning.  Needless to say, I filled my plate several times.  At 39, I thought I was old, but the ceremony honored the oldest finisher, at 72.  My lack of support (I was carrying a change of clothes, food, water, and electrolyte powder in panniers) and my ill-advised restaurant stops had put me far down in the ranking, though it technically wasn’t a race.  But, I had finished a double century!  202 miles, 325 km, all in one very long day.

Later that day, those of us who didn’t have friends and family supporting us along the way loaded our bikes into a baggage car and boarded the train at Union Station for the trip back to Seattle.  On arrival, I rode my bike to Coleman dock, boarded the ferry to Bainbridge Island, and rode home to my borrowed camper near Kingston.

I didn’t ride my bike the first few days that week, but, on Friday, I realized it was a holiday weekend: I loaded my camping gear on the bike, and headed for Port Angeles 120 km away, took the ferry to Victoria, BC, Canada, riding 25 km west to Goldstream Provincial Park.  The next morning, I rode back through Victoria and up the coast to Sydney, took the ferry to Anacortes, Washington, and camped that night at Deception Pass State Park.  I rode home to Kingston via Port Townsend on Sunday, adding another 200 miles to the total for the two weekends.

I had become a bicycle tourist, by accident more than intent.  I made at least one more weekend excursion that summer, but extended business trips to California and a new job assignment back to Rhode Island delayed pursuing this new adventure until 1986, when Judy and I got our first tandem, for our first anniversary, and started touring together.  We also rode the STP, in 1987, but took the two-day option, staying overnight in Chehalis, and riding in sometimes heavy rain the next day into Portland, where the end point had moved to Lloyd Center, to accommodate the 10,000 riders to which the ever-popular ride is now limited, and for which the organizers provide excellent support stations along the way.  The two-day riders aren’t timed, but our personal log said we spent 20 hours total on the road, about the same average speed we still ride, 31 years later, but for shorter distances.

Raising Software: A Tale of Unruly Tools

One of my retirement hobbies has been shooting and editing videos, mostly of our bicycle adventures.  When I was young, back in the middle of the 20th century, one of my uncles had a movie camera and projector, and I learned to splice broken film and edit clips together with razor blades and transparent tape.  He moved away and I grew up, and the skill was filed away as just another data point in How The World Works.

Fast forward to the second decade of the 21st century, when I decided to strap a cheap digital camera to the handlebars of the bicycle.  Digital editing requires software, a much less messy and more forgiving (i.e., non-destructive to the original “film”) process.  Since we use Linux exclusively as our computing platform of choice, there were a number of choices for Open Source video editing projects, mostly attempts to clone commercial video editing software for Windows and Apple.

I looked at Cinelerra and Kdenlive, which are fairly complex tools with a steep learning curve, but settle on OpenShot, a simpler tool with a lot of attractive features and a cleaner, no frills user interface.  Openshot 1 was essentially a one-man project, a user interface written in Python with the Tk graphical toolkit, built on the Unix principle of lots of little programs working together, using the multimedia command-line editor ffmpeg and associated libraries, the Inkscape vector graphics editor, and the Blender animation tools and libraries.

Openshot 1.4.3

OpenShot made it possible to load up a project with multiple clips, arrange them on a timeline, trim the ends or snip out shorter clips, and add titles and audio tracks, like voice-over and musical scores, in multiple overlaid tracks, and turn video and audio on and off by track and clip.   For several years, this worked fine.  However, success is not always a good thing, and Openshot suffered from it.  Not in the usual riches-to-rags story of an entrepreneur or rock star who descends into excess and loses his way, but in the attempt to seek wider appeal.

OpenShot was originally a purely Linux product, as mentioned.  To port the project to Windows, it was necessary, for a project with limited manpower resources, to keep a common code base.  Openshot attempts to keep a smoothly flowing user interface through parallel processing, using OpenMP.  The Windows philosophy is based on a single-user, single-task model rather than the multi-user, multi-tasking model of Unix.  When Windows evolved into a multi-tasking system, it used the pre-emptive model, which is relatively inefficient for the pipelined processing flow in the Unix cooperative model.  So, Windows applications tend to be monolithic, with all resources loaded in one huge process.  Parallel processing in Windows monolithic applications is accomplished largely through threads, rather the inter-process communication protocols.  I’ve programmed with threads in Linux, which tends to be tricky at best, and takes a thorough knowledge of parallel processing and memory management to do successfully.

The move to Windows-compatible architecture necessitated rewriting a lot of the Unix-specific standard library code in C++, which introduces the danger of memory-management issues. Openshot began to get buggy, with newer versions crashing often.  The developers claim it is the fault of unstable system libraries, but I’m not buying that explanation.  Since the user interface was also getting a major overhaul, work on version 2 meant that no more bug fixes were forthcoming for the now-crippled version 1.4.3.  Alas, initial releases of Version 2, with the back end still largely 1.4 code base, was also prone to crashing as well as presenting an unfamiliar user experience.

Openshot 2.4.1

So, we stayed with version 1.4.3 for a while longer, with short auto-save intervals.  Finally, with crashes and deadlocks rampant, we just had to try version 2 again.  Yes, the crashes had been largely fixed, but the new version was a monolithic package wrapped in a “launcher,”  (AppImage), apparently a type of container tool including all of the library dependencies, which rapidly ate up all available memory and much of the swap space, becoming so slow as to be indistinguishable from deadlock. Memory leaks come to mind when seeing this type of behavior.  On top of that, some of our favorite tools for controlling video blanking and audio muting by track were missing, to be restored by popular demand in a future revision.   Back to 1.4.3 .

Kdenlive

The other alternative, kdenlive, based on the Konquerer Desktop Environment (kde, not native to Ubuntu, thus necessitating loading the complete KDE library support suite), is yet another learning curve, with many editing feature differences and rendering options.  We did use this for one video, as the internal de-shaking algorithm is a bit more efficient than reprocessing the clips with command-line utilities, and we had a bad experience with a new camera mount that was sensitive to shaking.  Kdenlive also crashes from time to time, lending some credence to the Openshot claim that the system libraries are at fault.

But, I continue on, putting up with slow response, freezes, and crashes, because I’m familiar with the features I like, and it produces acceptable videos.   I may spend some time to learn kdenlive, but, hopefully, Openshot 2 will improve over time.  The other alternative is to try to build a native Ubuntu version from source, which is a daunting task, since most open source software has a very specific support software version dependencies.   Despite the woes with Openshot’s growing pains, it is still faster than writing command-line scripts to use the Linux multi-media-processing utilities ffmpeg or avconv to trim and assemble video clips and sound files.  I use those command-line tools to assemble time-lapse videos from my home-built security camera system, but that is much simpler.

Road Trip 2018: California

Mount Shasta – photo by Judy

We arrived at Judy’s brother-in-law’s condo in Anaheim at midday, and settled in for a week of visiting.  Since Judy’s sister passed away in 2011, we try to get to Anaheim in the winter to check on Ben, who is in his 90s.  They moved to Garden Grove from the Pacific Northwest more than 50 years ago, when it was becoming less strawberry fields and more suburban sprawl.  They later moved to Anaheim hills and, when their children, our nieces and nephews, grew up, moved into the condo in Anaheim, where Ben still lives.  One of our nephews lives across the courtyard in the same condo complex, and the other lives in Montana in the summer home they built 35 years ago, and where Ben still spends summers.

We had decided to travel in our bicycle carrier this year, which only has two seats, because we thought Ben had a car we could use to take him places during our visit.  We were a bit disappointed to find the vehicle was not running, and our nephew apparently not interested in getting it running, as he disapproved of his 92-year-old father driving in the city (as do we, if truth be told–we don’t even like driving in heavy traffic anymore, ourselves).  Ben does have friends that pick him up for his bowling league days, and his daughter-in-law sometimes takes him to his medical appointments, so it wasn’t a problem for the first few days: I did take him to an appointment once, in the truck, and we took advantage of his bowling days to go bike riding.

Except, when we suited up in our bicycling kits and went out to go riding, we discovered our truck, with the bicycle inside, was missing.  We quickly discovered that, though we had a parking permit in the car, I had failed to hang it back on the mirror after an outing, and the condo complex towing service had confiscated our vehicles.  We got our nephew to pick us up on his lunch break and take us to the impound yard in Orange, where we ransomed the rig for $265 US, approximately equal to our fuel budget to get home.  We did drive to our planned riding venue, on the opposite side of the city, and managed to burn off our frustration and anger in a 28-km dash down one of the concrete-lined waterways that drain the Los Angeles basin, most of which have bike paths on the tops, with ramps under the cross-street bridges.  As with most, the Coyote Creek drainage had a peppering of homeless camps under the bridges, but not as many as some of the areas.  The creek joins the San Gabriel River and follows it to the sea at Seal Beach.

Cerritos-SealBeach from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

The next bowling day, we drove south to Huntington Beach and rode the bike trail along the beach, for a 25-km flat run.  Since the beach is obviously multi-use, with many pedestrians and rental bikes, there is a speed limit of 25 km/hr (which we easily exceeded with a slight tail wind), dropping to 8 km/hr when pedestrians are present, which is, on our long tandem, close to “stall speed,” and actually less safe.  We managed to avoid serious conflicts and, since it was still winter, with low traffic, the beach police were not in evidence and we didn’t get any speeding tickets.  The return run was against the wind, so keeping under the speed limit was not a problem, though the afternoon had warmed enough so the pier area was a bit more crowded with strollers, walkers, and rental bikes and quads, prompting some fancy maneuvering in lieu of slowing to tip-over speeds.   We had put on such a long face when we arrived at the state park parking lot and were told the entry fee was$15 US that, upon inquiry as to whether there was a discount for elderly cyclists who only wanted to take a short ride on the beach, the ranger waived the fee altogether (possibly because he did not offer us the senior rate in the first place).

Huntington Beach from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

Frustrated in our plan to take Ben on outings, we took a risk and used the sleeping platform as a rear seat, sans seat belts, and went to a few of the local malls in search of lunch out, returning without incident. However, by the end of the day, I was feeling a bit out of sorts. Not long after we had arrived, I decided to consult one of the local walk-in clinics about my back issues, having pulled a muscle manhandling the bike when we stopped to ride in Yuma the week before. This seemed reasonable, since our health provider in Washington was now part of the California conglomerate. Except, it wasn’t. I had to get a separate account number, etc. After filling out the paperwork, we grabbed a couple of face masks and sat in the busy waiting room.

 

Living Dangerously, in the Kaiser Permanente clinic in Orange, CA. Photo by Judy

Of course, the back problems subsided, so there was no groaning or grimacing when I was examined, and range of motion tests were not at all convincing, since I have practiced yoga regularly for the past eight years and have a better range than I did when I was 20. I left with the advice to simply increase the dosage of the anti-inflammatory I take for my computer-usage-induced arthritic hands for a couple of weeks, which was fine. But, despite having worn face masks in the waiting room, I somehow contracted “what’s going around,” upper respiratory crud. We had planned to depart on Sunday anyway, and explore parts of California we hadn’t been to, like Death Valley, and spend a few more days getting home, but, after spending most of Saturday sleeping, we decided to head directly home, rather than camping and visiting more relatives and friends on the way.

Oroville Dam, nearing completion of the repairs from the spillway failures of 2017.

We stayed overnight in Sacramento, at the same motel we stopped at on our way south last year, east of the city, so we took secondary roads north rather than drive back through the city in Monday rush hour. This put us close to the Oroville Dam, famous for the spillway failure during last year’s heavy rains, so we took a side trip to the visitor center, the dam overlook areas themselves still closed during the repairs. This was a delightful surprise, as the center features a history and display of the native people as well as of white settlement and the construction and failure of the dam.

We continued north, reversing our route of last year, staying at the same motel in Medford, Oregon, then stopping at Green Gear Cycles in Eugene, where our Bike Friday tandem was built, to check out their new E-bike conversion program.  We could convert ours for a reasonable cost, which supposedly would make it possible for us to ride farther and up steeper hills again, but the cost might not be reasonable for this fiscal year: we’re still recovering from last year’s expenses.  So, we left with some ideas of whether we wanted to do that and when, and, in keeping with our proclivity to avoid freeways, took old 99(W) to McMinnville and then to Hillsboro and down to the Columbia.  By this time, I had overextended my feverish condition, so Judy took over at Scapoose and drove the rest of the way home.  Since we had not planned to be home quite so soon, it wasn’t too much of an effort to hunker down and stay home until the virus passed.  Fortunately, Judy did not contract it.

The Longview-Rainier bridge, spanning the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington. Hard to imagine now that we once rode our old tandem across this bridge, in 1987.

All in all, our expedition this winter was not as satisfying as it could have been.  We encountered the usual run of bad weather, so unpredictable in winter, so our lodging costs were higher than we had planned.  It simply wasn’t a good time to visit.  We missed seeing three of the great-grandchildren because they were either working or visiting other grandparents.  Several families were going through difficult relationship issues, so our presence was an unnecessary complication rather than a joyful family reunion.  The weather became a factor that reduced the number of bike rides we took, so taking the camper van and bike with the low fuel efficiency combined with staying mostly in motels anyway meant the rides were expensive.  We’ve always bristled at the permanent checkpoints scattered across the southern regions of the country, well within the borders, and this trip, we encountered most of them.  Illness while traveling is never fun, and it changes plans.  We’re trying to fill our our bucket list, so there aren’t that many opportunities to put missed targets back on the list for another year.    Staying with Ben at his “winter home,” we had no Internet access, even through our phones, as there was no WiFi and poor cell signal.  One day, we went to the Anaheim Public Library, but the access there was disappointingly slow.

On the bright side, we got to see our new great-great-granddaughter and meet our great-grandson’s new family (even though he was not available, being at work).   We did have four bike rides, adding more than 100 km to our total for the year and keeping us ready to ride more as the weather improves at home.  Our van ran smoothly, justifying the expense last year to get it “expedition ready,” as it survived a second long trip without incident, though we have since had to replace the radiator and hoses during routine maintenance, another expensive repair to ensure continued reliability.

Musings on Unix, Bicycling, Quilting, Weaving, Old Houses, and other diversions

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