Snow Day

For once, a predicted snowstorm here didn’t turn out to be a total bust. The forecasters pretty much nailed it. They called for 2-4″, and we got around 4″ — actually at the high range of what was predicted. It was enough to get me to dust off the snowblower for the first time in about 8 years. We bought the snowblower in December 2002, so it’s as old as our first-born son. I used to be pretty good about getting the snowblower it at least once a year, draining the gas tank and refilling it with fresh gas, adding some stabilizer, and starting it up and running it for a few minutes. However, I’ve gotten kinda lazy about it in my old age, and as a result, I hadn’t touched it in just over 2 years. Gas stabilizer does work, although it doesn’t work miracles. I topped the tank up with fresh gas, closed the choke, pumped the primer bulb, and pulled the recoil starter several times (the electric starter died several years ago). No luck, so I pumped the primer again. Then, the engine fired, sputtered for several seconds, and died. I kept pumping the primer, pulling the starter, and watching it sputter and die several times, until eventually, it stayed running. Once it was going, it ran just fine. It felt like old times to be blowing snow around again!


I have not been motivated to post much here recently, because quite frankly, life has been kind of repetitive over the past few months. I wake up, eat breakfast, bike/walk/hike/run/climb/etc., work, sleep, repeat. Not much to write about, but there are signs that normalcy is slowly starting to return. In a few weeks, our entire family will be fully vaccinated against COVID. Work has told us that we can return “en masse” starting July 6. The weather is warming up, and we’ll soon be swimming, and sometime in the next week or two, I hope to take the kayak out for the first time in 2021.

The return to the office is going to be the biggest shake-up in my daily routine since we all became instant telecommuters in spring 2020. There are things I like about working from home, but I really need to get back to the office just for a change of scenery. I also have missed commuting by bike. I can’t say exactly how my weekly routine will eventually shake out, but I think I’m going to start by going to the office 2 days a week and working from home the other 3. One of the challenges is going to be getting a proper ergonomic workspace set up in both places. I’m going to take my VariDesk sit/stand desk back to the office, which means I’ll need to get a standing desk for home to use with my treadmill. I’ll probably also need a new iMac. Lots of stuff to think about, but I’ve still got several weeks.

The other big news is the emergence of the 2021 Brood X cicadas. It seemed like they got a slow start this year because the first half of May was so cool, but I don’t have an exact recollection of when they started emerging in 2004 (let alone 1987). However, they’re out now, and making their presence known. A lot of “early bird” Brood X stragglers emerged in 2017, and a log I wrote on 5/25/2017 mentions that they were quite loud in Columbia on that date. So, maybe they’re more-or-less on target after all. I have a lot of memories of periodical cicadas from 1987 and 2004. The cool thing about them is that they provide reference points for different stages of life. In 1970, I was an infant; in 1987, a teen; in 2004, a young parent; and this year, a middle-aged father of two teens, one about to start college. Next time around, in 2038, I’ll be retired, and my kids will be in their 30s.

I’ve read up a lot on perodical cicadas over the years, and know a lot more about them than I did last time they showed up. I’m trying to learn the differences between each of the 3 species. I have noticed that the so-called “pharaoh cicada” (Magicicada septendecim) begins singing earlier in the day than the other two species. My son likened the sound of these cicadas to the sound the rails make at a train station when a train is approaching. The other two species (M. cassinii and M. septendecula) sound somewhat similar to each other, and kind of like a cross between a weed-whacker and a garden-variety summer annual cicada. These two species seem to begin singing a bit later in the morning than M. septendecim — after the sun is up and the day is warming up. It is hard to believe that we only have about 6 weeks with these guys before they die off and the 2038 brood hatches and burrows underground. I will miss them when they’re gone, but look forward to seeing them again later in life.

Boxing Day

Another Christmas has come and gone. I remember the days when the kids would get all excited and wake up early to open presents. We even have the video to prove it, which I shot on our then-state-of-the-art MiniDV video camera. Nowadays, they are nocturnal teenagers, and it’s hard just getting them out of bed. A few years back, I came to the realization that I enjoy the advent season, or the weeks leading up to Christmas, more than the day itself. This year, however, was probably the most laid-back Christmas we’ve ever had. Times sure have changed. Next year may be slightly more “normal”, but the kids aren’t getting any younger. I’ll miss those days, but I also like our new, lower-stress holiday routine — and when I’m feeling nostalgic, I can always go back and look at our old videos.

With the kids sleeping in, I considered riding yesterday morning, but decided to go today instead. The temperatures were down in the low 20s again (the freeze cycle of our flood-freeze winter), so I kept it under 20 miles, and rode a quick out-and-back to downtown Columbia to find a cache. I’ve gotten quite familiar with this route since I started riding it regularly back in the spring. I wore 3 layers on my upper body, which I think was one more than I needed, as I was sweating a little bit by about 30-45 minutes in. Interestingly enough, though, my toes never really got cold. I wore my usual waterproof Altra Lone Peaks with warming insoles, but added a second layer of socks this time. I’m not sure if the socks did the trick, or if the extra upper-body layer kept my core warmer, thus keeping my body from leeching heat from the extremities. I suspect it was a little of both. That said, sweating when it’s below freezing is not something you really want happening. I need to find the sweet spot where I don’t sweat, but my toes still stay warm. Winter riding is very much a balancing act. I’ve been doing it for 13 winters, but I still haven’t perfected it.

Xmas Break

It’s that time of year again, when work shuts down at the end of December. Most years, this is a complete break from my daily routine, with a 2-week absence from the office, and all of the usual holiday gatherings and activities filling our family schedule. I always look forward to the holidays, but usually, by January, I’ve had my fill, and am ready for things to get back to normal. It’s definitely a tiring time of year to be an introvert. This year is going to be quite a departure, though. My office is right downstairs in the basement, so I’m not really physically leaving it. We’ll celebrate Christmas with a couple of really small family gatherings, but other than that, the calendar is clear. The “holidaze”, as I’m fond of calling them, aren’t going to seem much different from the daily grind this year, other than the fact that I’m not working — and even that isn’t guaranteed, as I’ll be visiting the “office” occasionally to get some time in on my treadmill desk.

After a couple of mild, dry winters, it looks like we’re in for a wet one this year. I’m not sure if we’ll get much snow, as we’ve been in a “flood and freeze” pattern thus far — warm weather, followed by flooding rains, then a deep freeze, then a warm-up, whereupon the cycle repeats. Occasionally, an ice storm creeps into the mix. We’re due for a snowy winter, so it will be interesting to see if this pattern continues into January.

I’ve gotten myself into a pretty good routine of climbing once a week at Earth Treks. This morning, I climbed 8 routes: a 5.7, 5.9, 5.10a, 5.10a, 5.9, 5.10b, 5.8, and 5.9. Two of these routes were new to me, and the rest I had climbed previously. Most had a moderate amount of overhang, but I did tackle one rather slabby 5.9. 8 is a pretty good number for me for the time I was there, and I cleaned all 8 routes, so I’d say it was a good day. I guess I’m slowly getting better at this. I’ve been alternating between my newly-resoled La Sportiva TC Pros and my Scarpa Force Vs. I like them both. In the gym, I haven’t noticed a ton of difference as far as climbing goes. The Scarpas have velcro closures, and are easier to put on and take off. The TC Pros are lace-ups, but are more comfortable than the Scarpas, so there’s less need to take them off in between climbs. I have yet to climb outdoors with the Scarpas, but it will be interesting to see how that goes. I suspect the Scarpas will end up being my gym shoes, and the TCs will be my outdoor shoes. But you never know.

Tomorrow, we’ll be in the flood phase of our flood-freeze weather cycle, but I’m hoping the deluge will hold off for an hour or two so I can get a run in. If not, I guess I’ll be running Christmas morning. It’s not like the kids get up early any more. 😃

That time of year

So, in the past week, central Maryland has weathered an earthquake and a hurricane.  Now we get to weather the first week of fall classes at UMBC, which is always exciting, and almost never in a good way.  We’ll see what this year has in store for us.

Took my first post-Irene bike ride to work today.  The goal was to scout out Patapsco State Park, to see if there were any downed trees or debris to block my passage.  Today I rode into the park on the Howard County side via River Rd., past the Avalon day use area, out to the swinging bridge, and back via the Grist Mill Trail.  Figuring there’d be lots of debris to negotiate, I took my mountain bike.  This part of the park turned out to be in great shape.  There was definitely evidence of recent trail maintenance, which must have taken place yesterday or Sunday.  There were no fallen trees blocking the road or trail, and no more debris than you’d expect after any average summer storm.  Tomorrow, I’ll ride the upper section of the Grist Mill Trail out to Ilchester Rd., and check out how River Rd. fared in the storm.

Howard County schools are back in session starting today (one day late, again thanks to Irene) which means that for the next couple of weeks, I’m going to avoid riding on Montgomery Rd. in the mornings.  I’ll start my rides by going down Lawyers Hill Rd., and then vary the routes from there.  If I’m feeling adventurous, maybe I’ll even attempt a few climbs up the notorious Ilchester Rd.

It seems like the biggest fallout from Hurricane Irene has been the power outages.  Apparently it’s going to take until the weekend to get power restored to everybody.  Irene’s track was very similar to Hurricane Floyd back in 1999, and I remember Floyd causing a lot of power outages.  It seems worse this time around.  It might just be because the area has gotten so much denser and built out in the 12 years since Floyd.  The more electrical infrastructure you build, the more you have to support, and the more vulnerable it is to storms like Floyd and Irene.

Mid-life crisis?

My latest kick these days is getting rid of stuff.  The junk accumulation phase of my life is over, and it’s time to downsize.  My new best friends are the recycle bin, the dump, the paper shredder, eBay, and the Salvation Army.  I’d like the house to eventually be neat and organized.  I’d like us eventually to move to a smaller house that’s less of a money pit.  When that happens, I don’t want to have a lot of junk to move, so I’m getting a head start on things now.

There have been a couple of recent exceptions.  I recently repaired my old electric guitar, a ’79 Peavey T-60 which I bought in the mid-1980s.  These are versatile, well-made guitars that can produce a wide variety of different sounds, due to a unique “coil tapping” circuit that uses the tone control to dial in variable amounts of resistance across the pickup coils.  However, on mine, the neck pickup never worked.  I found an OEM replacement on eBay and soldered it in, and now it’s good as new and I’m having lots of fun with it, after it sat neglected for 20-odd years.  (Incidentally, when I first picked it up, it was still in tune.)

Next up is my old mountain bike, a ’93 Specialized Rockhopper.  It’s been mostly neglected for around 10 years. The old front suspension fork is shot, making it unrideable.  My plan is to replace it with a rigid fork, upgrade the headset and stem, and use it for winter commuting and some occasional single track.  If it works out, I’ll replace the old cantilever brakes with v-brakes, and possibly convert it to single speed.  It’s got a well-built frame, and if I can fix it up for $250 or so, then there’s no need to shell out big bucks for a new mountain or cross bike.

It’s a bit nostalgic fixing up the guitar I had as a teenager and the bike which I rode in my 20s.  If this my mid-life crisis, I guess it beats buying a sports car or a boat.

State Bird

I think I’m going to start a petition to change Maryland’s official State Bird.  I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen a Baltimore Oriole, in the wild, in Maryland.  Wouldn’t it be better to use a bird that is much more commonplace?  I’m thinking that a more appropriate choice would be the Canada Goose, or perhaps the Bell Jet Ranger.

Speaking of geese, I ran into a particularly cantankerous gaggle in Patapsco State Park this morning, on my ride to work.  They had a big group of goslings in tow, and the adults gave me a nice chorus of hisses as I rode by.  I laughed, thinking, these guys are not unlike the average driver in Maryland!  (Take it easy folks..  just kidding!  Sort of.)

Unfriendly geese aside, the weather is definitely looking nice for the end of the week.  The clouds are gone and the temperatures are warming up.  I took Landing Rd out to Ilchester Rd today and then rode through the park.  Tomorrow is Bike-to-Work Day, so I was thinking about riding out to Ellicott City and Catonsville, to see if I can catch up with some other riders heading to UMBC.  It’s nice to finally shed the rain gear.

Enjoy the weather and don’t forget to ride in tomorrow.

This and That

So..  another summer is upon us.  Howard County schools finally let out at the end of this week.  I remember when I was a kid, summer vacation was almost 3 months long, and now it’s down to barely two.  Instead, there are tons more random days off during the school year, for “professional teacher work days” and the like.  Not sure if it’s a step forward or back, but I think if I was a kid I’d feel a bit gypped.

Three weeks after uncovering, the pool is finally clear, clean and up to a reasonable swimming temperature.  It was more of a swamp than usual this spring.  Over 3 weeks I’d say it took 20 gallons of 12.5% sodium hypochlorite, 10 pounds of dry acid, 15 pounds of baking soda, and 3 pounds of aluminum sulfate (a flocculent) to get it cleared up.  I had to vacuum to waste 4 times, compared to twice on an average year.  Not sure what the deal was this year, but I’m sure the April heat wave didn’t help.  It also didn’t help that the pool was already starting an algae bloom when we covered it in late September.  Didn’t feel like dealing with it then, knew at the time it was going to give me headaches come spring, covered it anyway.  Lesson for the day:  Never put off fixing pool water problems..  they never go away, they just become bigger problems over time.

The big new thing for the pool this summer is the salt water generator.  I installed it over the winter and early spring, in the hopes that it would cut down on work and help prevent water problems.  One of the problems with manual chlorination is that during the summer, you can’t neglect it, even for a single day, or you will end up with algae.  Automatic chlorine feeders are a step up, but you still have to buy, store and handle the chlorine, and you have to remember to keep the feeder full.  With the SWG, you dump an initial amount of salt into the pool, then you set the SWG and forget it.  Obviously they still require maintenance, but they eliminate the day-to-day drugdery of manual chlorination and eliminate the need to handle and store lots of chlorine.  Now, I keep a little bit on hand for “shocking,” but that’s it.  The jury will be out on the SWG until I’ve had it for a whole season, but up to now, it’s lived up to the hype and seems like the best thing to come along for pools since automatic cleaners.

A tale of two web sites

I’m a frequent shopper at my local big-box home improvement warehouse chains.  I’ve got my pick of them, too — at last count there were 3 Lowes and around 8 Home Depots within 30 minutes drive of my house.  Welcome to the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

I’m also a web surfer.  I like to plan projects at home and then look for the stuff I need online before I actually get in the car.  I’m sure there are many more like me.  And for the longest time, neither of these two retailers seemed to “get” this.  Searching for stuff on their web sites was mostly an exercise in futility.  In most cases, the search results I got back were either incomplete or totally unrelated to what I was looking for.

Lowes has made some improvements to their web site in recent years.  Case in point: recently I was looking for some PVC electrical conduit and fittings.  Both Home Depot and Lowes carry a fairly complete line of PVC conduit manufactured by Carlon.  I went to both retailers’ web sites and searched for “carlon.”  Lowes’ site worked great, returning several pages of relevant results.  Home Depot’s site “helpfully” corrected my search term to “gallon,” and returned several pages of shop-vacs and pressure washers.  Guess where I ended up going?

I guess the moral here is that retailers need to start realizing that their web sites are extensions of their store fronts.  Online catalogs should be easy to search and results should reflect what’s actually on the shelves in the stores.  I’m sure that’s much easier said than done, but ultimately, modern consumers are going to be driven to the stores that have the best web sites.

Disclaimer:  I am a Home Depot shareholder.


It’s actually snowing here in the mid-atlantic, although I’m predicting another non-event similar to so many others we’ve had in the past 3 winters.  I think that when all is said and done, we’ll end up with maybe an inch and a half of snow, not quite enough to cover the grass, topped with a light glaze of ice – A typical Maryland “wintry mix”.  Of course, the local news media has been in high gear since last night, leading off their 11pm broadcasts with radar maps, reporters standing in front of salt trucks, and dire predictions of rush-hour road catastrophes.  But for the most part, snowstorms in these parts rarely live up to the hype.

I have a snowblower that I bought back in late 2002, just in time for the big blizzard of 2003 (one of the rare storms that did live up to the hype).  It last saw action in February 2006, and since then it’s sat in my garage collecting dust.  I used to store it with the gas tank empty, but it would be an absolute bear to start that way..  so a couple years ago I started storing it with a full tank and a healthy dose of gas stabilizer.  That seems to keep it happy, providing I drain and replace the gas at least once a year.   Twice a year or so I’ll start it up to make sure it still runs.  I hadn’t done it for awhile, so I figured I’d fire it up this morning in case this latest round of wintry weather actually yields any “blow”able amount of snow.  And indeed, the snowblower started up pretty easily on its 9-month-old tank of stabilized gas.  The winning formula seems to be:

  1. Insert starter key.
  2. Check spark plug.
  3. Plug in electric starter.
  4. Close choke.
  5. Set throttle to full.
  6. Pump primer bulb 10-15 times.
  7. Crank electric starter until engine fires.
  8. Unplug starter.
  9. Slowly open choke as engine warms up.

I always feel sad starting up the snowblower, only to shut it off after 5 minutes or so of idling and return it to its resting place to collect more dust.  This morning, we had a slight powdering of snow on the driveway, just enough that the blower was able to pick a bit of it up and eject it through the chute.  So, I spent a minute or so blowing the powder off the driveway near the garage, which I could just as easily have done with a broom (or probably my mouth for that matter).  It was the first time the snowblower actually touched snow in almost 3 years.

Can’t wait to drive home this evening, when the roads will undoubtedly look like salt mines and the talking heads will be crowing about how we “dodged that bullet” yet again.

Welcome to Winter in Maryland..