Actionable Item, 17June

Call on CofC President Hsu and Board to Support Repeal of the Heritage Act.

A specific one, to be sure, but for College of Charleston folks, not a meaningless one.

Charleston is a place that hangs on to its history. While there is much to learn from that history, there’s also no reason to commemorate it by celebrating the city (and state’s) questionably-intentioned past. In a state where the confederate battle flag was removed from the state house just four years ago, it’s clear that there is a lot of learning to do.

Adding the College of Charleston’s support to repealing the state Heritage Act, which called for a display of the confederate battle flag at the state house and other locations, lends significant weight to the idea that the time for commemorating the Confederate States of America’s symbol of “American history, heritage, and honor” has passed.

Actionable Item, 9 June 2020

Erg for Equality

Rowing, for all the things I love about it, is a frustratingly homogeneous sport. There’s a lot of work to be done when it comes to making the sport more accessible. Teams like Philadelphia City Rowing and Row New York, and Serve Your City in Washington D.C. are doing admirable work to expand the sport beyond its traditional prep-school atmosphere. Today’s actionable item does have an optional fitness component – if you’re a rower, you can join the Erg for Equality here – but if you’d rather, you can visit these groups and find one which you think best would benefit most from your help.

Donate to Philadelphia City Rowing.

Donate to Row New York.

Donate to Serve Your City.

Whereas some of our other actionable items have focused on getting people out of trouble, helping to improve access to sports is an action that aims to lay the foundation for keeping youths safe in the first place. By providing a nurturing, competitive atmosphere, academic and nutritional support, and other enrichment activities, these programs have proven that backgrounds and colors don’t matter – anyone can benefit when they’re part of a team.

Donate to Philadelphia City Rowing.

Donate to Row New York.

Donate to Serve Your City.

Actionable Item, 5 June 2020

If you’re looking for the action item right now, click here. If you want to read a bit, the link is also at the bottom of the page.

“Innocent until proven guilty” is one of the unshakeable pillars of the American judicial system, right?

For this thought exercise, let’s suppose that it is.

If you’ve been arrested and are awaiting trial, though, you’re faced with a few options. One unappealing option is that you can pay an arbitrarily determined sum of money, get out of jail, and await trial while preparing yourself for what could be the legal battle for the rest of your life. The other, rather less appealing option is that the bail payment is too high for you or your family to pull together, so you have to remain in jail, waiting patiently in pretrial detention until the time of your hearing arrives. By then, you’ve missed possibly months of work, are behind on rent and other payments, and have had to rely on the generosity of family and friends (who may or may not be willing to support you) just to get you through that period.

What’s the lesson here? “Innocent until proven guilty” is not the same as “free to go.”

The Bail Project seeks to “disrupt the prison industry;” a third party capable of altering the course of someone’s life by providing the hundreds of dollars that can be needed for bail payments and alleviating some of the inherent bias in the cash bail system. In their own words, “The Bail Project, Inc. is an unprecedented effort to combat mass incarceration at the front end of the system. We pay bail for people in need, reuniting families and restoring the presumption of innocence.” With humans’ futures hanging on the thread of a judge’s decision, it seems fair to give everyone eligible for bail and equal chance of getting the best shot.

You can donate to The Bail Project by visiting their website here.

Actionable Item, 4 June 2020

On March 13th, Breonna Taylor was shot and killed in an unannounced police raid targeted towards an unassociated person not residing at that location.

For a woman who died in a drug warrant related raid, it seems that Ms. Taylor did not have the criminal background to justify the police officers’ actions. A certified EMT working at two hospitals in the Louisville area, it woudl be unfair for me to comment on her personally. Her family and friends, however, paint her as the best kind of person, replete with descriptors like compassionate, focused, and aspirational.

How does this get to you? You can start by signing a petition found at, and even better, call in to Louisville Metro Council to voice your concerns about the Louisville Metro Police Department’s excessive use of force in this (and other) situations – not to mention the apparent absence of address verification.

I can’t stress this enough – calling is very, very simple. If you’re reading from a smartphone, just follow the link and you’ll be connected by phone, where you can speak directly to councilmembers or leave a message.



Actionable Item, 3 June 2020

Hello all,

Keep it short and simple with a good thing you can do every day.

Did you know that the City of Philadelphia is intending to cut over $45 million from city budgets for social services, public defenders, arts and culture, libraries, and parks and recreation? AND that they’re funneling over $14 million to the city’s police department instead? If you think that seems like an unwise use of the funds, you can visit Philly We Rise’s excellent site , which allows you to send emails to all of Philadelphia’s city councilmembers. If you write your own email, be sure to include mention of the following:

  • The City has cancelled the public hearings for budget allocations in 2020, making it impossible for citizens to weigh in on the proposed budget changes.
  • Allow community leaders and constituents time to meet with elected officials and allow their voices to be heard.
  • The need to open a public testimony period allowing all the city’s residents to speak directly to Philadelphia’s city council.

If you’d like, you can also copy and paste the email here:

Good Afternoon _____________,

As an resident of Philadelphia and member of the city’s diverse community, I am nothing less than appalled by the city’s proposal to increase funding for the police department while decreasing funding for social services, arts and culture, learning, and public spaces. While Philadelphia may have a reputation for being a tough city, that’s no reason to defund so many of the excellent things about our city. While I understand and respect the city’s police officers, the increase in police spending called from on Mayor Kenney’s proposed budget is nothing short of absurd. The police department does not need 14 million dollars; it needs empathy, compassion, and respect for all of our city’s citizens, regardless of the color of their skin or the language they speak.
Proceeding with this proposed budget without allocating additional public comment time is deplorable; at best it is tone deaf and at works it smacks of a deep and engrained corruption between city hall and the police department. It would be in the best interest of all to reschedule the public hearing for the police department’s proposed budget, open a public testimony segment allowing the public to speak directly with the Council, and allow these community leaders time to meet with their constituents and community to discuss these issues.

Film Review: Fujifilm Sensia 200

Where to start?

Fujifilm’s description of their Sensia E6 film goes like this:

FUJICHROME Sensia 200 [RM] is a high-image-quality, daylight ISO 200 color reversal film which features extremely fine grain and sharpness, as well as faithful and brilliant color reproduction and rich tones ranging from the brightest highlights to the deepest shadows. These qualities make this film an excellent choice not only for normal outdoor photography but also for a wide variety of indoor scenes and situations requiring high shutter speeds.

Which leads you to believe that every shot you take is going to look like it’s straight from the pages of National Geographic circa 1990, regardless of the subject matter or lighting conditions (I’m looking at you, street photographers who only take pictures of gas stations, parked cars, and abandoned buildings).

So when I found a few rolls of (expired) Sensia slide film, I was hyped to take some shots around the wildlife refuge where I worked at the time. Dreaming of infinitely scalable photos of golden beach tones and stunning, charismatic portraits of noble wildlife, I worked my way through a few rolls, stocked up on the requisite chemicals, and went to work.

And here’s what I found:

Okay, so they aren’t all that disastrous. These ones turned out pretty well.

It’s worth noting that these are some of the best images I recovered from these rolls of Sensia, and only after some careful post-development massaging in Lightroom. Here’s what a less-processed (but still discernible) shot looks like:

And then we get all the way to the worst of the worst. I’m used to film strips coming out poorly, but this was an adventure in futility, low contrast, and noise. While I’ll give it the fine grain, these shots hardly match the “sharpness, as well as faithful and brilliant color reproduction and rich tones ranging from the brightest highlights to the deepest shadows” Fujifilm boasts in its technical data sheet.

Still, let’s look at the why this might have happened.

One of the better shots on this emulsion.

Poor Exposure

Slide film is a little tougher to meter correctly than comparable negative films. For example, most color negative film can be underexposed by one full stop and overexposed by as much as three full stops without major issues. (If you’ve ever wondered, the DX codes on the film canister actually tell you the film’s exposure latitude; check this out to learn how to read those codes for yourself.) Slide film’s latitude is much lower, with a latitude of +/- 1/2 stop, so exposure calculation errors can prove fatal to good shots. Expired slide film probably amplifies those challenges, and although it’s billed as providing rich tones, highlights to shadows, the dynamic range required for photos of birds against the sky might have been more than this film could take.

Poor Development

Some photos on this strip have pretty clear indicators of arreste… challenged development. The low contrast, rainbow wash, mysterious flecks, and vertical bars most likely appear to be artifacts of bad development techniques. Although it only has one additional chemical bath step, E6 processing requires stricter temperature controls than the relatively lax C41 development process, and poor quality tap water and incomplete washes might have amplified any development troubles. Furthermore, although I’ve been developing negatives for years, this was my first time working with the E6 process and this unfamiliarity likely contributed to the errors seen here.

Originally shot in color color, this landscape was so red-shifted that it was better to go black and white.

Poor Scanning

Digitization could be bad! These were scanned with the scanner’s built-in software rather than interfacing with it using Vuescan; so maybe it’s worth another shot and seeing if a software change can bring some more detail back. I don’t think it’ll be enough to matter, though.

Poor Film

I’m just saying: when you buy film from someone on eBay, you never know where it’s been. Without knowing the history of the film, I can’t confirm or deny this, and I don’t want to blame the equipment. But it’s possible – future slide film experiments might hold clues.

The takeaway? Maybe this film isn’t that bad. Maybe it isn’t that good. I think something went wrong, because I can’t believe that all shots with this film are so unpredictable and finicky. The only way to know for sure is to do more testing – so 4 years after shooting this batch, I’m going to give slide film another shot and see how it goes in round 2.

Days 29, 30, & 31: Missouri Loves Company

We pick up our adventure where we left it last, with our hero steeling himself to cross a teetering bridge hundreds of feet above a raging torrent…

Actually, the adventure begins in Chester, Illinois, the home of Popeye the Sailor and all things Popeye related: Spinach, beefy forearms, the creator of Popeye, Popeye Picnic… While I don’t know much about Popeye, this town takes great pride in their nautical heritage and, more relevant to our story, is the site of the only bridge over the Mississippi between Cape Girardeau and St. Louis (a roughly 110-mile gap), and although I wouldn’t describe the Mississippi as a raging flood, it is quite wide and in advisable to swim across in late November.

The first few miles of Missouri were as flat as those in Illinois, but as the terrain rose into the third dimension I gave up on the idea that Missouri was going to be an easy cruise. it reminded me a lot of New York and New Jersey- oak trees are popular around here- and the hills weren’t super steep, or super long, but they were super everywhere, as were the cows.
About 30 miles into the ride, I was stopped for lunch when I unexpectedly heard a bike freewheeling, and excitedly turned around to see another cyclist heading east on the TransAmerica Trail! He stopped and we chatted for a while- two Red Lanterns, probably the last people crossing the country in each direction- and it was great to catch up with someone and share stories of what we’d accomplished over the past few weeks, compare the east and west sides of the trail, and our experiences and the people we’d met. One of his suggestions was to try more riding at night; something I did that evening and regretted within half an hour (who knew Missouri’s country roads could be so busy, or so full of trucks?), leading to a pretty sudden campsite at the side of the road to wait until traffic died sufficiently for riding, or the sun came out- whichever was first.

Well, it was the sun. Because I’d camped out so early, getting going before sunrise wasn’t too great of a challenge- a good thing, because between Farmington and Summersville lie the Ozark Mountains, and it took almost 10 hours of riding, plus a few hours of lunch breaks, to make it through them. The Ozarks were beautiful in a different way than Appalachia- they were more gradual, the rivers were bigger (and also Listerine-blue), and the confederate flags a little less prominent. Reynolds Country wasn’t particularly great- although the majority of drivers are good (and I so mean the outstanding majority), this part of Missouri had more than its fair share of dangerous traffic. I did get my first death threat of the trip and was strongly reprimanded for being a tourist (Can’t avoid the truth, I guess), but soon after someone slowed down to talk with me for a bit before driving on, so it ended up okay.

As the day drew on and the sun sank lower, I became deeply aware of how emotions are strongly related to bike speed- and by extension, to hill steepness. (Emotion is the derivative of slope?) Racing downhill, it’s all optimism and excitement and “oh man I’m gonna bike like A HUNDRED AND SEVENTY FIVE MILES TODAY!!!!”, whereas uphill, particularly when there’s heavy truck traffic, you can almost feel your life sliding away as every mistake, insecurity, and defeat of the last decade somehow come to mind at once (It’s not really that bad- there are mountains to marvel at, forests to observe, and often the fantastically grisly remains of some animal to ponder).

Stopping just short of 100 miles in Summersville, I finished the century with a trip to the grocery store before making camp for the night and trying to convince myself that after the Ozarks, the rest of the country is “basically flat,” which is exactly what I said after leaving Connecticut, and after crossing into Kentucky, and after finishing Appalachia, and at the top of every hill I’ve climbed.

Waking early and moving on, my goal for the following day was to make it to Springfield, which at 113 miles was by far the greatest distance I’d attempted so far. Good weather, flatter-than-Ozarks terrain, and lots of caffeine helped make it possible. The greatest challenge was probably Missouri’s enthusiastic, but relatively unrefined road-patching techniques and making a successful transition from the TransAmerica Trail to Bike Route 66. With some minor fanfare, I hit 2000 miles and soon after made a left turn into America’s Mother Road (Which I always though was Interstate 195 or maybe US Route 1 or 6, but hey I guess I’m wrong) towards Springfield. Along the way, I was happy to pass by a very large solar farm, wattage unknown, but definitely big enough to charge more than a cellphone!

A lot is up in the air for riding over the next few days- rain, floods, cold, etc- so plans are likely to change. What did you expect?

Days 27 & 28: Illinois (Hillinois, Chillynois)

Trying to make the most of a rainy day in Illinois, I got going on Saturday about half an hour before sunrise. Since I’ve mostly been letting the sun wake me up, this was the first time I’ve been able to watch the sun coming up in a few weeks- and it was fantastic. (The sunrise is one of my favorite things about rowing, incidentally, and makes it worth getting up at 5 to go splash around in the dark.)

I was able to make about 10 miles before the rain started. The next five hours weren’t particularly exciting- I ate breakfast, read, took a nap, and remarked on how it was getting colder as well as windier and rainier- but finally the rain cleared and I got back under way again. While it was finished with its rainy antics, Illinois still had plenty of tricks left to throw at me: rolling hills, the famous “wind coming from every direction you’re trying to bike in,” and even a few snowflakes (I counted 7). As the day went on, the wind gradually lessened and the hills flattened out, so by the time the sun was down, the riding was more or less tolerable.

Waking up (post sunrise) on the following morning, iwas very happy to find that the weather trend had continued overnight, and except for the sub-freezing temperature, the day was just about perfect. Starting out with a stretch of the Tunnel Hill State Trail, I got to see an abundance of icicles (the first ones of the year for me) and a very cool/spooky tunnel. I hadn’t expected to find any rail trails this far west, so although I only followed it for a mile or so, I did get to imagine I was a train, just like back in New York.

Heading north to Carbondale, I encountered the greatest challenge of the Illinois leg of the trip: The Indian restaurant I had hoped to have lunch at was unexpectedly closed. I should point out now that one of the several purposes of this trip is to complete a nationwide evaluation of Indian restaurants. So far, the best was Lumbini in Baltimore, with Princeton NJ coming in a close second, and Taste of India in Charlottesville a distant third. I had high hopes for Reema’s Indian Cuisine, but now I may never know. After coping with the disappointment and having some peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, I headed west towards to Mississippi, where I was rewarded with the most incredibly flat floodplain to ride upon. My goal for today had been to make it to Missouri, but with such an abundance of flat land to traverse I took a scenic detour, riding along the levee on the riverbank and crisscrossing the fields, in total awe of the zero elevation change for almost 12 miles. Curiously, it appears that there is a coal mine only a few hundred meters from the river itself, with a huge conveyor belt that travels up, over the levee and road, and all the way to the river to deposit coal in barges. It’s very loud- I think they keep the machinery running all the time regardless of mining/loading activity- and probably is annoying to live near. But it might explain the villages build seemingly at random in the middle of what’s otherwise a wheat field- I guess someone is doing the mining and loading.

As easy as the flat riding was, the excessive detour pretty much guaranteed that I did not cross the river today, but by early morning tomorrow I expect to be on the western shore.

Day 26: Kentucky & Illinois

Another sunny morning, the second in a row, but this one vastly more frosty than the previous. The biggest problem with frost is that all that water stays stuck to things- and then melts- so it’s difficult to dry things off, even if you whack as much ice off them as possible.

If you have any tips, I would love to hear them.

I got going through what I pretty quickly realized is chicken factory farm territory, complete with company-owned farms and hatcheries, which oddly have signs that say “work carefully, someone who loves you is expecting you home tonight.” I assumed until that point that a chicken hatchery is a place where baby chickens are hatched, but perhaps there is some dinosaur hatching at work here too? More flat lands meant more smooth and quick riding, and before too long I moved out of sad chicken territory and into tobacco, oil well, and power plant territory! Tobacco is a curious plant- it actually smells very nice when it’s hanging out to dry, a sweet and leafy smell, but burning it creates a smell somewhere between melting brakes and PVC fires that I don’t believe anyone actually enjoys. Truly, one of the marvels of organic chemistry.

Passing into yet another agricultural area, which I’ll call “The Corn Zone,” I found a tantalizing clue to a mystery that’s haunted me for years: the DeKalb corn sign that’s hanging in our basement. Where is it from? What does it mean? Who is DeKalb? Well, today I found one that’s very similar at the edge of a cornfield, leading me to surmise the DeKalb is a company that breeds varieties of corn for commercial growth. I don’t want to check that online, because it would ruin the mystery, but it sounds like a good hypothesis to me. (My previous hypothesis was that DeKalb was someone, a distant relative perhaps, who had run for some political office, and their campaign icon had been an ear of corn.)

Continuing onwards, I found (to my surprise) that I would be taking a ferry across the Ohio River into Illinois, and (to my very great surprise) it was free! Once over the border, I realized that although my goal for the day had been met, there was still plenty of sunlight, and I had already gone 92 miles… So I pushed onwards for the second century of the trip, making it to Elizabethtown, Illinois before making camp.

Checking the weather, tomorrow appears to be a better day than I had anticipated- rains falling mainly from 1000 until 1300, which should give me some time to do laundry (vastly necessary) and some reading before continuing onwards across Illinois and into Missouri.

Back in Charleston (briefly)

Travel is lovely. Every once in a while, getting to somewhere new (even if it’s somewhere old) is one of the best things about being alive.

There’s not much of a story to these – just a nice afternoon walking around a neigborhood with friends, pretending to pick out which houses are the best to live in and which streets are the coziest to stroll down.

Here’s my favorite street in Charleston, and probbly one of my top five favorite streets ever.