Archive for January, 2013

Jan 31 2013

A week off

Published by under General

I’m on the beach this week. “Resorting” to blogging on my tablet isn’t a very fun option compared to sun burning and skylarking. So I will return to my unplugged state of mind and bottomless glass of rum and return next week when I’m back on the inspirational tundra of Cape Cod.

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Jan 27 2013

Countdown to agony

Published by under ergblogging,Rowing

The indoor rowing season’s first race happened this morning — Cape Cod Rowing’s Cranberry Crunch — and I am glad to have that behind me. Nothing personally compares to the pre-race dread I feel about the 2,000 meter distance. It’s short enough to demand a maximum effort sprint but long enough to punish the rower foolish enough to go out too fast with the dreaded “fly-and-die” strategy.

I finished under 7 minutes — always the big threshold — with a 6:53, coming in second in the master’s division to a beast of a man, Rick Martin, who smoked me by ten seconds with a 6:43. This was not my best shot — I rowed a 6:50 after Thanksgiving — but since excuses must be made I’ll blame the flu that knocked me out during the holidays. I’ve been underwater ever since, fighting to regain my lung capacity.

Now I have a month to get it together for the Crash-B sprints in Boston. I’ll buckle down on the paleo program, keep throwing some interval work into my usual Crossfit regimen, and hopefully come closer to the increasingly dim goal of breaking 6:30 in my last year in the 50-54 heavyweight class.



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Jan 23 2013

Fog horns on a snowy night

Published by under Cape Cod,Cotuit,General

When it snows in Cotuit something happens to the acoustics and I can stand outside in my driveway, snow flakes falling on my hair, and hear, every thirty seconds. the plaintive lonely hoot of a fog horn somewhere off to the south across the waters of Vineyard Sound.

I’ve heard it every winter I’ve lived in Cotuit. It is a remarkably lonely sound — commonplace for a San Franciscan accustomed to that city’s orchestra of fog horns — but rare to hear here in Cotuit, only possible when the horns are activated during low visibility and then only heard when the wind is still and the conditions are just right.

I used to assume there was only one horn and that it was in Woods Hole at Nobska Point, but two nights ago, as three inches of snow fell on Cotuit, I heard not one, but two horns, almost simultaneously but one fainter and a bit behind the other. So I turned to the navigational chart of Nantucket Sound and realized the louder horn, the one I hear most often, is from the lighthouse on West Chop on Martha’s Vineyard, at the promontory north of the Mink Meadows golf course. The second horn is most likely Nobska, site of a grand classic lighthouse that was the highpoint of my occasional bicycle ride around the western half of the Cape and where the famous Falmouth Road Race passes by every summer.

Fog horns can be deceiving, tricky things to pinpoint in the murk because of the way water droplets in the air bend the sound and distort their apparent source. While my theory of why the Vineyard horns are only audible here in Cotuit (about ten miles as the crow flies) during snow storms, I think it less about the snow in the sky than the calm waters of the sound. Sound travels very well at night over calm water — ask any teenager trying to sneak across the channel to Sampson’s Island for a midnight party how quickly the locals flip on their bedside lights and call the police — and indeed I can only hear the signals when there is no wind at all. If you’re interested in geeking out on the physics involved, one John Tyndall wrote a paper on the effects of snow and fog on the audible distances of fog horns in 1875.

Navigating in pea-soup fog or snow by sound is amazingly difficult, but the rules of the road demand that any vessel obscured in the murk must blow a horn or ring a bell or blow a whistle on a regular basis. When I was a deckhand on a ferry running between Hyannis and Nantucket foggy days (generally in the late spring) were very tense times, with the captain sitting beside the helmsman, face stuck in the rubber eyepiece of the big Raytheon radar set, pulling the horn’s lanyard with a bowel-rumbling honk every minute, and me usually stuck in the prow, peering into the wet cotton, looking out for errant sailors and fishermen we might run over. I was supposed to point at whatever object I saw and raise and lower my hand slowly, turning back to the pilothouse to confirm that the helmsman or Captain had also seen it. Given my coke bottle thick glasses, I generally was the last person to spot things like 100-foot long draggers or our 150-foot long sister ship steam on a parallel course in the opposite direction. I’d wipe my glasses, squint, see something, point and then turn only to be given the middle finger by Captain Ellis who saw the boat a good ten minutes earlier on the radar.

I’d rather stay at the mooring and rebuild a winch than try to dead reckon my way through the fog.

Anyway, hearing fog horns on Martha’s Vineyard during snow storms is another on of those  Cotuit “things” like high tide on full moons at noon and midnight.


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Jan 22 2013

The Cost of Latency in eCommerce

Published by under Commerce,Technology

In the 1980s and 90s during the early years of the PC industry, there was alot of discussion of the economic impact of slow computers on user productivity.  This was driven by some IBM research out of its Thomas Watson center in 1982: The Economic Value of Rapid Response Time by Walter Doherty and Ahrvind Thadani.

“When a computer and its users interact at a pace that ensures that neither has to wait on the other, productivity soars, the cost of the work done on the computer tumbles, employees get more satisfaction from their work, and its quality tends to improve. Few online computer systems are this well balanced; few executives are aware that such a balance is economically and technically feasible.

In fact, at one time it was thought that a relatively slow response, up to two seconds, was acceptable because the person was thinking about the next task. Research on rapid response time now indicates that this earlier theory is not borne out by the facts: productivity increases in more than direct proportion to a decrease in response time. This brief describes some of this research and the implications for increasing productivity and cutting costs that are among the chief challenges of business today.”

Then ten years ago Eric Horvitz at Microsoft started looking at the impact of interruptions on PC users and how long it took them to get back on task. The entire science of interruption is interesting,. especially for the lifehacker movement that tries to deliver great productivity via various hacks and techniques to reduce interruption.

Delays and interruptions are arguably related. While you wait for a slow site to load in your browser your mind seeks something to do rather than stare at the screen, a buffering warning, or some icon of an hourglass. You switch tabs, change screens, or just give up on the poky site or service and move on to the next thing, subconsciously annoyed at your old laptop, bad internet connection, or the general crumminess of the pipe between you and your destination.

My partner Ben shared this interesting fact buried in a five-year old presentation by Amazon’s Greg Linden on the economic impact of “latency” on ecommerce. This blew me away. In a presentation he claimed “Every 100ms delay costs 1% of revenue.”

You can get the presentation at Strangeloop, a vendor in the site optimization space. Here are some other impacts of site speed on key performance indicators:

I’ll take the liberty of extrapolating that from Amazon’s most recent reported revenue of $48 billion in 2012 to mean that 100ms of performance is equivalent to half a billion dollars a year.

In my experience CTOs and  CIOs at web-centric companies have tended to give more weight to availability than performance, stressing fault-tolerance and uptime over site performance.  While they may be driven by how many “nines” their infrastructure is rated at, I wonder how many are making the investment in monitoring services and tools to determine their site load times. For ecommerce operations focused on converting browsers to checked out carts, I would argue response time as valid a function of success as A/B testing and strong content marketing and audience development.


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Jan 21 2013

Cotuit Project: The Santuit River

Published by under Cotuit,General

I spent an hour roaming the woods of Mashpee off of Newtown Road before yesterday’s football games and discovered the headwaters of the Santuit River, the stream that forms the border between Cotuit and Mashpee.

This inspired me to return to the Cotuit project I started earlier this month and begin a work in progress on the Santuit River. That post can be found here on the Cotuit blog. The Santuit is more stream than river, but then again the Cape is known for calling its streams “rivers.” My first memory of the Santuit was as a youngster when my father took me to see the herring migrating upstream one spring near the intersection of Routes 130 and 28 where Cotuit/Santuit bumps into Mashpee. The torrent of alewives fighting upsteam to spawn in Santuit Pond was unforgettable, as was the tale of my father’s cat Willy who would disappear every April to camp out by the river and gorge on the fish. Today the river is a sad memory of its former glory, done in by over-development along its banks and the befouling of Santuit Pond by the many subdivisions that abut the waters that now turn a bright pea-soup green every summer.

The area I traipsed around is now conservation land, snatched from a golf course development scheme, but rich in Wampanoag lore and history. I highly recommend it to any one in the area who wants to experience one of the more remarkable wilderness areas left in the area. I also scrambled around in the brush at the culvert on Sampson’s Mill Road (also known as Old King’s Road) where a grist mill once operated grinding the locals grains into flour. The only evidence remaining is the old mill’s foundation stones used to build the bridge over the stream.

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Jan 19 2013

Hall of Infamy

Published by under Baseball

Mike Albrecht is a good buddy and fellow baseball fiend who called me out yesterday for not ranting over the fact that no was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this year. I don’t put much stock in the Hall and am not much of a baseball historian, but the news comes down to this: the voters decided not to put anybody up for immortality on a bronze plaque because so many of the candidates were admitted dopers from the Steroid Era. Will some of the big names eventually find redemption and get elected? Sure. Forgiveness comes with time and they 15 years to find it.

Baseball players aren’t known for being the paragons of athleticism. You can be a fat f%&k and have a successful career swinging the bat and ambling down the base paths like a bear chasing a cart covered with cookies. A few mediocre players discovered the wonders of steroids in the 1990s, went from skinny to ripped, knocked the cover off of the ball and made the American Pastime a joke. When Barry Bond’s baseball that broke Hank Aaron’s home run record was put up for auction, the buyer gave the fans a choice of possible fates for the souvenir, one of which was to brand it with an asterix of infamy, or blow it up. I was a blow-it-up vote.

The concept of clean sport is a joke and went out the window when the English Etonian concept of amateurism died with the death of WASP establishment in the 1970s.  Sailing used to have a rule that no logos other than a little sailmakers badge was allowed on a boat.  Today the America’s Cup boats have big BMW and Red Bull logos on their synthetic sails like luffing billboards. Rowing kicked Grace Kelly’s father out of the Henley Royal Regatta because he was a bricklayer and it was thought that blue collar rowers  had a manual labor training advantage. Baseball is just a pack of good old boys who were late to the drug party and decided to ass some growth hormones to their steady diet of Chick-Fil-A and Burger King. Any one who looked at cycling before Lance came along, and thought it was a clean sport in some romantic Greek Olympian ideal of pure competition is a romantic stoner. The Tour de France has a noble history of cheating, lying and stealing with competitors hopping trains, throwing tacks on the road, and taking The Cocaine to get themselves up and over the mountains.

Doped vs. clean classes of competition is the only way to go. Let science and Big Pharma sponsor the Tour of California (oh, wait, that’s right, Amgen, the makers of EPO already sponsors the Tour of California) and put their best chemicals on display and let the no-logo, my-body-is-a-temple crowd have their own pure competition.

But for baseball, a sport of inches, let me point out that the miracle of Red Sox in Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS between the Sox and the Yankees came down to a matter of inches when Dave Roberts stole that base and beat Posada’s throw to second. The timing, the distance, the margin of error could easily have been influenced by any dope in Posada’s arm or Robert’s legs and yet, those inches, the most miraculous inches in the history of the game, a margin of miracle so tiny that it’s a wonder the people of Boston don’t march on City Hall and demand a statue of Roberts be erected in the Common, will always carry a question of whether they were delivered by man or materials.

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Jan 18 2013

The Music with Talking Thing has to end

Published by under Weird,WTF?

I listen to a lot of ambient music during the day while I work — I’ve always listened to something in the background while writing — generally instrumental stuff streamed through which I can tune out but which gets rid of the bleak silence of my office  hereon the Cape or in Manhattan. I’ve noticed over the last six months a lot of music incorporates people speaking  — not singing — fragments of everyday conversations over the music. This is not singing. This is talking. Thank god has a “ban” button so I can banish this stuff forever. But I swear there’s more of it and it keeps coming.

I give you “Little Fluffy Clouds” by The Orb.

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And finally, “Close Your Eyes and Daydream” by Obfusc. This one was the last straw and forced this rant out of me.

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Jan 15 2013

It wasn’t about the Bike after all

Published by under Cycling

I admit I was a fan of Lance, getting on the bandwagon in 2003 when he and Jan Ullrich were battling down to the wire for the Tour de France.  After watching Armstrong win that Tour I got back into cycling after twenty years away from the sport, a love affair that started in the late 7os with the movie “Breaking Away”, kicked off with  the purchase of a Raleigh 10-speed with some college graduation money from my grandmother, racing around eastern Massachusetts in my early 20s (and crashing), grinding up the hills of San Francisco and illegally across the Golden Gate at 2 am after tending bar  in the city, and on and on — a feeling like no other, a true love for what has been called man’s noblest invention.


I turned off the Tour and went out and built up an awesome bike that summer in ’03, bought a classic Colnago steel frame off of eBay, and found myself riding obsessively around Cape Cod by myself and with my cycling buddies Dan and Marta.  Drafting, fighting headwinds, racking up major miles every week, 12 months out of the year. All the while the Lance legend kept growing. The book (I have an autographed copy of “It’s Not About the Bike”), the helmet, the yellow jersey replica. I owned it all, including the yellow Livestrong wrist band. I drank the Lance Kool-Aid.

I believed and kept believing, even as his lieutenants and competition all got caught and fell by the wayside, were stripped of their trophies and eligibility: Landis, Ullrich, Hamilton …. after a while it was obvious that the sport was completely dirty, but I still managed to keep a small shred of belief smoldering inside that Armstrong was different, that he had been superman, that somehow he was the exception to the rule, the one who really made it up those hills and cranked through those time trials like a man driven by the fire inside.

Marta knew from the beginning that he was a fraud. Her conspiracy theory tied in Thomas Wiesel (co-owner of Lance’s US Postal team) as the money man and uber-connected benefactor with the ties in Silicon Valley to keep the most-drug tested athlete in history from failing. I tried to argue, then I tried to shrug off the doping as just part of the sport  …. but the romance of the peloton, the simple mechanical grace of an Italian steel bicycle outfitted with Campagnolo parts was gone, dashed under a mess of pharmaceuticals, conspiracies and carbon fiber soul-less cycles.  The sport I fell in love with in 1978 pre-Lance was now a cesspool. Not that it was ever a clean sport to begin with. If it was EPO in the last decade it was amphetamines in the 1960s … one of the world’s most grueling sports seems impossible to survive without drugs, let alone win.

I crashed and gave up the bike in 2006. I haven’t looked back. Yes I miss it, I miss it a lot, but the close-call, the nasty recovery from a head injury, the perils and remembered close calls on the road just made the benefits dim in comparison to the risks. Wear your helmet. They work.

So this is one of those “say it ain’t so Joe” moments, kind of a pitiful one for a man in his 50s to have t confess, a sad day for idealism and a happy one for skepticism and cynicism. Let the circus begin as Oprah airs her interview. I suppose I’d still shake his hand if I ever met him, more out of pity for a life ruined so spectacularly than admiration for a truly tragic and completely fallen hero.

Update Jan 18

I watched the first half of Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey last night and remain semi-sympathetic to the guy and fascinated by the utter scale of his epic tragic hero’s fall-from-grace.  I had Twitter open throughout to see what rest of the mob was saying and none of it was worth  wasting my time on, just banal babble and snark.

My opinion is worth squat as well, but here it is anyway.  Good interview. Oprah prepared herself, hit him hard right from the first question, but frankly lost her edge thanks to the commercial breaks for Swiffer,  deodorant and promos for her bizarre OWN network.  Armstrong’s handlers picked Oprah for a reason and it was the right way to go.  It will have to suffice as the court room for public opinion, although I suspect Lance is going to be spending a lot of time in courtrooms and in front of lawyers given the perjury, the messed up lawsuits, and the complete disregard for jurisprudence and decency he displayed over the past decade.

All the venom and disgust over his lies and hypocrisy are deserved, but this is still the guy who sat on the bike and suffered up one mountain stage after another, a very competitive athlete with the stamina and the mindset to win at all costs, no matter what wreckage he left in his wake. The cancer, the broken home, the hard won success and carefully crafted myth …. it was the result of hard work, lots of lying, cheating and bullying, and played into what we all wanted: a handsome Texan hero on his mighty carbon fiber steed showing the louche Europeans how we can get up from the floor, nearly dead, and do the impossible.

Well, it was impossible. But if the mob on Twitter with their fingers all orange from Cheetos expects him to perform a believable act of contrition, forget it: he’s not going to break down in tears. He’s not going to rehabilitate his image, regain his sponsors, limp back into our good graces like Tiger …. he’s just another Type A asshole who flamed out spectacularly, in prime time like so many before him and so many to follow.

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Jan 13 2013

Randomness on a Sunday in January

Published by under General

In the great tradition of three-dot journalism as exemplified by two newspaper columnist legends, the late George Frazier of the Boston Globe and Herb Caen of the San Francisco Chronicle, here’s a dumping of random stuff rattling around in my head this morning:

1. The Longform Renaissance: I spent an enjoyable hour yesterday curled up with a tablet and the recently departed Richard Ben Cramer‘s 15,000 word Esquire profile of Ted Williams. “Longform” isn’t my favorite term for the genre of big important essays and magazine articles, but it has stuck and seems to have a following.  A combination of Instapaper‘s “read it later” functions, the website, Flipboard on my phone and tablet…..and I’ve had a great time settling into the kind of writing the internet and our short-twitch attention spans were supposed to make extinct.  These are good times to be a reader.

2. The Flu: in high school I stumbled onto the story of the great 1918 Spanish Influenza epidemic that decimated the planet and ever since have been obsessed in a negative way with plagues and pestilence. Don’t get me going on buboes, Ebola, hantaviruses, Legionnairre’s  disease. Some people freak out about parasites, I freak out about plagues and germ warfare. Anyway, I had the “flu” over the holidays — though I called it a “cold” and still don’t know the difference between a common cold/rhinovirus and the flu. Whatever: sick is sick and thanks to Mayor Thomas “Mumbles” Menino declaring a public health emergency and the Times for publishing the most awesome phrase in the English language — “explosive diarrhea and projectile vomiting” — I gave in and got my first flu shot ever yesterday in the company of a dozen other panicked sheep at the local CVS.

3.  A Tale of Two Computers in Two Cities: after throwing in the towel on my old Thinkpad and trying to upgrade it one last time with more memory and a SDD (utter failure for tedious reasons), I have decided to declare that life is best lived in the cloud, in Dropbox and Google Drive, where nothing important in terms of data or files are enslaved on a single hard drive, where nothing in synced, or copied, or worried about — but where my “stuff” just IS, existing here and there and everywhere. This means a renaissance of the desktop form factor — one in Cotuit that I built myself and which is awesome and a true battle station, the other an aged Lenovo K-series Ideacentre under my desk in New York City. Now to figure out some nagging points for sharing and my computing platform will come down to two Windows desktops, and an Android tablet and phone.  Screw laptops. Feeble, non-upgradable traps.

4. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:  for the last nine months I’ve been easing the tedium of the four-hour drive to and from my New York office by listening to a “book-on-tape” via Audible on my Galaxy IIIs through a bluetooth speakerphone that in turn tunes into the car’s FM radio. My one and only (and first) audio book experience has been the delightful reading of Edward Gibbon’s classic Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as narrated by Bernard Mayes. I have the print edition and tackled it in the 1990s when I was obsessed with Byzantine history, but this time it is a delight to have it read to me. It isn’t for everybody, but then again, if you have an interest in great historical writing, this is the mother of all histories.

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Jan 10 2013

Winter Clamming and Lowell’s Point

On my late morning stroll to the Town Dock with the dog, leaning into a strong southerly breeze that felt like a Swiss foehn, I saw a clutch of clammers working the shallows off of Lowell (or is it Lowell’s?) Point. Being a Tuesday, it is either a bunch of commercial quahoggers or the volunteers from the Barnstable Association for Recreational Shellfishing performing one of their relay projects.  Recreational clammers like yours truly are permitted to clam on Wednesday and weekends, while the commercial license holders get the other days (and sometimes clam off their personal recreational licenses on their off days).

Relays are the process where clams are harvested from polluted waters — usually up high in the estuary where the tidal flushing is very slow and the nasty bacteria make the clams inedible — and relayed to clean beds near points of public access, or Town Ways to Water. This is back breaking work, performed by volunteers from BARS under the supervision of the town’s Department of Natural Resources. Relays in Cotuit are located at Handy’s Point, Cordwood Landing, Lowell’s and in the cove behind Uenoyama’s and the lane behind the Stucco Cottage at the corner of Oceanview Avenue and Main Street.

The clams clean themselves out after a few months, during which time the relay area is closed. Most of the relay beds local to Cotuit are accessible by foot. I don’t know of any around Dead Neck/Sampsons Island.

Apparently some commercial clammers hit the Lowell Point bed pretty hard last year, hard enough that complaints were made and fingers are being pointed at some Wampanoags clammers. I saw them at it last year — they seemed like nice enough, hardworking guys and I assumed they were Wampanoags because they had a tribal bumpersticker on their pickup truck — but now there is a sign on the beach saying the beds are closed to commercial clammers. The volunteers who broke their backs relaying the quahogs are upset, the town is considering changes to its regulations to stop the commercials from hoovering up clams, and talks are underway with the Mashpee shellfish warden to see if it can be stopped from happening again.

The issue of native American fishing rights is an interesting one that has been played out in the courts over the years.  The issue comes down to the sovereign riparian rights of a recognized member of the tribe to fish and hunt without license or regard to the regulations of whatever town they clam in.

The issue has been in the courts before. In 1984 a precedent was set in [Commonwealth v. Hendricks, et al., Barnstable D. Ct. No. 84-3415]. Quoting a page on Wampanoag fishing rights hosted at the University of Massachusetts:

“A court decision in October, 1984, [Commonwealth v. Hendricks, et al., Barnstable D. Ct. No. 84-3415] had decided in favor of Wampanoag Indians’ rights to hunt and fish, holding specifically that the Wampanoag have the right to hunt and fish in order to sustain themselves, without obtaining any permits from the towns or the state. That decision became the basis for a consensus among Wampanoag people and most law enforcement agencies not to interfere with Wampanoag fishing and hunting.”

The 1984 ruling was tested when two Wampanoag clammers were fined for clamming on a “closed day” in Bourne. They were fined $50 but appealed, their case making it to the state supreme court where their “aboriginal” rights were upheld.

The situation is murky in the case of this recent contretemps due to the alleged commercial interest of the Wampanoags and whether or not “sustain” as quoted above applies to the harvesting of shellfish for resale. The Cotuit-Santuit Civic Association discussed the issue at their December board meeting:

Tom Burgess noted that he had been contacted by State Senator Dan Wolf’s office concerning alleged over-harvesting of relay shellfish.  This was in response to letters written to the Governor, State legislators for our district and the Chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council.  The Senator’s office will contact Kris Clark, the Mashpee Shellfish administrator, The Tribal Chairman, and former congressman Bill Delahunt, who works with the tribe to try to open up a dialogue on this concern.  Meanwhile the Town of Barnstable may be exploring legal avenues to establish relay areas as Town owned grants, so Jessica Rapp Grassetti mentioned.”

Declaring the relay areas “grants” is akin to fencing off a section of public property for private use — aquaculture grants abound on Cape Cod — there are at least three in the Three Bays complex, some very old such as the Cotuit Oyster Company’s.  I suppose by calling the relay beds “grants” then the town could impose a different set of regulations. Anyway, nothing like a clamming controversy to help pass a Cape Cod winter.

On a related note regarding the  Dead Neck dredging proposals. I didn’t make the Conservation Commission hearing on Tuesday but watched a replay via the town’s website. I’d say the Three Bays Preservation/Mass Audubon application is in for a hard fight — this is not a popular project gauging from the public comments, which ranged from socio-economic concerns to some interesting biological/habitat preservation policy issues. Shellfish are a big concern as past dredging projects have had a negative impact with water borne sediment gunking up the bed, especially in West Bay. One commercial shellfisherman from Cotuit arrived at town hall with a five-gallon bucket and pulled out a nasty blob of slimy algae he attributed to the recent dredging around Cotuit’s Town Dock. I know exactly the slime he’s talking about — it’s pretty much everywhere and another harbinger of a dead harbor but I don’t know if I would tie it to the dredging.

And on an unrelated note — Lowell Point has the remains of an old concrete seawall in front of it which has broken apart, revealing some iron rebar rods that have corroded into nasty sharp points.  I have nightmares about stepping on one of those fangs. The armoring of the bluff with rock has also resulted in a lot of small, “non-native” sharp rock, to scatter over what was once a nice sandy beach. In general the entire beach front is a mess — partially due to erosion, but also past construction sins. If the town wants to declare the place an important shell fish grant/relay zone t should think about a restoration project as it gets more and more use as time goes by.

Final digression: It’s called “Lowell’s Point” after Abbot Lawrence Lowell, the late president of Harvard who lived in the grand mansard roofed (now covered perpetually by blue tarps) mansion  on the bluff above. It has the best views in Cotuit in my opinion and should be bought by the town and turned into a park as the current owners seem to be content to let the place sink into decrepitude. He was pals with my great-great grandfather, encouraged him to write his reminiscences, and even had his secretary type up the manuscript. He was also on an advisory committee appointed by the governor to review the Sacco-Vanzetti case, a role that according to Wikipedia “dogged him for the rest of his life.”



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Jan 07 2013

The Recent Reading List

Published by under Reading

William Boyd is one of those English novelists who seems to simmer under the surface of fame and motors along an acquired taste and favorite of readers who love great writing. I was introduced to him by Charles Dubow (who’s first novel, Indiscretion, is to be published next month) in the 1990s when we were colleagues at and ever since I’ve pressed Boyd’s novels onto my friends who appreciate the good stuff.

Boyd sets his books in the past — he seems most comfortable in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — and his protagonists, generally Englishmen, are wonderfully vivid characters, artists and dreamers beset by the world.

His latest, which I am still reading, is Waiting for Sunrise, set in Vienna before World War One. a story of a young man seeking “the talking cure” for his inability to achieve an orgasm.

The first Boyd novel I read, one that remains one of my favorites, is The New Confessionsthe story of John James Todd, survivor of the trenches of France, cameraman, silent film director and auteur, who sets out to audaciously film Jean Jacques Rousseau’s “Confessions”. From WWI to Hollywood, it remains the best novel about cinema I have read.

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Jan 03 2013

Dead Neck/Sampsons Island dredging update

Wednesday night the Cotuit Santuit Civic Association met at the Cotuit Library to hear representatives from Three Bays and Mass Audubon describe their proposed dredging and bird habitat restoration application. Engineers were also in attendance to answer questions.

This was an informational session for the members of the Association. January 8 the application will be presented to Barnstable’s Conservation Commission for its review, part of a long permitting process that will require sign off from the town’s waterways and shellfish committees, the state, and eventually the Army Corps of Engineers.

The application is for a permit to dredge, in three winter phases, about 800 feet or 11 acres of sand off of the western spit of Sampsons and backfill it through pipes to the east end by the Wianno Cut, the man-made breach dug through the sand spit in the early 1900s. This would build up the sand-starved section behind the western jetty of the cut, prevent an over-wash and breach of Nantucket Sound through the island into the Seapuit River, and re-establish a gentle berm on a beach that is now a sheer wall of eroded scarp unsuitable for the nesting shorebirds that make the barrier island one of the most important shorebird breeding areas in Massachusetts.

Here’s a bullet list of random new things I learned. If you want to get smart about the project, go to the 3 Bays website and take a look at the application and engineering plans yourself.

  • The western spit and Cotuit entrance to the three-bays has been dredged several times in the past: 1934, 1947 and 1967. Three Bays has been active in dredging the internal channel and has shaved a few dozen feet from the point in recent times.  I remember the 1967-68 project when the sand was not pumped east, but deposited in a small hill right behind the point, a hill that has since been overgrown with beach grass.
  • No one knows what the recent appearance of clay on the south side of Cotuit point means. It would need to be excavated and trucked away.
  • The opening of the channel will improve Cotuit Bay’s water quality about 7% (I don’t know by what measure, e.g. nitrogen ppm, etc.) and the overall three-bay systems by 3%
  • The tree removal proposed by Mass Audubon is to reduce the copse of trees around the eastern shores of Cupid’s Cove (variously referred to last night as “Cupid’s” “Pirate’s” and “Lovers Cove) to reduce predation of tern and piping plover chicks by crows.
  • The sand is needed to provide more open breeding ground for the birds who cannot breed in dense vegetation. Hence the plan is not to pump, shore up, and plant protective beach grass, but to create more open sand areas favorable for the birds to make their nests.
  • This application gives the two groups permission to maintain the project over a decade without having to re-apply.
  • If nothing is done then several scenarios could emerge. 1) the east end breaches, Seapuit River is compromised, and the island could join Grand Island/Oyster Harbors 2) Cupid’s Cove will continue to overwash and eventually breach and 3) the Cotuit end could join the mainland around Riley’s Beach.
  • Sampson’s was the private property of one Harry Bailey (must research who he was) who donated it to Mass Audubon with the express wish that it be maintained as a wildlife sanctuary.
  • In 1958 there were 1000 pairs of nesting common terns, the best year ever. Now a good year is considered to see less than half that number, with 400 pairs nesting in 1998. Other species include roseate and least terns.
  • In terms of bird predation, the biggest killers are crows and coyotes. Humans only can be directly connected to one percent of bird deaths.
  • Kicking people off the island is not a motive. The barrier island is very crowded with boaters and sunbathers in the peak months of July and August. While Mass Audubon requires a membership card to sit on the beach (I strongly recommend you get one for your family if you haven’t and put it on an automatic renewal) there is no indication they are trying to “kick people” off the beach. Dickheads who bring dogs to the island should be horsewhipped. For the most part the bird wardens do a good job “fencing” off the breeding spots with string and sticks and generally being a friendly presence, checking membership cards and offering to educate people about the importance of the reserve.
  • The project will cost $1.5 million, which will need to be raised from private donors. Former town councilor Rick Barry quizzed Lindsay Counsell, the executive director of Three Bays, about the use of public funds, but it wasn’t clear to me whether Three Bays would seek town assistance as it tries to get its dredging projects integrated with the town’s comprehensive dredging plan. That would cut down on the expensive re-permitting process.
  • The engineers said alternatives to the proposal have been considered and rejected as too expensive or unfeasible due to the regulatory environment. Questions from the audience about alternatives to carving off of the point for sand, and going into Nantucket Sound either as part of a process to widen and deepen the navigational channels or take sand from further out in the Sound were rejected due to regulatory difficulties in such “sand mining.”
  • Best case scenario for starting the three-year project would be to get all permits in place by next fall and commence the first dredging in January and February 2014. That small window follows the busy holiday season at the Cotuit and Cape Cod Oyster Companies, and would complete the work before the birds migrate and begin to breed in late April, early May. The dredging would continue in 2015 and 2016.

Conclusions: I remain in favor, but the sad reality is this is a Sisyphean project that will need to be repeated over and over. The culprit in everybody’s mind is the “armoring” of the coast line by the wealthy waterfront owners in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with groins, bulkheads and jetties. If we were to seek an everlasting solution then the answer would be to remove the Osterville jetties, plug the Wianno Cut, and force the removal of all man made structures along the coast line that now impede the natural coastal drift of the sand.

And even then, if that impossible vision were achieved, we’d need to confront that fact that rampant coastal development has utterly trashed the interior estuaries and getting nitrogen levels down is the only way to get water quality back to pre 1970-Rape-Of-The-Cape levels.

So, dredge away and dredge some more, don’t bring your dog to the island, read up, and get involved.

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Jan 03 2013

Patti Page: 1927-2012

Published by under Cape Cod

For the longest time I thought this song was the reason Cape Cod went to the dogs — Patti Page sings a sappy song and the hordes come rolling over the bridges looking for the vision the song painted. Then, homesick and a coast away in California, in a pizza parlor way out in the Sunset of San Francisco on Clement Street, down to my last $20 bucks, a calzone, a pitcher of Anchor Steam, and a couple college buddies, I drop a quarter in the jukebox and there she was: Old Cape Cod. There’s only one other song that is more evocative of the Cape gone-by, and that in my mind is the Thompson’s Clam Bar jingle. Anyway, I punched in the buttons,  sat down, picked up my beer, and toasted the Cape as she began to sing:

YouTube Preview Image

Patti Page: 1927-2012, RIP: (New York Times obituary)

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Jan 02 2013

On New Year diets

Published by under fatblogging

It is the New Year and time for resolutions, chief among them the annual promise to lose weight and get in shape. Having invested my share of brain cells to the topic of diet, and finding myself a bit of an amateur evangelist for reforming one’s health following my physical breakdown in 2006 following my bike vs. automobile incident, I thought I’d succinctly offer some unsolicited advice to those of you thinking about turning over a new leaf. My credentials? I went from a whopping, life-threatening 280 pounds in August 2010 to 228 in February 2012 by going on a disciplined regimen of paleo diet on Zone block calculated portions with vigorous Crossfit training. This is not a “diet” but a life style change.

1. Log:  You can’t manage what you don’t measure  so start a food log. Be religious about logging everything that enters your stomach. I use Livestrong’s “MyPlate” — it has a great database for calculating the caloric content of nearly every food imaginable.

2. Weigh:  Treat food like medicine — a drug you administer to yourself five times a day. You need to know your “dosage” so weigh your portions. After a while you’ll learn to eyeball it. Get a decent digital food scale.

3. Study:  nutritional theory is being turned on its head. The old FDA “Food Pyramid” is under attack and it is very likely that your doctor doesn’t know what he or she is talking about any more. Ignore the diet books — you need to stop thinking in terms of “diets” as in plans or gimmicks.  Get off the yoyo cycle of South Beach, Atkins, etc. and instead aim for a sustainable approach to eating for the rest of your life.

  • Why We Get Fat, Gary Taubes. This is the most important book to come along in years.
  • It Starts With Food, Melissa and Dallas Hartwig. These authors of the Whole30 challenge offer a good intro to kicking off a “paleo” regimen.
  • Enter the Zone, Barry Sears. The Zone was one of the big “low-carb” diets of the last decade. It’s formula of apportioning food into “blocks” of protein, carbs and fats calculated againt your lean body mass is the best method for determining how much you should eat. Combine it with the paleo principles of whole foods omitting dairy, sugar, grains, and legumes and you wind up with what the Crossfit community considers the A-1 best diet model for the rest of your life.
  • Robb Wolf: one of the “deans” of the paleo movement.
  • YouTube series of Crossfit and the Zone/Paleo Combination. This is very useful.YouTube Preview Image

4. Understand: To do that you need to understand the science behind nutrition and accept certain new emerging truths:

  • Eating fat doesn’t make you fat
  • Grains are not good for you
  • Hormonal response to food dictates where that food’s energy is stored.  Timing of meals is important.
  • Eating clean doesn’t mean eating organic, it means eating “whole” unprocessed food whenever possible
  • Finally — this is all quantifiable and comes down to the simple truth of all diets — to lose weight you need to expend more calories than you consume.

5.  Exercise:  figure out something that will burn a few hundred calories and keep you interested. If you’re really off track, just get into a routine of walking and work up to something more aerobic. Just get moving. Crossfit is not the answer for most people. It’s expensive, it’s a commitment, but it is effective for former athletes and type-A personalities. Just make daily movement and creating a calorie deficit as much a plan as the menus you build.

6. Commit:  Dive into the Whole30 January challenge. Purge your refrigerator, buy a scale, find a farmer’s market and load up on the essentials. Detox yourself for a week, then settle into a routine that can stay with you forever. There’s no weirdness — no cleansing, no grapefruits, bacon and steak — just a logical routine that once learned will help shape your most important contribution you can make to your health: your diet.

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