31 December, 2005

The eight states and twelve days Christmas

On the first day of Christmas...

We hugged the furry dependents goodbye, piled in the car and drove all day through Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky. The trip began in drizzle and we actually had some snow flurries in Texas, but the weather was cooperative, otherwise.

Not so, the traffic (a major bane of my existence). Memphis has had some of its trickiest interchanges torn up since who knows when. The last few times I've passed through Memphis, I felt like I was picking my way through a war zone. Nashville is Nashville. The timing of the drive is such that we pretty much always hit town during rush hour, so slowdowns aren't unexpected. But it's gotten much worse over the past five years or so. The only way we make it through without me having a complete meltdown is for Sweetie to continuously coo calming words.

Coming from a Schmendrick who commutes daily in Dallas traffic, that's saying something—but nothing good.

Finally, we arrived at the homestead of the Foo parental units. Mom and Dad were waiting to greet us with open arms, bourbon and water, and the anise-flavored cookies that are traditional in my family. Later in the evening, one of my sisters stopped by to help, lest the task of eating the cookies prove overwhelming.

On the second, third, and fourth days of Christmas...

My youngest sister and her husband drove down to Mom and Dad's and brought the progeny for a visit with Uncle Foo and Aunt Sweetie. We don't get to see our godchildren often, and it's always astounding to see how much they've grown and matured. One is four now, going on eighteen. The other is three and needs constant supervision as he rumbles around the house trying to pull down the Christmas tree, unroll the bog rolls, and drop heavy objects on his feet.

I know I started a couple dozen conversations with my baby sister over the three days. We may have finished one. I gave numerous elephant rides (I'm too old and decrepit for horsey rides), tickle attacks, and hugs.

Sweetie and I love kids' animated movies, but we usually rent DVDs and keep this as our dirty little secret. With our niece and nephew as an excuse, though, we ventured out one afternoon to take in Chicken Little and had a great time of it. My favorite character was Fish Out Of Water.

On the fifth day of Christmas...

All quiet on the Foo front. Baby sister, brother-in-law, and godkidlets headed home in the morning.

Does the word tinitis ring a bell? I rarely notice it under normal circumstances, but with a 50% decrease in the household population came an 80% drop in decibals that made the ringing more pronounced. Don't get me wrong; I really enjoy playing with the kids. It's just that Uncle Foo and Aunt Sweetie never had any kids and just aren't used to extended periods of non-work related chaos and all that extra yelling and ramping around.

In the evening, we got gussied up and went to church. The service was quite nice, aside from the somewhat overenthusiatic application of incense which a choking fog and many a watering eye. Afterward, we headed back to the folks' place, had a glass of wine, and started putting our stuff back in travel bags for the next leg of the trip.

On the sixth day of Christmas...

On Lancer! On Scion! On Civic and Lexus! On Buick! On Geo! On Mazda RXes!

Christmas morning. After a hearty mom-produced breakfast, we hit the road and made for Sweetie's mom and dad's. The previous night's weather reports had hinted at snow in our travel path through Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. The worst we saw was a cold drizzle. A very cold drizzle. But we were snug inside the purple grapemobile, warmed by CDs of Christmas music and the celebration of our Savior's birth.

Sweetie and sweet tater tot
We arrived at my in-laws' place in plenty of time to relax and freshen up before the relatives arrived for Christmas dinner and gift exchange. The surprise guest was Sweetie's sister, who was supposed to be in Europe for Christmas.

I like Sweetie's family a lot. They've gone out of their way to embrace me from the first time Sweetie introduced me to them as her fiancee. But I've been part of it for a relatively short time, so I'm most comfortable at such gatherings if I can find a quiet spot on the periphery from which to click away with my camera.

Someone brought along a mutant sweet potato, which quickly became like one of the family. A good time was had by all.

On the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth days of Christmas...

We hung out with Sweetie's folks, her sister, her niece, and assorted other friends and relatives in the area. This is always an enjoyable time for me. I don't get to see my new mom and dad very often, so I'm always grateful to have a few days to spend with them and get to know them better.

I went plasma TV shopping with Dad-in-law, got my butt whipped at Rummy by Mom-in-law, and generally had a nice, relaxing four days.

On the eleventh day of Christmas...

We pointed the grape toward home, driving under heavy cloud cover through much of Missouri. By Joplin, we'd driven into bright sun, which allowed us to fully appreciate just how brown Oklahoma is.

Most of the Southwest is in the midst of a record drought. Over the past couple of weeks, we'd been seeing daily stories in the national news about the grass fires in Oklahoma and Texas. Seeing all the brown grass whiz by reminded me of the signs I'd seen along the interstate on previous trips through Oklahoma: "Do not drive into smoke". I mentioned this to Sweetie, who was driving at the time.

"Why?" she asked.

Sweetie often questions what I tell her. It keeps me sharp.

"I don't know," I said, just to keep things interesting, "but I imagine it's because you can't see very well if you're inside a cloud of smoke. You probably wouldn't notice a 13-car pile-up until you'd become the 14th car."


"Or maybe the state wants to avoid lawsuits over allegations of lung cancer."


In any case, we encountered only one live grassfire just before pulling in to (coincidentally) Ashmore's Diamond Shamrock to drain one tank and top off another. We did see several areas along the route that had recently seen extensive burns, so I count us lucky.

Somewhere along the route we had the honor of passing Checotah, which (as the sign at the city limits proudly announced) is the home of American Idol winner Carrie Underwood.

We rolled into our driveway just as the sun was going down and then spent the next hour unloading the car, trying to get my aging Civic started and out of the garage, and trying to make up to the kittens all the ear scratches and belly rubs they'd missed over the past ten days.

On the twelfth day of Christmas...

It's supposed to be 75 °F today and in the 80s tomorrow. I should try to get in a 30-mile ride, but let's face it: I'll probably hang out around the house and try to regroup before going back to work Monday. Maybe I'll feel guilty enough to get out for a New Year's Day ride like I did last year. Maybe not.

22 December, 2005

Merry Christmas!

Sweetie and I are on the road for holiday visits, so we went ahead and exchanged gifts before we left town.

I've been eyeing this cycling jersey for a while but willpower prevailed. Thank heaven Sweetie went ahead and got it for me. Stylin'.

The kittens, stoned to their eye teeth on catnip toys.

I don't have much access to the internet at my folks' place or my in-laws, so I won't be posting to the blog much until we get home. Never fear, though. I'll do my best to catch up on comments and to come up with some tales to tell.

Merry Christmas to all and to all some spiked eggnog.

19 December, 2005

My see no anyway deviant

"Ooooo. Now there's something I have to read," I thought. "Or catch a computer virus from."

Spam e-mail with subjects like this are so obviously junk that they're pretty low on my nuisance list. Thanks to the fact that my mail reader is text-only, I can even look at the contents if I want, without having to worry about downloading an image or running a script.

I looked at this one.

"sentimental to Traddles," it began. "I met him in town, and asked him to walk out with me."

Traddles, you say? Hmm. That's actually better English than I've come to expect when dealing with tech support at some outfit like Dell or Symantec. Traddles... Traddles... like some nickname a college girl at Brown might have given her beau, the captain of the sculling team, around the turn of the century (not this most recent one—the one before).*

In those days, Big Men On Campus wore beaverskin coats, smoked pipes, and spoke with vaguely British accents. I know this from watching old black-and-white movies from the '40s and '50s. It's like they were the spawn of Thurston G. Howell III, all imperious and secure in their place at the top of the food chain. Certainly, there were normal people back then; they just weren't worth depicting in movies, unless the plot called for a milkman or someone to drive the coal truck.

They almost certainly wouldn't have found themselves in the pet supplies aisle of the local Wal-Mart grocery. If they had, they might have just grabbed a couple jugs of the cat litter with the blue label. They would not have climbed into the rack so far that only their ankles stuck out, whilst trying to drag the last two jugs of cat litter with the red label from where they cowered, all the way at the back.

"Help," they wouldn't have had to call to the bemused 100-something-year-old decorated WWI veteran, who was shuffling past, looking for the rawhide bones. "Can you give me a tug?"

Of course, I never saw a BMOC eating a hand-tossed pepperoni, mushroom, and black olive pizza. If that's what they gave up for the right to wear the beaverskin coat, I'd say they can have it. Party on, Traddles.

"So incontinence Diogenes anchovy," I always say.

* Yes, yes... Tommy Traddles is a character in David Copperfield. Go 'way, kid. Ya bother me.

16 December, 2005

Sawin' on a fiddle and playin' it hot

Not really. Not me, at least.

But Uncle Joe's post "That's Life!: A Musical Journey Part 1" reminded me of something that's hiding in the back of my office closet: an old violin that had been in my mom's family for many years. Grandpa always claimed it had been built by one of our relatives, and about the time I started college, he started trotting it out and talking about passing it down to me.

I resisted. Grandpa had already given me his pocket watch, and I didn't want to be the sole caretaker of his treasures. Besides, the old fiddle just seemed like such a fragile, useless thing. I was at a stage in my life where I had just moved in to my first apartment—my small apartment. Where would I store it? What if it got broken?

It wasn't that I couldn't appreciate the history of the thing. I was afraid of it.

A couple Christmases ago, I was visiting my parents when Mom brought it up again. Grandpa had been gone nearly a decade, by then.

"You know," she said, "you ought to take that violin back to Texas with you. Your grandpa really wanted you to have it."

Sweetie shot me her honor-thy-mother look, and I bit back the usual objections about not having enough room in a car full of Christmas gifts, luggage, and us.

"Okay, let's have a look at it."

Mom brought out the battered, hand-hewn case, set it on the dining room table, and fiddled with the latch. She opened the lid. The interior of the case was lined in worn red felt and constructed to accomodate the shape of the violin. The violin itself was protected by a drawstring bag made of soft, red cloth with a pattern that reminded me of mattress ticking.

I lifted it out of the case, undid the drawstring, and carefully slid the bag off the violin. The strings were all slack and broken, and the bridges were out. The bowstring was long gone from the bow. The fingerboard showed some natural wear, but oh man—there wasn't a nick or a scratch or a crack anywhere on the body or neck.

"Wow," I said.

Mom smiled. "Do you remember the story behind this?"

"Sort of. Wasn't this supposed to have been made by one of Grandpa's cousins?"

"I think so," she said. "Or maybe one of his uncles. Maybe you could find him in your genealogy research."

"Maybe," I said, turning the violin this way and that, admiring it.

Then I caught sight of something through one of the f-holes.

"Hey, I see something inside. Have you got a flashlight handy?"

She came up with one, and I used it to peer inside the f-holes. There was a thin, yellowed strip of paper stuck to the inside of the body. On it, in delicate script, had been written "Charles Creque violin maker Suffield O 1903".

Charles, it turned out, was my grandfather's first cousin, once removed—or his father's first cousin, to look at it another way. Charles, born in 1866, was the youngest son of Anthony Creque and Mary Scholastica Farnbach, both French immigrants. At various times in his life, he worked as a carpenter, a farmer, and a laborer doing odd jobs. He died in 1942.

Sitting at Dad's computer, looking through the information in our research database, I could almost feel the violin trying to bridge the gap between its maker and me. I could see that Charles had never married. Census records showed that he and several of his siblings lived with their mother (Anthony died in 1898) well into their adulthood.

A carpenter/farmer who made beautiful violins. I have trouble imagining how Charles came to acquire his skills, but maybe—without a wife and children to support—it was his hobby. Maybe one day I'll uncover the answer.

15 December, 2005

Five Random Facts

Over at My Gobhole, Susie posted her Five Random Facts. I rarely pass up an opportunity to embarrass myself, so here are mine:
  1. There are three degrees of separation between Kevin Bacon and me, as a consequence of my speaking role in a low-budget horror movie called Hauntedween.
  2. I am a cancer survivor.
  3. I used to really enjoy Hallowe'en.* Now, not so much.
  4. I like it when I have money, but I hate the way anything to do with money attracts red tape. Yes, it's that time of year when I have to fill out all those benefits and 401K forms again.
  5. I enjoy karaoke night.

(Not a nun.)

One year, I attended a party dressed as a nun. Spending the evening with a bottle of Old No. 7 in one hand and a cigarette in the other (an occasional but unfortunate vice I've since given up) has most likely added a commensurate period to my time in purgatory.

Another year, I dressed as a creature that one might describe as the love child of David Bowie and Paul Stanley. Witnesses understandably found this disturbing; however, I don't foresee it having an impact on my afterlife.

14 December, 2005

Tholving The Theme Thituation

Right. Enough of that.

I'm not sure how I got left off the V.I.P. notification list when the new level release of the Firefox browser came out, but come out it did. I like to stay on top of such things, so I promptly downloaded the Firefox 1.5 installation, uninstalled my existing version, and installed the new one. All went smoothly, as usual, but when I set about updating my various themes and extensions, I ran into a problem.

When I clicked on the Install link, I received one of those thin yellow warning bars just under the tabs saying that I needed to enable the software installation feature. No surprise there; I typically leave software installation disabled. Firefox was on guard, and this pleased me.

Off I went to the Tools => Options => Content panel to enable software installation. But what the...? The panel had changed and no longer provided a check box to enable software installation. "Warn me when web sites try to install extensions or themes" was where the old option used to be, so I rolled my eyes and unchecked it, thinking someone had simply decided to "enhance" the old wording.

No dice. No matter what I tried, I couldn't install new versions of my favorite themes.

"But I want to install software," I muttered to the recalcitrant program.

Firefox crossed its non-existent arms and widened its stance.

"None... shall... pass."

Right. It was time to get nasty. Off I went a-Googling and in short order found an article that addressed my problem and explained how I'd been hoist by my own petard. Firefox's habit of leaving all settings intact when you upgrade from one version to the next is normally one of its more endearing traits. In this case, however, not so much.

It turns out that if you have software installation disabled in your Firefox 1.0.x installation and upgrade to 1.5, the setting is carried over. This would be fine were it not for the fact that the checkbox to enable it has been removed from the content options dialogue. Fortunately, the fix is simple:
  1. Type "about:config" in the address bar and hit enter.
  2. Type "xpinstall.enabled" in the filter bar.
  3. If the value for "xpinstall.enabled" is "false", double click the entry to switch it to "true".
That's it. Easy cheesy; pulse rate returning to normal.

Now playing: L7, Bricks Are Heavy

12 December, 2005

We're movin' on up

I've never been a particularly social creature. Let's face it: if I were good with people, I probably would be living fat on commissions earned selling people things they can ill afford and need less. Instead, my strong suit is my ability to communicate with machines, which take offense over my relative lack of social grace only when that involves the phrase, "Hand me the big hammer, please."

My sweet wife, on the other hand, is very sociable. The first couple holidays that we were married were difficult for her, because I don't have a lot of friends—which meant that the company party was pretty much all I had to offer in terms of holiday social engagements. Although she'd never admit it, I suspect she had some regrets about being uprooted from her social circle and replanted in such rocky, uncongenial ground.

This year, all of that has changed. Thanks to invitations from church friends and bike club friends, my wife's holiday cheer batteries and our social calendar have been full. Perhaps the most unexpected invitation came from a couple in our neighborhood—unexpected because neither of us had any idea who they were.

It was all very mysterious.

I suppose most normal people would have simply accepted the invitation at face value, but I—a suspicious sort who not only looks a gift horse in the mouth but also orders its dental x-rays—agreed to accept the invitation on condition that we could establish that there would be no Tupperware, timeshare, or multi-level marketing pitch involved.

We were assured there would not be.

Come the evening of the party, Sweetie and I were edgy with anticipation. We snorted, scenting the breeze. Ears twitching, we pawed the...

Sorry. I got caught up.

I spent the obligatory hour trying on various clothing combinations, wanting to show some class without making it appear that I'd given the matter a lot of thought. I'm not sure what my wife was doing with her time, but the muttered curses emanating from depths of her closet were what the folks on CSI would call "a clue".

Finally, we'd managed to make ourselves presentable. We patted the kittens goodbye, locked the house and walked the two blocks to the address on the invitation. Up the walk. Ring the doorbell. From the moment the door opened, our hosts and the other guests were as gracious and interesting as anyone could wish for.

It was a wonderful time, even for an introvert like me.

But the mystery remained: how had we been selected? The same question was on several other guests' minds, and finally a couple of us asked outright. It turned out that our hosts had asked our homebuilder's sales agent to recommend a list of people in the neighborhood whom she thought they would enjoy meeting. The reason for their somewhat cryptic handling of the invitations was that they were a little nervous, fearing that someone might be upset that the agent had given out their names. A valid concern, I'd say. Fortunately, the agent chose well and I didn't see any hint of potential legal action in the smiles of the guests.

There's a fresh crack in my tough, asocial shell. I could learn to like this.

Tool of the day

The guy in the white Ford Bronco with the large reflective "Click It Or Ticket" sticker plastered across the rear glass and about a dozen foam balls of various designs impaled on his radio antenna. Not that I have anything against the antenna balls, and especially not the pro-seatbelt sentiment; but I'm reasonably sure his point was lost on three separate lanes full of drivers whom he variously tailgated, cut-off, and ran out of their lanes.

The 12" high "3" that shared the rear window with the seatbelt sticker probably should have been a clue.

1st Runner Up

Me, almost. I was walking from the parking structure to the building where I work and fell in behind a woman stylishly dressed in a flattering black suit. She was clicking along on spike heels, trailing a potent miasma of the sort of cloying perfume usually reserved for elderly women wearing dead animals draped around their necks.

I wanted out of her draft—and badly—so I upped my normally brisk walking pace another notch and quickly overtook her. I must have scuffed my shoe or something, because she looked back. She saw me in my jeans and sneakers, and her entire demeanor changed from Boardroom Ballbuster to Pauline in Peril.

The race was on.

Perceiving me as some lowlife scumbag wanting to relieve her of her purse, her virtue, or both, she quickened her pace. Still wanting out of her Prince Matchabelli (or whatever) fog, I quickened mine.

It didn't take long for me to overtake her, and when she didn't get mugged she reverted to Boardroom Ballbuster mode. "Sorry I'm too slow for you," she said in a tone so sulphurous that I began understood her need for aromatic camouflage.

And I thought I had a snarky streak.

Anyway, I almost... almost... responded that I was only trying to get upwind so as to avoid spewing my breakfast all over the pavement. I've been trying to do better about cleaning up my karma, so I didn't; but if I had, it would have made me Tool of the Day.

At least, until this afternoon's drive home.

08 December, 2005

No room in the stable


I'm not sure what it is, but Electra's Ghostrider makes me itch. It's very similar to the Rockabilly Boogie I sat on at my local shop last week, and I can't explain my yen except to say... man, it's cool. 26" wheels with big fat tires that looked half again as wide as the ones on my mountain bike, and a laid-back riding position that would be just too sweet for rolling around the 'hood. And it has a three-speed hub with a coaster brake. How's that for luxury?

Relative to my other bikes, it's pretty cheap; but Sweetie says there's no more room in the stable. Le sigh.

That's brisk, baby

It was 19ºF and windy when I crawled out of the bed and into the shower this morning. I know that's nothing to my friends and family up north, but it's pretty nippy by Texas standards.

First, for the edification of those who read yesterday's prediction that I'd be held at the office too late to beat the huddled masses home in the freezing rain, the office closed at 3:00—before all hell broke loose. It was a slow-ish drive home with the defroster on full blast to keep ahead of the thin layer of ice that kept trying to freeze over my windshield; but aside from the overpasses and toll plazas where everyone slowed to a crawling-on-hands-and-knees pace, it wasn't bad. The serious panic cases were just starting to come out when I was within sniffing distance of the barn.

On to current events. The company doesn't announce whether or not the office will be closed for bad whether until 7am, which poses me a bit of a dilemma since I've usually been at work for at least 15 minutes by that time. If I went on in at my usual time, I might have to turn right around and drive back home; but if I waited until the announcement and the office wasn't closed, I'd be stuck in the middle of rush hour traffic with all the Nervous Nellies.

I chose the former. The announcement was posted, and sure enough... the office was closed. Ah well, at least the drive home was a breeze.

07 December, 2005

I've got a lot on my head


When the weather starts to get a little chilly, those nice big vents on your bike helmet aren't so great. I've seen helmet covers before, but Nogin Sox has come up with some I'd actually enjoy using. My favorite is the Screamin' Frog (about half way down the page).

No two are alike


Winter weather bumming you out? Go make a pretty snowflake (it's fun)!

White fright

We don't get much frozen precipitation here in North Texas, but we can usually count on getting a taste once or twice a year. More often than not, it's freezing rain that paralyzes the metromess and leaves scads of drivers panicked and stranded atop the ridiculously high overpasses that TXDOT builds.

Well, today is our first "winter storm warning" of the year. True to form, half my co-workers have called in sick at the suggestion that we might get some slippery stuff—and those are the smart ones. The rest of us will gamely attempt to get some work done in between trips to peer apprehensively out the window to see if the stuff that's ticking against the glass is starting to stick. If it goes according to previous years' scripts, our managers will tell us to "go on home so you can beat the weather"; but they won't tell us until it's been pissing down for at least an hour. By that time, the roads will be wall-to-wall white knuckle yokels turning a 45-minute commute into a four-hour crawl.

But maybe we'll get lucky and this will turn out to be a false alarm.

06 December, 2005

Going nowhere fast

Sweetie and I recently purchased a bicycle trainer as a belated anniversary gift to one another.

"I didn't know you guys swing that way," said one wag upon hearing of this.


"Everyone knows trainers are torture devices. Yanno... S&M."

He knowingly arched one eyebrow. Nudge, nudge. Eh? Does she go? A nod's as good as a wink to a blind bat.


So anyway, last evening I finally got around to figuring out how to set up the thing and giving it a whirl. No problem, but the devil's in the details. I wanted to be able to tell how fast I wasn't going, but the sensor for my cycle computer is on the front wheel, which doesn't move when you're pedaling on the trainer. So I rigged a spare Cateye Velo 2 to register off the rear wheel.

I don't want it there permanently, so I hunted down some velcro strips and "engineered" it. There's quite a large gap between the seat stays and the nearest part of any spoke, so I cut a block of foam packing material and used it as a shim to position the sensor close enough to the magnet. The wire connecting the wheel sensor to the base is pretty short (the reason why it wasn't used on my wife's handcycle as originally intended), so I used another piece of velcro strip to strap it to the top tube.

It seems to work well enough, and since it's the same model as the one I have on the mountain bike already, I can just move the existing computer head to the rigged setup and continue incrementing the lifetime odometer. However, I'm a bit concerned that the constant rocking motion might be hard on the rear suspension linkages, so I may have to bite the bullet and use the road bike on the trainer. It would mean putting additional wear on the road tires (since I don't have a spare rear wheel for that bike) and buying a new computer that would register off the rear wheel, but those factors are relatively minor when weighed against potential damage to my Stumpjumper.

All that aside, it made for a good workout. I did 30 minutes at an average of 12.1 mph. The math majors among you will have noted that this is only 6 miles, but the difference from riding on the road is that you never stop pedaling. I had an average heart rate of 180 bpm and a max of 190. Others have told me that they hate riding their trainers because it's boring, and I can't disagree with that; but it's better than freezing or not riding at all.

Maybe what I really need is a poster of a cold bottle of Shiner Bock to hang on the wall in front of me while pedaling on the trainer.

05 December, 2005

Will the real Clark Griswold please stand up?

In case you haven't already received this as an e-mail attachment from every one of your relatives and co-workers, this just may be the most impressive Christmas light display ever.

Sure, I noted with a slightly cynical eye that some of the changes seemed awfully regular. I thought someone might have filmed the house with various combinations of lights turned on and then pieced the footage together with Director (or something) to synch with the music. But the real scoop is much more impressive.

Color me amazed.

Precision lawn chair marching


Too bad these guys weren't in the Macy's Thanksgiving parade. Not that I'd want them to catch pneumonia or something, but I really have to admire a group that appreciates the absurdity of marching around in patriotic boxers and black socks.

04 December, 2005

Kittens is sweet

It's a complete mystery to me, but this little critter just loves my sneakers. Aren't cats supposed to have very keen senses? Anyway, I caught one of our little allergens in a rare moment of quietude between two of her favorite things: a sun patch and a shoe of dubious aromatic quality. The shot just screamed "contentment".

Well... whispered.

Party yawn, Garth

I dragged myself and my wife out to the company's (bite me, lefties) Christmas party last night. I don't know whether I'm just getting old and tired, if the company party and my co-workers are getting old and tired, or a combination of both. All I know is that we had a lot more fun just having dinner with friends after church (but before the party) than at the party itself.

Over the years, it seems like the ever-shrinking group of co-workers who are also friends have stopped coming to the party. Most of those who do come are the newer employees from other office locations and acquired companies. I'm not a glad-handing, networking salesman type, so I'm not apt to walk up and start a conversation with these strangers, and you can be quite certain they'd never come up to me. So really, last night was a political appearance intended to avoid a black mark in the "not a team player" box.

We came, we ate a couple dessert-type things, and then we grabbed one of the wait staff to lead us back through the extremely gross kitchen, down the freight elevator, and out the door to freedom.

02 December, 2005

The death of a cyclist... and common sense

While I was sitting in my chair, watching some kid get clobbered by a streetlight pulled down by a runaway Thanksgiving parade balloon, Jim Price was fighting for his life. By Friday, he'd lost the fight, and the Denver cycling community had lost a valued, vibrant member.


Teen Charged in Text Messaging Accident
Dec 2, 5:40 AM (ET)

HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. (AP) - A teenage driver accused of text messaging behind the wheel and hitting a cyclist was charged with a misdemeanor, authorities said.

The 17-year-old was charged with careless driving causing death, according to the Douglas County Sheriff's Office. The charge carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison.

The victim, Jim R. Price, 63, was riding his bicycle Nov. 23 when he was hit by the teen's car, said Lt. Alan Stanton, a spokesman for the sheriff's office. Price died two days after the accident.

The teen has not been identified because he is a minor. Authorities said he lost control of the car because he was sending text messages on a cell phone. He was issued a summons and ordered to appear in court, authorities said.

I read something like this, and I can only shake my head in stunned amazement at the complete lack of judgment. It's bad enough having to dodge all the idiots weaving in and out of rush hour traffic, cell phone pressed to their ears with one hand and gesturing with a Starbucks cup in the other. Now we have to watch out for driving while text messaging?

When I first heard about the Colorado incident, I thought it must be a fluke. Surely, even most kid drivers are more responsible than that, right?

Maybe not. Two days later, my wife and I had been out for dinner with some friends and were driving home on The George (a.k.a., George W. Bush Tollway) when I noticed one of the cars ahead of us weaving in and out of its lane. We gave the car a wide berth, sped up to get around, and as we passed I could see the driver and her passenger. In the dark, I could see two spots of glowing light that I'm reasonably certain were cell phone displays.

They were text messaging.

Now playing: Chris Whitley, Living With The Law

29 November, 2005

Back in the saddle

It's the first day back to work after my extended Thanksgiving holiday. I cringed ever so slightly as I returned to my cubicle, wondering why hadn't someone tidied up while I was gone. Yes, it was with some trepidation that I fired up the workstation, then Outlook, expecting to find my in box chock-full of trouble tickets, circular design discussions, and pleas from accounting to get my timesheet in on time; but I was pleasantly surprised to find none of that.

Sure, the e-mail detailing this year's erosion of the company's health plan was a bit of a downer, but nothing to harsh my tryptophan-induced mellow.

24 November, 2005

To everything its purpose

Thanks giving (the action of giving thanks, not the holiday)—you just never know how it's going to hit, do you?

Sweetie and I typically ease into Thanksgiving Day with a cup of coffee and a bit of parade coverage watched in the comfort of our PJs. She then sets about pie-making and turkey preparing, and somewhere along the line the parade coverage gives way to the normal weekday television programming. I hear shouting and bleeping, and I look up to see a stage full of white, black, and brown trash shouting at one another, their faces twisted into grotesque masks of rage and indignation. Sometimes—aw, who am I kidding? Usually—they've resorted to moves obviously cadged from the WWF.

Then it hits me. If not for Thanksgiving Day, I'd be at work with a bunch of other white-collar geek types who don't say things like "Aw naw, you di'en't mutha[bleeeep]!" Jerry Springer wouldn't be on, and I wouldn't be witness to these living, breathing illustrations of how lucky I was to grow up when I did, raised the way I was, and with the opportunities I've had.

And I give thanks. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

Ooooo... ahhhhh....

Yes, I did drag myself out and bought a new string trimmer. Had to; the old one was dead. Being a moderately cheap sort, I went with a Ryobi—the cheapest straight shaft, attachment capable model Home Depot carries. It's a big heavy thing that will strengthen my arms, shoulders, and back. It has a 1 hp engine that roars like an enraged water buffalo so that the neighbors will know that I've finally gotten off my ample buttocks and mown the lawn. I went ahead and sprang for the edger attachment so that I, too, can have perfectly straight... um... edges.

Straight edges are very important in this neck of suburbia.

Before the day erupts in pre-feast activity, just thought I'd comment on how the week has gone, so far. Monday, I had my bone density scan and the preliminary results show that I don't have osteoporosis. Tuesday, I went for a 30-mile (okay, 29.13-mile) bike ride with CliffyB up and down the rolling hills around Grapevine Lake. Cliff's a great guy, fun to ride with, and if I can ever get my neck problems squared away, I hope to get strong enough so we can ride at his pace.

Yesterday, Sweetie and I ran over to Lewisville and had lunch at Johnny Carino's, one of our favorite restaurants that we've really missed since moving to Allen. As we waited for our food to come, I entertained myself by looking at the evocative black and white photographs on the walls; when I tired of that, I took to watching my fellow patrons.

The really expressive guy waiting to be seated.

The blast of perfume that followed in the wake of the middle-aged, elegantly coiffed woman and made me think of the elderly ladies in their furs who sat in the pew in front of me at midnight Mass when I was a kid.

The woman at the next table with the forced, nervous-sounding laugh.

The way the ceiling was designed so that it gave the impression of being lower and more finished than the water pipes, sprinklers, and wiring conduits it distracted from but didn't cover.

My wife thinks I'm being critical, and perhaps I am; but mostly I'm just people watching, trying to glean from what I can observe the lives they lead, what they're thinking.

Maybe I should just discourage the question, "What are you looking at?"

21 November, 2005

Monday update

Yeah, I know: uninspired title. Moving on.

What a nice weekend. Neck's still bothering me, so I wasn't able to ride for any significant distance; but I did go out on my mountain bike with the PBA 16-mile novice ride. Finally, the weather felt like autumn with starting temperature around 48°F. Several of us were chuckling about the relative lack of conversation. Just the sound of sniffling and clicking of freewheels. Afterward, I popped in to Einstein's Bagels for a bite to eat and some hot coffee. The place was hopping, as always, and I plopped myself down at the first free place I could find. I ended up having a nice conversation with a guy who noticed the cyclists often came in on Saturday and asked about our rides.

Saturday evening, Sweetie and I dug through our closets to find something non-chalantly dressy to wear for our second pre-holiday party of the season. The hosts are friends of ours from the bike club, but the guests were a pleasantly eclectic bunch. Lots of cyclists, of course, but also neighbors and local politicians. It was an enjoyable evening, and when we made it back home around 11:30, I made sure to point out to my wife that it was past 10:00 on a Saturday night and I wasn't falling asleep yet. I think she's going to have some sort of plaque made up.

Sunday, we more or less lay around the place. I did some online car shopping, caught up on e-mail, and ran the vacuum to give the appearance of contributing to the running of the household. But mainly I enjoyed knowing that when we crawled into bed after watching Gray's Anatomy I wouldn't need to turn on the alarm. I have the entire coming week off from work!

Which is not to say that there won't be catch-up doctors' appointments, vet appointments, shopping for a new string trimmer, and weatherproofing the fence—but at least I don't have to fight my way into Dallas and back every morning and afternoon.

14 November, 2005

Tool of the day

Gold, late-model Corolla driving in the second-to-leftmost lane of the George Bush tollway during rush hour, doing five MPH below the posted speed limit (read "20 MPH slower than everyone else") while reading the paper. Saw several near misses as people whipped out to pass on both sides and nearly collided as they tried to swerve back into the original lane at the same time. What a tool.

11 November, 2005

Tool of the day

I conceived the "tool of the day" posts as a means to vent my spleen over the churlish behavior I witness every day on my commute. Imagine my surprise when my first "tool of the day" ironically turned out to be not some clown in a giant pickup truck but a guy on a bright yellow road bike, wearing a gaudy red jersey with yellow stars all over it.

At 5pm, as I was on my way home this evening, I watched as this guy rolled the red light at Angel and Exchange. It wasn't your garden variety roll either. Instead of getting in the left turn lane with the rest of us who were headed up Angel, this guy rolled up to the light, squeaked to the right, and rolled slowly across both lanes of traffic in the crosswalk before swinging left and heading up Angel.

And we, as cyclists, have the nerve to get our feelings hurt when drivers behave aggressively toward us? Hey... I wanted to run the guy down.

What a tool.

What is a veteran?

Some veterans bear visible signs of their service: a missing limb, a jagged scar, a certain look in the eye. Others may carry the evidence inside them: a pin holding a bone together, a piece of shrapnel in the leg--or perhaps another sort of inner steel: the soul's ally forged in the refinery of adversity. Except in parades, however, the men and women who have kept America safe wear no badge or emblem. You can't tell a vet just by looking.

What is a vet?

He is the cop on the beat who spent six months in Saudi Arabia sweating two gallons a day making sure the armored personnel carriers didn't run out of fuel.

He is the barroom loudmouth, dumber than five wooden planks, whose overgrown frat-boy behavior is outweighed a hundred times in the cosmic scales by four hours of exquisite bravery near the 38th parallel.

She—or he—is the nurse who fought against futility and went to sleep sobbing every night for two solid years in Da Nang.

He is the POW who went away one person and came back another—or didn't come back AT ALL.

He is the Basic Training Company drill instructor who has never seen combat but has saved countless lives by turning slouchy, no-account rednecks and gang members into Soldiers, and teaching them to watch each other's backs.

He is the parade-riding Legionnaire who pins on his ribbons and medals with a prosthetic hand.

He is the career quartermaster who watches the ribbons and medals pass him by. He is the three anonymous heroes in the Tomb Of The Unknowns, whose presence at the Arlington National Cemetery must for ever preserve the memory of all the anonymous heroes whose valor dies unrecognized with them on the battlefield or in the ocean's sunless deep.

He is the old guy bagging groceries at the supermarket—palsied now and aggravatingly slow—who helped liberate a Nazi death camp and who wishes all day long that his wife were still alive to hold him when the nightmares come.

He is an ordinary and yet an extraordinary human being--a person who offered some of his life's most vital years in the service of his country, and who sacrificed his ambitions so others would not have to sacrifice theirs.

He is a soldier and a savior and a sword against the darkness, and he is nothing more than the finest, greatest testimony on behalf of the finest, greatest nation ever known.

So remember, each time you see someone who has served our country, just lean over and say Thank You. That's all most people need, and in most cases it will mean more than any medals they could have been awarded or were awarded.

Two little words that mean a lot: "THANK YOU".
–Author unknown

I'm An Adult Now

"I'd sure feel like a fool, dead in a ditch somewhere with a mind full of chemicals like some cheese-eating high school boy."
–The Pursuit of Happiness, "I'm An Adult Now"

Now playing: The Cars, Candy-O

Carbon dreams

I'm generally pretty realistic about the relatively narrow strip where my materialistic dreams and my finances intersect. I also know I'll probably never be enough of a rider to justify a really bling bike.

But a guy can dream, can't he? I was out at the Trek site and started playing around with the configurator tool for their Project One bikes. I really like their custom "Pave Flambé" and "Flying Ace" paint schemes, but if I were going to go with the custom flame job option, I'd go for one of these:

It's for the best that the Madone and Pilot lines are so far beyond me. I'd probably be so mesmerized by the sheer gorgeousness of such a bike that I'd be looking at the paint job instead of the road, hit a pothole, and then throw myself in front of Billy Ray Bob's monster truck when I couldn't live with the knowledge that I'd dinged my steed.

Now playing: Stone Free: A Tribute To Jimi Hendrix.

10 November, 2005

Desperation boulevard

It used to be that the sure sign of a movie actor's decline was when he or she started doing TV. These days there are so many "big names" on the tube—not only on cable network series, but even network shows—that I figure there must have been some kind of cachet shift while I wasn't looking. I mean, Geena Davis may be a couple decades removed from Earth Girls Are Easy, but her new gig as Commander In Chief is nothing to sneeze at.

And then there's John Lithgow. Dr. Emilio Lizardo ("Laugh while you can, monkey boy!"), Dr. Dick Solomon, Roberta Muldoon, and many other memorable characters in a career spanning four decades. So what's the story with these new Campbell's Select adverts? Every time I see him singing, dancing, and plastered with more pancake makeup than an over-the-hill hooker, I can't help but cringe. Did he lose a bet? Forget his reading glasses while looking over the contracts?

I keep hoping he'll pop up on Ellen Degeneres' show or something, cackling about the huge joke he's pulled on us all. Yeah, that's got to be it...

Classic? That's antique!

As you may have gleaned from an earlier installment, I have a bit of a distraction issue with the various nasal tics and personal telephone conversations that waft over the walls of my cubicle throughout the day. Receiving (and now expecting) no sympathy from my handlers, I took matters into my own hands and bought a nice pair of around-the-ear noise-canceling headphones. I just slap them on and pop in a music CD to make all disgustingness and the bonfire of inanities go away.

But here's the thing: I haven't been buying more than a couple CDs a year since getting married in 2002, so I've been cycling through my sizable back collection. The other day, I had on KISS: Alive! and was thinking how it still sounded good to me after all these years. Curious, I peeked at the copyright notice to see how many years and was stunned when I was reminded that this title that was all the rage when I was a freshman in high school came out in 1975. Thirty years ago!

That rattled me a bit, so I switched over to something "current". I should have left well enough alone, but I looked at its copyright and was somewhat surprised to be reminded that Soundgarden's Down On The Upside has been out for nine years now.

It may be time to break down and buy the latest White Stripes album, if only to keep from feeling like I'm sliding into Classic Rock hell.

Now playing: Marillion, Afraid Of Sunlight.

05 November, 2005

Okay... maybe not that wrong

Courtesy of the unseasonably warm weather, we had a great ride last night. Because it didn't start until after dark, there were very few of the joggers, wobbly bikers, and stroller pushers that you have to contend with during the summer. I didn't swallow a single no-see-um and didn't have to fight off a single mosquito until I was back at the car and loading up my gear. I got in nearly 14 miles, which puts me within 3 miles of the 2000-mile goal I set for this year.

04 November, 2005

This is just wrong

Where in the Divine Architect's blueprints did it ever say we're supposed to have 86°F temperatures during the first week in November? By way of protest, I'm going to gather up my new headlight and the tireflys I didn't get to use on Hallowe'en, and I'm going to ride the loop around White Rock with the DORBA bunch.

If that doesn't cause about a 20° drop in the temperature, nothing will.

If I pay attention...

...I learn something new every day.

invigilator - n : someone who watches examination candidates to prevent cheating.

Is it just me, or does that sound like some sort of contraption you might find in Dr. Evil's cupboard of failed devices?

01 November, 2005

Here's how I see it

"There is a huge difference between disliking somebody—maybe even disliking them a lot—and actually shooting them, strangling them, dragging them through the fields and setting their house on fire. It was a difference which kept the vast majority of the population alive from day to day."

-Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.

31 October, 2005

Ride report: Great Pumpkin Ride

Yesterday, the Greater Dallas Bicyclists held their 20th annual Great Pumpkin Ride. We all gathered across from University Park city hall and rode downtown to Farmers' Market.

There, the riders bought pumpkins, the object being to see who could bring back the biggest. One creative guy rigged a TV satellite dish on the handlebars of his mountain bike and used it to carry his 25-pounder, and another gal created bandoliers of mini pumpkins, which she slung over her shoulders. The winner was a 26-pound pumpkin that a team brought back on the handlebars of their tandem.

What a blast we had!

The previous night, the club had a night ride, complete with skeleton shirts and a stop at Clyde Barrow's gravesite. Unfortunately, the pace for that one was going to be more than Sweetie was up to, but who knows? Maybe next year.

09 October, 2005

Ride report: Denton Municipal Electric Power Rally

I got there at just past 7am, got registered and unloaded, and hung out in the 57-mile staging area until roll out and never saw any of the BikeJournal.com folks I was supposed to meet up with.

Chip was feeling poorly—or maybe had a premonition about having to ride in the rain—and had to back out, so when I didn't find the BikeJournal folks I decided to just tag along with John, well known locally as operator of www.bicycle-stuff.com.

Early on, I rode ahead to stretch my legs a bit and came upon ThrasherTim (from DORBA and BikeJournal forums), waiting by the side of the road for SAG and looking just a little shell shocked. He had good reason. Tim had a bad crash the previous weekend when he hit an oil slick left by a drilling rig. When I met him, he had a broken chain dangling from his fist and a taco'ed rear wheel.

I'm pretty certain his bad luck rubbed off, but I shouldn't get ahead of myself.

Things went smoothly enough until Margie the Okie (who had joined John and I along the way) flatted. She had what she needed to change it and we were back on the road before too long, but not before accidentally discharging her only C02 cartridge. Fortunately, we had spares.

Somewhere after the 20-mile mark, there was a slight headwind that dried my contacts. I blinked and one of them started to fall out, so I quickly clamped my eye shut and stopped by the road. Carefully, I picked the contact out of my eye and had it on the tip of my finger to reinsert it when... PUFF! The wind gusted and blew it off my finger into the tall grass by the side of the road. John and Margie came back to find me squinting with one eye, pathetically trying find the lens. They started looking too and, although I had already started trying to figure out how I was going to make the hour-long drive home with one eye, John spotted the contact. I retrieved it, Margie washed it off with water from her bottle, and I gingerly prepared to reinsert it.

PUFF! There the bloody thing went again. Well, let me tell you that, as big a miracle as it was that we found it the first time, I just knew it was gone for good. But again John spotted it. We went through the whole drill again, this time with my companions forming a wind block.


From there we rode without mishap until Margie turned off to follow the 32-mile route. Maybe we should have done, as well, because the rain started spitting shortly after. By the time John and I were into the horse farms, it was raining steadily. I was soaked to the skin and, since the 74°F predicted temperatures hadn't materialized, very cold. All I could think of was "keep pedaling" and "hot shower".

Again, things went on nicely once the rain stopped. John tended to fall back a bit on his recumbent when we hit a hill, but I kept an eye out for him in my rear view, thinking that he might still be due for his 1/3 share of the bad luck. Sure enough, somewhere around 45 miles, he flatted.

Along with three other stragglers we'd formed up with in the last 20 miles or so, we were the last riders to cross the finish line. The good news about that is that there was no guilt about garbaging up on all the left-over food and drink, and we got our pick of all the unclaimed door prizes! I got the ping bell I've been too cheap to spend the $8 on.

This was my second year for this rally, and I enjoyed it despite the weather. The volunteers are friendly and enthusiatic and the roads generally good—the exception being about a 2-mile patch that was crumbling; and where not crumbling, it was patched; and where patched, it was a buzz strip of indentations left from tractor tire treads.

I'll be back, and maybe next year it will be sunny.

07 October, 2005

More Vogon bicycling poetry...

Twinkle, twinkle little Lexus.
Why'd you crush my solar plexus?
As a person, don't I rate?
Did I slow you? Make you late?

But never mind my sad condition.
This spreading pool is my contrition
For my arrogance and pride.
I thought these streets were mine to ride!

Skull concussed and helmet cracked,
You've set me straight and that's a fact.
I see my error; I repent.
So sorry 'bout your fender bent.

02 October, 2005

A great weekend

Friday evening, after work, went down to White Rock and did the loop with DORBA for only the second time this season. Saturday morning, went down to the L.B. Houston trail to help with DORBA's Take A Kid Mountain Biking Day. Not a great turnout, in terms of numbers of kids, but the ones that came out with their parents seemed to have a good time. Met some more of the DORBA bunch, ate some hot dogs, and rode a couple loops of the trail—which pretty much doubled my total singletrack miles for this season. Kind of pathetic, really.

Today was the Greater Dallas Bicyclists' Fall Fiesta at Breckinridge Park, in Richardson. Didn't get to ride the 27- or 40-mile rides, choosing instead to stick with Sweetie and to help with the short kids' route. Kind of scary, since we were out on some reasonably busy two-lane roads. With the nice paved trails in the park, we made a mental note to stick there, next year. Great fun, though. Turnout was good and got to meet a bunch of the members I'd only talked to on the forum before. Sweetie had fun too, and I really felt like the GDB bunch are making her one of their own.

25 September, 2005

Rotten Rita

About the middle of last week, hurricane Rita was shambling along, picking up energy from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. By Wednesday, it was being reported to be a category 5 storm, and projections were that its path would bring it to the Dallas area with enough energy to still be a category 1 or 2. Meanwhile, we were supposed to be going to Lake Murray State Park (Oklahoma) to spend the weekend with the Dallas bike club.

I've never experienced a hurricane and didn't know what to expect or how to prepare. Lots of people just stock up with water and batteries and board up the windows to ride it out. I have experienced enough Texas thunderstorms with 40-60mph straight line winds to know how much damage they can do, and I had to figure a hurricane of any category had to be worse. Sweetie had experienced Hugo when she lived in North Carolina, and she was concerned about leaving the cats for the weekend. So we cancelled our room reservation at Lake Murray lodge, bought some extra water and batteries, and started redding up the garage to try and make room for the cars inside.

To make a long story short, Rita ended up making landfall around Port Arthur, Texas, as a category 2 or 3. By the time it got as far north as Dallas, it had dissipated to a tropical depression and swung out to the east of us, more toward Texarkana. We had very windy day, yesterday, but that was about it. We had been concerned about whether or not our house was on high enough ground to be safe from flooding, should we get the predicted 6-10" of rain, but was part of a narrow strip that didn't get a drop.

In the end, we missed out on a fun weekend, and the rain would have been good for my drought-stricken lawn; but we did get some work done on the garage, and we didn't have any wind or flood damage. Looking at the pictures coming out of Galveston, Houston, and the bayous of Louisana this morning... it was a good trade.

11 September, 2005

What I did on my Labor Day vacation

It started off a few months ago, when Sweetie convinced me that I really needed to get on the stick if I wanted to plan a bike ride with my 87-year-old granduncle. I called up my best man and long-time friend, Leadfoot, to get some ideas about rallies in northeast Ohio and to invite him along.

The short version is that we decided to do the STOMP Bicycle Adventure put on by Summit Co. Metroparks. Uncle Carl wasn't feeling up to it, but Leadfoot and I did the 30-mile route through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Unlike the roads I'm used to seeing on the local rally routes, these actually had nice, smooth, three-foot shoulders and drivers who don't go out of their way to run over cyclists. Add to that the temperatures ranging from about 60 at the start to maybe low 70s and no humidity, and it was a great day for a ride. Couple of nasty hills, but the organizers kindly placed them toward the beginning of the route rather than at the very last, as most of the local rallies do.

We had a great time pedaling around with a whole bunch of cyclists, just chatting and trying not to flinch every time the propane cannons—designed to keep the crows out of the corn, Leadfoot explained—shattered the quiet.

And what a variety of cyclists and bikes there were. Most of the rallies I've ridden around the Dallas area attract a fairly homogeneous crowd: the expert and intermediate riders mostly wear lycra and ride racing-style bikes, and the beginners and leisure riders ride a mix of racing bikes, hybrids, mountain bikes, and cruisers. At STOMP, in addition to the usual racing bikes, I saw an amazing assortment of inventive, cobbled-together contraptions being ridden by all sorts of people who don't typically come out for the rallies here.

I think my favorite was the older gentleman pedaling along in a striped long-sleeve shirt, black trousers with suspenders, black socks and work boots. His bushy gray beard blew back around his neck as he rode, bolt upright, on an odd-looking fat-tire bike that had been modified with a saddle almost as wide as a tractor seat, a tall stem, and drop handlebars. The bike was outfitted with at least five pounds' worth of lights, bells, horns, and baskets.

He looked like he was having the time of his life.

Bonus: the organizers fed us brautwursts, Subway sandwiches, potato chips, and cookies at the end of the route.

Of course, it wasn't all about the bike ride. It was about the stopovers at Mom and Dad's on the way up and back; hanging out with Leadfoot, his wife, and their two girls; and spending an afternoon with Uncle Carl and Aunt Mary, just chatting about whatever and drinking Carl's homebrew beer.

I became caretaker of another piece from Carl's clock collection, since I was driving on this trip and had a way to transport it. The new piece is an iron-case Ansonia with an eight-day movement and is one of Mary's favorites because of the exposed escapement wheel that's part of the face. It was another donation that Carl fixed up by repairing the broken headpiece with auto body filler and fabricating a new pendulum.

Great trip, except for the nasty traffic snarls on the way back through Memphis.

28 August, 2005

Does that make me white trash?

Yesterday, I was sitting in my favorite spot, flipping through the channels when I happened upon the Home Shopping Network. The article du moment was something from Hoover called a Floor Mate. Now, I'm typically pretty skeptical of the demonstrations on infomercials, but this thing looked like it was doing one heck of a job on exactly the same sorts of hard floors that we have in our house.

You'd think that having a lot of ceramic tile and hardwood laminate would make the place easier to clean, but in fact the opposite is true. Whereas you only have to go over the carpeting once with the vacuum and maybe do the baseboards with the attachments now and again, cleaning the tile means sweeping with a broom, using the Swiffer to get all the cat hair and cat-hair-induced dust bunnies, damp mopping with Spic 'n' Span, and then damp mopping again with clear water. Since the house has about half tile floors, we're talking 3 hours or so and a lot of wear and tear on my back.

So like I was saying, I saw this thing going for a bargain price, but blew it off. If it was any good, why would Hoover be selling it for cheap on HSN of all places. I mean, the only people who shop on HSN are morbidly mu-mu wearing hillbillies embedded in their potato chip littered couches. Right? Guess not... 'cause I bought one of the things after a bit of prompting from Sweetie.

But the rhinestone-encrusted denim jackets and faux mother-of-pearl sandals will have to stay with the mu-mus. I'm done.

23 August, 2005

A few quick jokes

A man staggers into an emergency room with two black eyes and a golf club wrapped tightly around his throat. Naturally, the doctor asks him what happened.

"Well, it was like this," said the man. "I was having a quiet round of golf with my wife when she sliced her ball into a pasture of cows. We went to look for it and while I was rooting around, I noticed one of the cows had something white at its rear end. I walked over and lifted up the tail and sure enough, there was my wife's golf ball...stuck right in the middle of the cow's butt.

"That's when I made my mistake."

"What did you do?" asked the doctor.

"Well, I lifted the tail and yelled to my wife, 'Hey, this looks like yours!'"

A man went into a pharmacy and asked to talk to a male pharmacist. The woman he was talking to said that she was the pharmacist and that she and her sister owned the store, so there were no males employed there. She then asked if she could help the gentleman. The man said that it was something that he would be much more comfortable discussing with a male pharmacist.

The female pharmacist assured him that she was completely professional and whatever it was that he needed to discuss, he could be confident that she would treat him with the highest level of professionalism.

The man agreed and began by saying, "This is tough for me to discuss, but I have a permanent erection. It causes me a lot of problems and severe embarrassment. So I was wondering what you could give me for it."

The pharmacist said, "Just a minute, I'll go talk to my sister."

When she returned, she said, "We discussed it at length and the absolute best we can do is, 1/3 ownership of the shop, a company car and $3,000 a month living expenses."

A blind man walks into a bar and starts swinging his seeing eye dog around in circles above his head.

The bartender says, "hey what are you doin'?"

The blind man says, "Just having a look around."

22 August, 2005

It's just a jump to the left

After all the yard work (and an nice cool shower), Sweetie and I headed out to have a nice, relaxing dinner. As we were eating, "Let's Do The Time Warp" came on the music system. The two of us were quietly singing along and laughing at each other when we realized that we had an audience. The young guy who was our waiter was kind of smiling at our antics, and when we told him what we were doing it came out that he'd never seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show. He seemed amazed to learn that big-name actors like Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, and Barry Bostwick were in the movie and, since he professed to be a movie buff, we made him promise that he'd rent it and watch it--if only so that he'd recognize the inevitable references that come up in other TV shows and movies.

It set me to thinking, though. Rocky Horror came out in 1975, and although I correctly assumed our waiter hadn't been born yet, it wasn't until later that it dawned on me just how long ago that was. 30 years! Our waiter was maybe 21 and was probably born right about the time I was graduating from college. Now, you might think that you know where this is headed. You might think that this realization made me feel old--and it did, sort of; but mostly what it did was make me feel a little bit sorry for our waiter because of all the things I've lived through that, for better or worse, he never had the opportunity to live through.

I mean, I was a kid in the '60s. That means that I can still remember how subtly different the blue of the sky was before it became nearly impossible to find a place where the air wasn't polluted. It means I can remember a time when cashiers didn't break down in tears at the thought of having to ring up something that didn't have its own labeled button. Bar codes? Just a glimmer in Isaac Asimov's eye (introduced by the grocery industry in 1973, by the way). Scratchy vinyl records on Mom's musty-smelling monaural record player. Steel-wheeled roller skates that you clamped on to your tennis shoes with a key. Saturday morning cartoons that were on from 6am until at least noon--and not the crappy 30-minute ads for action figures or video games like the kids have now. Video games? Hell, we didn't even have Pong until I was in high school. Better than that, the bookmobile would come to our neighborhood during the summer, and I'd load up on Hardy Boys mysteries and novels about dirt track racing.

I used to think I'd miss being young, and while there's a bit of regret when I see some lucious young thing strutting around in her Daisy Dukes, I realize now that I'm mostly just grateful for all the cool stuff I experienced. Stuff that is gone forever and which future generations will miss out on (even though they probably don't think of it as missing out).

Ride report: Red Hot Chili Pepper Ride (Dallas, TX)

Monday again, after a busy weekend. Spent all of Saturday morning down in the Joe Pool lake area serving as a volunteer ride marshal for the Red Hot Chili Pepper ride, the request of one of our fellow GDB members. The organizers of the ride have come under fire in past years for poorly-marked routes, insufficient intersection control, and the like; they were hoping that getting a few experienced riders out on the course to encourage safety might help.

How well we succeeded is debatable. Suzanne and I partnered up to ride the 40-mile course, and from the moment we turned on to the first major boulevard we could see that our fellow travelers were unimpressed with our advisory role. It was a downhill of half a dozen blocks with traffic lights at all the intersections and no police to stop cross traffic. Despite all our best efforts most riders blew right through multiple red lights, ignoring our cries to stop and nearly ramming us when we did. It was pretty scary and I'm still astounded that no one was killed.

The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful. Suzanne and I occasionally pulled alongside a rider to remind him or her that the rally's rules prohibited wearing headphones, and the rider invariably ignored us. Probably the only useful thing that the organizers got from us was the four pages of comments that Suzanne compiled as we had a bite to eat after the rally. The ride has a lot of potential, but it's developing a bad reputation that will have most riders crossing it off their schedule if they don't figure it out soon.

Came home, showered, caught a nap, and then headed over toward Ft. Worth for dinner and to take in a play with some friends from church. Then yesterday (Sunday) morning it was sweeping, dusting, mopping, and vacuuming in the morning; mowing, trimming, and weed eradicating in egg frying temperatures during the afternoon.

15 August, 2005

Book: Lance Armstrong's War

Lance Armstrong's War : One Man's Battle Against Fate, Fame, Love, Death, Scandal, and a Few Other Rivals on the Road to the Tour de France by Daniel Coyle.

As I get older, it seems like I don't have the ability to get sucked into a book the way I used to when I was a kid. With this book, it wasn't a problem. Sweetie surprised me with it early last week, and when this weekend turned out kind of slow and lazy, I just kept turning the pages.

Like a lot of American cyclists and cancer survivors, I've followed Lance Armstrong's career over the past few years, but I became particularly interested once I started paying attention to the Tour de France and the finer points of how professional cycling works. This book builds on that interest quite nicely, because it is as much about the pro cycling culture and the character of Armstrong's competitors as it is about Lance himself.

The author successfully walks the line between too much detail and not enough, so he is informative without bogging down. He paints a portrait of Lance as a complicated individual: driven, focused, and often not very pleasant to get close to. Hardcore Lance fans might not care to read what Coyle has to say, but I found it fascinating to get a glimpse behind the image we see on Letterman, during OLN interviews, etc.

12 August, 2005

Airborne annoyance

What is it with some people and sneezing?

I mean, sure, I understand that it's right dead in the middle of summer allergy season, so you're bound to have people sniffling, snorting, coughing, and generally sounding like the tuberculosis ward from hell. But come on. Is it strictly necessary to share your atomized mucous with everyone?

Mom taught me to cover my mouth and nose when I sneeze or cough. Later, a girlfriend taught me that all this does is to get your hands all germy. She trained me to sneeze or cough into my sleeve, but you know... that's for bonus points. What I don't get is folks like the guy in another set of cubicles, half a floor way, around a corner who--when he sneezes, it's "ht-CHUHHH!" Kind of the bronchial spasm equivalent of yelling "OO-RAH!" or doing a victory dance in the end zone.

What's to be so proud of that you've got to share it with the entire floor? You know... I'm just sayin'.


Can't someone invent a container of yogurt that doesn't gleek all over the front of my shirt when I peel off the foil cover? Yeesh.

11 August, 2005

Random rhymes

Someone on one of my cycling forums was posting some Tour de France related limericks, and I just couldn't help trying my hand at a few rhymes of my own.

First, one about The Look:

Our hero Lance was looking weak
Herr Ullrich thought him not a factor
And yet he claimed the mountain's peak
That wily Armstrong--what an actor!

...and then a reference to Bob Roll's Kinetic ads that played during OLN's 2005 TdF coverage:

Our buddy Bob is on a roll
He takes to training in the nude
And though I fear this takes its toll
Don't get me wrong--I'm not a prude

It's just... I worry for the boy
In life there's peril and there's pain
Ride it, your kinetic toy
But Robert, please... do mind the chain

This last one--the only actual limerick of the bunch--has to do with the unfortunate photo of Pieter Weening that Yahoo! Sports ran for, like, 5 days after his stage win.

Poor Pieter Weening was caught
By an unlucky camera shot
While, to his chagrin,
He had stuck to his chin
A great gooey gobbet of... um. Never mind.

Crying Fowl

This morning, at the end of this week's obligatory commute to the office, I turned in to the driveway and was accosted by the biggest ho...