Yellow Fungus on a Red Planet

by Mark Zaugg 14. June 2011 05:54

We huddled together around the small mound of ruddy brown soil scooped harshly into a low hewn mound. 

It had been a week, we were no closer to understanding why we were still alive.  Miraculously and mysteriously, we were.  Every night the fungus returned, the small mushroom-like tendrils reaching upwards towards the cold, distant sun.  Every night we collapsed with cold and exhaustion face down upon the ground, pleading for merciful release.  Every long morning began with the burning fury in our lungs and the misery and exultation of life renewed. 

Jeremy was the first to push the soil together.  We looked at him as a madman willing death's arrival.  He flailed his arms and thrust the red dirt ever faster towards his face.  The following night we noticed it caused much fewer of the thin white bodies to rise from the ground near him, but we hardly noticed in comparison to his supine body stretched out from under an ordinarily lethal burial mound upon his head.  The following morning he sat up with red-rimmed eyes and stared as if we were the crazy ones. 

I was the last to bury myself, of course.  I was never one to follow the crowd and could not bury my rationality as the others buried their heads.  Yet there was no denying that while I arose every morning grasping my throat and chest the others woke looking more relaxed than I, notwithstanding their red-rimmed eyes and dying tendrils plastered upon their faces.  I waited three days for my teammates to become zombies as their bodies were slowly taken over by an alien force, but it never happened.  Instead the four of us struggled about on the ground, weakly flinging a dusty regolith towards our faces.

The first day the tang was bitter, but the smell was not a musty fungal smell.  It had dragged my mind back to my childhood when I ran through the puddles after a rain or traipsed through a forest while hiking at extreme altitude.  Except there was absolutely no moisture to it at all - it all felt sere inside my sinuses and lungs.  The mix of sensations I understood with sensations that made no sense was disconcerting.  I was beyond the point of questioning and knew I must obey the unspoken command.

The third day we lay akimbo, heads buried in small mounds of dirt like some bizarre negative image of adults buried in sand at a beach.  The gently yellowed tendrils stretched skyward all around our bodies, much shorter than the first night, extending perhaps a few centimeters above our own forms, except for the mounds above our faces where they continued to stretch a full metre or more.

Clearly it was the tendrils that were giving us life.  Clearly it was the final act of suicidal self burial that kept us alive.  After six days I felt strength returning to my arms, the burn of metabolism coming to my body.  I sat up and stared at Jeremy for the first time since we had landed.  He was stronger than I.  We could not speak, being kept alive was one thing, but there was no way we had enough breath to push past vocal cords.

He stared at me with burning eyes as if to transmit meaning across the short distance between us.  Seeing my vacant expression he fell towards me, landing harshly on the ground.  I collapsed backwards, when next I dared to open my eyes I saw him scraping the ground together with a metal sheet he must have retrieved from near my head.

He mounded the pile at his head higher and deeper than I could ever have done on my own.  Perhaps enough to bury head and shoulders into the sharp, gritty soil.  More depth, more life.  You can't get too much of a good thing.

That night the fungus didn't return.  We lay there, choking, dying, praying for relief, waiting for death, wondering if we'd have the tendrils grace our bodies again before we died.  I'm glared at Jeremy, wondering if he had finally done the right thing through his carelessness.

I looked up to the stars, searching for Earth, longing for home.

A Problem, But Never a Panic

by Mark Zaugg 12. June 2011 13:24

“Refinery? Or science fiction? #melbourne ”


Andrea crested the rise, climbing over the last small ridge and drawing into view of Luna Corp's massive Cabeus Lunar Refinery.  In the distance she could see the particulate matter lazily drifting back to the lunar surface and wispy clouds of volatiles released in the process of turning frozen water to rocket fuel.  

She exhaled a gigantic sigh of relief, no longer worrying about the extra load on her suit.  She was getting back alive - there was nothing that was going to stop her from attaining the airlock now.  She found she had to restrain herself from bounding along the sharp, crunching surface.  Although she was going to make it with air to spare, she still had to be careful about her cooling.  Others had collapsed within 500 metres of the airlock with heat exhaustion as their suits lost the battle with the continual build up of heat.  Andrea hadn't travelled 20 kilometres on foot just to be lost in the final 850 metres and carefully returned to the steady, plodding pace that had served her well up to this point.

-----

Andrea was ranked one of the finest even before she reached Moonbase.  She had left Melbourne nearly 20 years ago to begin her intensive training.  First she left for North America, traversing one end of the continent to the other then returning again.  Each stop added yet another tool to her impressive toolbox.  Arctic training in Yellowknife.  Diving in San Diego.  Her triathlon training in New York and her successful second place finish in Hawaii.  Her doctorate was, of course, awarded from MIT to a thunderous ovation.  Andrea had become the household face of science, unprecedented except perhaps by Madame Curie.

Her acceptance to Moonbase was a foregone conclusion when Luna Corp scooped her up.  An exotic accent and an easy going manner made her a hit within the company and she rode that wave of popularity to engaging the people around her to produce their very best work.  Her department's work on lunar energy recovery practically forced Luna Corp to promote her to continue her work overhead.

What followed was another change in continent as she began training for launch from Baikonur.  For three tireless years she toiled to learn flawless Russian, to integrate with the Soyuz programme, only to miss the final launch and, for the second time in her life, to see a lapse in launches from a space programme.  As she reacted upon missing a chance to launch in a shuttle, she redoubled her efforts and changed locations once again to earn a ride on the brand new Ariane 7.  Four more years of intensive training and she launched to become part of Moonbase Operations Centre to take on the role of ensuring safe operation of fuel extraction from the southern pole of the moon and the transportation of that fuel to the deep space launching facility kept safely out of the gravity wells in high orbit around the earth / moon binary.

-----

The panel lit red on seven of the zones surrounding the Cabeus Lunar Refinery.  The refinery was fed by a circle of twelve solar arrays that fed power towards the central sector.  It was there that the energy collected from the sun was used for electrolysis of water.

Although the meteor showers were loved by the people of earth, they were feared at the CLR because of the heightened danger.  During construction, one of the domes was struck and pierced, putting schedule behind by an extra 15 months.

Today, Perseus had gifted CLR with a shotgun blast of projectiles that landed squarely on the solar collectors.  Five to the east, two to the west had ceased to respond and were no longer pumping power towards the refinery.  Tim and Sergei were dispatched to the east to repair those three, Juan took the southeast two while Andrea took her crawler west.  Although they were the most distant, they were also the closest together.  Mike stayed behind to direct the crews and inform the evening shift once they were awake.

Outages such as this are not particularly routine, but neither are they unheard of.  If the New Ares launch wasn't behind schedule, there would have been no need to expedite repairs.  After half an hour of debate, Mike acceded to Andrea's plan and three crawlers headed out in separate directions to repair the arrays.

Tim and Sergei had already found the first array smashed beyond repair.  Salvaging as many of the undamaged panels as they could find, they had already began moving towards the more distant pair of arrays when Juan radioed in.  His first array was battered, but easily repaired and had already resumed pumping back almost three quarters of its normal output.

Andrea pulled up to her first array and discovered good fortune.  The coupler had been bashed and needed re-wiring, but it would take about half an hour of work.  She got out her tool kit and began reconnecting the broken connections.

The day went well for the lunanauts.  The eastern arrays took little work to bring online and the second southern array was also smashed beyond repair, leaving little more for Juan to do but salvage what he could and return to CLR to await parts from earth.  Andrea finished connecting the first of her arrays and began rolling towards her second just beyond the ridge.

As she topped the rise, she found her crawler sliding sideways down a massive new crater.  She could see the glistening of water ice in the blasted sphere below her just as her crawler rolled into the debris.

Even in the lower gravity, she could not right a crawler on her own.  She ticked through the checklist in her mind taking tally of her situation.  With the crawler on it's face, the antenna could not boost her transmission  back to Moonbase.  The soonest the refinery would be able to send out another crawler would be once the evening crew came on shift and prepared another.  Worse, CLR may be expecting a communication blackout and not think of sending out a rescue crew.  Communication satellites would only be passing over twice an hour and Andrea was expected to be working on repairs.  She'd be able to contact the refinery from the direct line at the array.

Recharging her suit from the crawler to give her maximum flexibility, she retraced her trail towards the repaired array.  She began a trundling, bouncing low gravity shuffle back along her tracks.  She reached the array, plugged in her umbilical and flipped the communication switch.  Dead air greeted her. One of the pins must have bent within the coupler and she didn't have her toolkit to try to repair it again.

She sighed and began her bouncy trudge back to the refinery.  The next six hours were mindless, and passed effortlessly.  She kept her mind on her levels of oxygen, carbon dioxide and temperature.  It was going to be close, but her slow gentle traverse ate up the distance and kept her vital signs well within tolerance.

A problem, but never a panic.  She returned to her training and focused her knowledge to getting back safely.  When she crested the final rise and saw the refinery ahead of her the relief still poured through her.

Strange to see an industrial plant as a thing of beauty, but before her was a gem rising from the lunar surface.  She was safe.  She was home.

Mike crackled in her ear.  "Well hello, little lady!  Looks like you're throwing out perfectly good crawlers again.  Are you up for a debrief when you're inside?"

"Yeah, Mike.  I'll be fine.  It's just another boring day out here."

This Whole Week Was One Big Pain in the Butt

by Mark Zaugg 10. June 2011 17:08

Vacation.  That was mine. 

As opposed to a working vacation doing paperwork (which still needs to get done) or a vacation playing computer games trying to relax my mind I chose very specifically that I wanted to go out for a week and ride my bike.  I planned this in March, it's been a long wait. 

I've learned a couple of amazing things.  I've already been up and down most of the major pathways in the city.  It's only when I branch off into more of the neighbourhood routes that I start to discover new areas.  Of course, new neighbourhoods don't count at all, there are plenty of them in Calgary.

One of the places I've never actually been through in it's entirety is Fish Creek Park.  I've ducked in here and there and certain parts I know rather well, but I've never rode one side to the other before.  Pretty cool place. 

I have seen literally thousands of people on the pathway system.  Calgary is fortunate to have such a wonderful pathway system through it for us to use.  Let's not forget that the pathway system alone is not good enough.  It's horrible for bicycle commuters as it wends it's way along the river and the 20 km/h speed limit is simply too slow for commuting in the morning.  Roadways continue to be dangerous and frightening, not only for bicyclists but for motorists as well.

We'd all be well served if we could get over the fear and stick with predictable, communicative transportation of ourselves.  I can't count the times this week a car swerved way around me into the other lane in order to pass.  Completely needless and my confidence in their driving dropped through the floor when I realized they couldn't judge how much space I really needed.

Likewise for pedestrians who jump in panic when I ring my bell.  I have no idea how loud I have to ring it from person to person, but I ring it every time I come up behind you and am about to pull into the other lane to pass.  Please, consider my bell a friendly notice that I'm coming up behind you and going around.  It's nothing to panic over, I'm safe, you're safe, I'm just going to go past you now.  Please don't take it as a sign to run every which direction on the pathway. 

Not may of our pathways are twinned yet, to separate pedestrians from bicyclists and inline skaters.  It is frustrating when I'm on a section that is twinned and I have pedestrians carelessly strolling on the bicycle lane.  I saw one bike on the pedestrian lane today and I wanted to yell at him, I saw hundreds of pedestrians strolling down the bike lane.  I don't even mind the joggers as bad, since they're moving at a good clip, but if you're out for a walk, stay on the proper path, please!

Cyclists who are reading this and don't have a bell, shame on you.  You can get one for a few bucks, it doesn't make sense to have one.  It's way easier than saying, "On your left" all the time.  Cyclists who have a bell and refuse to use it while passing me -- double shame on you.  Be decent so I don't have to guess when you're going by. 

When Mia Birk spoke at the library, she made all cyclists recite a promise that we wouldn't speed, wouldn't run red lights, and would basically follow the rules of the road.  Rebel that I am, I wouldn't recite that because I won't make a promise I can't be sure I'll keep.  I ran a red light this week, I thought to myself, "Ooh, Mia would be pissed if she knew you just did that."  The shame is complete.  So I told Mia on twitter what I had done and that promise that I didn't make is going to be kept from here on out. 

There is great power in being clear in your intentions.  If I come up to stop at an intersection, I put my foot down on the ground.  Drivers know what that means - I'm not going anywhere at that point, they don't have to guess.  We help them, they help us.  I know that I was utterly terrified to cross an intersection with a woman in an SUV waving me through.  She had to slam on her brakes because she wasn't looking for me, then waved at me once she squealed to a stop.  All I could see in my mind was, "C'mon, c'mon, you made me stop now move your ass so I can slam on the gas and mow you down."

I know that I can travel approximately 70 km in a day without pushing myself too hard.  That takes me about 3 hours travel time and I could do better if I did push harder.  That will only improve next year.  I know that my trips have necessarily gotten shorter the past couple of days.  My left knee is in far too much pain to keep up that pace all week.  That also will improve.

My cruising cadence averaged about 90 rpm, except for the past two days where it was somewhere between 80 and 90 rpm.  Assuming I was at average cadence, over the week my pedals revolved approximately 120,000 times.

Over the week, I spent 22:35:17 on the bike riding around the city - with a trip to Chestermere.  In total I have went 435 km.  I didn't really set an expectation of myself, but I thought I'd be doing pretty good to make 250 km.  I'm actually pretty proud of myself.  Next year I want to hit 500 km.

I've been using up more and more of my reserves as the week's worn on.  I'm still trying to shake the acetone breath I've had the past couple of days.  It does prove I'm well into burning my fat reserves, though.  I sincerely doubt I'm all that much fitter at the end of this week than I was at the end of last week, but it had to have helped.

One of the groups I passed on the pathways were a dozen or more seniors dressed in lycra.  I have to say, they looked pretty damned good out there, a lot better than I would.  Maybe if I stick with this I'll be out there looking like them in 20 years.

When I went down to my doctor's yesterday, one of the things he mentioned was the improvement in my situation.  He upped the dosage on one of my medications, kept me steady on the other, and prescribed that I stay out on my bike.  Smart man.

Ultimately, the week proved to me that this is what I want to do, how I want to travel, how I want to get fit, how I want to enjoy myself.  This is my city.  I feel more in touch with it now than ever.  I'm happy that I finished on the same day the city's cycling strategy was released.

I'm a cyclist.  A good cyclist.  A respectful cyclist.  I'm part of making Calgary just a little bit better.

Construction Ahead. Somewhere. Maybe.

by Mark Zaugg 7. June 2011 16:52

Okay, let's pretend you're driving along a pretty quiet road at 10:00 at night and you see an orange "Construction Ahead" sign at the side of the road.  It's late at night, you don't see any lights on, you don't see any equipment moving, you don't see any people about and the entire area appears entirely absent of any signs of work happening. 

Ask yourself honestly, do you slow down? 

I'd like to think that, being Canadian, we're all really nice, fine folks who always do the right thing.  I know better.  Some of us will slow down for fear of a cop waiting on the other side of the road, some of us will slow down because there's a sign asking us to, others will blow right on through with nary a care in the world. 

Me, I would slow down a little, but more out of fear of getting a ticket.  That is until one of the traffic reporters on one of the local radio stations put forward an actual sane argument.  It's a construction zone.  There could be pipe lying around.  There could be pavement breaking up.  Some idiot may have dropped his hammer and left it in the middle of a lane all day.  You don't know what's out there.  Slow down so you can be ready for surprises.  It makes sense!  It's a deal.  Always, always, always slow in construction zones.  No exceptions.

This doesn't even count trying to protect the people out there working for us.  I'm immeasurably saddened when I drive past the Calf Robe Bridge - someone was killed there a few years back by some idiot who didn't slow down.  There's a reason fines are doubled when workers are out there.  If the drivers would smarten the hell up and make it safer for the people doing the work, things would go faster and be less of a headache for the drivers in the first place.  Short sightedness that costs us all.

In return there's a bit of a code that comes with it.  When workers are out there, the first thing they do is put the signs up.  When they're away, those signs should be down and we should at least have a fighting chance to know that the site is vacant of activity.  It's safer for everyone.

I've been riding my bike all week for the joy of riding.  This is my holiday and it's doing wonders for my soul.  The shine went off a little today.

One of my major routes that I end up taking is alongside the Bow River down Inglewood past the Alyth rail yards and then typically off at Heritage and then along Deerfoot Trail to Southland Drive. 

I took it Saturday when I attended the Calgary Ukrainian Festival - so that was for fun.  Sunday night I looped the Weaselhead and returned using that route.  Monday I ended up taking it so I could go get my handlebar replaced.  Otherwise it would have been out of my way.  Today, tomorrow and Thursday I have business in the south and I'll have to find alternative routes each day.  It's particularly annoying to me because it is now unavailable to me when I actually most need to take it.

I don't want to appear ungrateful.  It needed work.  But part of the reason it needed work was because it's a popular route that goes where there are few alternatives.  Yes, that means the detour is going to be cumbersome.  At least we sorta knew in advance, right?

I'm going to argue we didn't have adequate notice, the signs are confusing and meaningless and while I understand there's very limited opportunity to provide better detours we've done a pitiful job at guiding people towards where the detour route lies.

----

This details a whole pile of unacceptable mistakes regarding the pathway closure.  I'm going to have a very hard time believing the city is going to be serious about becoming a friendlier city towards alternative transportation when we show great difficulty managing the system we've got today.

The first problem is this sign announcing that the pathway is closed.  (I'm sorry, I tried to figure out how to put images inline, you'll have to click and come back.)  Wonderful sign, very clear.  Unfortunately it's been up every day I've been riding recently and it was up the last time I took that route which was probably two or maybe three weeks ago.

Aesop has a fable on this topic.  Even if I go back to last Saturday when I'm absolutely positive the sign was posted, how am I ever going to possibly know that today we're actually serious and we're closing the pathway.  Ignore the dates posted on the other sign (I'll get to that one!), it's not really May 24th we're starting but June 7th.  Before when we said the pathway was closed and it really wasn't, just forget it ever happened.

Signs have to be timely.  If the project is delayed because of weather, signs should be taken down or covered up.  No more signs that say the pathway is closed when it's open and passable.

So today I rode up past the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and just as I reached the intersection I spotted an SUV and hit my brakes to stop.  So did the SUV.  The guy behind me did not stop and zipped right across the road.  Some guy in a fluorescent vest jumps out of a silver car and pulls the other bicyclist over.  "Hoo boy," I'm thinking, "Bylaw?"  Happy to have not got his attention I proceed along my path.  I come to this pile of rubble and I'm thinking that's a pretty unusual sight.  Not too much further down the path I'm greeted with a bobcat hauling an 8' slab of asphalt.  He takes out his earplugs and starts exiting to talk to me when I yell out, "It's not passable?" and he shakes his head no.  I flip a U-turn and pass the other cyclist that got pulled over.  I try to warn him off, but he goes by, later to return as I had.

He passes me when I'm taking a picture of this sign.  Laid face down on the ground, I certainly didn't notice it while riding on the other side of the pathway.  I pick it up and look at the other side to see it's a "Men At Work" sign.  What the hell do I do?  Do I put it up?  Do I leave it?  It should be erected but I don't particularly feel like I have the authority to put it up in case it was down for a reason. 

So I head back up to the Bird Sanctuary and I find that the guy in the silver car has actually pulled forward onto the path, blocking it properly.  Aha.  This was supposed to be my clue they were actually starting to work.

Someone needs more training.  If you're performing traffic control, you have to stand out there and be authoritative.  I might be miffed if you stop me from going where I want to go, but I'm going to be seriously pissed off if you let me go past you and I have to come back to where I should have been stopped in the first place.

"I'm really upset about this," I say to him.

"Yeah, I know," as he walks away from me to talk to two women who have turned out of the Bird Sanctuary onto the pathway going south.  I'm trying really hard to not complain for the sake of complaining, I'm trying hard that when I have a complaint I make sure I do something positive to make it better.  I'm not sure the words, "I'm really upset about this" constitute strong enough language that you need to walk away from me and avoid having a conversation.  I didn't even get to ask him about whether the Men At Work sign should be up or down.

This is ultimately about me getting a better pathway!  Stand up there, take a little bit of heat if you have to, direct people to the best alternative and provide good information.  I'm definitely not the person to be avoiding, I'm specifically the person who needs to be addressed over stuff like this.  I apologize if being really upset came across as too intimidating.

The other side of this is that we need to take the amount of complaints the poor guy heard today as a indication that work on the pathway has not been communicated well and that we absolutely have to do a better job.  That communication needs to come in a notice of what's going on, but also with an indication of what's happening now.

The signs we passed just at the entrance of the Bird Sanctuary are seen here.  I like to think of it as the, "No really, we mean it today sign" and the "Public Notice spew of illegibility" sign.  To me, "Public Notice" means the neighbour has a building permit to put another bathroom in his house.  This needs say something much more meaningful.  "Notice of Construction" or "Planned Closure of Pathway" are both better choices.

In fact, I'd love a half hour meeting with whoever designed the entire sign in the first place.  No joke, I'm completely serious.  I'll completely make myself available if someone from the city can schedule that.  Email me with my first name at my vanity domain.

I'll promise the meeting will start off rough.  The first words out of my mouth are going to be, "What, are you STUPID?"  This is a ridiculous amount of pointless information packed into a sign.  Motorists would never accept such a thing.

Signs need to be simple and clear.  "DANGER - Construction ahead.  No admittance."  Put on a simple map of the detour, not that abomination that labels every neighbourhood in proximity.  Unless, of course, you need to know the names of every neighbourhood that you'll be riding by instead of passing through.  A good sign is going to be inviting to read.  It doesn't need to be wordy - I only want to get to where I have to go as quickly and safely as possible.  Tell me why I can't go that way, show me my best alternative.  If anyone wants more information than that, send them to 3-1-1 or the city's website.  We've got that part right.

Think, for a moment, about who your audience is supposed to be.  We have pedestrians, dog walkers, cyclists, skateboards, wheelchairs - everyone who gets out and uses the pathways.  A pedestrian may stop to look at the sign.  The dog is probably pulling at the leash so the owner won't have a lot of time to read it.  The cyclists are supposedly moving at 20 km/h.  How are we possibly going to absorb what's on that sign?

-----

Closing that section of pathway is a huge inconvenience.  I fully understand that there's not a lot of great options.  It's like closing Deerfoot trail at Southland Drive and directing people onto Blackfoot Trail -- only we don't actually tell drivers until you get to Glenmore Trail!

We have a huge problem with signs leading up to the detour!  Hey, everyone!  We're on a detour!  But we don't really know where the pathway is closed unless you're willing to read the "Spew of Illegibility" in great detail.

Equally a problem is all the "Spew of Illegibility" signs are identical.  There are no "You Are Here" markers on any of them letting you know which direction you need to go to find the best route.  I'm going to try to remember to bring a Sharpie tomorrow and I'll happily deface the signs I come across to at least try to help someone else.  I know the paths and I was getting confused trying to figure out which way to go!

Worse, the sign that I took a picture of is located on Ogden Road just coming out of Old Refinery Park.  It's got the detour pointing in both directions!  Helpful hint, going north on Ogden Road leads you straight to Alyth Bridge and is most definitely not the direction you want to be going.  Unless you need a few extra kilometers on your exercise routine and have the time to double back.  I made the mistake and was shaking my head all the way back because I knew it was the wrong direction but I followed the sign and took it anyways.  Clarity is necessary.

This photo is a bit sarcastic, I generally don't ride on stairs and I know very well that there is a ramp just a little past the stairs for wheeled vehicles.  If you don't know that and you're following the sign, you're hauling your bike up the stairs until you get to the top and look at the lovely pathway down and to your left.  It may be the detour if you're walking, but there ought to be a detour sign for wheeled traffic as well.

Signs are up there to communicate!  Signs are supposed to let us know what to do.  Signs need to be clear on when a change in rules is in effect.  Signs need to be simple and clear.  Traffic control that actually controls traffic. 

Timely.  Better.  Meaningful.  Legible.

We've really flubbed this.  There's lots of time to make it better and put some dedication towards alternative transportation.

This Sandwich Deserves a Story

by Mark Zaugg 6. June 2011 20:22

The sandwich

Let me tell you, this body is a temple. 

Of Doom. 

I'll happily eat anything once.  More often than not, I'll eat it again.  I'm not one of those super-finicky eaters.  Quite the opposite, I will pretty much jam anything down my craw that I can get my fist around.  Which is not to say that I'm a particularly big eater anymore, but I'm an adventurous eater in spades.

One of my favourite eating stories happened when I was down at my Dad's place just after Thanksgiving.  They had a fresh loaf of pumpernickle - definitely a favourite for me - and I decided to make a sandwich with anything I could find in the fridge that started with the letter "P".  Added bonus:  I get to gross out my sisters by eating it in front of them.  Oooh, it was on!

So were the potatoes (mashed), and the peas, and the parsnips, and the peanut butter, and pickles, and pineapple, and parsley, and picante (extra spicy!), and...  Well, I've forgotten the entire ingredient list, but I'll guarantee it contained at least those.  Don't look for such a sandwich at your nearest fine deli anytime soon.  It really wasn't all that great.  But the added bonus of not only grossing out my sisters by swooning over this inedible conglomeration of normally edible food items was only bested by the stories it continues to elicit.  Mmmm....

So you'd think that a guy willing to pile pretty much anything biologically derived into his gullet and the more-or-less cast iron gut to be able to process it wouldn't care that much.  Quite the opposite, actually.  I'll try anything once, but I really gravitate towards food with rich, complex and strong flavours.

Many years ago I was listening to Vinyl Cafe and one of the stories was about enjoying life.  The example he put forward was spending a little more on the things that really mattered - for instance buying tomatoes on the vine instead of the less flavourful greenhouse varieties.  I thought to myself, "C'mon, can it really make that much of a difference?"  Oh yes.  They're still not as good as tomatoes you grow yourself, but they're so worth the extra little you pay.

The other story I can think of is when a co-worker's mother came from France to visit her.  She brought French cheeses, rich and succulent and heavenly.  "You like them?" she asked incredulously, "Have all you want."  Somehow we managed to not destroy them all in a day or two.  Smoky cheeses, goat cheeses, soft bubbly cheeses that melted in your mouth, sharp hard cheeses that snapped you alive.  I've rarely had such a feast of glorious flavour.

So this story is really about a coming together. 

The past few days I've been dying for a good pear.  Funny because pears were one of my least favourite fruits as a kid, but lately I've been going crazy for them.  Fat chance finding a nice Bosc, but I have managed to pick up a few different pears over the past couple of days and I've been living the dream, baby!  There's nothing better than having a delicious pear at the end of a fantastic bike ride.  Almost.

The first day I started riding my bike around the city, I took a tour going up north and around Nose Hill Park.  I was coming back and I was thinking to myself, "I should go a few blocks out of my way and stop off at Springbank Cheese and treat myself to something good after I ride."  Like fate cast in stone, I did not ride a few blocks out of my way, I was two blocks away with the store right along my path.  "Oh dear," I thought, "It's only 9:00 in the morning.  What if they don't open until later?"  They open at 9:00, I was their first customer on Saturday and picked up two delicious cheeses.  A Swiss Tilsiter and delightful Landana Blue Gouda - an organic cheese from Holland.  That's the one on the sandwich.

In fact, that is the sandwich.  Vine ripened tomato, the Landana Blue Gouda on the tail end of a loaf of bread I made yesterday in my bread maker.  Nothing more, just pure flavour.

It's the coming together of great ingredients.  It's also the coming together of my world at the moment.

Planning to take this bike tour and put some extra miles under my belt was strategic for myself.  If I hadn't went, I wouldn't have circled around and got the cheese.  I wouldn't feel the craving for a pear.  I wouldn't feel the calmness of mind I get on the path.  I wouldn't have experienced the joy of biking through the rain Saturday, of baking on Sunday and having a dozen funny stories of my ineptitude, of riding out to Chestermere today and doing some basic Tai Chi beside the reservoir.  I wouldn't have dreamed of setting a goal greater than myself of biking out to Banff.

But the sandwich, like the pear, have left me satisfied.  Free from cravings, except the craving to go out tomorrow and do it once more.




Expectations

by Mark Zaugg 3. June 2011 02:07

What do you talk about when you don't want to talk about what you most want to talk about? 

I write haikus. 

Your expectations 
Are the sum of everything 
That returns to you.  

It comes from a totally unrelated topic when the Beloved Benefactor sent me this article from lifehacker.

#BetterYHZ

by Mark Zaugg 2. June 2011 01:45

Today was pretty overwhelming.  I saw Endeavour land last night more because I couldn't sleep than because I stayed up for it.  Left me with a low-energy day and not a lot of spare mental cycles to exert. 

And then this afternoon I noticed one of the most wonderful things I've spotted in a long while. 

#BetterYYC has spread to Halifax.  Attaboy, Ben.  I'm very flattered and very impressed.  It takes the effort of one person to create positive change.  Try to do something daily, try to be the example for others, and best of luck growing it. 

One person, doing their best to improve the world around them can make a powerful difference. 

My very finest wishes to #BetterYHZ.  May we work together to make our cities a better place to live, to work, to grow.

That Damned Magical Weekend

by Mark Zaugg 1. June 2011 01:49

Some days are magic.  

I'm not talking about just a good day or a really fun day.  I very much mean a magical day that surpasses all expectation, a day that defies explanation, a day that forever changes your world and leaves you a better person at the end of it.  A day that revisits you over and over again to return even more gifts and blessings to you.  

I'm not talking about a day that defines me as a person, although I've certainly had those.  I did not change as a person at all.  I think in my case I'm thinking of a day that defined my direction and forever has changed my course in life.  For the better, I believe.  So much of what I feel is shaping me today can be traced back to one single, special day.

To explain how I got there may very well take my entire life's story.  How about instead I jump in at the point where we have a single dad with not a lot of money and two pre-teen kids to keep amused and occupied in Calgary.  Bicycles and festivals filled a lot of the gap.  We hit every festival I could discover that was cheap and not too far out of the way.  My goal was to be outside and get out of a drafty apartment every single weekend after a hard, cold winter.

I can't explain why the magic happened on the week that it did.  We were at Lilac Fest, we went to SunFest, we went to handfuls of festivals, sometimes two or three on the same weekend.  We saw many of the same people event after event, we met many new people along the way.

My magical day happened August 23 last year.  There are a lot of factors that lead to it.  A festival involving bikes has to appeal to me.  I attended Bow River Flow the previous year (it's first year) and while I originally felt dismissive towards it I found that we sincerely appreciated the moment.  Returning was never a question because my kids hugely connected with it.

If you've been around here a while, you know what happened.  In brief, I changed my mind about who I was going to vote for and decided I had to take a better examination of the candidates.  Win or lose, I decided I would work with my choice and support him or her in their bid for office.  I thought hard about choices, I weighed my options, I took it upon myself as a responsibility.  I chose the right guy, and he continues to prove to me that I made the right decision.

Naheed gets to smile about how he ruined my life.  In reality, I think that feeling of engagement was always there, I just needed a way to express it and a person who I believed would sufficiently represent my views.

But the magic of that weekend is not held solely within political re-engagement.  

Stemming from Mayor Nenshi ruining my life, I began talking about #BetterYYC.  Earnestly trying to do one thing each and every day to make Calgary a better city.  Some days it was literally the one thing dragging me out of bed in the morning.  Some days it feels like I'm completely on my own.  Other days one or two other people jump in, renew my ideas and spur me on.  I'm still trying.  Trying to encourage someone else to do one thing each and every day, trying to do one thing on my own every day.  It originated from that one day, Aug 23.


Last year, for the first year since I was in Jr. High, I rode my bike year round.  I did it for my health, I did it for my lungs, I did it to save money, I did it to save time.  But I did it.  I love riding my bike, now I know that I can completely love riding my bike even when it's 20 below.

A bicycle is my single favourite form of transportation - of freedom.  I know that I can personally extend it to the entire year and do so safely.    That love of alternate transportation reestablished itself at Bow River Flow.  Sure, I rode my bike in the city before, but now it became my primary choice of getting around.  I got to say that for the census this year.  That felt exhilarating.

I've become much more aware of Bike Calgary and I'm feeling a greater affinity to a community of people like me.  I'm very interested in what we're going to develop for bicycle infrastructure in Calgary to make bicycle commuting more attainable to average cyclists.  I've met Sean from Bike Bike who was immeasurably helpful in helping me transition from a fair weather cyclist to the cyclist I want to be.  I feel good to ride my bike along the river every morning and see the dog walkers and say good morning every day.  I attended An Evening With Mia Birk, and got my own copy of Joyride.  I'm not sure if it's ironic or imminently sensible that listening to Mia meant I finally started to understood the Bow River Flow.  

These are all ways that the decision to reconnect with my bike year round continues to return wonderful moments to me.


I thought that somewhere I spoke about how wonderful and surreal it was at the Bow River Flow to have a parade with the Ogden Legion Pipe Band in front and Calgary Escola De Samba behind, while my children and I were in the middle ringing our bike bells in time to the beat.

I'm not Scottish, but I love the bagpipes.  Strong, bold and distinctive, they can rock you, they can be moving, the can express touching heartbreak.  There's never been a pipe band I haven't enjoyed and when they're as good as they were that day I like it all the more.

But Samba?  Wow, the Samba was new to me.  It moved me in a very literal sense.  It was incredible fun to overlay with the festival.

Years ago, my aunt asked if I was a drummer.  Uhm, no, no I wasn't and just where did the question come from, anyways?  Apparently I was tapping out a rhythm and she thought that it sounded pretty good.  I must have a very strong sense of rhythm in me.  In another festival somewhere near the end of the year the kids and I ended up playing in a drum circle and I got the sense of what it was like to really play.  Another good moment.

I'm not sure who runs @yycsamba, but whoever it is found me on twitter and followed me.  I'm a fortunate man, I probably wouldn't have sought them out.  I've appreciated that they get my love for #FunkFridays, but I've had very little actual connection with the school since.  Until #Sambafied.

Last week I got the invite to go to Endeavor Arts and take part in the school's #Sambafied event.  I got to play a couple drums, I got to watch a whole bunch, and I got to reconnect to that kid that beats out rhythms on kitchen floors.  It very much brings out a sense of fulfillment to be part of a group creating something more than you can on your own.  I completely enjoyed it.  I might have to do some creative thinking of how to take it up, but I'll work on it.  It's become this surprising piece of my life that I value greatly.  It may take me a while, but I at the very least I'm a friend of the band and someday hope to be a full member.

One of my favourite parts of #Sambafied was when I got to watch Valerie Roney (or, as I like to call her, @vlrny) hammer on a surdo while completely lit up with joy.  It's easy to understand the appeal after trying it just for a moment.  I want a little more of that joy in my life, too.

I've mentioned Valerie before, but the past week I've been reading her blog cover to cover, if you will.  It's given me pause for thought and a great deal of consideration.  Cause to reevaluate things I've been doing wrong or haven't been doing at all.  I've reconnected, at least somewhat, to my creative writing.  I'm sure it's horrible, but it's horrible *mine*.  There are a few people around that have told me I can implausibly weave a coherent story out of my narcissistically-addled rantings.

And, while I'm at it, I need to mention Art Walk With Art because that was my introduction to Endeavor Arts.  I went out in an attempt to stretch out my #BetterYYC experience and really enjoyed it.  You have to remind me on that more often, Art.  I have to get out to another one soon.


It's good to challenge one's complacency - after all, isn't that what I've been discussing all along?  August 23rd, 2010 was the day I actively started challenging some of the complacency I was getting swamped under.  It hasn't been all smooth sailing, I continue to learn just how dumb I am for a smart guy.

In the process I've tried to make for a better city, and I suspect I might be in the midst of making myself a better person for the effort.  I am feeling more connections with my past, I'm remembering things I used to do that brought me joy that I haven't been doing.  I've already reconnected with my love of space through the interest of my children, now I've been rediscovering more things I'm passionate about.  I haven't specifically changed as a person, but I feel more freedom to strike out and be the man I want to be.  Stretching, growing, feeling better about myself.  Taking good chances.

I'm not sure where I'm going, I just know it's a better direction.

A Parable, or Why I'm Not Sleeping.

by Mark Zaugg 28. May 2011 06:05

A soft knocking at the front door.  I answer, warily. 

"Hello?" 

"Hello, I represent.." 

".. the Fuller Brush Company," I mentally insert while no longer listening.  Aloud I inquire, "And what are you selling me?" 

She smiles half a smile and repeats herself.  "I represent the part of you that's been neglected.  I'm offering you love." 

I laugh aloud.  "Not interested."  I know it's untrue. 

She looks straight through me, continuing to smile.  "Your jaw.  Your blood pressure.  Your attitude.  You've been neglecting yourself." 

"I can't afford it." 

"That's not true.  You can afford to love yourself.  It costs nothing to practice.  You only have to do what you already know."

"It's too hard." 

"It's not too hard." 

"I can't do it alone." 

"You're not alone." 

"You frighten me.  I don't want to love you." 

"You can't love me.  You have to love yourself." 

"You frighten me."  I look at my feet. 

She touches my face and slides her hand along my jaw until she once again looks me in the eyes.  "You have to love yourself." 

"I'm not ready." 

"You will prepare yourself.  You already have begun." 

A long and awkward pause.

"I've been disappointed before." 

Her smile turns incandescent.  "I know.  That is why you have to love yourself." 

"Is this all you have for me, or is there more?  Will you remain?"

"I don't know.  Here's a hair brush."

Best. Tweet. EVER!

by Mark Zaugg 10. November 2010 11:44

I use my favourite tweets as more of a reminder of, "Hey, you have to go check out this link when you've got time."

I have a new, all time favourite link that's really a favourite.  From @Banff_Squirrel.

- here's a haiku for you: Eyes sweeping the rings / Scanning for orbiting rocks / Zarquil's on the broom ;)

In 140 characters, the squirrel's put together a complete treatise on my tweeting.  It includes my love for the haiku, astronomy and curling and expresses my eternal vigilance.

This tweet should be blogged
It stirs my innermost soul
My heart shouts, "Thank You."


I love the @Banff_Squirrel.  Can't wait until the next time I get out there.

Welcome

Change is the only constant.

Welcome to the semi-exciting new look, same crappy blogger.

All comments are still moderated, I'll approve everything that isn't spam or offensive.  Agreement with His Dorkasaurus is not necessary.

What has changed is that I don't have 1000 junk accounts clogging up the system that I have to go through one by one.  Yes, you too can set up an account and no longer need to wait for me to notice you posted.  Completely optional.

As always:  Have fun, be respectful.

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