My longest ride on MoPac

As I’ve reported before I do a lot of riding on my stationary bike, now over 9000 miles in about 16 months, but I relatively rarely ride my real bike (I have three, leftovers from my California riding). When I first moved to Omaha I tried to keep up my riding (I’d usually done about 4000 miles/year, much of it through commuting to work), but it was just too hard. There are at least 3 winter months where it is nearly impossible and the summer months are so hot and humid it was really unpleasant. And once you get out of shape then riding is not fun. So I dropped riding for about 10 years.

But with all the conditioning I was getting with stationary bike, plus much lower weight so maybe I wouldn’t sweat so much, I decided to take it up again. I took my decent mountain bike to the local Trek store for refurbishing and got going again. However there really aren’t any good rides here, compared to the great riding available in the West Bay. Trails are better than nothing, but they’re boring and almost always have strong headwinds.

So the only biking I’ve actually enjoyed in the MoPac Trail, an old railroad right-of-way that has been converted into a 25 mile foot and bicycle trail. At least with good weather it’s not a bad trail, but it’s also nearly an hour’s drive away, and the idea of burning up two gallons of gasoline then just to ride bugs me and so I rarely do it.

But yesterday was very unusual for Nebraska summers. Cool and dry air made it down from Canada and so overnight temp was 50 and daytime temp was low 70s with little humidity, IOW, a great day for riding. So I did haul bike in the car down to try to do most, but not all of the MoPac (50 miles on MTB on gravel would always have been a tough ride). Circumstances forced me to turn around so I only did 23 miles round trip but that’s now my longest ride since being in Nebraska, a minor accomplishment. Now a 23 mile ride is nothing for me, in my old California days. My routine Saturday and Sunday rides were around 30 miles, each day. But that was with a touring bike where I’d average about 17mph whereas yesterday I averaged more like 10mph. I could have done a bit better, both faster and longer, except I’ve had an unusual rash of flats, four in the last four rides, counting the flat yesterday. So on the ride bike I had to stop about every 10 minutes and pump up the tire. Plus when the tire got low the ride was very unstable (rear end of bike kept slipping) plus it took considerably more peddling effort. It’s too bad to have had that trouble because I felt like doing a longer ride.

Anyway I took a couple of pictures with iPod Touch (lousy camera, but easy to carry), so at least I can include these here:


This is a shady stretch of the trail near its eastern terminus near the tiny town of Wabash (I used to call this trail the ‘Wabash’, but that’s actually a better trail in Iowa). Since this is an old and flat railroad grade it is mostly in a cut and in many areas surrounded by “wild” green stuff (most of the trail is in cornfields) so it actually has a nice feel to it.



the first (eastern) part of the trail is near Weeping Water Creek and so this little creek is a tributary, with an old but now refurbished railroad bridge.

On a pleasant day for riding and few other people this trail can be a good riding experience even though it is slow (due to unpaved surface thus also requiring fat tire bike). However, in the entire 15 years I’ve lived here there has been no extension to the trail even though the right-of-way could connect all the way to Omaha. Somehow the state doesn’t care enough to build more trail (most of the funding has been donations, not taxes, but state has to get the permits and control the work whoever pays). It’s too bad it isn’t longer because a “wilderness” trail from Omaha to Lincoln would attract a lot more riders and if a town (like Elmwood) roughly in the middle had accommodations for distance hikers or bikers it could really be a nice ride/hike. But even though it is disappointing the trail hasn’t been extended at least 25 miles of it got built, better for Lincoln residents since it connects to street trails in Lincoln.

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Youth really is wasted on the young

carpe diem — usually expressed in English as “seize the day”

Youth is wasted on the young

                            George Bernard Shaw

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

 Robert Herrick’s “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time.”

Yeah, it’s all trite, straight out of Dead Poet’s Society, but still there is truth here.

I’ve had the experience of meeting a few young people: 1) Clayton (who I can name because he may be a ghost), a young man I met in the campground in Theodore Roosevelt National Park a couple of months ago, 2) a young man I know all to well who believes he is entitled to a free lunch and is living that way, sponging off his adults to live a meaningless life, and, 3) a young man, my nephew who could follow Clayton instead of the other one I know and actually live some life.

Clayton, well, he’s a great kid, responsible, polite, full of life, living life to its fullest. Perhaps I only imagined him because that’s what I think youth should be.  And #2, a lazy bum who can’t face life and wants a free lunch and is used to getting it, what is he doing tonight; if he has any money it will be booze and drugs. But #3, that’s the sad case. Like Clayton a responsible and polite and capable kid, but wasting his life.

#3 is willing to do honest labor most people don’t want to do (the classic dirty jobs situation), so unlike #2 he has choices. He has assets, he has time, he is lucid and not under the addiction of substances, but he, like #2, sits on his ass and does nothing. He could live his job for six months and easily get it back and because he’s been diligent he has the funds to do something now. But, no, he’s confined to within 10 miles of where he was born, so tied into a boring local scene. He goes camping, all of 40 miles away, to a boring and uninteresting place, instead of getting in his car and heading out into the unknown.

Some young people are on the fast-track, rushing to establish themselves, get the PhD and the breakthroughs and tenure – fine, that works, they’re not wasting their youth, but they’re also not enjoying it. Then we have the Silicon Valley greedy types, anxious to be a zillionaire by 30 because then somehow everything will be wonderful. Or dedicated political types, already working on their career path. Or a more ordinary sort like me, with a linear trajectory, work hard in early school so you can get in best school, then get best job, and then ???.

If you are really exceptional, then fine, work your ass off while you’re young and build the life that requires all that dedication and hard work. And then hope it pays off and you win at the meritocracy and achieve your goals. But what if you don’t? Have you now wasted your life for a goal you will never achieve or will never satisfy you.

OTOH, be useless, either a total worthless person as the entitled #2 I know or the hard-working, but narrow focused #3. #3 has a chance to do something, experience something, live life, but instead he chooses to take a narrow and unambitious focus.

So it’s sad to see. The exceptional types will win or lose, but at least they tried. The nothings (#2) will someday regret totally wasting their life, with low expectations and low achievements. But the #3 will be the one who really wasted their youth. Sheesh, kid, live a little while you can. There is plenty of time to be an ordinary nobody, don’t settle for that now.

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18 months of virtual cycling

When I lived in San Francisco Bay Area I used to get lots of real bicycle riding as that area is great for cycling. When I moved to Omaha I tried to keep up cycling but weather and lack of good routes stopped me and my big weight gain was the consequence. When I went on fitness kick a few years ago, dropping 70lbs, initially just treadmill was my main exercise. Then I got a stationary bike and after putting on some miles on that, plus my weight loss, I got my fat tire bike reconditioned and began to do some riding here. But the weather and lack of good routes still mostly halted me so I have to be content with stationary cycling.

A stationary bike isn’t too bad for burning up calories and occasionally when I do some spinning not too bad for cardio, but it sure isn’t real riding. When I sometimes do real rides right away I get fatigue/pain in hands, wrists, arms, shoulders and especially butt muscles making real rides, of any significant distance, unpleasant. Plus my fat tire bike is a pig and slow compared to the skinny tire touring bike I used to ride. So it looks like real riding is still going to be relatively rare. So that means stationary bike in the basement with a fan to stay cool and music and reading to try to reduce the boredom.

But I need more – a goal. I used to have easy goals in Bay Area, the early spring and fall club rides, either full centuries or metric centuries. The need to be in shape for those keep me going. Then my grand adventures of two weeks in Germany and bike camping along the Pacific Coast roads were the rewards of all the training rides.

But here I don’t have any real goals. I try to think of some road trip to work for and that’s really tough, unless I could find someone to escort me as accommodations, food and water, plus the heat, are real impediments. Sure, I know other people ride long distances through the midwest but I’m a 67YO wimp who isn’t that big on suffering.

So virtual rides are my only way to produce an incentive to keep peddling. So here are a couple of my virtual rides:


This is my 48 state ride. The blue markers show each of the last 18 months. I started in Omaha, rode through Iowa and South Dakota and Wyoming, then south through Colorado and New Mexico, then west across Arizona and southern California, then north through California, out to Salt Lake, back through Idaho, Oregon and Washington state. That finished the western loop in 10 months. Then I started east, through Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin. Then I really start zigzagging, south through Illinois, touching in Missouri, over to Indiana, then down to Tennessee and Kentucky, up through Ohio, just touching into Michigan, back through Ohio and now into Pennsylvania. Lots of states left to go. 8650.1 miles done, 8500.7 miles left to go, so this will keep me busy for another 18 months. Here’s my first progress report post on this route when I was just about to reach Seattle.

Since progress on this route is slow I decided to add another crazy route, my “zigzag” routine south to north and north to south enough times to cross the country. I started my trip on this route this January so this will keep me going for a while longer:


This route starts at the Canadian border north of Seattle and heads down to San Diego, then back up to Helena, Montana which is about where I am now. 2818.3 miles done, 9993.7 to go so this will take me, assuming I maintain my past 18 months pace about another 19 months, so plenty of riding to do there.

And finally, even though these were my initial routes, here’s some interesting cross-country rides:


The ride in the central part of the country (the yellow markers) was a fairly direct route from Boston (starting at my last address there in Woburn) to Palo Alto (my first address there) retracing my move after college. That didn’t take that long so I took a longer route back, down through LA and across southwestern states, through the middle southern states and up the east coast. That only took 14 months and is now complete. Here’s my post upon completing that ride.

Meanwhile I have start a very complicated route, as best as possible (finding roads), around the circumference of the lower 48 states. Back when I was riding in California I was tried to plot this route just using maps and manual calculations and that got difficult. But now using Delorme I can find really obscure roads, thus allowing me to get as close as possible to boundaries, and Delorme does the calculations. I started in Omaha, went north to International Falls, Minnesota, then west along the Canadian border, then south along the Pacific, then east along the Mexican border and the along the Gulf of Mexico. I just completed looping around the tip of Florida and am now headed up the east coast along the Atlantic. I’ll go as far north as I can in Maine, then come back west as close as I can stay to Canadian border. Finding all those backwoods roads to stay close to borders overloads Delorme’s ability to have ‘vias’ in the route and so I have to make multiple routes.

Now all this is, frankly, pretty silly, but it keeps me going. Real riding is its own reward as well as providing the conditioning for good trips. But stationary riding is only for fitness and calorie burn so I need this silly virtual routes to keep going. Given I’m now working three routes there is always some short-term milestone I can find on at least one of the routes so that provides some incentive to push for a few more miles on the stationary bike.

btw: In 18 months I did 271 riding days or almost exactly 50% of all the days in 18 months. I averaged 31.7 miles/ride and 478 miles/month (better than I used to do, by a bit, with real biking in California).

And I see need a real road goal and I keep looking for it. The Wabash Trail is a candidate esp. if I can get in shape to do it in only two days (escorted to get to overnight stop somewhere) but that’s fairly modest. I don’t want to do bike camping again so the Pacific Coast ride is out. And I can’t afford the escorted rides (like I encountered in Sioux City last year), plus they go for a bit too much distance. So still looking. I want to do at least a week on the road again while I’m still not too old to think of such a crazy thing. So in the meantime, I need to keep grinding on stationary bike and also try to push up my real road riding to toughen up other body parts.

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Some sanity on obesity

It’s an epidemic, a wildfire burning out of control, a raging pandemic, the boogeyman here to get us all. By some accounts (wild extrapolation of a handful of dubious data points) by 20xx 150% of Americans will be obese and by 20xx 133% of Americans will have type 2 diabetes (a non-disease, merely a blood number with some adverse consequences). Go vegan, or at least vegetarian. And of course locally sourced all nature. Evil food is all around of us and we have to go to extreme diets to have a chance of survival. Beware!

Yes, I’m describing the hysteria of the anti-obesity, anti-diabetes, anti-processed food crowd. Stay away from anything that is white (flour, sugar, salt) and eat nothing but kale and quinoa (or the fad of the day). In short this puritanical crowd sounds like the old anti-sex crowd of days past (and still present for some Repugs). You’re doomed unless you are born again in purity. Pollan and Bittman and Lustig will save us.

It’s hard being a moderate. Torn between the extremes of BigFood and BigPharma who are rapaciously harvested profits as much as they can and the nutrition scolds cabal truth is hard to find. But fortunately, ever now and then, science prevails.

Disclaimer: I used to be obese (just barely within the definition but definitely way too big a belly). And now I’m not. I adjusted my diet a little (mostly just calorie quantity) and drastically increased my exercise. Now I have avoided even starting diabetes meds and got off both cholesterol and blood pressure meds. Hurrah! But the nutrition crowd did me no good at all (other than burning a few calories ranting at them). Some common sense and moderation was the ticket. And sanity. Food is not evil – too much food is bad. The only thing wrong with the stuff nutritionist hate (fat, sugar, even the debunked dietary cholesterol consumption) is mostly high calorie density food and you should definitely observe moderation with these. Vegis are good but not a religion. You should eat the right amount of foods you like – period!

And get lots of exercise.

Typically exercise is downplayed by the nutrition scolds. They’d rather have a villain and Monsanto and McDonalds and BigGulps make a great pinata. Blame it all on the evil satans attempting to make you obese and med dependent.

But what about personal responsibility! Sure you can consume way too many calories at fast food or other high calorie food choices, but really, folks, it’s simple – calories in must be no more than calories burned and if it’s getting rid of the excess weight calories in must be less than calories burned. And despite stupid nonsense from nutrition scolds as far as just obesity goes (there are other more valid arguments for “balanced” diet) calories are just calories.

So why is exercise denounced. Well, for one thing it’s hard and time-consuming. It’s certainly true it takes more time to work off calories than to consume them. But there are a ton of benefits to exercise, esp. long and slow (forget the high intensity fads, they’re maybe 20% more per hour than good aerobic exercise, so hike an extra mile or bike an extra three miles instead).

And finally there is proof. Here in just a news release about a study but at least from a reputable source, American Journal of Medicine, rather than some woo-peddling “integrative” (aka quack) medicine source.

Yes, there is an increase in obesity, not quite the cherry-picked and exaggerated reports you get elsewhere, but it is real and it is causing health problems. So how about some scientifically grounded advice on what to do about it instead of a bunch of zealous ideology.

It’s lack of exercise that is more readily correlated with average weight gain. We sit on our butts too much not eat at fast food joints too much. In fact since this study covers the last 20 years that is all well within the existence of fast food and processed food and sugar and flour and all the other substances the scolds denounce. But during that time, when plenty of bad food choices were available (and not really increasing) exercise decreased, quite dramatically for some groups and there was rising obesity. Too much sitting around, too much working (this time period is also a time where many have been forced into extra hours or multiple jobs making time for exercise scarce) and not enough moving.

So instead of Pollan’s “eat real food, not too much, mostly plants”, I say, now backed by science “eat enough food and move enough” – balance. You want that ice cream – it will cost you, so don’t eat it unless you have the time and inclination to work it off. If you do exercise then you can eat what you want (counting, or at least being aware of, calories). But also recognize exercise means sweating a little, a slow-paced loop around the block isn’t going to do it. 10,000 steps a day – a good start, but 5000 faster steps probably even better, but 2000 extreme steps, that’s wrecking your body.




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Tracing just the Keystone

I finished manually digitizing Omaha’s Keystone Trail using Google Earth and creating a path, by eyeball, for the entire distance, in numerous segments to avoid mistakes while in Google Earth. I then manually edited the .KML file to merge the segments and correct some minor errors, and then converted the <coordinates>…</coordinates> to a Garmin Mapsource tracklog. This resulting in a track that had 2412 points (whew, what a tedious effort) for a total distance of 40.9km (my previous estimate by manually creating a Mapsource route overlaid on my tracklogs resulted in 40.7km which is probably less accurate than the track created in Google Earth, but at least they’re close).

I completed another 11.1 mile ride today on the northern segment (including a flat tire that forced me to turn around) and so have 12 total tracklogs for a combined distance of 128.5km or 3.14X coverage. So here’s the complete trace:


The northern portion of the trail is the most problematic for getting an accurate trace. Here is the first mile or so:


The grey trace is the one I made from Google Earth and the others are actual tracklogs of walks or rides. The problem is this portion of the trail goes through a park and is heavily wooded. This makes digitizing on Google Earth difficult as the trail is often not visible. But the real tracklogs are problematic too as GPS doesn’t work as well (accurately) in woods since the trees and leaves scatter or attenuate the satellite signal. Here’s the real difficulty shown zoomed in some:


This is the very start of the trail, mostly under trees. There is a parking lot and a small playground (the northernmost curve goes around that playground, is visible in Google Earth so the grey trace is probably the most accurate). But soon the entire trail is under tree canopy so you can see the huge spread (over 60m wide from most extreme tracks). It’s interesting that today’s ride (out-and-back in this area twice) is actually what is creating the outlying tracks and the walk I took a few days ago is much closer to the Google Earth tracing, so this shows how more data does not improve the accuracy even though eyeball averaging of the outlying tracks would probably be close to the Google Earth trace.

And this curve:


where the trail is (mostly) visible in Google Earth and thus the grey track is probably the most accurate again shows the problem of GPS logs significantly deviating from the true path.

So with more data I don’t actually have a better answer leaving two questions: 1) how much more data will it take to really define better accuracy, say at least 2m, and, 2) what kind of algorithm will it take to actually do the averaging.

Again, as I’ve said before, this exercise is just practice as getting precise location of the Keystone is fairly irrelevant, but going through the exercise provides the opportunity to work through the problem and develop technique (or at least some sense of accuracy) for someday charting some trail that is not well known.


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Silly military spending

I saw this article about the aging infrastructure that supports the U.S.’s land based nuclear missiles and some how it doesn’t seem to add up. Assuming the facts are true (and that may be dubious) in this article, does the proposed (and actual) spending make sense:

One example is the Huey helicopter fleet, which escorts road convoys that move Minuteman missiles, warheads and other key components. It also moves armed security forces into the missile fields in an emergency, even though it’s too slow, too small, too vulnerable to attack and cannot fly sufficient distances.

The seven Hueys flown daily at Minot were built in 1969. The yearly cost of keeping them running has more than doubled over the past four years, according to Air Force statistics — from $12.9 million in 2010 to $27.8 million last year.

Let’s just start with the maintenance cost. Assuming this really is only seven helicopters the 2013 maintenance cost was $3.97 million per helicopter. Sheesh, what does a brand new helicopter cost? Furthermore in 2010 they’d already spent $1.8 million each. What are they “maintaining” for that price? Let’s assume that in 2011 and 2012 they spent somewhere in between, so let’s say: $1.8, $2.5, $3.2, $4.0, or $11.5 million in last four years! Can’t they replace the helicopter for less than that?

I tried to find the cost of a new helicopter and without a great deal of searching found a range from about $0.5M to $65M (a very large 40 person helicopter) with a more typical price of around $3.0. Used Hueys seem to go for around $0.65 million (hey military, why not buy a bunch of used ones and cannibalize parts from them, or use the old used ones for some of your missions). It appears you can buy a new Huey equivalent for about $20M. But does the Air Force really need a military grade helicopter or just something to do their claimed missions: escorts road convoys that move Minuteman missiles, warheads and other key components. It also moves armed security forces into the missile fields in an emergency.

And why are they flying their existing Hueys daily? Does the airforce really move warheads and other key components every day? Do they have emergency that requires security forces every day. Even with some training can’t they fly less than every day?

And do they really need a replacement that is not, as it is claimed the Huey is,  it’s too slow, too small, too vulnerable to attack and cannot fly sufficient distances. Have the distances increased since the missile silos were built – don’t think so. Are they really planning for their helicopters to be attacked on U.S. soil (oh yeah, Red Dawn, the commies are coming to North Dakota and Montana).

Again, assuming the article’s facts are correct, does this just sound like silly military spending, wanting new helicopters to do a mission the old ones were doing but somehow today the mission’s requirements are greater? For what they’re spending on maintenance can’t they get replacements?

Something doesn’t add up here and I think this is just the typical military mentality of excess spending. Some branch of the Air Force is feeling neglected (envious of the silly F22′s and F35′s) so they want in on some of that spending. Or some defense contractor looking for a big appropriation?

As long as the missiles are there let’s maintain the force, but can’t we do it for less? We make other parts of the government (say the VA, National Park Service) spend less so I suspect the Air Force could modernize but do it a lot cheaper.


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Software challenge of converting GPS tracks into street maps

I’ve read that Google is creating street maps from GPS data without manual intervention. So here’s my attempt to do the same thing:


This is the maximum amount of “big data” I’ve accumulated with a consumer grade GPSr (Garmin eTrek). These tracklogs are mostly bike rides, but a few walks (get higher resolution tracks). Usually I start the tracking in my driveway and then go on various paths.

The red path is my manual tracing on Google Earth to create a path of my corner and my driveway. The east-west street is a major Omaha street with five traffic lanes and the north-south street is a two lane street I live on. The extra bit (north part, toward the west) is my driveway. My tracing is fairly accurate despite a number of trees obscuring the street boundaries, but I know where the boundaries should be and could use unobscured parts of the streets to set the Google Earth path fairly accurately.

Now all the other tracks (in black thin lines and dots) are my recorded tracks. You can see there are a lot of anomalous tracks (all my actual paths are on streets, not in yards so they should lie inside (or at least near) the red lines.

Now “averaging” all this data (what is that algorithm?) still probably wouldn’t get a very good answer due to the outlier tracks so a good algorithm would have to find a way to discard the highly anomalous tracks, but how do we recognize those? Especially without using any knowledge of the actual result (IOW, let’s say this was all in the wilderness where there is no “proven” data and/or assume I made all the tracks in the dark so I didn’t develop my own mental map – i.e. how does pure code that knows nothing about this area actually generate the red line?).

So in some ways more data (unless there is huge amount) may actually decrease accuracy. With a huge amount of data (presumably, don’t have so can’t really say) potentially the outlier tracks could be discarded. Or with just a small amount of data (probably like the Google StreetView cars get, hardly likely they traverse every street many times) then by chance we might get just the bad data. Now, I’d guess that Google is potentially using a surveying grade commercial GPSr which has much greater accuracy and that probably helps. Also my handheld GPSr is sometimes obscured from satellite line-of-sight by my body (I carry it in the back pockets of my biking jersey, not mounted on the bike, or as Google probably does on the roof of the car). And I tend to start my trips as soon as GPS locks on and I know its initial accuracy is less than when it’s had a chance to locate more satellites and cleanly eliminate its clock slew (consumer GPSr have a fairly inaccurate clock so once they can see many satellites they begin to adjust their internal clock to minimize error by looking at more than the minimal number of satellites for tracking, but that takes a while to settle down).

In short I think it is dubious I could ever get very accurate maps (plus the huge challenge of how to write the code to analyze the data and get the “answer”) with consumer grade GPS. However, more approximate maps might be good enough to define hiking or biking routes, esp. those that don’t have existing high accuracy maps. There are a number of websites that accumulate GPS tracks and allow members to download these to provide navigation aids for muscle travel. I really wonder how good those are.

Even ignoring the bad data, again trying to design an algorithm to sort through this data would be really tricky (just find the middle of the streets, not the edges).

And I assume that tracing from Google Earth (when that is possible) is actually the best way (albeit tedious) to develop tracks, at least with the trail is visible which is a problem for more remote areas. Well known trails like the Pacific Crest or Appalachian Trail have good GPS logs (although the trails themselves change from year to year and thus old logs may be wrong), but less known trails still exist essentially unmapped. In rugged country where a navigation mistake could be costly having good maps is critical. I assume in years to come the crowdsourcing of maps probably will eventually pin down almost any place on the Earth where people are likely to travel, but right now there is still a lot of missing data and it’s not clear that consumer grade GPS tracks are going to solve that, esp. if the track websites don’t use more sophisticated software and “big data”.


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