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Universala Kongreso

August 6, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

For several years, I've wanted to attend the Universala Kongreso with Phil. We had both gone individually before: he went to the UK in Berlin in 1999 travelling to Germany with in-laws and I went to Copenhagen in 2011. Our life circumstances had conspired against travelling together: the closest UK-oj were in Cuba, where it was illegal for US citizens to go. In the earlier years, I was a new professor with young children. In later years, Phil was in constrained financial circumstances having retired when his work site closed before his pension started and during the collapse of the Market. But this year was special: the 100th Universala Kongreso and in France, which promised to be both a large and interesting event.

Phil arrived a day early to Amherst so we could leave and travel together to France. We spent a pleasant day with my family and our mom. We departed the next day around 1pm by bus from the UMass campus. The first leg of the bus journey took us to Springfield uneventfully, beyond the bus driver complaining that we were speaking too loudly -- we were at the very front of the bus. We continued uneventfully until we arrived at the South Station in Boston where the bus to the airport was late. For a half hour, we paced nervously and then began to seriously consider when to make alternate arrangements so as to not miss our flight, but eventually the bus arrived, delivered us to the airport, and left us even with enough time to quaff a beer and toast the completion of the first part of our journey.

En Bostona Flughaveno

Our first flight to Reykjavik was pleasant. Icelandair has Boeing 757's that are pretty comfortable as modern airlines go. They didn't have tomato juice, however, which was a disappointment. But they did have interesting lighting. On the roof of the aircraft, blue, green, and yellow lights flickered, growing and dimming in intensity giving the effect of the aurora borealis.

I was surprised when we arrived in Reykjavik that we were not directed through passport control. We checked with the agent but travellers headed to Britain could fly on directly, rather than entering the EU in Iceland. We had a relatively short layover and just got a cup of overpriced coffee while we waited.

The flight to Britain was relatively short (less than 3 hours) but once we arrived, it felt like we had to walk the same distance to reach passport control. And there, we entered a kafkaesque line that went back and forth across a gigantic room 5 or 6 times. We shuffled back and forth seeing the same faces over and over again. Finally, we reached an agent who affected anger that we hadn't filled out the immigration form sufficiently: we had put neither a port of departure nor a local address. In the first case, I wasn't sure what "port of departure" meant: whether Reykjavik or Boston. In the second case, we didn't have a local address because we were leaving the same day. "What? The same day? Why? Why did you come here?" he demanded exasperatedly. We explained we were on route to Lille and wanted to go through the Chunnel. "For the scenery?" he snorted derisively. We nodded our heads vigorously. He looked like he'd never heard of such a hare-brained scheme, but stamped our passports and let us in.

After collecting our bags, we had another 3 hour walk to reach the Heathrow Express -- the train into central London. (It didn't actually take 3 hours, but it felt like it.) We followed the signs and found the train without difficulty and arrived in Paddington station. At that point, we weren't sure how to navigate to the Eurostar station in St. Pancras. But, more importantly, we had been travelling for something like 12 hours and needed beer. Luckily, there was a place called "The Beer House" close at hand. They had a beer on tap that looked pretty good, but the pretty barmaid said there was a problem with the refrigeration of those taps. The other options looked less interesting, but, on her recommendation, I selected a local pale ale and ordered Chicken Tikka Massala. Phil got the same.

Much refreshed, we found an information booth where a nice lady give us directions to find the right platform to take the tube to St. Pancras. We had to walk upstairs, past the taxi stand and then back down a lift to Platform 16. It was confusing -- in fact it began to seem like London was one big train station with different tracks, platforms, entrances, exits, lifts, and stairs going every which way. Purchasing the tickets was similarly tricky to navigate in the machine but, luckily, there was a not a long line of impatient people at the time we needed to travel and we had plenty of time, so it was not a problem to take as long as we needed.

We had several hours available to us at St. Pancras, so the first thing we did was walk through the entire station to see what was there. It was raining heavily outside, so there wasn't much point in trying to explore the surrounding area. The Eurostar documentation had warned us we needed to check in in advance, but it became clear you couldn't check in very much in advance -- they had a nice waiting room, but you could only get in about 45 minutes before your train. Eventually we got a pot (small) of coffee, as we were beginning to run down.

Finally, they let us in, we waited a bit more, and then boarded the train. We were seated near the middle of one of the last carriages in a backward-facing seat with forward facing seats opposing. The train headed out passing through many small tunnels before finally diving down under the Channel. Each time the train went into or out of a tunnel, there was a strong pressure wave that would make your ears pop. It was actually pretty uncomfortable. But the train was fast and smoother and it was interesting to see some of the British countryside and a good bit of the French countryside as the sun set. The train finally rolled into Lille around 10pm.

The last leg of our trip was to navigate in the dark through the streets of Lille with our rolling luggage. We had looked at the map ahead of time and set off looking for landmarks, but couldn't find anything we recognized. Phil had loaded a mapping application to his tablet that didn't require network and I had my actual, physical compass, and between the two tools, we figured out that we'd gotten turned around and had come out the wrong side of the station. With that key piece of knowledge, we got turned around and found our way first to the Kongresejo and then to our hotel. They were expecting us, we checked in, and, after quick showers to wash off the grime, we collapsed into our beds.

Our hotel room at the Hotel Ibis Styles Bellfroi was entirely satisfactory: two twin beds and a tiny bathroom. The only deficiency, from my standpoint, was that the sink was so close to the wall, I could barely squeeze between them to get to the toilet. But it was clean and well maintained with plenty of hot water.

We arose in good order and enjoyed our first breakfast. It included a sufficiently vast array of selections: croissant and chocolate croissant; two kinds of bread; ham and several kinds of cheese (a hard cheese, a stinky cheese, and packets of cream cheese); several types of cereal; and I think there were bagels and some kind of banana-bread or cake or something. For drinks, there was milk and two kinds juice (orange and probably apricot) -- and additionally a rube-goldbergesque machine that had a bin of oranges on top and would feed them in and squeeze them to produce fresh juice. There was also a Melita Cup machine for coffee which Phil found subptimal, but which made an acceptable cafe aŭ lait or cappuchino.

After the long travels, we couldn't quite remember the details of the schedule, so we reported early to the kongresejo to find out what was happening. We found it still closed, but met up with several new and old friends outside and chatted amiably until things got started. We registered without problem, got our badges, and found a table in the Kongresa Kafejo to peruse the kongreslibro and arrange our schedule.

I did not much like the kongresejo, the Lille Grand Palais. It was OK, but had weird architecture inside, with bizarre angles, strange lighting, and everthing antigogglin. The giant room Michaux was used as open space, but also had musical events and had the worst acoustics EVAR. The organizers also did not reserve a large enough venue for the plenary events, so hundreds and hundreds of participants had to watch the events via television from overflow rooms. It might have been understandable if this was simply the largest venue available but literally attached to the Lille Grand Palais is Le Zénith, which has a capacity of 7000.

Kongresejo

We spent the morning in the meeting of the "komitato" of UEA. The power structure in UEA is rather strange, to American sensibilities that wants to see division of powers. In my analysis, most of the power is currently held by the Director of the Central Office. There is a president and a board of directors that also have a lot of influence, but it was clear from many of the comments that they, in fact, exercise relatively little control over what the Director wants to do. Below them, is a large body, partly elected and partly appointed by the various national Esperanto organizations, based on the size of their membership, which seems largely powerless. They are requested to take various votes and can speak at the meetings, but largely are held at arm's length.

After the komitat-kunsido, we met up with Yoshito, a twitter friend from Japan, and went for our first lunch in France. We eventually found a little Tunisian restaurant and got, basically, sandwiches. Phil and Yoshito got kefta and I got kabob.

In general the food has been good. In later days, we went also to a Turkish restaurant where we got salads with tandoori chicken on them. We went to a Tex-Mex restaurant that was a bit out of the way — and expensive — because I'm always interested to see what Europeans do with Mexican food. (In Madrid and Copenhagen, my experiences were eye-opening). Here, it was just good Mexican food. Particularly notable was the Salade de la Brasseurs (or Brewer's Salad) which had, on a base of lettuce and greens, potatoes, green beans, plus, for a special treat, chicken livers and gizzards! (You can see for yourself on their menu. It was pretty good.

I got the Brewer's Salad at Tres Brasseurs, a microbrew near the train station -- just a few steps from both our hotel and the kongresejo. Lille is very close to Belgium and beer is a huge thing here. Unfortunately, they don't know what bitter beer is. Kalle and I both got "La palette de dégustation" which lets you try 4 small glasses of their beer. They were all odd and interesting, but none was really hoppy. I tried also Affligem, two beers from Pelforth, and the special beer brewed for the Kongress by lepers, but they were all kind of sickeningly sweet with almost no hoppy flavor. I got someone to help me ask in French "La pression plus amer, si vous plait!" We went to little dive nearby and and I tried out my French. The cute little waitress thought for a minute and then brought two bottles of Anosteké — an artisanal beer. It wasn't bad — it was *almost* bitter.

It was wonderful to reconnect with so many friends. I'm kind of amazed how many people I know in Esperantujo — from all over the world. I was particularly pleased to reconnect with Kalle Kniivila and Hirotaka Masaaki. Kalle was there only for a few days, in part, to speak about his recent books "Homoj de Putin" and "Krimeo estas Nia". Kalle is a journalist who specializes in the politics of Russia and Eastern Europe and won substantial prizes for the books in Sweden and Finland. But the same time they were released in Swedish and Finnish, he released them also in Esperanto. After his book presentation and signing, he signed the two copies he'd brought as examples for me. Hirotaka (or Vastalto in Esperantujo) helped me with my Esperanto books by checking my haiku manuscripts. He also wrote a very nice forward for my second book. We had interacted a lot online, but had never met in person. It was wonderful to finally meet him and to spend the day together on the excursion to Bulonjo ĉe Maro. But so many friends! Bergino, Bonulo, Maria, Normando, Bill, Lesek, both Jose Antonios, Istvan, Neil, and so many more. And many I had heard of, or interacted with on-line, but had never met in person. And of course, thousands more esperantists. The final number was nearly 2700 participants from more than 80 countries.

The Universala Kongreso starts on Saturday and runs to the following Saturday, but on Wednesday there are no events in the Kongresejo. There are a bunch of organized excursions, but many people simply use the time to explore the host city. At the other UK I attended, I was invited to travel to Sweden from Denmark to spend the day at Kalle's house with a bunch of other notable esperantists. This time, I signed up for the excursion to the ceremony at Bulonjo ĉe Maro honoring the first Universala Kongreso which happened there 110 years ago. I wrote up an article for Libera Folio about the excursion. It was great, although I would have enjoyed a bit more time to just take in the sights and atmosphere.

On the whole the congress exceeded my expectations, although a few things were disappointing. I was disappointed to find that the Libroservo hadn't brought any copies of my haiku books to sell. This was not really surprising to me although I joked, when Kalle said that his book had already sold out on Tuesday, that my books must have already sold out by Sunday when I first visited the Libroservo. I was also disappointed that only some of the participants were able to come to the key ceremonies (the opening, the closing, etc) in the main auditorium. They had provided tickets to attend these and it was only upon reaching the door that Phil discovered that he had signed up too late and had to watch those events on TV. :-/

When arriving at the Kongresejo one day, I saw a man from Angola (he was wearing a hat that said Angola and confirmed that he was from Angola) just outside the door with a suitcase on the ground with stuff for sale. There were watches with the logo of the Congress for 10 euros and t-shirts and other stuff. As we were arriving Ionel Onet (who runs the libroservo) was berating the fellow, telling him he didn't have the right to do that. He stood his ground and when I came back later, I asked if I could take his picture and spoke to him for a bit. I figure that what happens inside the kongresejo, UEA can control, but what happens outside is not really any of their business. When I tweeted about it, there was a reply from someone who respectfully disagreed with me. So I was pleased when, during the auction, none other than Humphrey Tonkin mentioned how, as a student, he had taken sweaters from Britain to Polland to sell on the black market and how that had paid for his trip. I was pleased to see he was still there throughout the congress.

Angola samideano

The auction too was fun. Humphrey always puts on a good show and tries to shame people who don't buy anything (most people, since there were several hundred people there and less than 100 items to buy.) He manages to make each item seem interesting. The most expensive item was an original letter by Zamenhof to the Arnhold family — an important banker in Germany at the time. It brought 1100 euros. Most of the items are old and unusual books. Of course most books in Esperanto could be considered "unusual" to begin with. Most go for 30-40 euros, but a few, with interesting inscriptions or particular uniquities, go for more -- sometimes hundreds.

There are a lot of beggars in Lille. No more than most large cities, I suppose. I didn't give money to any of them. One fellow walked past me later making an unpleasant noise. They didn't all appear to be of any particular ethnic group. At the same time, migrant refugees in Calais were causing delays of shipping through the Chunnel. When we went on the excursion to Boulogne, trucks were backed up what looked like a couple of miles trying to offload their containers. At one point, it was also delaying the Eurostar trains, although in the end it didn't affect us. We noticed razor wire on the fences around the Chunnel entrance on the French side. Not so, on the British side.

There were several outstanding musical performances. I blogged about two already -- and there were several I didn't see. I was particularly impressed by a band from Latvia composed of parents (playing keyboard and base) with their son playing guitar and violin. He was a real virtuoso and, overall, the performance was outstanding. I was looking forward to seeing Martin and the Talpoj. Unfortunately their performance was marred by technical difficulties -- the sound wasn't mixed properly and so the vocals were impossible to hear -- at least to hear well enough to understand. Phil was quite interested to note that the musicians all reverted instantly to English when trying to communicate with the technical staff. I observed that English was useful, but that Esperanto was more fun.

Originally, Phil and I had planned to travel back to England after the closing ceremony, spend the night in England, and then fly back the next day. I had put off looking for a room for no good reason but when I finally started looking, I couldn't find any suitable rooms and many places seemed to have a "minimum stay" requiring you to pay for at least two nights. I checked four or five places and, although there were obviously dozens or hundreds that might be suitable, eventually I just gave up and we arranged to stay another night in Lille and take the train back the next day. This gave us another afternoon and evening and enabled us to meet up with Bonulo and Bergino one last time before heading home. We had also gotten a note from a local guy in Lille who had studied Esperanto at one time, but had never actually met up with any esperantists before. He realized the congress was happening too late to get time off from work or participante. But he sent a note asking if anyone wanted to meet up with him, so we invited him to have dinner with us. We met at the fountain by the train station and offered to let him choose the restaurant. He pointed us toward "Holy Cow" -- a burger joint at the side of the station. It was just fine, as burger joints go. Afterward, we walked to a bar he knew. He and I got beer while the others got coffee or lemonade. He had learned Esperanto out of a general interest in Conlangs and was interested in talking about Volapük and Ido -- I remember when I had the same kind of outlook about Esperanto: thinking of it as a language project rather than a real, fully-fledged language with a diverse community of speakers. That kind of attitude doesn't generally survive actual contact with the Esperanto community. In any event, we had a nice time and it was great to spend a bit more time with Bonulo and Bergino.

I rather liked the ambiance in Lille. The architecture is beautiful with many interesting buildings. Many of the streets had bike lanes. There was a bike-rental system that looked to be reasonably priced, although I ended up not renting one. We had plenty to explore on foot and, although it would have been interesting to see more by bike, it would have taken away from spending time at the kongresejo.

The non-esperantist people we met were generally very helpful. As we were trying to walk back to Paddington, we took a wrong turn and ended up walking around two sides of the station where there were no entrances. I asked a beefy brit if he could help, "Sure, mate!" he said. And when I asked if he knew how to get into Paddington Station, he said, "Wot? Well, it's right here, innit?" and directed us to continue a bit farther where there was finally an entrance. In France, people were equally helpful, even though we knew little-or-no French. Many people spoke some English -- the attendants at the hotel were particularly fluent. But many people spoke very little English and we were reduced to pointing at things.

I had an interesting realization while we were in Boulogne: I realized that when they played the French national anthem, it was hard to take it seriously. Too many movies have used it as a punchline for a joke. I've realized recently that my brain is full of stuff I uncritically learned as a child from my environment that all needs to be brought out, considered, and rejected, including attitudes about race, gender, and other nationalities. I have to admit, however, that its kind of hard to take the French language seriously too. It sounds too contrived to be real: who in the world would really say things like that!

It's been particularly nice to spend time with Phil. As children, we were very close, but grew apart in middle-school and high-school. We reconnected after college and, when the internet happened, were both early users and kept in touch electronically daily -- or often more frequently. But circumstances have conspired such that we live rather far from one another. Travelling to the UK has been great fun and given us a lot of time to chat and discuss things in depth. We spoke basically only in Esperanto until after the congress was over. After the congress, we continued to speak in Esperanto when other people were around but, little by little, switched back to English.

We knew our travel arrangements were overly complicated, but everything worked as expected: walk to station, train to London, walk to Paddington, Heathrow Express to airport, flight to Iceland, 10 hour layover :-(, flight to Boston, bus to South Station, bus to Springfield, bus to UMass, car-ride home. We arrived home exhausted, but in good order. Still, I think that next time, I'll aim for greater simplicity when travelling.

I'm not sure I will need to attend another Universala Kongreso. I was glad to see all my friends and to experience a really big UK -- and to participate in the touching ceremony at Boulogne sur Mer. But it's such a long and expensive trip. But, Phil and I agreed that if we're both still around, we'd be definitely up for the 200th…

Concert at the Universala Kongreso

July 28, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

Tonight, after a pleasant dinner with Kalle Kniivila and family, Phil and I attended a concert at the Universala Kongreso. More than a thousand spectators packed the auditorium: the largest part elderly white Europeans, but many Asians and some Americans and others (from Oceania and the Carribean).

The first act, Getch Gaëtano, was quite good. He was a young white guy who played guitar and had a very solid backup band. They played rock, but with a northern European, sometimes even Celtic beat. When he came on stage he said "Saluton!" but then started speaking French. This was a bit of a surprise to me, as the musical performances are usually in Esperanto.

Getch Gaëtano

After several songs, they performed a song where he read the words in Esperanto — very competently — and received twice the applause. Then played a couple more songs in French (and one with some English, which had the weird line "I really have to touch your balls" — I swear that's what he said. I'm not making that up.) They one more more song in Esperanto then back back for one encore and were done.

The next group was a reggae band led by Zhou-Mack Mafuila from Zaire. He is a stocky black man with long dreadlocks. He came on the stage and called out "Saluton ĉiuj! Ĉu bone?" And the audience went wild: "BONEGE!"

Zhou-Mack Mafuila

He held the audience enthralled for a great, long set of reggae music: some in Esperanto and some in other languages, but interspersed with conversation with the audience in Esperanto. It was striking to me the immediate connection that really sharing language can make to bridge cultures, in a way that nothing else can.

I've often wondered if we could teach kids from the barrio, the inner city, and the suburbs all to speak Esperanto, because they could meet and talk and get to know one another without the barriers of language and accent to divide them.

Airline Trail Redux

July 18, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

In 2011, I rode the Airline Trail and wished I could ride it with Daniel and get dropped off at one end and picked up at another point. Today, Alisa helped me do it.

I put together a picnic lunch and we drove down there — it's a rather long drive. The weather was iffy, but the rain held off as we got on the trail in downtown East Hampton.

When I had ridden before, I'd started outside of town -- there's a nice parking area at Cranberry Pond. But it was fun to start right in town. The first quarter mile is only marginally ride-able. It goes up onto a fill, over a road, and then descends where a viaduct was removed and then goes back up. But then you get on the trail for reals and the riding is good.

The first several miles are generally flat or downhill. This is the part I'd ridden before. I was expecting to ride more slowly to enjoy the scenery, but Daniel seemed to be trying to get the ride over with, so we went pretty fast. We crossed the Rapallo and Lyman viaducts and continued generally downhill until the Blackledge River. For a relatively short period afterward, the trail was very sandy. It was not just loose sand, but was much more difficult and treacherous riding. The trail also began to trend upwards.

There is also a brief section where there's no trail crossing for Rt 2. There are in fact no indicators regarding how to cross the highway. It's not hard to figure out, but more signage -- and maybe some painted signals on the pavement might be nice. In fact, the whole trail could use better signposts and mile markers would be nice too.

As we entered the Grayville Falls Town Park, there's a nice little bridge over Judd Brook, where Daniel took a break for a few minutes as he was getting tired.

Daniel Tired

I exchanged a few text messages with Alisa, who had found the park, and then we pressed on, arriving just a few minutes later.

We had a lovely picnic using our picnic set and, just as we finished our repast, it began to rain. We got a little damp as we packed everything up and got into the car, but it just added a little color to the adventure. Now, I'll have to look further down the trail for more adventure!

Cape Cod Vacation

July 13, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

My inlaws invited Alisa and me to come vacation on the Cape. We stayed at a place called The Soundings in Dennisport along the southern coast. It was very opportune for me, as I've been wanting to ride on the Cape Cod Rail Trail. The trail has three ends with a rotary near the beginning to choose which way to go. The first day, I scouted the area and then set out to find the rail trail.

Cape Cide Bike Trail Rotary

My first effort took me down Belmont to Depot Road and then Bell's Neck Road. This last crosses the rail trail and looked like a quiet back road. It was. But then it became a gravel road and then got very sandy. I almost wiped out several times and resolved to not ride that way again. It was a really pretty spot, though, with ponds on both sides of the road, so we went back by car to park and walk around. But not a good place to bicycle. Having found the trail, I rode west a couple of miles to the beginning of the trail and then back to the condo.

I rode out very early the next morning to ride the Old Colony Rail Trail to Chatham. I rode up Depot Road, past Bell's Neck, to Depot Street and then onto the trail. As I arrived at the trail, I was tickled to find a Box Turtle in the parking area. I took a picture of him and then guarded him from vehicles until I could see which way he was going and then helped him into the vegetation.

Bix Turtle

The early part of the trail goes through Harwich to the rotary and then I headed east toward Chatham. It's a lovely trail between cranberry bogs and through oak and pine scrub forest. The trail goes through a few little towns and detours around the Chatham airport before ending unceremoniously at a road.

Having gotten to the end, I decided to look for breakfast and found that the best place seemed to be Hangar B, which was back at the airport I had passed. I rode back and got a seat outside where I could watch the planes coming and going. I got Red-flannel Hash with two poached eggs which came with sourdough toast and a little dish with strawberry, raspberry, and blackberry preserves. It was glorious -- unquestionably the best breakfast I've ever had. (Although the fact that I was starving probably has something to do with it too. :-)

Red-flannel Hash

After breakfast, I rode back and, in the end, went around 26 miles. It was a great ride. Later in the day, we went to the Cape Cod Brewery, where I got to try 5 samples of beer. I tried the regular IPA and then spent all my other samples (plus two extras from Alisa and Mickie) drinking the Bitter End Imperial IPA. It was really good.

Last of the Bitter End

The next morning, I took Alisa out for breakfast at Hangar B and went exploring the north shore by car. I crashed (in the bed) for an hour after lunch and then got on my bike to try to get to the other end — the longest leg.

I left around 1:15 and made good time. There isn't much wind on the rail trail because of the vegetation, but what there was was with me. But it was hot and having the wind with me made me even hotter. I got to Nickerson State Park and found a place to refill my water bottles, then pressed on. When I got to the end of the trail, I was pretty tired. I hacked the portal at the end of the trail and then turned around.

I had only gotten a few miles back when one of my pedals seized up and began grinding. I sent Alisa a text message asking her to organize a rescue and said I'd find a cross-street that would get me over to Rt. 6 to get picked up. It was complicated, however, by the fact that Alisa had left her car key locked in the car, which made driving the car impossible. In the meantime, however, I had found that there was a bike repair place on the cross street, so while we discussed the key situation, I was able to get my pedals replaced and continue my journey.

I was starting to get bonked when I reached Orleans, but found Hot Chocolate Sparrow, an espresso and ice-cream shop by the trail. I had been disgusted to find that on Cape Cod they don't seem to know what a milk shake is and want to make you buy a "frappe". And although this place had "frappes", they had a parenthetic note to say that this *was* a milk shake — and they had malt! So I was able to get a chocolate malt and press on. I ended up getting back to the condo around 7:15. Total distance, 52.5 miles with a riding time of 4 hours 45 minutes at 11mph.

After the ride, I took a quick shower and Alisa and I went for dinner at the Lost Dog Pub, which we had discovered in our morning explorations. This is our favorite place in St Croix and, although we had known there was a Cape Cod location, we'd never known where it was. I was mildly disappointed to find that they didn't have the Island Hoppin' IPA we can get on island, but they did have the Meatle Mania pizza, so I got one of those and consumed the whole thing.

Today, I've been able to take it easy: a nice soak in the hot tub and a short bike ride down the beach just to loosen up.

Cape Cod Beach

It's been a great vacation. Tomorrow morning, we check out and start heading back home.

Dupolusaj Proverboj

July 7, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

Antaŭ kelkaj jaroj, mi ekhavis ideon. Mi ne diros ke ĝi estis bona ideo, sed mi havis la ideon krei retpaĝaron kiu prezentus aŭ hazardan proverbon (el la Esperanta Proverbaro) aŭ tekston farita per Markov-ĉena tekst-generilo. Mi notis ke la proverboj estas foje — eĉ ofte — enigmaj. Ekz. "Pri lando malproksima estas bone mensogi" aŭ "Ĝi ne eliris ankoraŭ el malproksima nebulo". Mi supozis ke estos amuze rigardi frazon kaj diveni ĉu ĝi estas vera proverbo aŭ maŝine farita.

Antaŭ semajno, mi havis kelkajn minutojn do starigis Dupolusaj Proverboj. Ĝi estas programeto kiu trifoje tage aŭ hazarde elektas proverbon aŭ uzas ĉi programon por krei "proverbon" el la korpuso de la proverbaro. Ili estas amuzaj!

Kelkaj estas tute trafaj:

Kelkaj estas preskaŭ senchavaj:

Kaj la plejmulto estas tute frenezaj:

Mi kreis la fluon kaj atendis por vidi ĉu iu notos ĝin, sed apenaŭ iu ajn ŝajne atentas. Nur unu alia homo nun sekvas la fluon (krom mi kaj Phil). Domaĝe ke temas pri nur Esperanto ĉar se temus pri Calvin kaj Hobbes, oni fanfaronus la ideon ĉe BoingBoing.

Bad Pharmacy Experience

July 6, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

Knowing that I was going to be in-and-out of town over the summer, I made a point of getting my prescriptions refilled early, so I wouldn't have to worry. Unfortunately, the pharmacy I use has changed hands and the new one, Family Pharmacy, seems unable to work out how to receive prescriptions from the medical practice -- in spite of being in same building. Their system, based on sending and receiving faxes, is seemingly irreparably broken.

On June 4th, the medical practice faxed my refills, but on June 15th, the pharmacy had no record of the new scrips. So I filled out a request on the medical practice's "patient portal" (where they warn you that it will potentially take 48 hours to get a response) asking them to expedite resending the prescriptions, noting that I'll be leaving town on the 18th.

On the 17th, having heard nothing, I call and they say they've faxed them again. I drive to the pharmacy and the person behind the counter has one prescription, but says there "wasn't time to fill the other two". So I pick that one up (which was the only one I was running out of, luckily) and go on my trip.

Today, I go to pick up the other two prescriptions and find only one. The pharmacy checks their computer and says, "No. They haven't sent anything for the other prescription." I walk downstairs and ask the medical practice. They say they've faxed it twice. I walk upstairs and talk to the pharmacy. She says, "No, we haven't received anything BUT I'M NOT SURPRISED. THIS HAPPENS ALL THE TIME." (Emphasis mine.)

I walk back downstairs and ask at the medical practice, "Is there any way I can I get this resolved today, while I'm already here? So I don't have to drive out here again?" She said, "No, It takes 48 hours to get prescriptions resent." So, after railing at both the pharmacy and the medical practice that their system of transmitting prescriptions, based on sending and not-receiving faxes, is irreparably broken, I get in my car and drive away.

Hey, guys -- the 80's called: they want their fax machine back.

Update: After posting this, I got a prompt reply, they tracked down my prescription, and filled it. Much appreciated. Now we'll see if they can get their system sorted out before the next time I need a prescription refilled.

La Sekreta Kongreso

June 27, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

Mi aŭdis onidirojn en januaro ke la usona Landa Kongreso okazos en Detroito. Sed kiam mi kontrolis la retpaĝaron estis neniu spuro.

Finfine oni anoncis la lokon, sed restis (kaj restas) tre malmulte da informo. Troviĝas preskaŭ nenio sur la reto: la lokon oni nur tre malfacile eltrovas, kaj tagordo tute mankas.

Mi ne plu aliĝas al Esperanto-USA do ne intencis partopreni la kongreson, sed fakte mi estis en la regiono pro la bezono viziti la patron kiu havis san-defion. Kaj mi kaj mia frato Philip Brewer estis proksime do ni decidis veturi al Detroito por viziti kun kelkaj el la kongresanoj. (Jen lia raporto pri la kongreso.) Pro la manko de informoj pri la kongreso, ni decidis ke estis fakte sekreta kunveno de esperantistoj.

Ni intencis nur sidi ekster la kunvenejo dum ioma tempo por babili kun la kongresanoj dum ili alvenis, sed la vetero estis terura, do mi decidis eniri la kongresejon antaŭ la kongreso komenciĝis kaj mallonge alparoli kelkajn homojn.

Estis plezuro babili kun Phil Dorcas, Bill Harris, Ron Glossop, kaj Tamara-ne-amara. Phil Dorcas priparolis sian celon pri Esperanto-USA: malgrandigi la dividon inter la estraro kaj la membraro. Post kelkaj momentoj li devis forlasi nin, kie ni staris inter la membroj, por iri al alia flanko de la ĉambro kie la estraro sidis ĉe aparta tablo dividita de la membraro per du tabloj starigitaj kiel barilo. Perfekte.

Sekreta Kongreso

Montriĝis ke tre tre malmulte da homoj aliĝis al la kongreso — verŝajne malpli ol tridek — malgraŭ ke ĝi estis kunkongreso de la kaj usona kaj kanada Esperanto-asocioj. Domaĝe.

Post kelkaj minutoj alvenis Sherry Wells kiu organizis la kongreson -- kaj kiu sciis ke ni ne estis pagintaj la kotizon. Ni varme salutis ŝin kaj tuj forlasis la kongresejon, nia celo plenumita.

Ni veturis poste al Plymouth, kie mi loĝis antaŭ multaj jaroj, por serĉi restoracion kiun mi memoris, sed kiu ŝajne estas longe for. Ni trovis kafejon por komputi. Survoje, ni vidis ŝildon kiun ni devis foti:

Estas domaĝe ke Esperanto ne ricevas la intereson de la publiko, sed la problemoj de Esperanto-USA estas eĉ multe pli profundaj.

The Long Walk

June 20, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

For a couple of years, Phil and Jackie have been planning to walk to the full length of the KalHaven trail. Yesterday, they did it. And I got to drive the support vehicle, which was a lot of fun.

I dropped them off at the eastern trailhead around 7am and then drove to Meijers to pick up the supplies for a picnic lunch -- and to fill a cooler with ice and water bottles. Fully loaded with supplies, I drove to Mentha, which is about 6 miles into the trail. I arrived around 8:30 and settled myself into a new foldable director's chair I also picked up at the store.

In Mentha

At first, I was straining my eyes to see them in the distance: you can probably see better than a half-mile along the trail at that point. Then I remembered I had my binoculars with me. It was quite pleasant to sit out in the cool weather and wait for them to arrive. I saw some bunnies and a vole. And the ubiquitous Red-winged Blackbirds. I could hear the sound of water from the drainage system -- Mentha has a very interesting history.

In fact, I only had to wait 20 minutes or so until I spotted them walking briskly from the east. They got some water, adjusted their shoes and gear and then headed out again.

One of my plans was to try to kill green Ingress portals to clear green fields and links crossing the KalHaven trail. This was not a very serious goal, but I stopped in Pine Grove to kill a portal that was anchoring several links and fields and then, when I got to Gobles, I captured three portals and constructed a blue field that was over our picnic table (or very close to it, anyway). That taken care of, I set up the picnic I had prepared on a table right along the trail.

Many years ago, Richard and Katy gave Philip and I each fancy picnic kits. With Alisa's help to track ours down -- and Lucy's help to wash everything -- I had that to use to lay out the spread. So we had a nice table cloth with matching napkins, plates, silverware, and glasses. Phil and Jackie had made their own sandwiches before we left, but I picked up some crudite, raspberries, red bananas, hummus and pita bread, german potato salad, and brownies -- for after.

Repast

Before they pushed on, Phil gave me a bunch of additional Ingress items (bursters and resonators), so I spent another hour in Gobles walking around smashing more portals and linking them up to the field I'd already created.

I spent the rest of the afternoon much the same way: I drove ahead to Bloomingdale, Grand Junction, Lakota, and South Haven to see where the trail crossed and find a likely spot to hang out at the appropriate time for Phil and Jackie to check in and get more water and snacks.

Finally, approaching 8pm, they completed their walk. I picked them up and we went to the Taste in South Haven. I dropped them off at the restaurant, so they wouldn't have to walk anymore and then went off to park the car. The South Haven "Harborfest" is going on so it took me a while but, by the time I returned they were seated and we had some drinks and dinner.

Phil & Jackie

It was a great day and a lot of fun to be a part of. I realized it was perfect to have something to do, to have a sense of purpose and engagement, but something that didn't really require much effort or difficult -- and which gave me an excuse to not be doing something else more productive. I've suggested that Phil and Jackie try to get sponsorships to do other long walks in exotic places like, say, New Zealand, that would pay for their expenses -- and for someone to drive their support vehicle.

Update: Phil has now posted about the hike.

Perfect Pedal2Pints

June 14, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

I think Buzz and I rode the first Pedal2Pints several years ago. In the intervening years, I didn't go: sometimes I was busy, but also it was hard to get into good enough bicycling condition to commit to the ride. (Back then, it was earlier in the spring.) This year, Buzz got me to commit and I signed up for the ride back in March. And I started trying to get in shape for a long ride.

They have four different routes from 33 to 90 miles. Each route leads to a series of breweries where you can stop to sample beer. I'm happy to go on the shortest route -- to have more time for beer.

When I signed up, it said I could indicate a team affiliation, so I choose Amherst Media and wore my Makers at Amherst Media shirt for the ride.

The suggestion for people going on the shortest ride was to arrive around 11 and leave between 12:00 and 12:30. Since parking is always an issue, Buzz picked me up and we arrived around 11:30. Once we were checked in, we decided to just head out -- more time for drinking beer!

We had a cue sheet and they'd marked the pavement at all the turns. The marking was pretty good. The cue sheet was sometimes hard to interpret and the fact that my cyclometer is not well calibrated didn't help. But we found our way. The route was slightly different than I'd remembered from past years. The first part is along 116, which is fairly busy. But then we turned off onto the back roads and saw cars only infrequently.

The road goes way down when it crosses the Deerfield River and then there are two steep climbs out of the valley. The first is so steep that I always have to walk my bike. The second one I weathered and then we pushed on toward Greenfield. The road parallels the expressway, which makes that leg not as peaceful as it might otherwise be. Similarly the Riverside Greenway also is so close to the highway that there's constant noise of cars.

The first stop was the Artisan Beverage Cooperative. They have kombucha, mead, and other weird things -- not really my thing. But I tried their Oaxacan Mead and a stout and both were interesting. Just down the street is Lefty's Brewery.

They had an English IPA, which was good, and a double IPA, which was better, but also a "Li'l Sticky" IPA which was excellent. The brewer said that the Li'l Sticky is a version of a "Wicked Sticky" beer they make in the early fall with local fresh hops, but uses dry cones instead, as the fresh hops aren't available. Both Buzz and I made entries in our mental calendars to come back in August to try to get some Wicked Sticky. (It was only as I was researching this post that I realized it was "wicked" and not "wicket".)

We rode on, slightly unsteadily, to the People's Pint where, outside the brewery, they were serving pilsner (ick) and training wheels (a session IPA), but the pitcher of training wheels had just run out. Inside the brewery, a gal gave us some training wheels and then opened a bottle of a beer she had made with maple syrup (3 gallons in 200 gallons of beer). It's not normally my thing, but it was pretty good: a nice balance among the roasted malt flavors and the maple.

Much more unsteadily, we headed off to Millers Falls. This has a series of very long climbs with one or two steeps climbs in the middle, and then a quick steep descent. We arrived at Element hot and starting to get pretty tired.

Element always has somewhat weird, offbeat beers. To be honest, they've never had something that's really captured my heart. They have a couple of IPAs that have sake notes in them, Plasma and Tachyon. I was pleased to get a chance to try them. I actually have a bottle of Tachyon that I've been meaning to try. It's OK.

At that point, the ride heads back to South Deerfield with an unofficial stop at the Bookmill. Buzz and I got cans of Resin and, after one round, decided to have a second before pushing on. I would have tweeted again from the Bookmill, but by then the battery had died in my cameraphone.

It's mostly downhill from there. We took a wrong turn and had to get directions to put ourselves back on track, but then sailed along the beautiful Falls Road where I pointed out where I want to look for terrestrial gastropods. And we stopped to pay homage to the Buttonball Tree.

Back at BBC, the party was already in full swing. They gave us some Pedal2Pints socks, a pint glass, and 5 tickets: 1 for dinner and 4 for beer. They weren't serving any good IPAs outside, so we went into the BBC to get pints of Lost Sailor and then got a nice dinner of pulled-pork sandwiches. We ate under a tent and enjoyed the camaraderie and the feeling of accomplishment of making the long ride. In the end, we only used those two tickets and handed off the others to other folks.

Buzz dropped me off in time to catch the last couple of innings of the Cardinals and I was in bed by 8pm. Mission accomplished.

Hack for Western Mass: Day Two

June 8, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

Day two got off to a slightly rough start when we realized that, although we had a plan for breakfast, no-one had connected the dots to order it or pick it up. Cristos made the command decision to just go get it. So, although it was a few minutes late, we had plenty of coffee and tasty things for people to eat.

Everyone quickly settled back into work and, other than a gentle reminder as the morning wore-on to shift from working on the project to working on a presentation, the organizers could take a break and catch up on other things (like writing the Day One summary. :-)

Toward 11:30 brunch arrived and shortly after noon, the final presentations commenced. There was a flurry of live-tweeting as the events happened.

I was pleased to be able to pick-and-choose tweets to retweet with the @hackforwestma feed, although in the end I mostly retweeted Ruby Maddox for consistency.

The first presentation was by the Springfield Parking Authority Challenge.

Their community partner worked closely with them on Saturday, but couldn't come today and the two coders that had built the back-end and a mobile app were a bit shy, so they got Emma Dalton to help make and offer their presentation. The app shows a map with pins, or list, indicating the various parking garages with the ability to show price and availability. The back-end reads data in from the existing structure that the Parking Authority uses (a CSV file), but they had ideas for how to create a new data-gathering process and add on-street parking availability to the system as well.

The next presentation was for the Smith College Shooting Bias Simulator.

The goal was to construct a research tool to explore racial bias in evaluating targets to shoot. It presents pictures of people of different races with either benign objects or guns and measures the reaction time of the subject in deciding whether or not to shoot. They created a javascript front end with Drupal on the back-end that could emit a JSON representation. They didn't have enough time to connect the two pieces, but the team was satisfied they made a huge amount of progress for the project.

The next presentation was by the Girls Inc Team. They fielded an impressive team that did a huge amount of work.

The redesigned their old static website to create an elegant new responsive website with student-created content (blog posts and photos) and worked up some infographics to present data about their participants.

The next presentation was by the Square One team.

They provide childcare for at-risk children and needed a streamlined mechanism to receive attendance records from multiple child-care providers. Using Ruby-on-Rails, they built a portal to collect and manage the data and the result was so positive that one of the young coders has received an internship to continue the development over the summer.

The next presentation was by the Gardening the Community team.

They wanted a way to communicate more effectively with their community of participants and the public. A team of hackers worked with Ruby Maddox to build iOS and Android native mobile apps that could present relevant information regarding volunteer opportunities, vegetables available, or supplies need and receive push notifications. I was particularly excited in hearing Ruby present that she talked, not just about the technical accomplishments, but also about how much she'd learned.

The next presentation was by the Full Moon Girls team.

Full Moon Girls is a program to help girls connect with themselves and the out-of-doors. They were looking for a way to streamline and integrate the constituent relations management, in particular, registration and communication. The were pleased to have learned a lot about different free and low-cost options.

The next presentation was by the Pioneer Valley Local First team.

The Pioneer Valley Local First organization had a clunky old drupal site and were looking for help, especially with navigability. They were really excited to get help with graphic design, a responsive theme, and an interactive map to help people find local options geographically.

The next presentation was by the Permaculture Institute of the Northeast (PINE) team.

The Permaculture Institute of the Northeast was a similar story: a redesigned website with a custom Bootstrap responsive theme was integrated with Gravity Forms to enable them to share and receive information more effectively.

The final challenge presentation was by the Dial/Self team.

They had an amazing team that migrated an old website into a new, drupal website with a responsive theme. They had set ambitious goals and worked tirelessly to implement a bunch of innovative features. The population served by Dial/Self often has limited access to technology and one feature they really could use is a text-to-voice integration for interacting with the site via a voice-phone call: one of the hackers new about twilio phone integration and set up an instance to try.

After all the challenges, Andrew Pasquale showed one of the scratch programs written during the Youth Hackathon.

The final presentation a wrap up and thank you by Elyssa Serilli.

We tried to thank everyone: the participants, the volunteers from the Urban League of Springfield, the UMass Center at Springfield, Amherst Media.

And, of course our generous sponsors: Paragus IT, Atalasoft, Fit Solutions, Communicate Health, Last Call Media, Hidden Tech, Digital Ocean, NERDSummit, Creative Strategy Agency, the Center for Public Policy and Administration, App-o-Mat, Mad Pow, Machine Metrics, InResonance, and the Springfield Parking Authority.

I was pleased when someone thought to recognize me, personally, as the last original organizer who was still part of the team. Nick also outted me as President of the Board of Amherst Media. People seemed surprised, but I hadn't mentioned it simply because it was the wrong melanti for the situation.

We are planning a Hackathon Hangout later in the summer to bring people talk together to reflect on the event. There's often been interest in trying to arrange more regular events throughout the year. Maybe NERDSummit could work.

We're also sending out an evaluation form to participants to get direct feedback on people's experiences. Maybe when we've gotten that feedback, I'll write up another summary as well with what we've learned.

After everything was over, the organizers went to the Northampton Brewery for a well-earned drink and a change to debrief (rant). It was my idea, because I wanted to capture people's experiences while they were still fresh. As soon I post this, I need to start writing up those notes to share with the other organizers. What a great bunch of folks -- and a great community of hackers here in Western Mass. It's a lot of work -- and stressful to pull off. But the experience and serendipity of the event makes it all worthwhile.

Hack for Western Mass in Springfield: Day One

June 7, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

The 2015 Hack for Western Mass was held at the UMass Center at Springfield in Tower Square Mall in Springfield Massachusetts.

UMass Center in Town Square

Springfield has struggled economically due to the collapse in US manufacturing ultimately going bankrupt. More recently the city emerged from crisis and is experiencing a renaissance of economic development.

IMG_20150607_081158298

I think some participants were surprised to see a different side of Springfield than they'd seen before. I certainly was.

The UMass Center at Springfield was a fantastic partner for the hackathon. Dan Montagna, Scott Poulin, and Patryk Glosowitz went out of their way to enable us to get the most out of the facility and its resources. They even let us take over their digital signage to run a slideshow thanking our sponsors.

The organizers and volunteers came in the night before to get organized, discuss how to set up the space, and do an orientation on using slack for messaging during the hackathon.

Bram Rockin' the Slack

Returning participants brought great energy. The hackathon is really starting to build a strong sense of community among the participants.

I had originally thought I would be working behind the registration table but, on the last evening, the other organizers encouraged me to conduct the opening ceremony. I really felt honored to be the one welcoming everyone and introducing our guests.

After my opening remarks, we had a video from Mayor Sarno, a brief welcome to the facilty by Dan Montagna, and a keynote by Delcie Bean. We had some technical difficulties with the video by Mayor Sarno, but otherwise everything came off great.

Nick Ring from Amherst Media filmed the opening ceremony and then wandered round getting clips of the teams at work. Our goal is to offer a summary video presentation and, perhaps even more importantly, a short promo piece that we can use next year to help recruit organizers, sponsors, and participants.

We had a great set of challenges this year. I'm always amazed just to hear about all of the interesting non-profit initiatives that are happening in the region.

Most of the pitches were made by just one or two people, but Girls Inc always fields a whole team.

It's always interesting to see how current trends in technology play out in the kinds of challenges that get brought forward. Last year, the theme was location-enabled mobile apps. This year…

We provided some guidelines to participants about forming effective teams that using Agile development techniques.

Team Formation

We also provided a brief summary of the Code of Conduct using the slides that Molly McLeod had developed for the first hackathon that always generate a lot of enthusiasm.

Once the challenges had been issued and the teams had formed, the code sprints began. Last, year we were rather crowded together, but this year the UMass Center provided ample space for groups to organize into small breakout rooms, in classrooms, and a beautiful lounge.

While the sprints were happening, there was a series of other workshops. For young people, we had a workshop on Scratch on Saturday with Minecraft planned for Sunday.

Scratch Presentations

Christine Olson ran a Makerspace activity for Makers at Amherst Media. She's been having participants make a quilt to show at the National Maker Faire next weekend.

But students also could engage in a bunch of other activities including making Rube Goldberg machines.

In mid-afternoon, Ali Cook from Ohm Style Living led the hackathon in a movement break.

Not everyone is a fan of yoga.

As always, we had spared no expense to get great food for the hackathon, with lunch from Hot Table.

Lunch from Hot Table

And a fantastic dinner from Nadims..

It's always been clear that the contributions by sponsors are most appreciated when people have good food after a long day of coding.

On Sunday, we're wrapping up and building presentations for lunch time. It's been a fantastically productive weekend with great folks and great community.

Updated: Read about Day Two.

Apple Running for Mayor of Crazy Town

May 29, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

Recently, Apple discontinued iPhoto and launched their new Photos.app. I've been unhappy with the direction Apple has taken in recent years, in my last post saying Apple Heads Deeper into Crazy Town, but now I think they're running for Mayor of Crazy Town.

A few months ago, I got a shock when I removed some photos from my hard-drive that I had shared via Flickr and got a rude shock:

Now, with Photos.app, you can no longer get access to the original files. Oh, if you're willing to work at it, you can. You can use a shell to go into the secret Library folder and copy out your originals manually. But you can't just drag from the Photos.app window to make a copy of the file on the desktop — or to drag into a field on a webpage to upload the image. When you right click on the file, there's no way to show the file on the hard-disk. Spotlight does not make the file name of the file searchable in the Finder.

Apple used to be all about empowering the user. But now it appears to be about empowering the corporate partners that pay Apple to lock customers in to their services. Evil.

The Value of Data

May 27, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

Last fall, I had my students construct and observe balanced aquaria. The project was only moderately successful. I had hoped to have the students work with the dataloggers, but the platform I was using proved to be a little too finicky. As with all student projects, the final data set was pretty messy:

But you can see some interesting trends and patterns. In two aquaria, pH increases over time, in the others it's flat. But across all of them, you can see a little uptick in pH when the light turns off, and then a return to baseline when the light comes back on. I'm not sure what that means -- it was not what I'd predicted (which was to see pH go up as CO2 was consumed the algal growth and, in the dark, for CO2 to accumulate and drive down pH. But, there it is: DATA! The world is more complicated than we think.

The technician who set up the incubator saw something quite different. What she saw was that the light was supposed to be off in the incubators for 8 hours and instead was only off for 2. They had been using these incubators for months with the assumption that the light was off for 8 hours and here was evidence that this was not so. Data!

After spring semester, we tested all of the incubators and found that they behave the same way. You program them kind of like a VCR (if anyone remembers what those are). After consulting with the company, she found that the programming doesn't persist across midnight, so you needed to set up two programs to have it be dark across midnight: one before midnight and one after midnight. Last night, we put the datalogger back and confirmed that the incubator actually turns off at 11pm and actually turns back on at 7am. Data!

I'm hoping when the summer moves on a bit, I'll have some time to actually develop a model for building data loggers that will make it easy for folks to implement them widely on campus. We have all the pieces -- I just need to organize them a bit so people can put them to work. Because more data is generally a good thing.

Great ride to the Bookmill

May 26, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

I've been getting in some great rides training for Pedal2Pints which is less than three weeks away. I'm going on the shortest ride, but still need to improve my fitness so I can drink beer all day and still finish the ride.

The ride to the Bookmill is one of my favorite rides. I ride north through North Amherst and up 116 into Sunderland -- like on my ride to Circumnavigate the Connecticut River, but turn right on 47 in the middle of Sunderland. Just past the intersection is an amazing tree. I stopped for a few minutes to play homage.

And to hack the ingress portal there. While I was there, a couple stopped in their car to visit the tree and there was another carload of people there when I came back. The Pioneer Valley is like that.

The brief ride up 47 is the worst part of the ride: It's generally uphill and there's very little provision for bicycles. And people drive very fast. But its short -- probably less than a mile -- until you can turn left onto Falls Drive, a pretty little back road with views of the Connecticut River on the left and a shelf of exposed bedrock on the right. The rock isn't pure limestone, but it must have a lot of calcium carbonate in it, because you see Columbines growing out of it.

And liverworts. I've been meaning to come here with a bit more time sometime, when the weather is a bit moister, to look for terrestrial gastropods, because they tend to be more diverse where there's abundant calcium to grow their shell. The US, and Massachusetts in particular, tends to not have much gastropod diversity -- or abundance.

At one point, where the river and shelf are quite close, the road takes a little jog to cross a bridge over a rushing brook and, to the right, is a very pretty little waterfall. Often, earlier in the year, I'll ride just to the waterfall and then turn back. But this time, I was headed on to the Bookmill.

The road winds on, slightly up, through farm fields. There is an organic farm operated by Red Fire Farm. There are some very nicely situated houses too and a mix of other houses as well. Finally, there's a turn and a very steep climb up to the Bookmill. I arrived with an auspicious reading on the odometer.

Under other circumstances, I might have stayed a while to grab a drink and a bite to eat, but with the Cardinals playing at 4pm (and having missed the game yesterday), I rested a few minutes and then headed back the way I'd come. I stopped for a few minutes by the waterfall to munch an apple and then stopped in Sunderland briefly to buy a bottle of coke.

My fitness is better this year than it's been in a decade (mostly due to ingress, I think) and I particularly notice it climbing hills. I find I'm rarely needing to drop into the lowest gear and can often muscle my way up hills at good speed. It feels good.

Maddening problem with LDAP and Apache

May 25, 2015 by Steven D. Brewer

I've spent the last three days fighting with one of the most frustrating problems I've ever had. We replaced the hardware for the BCRC server -- an old Solaris server with a new Ubuntu box. We had done this before in the ISB and, other than a minor hiccup or two, everything switched over smoothly. I assumed this would be the same and almost everything was. Except for LDAP in Apache.

We use LDAP for centralized authentication. It's not perfect by any means, but it's been a huge efficiency in how we manage accounts and services. We use it for shell accounts (cf ssh), samba (file sharing and printing), and via apache (http basic authentication and in PHP). It was no problem to get it set up everwhere except for apache. LDAP only failed in apache. But the same configuration we were using on the other server wouldn't work on this one.

I spent one day just denying that it was anything to be concerned about. Then I spent a day double-checking everything: config files, permissions & ownerships, typos. Then I spent a day trying stuff: configuration changes, re-installing software -- even rebooting. Then I spent a day hiding from it (maybe two). Finally, on Sunday, I went in to the office in the evening, rolled up my sleeves, and made the commitment to just stay there working on it until it was solved or I was dead. About three hours in, I found it.

The errors I was getting didn't make sense. The first error, a generic "couldn't contact ldap server" wasn't helpful, especially as the ldap_connect function was working -- it was failing at ldap_bind. I figued out how to turn on debugging with this line of PHP code:

ldap_set_option(NULL, LDAP_OPT_DEBUG_LEVEL, 7);

But the error I was getting back didn't make much sense.

TLS: only one of certfile and keyfile specified

This error is so rare that google mostly just returns links to the source code.

The logging on the LDAP server was the equally vague "TLS Negotiation Error".

Eventually, I figured out that the configuration for setting up SSL for HTTPS also governs the connections the server makes to the LDAP server. And then I found it:

#   Allow insecure renegotiation with clients which do not yet support the
#   secure renegotiation protocol. Default: Off
SSLInsecureRenegotiation on

This line was commented out on the server where it worked. I commented out the line, restarted the webserver, and it just started working.

I'm wondering if this is the point where people start to say, "I'm gettin' too old for this kind of shit!"

@limako

@dupolusulo Mi ja scivolas kiu rompiĝas… — 20 min 7 sec ago
thinks less than three kinda looks like a butt wearing a dunce cap / estas romantikulo. — 28 min 22 sec ago
RT @BuzzHoagland: Phil, Charlie, and Steve at the Valley Brew Fest in downtown Springfield http://t.co/RZSJ5ah2sA33 min 41 sec ago
is glad he doesn't feel like he has to carry a gun / ne havas tiel malgrandetan peniseton. — 7 hours 42 min ago
has gotten some Wormtown Be Hoppy to wrap up the afternoon / provis multajn bierojn dum la festo sed volas ion konatan for finiĝi. — 7 hours 46 min ago
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