Feb 21, 2011

Breakneck Ridge

Chris and I took a Metro North train about an hour and a half north of the city to hike at Breakneck Ridge. As I write this, I am thoroughly exhausted, so I will keep it brief. We were both surprised that there was snow on the ground. Not only was the ground covered, but there was a solid 10 inch foundation, glazed over in ice with 4 inches of fresh powder on top of it. A few hundred yards into the hike I stopped and put on my microspikes. The spikes dug in nicely and I had no problems getting footings. The views were pretty amazing from the 1100' purchases on Breakneck Ridge, Sunset Point and Sugarloaf Mountain. You could see the Hudson Valley, the Hudson River and the abandoned ruins on Bannerman Island. We hiked from 9:00am till 3:30pm, saw nobody else out enjoying the woods and had a great time. There were some comical moments. Most noteworthy was Chris' bold attempt to boulder a snow-covered rock pile in his climbing shoes. I had to fire up my stove to warm him up afterwords. (I have some ridiculous video footage that I'll have to post up sometime in the future). In the end, I would estimate we only hiked about 6 miles, but it was certainly slow-going for a lot of it. I'm really whooped! For now its off to bed.

Above: Chris warms his frozen feet and one of the many streams we crossed.
I will be in Baltimore for the rest of the week. My old stomping grounds. I'm looking forward to seeing Charm City once again and have plans to meet a friend for dinner tomorrow night. I'll see if I can't get out and snap a few Bmore snapshots while I'm there.

Above: Myself on the ridge and a map of the route we took for the most part.

Feb 19, 2011

Friday night climbing

Ouch. Last night was another great night of climbing. My fingertips and toes are killing me in a “hurts so good” kind of way. Here's the quick & dirty:
  • I beat a V3 bouldering problem that's been laughing at me.
  • I zipped up two, 5.10a top roping routes and then got destroyed by a 5.10b route.
I gave the 5.10b route three tries but I couldn't get myself over the ledge, half way up the route (and the ledge wasn't even the crux of it!). Next time... next time... With all this warm weather we're having I hope to get down to Rat Rock in Central Park this weekend. I haven't climbed on real rock since last fall and I miss it.

As usual, the Friday night rock climbing session was followed by a greasy meal at the Ocean View Diner and a few good games of chess. Have I beaten Chris yet? No. I'm starting to get bitter about that! Playing against him is better than playing against a computer (slightly), but it's still discouraging when it takes me five minutes to make my move and he captures my pieces while salting his french fries. I'm getting better though, and games are lasting a lot longer than they used to.

Chris destroys me at another game of chess.

Feb 18, 2011

Bullets for breakfast

It's Friday! What a week. Work's been insanely busy lately and I really busted my @ss this week. I'm glad that Friday is here and that I'll be climbing tonight in Brooklyn. Though this morning threw me a bit of a curveball. I stepped out of my building in a good mood at 6:10am. The warm weather was a big plus, and stirred up thoughts about riding the road bike this weekend. It's Friday which means I get to wear jeans and sneakers to work instead of the tie, dress shoes etc so I was really comfortable as I walked down my street. I selected the Give Up album by Postal Service as I walked to the BX7 bus stop. It's funny; that album usually reminds me of a really bad time in my life when I was in a horrible relationship and extremely unhappy. But, this morning, I was able to really enjoy it. I guess my position is different now, and my perspective has changed. Anyway, I was bobbin' along to the beats on the bus. When I stepped off the bus and crossed Broadway at 225th street in the Bronx, the clock on my phone assured me I was right on time for the train to Yonkers. Perfect. Down the steps I went to the station platform to wait for a Bombardier M7 to take me to work. Then I was struck by a very strange sight: a bullet. I said to myself: Is that a 9mm round? Picking it up; sure enough, it was! Bizarre right? Scanning the ground, I found another round. This one was a 38 Special wad-cutter. What's the deal? I pocketed them both and I suppose I'll chuck them in the Hudson River after work. I stood near a set of side doors on the way to work looking out at the Hudson River as we rolled north, Postal Service playing away in my ears. Today's busy, but going well. Looking forward to climbing tonight.

Feb 17, 2011

iPhone picture of the day

iPhone photo of an R32 train at the 168th Street Station,
processed to look like an old Polaroid using the Shake It app.

Feb 15, 2011

Book Review: Turning the Mind into an Ally

While riding the 1 train home from downtown this evening, I finished Sakyong Mipham's Turning the Mind into an Ally. Another Tibetan Buddhist dharma book, this one focuses on the practice of Shamatha (peaceful abiding) meditation. I found it incredibly insightful and provocative. Though I have been meditating for a meager two weeks, the book has greatly helped me tune my mediation and focus. The benefits of this one-on-one time with my mind are already revealing themselves. I've been much more focused at work. A heightened awareness of distractions and discursive thoughts has enabled me to bring my attention back to the task at hand; whatever it may be.

Sakyong uses the analogy of taming a wild horse when describing meditation and the wildness of our minds. He describes how easily it is for our minds to roam from thought to thought which leads us to feelings and emotions when meditating. It's so true. I am still bombarded with distractions when I meditate. The goal, (for me at this point) is to bring my thoughts back to my breathing. The distracting thoughts are perfectly alright. They're neither good nor bad; the important part is that I realize that I am thinking these thoughts and I return my thoughts to the breath. It is a challenge but a rewarding one. I'm working with my mind and it feels great. As I've said, I'm finding it easier to be present in terms of perceiving whats happening around me as well as in communicating clearly with people. My mind is becoming less busy! Hallelujah!

One thing I really liked about this book is how Sakyong speaks about the impermanence in life. He describes it as the unchanging truth of change. Everything is in a state of flux, so why not relax into the ebb and flow of life? This shouldn't be taken as a “well, hell, what can you do?” approach to life. It's more along the lines of the fact that the world is made of infinite moving parts. Weather changes, people die, people are born, what we like today is old news tomorrow, relationships grow and fade. Recognizing this makes us more in tune with reality, and we can relax. Permanence is so easy to attach ourselves to. But, when we fully realize impermanence we're no longer fooled by it and pain begins to fade. I can remember when I used to think: Gee, if I could just go back to Baltimore, things would be great. Life was so simple there. But in truth, it's all changed. Everything is completely different.

I'll leave you with a quote from the book where Sakyong speaks about impermanence:
Understanding the meaning of impermanence makes us less desperate people. It gives us dignity. We no longer grasp at pleasure, trying to squeeze out every last drop. We no longer consider pain something we should fear, deny, and avoid. We know that it will change. This is a very strong direction toward opening the mind of enlightenment. We've learned to look at what's in front of us. We don't have to keep imitating an idea of permanent happiness: “If I work hard, I'm going to make a lot of money, and then I'll be happy.” We see that happiness doesn't come about that way; it comes from cultivating the virtues that lead to enlightenment. Ultimately, it comes from wisdom, from understanding the unchanging truth of change.


While sewing a button back onto my trench coat this afternoon, I was reminded of my shant design I thought up years ago. Using needle & thread reminded me of how difficult they might have been to make. They were the ultimate urban riding shant (a cross between shorts and pants but not capris or "manpris"). They boast such handy features as heavy stitching, D rings, Velcro cinching and the ever-important leather crotch piece! Laughing at my sketch from 2007 I got a kick out of my "for long life" notation. Would there be a long life guarantee? Life of the pants? Life of the crotch? Life of the wearer's crotch? I'll have to work on the fine print...

Feb 12, 2011


Last night I met Chris at Grand Central Station after work and we headed over to Brooklyn Boulders for another Friday night climbing session. We seem to be getting better and better, which is pretty awesome. We both scaled a few 5.10a routes right off the bat and took care of a few tricky V2 & V3 bouldering problems. I love seeing improvement. I wish I had time to climb more than once a week though. I even ran into a coworker at the gym, who I've been talking to about climbing & mountaineering.

As usual, we wound up at the Ocean View Diner afterwords for a few games of chess. And, as usual, Chris kicked my ass yet again. I'm getting better though; my chess muscle is growing. We both had a laugh at the Friday night special: "Grinded" spicy chicken burger.

Feb 11, 2011

NY -> DC -> NY

I spent Wednesday and Thursday in DC this week to attend a Project Status Meeting. As I've mentioned before, my company is building new subway cars for the DC Metro. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) has placed a base order of 428 new Kawasaki cars (7000 Series). It's pretty exciting to be a part of it, even though we are still in the conceptual design phase of the project. The cars are going to be pretty high-tech and very efficient. Some of the cooler features are things like complete LED lighting. No more halogen bulbs. Vehicle Track Dynamic Monitoring Systems (VTDMS) which will actually monitor the track for out of tolerance conditions and automatically place a cell phone call to WMATA to inform them of the nonconformance. There's also a camera system on these cars as well. Each car will have 5 interior cameras; one in each corner and one in the middle as well as exterior cameras so that the train operator can see what's going on in the cars as well as at the station platforms. The Train Operator Display (TOD) in the cab also displays the cars within the consist on a monitor and indicates any issues in real time: "Door 3L on car 5617 stuck open" for example.

Above: Union Station, Washington, DC on 2/10/1011 @ 11:55am
What does this mean for me? I'll be busy for the next few years. As the Quality Assurance Engineer I am responsible for generating and submitting quality procedures and plans for all aspects of the project from procurement to inspection & test. Additionally I'll have to perform classification audits of Kawasaki's subsuppliers which are located largely in the US (it's a "buy-American" project). The travel is fine with me, I love it, but each day I'm away from my desk means more work when I return.

I didn't get to explore too much on this trip. I got into my hotel around 6:00 on Wednesday night and worked for a couple of hours before going out for dinner. Though I lugged my climbing gear down to DC with me, I never got a chance to slip away to the indoor climbing gym in Alexandria, VA like I had hoped. The meeting on Thursday morning went quickly and I found myself on an Amtrak back to NY at 1:05pm. Maybe next time. But today is Friday and that means I'll be headed to Brooklyn to climb tonight. My mission: conquer the 5.10a route that laughed in my face last week!

Feb 8, 2011

Book Review: One City: A Declaration of Interdependence

This past weekend I finished Ethan Nichtern's book, One City: A Declaration of Interdependence. The book instills, very well, one of the core beliefs of Buddhism; that we are all connected. This interdependence is explained in a modern writing style using pop culture references which make it a lot more interesting to read than confusing riddles with ambiguous meanings (what the hell is the sound of one hand clapping anyway?) I liked, that at the beginning of each chapter, he quoted an individual and then went on to apply Dharma teaching through their words. Perhaps, best exemplifying this with Dr.Martin Luther King Jr's quote here:
"It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an network of mutuality, tied together into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality... Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you've depended on more than half the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren't going to have peace on Earth until we recognize the basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality."

I got an incredible amount of personal gain from this book. It's opened my mind to a new way of being. A more conscious, connected, appreciative way of being. It has brought what Nichtern calls "the real internet" into focus and has motivated me to better dial my thoughts in on what is really going on (internally & externally), instead of letting my brain jump from distraction to distraction. With this comes clarity and focus that I'm already beginning to see.

Feb 6, 2011


It's been a busy but great weekend. I'm Feeling good mentally and physically and I got a lot done. Friday night, I climbed with my friend Chris at Brooklyn Boulders. This was probably the best night of indoor climbing both of us have ever had. I took care of a 5.9+ route with a hell of a crux and cleaned a V2 bouldering problem that is 90% upside down. But where I "hit the wall" so to speak, Chris pushed right on, cleaning a difficult 5.10A route and a new 5.9 on the suspended, inverted, obelisk. Damn you Chris, you've raised the bar again! After BKB, we hit up the Ocean View diner in Brooklyn and played a few games of Blockus Duo over tasty (fairly) burgers before calling it a night around midnight. When I got back to my building in Manhattan around 1:00am I walked in through the trash room and snagged a lamp someone had thrown away thinking: I need a lamp like this, whatever's wrong with it will be fun to fix.

I woke up Saturday morning around 8:00 and went for a run. It was 38°F and misting but it felt great to run so early through my hazy, sleepy neighborhood. I made a loop around The Cloisters, passing the overlook that gave a view to upper Manhattan and farther off; the Bronx. For a while I jogged along looking down on the Hudson River through dense fog and mist. I got a small high from the sight of it and a generally good feeling swept over me. I finished 2.5miles later.

Let there be light:
Fixing the lamp was fun. I used my multimeter to determine that the foot-tap switch was the culprit. I couldn't get any continuity through the circuit when the switch was closed so I took it apart to see what the deal was. Inside, the foot-tap switch, I found corrosion and arching damage. When I dug deeper into the switch I found it was melted and badly damaged so I decided to scrap it and hard-wire the lamp without a switch for the time being. Today I'll take a trip to the hardware store and see if I can find a foot-tap switch for this baby. She works (the lamp's of the female gender, don't ask me why) but I need to find a switch if I want to avoid plugging it in every time I need it.
After "fixing" the lamp, I went in to work. The purpose was two-fold. I needed to pick up my W-2's I left in my desk and I thought I might crank out a few project letters while I was there. I ended up staying for five hours, working by the light of my desk lamp and the sounds of Morrissey, I cranked out nine project letters and felt fantastic when I left the office at 6:00pm.

Now it's 9:00am Sunday morning. I've got my laundry in the drier, a hot cup of coffee by my side and life is good. I plan to attend an Introduction to Meditation class at the Interdependence Project this afternoon, but other than that and watching the Super Bowl, I have no other obligations.

Feb 4, 2011

Lowest platform

There's so much going on these days and I haven't been carrying my DSLR around with me. But I have been taking pictures with my iPhone. Using the phone is better than nothing and keeps my photographer's mind active. Though I can't expose what I see, the way I want to, the phone at least freezes the moment for me. And it really is true what they say: The best camera is the one you have with you at the time. So, with all of the iPhone pictures I've been taking lately, I decided to use my flickr account to hold my "iPhone only" images. I even threw a widget up on the blog here to link to my flickr iPhone account. I'll be using several apps to process the images, like the Shake it app that I used to create the Polaroid effect seen with this image.

This image was snapped at the 145th Street Station while transferring from the D Train to the A Train this past Wednesday night.

Feb 1, 2011


My friend, Chris, turned me onto a great book I'm enjoying: One City, by Ethan Nichtern. The book uses modern Buddhist wisdom to explain the interdependence of everything; the fact that there's no way to separate one's self from what is going on in the world. I'm halfway through the book but have found many insightful concepts and revelations. One of which, I particularly relate to is the idea of mindfulness and not "sleepwalking through the day". It may sound funny, but a lot of the time, I find myself thinking about, well, nothing at all. While this can be good for our sanity, this isn't particularly healthy. Here's what struck a chord with me:

What actually happens in those moments when we're completely lost in our heads? What happens to a mind that isn't settled or curious enough to investigate things directly and stay put long enough to actually understand what is in the frame of experience? To keep the plot clear and consistent, we plug filler material into those missing moments where we've been MIA. To create this filler material, we have to make a lot of assumptions about what is happening, both within ourselves and in the world we inhabit.

The deadliest thing about most assumptions is that they reside outside our immediate consciousness. They become like whispered mantras. They form an invisible superstructure for the development of all of our thoughts and actions. It's like looking at everything through a deep-blue lens: eventually you might get so used to it that you think that all color has a bluish tint. And that is precisely the root of ignorance.

When we start to assure ourselves that our assumptions definitely depict the truth, they become fortified into bullet-pointed ideology and bullet-proof dogma. The mind becomes enslaved, chained by a series of vague connections, images, and memories - evoked by the buzz-words of random thought. All we end up experiencing is the indirect idea of things - a hazy picture with low production values. And because the connection between an unexamined mind and direct experience is so flimsy, the power of persuasion over that mind is enormous. That mind can be easily sold lies - even by itself - and can mistakenly interpret those lies as universal truths.