Let’s plow the missing piece!

Since we moved to Northampton in early 2012, I’ve been enjoying the incredible network of trails we have here. But some sections are not plowed in the winter, which is too bad. With support from the Friends of Northampton Trails and Greenways, the Northampton Business Improvement District, and various individuals, I’ve started an informal group to try and address that. Initially we’re focusing on the mile-long stretch of the downtown rail-trail parallel with King St. The city’s Department of Public Works plows north and south of that section.


  • Snow turns into rough, bumpy ice (because people use the trail anyway!)
  • Compacted ice takes forever to melt
  • On dry winter days, trail could be used by hundreds of people if not for the ice
  • Plowing the trail will increase:
    • Recreation and fun
    • Physical and mental health
    • Carbon-free commuting options

There are costs (equipment and labor) and issues (fences and bridges). But it is less than a mile, and the benefits are huge!

Will you help?

If you’re a Northampton resident, please contact the mayor and city council and tell them you support plowing the trail! And/or, please download the Plow the Trail PDF (a poster and handout sheet) and distribute it.

The Norwottuck Rail Trail is also not plowed, but that is the responsibility of the Department of Conservation and Recreation. Separate campaign to come!

Jeopardy FAQ

For those who aren’t up for reading the lengthy recap, here’s an executive summary of the questions that seem to crop up the most. Feel free to ask others in the comments!

  1. How do you get on Jeopardy?
    They now offer an online screening test for those who can’t get to California or to a city where the crew is traveling. It’s 50 questions, 15 seconds to fill in each blank (you don’t need to frame it in the form of a question). Sign up to get notified of future tests. If you pass the test (they don’t tell you and there’s no confirmation of this, but the consensus on the board is you have to have at least 35 correct), you may randomly be chosen for an audition. If you get the audition, you may get The Call. If they don’t call, try, try again!
  2. Did you study? How can you study when the questions could be about anything at all?
    I studied a lot. “Jeopardy scope” (what they might reasonably ask)  is smaller than you might think, but it could still take a lifetime to cover. My favorite tool was SuperMemo on my Palm.
  3. Did you get to hang out with Alex?
    No, there is an iron wall between the contestants and anyone who is involved with knowing the questions. Aside from posing for a photo with each of us, the only time we interacted was when the cameras were rolling. But he is miked all day, so you get a pretty good sense of his personality.
  4. Do they tell you what the categories are?
    No, see #3. Because of the quiz show scandals, they are very careful to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
  5. Do they try to match up people to particular categories/games? No, see above, and in fact nobody knows who the 2 new contestants are going to be for each show until moments before. They are randomly drawn after the previous game ends. As a contestant, you have no idea which show you’ll be on!
  6. Do they pay your expenses?
    No, but you will win at least $1,000 (3rd place; 2nd place gets $2,000.) Don’t forget taxes, though (California takes 7% off the top, then you also have to pay the IRS and your state). We turned it into an actual vacation so didn’t end up in the black, but it was well-worth it for the adventure of a lifetime and a California vacation! Some people indicate you can subtract your expenses, but I’m not sure that flies legally unless you consider yourself doing Jeopardy as a “business.”
  7. Did you feel very competitive with the other contestants?
    No–everyone was funny and interesting and enjoyable to hang out with. We really bonded. Of course I still wanted to win, but it felt very collegial.
  8. Why did you get ruled wrong for leaving out a word (“The Boy in the Bubble”) when they accept Yeats for William Butler Yeats?
    The rule is that you can use just a last name as long as it’s unambiguous. There is only one famous Yeats. If it were Smith, they’d ask for a first name. But with titles you need to include every syllable. Same with proper names too–poor Wolf Blitzer lost most of the few bucks he had when they reviewed tape and discovered he’d said “Julia Childs” instead of “Child.”
  9. Didn’t you know “Code Pink”?
    Not only did I know it, but watching the game when it aired I expected to see myself buzz in and get it. Your brain works differently when you are up there!
  10. Was there something wrong with your buzzer or your buzzer technique?
    Actually, although my timing may have been off, I was doing exactly what you’re supposed to do. They tell you to keep mashing the button until Alex calls on someone, even if your light doesn’t go on. (You can’t hold it down–that doesn’t work.) You usually don’t see so much buzzer motion because most people can rest their hand behind the podium and just move their thumb. But short people like me are hoisted into the air on an elevated platform so our heads are at the same height as the other two contestants’. As a result, I would have had to bend down to rest my hand, so I had to hold it up.
  11. Can’t you buzz in as soon as you know the answer?
    No. There’s someone backstage who unlocks the buzzer when Alex stops talking. If you buzz in too soon, you get locked out for some fractions of a second–long enough for someone else to buzz in. I felt pretty good about my timing practicing at home, but it fell apart to a certain extent in the studio. (I did well in rehearsal, but Phil and Chris were both crazy fast!) There are lights you’re supposed to be able to use for cues, but that didn’t work for me.
  12. You didn’t think the FJ answer was just “area code,” did you?
    Talk about your brain behaving differently up there–I never would have believed I’d forget to re-read the question, but I was so rattled by the wagering that I did forget. If I had re-read it, I would have put “cell phone area code.” But I don’t think I would have been given it, because it was specifically Telecommunications TERMINOLOGY.
  13. What the heck is an overlay?
    It’s a new type of area code that covers the same geographic area as a previous one. In New York, 917 was the new code given to cell phones (but also to pagers, and possibly land lines) after they ran out of numbers.

Jeopardy report!

Watch Hilary on Jeopardy Part 1
Watch Hilary on Jeopardy Part 2

I’d aged out of the contestant pool in November, 18 months after my audition. I figured I’d take the online test again at the end of January and hope for another chance at auditioning. But on 1/8/2010, Jonathan handed me the phone saying, “It’s Glen from Jeopardy.” He started by that checking all my information was the same, giving me a chance to think,  “is he calling for the reason I hope he’s calling? Is this The Call“? Finally he said “Can you be here for taping on February 2nd and 3rd?” I told him I was thrilled and excited, of course, but it wasn’t until I hung up that Jonathan and I started screaming, laughing, and dancing around the living room!

Continue reading

Weekly run

Trying to get back into the writing (of any kind) habit!

Another incredible day, 60+ and sunny. My indoor/outdoor thermometer is currently at 99.9, but clearly there’s a problem there… I heard a raven off to the west and wished I could take off after it. The black lab with the purple collar who lives along my route and is usually on a chain came with me for about half a mile. He is quite well-behaved–doesn’t bark, jumps up but doesn’t make contact–and his joy in tearing past me is infectious. He’s lanky with a big head, which according to our friends Alex and Rani means he’s of the field type rather than the show type. I met up with my running mate Kris, who worried about the dog getting too far away from home, but I predicted that he would come as far as the timid border collie and then stay with her or go home. That’s exactly what happened. We both alternated running and walking, but my brief interval run on Thursday seems to have helped me do a little better than last week.

Wyoming Valley Striders Summer 10K

I’ve now completed the Wyoming Valley Striders Triple Crown and have a cool (if large) Frank Shorter shirt to show for it. The 10K was in Kirby Park again (like the Cherry Blossom run, which I didn’t blog but in which I placed for the first time EVER because there were only 3 women in the 40-44 age category!) This time we got to run over the bridge into downtown Wilkes Barre and along the new river walk, which is gorgeous.

The race was at 9am. I got there around 8:30, a little later than I had planned because I always underestimate the length of the drive, bearing copies of the two checks that had been cashed for the Cherry Blossom (there was a mix-up and I had to pay again at the last minute). An envelope was already made out for me, marked “FREE,” so no hassle at all. I got a nice denim blue WVS hat in addition to the shirt (technical fabric, not yet another cotton T-shirt I wouldn’t wear.) The race start was on top of the dike, and before the start I walked down to the swampy natural area between the dike and the river. There was a forest of yellow jewelweed, many plants a good 8 feet high, with a little path into the heart of it so I could walk in (stems crunching under my feet). Very cool to see them towering over me.

I was quickly at the back of the pack, near a guy I recognized from the Cherry Blossom. Not a lot of training going on this summer, but I have been doing Tabata intervals regularly so I was curious to see how I did. Two related problems: it was very humid (although overcast, thank goodness), which normally slows me down, and I ended up taking advantage of two water stops, which also increased my time. I should have been more careful about my fluids and especially electrolytes (they only had plain water at the stops, which didn’t help). My final time was just under 1:10–not great but not terrible.

The course was very complicated, with a total of 5 separate loops that kept crossing each other. At least it was varied. Instead of seeing the fastest people coming back, I got passed by just the leader (he was so fast and I was so slow that we intersected). It was amazing–he passed me like I was standing still. It felt like seeing the RoadRunner go by, except that he was so smooth and quiet that I didn’t hear him come up or even go past–a barely-noticeable breeze and then he was speeding ahead of me, short blond hair flying out behind his head and green dots on the base of his shoes bobbing up practically to his waist. It’s thrilling to watch the people who run like the wind, effortlessly.

The coolest part of the race was crossing the beautiful Market St. Bridge and running along the new RiverCommon. It’s gorgeously landscaped, with wildflower banks on the river side. I just attended a fascinating presentation on wildflower meadows yesterday (with expert Larry Weaner, who was brilliant and down-to-earth), so I was excited to see them and notice the black-eyed susans which will be gone next season, as I learned.

Post-race I spoke again to Dr. Armillei of Active Performance Chiropractic. He told me why he’s not covered by our insurance (applied twice and was rejected because they have “enough specialists”), but his rates are reasonable and I might just go there on my own ticket. It’s far away so needs planning, but I do think it might help me.

Plus yummy oranges, potato chips, and “the best whole-wheat pizza in NE PA” according to the race director. It was delicious.

Winter’s End 4.5 miler

I ran the first event of the Wyoming Valley Striders‘ Triple Crown yesterday–the Winter’s End 4.5 mile run, on the Penn State Lehman campus. It was a wonderful event. First of all, registration is in the heated and comfortable student center, with REAL bathrooms (whoo-hoo!) Second, advance fee was only $8. Third, you get a hat or gloves instead of yet another useless cotton T. (If I run all 3 races in the Triple Crown, I get a Frank Shorter performance shirt–now you’re talking). I got a nice knitted red hat with the event embroidered on it. Fourth, the setting is absolutely gorgeous. It’s a lovely campus, surrounded by barns, fields, and beautiful big houses. The course is rolling and varied, part on asphalt and part on dirt road, with essentially no traffic at all. There are wetlands, gorgeous old trees, and a lovely pond. Bucolic! And fifth, free massage afterwards–more on that later.

I had a good run in terms of competing with myself. My low-bar goal was not to be dead last, and my personal goal was to beat 50 minutes. I did! The clock was at 49:17 when I crossed the finish line. When they posted the results, I showed up at 47:24 and was thrilled–but I think they skipped someone and put me in the wrong place. In terms of competing with others… every time I’m in a race I’m confronted with being the SLOWEST fit person possible. Not that I can’t get fitter, and losing 10 pounds would help, but I’m in way way better shape than the few people I manage to beat. Only 3 people came in behind me. And I run good races–I don’t go out too fast, I expend my energy evenly, I really pour it out at the end and don’t leave anything on the road, my form is decent, I have fun with it. I’m just as slow as molasses in January, as a turtle just out of hibernation, as a snail in the sun… whatever you can compare it to, I am SLOW slow s l o w… But who cares!

So after the race, Active Performance Chiropractic was doing free massages. I told Dr. Armillei that I didn’t have any particular complaints but I am inflexible and hate stretching. He asked me to try to touch my toes and I showed him how far from the ground I end up, with pain up and down the back of my legs. He had me lie on one side and then the other, while he jabbed his thumb into the side of my upper thigh. Meanwhile, he had me stretch my leg out and down (the technique is called Active Release). It hurt quite a bit while he was doing it, but it didn’t linger. After just a few minutes of that, he had me stand up and try again, and I gained probably 4 inches of stretch, just like that! He explained that my sciatic nerve is entraped by the piriformis muscle and stretching doesn’t help when that happens–I need to massage and release the nerve, then I’ll be able to stretch. I was very, very impressed!

Stubborn craziness: centering an image horizontally and vertically with CSS in IE7

So, I’ve been telling everyone how learning CSS is totally worth it and not as hard as it seems. But today I spent probably 2 hours trying to get one simple image vertically aligned without using a table. I should have just put in a table, but I’m crazy stubborn. I guess it was educational… The breakthrough was finding this site for vertical centering, but then I had a hard time making it center horizontally too. You can see the ultimate solution at Jonathan’s new website (just a forwarder right now, so the code is simple), but here it is for anyone searching. There are a zillion solutions out there, which SEEM to be collected at SuzyUK’s thread, but I couldn’t get any of those to work for me. I fully admit my approach to CSS still has a lot of superstition!

Style sheet:

and the code:

Running, writing, self-improvement, keep on trying new things…