This year I've made a real effort to commute to work on my bicycle or skis as much as I can. It's a 6.7 mile bicycle ride and 4.1 miles on the ski trails. A lot of this commuting is done in the dark, and until last week I'd been using a Petzl headlamp with an incandescent bulb, powered by four C-cell batteries. It's adequate when the batteries are fresh, and there aren't any cars around or moose on the trail. Unfortunately, when I really need to see where a moose has gone, or when a car is blasting its headlights in my face, I might as well not even have the light. Car headlights are so much brighter than the headlamp that the road literally disappears for as long as a minute after they've passed while my eyes readjust.
Not anymore. Last weekend I bought a 750 lumen, rechargeable LED headlamp made by Lupine. It's the Pico X model, and comes with a charger, headlamp strap, and a extension cord for the battery. As you can see in the bottom photo above, the battery pack is quite small, as is the lamp itself.
The upper photos attempt to demonstrate how much light it puts out (left side is at night with the headlamp, right side is a daytime photo). It's about 250 feet from where I'm standing to the line of trees across the street from our driveway, and they are clearly illuminated by the headlamp (although it's hard to see in the photo). Basically, everything I can see during the daylight photo is visible with the headlamp at its brightest.
The spotlight is easily bright enough to compete with a car headlight, even with its high-beams on, and according to the documentation, the battery will power the headlamp at this brightness for two hours before needing a recharge. The lamp also has two lower brightness modes, with longer battery life.
The whole package is expensive—$360—but it really makes a huge difference in how much you can see around you. The company I work for (ABR) pays us to use alternative forms of transportation to get to work, and my efforts this year will just about pay for the headlamp. A perfect way to spend my benefit and improve my future non-motorized travels.
We got another couple inches of snow last night, and while we don't yet have enough for me to ski to work, it certainly looks like winter. Winter in Fairbanks may be cold (OK, very cold), but it's also very sunny and because the angle of the sun is so low, the light is orange and gorgeous.
Yesterday I saw that CBS was going to show the Dolphins this morning. Ho hum, another almost unwatchable low-definition sporting event on our local CBS network. But it’s the Dolphins, so I watched anyway. When the picture started to flicker at 7-2, I switched to the other location for CBS, 13-1, and like magic, it was in High Definition! I don’t know if this is just for live sporting events (like the NBC affiliate in Fairbanks), but it sure looks great.
Even stranger, the Dolphins are currently beating the Giants 14–3. If they’re not careful, they might win a game this season!
It's been forever since I've made a blog post, mostly because I've spent the last three months building a new deck on our house. We had a deck on the south and east sides of the house, but after building the arctic entryway last summer, the part of the deck on the east side had to be removed. For this project, I added a new deck in front of the arctic entryway that connects to the part of the old deck that's on the south side of the house, and replaced all of the old deck boards on that section of the deck. This was a lot of work. I don't have the exact number but I've driven more than 2,500 screws in the last three months, and removed at least a third of that many pulling up the old decking.
I finished the stairs and stair railings on the entry section of the deck yesterday just in time; this morning we had a quarter of an inch of snow on the ground.
The top photo shows what the deck looked like yesterday, the bottom photo shows what it looked like this morning.
I bought one new tool for this project, a Ridgid cordless drill. This was because the deck screws from the old part of the deck were Phillips head and I knew I wanted to use square drive screws for the new sections. I figured I would use my corded drill to drive the new screws, and the cordless drill to remove the old ones. It turned out that the old screws were both Phillips and square drive so I only needed one drill. I used the cordless. It was fantastic. One big improvement over the corded drill, that I didn't realize is that it has a much higher RPM, which means it's much faster to drive (or remove) screws. Add to that the lighter weight and that I didn't have to drag a cord around and it's now one of my favorite tools. The only thing that managed to bog it down was drilling half-inch holes through wet pressure-treated 4x4s.
South of the Border, West of the Sun is one of Murakami’s “relationship” books, meaning it is primarily about love and sex between the characters, rather than being a mystery or puzzle for the characters to solve. I’m not sure if that’s necessarily the best way to split up his novels, but until After Dark, they break down pretty well this way. I think Norwegian Wood is the best of his books in the relationships category (Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is my favorite in the puzzle category), but South of the Border is a good, melancholy variation on the same theme. There is a lot of what seems like biography in here—the main character owns a jazz bar—and a lot of sadness and the feeling that the main character’s fate is sealed:
Just after I turned twenty, this thought hit me: Maybe I’ve lost the chance to ever be a decent human being. The mistakes I’d committed—maybe they were part of my very makeup, an inescapable part of my being.
I’m not sure how to characterize After Dark since it doesn’t fit into my artificial dichotomy of his books. It’s is also the shortest, and my least favorite of his books. The plot revolves around four characters (one of whom is asleep), and how they spend a single night in Japan. Much of the story is fairly conventional, but some chapters are written from the perspective of what seems like a movie director, giving instructions to the camera and narrating what it shows. I didn’t really get what Murakami was trying to say or do with this part of the narrative and it took away from the rest of the characters I wanted to care about. The book does give a good sense of place and the eerie feeling of being up all night in a city, but that’s all I really got out of it.
As I mentioned, I read both of these books (as well as three others before it) on an e-reader. In general, this was a very positive experience. Because I can read on the iPad and iPhone, it meant a nice big comfortable screen when I was at home, and the ability to read from the same point wherever I happened to be on the phone I carry with me. The ability to easily highlight and take notes, easily find those notes, and the integrated dictionary + google + wikipedia searching was really great. The convenience of being able to read exactly what I want at the moment I want to read it is also a huge benefit to the format.
But I still can’t tell if this is the way I want to consume literature going forward. I like physical books, I like bookstores, and I like having a house with bookshelves filled with books. I can pull them off the shelf, and more often than not, recall various places or times when I was reading them. Sentimental, sure, but there it is. Does convenience, immediate gratification, and technical sophistication outweigh the nebulous goodness of the printed page, the tactile object? I’m not sure. I’ve still got dozens of unread physical books, so I won't have to make up my mind for quite awhile, and I think I’ll be getting Murakami’s latest (to be released in English translation in October) in physical form, despite it’s 900+ pages.