Still a slave to my competitive spirit.

Today I was out for a long bike ride. I was 35km into what was shaping up to be a 50km ride – my previous longest ride this year was 40km or so. The combination of the pea gravel and the headwind on the canal path was kicking my ass, and I was barely holding 18 or 19 km/hr. (There will now be a short pause while real cyclists laugh themselves silly at how slow I go and what I consider a long ride.) I passed a cyclist going in the other direction, and paused to do one of those standing stretch things that provide temporary relief from a sore butt and stiff legs. But as I was doing it, the cyclist I’d just seen going in the other direction now passed me going in my direction.

I couldn’t help it – I sped up a bit, and when I realized I was going almost as fast as him, I sped up some more and tucked into his slipstream. I soon found myself going at 26km/hr but not working any harder than I’d been going 19km/hr alone. He kept glancing back at me but he powered along. I saw he was riding a much newer bike than mine, with a lot of gears in the back sprocket – probably nine or ten, and he was in the smallest. When I was riding more 20 years ago, the Shimano XTR with 8 gears was considered almost too much. I couldn’t see the front rings so I don’t know if he was in the biggest one. He was also dressed in shorts and had regular toe clips rather than the SPD clip less pedals like I have, so I figured I looked more the part even if I wasn’t as fast as him.

Anyway, I didn’t want to lose the free ride so I put in an extra effort to stay behind him, but after a few minutes I was feeling I’d gotten some rest and was more energetic, so when his speed dropped to around 23 km/hr, I pulled ahead. He said something about me enjoying the free ride and hoping I’d return the favor, so I resolved to take a pull. At the front, I made sure I maintained that same 26km/hr he had, and he tucked in behind me for a long pull. It felt like I’d been in front for more than my share, and we were just coming into Schoen Place, where you kind of have to slow down anyway, so I was planning to let him take another pull after we’d cleared the village, but then he pulled off! So unfair.

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How to send a selfie in 1993

I originally posted this on Quora and then it ended up on Forbes. On Quora, it’s gotten over 2,200 upvotes. As I said on Facebook the other day, if I’d known it was going to get this much attention, I would have written it better.

In 1989, I was working for GeoVision, a GIS company in Ottawa. It remains to this day one of the best places I’ve ever worked. At that time I was in charge of the bug fix team, which for most of the time was just me and three other people, but during pre-release times would baloon up to over 30 developers. After that particular crunch, my manager rewarded me by sending me to the Usenix conference in Baltimore.

One of the features at this conference on the “show floor” was a booth where they were taking pictures of every Usenix member for the “FaceSaver” project. They would give you a sheet of stickers with your picture and name and email address and a few other things. A lot of vendors on the floor had give-aways where you had to give your business card to enter, and some enterprising person not affiliated with Usenix was giving away pieces of card stock so you could use these stickers as your business card, and since I wanted one of these give-aways, I lined up for a picture. (I never won any of the give-aways, but I did get a t-shirt that said “VMSucks” on it in exchange for a resume.)

After the conference, I was able to retrieve a digital copy of this picture – Usenix had put it on their FTP server, and because GeoVision wasn’t on the Internet proper but accessed the network through UUCP at UUNet, so I had to access the file by sending email to a email to FTP gateway called “decwrl” and receiving the file back as one or more emails.

The file after being re-assembled consists of a header with some useful information, and then a bunch of hex digits. I haven’t been able to find a full description of the format currently, but this is what it looks like:
FirstName: Paul
LastName: Tomblin
E-mail: geovision!pt
Telephone: 613-722-9518
Company: GeoVision
Address1: 1600 Carling Ave.
Address2:
CityStateZip: Ottawa, ONT/CANADA K1Z 8R7
Date: Jun 13 1989
PicData: 108 128 8
Image: 96 128 8

030305030304050503040304020302030304050B050B0B0B0A0A0B
0B0C0D0C0C0E0E0C0D11100E100D0D0D0E101114120C0601020308
0D130E1E5B6261593526320C181E1E1D1D1C1D1D1E202120211E1E
1E1C1D1C1C1C1C1D1E1D1E20212321232122212121232220202020

In order to view it or print it, I believe I used a program I’d found on the Usenet newsgroup comp.sources.unix. After decoding, it looked like:
pt

Note how small it is. Back then, 108×128 was actually a pretty good resolution – our screens were low resolution, and so were our printers.

Ok, so flash forward a few years. I was no longer working for GeoVision and now I accessed the network using a text-only VT220 terminal hooked up to a 2400 bps modem dialed into the National Capital Freenet. I’d met a woman on the Usenet newsgroup alt.folklore.urban and we’d been conversing a lot, first via email, but later when the stars aligned and the various machine dependencies worked out we’d use chat, ychat or ochat. But usually the various versions of chat wouldn’t talk to each other and so we’d have to take our chances on IRC, which was a pain in the ass because we’d make a channel to talk, but some jerkwad would see Vicki’s name and barge in to try to chat her up in barely passable English.

But things were progressing to the point where we needed to meet. But first Vicki wanted to see a picture of me. I didn’t have any pictures of myself, but I did have this file that I’d saved on my computer at home. I had to upload it to NCF, then I emailed it to her, and somehow she and her geeky friends at work figured out how to decode it. Since she worked at a university, they probably used Gopher to find the software to decode it. But again, they did it on their Ultrix host, and she didn’t have a graphical connection to Ultrix, so the first time she saw it was when it came off the printer. I’ve seen the printout, and it was full page, which is another indication of the change of resolution from those days until now, although it was probably blown up a bit. I warned her beforehand that in the years since the picture, there was less hair and more of everything else.

After seeing that I looked presentable, she did agree to meet me at a neutral location. And after a few other adventures, we’ve now been married for over 17 years.

And that, my children, is how you got a picture of yourself to another geek in another city in the early 1990s. These days, we FaceTime when we’re in different rooms in the same house.

Posted in Geekery, Revelation | 1 Comment

A look back at 2014, and forward at 2015

As the 2014 kayaking season winds down, it seems like a good time to look back and forward.

First of all, the best news of all: my shoulder, while sometimes a little sore, no longer seems like it’s limiting my paddling. I have to take care of it, and I’ve adjusted my technique and my training to be more gentle on it, but these days it seems more sore when I’m not paddling than when I am.

Other highlights of this year:

  • Paddled 1516 kilometers (942 miles) so far this calendar year.
  • Set personal records in the Baycreek Wednesday Night Time Trial (smashing my previous best of 18:54 by going 17:36 on my first outing of the season), the Erie Canal Regatta (average pace is 0.5km/hr faster than last year), and just about every other race I did this year.
  • Participated in the Lighthouse to Lighthouse (L2L) race (the Eastern US Surf Ski Championships), my longest race so far (21.5km/13.4miles) and my first salt water race.
  • Participated in the TC Surfski Immersion Weekend and a clinic with Oscar Chalupski, which added to my week in Tarifa last year means I’m getting really confident in the waves.
  • Got a really beautiful new boat, a 2014 Epic V10 Sport Ultra. My old V10 Sport is sitting there lonely and unused – this one is lighter, fits better, and has a closable scupper drain, so what’s not to love?

Next year, I’m looking forward to more of the same. I’d like to get a bit faster on the flat, but what I really want is to get better in the waves. At L2L and other times I’ve noticed my speed drops way off when I’m getting hit by waves from two directions at once. So I guess I need to spend a bit more time in Irondequiot Bay, because that’s the best place in town to be constantly battered by boat wakes from every direction at once. And the reason I want to get better in the waves is that I want to do more ocean racing. I definitely plan to go back to L2L and hopefully break the top 25 this time. I also want to try the Blackburn Challenge, which is even longer (33km/20miles) and might present more wave and wake challenges.

I’m also planning to go back to the TC Surfski Immersion weekend. Unfortunately it looks like the finances won’t stretch to a trip to Tarifa.

Mike and I are talking about doing some doubles paddling. He has an ancient and heavy K2 kayak which he suggests we paddle and race and see how we get on, and if that works out, we should look to buy a double surf ski. Much as I’d like to support Baycreek, my local kayak shop and Epic dealer, the Epic V10 Double is both heavier and more expensive than the Stellar S2E, so we’re thinking of getting one of those from the dealer down in Ithaca, unless we can find something used on surfskiracing.org. I’ve seen a couple of likely ones there already, but unfortunately the price to ship them is upwards of $500 which makes a new one more enticing.

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Erie Canal Regatta 2014

Last year at this race, Dan and Steve and I had started out together and then Dan and I had clashed our paddles together, Dan had dumped, Steve had briefly stopped to see if he was ok, and so my victory over them was tainted. I was determined not to let that happen again. I was going to beat them fair and square. Last year’s first and second place winners had stayed home, so our only other rival was Alan from Ithaca, the guy in the sprint boat who, at Armond Basset this year, had started off with Jim and blown up, and I’d passed him about 5 or 6 kilometers into it. I was hoping he’d do the same at this race.

Unlike last year’s Erie Canal Regatta, I was paddling my V10 Sport. It’s certainly lighter than my Think Legend, but the Legend is longer and narrower and possibly a little faster on flat water. I meant to do some side by side time trialling to determine which was faster, but I got busy preparing for Lighthouse to Lighthouse and never put in any time in the Legend. And when I did paddle the Legend, I dropped it on the dock and put a crack in it. So it’s off getting fixed, so like it or not, I was in the V10 Sport, paddling against two guys in V12s and one guy in an ICF sprint boat.

Unlike last year, we started upstream. As expected, Alan took off and opened a large gap. Dan said “just paddle smooth”, as per our game plan. Steve hung on Dan’s stern wash and contributed nothing while Dan and I swapped leads, being extremely careful not to clash paddles. We both picked up a leaf or two, but were able to bounce them off. We weren’t really gaining on Alan, but after the first kilometer I don’t think we were losing much either.

As we got close to the first turn, it looked like Alan wasn’t going to turn – we yelled to him and he apparently heard, because he turned around the “dolphin” (a term for those wooden pilings in the water that apparently I’m the only person who knows it) in the opposite direction (ccw) than we were set up for (cw), but he had enough of a lead that it didn’t cause a conflict. As we turned, I could see we’d completely dropped Steve – he was a dozen or more boat lengths behind. And we were hammering. Or rather I was hammering and Dan was hanging on. His turns in front were getting shorter and at one point he called out his heart rate at 165 while mine was 155. But I didn’t slack off because I really wanted to catch Alan. We did a few sub-5-minute kilometers and I could tell Dan wasn’t going to be able to hang on. I asked him if he had one more pull in him and he pulled for a few minutes, but then he dropped back onto my wake. The nice thing to do at that point would have been to slow down enough that Dan could catch his breath without slowing down too much so that we got caught. But I had the fire in my blood and my sights on that sprint boat, and it was getting closer and closer. And at about the 6.5 kilometer mark, Dan dropped off my wake and I was on my own.

As we reached the downstream marker bouy for the turn upriver, I was a about a boat length behind. Then he did a better job at turning, and so opened the gap up to three boat lengths. I clawed my way back, but just as I got into his wake, I got a leaf on my bow. Now a leaf in the bow is a constant hazard in the canal, especially in the fall, and it’s a very bad thing. A leaf on the can cost you a half a kilometer per hour at worst. Get a bunch, and it can be a full kilometer per hour. Get one on your rudder and it’s twice as bad, but thanks to Todd’s weed guard I haven’t had a problem with leaves on my rudder in a few weeks. Sometimes you can bounce the boat to shake off a leaf, sometimes you can knock them off by deliberately hitting a floating stick, and sometimes a boat wake will knock them off, but sometimes the only way to get them off is to backpaddle, which is not something you want to do in a race. Evidently this was one of those times. I tried numerous bounces, and we did hit a boat wake or two, but that leaf stayed stubbornly on my bow. And every time I left Alan’s wake to try to pass him, it felt like I’d opened a parachute. So I just stayed tucked into his stern wash. His speed kept going up and down – if his intention had been to drop me, it nearly worked. But I had seen similar variations in his speed when I’d been chasing him down river – it would seem like I wasn’t making any ground for a few minutes, and then I’d be catching him for a few minutes, and then he’d be back up around the same speed as me and so on. I found out afterwards that he doesn’t have a GPS and he’s just not very good at pacing himself when there’s nobody around him.

The problem with staying in his wake is that he was going straight up the middle of the canal – on my own, I would have been tucked in closer to the edges where the current isn’t as strong, and there might have been opportunities to find a floating twig or something to knock that damn leaf off. But it wasn’t to be – even when a boat came in the opposite direction, instead of moving closer into shore, he went out to the other side of the canal to let the boat by. And unlike many people you see paddling ICF boats, he didn’t get thrown off his stroke by the boat wakes, so my other hope, that I’d be able to pull past him, didn’t happen either.

I stuck in his wake up until the town of Fairport, but I knew that eventually I’d have to make some sort of move to pass him. At the Parker Street bridge I tried to pull out, but the leaf caused the brakes to come on, so I pulled back in. Then approaching the lift bridge I realized I was running out of time so I pulled out. And it was awful – I just didn’t have anything left. Instead of pulling up onto his side wake and challenging him for the win, I ended up losing a boat length or two. He got a well deserved win, and I got a pretty satisfactory second place. But I can’t help but think that without that leaf, I might have been able to do it.

Last year, on a slightly different, slightly longer course, but a possibly faster boat, I’d averaged 10.7km/hr or 5:36 min/km, and this year, in what was objectively the slowest boat of the top 4 finishers, I averaged 11.2km/hr or 5:21 min/km. And that’s something to be happy with.

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V-racks and intellectual property

I forgot to mention this in my previous posts about the Lighthouse to Lighthouse race.

On Friday, we arrived at the hotel around 3:30 or so. There were two other cars with v-racks and surf skis on top, one with Pennsylvania plates with two “Goodboy” racks and the other with one Goodboy rack and one KayakPro rack. Mike’s car has one Goodboy rack and one of John Eberhardt’s not-as-good-as-the-original-but-passable clones of the Goodboy rack.

As an aside, I should mention that Mike’s Goodboy rack is a result of a deal I worked out with the Mr. Goodboy himself, Cliff Roach, where I took a bunch of orders and he sent them all to me, I assembled them and distributed them to Rochester paddlers. I brought 6 racks, including my own. Unfortunately my rack got stolen, so now I have my Eberhardt clone rack and a KayakPro rack I bought because I don’t like the Eberhardt one much.

So anybody, a guy walks over and he’s looking intently at Mike’s racks. I notice he’s wearing a “Keystone Kayaks” t-shirt, and I remember that it used to be the only web presence for Goodboy racks was on the Keystone Kayak’s web site, so I asked him if he was Cliff Roach, and he was. Considering we’re rocking a clone of his intellectual property on our roof… awkward.

He asks us why we cut off the curved bit of his rack, and I explained it was a clone of his design by a guy who didn’t have the resources to bend the aluminum. I quickly reminded him of my group order, and explained how Eberhardt made this clone after my Goodboy rack got stolen, and I hope that mollified him.

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