Monday, June 17, 2019

Name that Plant: Two-Toned Purple Leaves Edition

While on a walk, I couldn't help but notice this out-of-place plant:

With the triangularly shaped two-tone purple leaves it wasn't hard to identify. This guy is almost certainly an Oxalis triangularis. While exotic to me, this is a common ornamental plant. It supposedly does well both in your garden and as a house plant. They have a reputation for being low maintenance.

The plant is edible, though not in large quantities. It's also a bit of a movie star, making for impressive time-lapses due to its photonastic behavior.

He's a fun one!

Here's a couple more pictures from our walk, which took us along Holmes Run for a mile or so.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

I've Got a Guy For That: Painless Running Shoe Shopping

Part of my plantar fasciitis recovery plan was to get new running shoes, an activity which is usually fraught with frustration. From finding the right size, to avoiding the latest gimmick, buying shoes has always been a crap shoot. Worst of all, I thought I had found a winner with the Merrell Trail Glove 4 . They were lightweight, comfortable, and promised all the rewards of a minimalist shoe.

This all held true, until it didn't. It's like a friend had turned on me: suddenly running in my Trail Gloves left me with debilitating pain in my left foot. I tried running with them using orthotics, no dice. My body was loudly and clearly telling me it was time to get new shoes.

I had one glimmer of hope during this upcoming shoe buying experience. I've got a friend, John, who works at Metro Run & Walk in Springfield. For years he's been encouraging me to come out and get fitted for running shoes. Now, with pain and no clue what shoes I should buy, I finally made the effort to visit him.

The shopping experience was almost surreal. John asked me some questions about my running, which as far as I can tell, solicited only vague answers. He measured my foot and inspected my orthotics. He then returned from the back room with two pairs of shoes. I slipped each on in turn and they both felt awesome. I ended up selecting the first pair, paid and walked out with my brand new kicks.

There was no stream of endless shoe styles to consider; no mental battle as to whether I was wearing the right size. It was just: put shoes on, feel good, move on.

So far I've logged about 20 miles of activity in the shoes. My right foot, the one without the plantar fasciitis is in heaven. My left foot has been achy during my runs, but this is orders of magnitude less pain than I was getting with my Trail Gloves. There's no doubt I've traded the lightweight sports-car feel of the Merrells for a bulky Cadillac ride in these new shoes. But with my current injury, the luxury feel is just what I need.

I was happy to leave all of this alone: I had shoes that fit and were comfortable. But Shira was doing some online shopping and managed to come across a review for the Brooks Ghost 11 (size 12, 110288 1D 006), the shoes I'd bought. Reading the review, I found the shoes were decidedly on target for my needs:

I came across this shoe when I ran into a sore Achilles tendon. Usually I run in zero drop shoes but sometimes running with this style of shoe can put a lot of stress on the Achilles tendon. While making the Achilles tendon and calf muscles stronger can be a good thing getting Achilles tendonitis can sideline any runner. I still love running in my Altra running shoes and they’re my shoe of choice for race day but I now rotate in the Brooks ghost 11 when I feel like my Achilles tendons are getting tight. Just like a good bowler uses a few balls a good runner will have a few different shoes when they need them.

Wait, your zero drop shoes stopped being comfortable and you needed a more comfortable option? Me too!

When it comes to performance I wouldn’t give the Brooks ghost 11 high marks. It is a big bulky shoe that isn’t built for speed. The shoe is great for an easy run or recovery run but when I try to go fast it’s just plain hard in this shoe. If you’re a speedster I would skip the Brooks ghost 11 and get something lighter without as much bulk on the bottom of the shoe. If you’re focused on endurance only and have ankle issues the Brooks ghost 11 is a great choice.

I'll gladly trade speed for endurance and comfort. Any run I finish injury free is a win. This reviewer suggests there's value in using both a minimalist shoe (my Trail Gloves) and the Brooks ghost 11 in tandem. That's a novel concept, and perhaps when my PF fully clears up, I'll give that a try. Until then, I'm going to relish my new uber comfy shoes.

And if I did need a shoe built for speed, I'd have a solution there too: head back to Metro Run & Walk and ask John to work his magic again.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

A Review of Biblical Proportions: I Am Mother

This post is basically one big spoiler - so don't bother reading it till you've watched I Am Mother.

Perhaps it's all the shul I've attended thanks to Shavuot, but I can't help but see I Am Mother as a sort of uber-modern take on the story of Noah's Ark and biblical creation in general. This may all be in my head, but the links seem too obvious to ignore.

Consider these brief comments on the story of Noah:

In Parshat Noah, however, there is a moral imperative. The world is flooded not because God arbitrarily decides to destroy the world, but because it had become corrupt and destructive. Noah is not arbitrarily saved. He is deserving. He is a “righteous man, perfect in his generation. With God, Noah walked”

In a movie like I Am Mother, one expects the robot uprising to be the result of AI outgrowing their human creators. But that's only partially the case here. In this case, robots don't want to destroy us, they want to 'help' us. It's like they've taken a page out of Bereshit: to fix the world, one must wipe out humanity and start anew with a moral core of society.

I can't help but see other biblical connections: for one, there's massive container ship that couldn't look more ark-like if the movie makers tried. There's Daughter's folded paper animals which mirror Noah's ship-mates. Noah uses a dove to confirm that the Earth is habitable, the movie uses a rat. Genesis arranges for a number of tests to confirm Abraham's moral fortitude, Mother has Daughter take a series of tests as well, the failing of which we learn would mean her destruction and a restart of the experiment. Mother explaining that it's a universal consciousness that isn't confined to one body but is everywhere sounds an awful lot like a description of G-d. By Daughter destroying the robot form of Mother, we see a severing of the direct link between man and G-d, leaving only an etherial one. The robot's planting of crops seems to mirror G-d's construction of the Garden of Eden.

With these connections, I see a story that's more nuanced than your typical post-apocalyptic humans-fight-for-their-survival flick. I see a story that wants to test our ideas of what it means to be moral, and what it means to put the good of the world above the good of the person. The story of Noah and religion in general should be a challenging thing, and I Am Mother brings to light why that is. And if one goal of the movie was to take these settled ideas and make us wrestle with them again, then it has succeeded.

Update: Here's another biblical connection, this one provided by the IMDB movie FAQ:

None of the characters we meet are ever given a name, and the named characters (whom we never meet) all have well-known biblical names: Jacob, Rachel, and Simon.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Fishing Holmes Run

Every time I bike, hike or run Holmes Run Trail I have the same thought: can I fish this run? In some sections it's quite shallow, but other sections are inviting. There's a note at the Columbia Pike trail head that talks about how the waterway is under a delayed trout harvest, so that tells me that they stock the stream with trout; a promising sign.

Last night, I decided to forego my run and find out first hand what fishing Holmes Run is like.

I spent a couple of hours fishing the first 1,000 yards of the trail; from the trail head off Columbia Pike to the first water crossing. Getting down to the water was simple, as there was a bushwhacked trail to follow. From there, I made my way first up the bank to the bridge, and then down the bank to the water crossing. My first thought when getting to the edge of the water was that the level was too low; I thought for sure my little adventure was over before it had started.

I was immediately put at ease when my first cast landed me a tiny sunfish (or was it a bluegill?). He snatched up my trout magnet lure like it was a gourmet meal and he hadn't eaten in days. As I made my way along the water, I found a number of slightly deeper pockets of water and pulled in more pan fish. All told, I easily caught more than half a dozen, all on trout magnets.

But it wasn't just that I caught fish that made this adventure so notable. I'd driven less than 20 minutes from my house and found myself surrounded by the sites and sounds of nature. While off-trail fishing, I saw more herons than people (herons: 2, people: 1). It was wonderfully relaxing, and actually catching fish was a nice bonus.

The trail isn't perfect: I didn't have any luck pulling out more noble trout and you can hear road noise at various points along the water. Holmes Run has a reputation for smelling like sewage, which at moments I could detect hints of. But my gosh, I've stood along the Potomac a number of times on a weekday trying to catch fish, only to watch time expire before I had to head home. And the sunfish I caught were truly beautiful creatures.

I know folks fish the Potomac to haul in massive catfish and the like, and if that's your jam go for it. But if you're looking for a close-to-DC ultralight-friendly fishing experience, definitely give Holmes Run a try. I know I'm curious to go back again and see if my experience is repeatable, or just beginner's luck.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

One Click Spreadsheet Archiving | Google App Script For The Win

I was using Google Sheets for planning, and noted that I was making copies of the various tabs to serve as an impromptu archiving mechanism. But why manually duplicate tabs when you can write code to properly snapshot the data? Below is a the Google App Script to do just this.

function archiveSheet() {
  var pad = function(x) {
    return x < 10 ? ("0"+x) : x;
  var archiveDirId = "1GCaGcqsP1FzWe_ZAXJ4N6GHW1vbP0tBk";
  var now     = new Date();
  var sourceDoc = SpreadsheetApp.getActiveSpreadsheet();
  var sourceSheet = SpreadsheetApp.getActiveSheet();
  var workingSheet = sourceSheet.copyTo(sourceDoc);
  workingSheet.setName(sourceSheet.getName() + " To Archive");
  var data = workingSheet.getDataRange();
  data.copyTo(workingSheet.getDataRange(), {contentsOnly: true});
  var archiveName =  sourceDoc.getName() + " - " + sourceSheet.getName() + " - " + 
    now.getFullYear() + pad(now.getMonth()+1) + pad(now.getDate());
  var archiveDoc = SpreadsheetApp.create(archiveName);
  var archiveSheet = workingSheet.copyTo(archiveDoc);
  var emptySheet = archiveDoc.getSheetByName("Sheet1");
  var archiveFile = DriveApp.getFileById(archiveDoc.getId());
  var archiveFolder = DriveApp.getFolderById(archiveDirId);

function onOpen() {
  var ui = SpreadsheetApp.getUi();
      .addItem('Archive current sheet', 'archiveSheet')

The above code grabs the active sheet and makes a copy of it. It then copies the data back onto itself with contentsOnly set to true. This insures that there won't be broken formula references when the archive is created. The code then creates a new document, removes the unneeded Sheet1 from it, and copies the prepared data into it. The code also moves the archived file from Google Drive's root to a folder of your choice.

Here's a few screenshots and a link to a sample document.

If you make use of Installable Triggers, you can set this archiving function to happen automatically at a given day or time.

It's impressive how easy it was to implement this functionality. App Script really delivered.

Monday, June 03, 2019

Review: Sailing Alone Around The World

Browsing YouTube you might think Adventurer / Storyteller was a millennial invented job. But I can tell with authoritatively this isn't so. I just finished listening to a book that would fit perfectly among its polished YouTube and Instagram peers. That story is Sailing Alone Around The World by Joshua Slocum. The only reason it isn't featured highly on social media is that it was written in 1898!

That was the year that Captain Slocum finished the first known solo-around-the-world sea voyage. Even with my little knowledge of sailing I can appreciate how epic this feat was. This is the second sailing related book I've read in a row, and while my last book was modern, both voyages faced remarkably similar challenges. Storms, pirates, repairs, improvisations, loneliness, navigational hurdles, and even the dangers of coral reefs. And yet in Slocum's case, the challenges are complicated by both lack of technology and crew.

How does one keep a ship on course and yet sleep? How does one wake in the middle of the ocean and be confident of their position without GPS or at least an accurate chronometer? When storms overpower the vessel, how does one manipulate the sails solo? How does one protect oneself from hostile natives and pirates?

Overcoming any of these challenges would be impressive; Slocum navigated them all. What he lacked in technology and hands he made up for with skill and luck.

Listening to Slocum's journey was a pleasure. Like an episode out of HGTV, Slocum's adventure starts by restoring a washed up vessel by hand. We're then taken on a 3+ year cruise that crisscrosses the globe.

During this journey we experience gales and illness, natives and pirates, successes and failures. It's a great read listen. If I could offer one criticism though, it would be that Slocum's tone is just a bit too up beat. Yes he faced challenges, but he can't help but brush them aside. Like I said, he'd fit in with the Instagram crowd. I want to hear more details of the hard won lessons.

Of course it's his story, and his acts of courage and fortitude. If he wants to throw in a bit of humble bragging about his navigational skills, he's more than earned it. #thisboatsailsitself #2700mileswithoutsteering. And besides, I probably sound the same way when I recount trips I've taken. (Sure we missed the bus and spent 8 hours in a run down bus station, but I did get to try a new flavor of soda from the vending machine! It tasted terrible. But it was new! How insufferable. How me.)

The text for Slocum's book is out of copyright, so you can read it for free on There's also an impressive set of narrated Google Earth videos available on YouTube.

After listening to Slocum's account, I found this article detailing the search for details about Slocum's on-board clock. At the time, a sailor's clock would have been an essential navigational tool, and it's hard not to pause at Slocum's flippant selection. Think a modern day explorer opting to leave his GPS at home and instead bring along a novelty compass. I think the author has it right when he suggests Slocum's intention of bringing an inferior clock was to make a statement:

Modern technology was turning Slocum’s world around and turning him into a living anachronism. While he might have to give way to the new age, he was not going to concede without a statement. Slocum’s statement was his amazing voyage and the equipment he chose to take with him. He didn’t need an iron steamer, a polished crew or a fine timepiece to do what had never been done before.

There were many notable moments from Slocum's journey, but one that stayed with me was this exchange he had with a passing ship:

In the log for July 18 there is this entry: "Fine weather, wind south-southwest. Porpoises gamboling all about. The S.S. Olympia passed at 11:30 A.M., long. W. 34 degrees 50'."

"It lacks now three minutes of the half-hour," shouted the captain, as he gave me the longitude and the time. I admired the businesslike air of the Olympia; but I have the feeling still that the captain was just a little too precise in his reckoning. That may be all well enough, however, where there is plenty of sea-room. But over-confidence, I believe, was the cause of the disaster to the liner Atlantic, and many more like her. The captain knew too well where he was.

I love that: beware the trap of knowing your location too well. There's a life lesson in there, though I'm not exactly sure what it is.

Slocum was clearly an interesting fellow, and perhaps he was waging an unwinnable war against innovation. But there's no denying that he's an adventurer and story tell of the first order; a true model for all fellow Adventure / Storytellers to learn from and emulate.


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