Why do I do it?

I’m in the process of planning my trip out to British Columbia to participate in the Canadian Surfski Championships. And to see family. But as I’m trying to organize seeing family around my need to train and prepare for the race, I’m hit by the absurdity of it all. Why do I care so much about being properly trained and prepared for this race? It’s not like I’m going to win it. Based on my few experiences paddling against Canadians, I’m not even going to be in the top 50%. So why bother? Logic would indicate that I should forget about preparing, spend the entire week visiting family and accept whatever pathetic place I end up in the race and just enjoy being on the same race course as Sean Rice and other top level elite racers. But screw logic. I want to finish this race knowing that whether I come 30th or 300th that I did my very best.

There is very little logic to being an amateur non-elite athlete. I’m not going to win any money or fame or be recognized by people outside the sport. I’m not going to be the best paddler in the country – heck, I’m not even the best paddler in Rochester NY, and it’s likely I never will be. There are guys ahead of me I’ll never catch, and guys behind me who will never catch me. But there are also a few guys behind me who could catch me, and maybe one or two ahead I could still catch. And let’s just try not to think about how I’ve reached the point of my life where I’m going to have to work harder and harder to not slow down, a red queen’s race that everybody eventually loses. Not a lot to justify the hours and hours a week I spend training, the damage I’ve done to my body, or the resulting pain.

I’m not sure the elite guys would agree with me, but I feel like relative to our relative abilities, I train just as hard as them. I can put in a two hour paddle and be so wiped that I come home and fall asleep for a few hours. Tell me that isn’t as good as some elite guy who paddles more hours at faster speed, but is then able to function normally for the rest of the day? If I had the innate ability, youth, years of experience and a body not prone to chronic pain, wouldn’t I have been as fast as them? There’s no way to really answer that.

So if you want an answer to the question in the title, you’re not going to get it. And if you excuse me, I’m going to go upstairs and spend 70 minutes paddling to nowhere on my Speedstroke erg.

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Phorce Pro laptop bag

A couple of years ago I got over-excited about the possibility of Kickstarter, and I sponsored several hardware devices. What I discovered is that Kickstarting hardware devices is a great way to get a continual stream of excuses delivered to your mailbox, but not so great at getting actual hardware. But a few weeks ago one of the first ones I kickstarted finally delivered a product. It’s the Phorce Pro laptop bag.

The selling point of the bag was that it contains a battery back to keep your devices charged up as you travel. Inside the bag is this bar with three USB ports, and a special port that connects to a transformer and with a special cable that transformer supposedly charges your laptop (and it comes with adapters for a metric buttload of different laptops, although you have to order a MacBook Pro adapter from a third party). There are cable ports to run cables from the USB ports into the special pockets for your phone and tablet, although there doesn’t appear to be a cable port for the laptop pocket.

The pockets for the phone and tablet are inside the main pocket of the bag, and have separate horizontal and vertical zippers so you can access the device either way (although I suspect most people will use the top zipper not the side zipper). Each pocket also has a nice little label inside the pocket. The laptop pocket has an outside zipper, just one which wraps around the corner. It also has the nice little label. The outside zippers have big overlaps (is there a technical term for those?) so that when the zippers are closed you don’t actually see the zip part, only the tab. I guess is to keep casual precipitation out (like a light rain while running from the terminal to the taxi). There is another outside zipped pocket, and the main pocket has another zipper with an accordion panel to make it bigger.

The bag has straps and hidden velcroed pockets so you can transform it from briefcase to messenger bag to backpack. My other laptop bag is a Timbuk2, and it has the same ability, and like the Timbuk2, I suspect I’ll just leave it with the briefcase handles and messenger bag straps out and never use the backpack straps. The Phorce straps and hardware look robust and well made, as well as attractive.

Ok, after enthusing about how beautiful and well made this bag is, I should probably talk about the downsides:

  • The laptop charger on mine doesn’t work. Phorce say they’re sending me a replacement. It’s a new product, so I imagine it’s just teething problems.
  • They tell me that you can’t use the laptop charger while the bag is plugged into the wall. That’s too bad, because I was hoping I could leave the actual laptop charger at home and just use the bag.
  • The “Phorce Loss Prevention” feature that they talk about on their web site only works if you have the Phorce iOS app open. They don’t use proper iOS notifications or background app refresh so that it doesn’t tell you that it’s lost contact with the bag except when you are directly looking at the app. Since I think the time when you’re most likely to walk away from your bag is when you’re distracted by something else, it seems like a useless feature.

But none of those things are show stoppers to me. It’s an awesomely made and beautiful bag, and I can’t wait to use it on my next trip.

I used it on my recent trip, and it was awesome. I plugged my iPhone and iPad into the bag every night, and on the last day when I found myself without access to a plug for 6+ hours I kept everything topped up with the battery pack. And when I got home, I found that they’d sent me a new battery bar that did everything the original one did and the laptop charger worked. Can’t wait to try that out. And even better, they don’t want the other battery bar back.

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2015 Racing Calendar

Update The Canadian Surkski Championships have moved from August 23rd (where they were last year) to July 18th. That’s going to make doing that *and* Blackburn difficult, if not impossible.

Trying to figure out my racing calendar for 2015. Here’s what I’m thinking so far:

May 16th: Round the Mountain
June 4th-7th: TC Surfski Immersion Vacation
July 18th: Canadian Surfski Championships
July 25th: Blackburn Challenge
August 8th: Armond Bassett
September 12th: Lighthouse To Lighthouse (unfortunately the same day as the Baycreek Kayak Cup)
September 26th: Long Lake Long Boat Regatta.

I’ll fill in more as I have other ideas. Still thinking I’d love to get a tandem surfski for some of these races, especially Blackburn and L2L.

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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.
CityStateZip: Ottawa, ONT/CANADA K1Z 8R7
Date: Jun 13 1989
PicData: 108 128 8
Image: 96 128 8


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:

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