Pete's Guide to Bethel, Maine

We’ve spent the last week here in Bethel, Maine with the gathered Rukavinas: 14 people and one service dog housed in a palatial mansion that far exceeds our station in life (but which, split 5 ways, is surprisingly affordable).

While the details of the intra-familial hijinks that ensured are locked, of necessity, in a vault of secrecy, I can report the following highlights we came across in Metro Bethel:

DiCocoa’s Market Bakery & Cafe, on Main Street downtown, is the local bohemian, dog-friendly, coffee house, serving espresso, intriguing bagels, a wide range of pastries made in-house and offering an eclectic range of local grocery products (kimchi, yogurt, gelato, coffee beans from Larry’s). We had coffee there every day, often-times twice. It’s got a nice vibe, acceptable coffee, and the food is tasty (especially the intriguing bagels). The highlight of our week at DiCocoa’s came tonight, however: the annex next door is opened on occasion for “dining experiences,” and tonight it was Mexican Night, a meal, served family-style, that blew our minds; everything was fresh-picked, locally-sourced, and lovingly made. If you have an opportunity to take in the next offering, I highly recommend you do.

The Good Food Store, on Route 26 heading toward Sunday River, is a nice little healthy grocery store with an array of dry and fresh goods. They have a large selection of dry goods, bread, wine, some frozen entrees that are good for large-group-feeding, and the largest selection of kombucha I’ve ever seen. I learned a lot about by place by eavesdropping on conversation between the cashier and the personable Tucker Carlson while I was waiting in line. There’s a BBQ trailer next door where Catherine and Oliver indulged in various falls-off-the-bone barbeque delights.

Marta’s Bakery, a 30 minute drive south in Waterford, was an unexpected treat. Marta is a Czech baker who serves a lovely array of pastries, accompanied by the best coffee we’ve had on the trip, from her hillside chalet.

The Local Hub, a 30 minute drive east in Greenwood, was described online as a cross between a European bakery, an organic grocery and a yoga studio, and that’s pretty accurate. We stopped for lunch on Wednesday: the food was tasty and the staff exceedingly friendly. Catherine picked up some very nice wool after lunch from the display at the back. Right across the street was a shop selling guns, ammo, Hello Kitty products and origami supplies (which is how you know you’re in Maine when you’re there).

We’re heading back to PEI in the morning, by way of Campobello Island and the ferry to Deer Island, NB, arriving home, if all goes according to plan, on Sunday. This has been the first vacation I’ve had in years that resembled vacations as they are meant to happen: eating, drinking, swimming, relaxing, enjoying the company of family and not working at all. It was oddly pleasant.

The State of Comment Spam

Here are some statistics that might interest you about how things have gone since I turned the comments back on here a week ago.

Over the last 7 days there have been 10 comments from real people commenting about real things – “ham” in the spam-fighting game.

During the same 7 days, Mollom, which I am using to filter spam, has stopped 1,421 spam comments.

Two or three pieces of spam are still getting through each day, which I must manually delete: these are usually of the “heap praise” variety of spam, things like “that’s a really great post that I found really great interesting,” with the author’s name linking, because I allowed a “home page” entry on the comment form, to sites selling jeans or sunglasses or domain names or whatever.

These two or three a day are annoying and dispiriting, but I’m a lot better off than I would be deleting 200 spam a day without filtering.

Epic Solo Journeys by Indefatigable Australians

The Australian film Tracks is playing at City Cinema until Sunday night. It’s an interesting film, especially if you are a fan of the “epic solo journeys by indefatigable Australians” genre as I am (see also Half-Safe: Across the Atlantic by Jeep).

Based on the true story of Robyn Davidson, who walked from Alice Springs to the Ocean in 1977, the film is beautifully shot, and an oddly compelling tale, given that the action consists mostly of a woman, a dog and four camels walking across desert landscapes.

There is, I warn you (spoiler alert) dog-related pathos that was especially shocking to me as I had Ethan at my feet throughout; fortunately his head was under the seat of the person in front of me, so he didn’t witness it.

“The goal is to have curious and creative students who can function in life...”

From the article Wrong Answer, published in The New Yorker edition dated July 21, 2014, concerning organized cheating, by teachers and administrators, on standardized tests in Atlanta schools:

John Ewing, who served as the executive director of the American Mathematical Society for fifteen years, told me that he is perplexed by educators’ ”infatuation with data,” their faith that it is more authoritative than using their own judgment. He explains the problem in terms of Campbell’s law, a principle that describes the risks of using a single indicator to measure complex social phenomena: the greater the value placed on a quantitative measure, like test scores, the more likely it is that the people using it and the process it measures will be corrupted. “The end goal of education isn’t to get students to answer the right number of questions,” he said. “The goal is to have curious and creative students who can function in life.” In a 2011 paper in Notices of the American Mathematical Society, he warned that policymakers were using mathematics “to intimidate—to preëmpt debate about the goals of education and measures of success.”

The article referenced is available online – Mathematical Intimidation: Driven by the Data – and is an interesting exploration of the concept of “value-added modeling” in educational testing.

So much of the educational agenda over the last school year was consumed with public discussion of the December 2013 release of PISA test results for the Islandaround the Home and School table as much as anywhere else – that it’s helpful to gain context about how testing is conducted, how the results are interpreted and reported, and whether or not they are of value for making practical decisions about educational policy.

Where's my summer been?

For the last 90 days I’ve been running an app called Backtitude on my Android phone that sends my geolocation to a server where it gets stored away in a database.

Backtitude updates my location every 5 minutes, but only if it detects that I’ve moved more than 20 metres, so it’s recorded a total of 4,189 geolocations over 90 days rather than 25,000+ that it would have otherwise.

I built a little web app for myself to visualize my travels: there’s a dot on every location and lines connecting each successive one.

Here’s what my summer – May 21 to August 20 – has looked like so far:

Map of my summer so far, zoomed way out.

I took a trip to Europe in June and a trip to New England in July: that’s what the long connecting lines are.

The map is more interesting when I zoom in; here’s my travel on the Island, for example: I’ve gone as far west as Ellerslie and and as far east as Cardigan.

Travel on  PEI this summer

And here’s my summer in Charlottetown, where I spent the most time:

It all becomes more manageable if I decrease the date range that I visualize; here’s the last 24 hours in Charlottetown, for example. Outside of the Richmond Street corridor that connects my house to my office, everything else is dog-walking.

24 hours in Charlottetown

There’s utility both in looking at the overall terrain I’ve covered, but also in looking at specific trips: back in July I decided to follow Waze’s guidance for getting into Logan Airport in heavy traffic. As a result, I blindly drove hither and thither and had no memory of where I’d been. Except that I did:

Trip into Boston

So I know, as a result, that on July 18 at 4:47 p.m. I was on Rte. 57 between the 128 and Alewife.

And here, earlier in July, is a day-trip into Utrecht in The Netherlands, arriving at the train station, walking through the centre to the Universiteitsmuseum, then a walk uptown for summer before returning to our campground:

Utrecht afternoon.

And here’s a walk around the centre of the town of Zaltbommel one afternoon on an open studio tour:

Zaltbommel studio tour

Looking back over the last 90 days my travels are fading from memory far enough that navigating back through my geolocation timeline has an effect similar to flipping through vacation photos. I’ll be interested to experience the same thing once I’ve been tracking my location for, say, a year or two.

If you’re interested in doing the same thing, here’s the server-side code that accepts geolocations from Backtitude.