Fire in the belly

Yesterday I saw a cyclist pull up to a stoplight, preparing to make a right turn (that’s a left in America). Road work meant that he had to ride up on the sidewalk and merge back into traffic after making his turn.

He was a MAMIL, a middle-aged man in Lycra. White beard, decent bike. Built about like me, in fact.

Also stopped at the intersection was a semi truck, an empty flatbed used for carrying shipping containers.

The light turned green, and the bike slotted in behind the trucker. But then something changed. As the semi driver worked through the gears, the cyclist seemed to switch from “afternoon-ride” mode to “desperate breakaway”. He glued himself to the back of the trailer, pedaling faster and faster.

Up out of the saddle, arms bent, head forward. Even as the road tilted uphill, the acceleration continued. 20 mph, 22, 25, faster. I could tell he hadn’t planned quite right… too small a gear meant that his legs were spinning too fast to maintain for long. But shifting mid-sprint is tricky… it’s easy to pop the chain off and literally throw yourself over the handlebars. So he made the safe choice and just pedaled himself out.

After about 30 seconds, it was all over. The guy sat back down, the truck finally up to full speed and rattling off down the road.

For those few seconds, a regular guy was transported to the final few meters of a Tour de France stage he’d seen on TV. The lone breakaway rider has been out suffering for hours, while the rest of the pack steadily reels him in. Almost every time, the poor bastard gets swallowed up and finishes near the back. But almost every race, somebody tries anyway, pinning everything on that final 30 seconds. Win or not, the breakaway guy knows he took charge and did everything he could. That’s an immensely satisfying thing when the world seems to be spinning out of control around us.

I had such a rush watching this little vignette and feeling all those things… all the best part of sport, condensed into a moment.

Even if I didn’t beat the truck.

Playlist

Visiting the bank today for the first time since lockdown. New social distancing rules in effect.

So as I wait, the chipper 80s playlist keeps me entertained … I am not making this up… Doctor doctor, can’t you see I’m burnin’ burnin’

Now what?

NZ has emerged safely from the first wave of the pandemic. Only 21 people dead of the virus, and other causes of injury and death actually declined such that overall we’re ahead of where we would have been. Most businesses and schools have reopened. Limits on public gatherings are lifting. Etc.

But the border is still mostly closed, which is a big deal for an island. Tourism and travel, paired with immigration for work and education, have driven a lot of the country’s prosperity over the past 50 years. So now what?

Nobody knows, of course. Back in the good old days, the field we now know as “economics” was often called “political economy.” And so it surely is. The world is very obviously a giant experiment in how groups of people, polities, will make money for themselves. It always is, of course, but you can really see it now… the rules of the game are clarified and the different choices stark, the consequences measurable in the short term. Are you China, or Sweden, or New Zealand, or the USA? Do your polities end up with death, or debt, or hunger? All of the above? None? It doesn’t take a PhD or a supercomputer to answer. People die or they don’t, there are jobs or not. Easy.

Here, we are heading into an election. Our sainted Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has kept us safe so far, and is the most popular leader of the modern age. Besides using her prodigious leadership skills, she’s done what she was ideologically predisposed for: rolling out a massive government program to dictate every aspect of people’s lives. And it worked!

But now the Opposition has a chance to sow doubt… can this Young Socialist really regrow an economy? Or just take on more debt? Can she hold her own with the public- and private-sector plutocrats we will need to inject their money into our island paradise?

So far, the opposition National Party’s campaigners appear as effective as a pack of bumbling, spiteful middle schoolers, and it seems likely that we’ll get another three years of Jacinda and her slightly wobbly circle of Ministers. So let’s find out what results this experiment brings!

Bear Claus

Are teddy bears in the window a thing everywhere? They sure are here.

And if you don’t have one, you do what you can.

And the horse you rode in on…

Today is the last day of New Zealand’s coronavirus Alert Level 4. Tomorrow we go down to Level 3, which allows a few businesses to reopen. Level 4 with KFC is how a lot of people are describing it.

My new bike tyres arrived the other day so I felt confident to venture a bit further afield today. It’s a glorious autumn day, and the final day of what will almost certainly be the best local cycling I’ll ever get. It was a great ride, and even better because – 10 years after most people – I made the switch to slightly wider tires, which really do seem to soften the ride a bit. Somehow in my youth I got it in my head that skinnier is better and have stuck to that, uncomfortably, till now.

Toward the end I rode down by the Viaduct, which on a holiday like today (even though ANZAC Day was Saturday we get the Monday off) is normally packed. The super yachts are there as always.

This one is the Rocinante, which is according to one source the 122nd largest yacht in the world, reportedly owned by a Spanish billionaire. I heard people inside laughing loudly… probably the crew. While I don’t imagine many super yacht owners are suffering greatly during the pandemic, this crew at least ended up in a Comccomfortable spot for quarantine.

I don’t know why you’d name your yacht after Don Quixote’s horse… I mean, a fine animal for sure, but it leaves the owner in the role of tilting at windmills and doing a lot of other non-billionaire activities. I guess at some level of wealth you can go ahead and not worry about what I think of your boat name.

Stand together apart

Today is ANZAC Day, when the down under countries remember the sacrifices made in war. The day’s slogan is Lest We Forget, and it’s timely… we should not forget that our 21st-century rich-country ease is a fragile thing, balanced atop a military, technological, economic, climatic and social house of cards constructed mostly by a very mixed bag of powerful people.

Normally we would all gather in the pre-dawn chill for services at the nearest war memorial, which in our case just happens to be the big War Memorial Museum in the Auckland Domain. There are normally speeches, honour guards, bugles and bagpipes. And then there’s breakfast out. Normally the veterans and the widows get together to raise a glass and listen to the old songs.

But this year things are not normal, and so we were asked to stand together apart: at the letterbox, on the balcony, in the living room. We played the service on the radio and cried anyway. And while we remembered past wars and past sacrifice, today seems more focused on remembering the futures – especially the futures we don’t want and must work hard to avoid.

Teddy bear, schmeddy bear

Everybody’s got a teddy bear in the window, how sweet.

But this family knows how to party… they’ve also got a giant metal mayfly who looks perfectly capable of wrapping the teddy up and sucking its milk chocolate blood until there’s nothing left but glass eyes and a faint whimper heard late at night…

Tiny bubbles

Here in NZ, it’s all about “stay safely in your bubble” as we enter the fifth and hopefully final week of lockdown.

We got this happy kitty picture from back in Vermont. It’s nice to know that Deja and Vu are safe in their bubble and even safer because they have their own bubble wrap supply.

In your neighborhood

Today’s morning and evening walks took us to familiar spots where we discovered various things we’d never seen. But some of the enduring themes of this blog were in evidence…

These cherry trees were presented by the Prime Minister of Japan on a visit in 1980, as proven by a plaque on the ground.

This knocker is just up the street from us.

This high end clarinet shop (!!!) is down the other end of the block. I was just about to take my horn to a regular music shop for annual maintenance but now I’m thinking about the atelier… so what if it’s more expensive to have my beautiful Buffet treated like fine jewels???

In the evening, we went down to the shore and watched some water birds grazing in the tranquil bay.

Further down the shoreline path we passed a spot that previously yielded a bunch of old crockery shards, and there was an easy handful again tonight.

Amazingly, the two pieces in the front with part of the Little Jack Horner nursery rhyme were found on different trips months apart.

Although the strictest part of NZ’s COVID-19 lockdown ends next Tuesday, these walks will be around as long as we care to pay attention to what’s around us.

Local Motion

It’s great to be locked down here in paradise, but it’s still a viral pandemic lockdown, and the current normal requires some getting used to. My exercise routine, which turns out to be a pretty important ingredient in my recipe for a sunny disposition, has been hit hard.

After they closed my gym and outlawed swimming, I still had running and cycling. But after a few short runs my gammy knee made its position known: nope. And then we had a few days of wind and rain that kept me off the bike.

Wednesday night we watched an inspiring documentary called One Day Ahead, about a group of New Zealanders who rode the entire 2018 Tour de France route one day ahead of the actual race. That’s epic mileage for a regular guy and it made for a good story. I was already itchy to get out, and the film pushed me over the edge. I woke up early Thursday and prepared to hit the road.

Only to find a worrying split in the sidewall of my back tire. Given the lockdown, there’s no way I could risk a shredded tire. Back inside to a particularly full day of work. Grrrr. Can’t get a new tyre till next week sometime.

Yesterday’s NYT had a story about people who make Strava pictures… running or cycling in a particular pattern so the GPS trace makes a picture or says something. The author is also locked down in paradise, Provence, but is under strict requirements to stay within 1km of home.

If they could work out, AND get a piece published in The Times, surely I could get off my butt somehow?!?

The Eureka bulb in my head lit up… not sure why I couldn’t have figured this out on Thursday morning but I didn’t… it turns out you don’t have to ride your bike in a long straight line. I just finished a very satisfying workout on the hills within a kilometer of home, and if my tire had blown out I could have easily walked back. The tire, of course, was fine.

After that tough hill intervals session I will feel a lot more relaxed about the Prosecco and pâté we are opening to celebrate finishing our taxes.

I think that I shall never see

Before…

And after…

This is the parking area near the Parnell train station, about a 20-minute walk from the house. The site has been lackadaisically under construction since we got here. The top picture was September 2017, and then last week. There was some hue and cry from the neighbors about cutting all those big old trees, but the developers won. We have a lot of big old trees here, but still kinda sad.

And speaking of that, i certainly noticed these it trees more because I’m reading a very mind-bending book at the moment: The Overstory.

Continue reading “I think that I shall never see”

Stormy weather

It’s been a rainy, blustery day. Lee made a second, great, batch of hot cross buns after the first try yesterday didn’t rise sufficiently. Those first ones will be seagull food. The failure was especially frustrating since the recipe was from the BBC, who ought to know their buns, and had a zillion positive reviews. Oh well… more yeast did the trick.

Home/work

Here’s me, doing my Data Science homework. At my newly commissioned home office, where I’ll be for at least another couple of weeks thanks to NZ’s stunningly successful lockdown strategy. And this home office is also one half of the dining table. If this working from home situation goes on too much longer we may have to shuffle some furniture around.

The picture of people over my head is a proud souvenir from my first informatics conference in 1999… which also happens to be the last time I started a graduate degree… maybe I’ll finish this time by setting my sights a bit more realistically.

Everything’s hotter with scotch bonnet on it

Before…

During…

And after…

Scotch bonnet peppers are a favorite in the Caribbean, and they’re crazy hot, comparable to a habanero on the Scoville scale. I love the flavor of those Caribbean hot sauces, so when we found a scotch bonnet plant at the nursery we decided to give it a go.

The plant has done well and the peppers really are that hot. Lee made two different recipes, one with a bit of fruity taste, and both are knock-your-socks-off good!

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