Monthly Archives: August 2011

Post-Provence Teaser

This is my post-Provence goal. We’ll see if I can do the 130-mile ride from Williamstown in the northwest corner of the Commonwealth to my house in one (rather long) day.

Posted in Cycling, General | 3 Comments

Irene: The Dramatic Photos

Here are some photos from our weekend hurricane saga. It was windy and (in the end) a bit dark, but it wasn’t that bad for us. Others weren’t so lucky.

Click on any image for a larger version. Or click the first one to see them all with captions.

Posted in General, I am Rembrandt, Photography | 2 Comments


We rode out hurricane tropical storm Irene without much of a problem. I don’t want to say it wasn’t bad—that was some serious wind we got—but the worst part (for us) really was waiting. Waiting while watching the storm move up the coast. Waiting about fifteen hours for the winds to start after the first soaking downpours dropped an inch of water in twenty minutes. Waiting to see if we were going to get water in our attic or basement overnight. Waiting for the end of the wind before going outside to survey the damage to our trees and neighborhood. Waiting thirteen hours for the power to come back on.

We were fortunate and escaped without any damage. We did need to put a couple of buckets in the attic near our chimney, since wind-blown water was coming through the flashing around it on the roof, but the amount of water that got in seems minor. (Add “Call a roofer” to my list of things to do.) A few small branches fell off our trees but nothing major. Our neighbors a few houses down had a tree fall from their backyard onto their roof, and about noon we heard an enormous THUD! in the distance as if someone had exploded something or felled a 30-foot tree. No actual explosion happened, but the people with the 30-foot pine lying diagonally in their yard were so lucky because it narrowly missed their beautiful Victorian house, their outbuilding, and even their smaller fruit trees.

There was almost a festive atmosphere as people spilled out into the neighborhood yesterday afternoon around 2:00 when the rain ended and the wind gusts dipped to around 20 MPH. (The eye didn’t go directly over us, but we had a lull nonetheless.) We walked around surveying how other people made it through the storm, saw some new ponds in backyards and lots of downed branches, and talked to our neighbors. After being cooped up for twenty-four hours, everyone seemed to be outdoors. “You can tell that the power’s out,” Lisa observed.

Our power flickered in the mid-morning but stayed on. I had predicted that we would lose power for about three hours, but it stayed on as the winds grew stronger. (Eventually they would gust to around 60-70 MPH in our neighborhood around the time of the tree “explosion.”) But then as the storm peaked—at the same time that the cycling race I was watching on TiVo started to get really good— the power went out, came back on for a moment, and then stayed off for good.

“Okay,” I thought, “three hours. By 4:00 PM the lights should be back on, we can make a hot dinner later, and we won’t have lost anything in the fridge.” I alternated between reading the Sunday paper and getting up to change batteries in beeping smoke alarms. After our walk, Lisa and I played a game of Trivial Pursuit. An hour later, Lisa went for a longer walk while I cleaned house a bit. Most of the power to the north of us was back on by the time she returned home, but there were streets blocked off with downed lines, too.

By 6:00 PM it didn’t look like power would be coming back immediately, so we got in the car and drove to get some dinner, which we brought home and ate by candlelight. At 7:30 it was dark, and we did our best to keep ourselves entertained for another couple hours before the battery on my laptop ran out—which stopped us from finishing our DVD—and we gave up for the day.

Overnight there was a surprising amount of additional wind (without rain) that shook the house and woke us up. Sometime around 3:00 AM the power came back on. Driving around this morning on the way to work I saw just a little wind damage, but I suspect the story is different on the backroads. One of the three buildings in The MathWorks complex is still without power with no estimate for when it will be back. Roughly 20% of the Commonwealth is still without power this morning.

All told, I feel very lucky that we made out with so little damage and cleanup work, but I know it’s not the case for everybody. It was Lisa and my first hurricane, and I’ve seen enough to know that I don’t care to have another one come along anytime soon. It’s just so nerve-wracking, waiting to see what might happen. Being without electricity is the pits, too. But we survived!

Pictures to follow.

Posted in General | 2 Comments

Next Up: Wind

Thanks to hurricane Irene, tomorrow will be a bit windy from roughly 2AM to 5PM.

You can see the eye of the hurricane in the western part of the Commonwealth. We live by the second "r" in Worcester.

For now, we wait.

Posted in General | Leave a comment

A Day In the Life

Here is a small sampling of what has happened in the last twenty-four hours:

Loren and I went out for a short ride around Hopkinton and Ashland.

I put new tires on the bike.

This is why I get up early in the morning to go swimming.

Real men wear argyle. Just ask Thor Hushovd or Tyler Farrar.

What have you been up to?

Posted in Cycling, I am Rembrandt, Photography, Swimming | 3 Comments

Bike Surgery

Sometime between lunch and when I left the office, I had talked myself into competing in one more triathlon before going to Provence next month. (What? You didn’t know I was going? Well, stay tuned.) There was only one little problem: this is an off-road/trail tri, and I don’t have a mountain bike I can use for it.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t have a mountain bike. Quite the contrary! In our basement is the first bike I ever bought, a 1994 GT Avalanche AL. I’ve had some good times with that bike, but I haven’t ridden it outside since the rear shift levers broke several years ago. [1] I did a fair amount of riding on it before we moved from Newton to Milford in 2004, but almost all of the mileage afterward was on the trainer in the basement.

My desire to fix the right-hand shifter—which had been in a serious state of nonexistence—was quickly rekindled by the idea of a sprint triathlon involving a pond swim, a mountain bike ride, and a trail run. But would I be able to fix something that most people (including bike repair shops) don’t recommend trying to tackle? “Who knows?” I thought, “But what’s the worst that can happen? It’s still broken.”

When I was a teenager, I took pride in the fact that I could fix anything on my Huffy. (I put over 1,500 miles on that bike one summer, including three 100+ mile rides.) But times change. While I was glad that indexed shifting came along to relieve us of the aggravation of trying to hunt for the right gear, maintenance became a bit more involved. I still do most of the maintenance on my own, but this kind of surgery had me intimidated.

So how did it go? Let the pictures do the talking:

The problem was that the hammer part of the ratchet mechanism wasn’t catching the sprocket. Or rather it was so gunked up that it would catch once but then be incapable of returning to the correct position for more shifting, so I could change gears every few minutes. But that’s not really so useful, is it? A couple hours later I was putting it all back together as best I could and hoping that I hadn’t broken it too badly when I popped a rivet that was holding part of it together. (An hour after that I was cleaning up a mini mess I made when cleaning the filthy, filthy cassette and chain. Yuck!)

The quality of my work will be known when I give it a ride in a couple days. Before that can happen, I have more to do. Tubes and tires and brake pads need changing. Handlebar grips need replacing. Cables need tightening. Derailleurs need adjusting. Parts need lubing. Saddles need cleaning. Aluminum needs polishing.

And once again, when it comes to triathlon, I ask myself this question: What have I gotten myself into?

[1] — Good times include riding the 1990 world cross-country course in 1994, trying to scrape my face off in a ditch in Iowa, and passing riders on “real bikes” with my knobby tires humming along. [Back . . .]

Posted in Cycling, General, Life Lessons, Reluctant Triathlete | 2 Comments

What I Do

If you’ve ever wondered what I do for my 9-5, it’s figure out stuff like this and this.

Posted in Computing, Fodder for Techno-weenies | Leave a comment

Sharon Triathlon

Today I competed in the Sharon Triathlon and am very happy with my top 1/3 result. It’s hard for me to believe that just over three months ago I did my first triathlon, when I compare how that first one went and this one. While that other one wasn’t awful, it was much different than I had expected. This one, by contrast, was even more awesome than I had expected.

Here I am. Lisa got up very, very early with me to get there very, very early. She’s a peach.

Since the previous triathlon—where I swam a quarter-mile in 12:30—I’ve really worked at improving my open-water swimming skills. It occurred to me this morning while waiting for the start that I probably should have signed up as a normal “age grouper” instead of as a newbie. But I signed up back in the day when I wasn’t quite so comfortable, and what’s done is done. The swim was actually quite good: 17:00-or-so for a half-mile. Well, okay . . . it was difficult. Unlike my open-water swim practice, the water this morning was rather choppy. Was that because of the breeze over the lake or the dozens of other swimmers around me? At any rate, it was difficult because I still need better technique to go with the confidence and speed that I’ve been developing. Nevertheless, I enjoyed catching swimmers who started five, ten, and even fifteen minutes before me.

After my good-enough swim there was the first of the two parts I was actually dreading: transition. I actually contemplated calling this post “Lost in Transition,” but I didn’t want you to think (incorrectly) that I was displeased with my race before you even got to the first paragraph. My transition times—well, there’s nothing to do but be blunt—sucked. Somewhere between flopping about in the shallow water while taking off my wetsuit, actually getting lost on the way back to my bike, having trouble with my blood glucose meter, and trying to put on my shoes without getting sand in my socks, I frittered away about seven or eight minutes of time to everyone else’s three or four. Clearly, that’s something to work on.

The bike was really good. Like last time, I did all of the passing. (Well, technically I did get passed by two riders who were drafting off each other, but they turned left when the course turned right, so I say that doesn’t count.) The course was quite flat, and I was hoping to average around 20 mph. With the roads wet from the light drizzle that had been falling all morning, I was very happy with the fact that I almost made it.

And finally, the run. Unlike my first tri, I wasn’t coming off training for a half-marathon. In fact, I had kinda let my running slip a bit over the last couple months, and I was starting to notice it in the trouble I’d had hitting my times during my quality workouts. Plus, I had also been cramping a bit at the end of a couple swims, which I chalked up to the fact that the back of my body from my lower-back to my calves had been really tight the last week, almost to the point of pain a couple days. So I was a little nervous about pushing a hard run after an hour of swimming and biking, but it went well. I never really get the typical “brick” legs after switching from the bike to the run (*touch wood*) and today they felt good, too. My goal was to find a mildly uncomfortable pace and go with that; which I did. 7:53/mile isn’t much to write home about, but it was good enough today.

So there we have it. Swim=good. Bike=good. Run=good. Transitions=room for improvement. I’m digging this whole triathlon thing, and I want to do more of it. I have thoughts about where I want to go with it, but I’m keeping my cards close to my vest because I don’t know how much time I can actually devote and how I can balance it with everything else in my life. We’ll see.

Of course, there’s still that issue of diabetes. I had hoped that I could cobble together the things that were individually working for me in the morning. The swim that starts near 150 mg/dL and ends at 100. The bike ride that starts at 120 and ends in the same vicinity. And the run that starts at 150 and ends slightly higher. But enough was different that when I started around 150 before the swim, I ended it near 350. Ugh. And then I went up a bit more during the bike. As a result, my ability to take on extra carbs was severely limited, so I pretty much did the whole tri after only eating a pre-swim granola bar and a banana. Next time. Next time.

And there will be a next time, because I feel like I can keep getting better, and I’m having a lot of fun.

Posted in Cycling, Diabetes, Reluctant Triathlete, Running, Swimming | 5 Comments

Things You Should Be Reading

Hey, everybody. It’s that time again. The time to clean out a bunch of links that I’ve read and share them with you because I think you might find them interesting.

Posted in Computing, Cycling, Data-betes, Diabetes, Software Engineering, Worthy Feeds | 1 Comment

Now With More Cowbell

Woo! (Click any photo for a larger version.)

Posted in I am Rembrandt, New York, Reluctant Triathlete | Leave a comment

My Insulin Pump Hacker Name is “Glux0se”

Victoria wrote an excellent piece on her site about what’s become known as “pumphackingate.” In it, she gives a brief recap of the facts and some of the reactions that have appeared on other blogs. Here’s an even briefer recap, in case you don’t know anything about it: Some hacker/builder dude created a device that can control some insulin pumps remotely along with gathering data from them. Based on a comment I left over on Victoria’s site, here’s my take on the issue.

First off, I’m not surprised. Like any device that transmits and receives wirelessly, the signals from pumps and CGMs are interceptable. Furthermore, like any other device that communicates with limited access control—you just need to know (or sniff out or be able to guess) the six or seven digit code that’s used to connect with another device—they’re essentially open. From there it’s all just figuring out the protocols and the format of the data as it’s passed around. As someone who spent about ten years working with and occasionally reverse-engineering formats, I can tell you, it’s all just a matter of trial and error and careful observation. (If I were a hacker, my handle would be “gluX0se.”)

So, in a world where relatively few people have these medical devices—unlike, say, mobile phones or bluetooth devices—the device manufacturers essentially did the easy thing, which was to assume we use our medical devices in a trustable world where people don’t mess with medical devices. (BTW, who knew there was a free Vulnerability Management for Dummies e-book?)

There’s been a lot of unease in the community about the way that the information was presented to the press and the way that some outlets sensationalized it (e.g., “Black Hat: Lethal Hack and wireless attack on insulin pumps to kill people”). It’s hard not to agree with a lot of the criticism there. But I can’t criticize looking for security holes in medical devices. Nor can I fault the impulse to hack into own’s own medical device—even one that keeps people alive—or to help other people hack their devices. Not all hacking is scary villainy, but this incident certainly exposes some problems.

Using the AP to share this information leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but presenting the findings at the Black Hat Conference seems like the most appropriate way to publicly disclose this research. (And it is, in my mind, legitimate personal security research that should be shared openly.) I would have preferred that Radcliffe work more closely with the device manufacturers leading up to the announcement. (I’m assuming that he did not.)

On the other hand, just presenting the findings to the device manufacturers—as some would have liked—violates the hacker ethos, both the black hat and white hat versions. Part of hacking—the part that I can get down with—is when motivated hobbyists exploit technology to solve a problem (real or imagined). I have thought many times how great it would be to sniff the unprotected data that’s transmitted by my pump/CGM and skip the middleman of uploading data to a web site. I’ve even gone so far as to seek out the information that Radcliffe presented, but it wasn’t available at the time.

Device manufacturers limit our access to our own medical data and tightly control the way that we can interact with our devices. It’s understandable given the limitations put on them by the FDA, their own desire to help (not harm) customers/patients, and their lawyers’ desire to limit risk exposure. It does mean, though, that the enormous potential for third-party, patient-focused tools goes untapped. Those tools could benefit so much from being able to present data the way that their users want to see them: A dashboard light in a car, a desktop computer widget that display CGM values, a mobile app that records all of the data for later use, a device that calls parents of children with diabetes when something happens, an awesome mood ring displaying BG, etc.

I suspect (and once again I’m assuming here) that Radcliffe was intrigued by the rather obvious possibilities of unprotected communication, and that’s getting lost in the whole “malicious people ruining diabetics’ lives” reporting. I fear the notoriety this incident is garnering is going to scare manufacturers into closing exploitable security holes without providing a secure, replacement method for getting at all of that data. And that’s a shame.

Posted in Computing, Data-betes, Diabetes, File Formats, Fodder for Techno-weenies | Leave a comment

Finding My Inner Woo

Last Saturday I went to New York City for the second weekend in a row. On the 30th, Lisa and I went to the “Savage Beauty” exhibit of Alexander McQueen haute couture clothing at the Met. It was phenomenal! Definitely well worth all the time that we spent waiting in line for it. I’m glad we saw it eight days before it’s closing date, because the typical 2-1/2 to 3-hour wait was nothing compared to the six-block line of people waiting just to get into the museum on the show’s penultimate day. Absolutely crazy!

I walked past all those people on my way to and from a few other museums—the Guggenheium, the Neue Galerie, and Museum of Modern Art—last weekend when I was back in Manhattan to volunteer for the Nautica New York City Triathlon. (And also to have ice cream with an online friend on her birthday.) Faithful readers might remember that I entered the lottery to compete in this event last November but didn’t get picked. But I was promised that if I volunteered, there would be a spot waiting for me next year. Caroline, who seems to be my athlete twin, and I picked up our volunteer T-shirts and credentials Saturday afternoon in Central Park along with a few hundred other people. Our job (Caroline and mine) was to cheer triathletes running up 72nd street from the Hudson toward Central Park.

People who know me might be surprised that I would volunteer to do crowd control and/or cheer, but anyone who knows Caroline knows that, because she signed up first, we would be all about the cheer-leading. Friends, I don’t woot or scream or whistle or really do anything that looks like cheering. Sure, I’ll clap with the best of them, and I’ll yell out encouragement to people I know when I see them running in a marathon, for example. But I was fairly convinced that men can’t actually “woo” until Mary reminded me that Stephen Colbert does it all the time. I guess it’s just me; if I were a dog, I would be a basenji.

Would this be the weekend where I finally “wooted,” issuing forth a nonverbal rebel yell to express my appreciation for the awesomeness of the group that I wanted to be a part of, all while pumping them up to push even harder and succeed even more awesomely? No.

Believe me, I tried. I think a loud “YAAAAAWWW!!” wound its way out of me on one occasion [1], and there was the tribal, mantra-like “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!” I shouted to a couple of appreciative elite women. But mostly I had a steady rotation of encouraging phrases: “Looking good, guys! That’s a great pace! Keep it up! You’re doing great! Nice work! Excellent job! Way to go! You can do this! You rock! Looking great! Awesome job!” And of course, I gave more-or-less personalized encouragement to the women and men who had their names or the name of their charity on their tops. In fact, I did enough shouting and cheering over three hours to have my voice crack like a preteen a few times and to sound on Monday like I’d been nurturing a two-pack-a-day habit for a couple decades.

When it comes right down to it, though, I couldn’t overcome whatever barrier I have to the loud, high-pitched cheer.

But that’s okay . . . because I had a COWBELL!

1 — One of those primal cheers was for a blind amputee, if I remember correctly. That’s hardcore. We could hear him coming for several blocks as a cascade of cheering rolled up 72nd street. [Back . . .]

Posted in Crusty Old Paint, General, New York, Reluctant Triathlete | 2 Comments

Exercise Data

I mentioned last week that I’ve been journaling about exercise for over a month now. With all of that data—over forty events—it’s finally time to sift through it for patterns, to see what worked and what didn’t, and to come up with a new round of “experiments” to do as I swim, bike, and run.

So, into Microsoft Excel it went. After sorting and grouping the data, here it is:

Diabetes Exercise Data

Believe it or not, I am really more of a narrative person than a numbers person, and I already worry that looking at the data this way will obscure other important details or magnify the importance of data over context. (That’s actually why I hate the way many endocrinologists approach diabetes management, though I understand why they do it that way.) Nevertheless, I hope this different view into the last five weeks will illuminate trends. We shall see what comes from all of this.

Posted in Data-betes, Diabetes, From the Yellow Notepad, Life Lessons, Reluctant Triathlete | Leave a comment

Like a Dolphin, Monday, 7:00AM

“Jeff, you’re like a dolphin out there this morning.” John was buttering me up with his Galway brogue, as is his way.

“Uh huh . . .”

“No, it’s true.” It might have been a fact that I was faster than most this morning, but I wasn’t faster than my usual self. And dolphins don’t certainly don’t flail as much as I do.

“Well, just wait until I learn some technique. Then we’ll see.” I’ve been working on improving my stroke, but I know it’s pretty sloppy and inefficient.

“Aw, stop with that false humility bullshit.”

Friends, I am not good at receiving compliments when I know I have more potential that I haven’t fully developed or used. But I’m working on it.

My thanks to you for all your kind words, even on those occasions when I don’t think I deserve them. I’m still going to hold myself to my own standard—the one based on where I perceive my limits and potential to be—but I’m trying to feel more proud of where I am and how I’m doing. It’s a journey. Thanks for coming on it with me!

Posted in Life Lessons, Reluctant Triathlete, Swimming | 2 Comments