The Casual Blog

Category: cars

Strawberries, memory flaws, driverless cars, manufacturing, massage, and Il Trovatore

The strawberries from the Raleigh farmers’ market were good this week — firm but not too much so, and fairly juicy. I put quite a few in my breakfast smoothies (together with kale and other nourishing things), and also made a point to taste them in their unprocessed state. Still, I couldn’t help thinking that the strawberries of years ago were sweeter. Are strawberries losing their taste little by little, like tomatoes before them? Or is this just memory playing tricks?

It’s unsettling to think that memory is unreliable. It is such a vital part of our interior lives, of our concepts of our ourselves. But it is highly prone to error. Thousands of Americans “remember” being abducted by aliens. Many others recall, after extensive coaching by incompetent therapists but without any confirming evidence, being sexually abused by their parents. In Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me), social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson take a swing at explaining these and other social-psychological debacles involving strongly felt, but completely wrong memories.

Tavris and Aronson explain that complex memories are not a literal or objective recordings of events. There is no place in the brain where everything that happens to us is stored. Our brains hold selected vivid highlights of events, which we mix together with other knowledge or impressions to construct storylines. These storylines can, especially when repeated many times, come to feel like literal truth. The “mistakes” of the book title refers to our tendency to construct the storylines according to our own biases and tendencies towards self-justification.

Tavris and Aronson give a lively, readable account of the theory of cognitive dissonance, which drives us to reduce internal discomfort by ignoring information that conflicts with strongly held beliefs. They convinced me that there are systematic flaws in our mental functioning, even when we are healthy and operating normally. This is, as I say, unsettling, but it is worth pondering. It may be that by understanding the likelihood of certain kinds of mistakes we can lessen their likelihood.

Humans do some ridiculous things, but also amazing ones: our machines keep getting better and better. The self-driving car was in the news this week, with Google, which has been road testing its design, announcing plans to commercialize, and with Nevada becoming the first state to legalize one. What does this mean for the future of human driving? The end is near. As a person who enjoys driving, I say this with some sadness, but our AI drivers will be much more reliable and efficient than we are. There will be fewer accidents and better fuel consumption. Human driving will become like horseback riding — a noble but slightly mannered hobby allowed only in special areas.

More on amazing machines in last week’s Economist: a feature headlined The Third Industrial Revolution which gave a valuable perspective on how manufacturing is changing, and those changes are starting to transform societies. Major players include more sophisticated robots, improved software, nanotechnology and 3D printing. The new factories use significantly fewer people. The U.S. has a manufacturing output worth about the same as China’s, but uses only ten percent of the workforce used by China. Amazing, right? 3D printing is making possible product customization to a remarkable degree, and lowering costs. So it sounds like we’ll get more remarkable products cheaper, but have fewer manufacturing jobs. What are all the excess people going to do? Especially once their cars no longer need them?

I have a couple of ideas. Number one: more massage. This is a no brainer. Massage is simply wonderful, and we should all get more and give more. I saw Meredith at Hands on Health this week to get some work on my shoulders. Meredith does therapeutic massage, which is designed not to relax you but to make you healthier, and it can involve some discomfort. There were moments when I was close to my pain redline. To cope, I did deep yoga breaths, and was very proud when she told me that my breathing had been “fantastic.” Afterwards I felt great. Meredith is seven months pregnant now, and doing just fine. She’s helped me a lot, and I’ll miss her while she’s on maternity leave.

Another idea: more art. Art is something humans really like to make and share, and they’ve been doing it for millinea. I worry about our artists and artistic institutions, but they’re not dead yet, and there are still endless possibilities.

I felt particularly optimistic Friday night after the N.C. Opera’s production of Verdi’s Il Trovatore (The Troubadour). They performed the work in a “semi-staged” fashion, with no scenery, and the singers moving in front of the orchestra. Il Trovatore has great music, and the soloists were very fine. Leah Crocetto as Leonora was excellent — an exceptional voice, a sensitive musician, and an expressive actress. But gosh, she’s heavy! I’ll say no more about it, except that it detracted from her effectiveness as an artist. But I just loved her singing, and think she could go far.

I was also impressed with tenor Noah Stewart, who was a powerful and sensitive Manrico. Another cheering point: casting an African-American as a romantic lead for a North Carolina audience has become completely uncontroversial. Liam Bonner was strong as the Count de Luna, and Robynne Redmon was a marvelous Azucena. Richard Ollarsabe as Ferrando had a wonderful bass voice. I was impressed with the sensitivity of the conducting of Timothy Myers. One cavil: the male chorus was raggedy. But this was on the whole a fine production, and made me very happy to be living in Raleigh at this moment in history

Sleep walking, coming home, and good lies

Lately I’ve been feeling more-than-usually pleasantly aware of the world of the senses, such as fall light and colors, sounds of people walking, and even just breathing. There’s so much variation in perceptual engagement, both among people and for each person over time. I like to think yoga is helping to shift my perceptional experience towards greater engagement. But the changes are not uniform and consistent.

A dramatic case in point: I had a sleep walking experience a few nights ago. My only evidence was waking up with a badly bruised and scraped left shoulder. Seriously, I was hurt! I’d taken an Ambien, as I do now and again for insomnia, and attribute the bizarre incident to this usually reliable little helper. What did I do while in my altered state? Go to Fight Club? Could there be an outstanding warrant for my arrest? Could I defend based on lack of knowledge? Sleep walking unsettles the usual assumptions about intentional behavior and personality.

Gabe and Jocelyn Tiller flew in from Telluride, Colorado this week for a holiday. We hadn’t seen them for several months, and it was wonderful to be together again. But Gabe quickly put my fatherly affection to the test by asking for a loan of the 911 (Clara, that is) to go to Boone overnight to see an old girlfriend. I hesitated. I have feelings for Clara — if she were injured, I would be distraught. But I knew Gabe to be an excellent driver (I trained him). And I knew it would be good to share some my happiness with him. So I gave my blessing, and off they went. I experienced some separation anxiety, but Gabe brought Clara home safe and sound.

Jocelyn is blossoming. She’s gotten more blonde, and beams. Her work as a bartender seems to have enhanced her comedic skills, as well as her skill with a cocktail shaker. She made us a delicious green drink with creme de menthe for dessert.

Before and during dinner, Jocelyn, Sally, and I had a lively conversation about truth and lies. We found ourselves in agreement that absolute honesty was not only impossible, but also a bad idea. The social world as we know it depends on some degree of dishonesty. We all are taught that lying is wrong, but this is a lesson that would wreak havoc if taken literally. Could social life even continue if we always insisted on telling each other exactly what we thought of each other? In fact, there are important exceptions to the taboo against lying, Although there is no standard manual of exceptions, most of us eventually learn them. With experience and practice, we can distinguish between social lies that support and advance relationships, and those that undermine them.

Credibility and trust are vital to human relationships. The lies that undermine credibility and trust are the dangerous ones. As Jocelyn observed, it is puzzling and unsettling when one comes across an otherwise appealing person who is a habitual liar. Why don’t they see their lies as hurting themselves and others? Jocelyn theorized that this is manifestation of a mild species of sociopathy. They seem lack of empathy for others, and an unusual need for attention. Their lack of empathy and difficulty in forming human connections is distinctive, but not so dramatically so that the problem is easy to spot. I think she’s on to something.

Track driving at VIR and chamber music

Clara and friends at VIR on 10 September 2011

We had plans to go to the North Carolina coast for some wreck diving this weekend, but the trip was cancelled because of rough (eight-foot!) seas. I was a little disappointed, but also a little relieved. The last couple of weeks have been turbo-charged at work, and on top of that I’ve had lots of extracurriculars. Today is gray, drizzly, and chilly — a great day to relax and reflect.

Last weekend was exciting, but not relaxing. I took Clara, my 911S, out for two days of hard track driving at Virginia International Raceway. She’s a great car, and did almost everything I asked. The weather was pleasantly warm and clear. My instructor, M, was very experienced and initiated me into some new aspects of track driving.

M gives a pointer

M stressed that the key to faster laps is smoothness and consistency — threshold braking at the same spot, hitting the same apex, coming into the throttle and tracking out all the way to the same track edge. It sounds like consistency could get boring, but for me it didn’t — perhaps because it’s so hard to do. As I got better in a particular difficult turn, it required throttle and brake adjustments for the following turns, which were seldom perfect. I had a couple of hair-raising moments, including a skid off the track and into the field (too much speed into turn 1), but no damage was done. There was plenty of exhilaration, and over all I felt an increase in competence.

This week I had two meetings with the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild, which recently elected me to its board of directors. I’ve loved chamber music, especially string quartets, since high school, and I’m pleased to be able to lend a hand to sustaining this great tradition. The RCMG is 70 years old, and has brought many world-class ensembles to this area. From what I’ve seen so far, the board seems like a good group. I’ve tried to make peace with the fact that some people don’t like chamber music (though I confess I cannot understand why), and just be grateful for the music and the people who enjoy it. They tend to be an educated, articulate demographic. But it isn’t easy for these music lovers to find each other or communicate about the music. It’s partly normal shyness, and also the difficulty of translating music and related feelings into words. RCMG may be a good venue for me and others to make some of these connections.

Another night this week I had a class on wreck diving, in preparation for diving on the Hyde and the Markham. Penetrating wrecks involves a higher level of risk than reef diving that we generally do, and it requires some training and careful preparation. I learned about various safety measures, including hazard assessment, redundant equipment, and laying a guide linet. I’m hoping to do the dives in late October.

Why do people engage in even mildly perilous situations, and imagine themselves in dire ones, when they don’t have to? People do it, at least to some degree, all the time — in sports, amusement parks, and scary movies. We’re funny animals, for sure, and we do some stupid things, but theres some sense to it. Maybe we confront manageable risks in play to prepare ourselves for real dangers. It could help develop some reserves of courage. And risk takes us out of our daily routine and out of ourselves. We forget ourselves, and feel more alive.

Driving at Road Atlanta

Clara and friends at Road Atlanta

I had a few butterflies about taking Clara down to Road Atlanta for the Rezoom track event. There is, after all, an element of risk to pushing a car as hard as you can. But at the same time, there is something that felt right about the trip. A Porsche 911S was not created to be mere transportation. It is a sports car.

After a simple breakfast at the Holiday Inn, I was loading Clara when I saw some working-guy types staring at me. My first reaction was to assume they thought I was a twit. Then I realized they were admiring the car. This wasn’t exactly pleasant, but not exactly unpleasant. I wasn’t interested in attracting their attention, but I could understand it. It occurred to me that this is something that very attractive people must deal with: the slightly unsettling attention of strangers.

I had more butterflies when I saw the field, which included some true racing machines, stripped of creature comforts and equipped for massive speed. My instructor, Bryan, had one such: a Miata with everything torn out that didn’t have to do with the business of moving.

Bryan and his Miata

It also had an awesome paint job. Bryan introduced me to his track buddies, all from Jackson, Mississippi, and invited me to hang out at their canopy area.

The track was 2.54 miles — about the same size and shape as VIR, but more difficult. There are big elevation changes, and vertigo-inducing blind curves. Where VIR has fields to run off into if you misjudge a turn, RA has hard walls. Bryan took me as a passenger out as a passenger on the first session, and scared the bejesus out of me. It was a fast, very rough ride. I felt car sick, but managed, barely, to avoid spewing.

The drivers were divided into notice, intermediate, and advanced groups, and each drove 30 minutes per session. As a novice, with an hour between sessions, I looked at the other cars as they prepared to run or ran. I enjoyed talking with Bryan and his friends.

Bryan, Chris, and Snookie

They knew an amazing amount about cars. They must have thought I seemed a bit different, but they were really kind to me, and went out of their way to explain things and be helpful. It was great to hang out with them.

After the first couple of half-hour sessions, I began to get a feel for the track. It demanded total concentration. The senses are overloaded with sensations — screaming engines, rushing edges. There is no room for ordinary thought. Bryan kept coaching me to use more of the track and carry more speed through the turns. Gradually I got faster.

At times I couldn’t stop smiling. There were, however, some harrowing moments. Once I hit the gators at speed coming off the blind turn at number 12, and skidded dangerously. That scared me, and it took a few laps to regroup. As I kept pushing against the limits of the turns, a few times I found them, and barely hung on.

But with each session, my confidence increased, and on the second day I broke the two-minute barrier for a lap — a milestone. As I prepared for the fourth run of the day, Bryan announced I was ready to solo. He asked me not to do anything that would embarrass him. I was really pleased, and I didn’t.

A post-drive neck massage

The road trip last weekend was great fun, but the many miles of sport driving left me with a stiff neck. It was difficult to turn my head enough to back Clara out of her parking space. After three days, it was not much better. I got to early bird yoga early to ask Suzanne if she had a recommendation for a massage therapist. She did, and also was so kind as to take the class through some neck and shoulder stretches.

The next day I got the first appointment of the day with Meredith at Hands on Health. I was impressed with the professional atmosphere. The place seemed like a PT’s office, with a reception area, waiting room, and offices for several massage specialist. Meredith seemed friendly and chipper, and turned out to know a lot about neck problems.

She worked on my shoulders and lower back as well as my neck. In spite of her friendliness, she was not all sweetness and light. Parts of the work were amazingly painful. This was deep tissue work. She located muscular knots, and spent time digging into them. She’d given me permission to ask her to stop, but I wanted to get results. But it was a struggle. I worked on breathing deeply.

But afterwards I felt much better. Massage, like yoga, is a thing that I used to consider somewhat bogus, and have gradually come to think of as a wonderful gift.

Thanks to for the pictures of Clara on US 129, the Tail of the Dragon, on July 3, 2011.

A big road trip for the Fourth, including the Tail of the Dragon

For the Fourth of July weekend, I thought it would be fun to take a road trip to western North Carolina. It had been many moons since I spent time in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains, and I’d never driven the serpentine roads in my beautiful Porsche. Sally was game, and so on Friday afternoon we loaded up and rolled out from Raleigh.

We spent that evening in Winston-Salem, where I grew up. We stayed downtown, and were surprised to find large numbers of young people eating at sidewalk tables and promenading. At our hotel, there was a convention of “greasers” into fifties/punk hair styles, big tattoos, and hot rods. I find big tattoos somewhat disturbing, but I found this group sort of cheering. These outsiders had some things to be happy about: something they really liked (cars and a certain look), the courage to come out proudly about their passion, and a community of like-minded people. It’s not easy being different.

We had dinner with my old old friend (since fourth grade) J and his wife N. J was my hero as a kid: great at things like throwing rocks, building model fighter jets, and finding discarded Playboy magazines in the woods. He’s become a successful construction supervisor for commercial projects, and pointed out some of his projects on the Winston-Salem skyline. It was good to refresh on our history and to catch up.

On Saturday we took Highway 421 to Boone, and once there decided to take 221 south. The road wound through the green mountains. During this stretch, I experienced a Zen-like connection to Clara and the road. No thought, just driving. Shifting to third, back to second, back to third, back to second, for miles. It was strange and wonderful to have no schedule and no place we had to be. We drank in the rolling mountain vistas.

We had lunch in Blowing Rock at Louise’s Rockhouse Restaurant, where we sat near a group of State Troopers in the motorcycle corp. The vegetarian options on the menu boiled down to one: a grilled cheese sandwich. But the service was friendly, and it was a perfectly fine sandwich.

We took the Blue Ridge Parkway south to Asheville, stopping now and again to enjoy the mountain views. In Asheville there were lots of street musicians and artsy looking folk, and no shortage of veggie friendly restaurants. We chose the Laughing Seed, where I had an interesting cocktail with ginger liqueur called East of Eden, and a mushroom risotto. We stayed the night in a B&B called Reynolds Mansion, which is an 1847 house that reminded me of the Addams Family’s place, but with beautiful rooms. The breakfast featured poached pears and eggs benedict, and the host told an elaborate ghost story about a portrait of a star-crossed plantation mistress.

After breakfast we drove west through Maggie Valley, Cherokee, and Bryson City, where we bought sandwiches at a Subway, then headed northwest toward Fontana Village. About 18 years ago, we had a week-long family vacation at Fontana, and remembered it happily. A significant memory of the trip was how difficult it was to get there on the windy mountain roads in the minivan, and it seemed like a good idea to try those roads again in a better vehicle. It turned out the roads had been widened to four lanes for most of the trip, and the only exciting part of the journey there was the last few miles. We ate our sandwiches at Fontana and recalled the happy vacation with little Gabe and Jocelyn — river rafting, horseback riding, swimming, ping pong, and shuffleboard.

Then we went north to US 129 and encountered the Tail of the Dragon. We’d heard of the road, but weren’t certain of the location until we came to Deal’s Gap and saw several dozens of Harleys in the parking lot of the motorcycle motel. So we drove it. It was like skiing black diamond moguls. It whipped back and forth, up and down through the Nantahala forest, never straightening for any length. Like a mogul run, it took total commitment and focus. We were fortunate to find long stretches with no one ahead or behind. 318 curves in 11 miles. A major dose of adrenaline. It was awesome. Awesome!

Returning, mentally exhausted, we stopped at Deal’s Gap and I bought a Dragon souvenir tee-shirt and hat. We sat around for a bit with the bikers, and noted the things we had in common and the things we didn’t. In common: love for vehicles and the road. Different: facial hair, cigarettes, tattoos. Some of them were scary looking. But I felt I understood much better what they were about after driving the Dragon. Like the greasers, these folks had embraced their differentness and found a kind of community.

Sally served as co-pilot and navigator throughout. She had no interest in taking the wheel, unless I threatened to fall asleep, which I never did. Amazingly, she was cheerful throughout. She never once expressed fear or even hesitation at the speed. She was game, and brave. We talked for periods, and were quiet and peaceful for periods. I realized, once again, that she was the girl for me.

For the most part, we navigated the old-fashioned way — with maps. I have a Garmin GPS, which is useful for getting from point A to B, but not for finding interesting byways. We missed our turns a couple of times as we headed back east (poor signage, we thought), but never worried excessively. We spent the last night in Franklin, then took US 64 back across NC. Total mileage for the weekend was just about 1,000. We couldn’t get over what a beautiful state this is.

Facing facts — the car needed body work, and the planet does, too

Clara restored in a moment of tranquility

Facing unpleasant facts is no fun, but you generally feel better after you’ve done it. And so I’m happy that I got my sports car repaired this week. I’d had not one but two embarrassing parking garage incidents recently. In one, I took a sharp a turn at an unfamiliar entrance, and hit an unusually high curb, producing a horrible scraping noise and an unsightly gouge. In the other, I (partially) woke up in the middle of the night, thought it was early morning, and headed out for a swim at Pullen Park. In my dazed state I backed into a neighbor’s parked vehicle. This broke a tail light on my car and produced lesser damage on his bumper, which he eventually determined was not worth repairing, in view of other prior dinks.

But part of what I enjoy about my car (Clara) is her beauty, and I knew I would never feel good trying to ignore the damage. So I contacted the good folks at State Farm insurance, and I found my way to Paragon Collision, which specializes in body work with loving care. The repairs took two weeks and two substantial deductibles, but it was worth it. Clara is gorgeous again.

I was sorry that my neighborhood gym, Rapid Fitness, closed this week. It was not a beautiful gym, but it was fabulously convenient — right across the street. And it was good enough to inspire me to regularly get up at 5:30 a.m. for a workout. It provided my introducing to spinning, which raised my heart rate to new heights. They are planning to open a less convenient replacement gym late in the summer. We’ll see.

Much more dramatic events were unfolding across the country this week, including floods on the Mississippi and killer tornadoes ranging across the country. On a quick trip to Dallas, I came in behind a massive hailstorm that totalled half the cars in the Hertz fleet at DFW and took a large number of planes there out of commission. The next day, when I was there, the skies were clear. The flight back was bumpy.

According to the NY Times, there is not a scientific consensus that the rash of bizarre weather disasters is associated with global warming, but you wonder, right? Anyhow, there is scientific consensus that global warming is occurring, and that absent dramatic change more disasters lie ahead. The News & Observer reported this morning that Republican presidential hopefuls, including those who have previously acknowledged the imperative of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, are now taking the position that science is wrong and there is no problem. One party operative said that a requirement for these Republican candidates to succeed is to oppose all solutions.

This is really appalling. To some extent we all step around hard problems, and kid ourselves about unpleasant realities. But this is huge — bigger even than mass catastrophe for the human race. We’re facing, or in the midst of, a mass extinction of species comparable to the end of the age of dinosaurs. Self-delusion is unacceptable, and willfully obscuring reality is reprehensible. We’ve got to face facts, and get to work on possible solutions.

A note on corporations and on a Porsche museum

Last week the Red Hat senior management team met for two days in Raleigh. We’re an international company with management that’s widely distributed, and so there were a few team members that I had not met before, and others I got to know better. They were for the most part lively and interesting.

So what is a corporation? In our meetings we spent some time discussing public ownership and shareholder value. But the profit motive is generic. Just as every human has to eat, every corporation has to make money. There are many ways to do those things. There are also many attitudes and activities that make a corporation, or a person, distinctive. The reason the workers get excited about coming to work (if they do) is something other than the excitement of enriching investors.

Red Hat has a lot of people who are passionate about their work, in part because of the exciting technological challenges, and in part because of a set of widely shared values. Our open source products grow out of values and customs that include transparency and collaboration. This is one of the things about the company that I find distinctive and inspiring, but it also presents challenges. In acting as an attorney, there are obvious limits to transparency, because attorneys must take account of and honor competing values, including confidentiality. There’s a built in tension in the value sets that’s challenging.

A special treat of the meeting was dinner at the Ingram collection in downtown in Durham. It’s a semi-secret institution that turned out to be a proper museum devoted to my favorite automobile, the Porsche. It had some 35 vintage and rare Porsches along with a couple of stray but also gorgeous new Ferraris. The Porsches included several historic 356’s, many variations of the 911 (though they didn’t have anything to line up with my particular 911s (Clara)) a Carrera GT supercar and a recent GT3. Some of the examples took years to obtain. They were all lovingly restored and displayed. One could trace the stylistic touches through the years that connected the designs organically, like DNA.

The Ingram collection could be viewed as conspicuous consumption that takes the category to a whole new level of wretched excess. But it felt more like the Rodin sculptures at the NC Museum, or the Frick collection in NYC. Frick’s former house, a mansion facing Central Park, contains a collection of old master and Impressionist art that is pound for pound one of the best in the world. I presume, without having studied the issue, that Mr. Frick was a robber baron with the worst of them. But whatever his personal failings, his collecting became itself a creative act. And so has Mr. Ingram created a sort of collective work.

It was interesting that the collection not only discourages photographs, but goes so far as to impound cameras from its guests. I can understand the need to be security conscious, but I wondered if anything else was going on. It did occur to me that if class warfare ever breaks out, the mobs with pitchforks might show up in a state of dangerously high excitement. But they might settle for a Porsche.

Watch out for robo cars

I expected that self-driving cars would get here eventually, but I was still startled to learn this week that they’re already here. On Sunday the NY Times reported that Google has created vehicles that can steer itself through city traffic without human intervention. They’ve logged thousands of road hours without a serious accident. The cars can sense other cars and obstacles and read road signs. Apparently the only common traffic issue they haven’t solved is how to interpret the gestures of a cop directing traffic.

My first reaction was excitement at such amazing technology. As the Times pointed out, there could be major benefits in terms of safety (computers don’t get sleepy or drunk) and energy efficiency (vehicles can be lighter because they won’t be running into each other). And without the need to pay attention to the road, perhaps there will be gains in productivity, or even creativity, where once there was road rage.

I try to make it a rule, where feasible, to embrace change, since change is one of life’s constants. But pretty quickly I started thinking about the downside of robo cars. In the charming animated movie Wall-e, after planet earth is destroyed the remaining humans are cared for by advanced robots, and, relieved of their responsibilities, the humans have become doughy dumb blobs. Will robo cars make us weaker and less connected? When freed of the need to drive, instead of more reading, will the average amount of time spent watching television increase from the already amazing five hours a day? If robo cars are much safer than human driven ones, how long will society tolerate fallible human drivers? Are we coming to the end of driving as we know it?

In my earlier urban days in New York and D.C., I was politically opposed to cars and largely made do with public transportation. When we moved from D.C. to N.C. and became suburban householders, I realized driving was going to be a part of my life, and I might as well enjoy it. So I embraced the change, and started to find pleasure in cars. I’ve enjoyed driving more and more, as I got nicer cars. Now, with my 911 S (Clara), I adore it. I love going out on country roads, adjusting the suspension to the “sport” setting, and feeling the road. I love the engine’s throaty growl, and its wild banshee cry of joy in acceleration. I love its agility as the road twists and turns, and I love the g forces.

At the same time, the massive power of the car demands respect and attention. It could quickly get out of control. This means there is an element of challenge. But that is part of what I like. So I’m not looking forward to robo cars. They’re surely coming, but I won’t give up my Clara till they pry her from my cold dead hands.

Dropping some weight and hitting some golf balls

I came back from the long weekend in St. Croix five pounds heavier than when I left.  It’s difficult to account for the sudden gain, since I was reasonably careful about not over eating and held the veggie line against temptation.  Perhaps our very pleasant seaside daiquiris, pina coladas, and pain killers had something to do with it.  In any case, I managed to shed all the extra weight this week with some vigorous early morning workouts, and as of this morning was at my fighting weight of 160.

Earlier this week the NY Times published a piece by Gretchen Reynolds on the positive effects of exercise on the brain.  Studies with rats show the exercising rats with much superior brain functioning (“little rat geniuses”), and the apparent interaction of BMP and Noggin leading to increased production of neurons.  I can believe it.   When I first began regular exercise in my college years, I viewed it as primarily benefitting the cardiovascular system, but especially in recent times, I find that I feel duller if I can’t find time for a workout.

We’ve had a record-setting heat wave this week.  This Saturday morning, I was hoping to get an outdoor swim at Lifetime Fitness, but unfortunately the outdoor lanes were all taken when I got there at 6:40.  I made do with the indoor pool for 60 laps, then 15 minutes of yoga in the sauna, then 5 minutes in the steam room (whew!).  Then I headed over to Lake Jordan to drive my sports car on some backwoods roads.

I ended up at the end of a gravel road off US 64 at a down-on-its-luck golf range with a old barn on one side.  There was no one there when I showed up, but a guy emerged from a small adjacent house and got me a bucket of golf balls.  He couldn’t take a credit card, and couldn’t break a $20, but he agreed to let me have a $9 bucket for all the smaller bills I had ($7).  Then he drove off, and left me alone to practice.   The grass was very long, and so I was effectively working on shots from the rough.  A good thing to practice, though not so fun.  I got sweaty and tired, and was happy to get to the bottom of the bucket and see the last ball fly away.