True Rowing – the “Peloton of Ergs”

Rowing machines have been around for a while, but most people are familiar with the Concept 2 made in Morrisville, Vermont and used in the annual C.R.A.S.H.-B sprints — the putative world indoor rowing championship. In the last decade the ergometer has broken out of the boathouses and basements where they were alternatively ,loathed and loved by their users, largely due to CrossFit’s embrace of the machine for its high intensity interval workouts.

Since first appearing in the late 1970s as the Model A, the Concept 2 has become the standard rowing machine used by rowing teams to train and score rowers. There’s also a big following amongst non- and former-rowers, who used Concept2’s online logbook to log their workouts and compare themselves to other rowers around the world. Every winter — usually smack in the middle of the worst of the ice and slush — indoor rowing races like the Cranberry Crunch held here on Cape Cod give people like me a chance to compete against other people and not go slowly crazy cranking away listening to the same heavy-metal playlist I’ve been listening to since 1995 when I bought my Model C.

All those satellite indoor rowing regattas culminate with the C.R.A.S.H.-B’ Sprints in late February — a couple hundred ergometers on the floor of the Boston University hockey rink — with a digital leaderboard and an announcer and all the trappings of an actual sport. Those sprints are 2,000 meters and can take an Olympic gold medalist as little as five-and-a-half minutes to complete, to somewhere north of eight minutes for less endowed mortals. It’s an ugly experience marked by anguished expressions on red faces followed by involuntary vomiting int a trash can. The sound of the flywheels and the fan blades is Pavlovian for anyone who has logged a lot of time on an erg. My buddy Charlie who has a silver medal, used an erg on the balcony of his apartment in Arizona while he studied for his MBA and got in shape for the ’84 LA Olympics. He says the sound makes his stomach churn. yet he still climbs onto the machine every so often.

IMG_6062-XL
By the CRASH-B’s

There have always been other rowing machines to pick from. A college teammate, John Duke, designed and marketed the Water Rower — which uses a clear plastic tank filled with water instead of the Concept2’s use of air pressure  and a damper to simulate  the drag of an oar through the water on the internal flywheels. Kevin Spacey rowed a Water Rower in House of Cards. I’ve never tried one.

Then there are the horrors that hotel chains used to buy and stick in their fitness centers. Those things were bad and led to Concept2 offering an “Erg Locator” on its website so addicts could book themselves into hotels with the real McCoy when they traveled on business. Those knockoffs weren’t nearly as bad as the “rowing machines” sold for $29.95 that used two screendoor pistons, and a squeaky seat on wheels to give grandma something to ride while she watched General Hospital.

There have been some software programs that have tried to enhance the monotony of indoor rowing.  Because the Concept2 display has an ethernet port, I could plug it into my laptop, set that on a chair next to the machine, and row against virtual conpetitors or a computer-generated paceboat. Those programs would upload workout results to the Concept2 Online Rankings, and had options to show one’s power profile, and other super geeky statistical functions that did nothing to improve on the bleak truth that rowing is about as dynamic an activity as being a human metronome approaching cardiac arrest.

2018-08-13_15-14-46.jpg
590 Hours on the Erg and nearly 10 Million Meters Later and I’m still fat

Stationary bicycles, treadmills, stairmasters — all of them are boring because they don’t move. The view never changes, there’s no wind rushing, no splashing, no risk of capsizing or getting taken out by a Cape Cod nailbanger in a Ford F-250 with a bag full of Fireball nips. Peloton is viewed as the digital exercise company that cracked the boredom issue by networking high quality stationary bicycles with online classes. I tried to ride one in LA last spring, but I was too tired to figure it out and missed the full Peloton experience.

Now a Cambridge company, True Rowing, is about to introduce a new indoor rower, the “Crew”  with a 22″ flatpanel display and the promise of real time rowing workouts broadcast from the Thames, the Charles, the Schuykill ….. There will be instructors, and from what I can read from the press release and early coverage, an opportunity to row in synch with the rower (s) on screen.  That’s a big deal because a lot of the trick in rowing is learning how to perfectly coordinate oneself with seven other people in a round-bottomed, 60-foot long boat that’s a little bit wider than your butt in lumpy water and waves.

The Crew is a good looking machine – a little too “Jetson” for my tastes — and has all the expected pieces such as an oar handle, a place for the feet, and a rolling seat for the butt. Resistance comes from magnets.  I’ve towerd on ergs that used a basket of weights (the Gamut circa 1976), water, air, and even magnets to put some resistance behind the flywheel. Magnets were the worst and the method favored by one of the early makers of health club and hotel rowing machines. But no judging until I actually get on a Crew and pull a few strokes.

Crew

The obvious difference with the Crew is the monitor. Concept2 uses a display that gives the most basic feedback — split times, elapsed time, strokes per minute, calories, watts , etc, — so the rower can stare at a little square of grey LCD numbers and do constant arithmetic, calculating how many more strokes will be needed before the agony will end.

I wish True Rowing the best, and I signed up for a first look. At $2,000 for the machine and $40 monthly subscription, the machine is priced exactly the same as a Peloton bicycle. That prices the Crew at twice the cost of a Concept 2, signalling that True doesn’t have delusions of eating into Concept2’s base in the rowing and CrossFit markets, but is going after the rich guy with the same pitch the Water Rower used — rowing machines should be beautiful and capable of hanging out in the living room.

Dick Cashin is one of the investors in True Rowing, and that more than anything is the best endorsement for the Crew as he is a rowing legend who rowed in the USA eight in the 76′ Olympics, won the Worlds,  a medal in the Pan American Games, and consistently wins his age group in the C.R.A.S.H.-B’s. I interviewed him for a story I wrote about indoor rowing for Forbes in the early 90s and he’s still active competing on and off the water. If Dick thinks its a machine worth investing in, then it’s a machine worth checking out when it starts shipping next year.

 

The case of the vanishing shirt pocket

The summer Brooks Brothers sales has come and gone but I picked up four classic cotton button-down shirts to get me through another year. I’ve worn the things since the mid-70s when I attended a prep school with a coat-and-tie dress code, always a 36″ sleeve, 17 1/2″ neck, collar with buttons, regular cuffs.  There have been a few years of J.Press but their signature “button” flap front pocket was a pain in the ass when I was looking for a place to stash my glasses, pens, tickets, etc..

EBay introduced me to the wonders of used clothing — aka “Deadman’s Duds” — and for a while I was buying used Turnbull and Asser shirts for $25 a piece  and realized the quantum leap in quality that comes with a $300 English shirt, versus a $125 Broooks Bros. shirt sewn in some Far East sweatshop. But elegant and detailed as the Turnbull and Asser shirts are, they aren’t button downs and require those pernicious little plastic collar stays to keep the collars from curling up like some Peter Pan affair. And most brutally, they utterly omit the breast pocket, a sin for me because I depend on a leather index card jotter to track my schedule and to-do list, store parking tickets, receipts, business cards, etc..

Now Brooks Brothers has done away with the breast pocket too and I’m pissed. At least twice a day I try to stick something into a pocket that isn’t there any more and curse the fool who decided to do away with it either out of thrift or some belief that pockets ruin the “flow” or whatever of a garment (like famous Lost Generation bon vivant Gerald Murphy who wore pants and suits without pockets because they ruined the “lines” of his clothes).

 

Birds, time, options and smart people calling each other names

I’m in Los Angeles this week, and not having posted anything in a long time, noted a couple things to share this morning:

  1. Plovers return to Santa Monica beach after 70 years: (my hotel room is sur la plage and has killer sunset views) Here’s a piece in Longreads about how fencing off a section of sand the size of a soccer field and planting some beach plants like rosa rugosa led to the return of the first plover within four months. Turns out people like their beaches clean and groomed, but clean beaches don’t stack up enough seaweed for sand fleas and flies to thrive, and without the bugs, no birds.
img_20180801_185541-effects2678315420069010750.jpg
There are plovers down there somewhere.

2. Om Malik has some thoughts on watches and the changing nature of time  in the era of the Apple Watch (which I do not own being of the Android persuasion). Great quote of Lewis Mumford to the effect that the signature machine of the industrialized modern age was the clock.

3. The Bullshit WebNick Heer at Pixel Envy writes about the clutter and crap that drives sensible people to install adblockers. I picked this up from the always excellent Project VRM mailing list.

“The combination of huge images that serve little additional purpose than decoration, several scripts that track how far you scroll on a page, and dozens of scripts that are advertising related means that text-based webpages are now obese and torpid and excreting a casual contempt for visitors.”

4.  Alfred Lee and Corey Weinberg write in The Information about slowly changing policies by startups to extend the window of time beyond 90 days for edeparting employees to exercise stock options by departing. The piece hit a nerve as I just let a bunch of options go unexercised, seeing no sensible reason to go deeply out of pocket and then wrestle with the tax consequences for some future hope they’d actually be worth more than they cost. It would have been far better if I could have dawdled on the decision, but in the heat of starting a new gig there was no way. Moral of the story — unless you’re in the founding class,  options remain a chimera for most employees for private tech companies.

5. Best of Enemies – downloaded this great documentary off of Netflix for the flight to the west coast. William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal were invited to debate during the 1968 conventions and the sparks flew. A harbinger for the current shouting head phenomena that is the basis of modern political debate.  After watching that I headed to Esquire’s “Classic” archives to read Buckley’s 12,500 word essay about his famous meltdown. Next on the reading list is Vidal’s version of events, which spawned one of the ugliest lawsuits and literary feuds in history.  Vidal calls Buckley a “Crypto-Nazi.” Buckley calls him a “queer” and threatens to sock him in the nose. All hell breaks loose.

IMG_20180731_193504-EFFECTS
View towards Malibu from the Fairmont Miramar in Santa Monica

Memorial Day in Mosswood Cemetary

On a thousand small town New England greens,
the old white churches hold their air
of sparse, sincere rebellion; frayed flags
quilt the graveyards of the Grand Army of the Republic.
The stone statues of the abstract Union Soldier
grow slimmer and younger each year—
wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets
and muse through their sideburns . . .

For the Union Dead, Robert Lowell

On Boston Common, following a decade-long Memorial Day tradition, volunteers from the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund have set out more than 37,000 flags to mark the memory of all the Commonwealth’s soldiers who have died in battle defending the country since the Revolution.

Jim Gould, local historian and essayist, emailed me on Saturday the news that a flag had been placed on the grave in Cotuit’s Mosswood Cemetary of my great-great-grandfather, Capt. Thomas Chatfield, to honor his service in the Union Navy during the Civil War.

Capt. Thomas Chatfield, USN

Chatfield survived the Civil War unscathed. Across the street from where I sit, in the park in the village center, sit two hulking granite boulders with bronze plaques affixed to their faces. There are enscribed the names of Cotuit’s veterans of the two world wars.

I did not serve in the military but a few men in the family have. From my fifth great grandfather Job Handy serving in the Continental Army in the American Revolution to the present with my son serving in the U.S. Army, there’s somewhat of a military tradition to honor. My father was in the Army in the early 1950s, stationed in post-war Germany. My brother Tom served in the Army’s special forces for nearly 15 years. My nephew is presently a Navy Seal. My son is a private in the 25th Infantry.

Thomas Churbuck in Kurdistan c. 1991
Following the first Gulf War, Thomas Churbuck was assigned to a Kurdish refugee camp near the Iraq-Turkey border.
Pvt. Fisher M. Churbuck, graduating from basic training, Fort Benning 2018

I missed the draft for the Vietnam war by a few months in 1976, then came close to enlisting in the Navy after graduating from college four years later (a missed opportunity I’ve regretted ever since). I should have served but didn’t.

Here’s to those who did serve or are serving now:

Here’s to Jim Forbes who served in the USMC at Khesanh. To Rick Larcom the Green Beret who lost his leg in Vietnam. To Sam Berry who flew an Air Force tanker. To Ben Field who is a sonarman aboard a USN submarine. Here’s to all who serve in distant wars today, who have served in the past, and who one day will have their graves marked on some future Memorial Day by a flag they earned through their service.

My Bibliomania

I have a nice collection of books and over the past two weeks I’ve winnowed down their numbers by dragging 20 black contractor bags to the Boys Club book trailer at the Barnstable Dump. I may have given myself a hernia in the process, as all of those books were upstairs, scattered between five book cases, and had to be Santa Claus carried downstairs and out the door over my shoulder.

I lightened the load on the old house’s bones and perhaps even slowed its sagging into the sand, but no one was happier to see the black bags of books leave forever than my wife Daphne, who asked me multiple times “what’s wrong with a Kindle?”

A lot is wrong with a Kindle. All those sad “books” locked away on a little plastic rectangle have nothing to compare with the impressive ranks on actual shelves of Shelby Foote’s trilogy of the American Civil War, Gibbons’ massive Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (which I also listened to via Audible during endless car commutes from the Cape to NYC), a signed three-volume hardcover set of John Julius Norwich’s Byzantium trilogy, a full shelf of Pynchon, all of O’Brian’s Master & Commander series, and treasures dating back to college.

IMG_20180427_113550

Friends and house guests can’t spend a pensive moment on a rainy day looking for a good book on the Kindle in my briefcase. I can’t excitedly press a masterpiece sitting on a device into their hands knowing it won’t come back, but still feel glad to give them the chance to experience what I had when I read the book for the first time.

What sits on a person’s book shelves may say more about a person than their Match.com profile or their Meyers Briggs score. Who hasn’t cocked their head to the side and spent a few minutes scanning book spines to get a sense of their host and their interests? When I was in college I was invited to dinner by my advisor John Hersey. His home on Humphrey Street in New Haven was packed solid with books, more than I had ever seen before or since.  My read on him? People who write books own a lot of books.

My shelves — prior to the Great Reshelving of 2018 — would have told a browser that their owner catalogued according to the laws of entropy. Nothing was grouped correctly. Proust was hanging out with James Ellroy. Ancient software manuals sucked up precious space. Flimsy IKEA bookshelves had cracked and collapsed to reveal they were nothing more than corrugated cardboard encased in vinyl. Stacks of books lay under beds collecting dust bunnies. Torn paperbacks with no covers competed with first editions, great poetry, and irreplaceable yearbooks and family photo albums.

Being the nerd I am I went online to look for some guidance on how to most efficiently purge my collection and reorganize it across multiple bookshelves in separate rooms. Should I use the Dewey Decimal System? I did work in a library in college and the Cotuit Library is right across the street and I kind of know the DDS. Was there an amazing book app that would scan ISBN numbers and help me keep track of my lending? One lifehacking tip advised organizing books by the color of their spines the way teenagers sometimes organize their apps on their phones by the color of the icons.

In the end I went topical. Fiction and poetry are being shelved alphabetically in the main book case along with the best of my maritime history and fiction. Paperback fiction (in decent shape) went on the uppermost shelf that is conveniently paperback sized. Ancient history and literature — Herodotus through Runciman — went into a bedroom along with more marine titles, mountain climbing, survival stories, philosophy, and coffee table art books. The guest room got more beach reading and popular stuff like Stephen King, along with all the local flora and fauna and Cape Cod specific titles.

First came the purge and the purge intensified. In a moment I would ponder as book in my hand and make a quick assessment. Was it a duplicate and if so, was it superior to the other edition? Do I need three hardcover copies of Harry Potter and the Lost Prince of the Planet Xerox? Was it out of date, e.g. some business book about “Agile Lean 6 Sigma Teams?” that wasn’t relevant anymore to anybody and probably was that way the day it was published? Into the trash with it. Was it a one-off read that would probably never get picked up and read again? e.g. anything by James Patterson? Into the trash.

My criteria for disposal grew more weening the more weeding out I did. Sometimes I’d find a title so heinous I’d cringe that it even came into the house, let alone found space to molder in.

Once the purge was completed and five back-bending trips to the recycling center lightened the house by several tons, I started shuttling the survivors to their new homes. In the process I was able to dispose of one dilapidated IKEA bookcase and multiple temporary shelves in various bedrooms.  I removed about 100 feet of shelving by the time I finished, and what remains has plenty of room for more books. All photo albums and yearbooks are in a set of shelves inside of a closet used to store old electronics and other detritus.

The most satisfying part of the Great Reshelving was the reunification of so many scattered titles and the discovery that my favorite authors are Don DeLillo, Peter Matthiessen, Barry Hannah, Joan Didion, John McPhee, Thomas Pynchon, and Cormac McCarthy. I’m really into Byzantine History (especially the fall of Constantinople), the naval history of the Civil War, whaling, American small boat design, shipwrecks, mountain climbing, and English romantic poets.

As for apps, yes there are book apps that purport to make life easy, but in the end I just did it by the seat of my pants the old fashioned way.

 

 

 

 

 

Po.et enabled

I’ve been into non-currency applications of the blockchain thanks to Dries Buytaert’s thoughts about using it to reward contributors to open source projects, and Steven Johnson’s excellent article about blockchain, cryptocurrencies, ICOs, the Bitcoin Bubble and Etherium in the New York Times Sunday Magazine last January.

I signed up for po.et, received a Frost token and API URL; downloaded the WordPress plugin, uploaded the zip file to my account on WordPress.com and filled out the plugin’s settings with my name and the Frost settings.

I can stick a badge like this one:

Verified on Po.et

April 18th 2018, 13:29

  into my posts by adding “” to each post. What’s the big whoop? It’s essentially stamping a piece of my work with my Po.et token so it can be verified as my work and not an impostor’s nor a thief’s.  I believe I can audit my work for it’s use (or abuse), use it on photos, audio… and maybe incorporate a payment system in the future.

Po.et has one of the best self-descriptions I’ve seen from a tech company  in a long time:

Po.et is a tool that allows publishers to timestamp their digital works. Po.et uses blockchain technology in order to create digital “fingerprints” that can mathematically prove an article hasn’t been altered or tampered with.

 

 

 

NYTimes: Why Paul Theroux Loves Cape Cod

Why Paul Theroux Loves Cape Cod https://nyti.ms/2qzzOzJ

Theroux is one of my favorite writers of fiction and acerbic travel. His 1978 novel Picture Palace is set on the Cape, and he’s had a summer place here since the mid-70s.
“It is my home, so it is in my dreams,” he writes, “a landscape of my unconscious mind, perhaps my mind’s only landscape.”