I'm at a track meet. It's dark and cold. We're onto the last event, the exciting, chaotic, and usually dreaded 4 by 400 meter relay. Coaches all over the country find joy in putting their distance runners in the 4x4. Everyone's already run the mile, 2 mile, steeplechase, 800 meters, or usually some combination. It's one last punch in the face before we go home. We're not trying to win because we don't train specifically for this event, but it's good practice and pushes us to our limits after a long day.
Coaches, parents, and other athletes are always huddled by the start/finish line, cheering on the baton handoffs. I'm starting the team off, so I step to the line in my lane. The gun goes off and so do my legs. Everyone's screaming and cheering for their team. It's loud.
15 seconds later, dead silence. I feel isolated. It's just me and the other people running. All I hear are my footsteps and heavy breathing. About a minute since it started, I'm back where I began handing the baton off. More loud cheering.
Life is a lot life this race. People only really care about your achievements and challenges when you start and finish them. When you're working hard on the other side of the track, you're alone and have to push yourself.
I took an Amtrak train home yesterday. It was a great trip. The Adirondack route follows the Hudson River and I luckily got a seat on the scenic side of the train.
The night before I left, I Googled how early I should get to Penn Station. A whole hour? No way, that's way too long. I already had my ticket on my phone and didn't need to check any bags.
Common sense would make you think you could walk right up to the platform your train is going to be at. But at stations in NY, DC, Boston and Philadelphia, you have to wait until your train is called, get in line, present your ticket and then be shown to your platform. Amtrak says it's a security measure, but they don't have security screening machines and this rule is only at certain stations.
This article about Amtrak's insane boarding procedures at big stations like Penn Station, is 6 years old but still accurate. It asks the question: “Is Amtrak unaware of the differences between planes and trains?”
Some other blogs talk about a mysterious elevator in Penn Station that lets your bypass all of the line nonsense and go directly to the platform. The latest reference to it was from a few years ago, so I wasn't sure if I could still take advantage of it.
I got to the station 20 minutes before my train was supposed to leave. I looked at the monitor and quickly figured out what platform my train was at. I almost instantly recognized the elevator, right next to a mini Dunkin. There was a massive line for boarding right in front of the elevator. I wasn't sure what to expect when I pressed the elevator button.
Almost a minute later, the elevator finally opened. I went down a floor, and came to an empty hallway with even more elevators. The hallway was obviously set up for passengers because it had signs, but it was almost uncomfortably quiet compared to the chaos upstairs. I saw a sign for my platform, got in another elevator, went down another floor and ended up on the platform. There was a line of people walking to the train, so I joined them, got on and was in shock that the elevator trick actually worked.
Real life pro tip! In the future, I'll try to time it to get there 10 minutes early.
I'm on an Amtrak train going home to upstate New York. The Adirondack route is very scenic. Most of the time you're right alongside the Hudson River. I saw a deer neck-deep in the water. My first thought was to take a picture of it. The train flew by, so I didn't have enough time. I get mildly disgusted with myself when this happens. I'd rather just enjoy the moment.
A lot of this probably has to do with social norms. If I tell someone later that I saw a deer in the water, they'd probably think it was interesting. But if I show them a picture, they'd think it was much cooler, and as a result, might think I'm cool. As a write this, I realize how stupid and true this is.
Most tourists feel compelled to put the camera between themselves and whatever is remarkable that they encounter. Unsure of other responses, they take a picture. This gives shape to experience: stop, take a photograph, and move on. The method especially appeals to people handicapped by a ruthless work ethic: Germans, Japanese, and Americans. Using a camera appeases the anxiety which the work-driven feel about not working when they are on vacation and supposed to be having fun. They have something to do that is like a friendly imitation of work: they can take pictures.
What will life look like after the coronavirus? Will things ever return to normal? 6 months from now, will things actually change? In the spring, I made a lot of decisions assuming that the virus would be gone by the end of the summer. Now that we're into the fall and there's no sign it's slowing down, I need to adjust my thinking.
At the same time, I feel so used to the virus and social distancing, that sometimes when I see a picture or video pre-pandemic of people close together, I do a double take. “That's not allowed!”
I think it's natural to assume that in 6 months, a year or even 5 years, your life will look so much different. At the beginning of high school, I remember thinking about what kind of person I'd be at the end of those 4 years. I thought I'd be a completely different person. To that end, I definitely learned a lot about myself and the world in high school, but my life is a lot of the same: mostly the same interests, motivations, friends, opinions.
I relate a lot of things back to running. During a workout, when I would finish the last rep and I was dying to catch my breath, I'd think over and over to myself “it's over, it's over, it's over.” In that moment, it was hard to imagine not being breathless. The reps just kept coming. I couldn't believe that was the last one. It made me happy and proud that I finished the challenging run. I'm hoping that moment for the virus will come soon, but it's not likely.
I've been running more and more around the reservoir around Central Park. Today, I ran in the morning, when it's relatively crowded. The trail is about 6 feet wide, and on top of trying to social distance, it can be a challenge trying to pass people. While it's designated as a running track, a majority of people are walking (which is allowed).
The track is one-way. There are signs that say this at every entrance. You're supposed to go counter-clockwise.
Side note: why is virtually every track in the world counter-clockwise? I guess there's a reason why.
We run counter-clockwise because everything in nature tends towards counter-clockwise motion. The list of natural phenomena that run counterclockwise is quite impressive. It includes: the molecule structure of amino acids, the shape of seashells, the rotational direction of all the planets (except Venus), and the orbital direction of the earth around the sun. On this point, Peter Brown from Sheffield argues: “Because of the effect of the Earth`s rotation, an athlete running anti-clockwise will have a slight advantage, resulting in a faster time. In the Southern Hemisphere, this effect is reversed but, as the sport grew up in the Northern Hemisphere, anti-clockwise races have remained, despite the international status of athletics. Evidence of this phenomenon is that none of the current world track records have been set south of the equator.
But anyway, the occasional person will be running or walking in the wrong direction. I mean, if they went the other way, they'd be going faster!
It's not too annoying to pass a person going the wrong way, but the rule is in place for a reason. Especially in the wake of coronavirus, one-way paths can stop the spread of coronavirus by limiting the number of times people pass one another.
I saw an old guy walking on the left of the path, on a trajectory to crash into a group of people walking the wrong way. He wasn't budging, and ran into them, before yelling that the track was one-way. And that dogs weren't allowed. They continued going the wrong way.
What does society think of this guy? I think the average person would look down on him for trying to enforce a seemingly trivial rule. But I couldn't help but yell out a “thank you.”
Now that I'm living on my own, I'm doing a lot more grocery shopping. Every time I walk into a store, I think to myself, “wow, I can literally buy whatever I want.” I can get many varieties of food originating from all over the world for not much money (except if you're at a Whole Foods, I've discovered). If I want to buy 100 potatoes and be like one of those people described in middle school math problems, I can.
Boris Yeltsin, newly elected leader of the Soviet Union, visited the Johnson Space Center in 1989. Afterwards, he made an unplanned stop at a Randall's grocery store in Clear Lake, Texas. He was in awe of the amount and variety of food anyone could buy. He didn't even get this much food as the Soviet head.
In Yeltsin’s own autobiography, he wrote about the experience at Randall’s, which shattered his view of communism, according to pundits. Two years later, he left the Communist Party and began making reforms to turn the economic tide in Russia. You can blame those frozen Jell-O Pudding pops.
“When I saw those shelves crammed with hundreds, thousands of cans, cartons and goods of every possible sort, for the first time I felt quite frankly sick with despair for the Soviet people,” Yeltsin wrote. “That such a potentially super-rich country as ours has been brought to a state of such poverty! It is terrible to think of it.”
It's crazy to think that a quick visit to a grocery store in Texas contributed to the defeat of communism.
I ran for the first time in Central Park last night around the reservoir. There's barely anyone there. It's quiet. You get a great view of the skyline. I probably won't run during the day in New York City anymore unless I have to.
I've been dealing with a lingering injury for the past 6 months. The day coronavirus ruined our lives, March 13th, I received a second blow to the face when I got a stress reaction in my foot. That has since cleared up, but while I had that injury, I unconsciously started walking differently in my left foot. My ankle started to hurt when I ran again, but it would usually subside if I took a day or two off and only ran a few miles at a time.
In the park last night, I was thinking about my “mottos” I used to use during races. At the beginning of the race, I'd usually say “sit and kick” to myself over and over again with my few remaining brain cells left to use. (In high school cross country, nobody really knows how to pace properly and the first mile is usually way faster than the remaining. Sit and kick is a term for running slower in the beginning of a race and ramping your speed up as you go.)
By the middle of the race, when my form (and my morale) start to deteriorate, I'd start thinking “check and go.” This was code for checking my form. Making sure my arms were moving straight, I was looking straight ahead, and driving my knees.
When I thought of this, I really analyzed my form. I knew my right foot had good form; it was never injured, so I compared it to my left I realized I was moving my left foot noticeably more inward when I took a step. This makes sense. During my stress reaction, doing this offloaded some of the pain off.
I moved my left foot out to match my right, and it felt really weird. By the end of the run, it already felt better. Maybe it's a mental thing and I just think it feels better because I want it too... but I think it's a step in the right direction.
When the pandemic hit and everyone's way of life dramatically changed, I fell back to listening to music from normal times. There are around 1,000 songs in my Spotify library, and I'd estimate that for about half of them, I can distinctively picture one moment where I was listening to that song long ago. I know what I was doing, where I was and what time of year it was. I suddenly remember how I felt during that time. It's crazy how music can evoke these feelings. It's really the only medium that brings back memories and emotions for me in a complete way, maybe except for pictures.
The location where I remember is super specific. I'm shuffling through my library now to get some examples:
R.L. Burnside – Someday Baby: I'm walking through a Barnes and Noble bookstore with my mom. It's the fall and I'm probably 12 years old. No idea why I remember this.
6LACK – Switch: I'm watching dash-cam car accident videos on YouTube in my high school cafeteria after school. Also the fall. So random.
Phoenix – 1901: I'm driving to school in the winter. My windshield isn't defrosted all of the way.
Run-Around – Blues Traveler: It's July, probably around 8pm. I just started a run and I know exactly what intersection I was at. Now that I think about it, I was running on the wrong side of the road (with traffic).
Now, Now – MJ: I'm walking my dog in August, and waiting for him to pee. I know which intersection I'm at.
I moved to NYC a few weeks ago and have been biking almost everyday, usually at least 10 miles. I've mostly just been riding for fun, but also bike to get groceries, library books and do other errands.
I've adjusted well to riding in a city. At first, I was shocked by how other cyclists handle the road (mostly food delivery bikers). Mostly everyone goes through red lights, some more cautious than others. Of course I go through the occasional red light, but only after looking both ways many times. I'm never in a hurry to get anywhere, so I'm not rushing like other people.
I've had a couple close calls, mostly with cars turning left and not seeing me about to cross the intersection. I totally understand why this happens; 99% of the time there are no bikes, so the drivers get accustomed to not looking. While on an 80 mile ride to Newburgh, I got tapped by a driver that passed me on the left, turned into an angled parking spot and cut me off. I wasn't even in the city, instead a quiet village 30 miles north. I was completely fine and so was my bike, but it made me think that a lot worse could happen in the city, a much more chaotic and louder place.
I wrote about bike lanes for a public speaking project, and read many Gothamist and Streetsblog articles about bike safety. Just a few days ago, Sarah Pitts was cycling in Brooklyn and was struck and killed by a bus at a notorious intersection. A reporter covering many of the tragic cycling incidents tweeted the next day:
What’s heartbreaking about my moms question is that I really don’t do anything differently, none of us do pic.twitter.com/7kuvpPG4HD
Cycling in New York is not always safe, like a lot of things in life. I really resonated with this tweet because my mom is just like this, always telling me to be careful and I always say I am. But who knows?
But that's not the point of this post. Graduation is usually at a big concert venue, but due to the pandemic, it had to be done “drive-thru style” in the bus loop of my high school. This meant that extended family and friends wouldn't be able to attend. I offered to volunteer and live stream the graduation, and the school administration happily agreed.
I had never live streamed an event like this, so learning where to start and how to overcome logistical challenges was an interesting quarantine task.
The first thing I had to figure out was what software to use to actually stream. Whatever software I used had to do these things:
switch between at least two cameras
stream for hours at a time (the event would be 5.5 hours)
I found Switcher Studio, an app for iOS, which supported multiple cameras but they had to be either iPhones or iPads. I ended up going with OBS, the standard open-source software for streaming on desktop. I found an app called OBS Camera that let me plug my iPhone in via USB and get a low latency camera input in OBS.
Choosing where to put the computer that would run OBS was difficult. I needed power. I could put it on the side of the stage, but getting a wired connection to the camera facing the stage would be impossible because the cable couldn't go in the road. Putting the computer on the sidewalk across from the stage was preferable, but there were no power outlets on that side of the road.
The school ended up parking an empty van on the side of the road across from the stage, leaving the engine running all-day and hooking an extension cable into the car battery. Not the best solution, but it worked and was reliable.
The school building was too far away to get a wired Ethernet connection, so it had to be wireless. The school gave me a Verizon hotspot to try, but Verizon service was unreliable in that location. The T-Mobile service on my phone gave around 4 Mb/s in upload speed, which was good. I tested both a few days before in the spot I would setup at.
I bought a few extra long USB extensions cables. I got my sister and some of our friends to help out, so one of them would hold an iPhone on a monopod. The iPhone would be plugged into a PC on the long USB extension cable. They would run into the road once the car parked. The graduate would get out of the car, cross the stage, and the camera would follow them across. Once they exited, the cameraperson would get out of the way of the car, and repeat.
Another camera would be zip-tied to a flagpole to get a wide overhead shot of the entire stage.
I also wrote a script to scrape the school website, download each student's senior picture, and generate a transparent overlay of each student and their name. This overlay would be shown on the stream as they crossed the stage. Because everyone had to wear a mask and their cap, I thought showing a picture with no mask would be a nice touch.
The day of
I started setting everything up 1.5 hours before the graduation started. The network speed on my T-Mobile hotspot was <0.1 Mb/s, an external mic I was hoping to use wasn't recognized by my PC, and only one camera was working at a time in OBS. Time flew as I was trying to fix all of this, and graduation was about to start.
I got the mobile hotspot to work just in time. Putting it on the second-to-last rung on a ladder was the solution (but not the top rung). I started the stream with just one super-zoomed-out camera. During the course of the day, the service would randomly drop, but moving my phone to a new spot or height usually fixed the problem.
I thought each student would be called up in alphabetical order, but because the cars arrived in jumbled order, this was not the case. At first I was squinting across the road to see who was about to be called next, and searching through a folder to find their overlay. Eventually, one of my friends helping stood next to the announcer and told me through phone call who was about be called next. This helped a lot.
During a break, I got the second camera working and fixed the angle and zoom of the original one. During the course of the 5.5 hour event, the production value really shot up as stuff started to click into place.
The recorded version of the stream uploaded to YouTube after the event. Some parts were dropped during the stream, but the recording has everything.
I was one of the last students to graduate, and my dad took over the OBS streaming when I left. To say the least, he had some trouble but made it work.
Things I would do differently
Use a wired internet connection
Get everything set up 3+ hours before to make sure there are no problems
Over 3,000 people watched live, and the average watch time was around 8 minutes. The recorded version is live on YouTube for many more to watch after the fact.
Since the coronavirus isn't really going anywhere, it's a possibility that graduations next year will still have limited attendance. If so, I'm aiming to reach out to surrounding school districts and offer to do paid work live streaming their graduations, using the work I did at my school as an example.