If you know what life is worth, you will look for yours on earth…
Twenty-two years ago, I was just minding my own business.
At the consulting company where I worked, I had just finished developing BankBoston’s HomeLink & OfficeLink banking applications, and was about to roll onto a new project for a local startup.
I received an email from some new hire who was moving our (land-line!) telephones to the new team area. As you might expect, she ended by saying that anyone having concerns should call her at extension 1366.
Just one problem there: x1366 was my phone number!
I immediately emailed her back and discovered that she’d accidentally typed my extension (1366) by transposing the digits of her own (1633). Not an auspicious first impression for a new hire fresh out of college, whom I was going to have to work with on my next project!
And that’s ho »more
Well, that was curious...
Inna and I have a saying: “Nothing good can happen if you don’t leave the house.” Usually it’s a simple reminder to help motivate us to fight the inertia of rest and get outside. However, once in a while it also comes up when we go out and something unexpected, good, or interesting happens.
Today we went out for a walk to enjoy Pittsburgh’s rather generous definition of "fresh air and sunshine". It was the first time either of us have been outdoors (for more than a couple minutes) since we went into self-imposed Corona virus lockdown nine days ago.
Our route included a cul de sac in some nearby parkland that’s commonly used as a meeting place for anonymous gay hook-ups. Since the road is cambered to both sides for drainage, Inna suggested we walk right down »more
“No matter how much I meditate, I’ll never become Enlightened, whatever that is.” So said an experienced practitioner during one of my meditation groups’ Q&A periods.
I had a strong and immediate reaction, because her understanding of Enlightenment is based on a frustratingly common misconception, and her despairing attitude is completely unnecessary.
To be fair, most Buddhist texts do an awful job explaining Enlightenment (aka Nirvana, Nibbana, arahantship). It’s usually described as a one-time, life-changing accomplishment that completely and permanently obliterates our greed, hatred, delusion, and all the doubts and dissatisfactions of normal life.
That’s a great goal to aspire to, especially if it motivates you to meditate. But there are three big drawbacks.
The first problem is t »more
Meditation teachers will often refer to scientific studies on the effects of meditation, such as the Dalai Lama’s well-publicized cooperation with western neuroscientists, which goes back more than 30 years.
As a garden-variety practitioner, I never imagined my brainwaves would be of interest to the scientific community.
However, when our Wednesday evening meditation group leader forwarded an email from the CMU Brain-Computer Interaction lab recruiting experienced meditators as subjects, I decided to sign up. After all, I had the requisite background, ample free time, a modicum of curiosity, and willingness to pocket some easy cash.
The experiment’s primary question: “Does meditation help you learn how to control a computer with just your mind?”
This is part of their larger investiga »more
So we have a global health crisis on our hands. The COVID-19 virus has eluded even our harshest attempts at containment, and there’s no prospect of either a preventative or treatment, other than for associated diagnoses such as pneumonia.
With an unknown number of infectious but asymptomatic carriers wandering around, Inna and I have taken the only measure anyone can do, which is complete social self-isolation.
No more Monday or Wednesday meditation groups, and I prematurely ended my brief stint as a CMU brain research subject. Inna has cancelled a business trip, two seminars in Austin, and plans to take the salt cave women’s group she leads online.
We don’t plan on leaving our apartment except for safely isolated outdoor activities like hikes, or emergency grocery runs. We’re pret »more
I was so proud when I completed all 25 of Zwift’s course achievements that I wrote about it in a December 1st blogpost.
Six days later, Zwift decided to add 42 new course badges, including ones for all their most difficult routes. Sigh.
I guess the upside of having 42 new carrots to chase was that completing them gave me enough Experience Point bonuses to rise from Level 29 to 33 over the course of December and January.
And all that riding helped me reach a new all-time record level of fitness, as measured by a Chronic Training Load score of 98.18… in January!
By February 1st, I'd earned 65 course badges, with only the two hardest routes left to do: the hellaciously hilly “Über Pretzel”, and the tedious and repetitive 11-lap “PRL Full”.
Both of those wound up being “Zenturies”: indoo »more
After sixteen years of vipassana meditation practice, I’ve heard a sizable swath of the dhamma. So it’s not very often that I run into something new: an idea that provides an exciting ah-ha satori moment of discovery, which happened so often when the teachings were new to me. So it’s a precious surprise when I find a new nugget of wisdom.
To be fair, this particular insight derives more from Western psychotherapy than Asian Buddhism, since it comes from Rhonda, a local meditation teacher who also doubles as a therapist. But that in no way detracts from its value.
In a recent post-meditation Q&A session, we were discussing a familiar character—the person whose life is overflowing with drama, problems, and chatter—and how difficult it can be to maintain inner quietude and offer compass »more
Over the years I’ve collected a huge number of cycling jerseys. Some are purely utilitarian, but most have some personal meaning, whether from a ride or a club or some other association.
As I mentioned in my year-in-review post, in 2019 I picked up three new jerseys, each noteworthy for some reason. And two of them violate cycling’s code of style! That's enough talking points to justify a dedicated blogpo.
My first new kit breaks both the Velominati’s Rule #17 and my own personal ethics, which is that you should never wear pro team kit unless you are a professional being paid to ride for that team. Lance Armstrong’s team kit manages to simultaneously look amateurish and pretentious when worn by a 50 year-old overweight MAMIL toodling down the local bike path.
But a jersey from a te »more
Merged all Flickr photos posted on one day into a single entry. Also excluded any tables in Livejournal posts.
In contrast with a miserable 2018, 2019 was a complete renewal: possibly my best remaining year on the bike, and arguably the best of my entire lifetime.
Beyond the numbers, though, was how easy it felt. After my first winter using a smart trainer and Zwift, I began the season already near peak form. It was such a different feeling, without the usual early-season suffering to build fitness, and I went into every major event strong, confident, and at ease.
Cyclists come in many flavors: roadies, commuters, mountain bikers, racers. Then within the ranks of roadies, you have sprinters, climbers, all-rounders, endurance riders, and more.
It might sound odd then that after such a long time—exactly 1,000 weeks, in fact—I still struggle to find where I fit in that spectrum.
It’s obvious I’m not a sprinter. My top-end power is perfectly described by the term “pedestrian”.
Does that mean I’m a climber: a grimpeur, as they say? Not if you judge by my build, or my performance in the Dirty Dozen! True climbers are much lighter than my (reasonably scrawny) 77kg, and usually much shorter, too. My best strategy for becoming a climber involves losing 6kg of weight and nine inches of height by cutting my head off at the neck.
But I do drop people on sho »more
The long-delayed writeup of last March’s weeklong excursion to Raleigh/Durham and Charlotte, North Carolina. Added here more to complete our set of scouting reports than to provide anything of interest to readers.
Thu March 14: Travel
We left on the warmest early spring day Pittsburgh had seen thus far in 2019, although we still passed snow in the Laurel Highlands. As we drove south beyond Richmond VA, we came across dogwoods and magnolia trees in blossom, and a surprising amount of mixed forest. It was a long but bearable 8 hour drive, and traffic wasn't intolerable.
Fri March 15: Raleigh
After the usual preliminaries, we spent the day chec »more
This fall Zwift added 25 new achievements to their existing set. The new ones are based on completing specific routes, which earn both an achievement badge as well as bonus experience points. A sucker for XP, I recently finished completing the entire set.
Of Zwift’s known cycling achievements, I’ve earned 57, leaving 7 badges that I’ve yet to achieve. And therein lies the rub.
One of them is simply a matter of time. Once you’ve climbed Alpe du Zwift—Zwift’s in-game copy of France’s Alpe d’Huez—25 times, you earn the “Masochist” badge. It’s a tough climb, but no problem there; I’ve a »more
To make this late-season update a little more interesting, I decided to do a video update.
The TLDR is this: contrary to expectations, my season ended quite abruptly, but not before a record-shattering 2019. Now, with snow flying in Pittsburgh, I’m mostly transitioning back to the indoor trainer and my virtual Zwift world, amidst daydreams and scheming for 2020.
There won’t be much more to tell before my usual end-of-year summary, but that’ll be a big post, as I hope to do justice to this exceptional year. But for now, here’s a quick audiovisual update:
With the end of cycling’s high season, I was free to spend a week with Inna checking out Portland. Not the familiar largest city in Maine, where I lived for eight years, but its namesake, the largest city in the state of Oregon.
Although we’d both visited before, neither of us had experienced much of the city itself. My 2004 visit was based an hour east of Portland, at Timberline Lodge on the slopes of Mt. Hood; and in 2008 my second visit was even farther away in coastal Astoria and Seaside. Inna’s only visit had been for a brief convention. So Portland was a new city to us. But we had pretty high hopes, based on its reputation and several friends’ experiences.
Wed 2 October
Inna framed by the Columbia River at Vista House
Travel day, flying Pittsburgh to Chicago to Portland. Upon ar »more
Another year, another edition of Pittsburgh’s signature Dirty Dozen ride.
Although I conquered the challenging course in 2017, I wasn’t in physical or mental condition to ride last year; instead I threw my camera bag over my shoulder and played photographer, bagging 350 action shots while driving frantically between the course’s five steepest hills, trying to simultaneously keep pace with seven different groups of riders.
Despite this year's record-smashing cycling season, over the past two months I was plagued by a strained achilles, a lingering cold, plus a week of travel. I didn’t do any of the Dirty Dozen group training rides, and was in no shape to approach those hills on a bike myself. So I spent another day documenting other riders’ suffering and triumphs.
That’s okay tho, bec »more
A while back, I came across an article entitled “These are the bad things about early retirement that no one talks about” (sic).
Although I haven’t (to my knowledge) retired, I have some firsthand experience, having successfully avoided working for 11 of the past 18 years. And I don’t think the article contains any significant revelations.
Let’s look at the author’s five main points about early retirement, before I tell you the meaningful lessons I’ve learned from taking time off.
You will suffer an identity crisis for an unknown period.
I think this only applies if you largely derive your identity from your employer. In a time when corporations offer zero loyalty to employees, identifying with an ephemeral job is a dangerous, outdated delusion.
Since I’ve always had a strong sense »more