31 December, 2006

Your mileage may vary

Over the past couple weeks, several people have asked what kind of gas mileage I get with the new car. The answer is "it depends".

Dorian is rated for 31 mpg on the highway. In the first leg of the trip, burning the MTBE-laden fuel we have here in the metromess, he got about 29 mpg. Throughout the rest of the trip, the fuel economy was between 31 and 32 mpg.

Seems to me that any benefit that the extremely toxic MTBE might have in decreasing emissions would be lost because we're burning more fuel. But hey, what do I know? It's only math.

Home again, home again


Three travel days, three days at my folks', three days at my in-laws'. 1845 miles under Dorian's belted radials, and at least five more pounds over my belt than when we left our driveway.

We had a nice trip again this year. At Mom and Dad's, it was lots of hugs and kisses from the godkids. I just can't believe how big they're getting. Godgirl is five going on eighteen; Godboy is two and... well, he'll probably be less unhappy next year, when he's three. Both are so adorable that it makes my teeth hurt. Along the way, there was some adult conversation, a couple TV football games, and a touch of some kind of stomach bug.

Also, the beginnings of another round of holiday package tag with UPS. You see, Turtle and I ordered a couple laptops for ourselves, and Dell decided to ship them a full six days before they were supposed to. To our house. Where we weren't.

I jumped on the UPS web site, called customer service, and was told that there was nothing they could do until the first failed delivery. Once the first attempt failed, I should call the local depot to make different arrangements.

"Oh. Okay. Can you give me the number for the depot?" I asked.

"No, we don't have that information."

"But I know from past experience that the local depots' numbers are unlisted precisely to prevent customers from calling there," I said. "How am I supposed to call them if I can't get the number?"

"I don't have that information," he repeated. "You'll have to call the depot for that number."

Blink. If that's the sort of Möbius thinking that drives UPS shipping logistics, it's no wonder I have such a hard time connecting with my packages. There ended up being a lot of tail chasing over the next few days, but Turtle hit on the idea to call our pet sitter. She gave us the prized InfoNotice number from the dreaded sticky note stuck to our front door 700+ miles away, and we were able to use that number to re-route our computers to my work address. There they'll sit until 2007.

Where was I? Oh yeah... from my folks' place, we headed over to Turtle's mom and dad's. We're not used to the constant buzz of activity that surrounds small children, so we were really looking forward to the quieter environs. Of course, we forgot how loud the Turtle parents' house can be when the relatives are all together. But aside from that one afternoon, it was much calmer and quite relaxing. We had a wonderful visit with my in-laws and even found time to have a nice lunch with a couple of Turtle's friends from her old job.

Dad (as I've become comfortable enough to call him) and I made our rapidly-becoming-traditional trip to the liquor store to pick up my 2007 bottle of Jack Daniel's Old No. 7. Around these parts, all we have are wine and beer sales, so I don't get in to real liquor stores very often. It's kind of fascinating to me to walk the aisles and marvel at all the fancy bottles and types of liquids fermented and distilled.

Somewhere along the line, it occurred to us to wonder: if both the green label and black label varieties of Jack Daniel's are now 80 proof (black label used to be 90 proof), then what's the difference? We asked one of the employees, and the answer was "none". Apparently, the same liquor is sold under both green and black labels because black label devotees such as myself have a traditional bias against the green label and wouldn't buy it.

Marketing. Gotta love it.

We got home last evening, and as usual the cats won't let us out of their sight today. We made some tentative plans to spend this evening with friends, but after being on the road for the past nine days, I'll be quite happy to just stay at home if the opportunity presents itself. In case I'm not awake at midnight, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

21 December, 2006


Turtle and I are "fixin' ta" head out on our holiday trip bright dark and early tomorrow morning and won't be back until the day before the ball drops. Dad joined the 21st century earlier this year and now has broadband internet, so I may have a chance to check in before we get home. Or I may not.

With all the distractions—such as my two godhatchlings, my ex-high school crush (who wants to talk to Turtle about her business), Turtle's ex-hair stylist, and my in-laws' bottle of Old No. 7—who can say?

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a complete lack of fruitcake.

20 December, 2006

A mare-brained theory

Ever since The Da Vinci Code hit the big screen, The Discovery Channel and The History Channel have been running documentaries purporting to debunk the life of Christ. For years, they've been running UFO programs so chock-full of nuts that they should be sponsored by Snickers, Planters, and Aunt Myrtle's fruitcake.

On occasion, I stumble upon one of these while flipping channels and watch for a while, like a rubbernecking commuter who spots an overturned pickup truck on his way to work—but not recently. Which is why I was a little surprised by the strange burgoo that my subconscious was cooking up when the alarm went off at 5:20 this morning.

The Christmas-themed outlandishness went something like this: Mary, mother of Jesus, remained a virgin not because of anything to do with divinity or miracles but because she didn't give birth to Jesus at all. The whole thing was a bit of legerdemain on the part of benevolent space aliens who implanted baby Jesus in the womb of a mare.*

When Mary and Joseph made the trek to Bethlehem, it was this same mare who carried Mary on her back and Jesus in her belly. Then, once they were all settled away in the manger, the mare gave birth. Mary took all the credit and the presents.

Speaking of presents, it turns out that the star followed by the three magi wasn't actually a star at all. It wasn't even a comet. It was the alien mother ship, decloaked and running with all its exterior lights on, that guided the wise men to Bethlehem.

The views and opinions expressed in this dream do not necessarily state or reflect those of the author.

The holiday trip can't come soon enough. I obviously need some rest.

* The equine in question being a horse, not a donkey. It seems that my dream generator's capacity for blasphemy has its limits.

19 December, 2006

Pitch Black

Okay, not really—but with it being overcast and gloomy outside and the lights periodically going out in here, the lumens are a bit scarce. You see, between the Great Purge of '06 and the impending holidays, the cubicle farm in which I sit and craft my tight, elegant code is a ghost town. Even the tumbleweeds seem to have packed up and moved on to greener pastures.

Therein lies the crux of the apostrophe, because the fluorescent light bars are on an electrical circuit controlled by a timer and a motion detector. If nothing within its cold, uncaring gaze moves for 10 minutes or so, "Boom, Boom! Out Go The Lights!" This pleases my taskmasters, because it not only means that I'm head-down, being productive instead of getting up for a cup of coffee or a trip to the men's, but it also saves electricity.

So far today, the lights have gone out half a dozen times or so, and it's making two of the three remaining cubicle farmers a bit goofy around the edges (the third is a dour chap who, frankly, doesn't see the humor in much of anything).

The last time it happened, I heard a snort and a chuckle, then "Lights out... uh-huh... blast, blast, blast."

Peter Wolf, "Lights Out". Nicely played.

I jumped up out of my chair and gesticulated to catch the attention of the motion detector and turn on the lights.

"Tha-row ya hands in tha air, and wave 'em like you just don't care!"

And there was light—but also dead silence. I guess adding that last "WHOOP! WHOOP!" was just a bit too much.

18 December, 2006

A matter of perspective

Over the past couple months or so, I've seen several interviews with actor Ryan O'Neill. In each, the interviewer eventually got around to asking, with varying degrees of tact, about Farrah Fawcett's on-going battle with intestinal cancer.

"I guess you can really relate to what Farrah's going through, huh? Because of your own battle with cancer?"

Now, it's always a little difficult to tell when an actor's reactions are genuine and whether he's just... yanno; but O'Neill's response to this question is invariably an expression of mild irritation mixed with pity.

"Compared with what she's going through," he says seriously, "I didn't even have cancer. I took a pill, and that was it."

I think I know how he feels. I see little kids on TV with a couple pathetic wisps of hair left over after their radiation therapy. I see the the young woman with the large, dark eyes, gauntly beautiful with head wrapped in a scarf. I see the news story about the wife and mother who had both breasts and her uterus removed because tests revealed that she was genetically predisposed toward both types of cancer.

I'm a cancer survivor, technically. The fellow cyclist and bladder cancer survivor who gave me my first yellow bracelet solemnly discouraged me from downplaying any cancer. I understand what he was trying to tell me, but like Ryan O'Neill, I look around at the battles that others are fighting and can't help thinking that my thyroid surgery and one little radioactive iodine pill were hardly like having cancer at all.

And I thank God.

11 December, 2006

'Tis the season

...to try and bag yourself a cyclist to strap on your hood. Apparently.

Let me set this up for you: 70 °F, sunny, and I'm off work. Turtle tells me I'd be a fool not to go for a bike ride; I can't argue with that kind of logic, and off I go.


You: The school bus driver in the next neighborhood over.
Me: Wondering how it is that you have no qualms about sitting with your stop sign stuck out, holding up traffic while you socialize with one of the riders' parents; but you're in such a rush that you have to make your right turn across my path rather than wait for the additional five seconds it would have taken me to pass the side street on to which you turned.

You: The high-and-tight mouth breather who parked his fire engine red monster truck in the middle of the road while he chatted with the guy in his front yard.
Me: Flattered that, after my appraisal of your choice of parking spots, you cared enough to hunt me down, pull up next to me, and lean across the seat with your middle finger out the passenger window. Boy, you sure put me in my place, and I'm touched that you spent half an hour of your life to make sure that you found me and delivered your message.

You: The lady crossing guard who saw me coming, marched out in the middle of the street, and held up her sign to stop me—the only moving vehicle in sight.
Me: Glad to know you're out there keeping the neighborhood safe. If you hadn't stopped me for the full minute that it took for the stroller-pushing dad reach your crosswalk, it could have been blood and entrails all over the road. And I hope you choked didn't choke on your wad of gum while you were snickering.

Merry freakin' Christmas to the lot of ya.

04 December, 2006

Nutcracker? Sweet!

Last season, my favorite holiday music came from a video of a home light show that would have been the envy of a Las Vegas casino. This year, it's a video over at Specialized featuring as its soundtrack "The Nutcracker Suite" played entirely on bicycle parts. And it sounds great! I just wish the clip were longer.

There's a bit more about the project and slightly different version of the performance at Peter Kirn's Create Digital Music blog, if you're interested.

The music is the work of Flip Baber (a.k.a., "Johnny Random"), who's pretty darned amazing, as you can hear from this sampling of his work. It's enough to send a fellow Googling for a full-length CD, but I have paying work to accomplish.


I've also discovered that Peter Kirn has posted an entire entry devoted to bicycle music. Who knew?

It's official: I'm a fogey

After spending all day off work and pretty much all day doing pro bono web monkey things*, I emerged from my cave and discovered I had an hour to kill before it was time for Heroes. I began flipping channels. Deal Or No Deal on NBC. Yech. King of Queens on CBS. I like Kevin Whatshisname, but... enh. Billboard Music Awards on Fox. Janet Jackson was on, and I'd just like to say "yikes".

I used to be a mild fan (an oxymoron, technically), back a ways. I even own a well-worn copy of Rhythm Nation 1814... but oh my stars and garters, what happened to Janet? She was up on stage with a bunch of growling gangstas and a huge lighted sign that read "S.E.X." The sound kept going off for five seconds at a time, and I thought there was something wrong with the idiot box until it dawned on me that the network was muting large chunks of Ms. Jackson's performance.

Disgusted, I went back to flipping and landed on ABC and a spirited performance by a Baptist choir on Gospel Jubilee. Now, I'm not a huge fan of the genre, but I was amused to realize that I was finding it more entertaining than Janet Jackson's koochie show.

Still curious, I flipped back to the Billboard awards just in time to see Nellie Furtado win an award for "Promiscuous", off her latest album... Loose.

Mein Gott. I realized it was all I could do to keep from channeling my grandfather's trademarked "I don't know what the world's coming to."

* Except for a worthwhile two hours spent re-watching Miracle. I'm pleased to say that the U.S. team won again.

03 December, 2006

Great Scott! That's trivia!

Not long ago, one of you wrote about the TV ad for a major credit card's check card. Two things before I get on with it:
  1. I apologize for not being able to remember which of you it was. Believe me, I searched.
  2. Does it strike anyone else as ironic? A credit card company plugging a card that sucks funds directly from one's checking account. Pretty much the anti-credit, as I see it.
Anyway, after reading about this bit of anti-cash propaganda (as one of you so aptly observerd), I started noticing the ad when it played—and not so much for its intended meaning as because of its soundtrack.

Have you ever watched a [suppressing gag reflex] Warner Brothers cartoon involving the operation of an assembly line and wondered what that peppy, industriously familiar tune was? Have you ever listened to Rush's "La Villa Strangiato" and wondered why that one passage reminded you of Looney Toons?

I have, so this morning I gave my trivial-minded, obsessive evil twin his head and came up with the answer. The tune? "Powerhouse". The composer? Raymond Scott. Ah... there's the real story. It turns out that the composer was a one of those little-known artists who thought out of the box and mostly labored in obscurity because of it.

I never was much good at reading articles in the encyclopedia and restating their content in my own words. If you're interested in learning about Scott, I encourage you to check out the Wikipedia article about him.

Now playing: Cake, Fashion Nugget

01 December, 2006

The bigger chill

Yesterday (don't hurt yourself; it was a Thursday) was the first of North Texas' one or two annual ice storms.

Any of "youse" from areas of the multiverse that regularly experience both temperatures below 50 °F and precipitation in both liquid and solid species, feel free to cackle loudly. You're absolutely entitled, and I can afford to be beneficent given the fact that you'll be experiencing this sort of weather for the next three months. I, meanwhile, will likely be back in shirt sleeves by the end of the weekend.

Wednesday evening, I had no sooner arrived home from work when the local television news programs were ecstatically and endlessly reporting the impending arrival of a strong storm system rolling in from Canada. Rain! Freezing rain! Sleet! Dogs and cats, living together! Pandemonium.

They were at least partially correct, of course. The merest hint of rain, much less freezing rain strikes fear into the hearts of the locals in this unnaturally warm, moisture-deprived part of the country. Never mind that they're all driving Hummers and F-150s. When the sky starts to fall, when clouds cover the sun, or when the temperature drops to 40 °F, they naturally conclude that all roads are impassable at speeds above 25 mph.

Normally, I wouldn't have cared. Under such circumstances, my employers typically close the office, and I get a free day off. This time, though, I had procrastinated and neglected to turn in my benefits enrollment form that was due today. Since I was scheduled to be off work today, and since the form could only be printed from within the company's intranet, I had to rouse Dorian from a sound sleep and drive back in to Dallas. It was 78 °F when I left the house; an hour later, the temperature had dropped 48 degrees and it was pouring rain.

It poured all night, and I smiled as I lay awake picturing all that rain draining into our depleted reservoirs. As some point, I thought I heard water dripping, which meant getting out of bed, getting dressed, and climbing into the attic space with a flashlight to check for roof leaks. There were none.

Come morning, I was sure there was no hurry to get around for work. The last time we had weather like this, I drove in to work, arrived just in time to receive word that the office was closed for the day, and turned right around. I waited until 7am, when the office closings are announced, and discovered we were open for business. Now an hour behind my usual departure time, I showered, dressed, and finally made it out the door by 8:30—just in time to battle my way through full-on rush hour with the bulk of the locals (who, to reinforce the point, cannot drive in temperatures below 40 degrees).

Throughout the morning, the weather worsened. I could hear sleet rattling against the window behind my cubicle and wondered what the Powers That Be were thinking. By 2:30, someone had apparently been watching the TV in the break room and noted all the mile-high overpasses choked with feckless drivers trying to crash their SUVs and 1983 Sentras through the concrete retaining walls. The office closed, and I headed home, avoiding all the giant overpasses, but coming to a half-hour standstill when I made the mistake of getting on an expressway that was moving well until I merged on to it. The problem? Every overpass (normal height) had at least one totaled car or upside-down SUV blocking the way.

What a bunch of dum-dum heads.

Fortunately, Dorian has a lovely automagic transmission and a CD player spinning some sweet tunes. Another Falling Down incident averted. By the time I arrived home, the local news was reporting temperatures around 13 °F.

By Monday (another vacation day) we'll be back to the low 50s. I may even put on my tights and get in a bike ride.

29 November, 2006

The big chill

I'm starting to see a pattern in my Blitzkriege* on Costco.

Regular readers (as opposed to those whose diets could use more fiber) may remember last month's encounter with the older gentleman wearing a viking helmet. This month, with another vacation day at my disposal, I once again girded my loins and ventured out for another unsupervised solo shopping run.

Thinking it might help me to avoid a few rafter gazers and hoping to minimise contact with the iPods and HD televisions, I decided to follow my usual path in reverse. I had loaded up on soft drinks, facial and toilet tissue, frozen meat, and a crate of lunch-size apple sauce cups by the time I arrived at the refrigerator room. I expected to find the packaged slabs of fresh and oh-so-sweet pineapple that Turtle and I loved. Instead, I nearly crashed into an elderly, white-haired wisp of a thing whose wheelchair was parked right in the middle of the cold room's narrow aisle. I apologised for nearly running her over, and as she turned to look at me I could see she was in some distress—just sort of shivering, like a Chihuahua on espresso.

Shivering, I say. In the refrigerator room at Costco.

"Ma'am, are you okay?" I asked.

"She said she'd be right back, but I'm cold," she said feebly. "Could you push me out of the freezer?"

I told her I'd be happy to, and asked if she needed me to get someone for her. She said no, that she'd be fine out where it was warmer; but as I headed on toward the beer and wine I kept looking around and wondering which of the hyper-active cell phone chattering women I saw was so self absorbed that she just left her mother (or grandmother) in the refrigerator and forgot about her. Very uncool.

* Technically, I suppose my sprints down the toilet paper and frozen chicken breast aisles are more angriffe than kriege, but who would recognize what I meant by Blitzangriffe?

[Cue crickets chirping. A lone tumbleweed blows aimlessly across the screen.]

Yeah, that's what I thought.

27 November, 2006

Meeped: Day 25

When last we visited the topic of my Comcast-to-Road Runner forced march, we had established that speeds were roughly comparable to what we had before, but Road Runner's SMTP servers were unusable except from a Road Runner-assigned IP address. By itself, this was enough to send me shopping for alternatives, but when our next Time-Warner bill arrived with a $17 price increase to our phone service The Brothers' fate was sealed.

Last Wednesday, we switched to Grande Communications, a small-ish company serving 48 francise areas in Texas (including [ahem] Midland and Odessa). In a rare stroke of luck, it turns out that they've just started providing cable internet (as opposed to DSL) in our neighborhood in the last six weeks.

Their technician came out when we were told he would and efficiently installed yet another box on the side of our house ("Collect them all!"). When asked if Grande was getting a lot of business that Time-Warner apparently doesn't want, he grinned shyly and said, "Yessir, that's a fact."

Within an hour, our cable TV and internet were switched over and working, but the phone won't be switched over until Time-Warner turns loose of our phone number. That's scheduled to happen tomorrow, and the cables should be buried sometime before Turtle and I head off to parts uncharted for Christmas.

The bottom line

  • Not counting Time-Warner's $17 price hike for the phone service, we're paying about $50/month less for the same service tiers as we had with Comcast and Time-Warner.
  • Grande's speeds are a bit faster in both directions than Road Runner's were.

  • Grande's SMTP servers can be used from outside their IP range. All you have to do is pull your mail from the POP server first.* I can live with that.
  • Our cable TV lineup is essentially the same as with Time-Warner with one notable and unfortunate exception: Outdoor Life Network (a.k.a. Versus). That means that I'll just have to make do with such Tour de France coverage as I can find on the internet—unless Turtle hits it big and we can afford to move up to the digital cable package.
* A side note: a day after the switch, I finally got a follow-up e-mail from Road Runner tech support, in which the author confidently assured me that most ISPs required their subscribers to be within their IP range to use their SMTP servers. "Most" meaning "only Road Runner", I guess. It was also explained to me that my best solution would be to just use another SMTP server to send my tx.rr.com e-mails, when I was away from the house.

I'm so glad I no longer own Time-Warner stock.

26 November, 2006

A belated Thanksgiving joke

This just in from my mom...
An elderly man in Phoenix calls his son in New York and says, "I hate to ruin your day, but I have to tell you that your mother and I are divorcing. Forty-five years of misery is enough."

"Pop, what are you talking about?!" the son screams.

"We can't stand the sight of each other any longer," the old man says. "We're sick of each other, and I'm sick of talking about this, so you call your sister in Chicago and tell her."

Frantic, the son calls his sister, who explodes on the phone. "Like heck they're getting divorced!" she shouts. "I'll take care of this."

She calls Phoenix immediately, and screams at the old man, "You are not getting divorced! Don't do a single thing until I get there. I'm calling my brother back, and we'll both be there tomorrow. Until then, don't do a thing. Do you hear me??" and hangs up.

The old man hangs up his phone and turns to his wife.

"Okay," he says, "They're coming for Thanksgiving and paying their own fares."

24 November, 2006

Windows to the past

I occasionally hear someone remark about a tree, the front steps of the county courthouse, or a piece of antique furniture, "Oh, if it could only talk." I feel the past too, but it's usually modern ruins that trigger those feelings in me. Maybe it's a derelict filling station or a weathered farm house with a tree growing through its roof.

The other day, I was digging through a CD full of images I'd scanned from photographs taken back in the early '80s, when I walked a lot and nearly always had my trusty Olympus OM-1N slung around my neck. This is one of them, perspective-corrected, color-tweaked, and with a bit of noise added. The "Main Street" sign is also my addition and sort of sums up my motivation for taking the shot of this abandoned warehouse that actually was on Main Street.

Main Street


...back in the present, Turtle and I had a very enjoyable Thanksgiving with our adoptive grandparents, their family, and a few more strays like Turtle and me. The wine flowed, the dining room table groaned under the weight of a spread of such quantity and variety that it was overhwhelming.

We may not have spend the holiday with the ones that birthed us, but we were with family.

17 November, 2006

Where angels fear to tread.

Well, not fear precisely. More like "expect no good to come from the treading"—but in the end, It Is Done.

Here's what I've learned from my Blogger-to-Beta-Test-Blogger migration experience:
  1. The actual migration process went smoothly. It took several minutes, but when I logged on to my new [low growl] Google account and checked out the results, I was relieved to find that my modified "classic" template had made the trip. Even better, my blog still displayed. The only obvious difference was the appearance of Blogger's navigation bar ("Click 'Next' to visit a porn site, or enter a search term to not find a term you know appears multiple times in your blog!").
  2. In my sidebar, I've included a Blogger image linked to the Blogger dashboard for my convenience. I only had to update the URL to point to the beta test Blogger site and viola! Sorted.
  3. As I type this post, I see the new "Labels for this post" field just begging to have some descriptive categories entered. Someone more organised, like Eric could probably explain why this sort of thing is useful, but my "classic" template doesn't support labels, and I'm unlikely to go to the bother of converting it to use the new JSP tags that beta test Blogger touts as being the second coming of Bill Gates. Putting aside the additional overhead of having to download a Gordian knot of JavaScript poo with every page, how random would I be if I started slapping categories on everything I post? (Hint: methinks "not very")
  4. Google is considerate in not requiring your life and credit histories or even a blood sample in exchange for the required Google account. That's good news. It's not even that big a deal creating a new e-mail address for each profile I need prefer to create in order to keep my more-or-less anonymous blogs separate from the ones on which my Secret Identity is obvious. What gets up my neck is that it's reasonably obvious from Blogger's FAQ that the whole point is to force us into Google's system. There, they hope to entice us to use the various Me Too services they've added to compete with Yahoo! Going public and having a board of directors can't be a lot of fun.
  5. Ah well... it's still FREE.

Foo and Turtle conversation #1

Foo: Ow! Why are you pulling my arm hairs?
Turtle: I didn't think it was attached.
Foo: It's an arm hair. Why wouldn't you think it was attached?
Turtle: It's white. I thought it was one of Bitsy's.
Foo: I suppose you think this one's Bitsy's too. [plucks at white hair on arm] Oh.
Turtle: See, old man?
Foo: Silence, impudent strumpet.

Foo and Turtle conversation #2

Foo: I'm kind of weirded out today.
Turtle: Weirded out? Why?
Foo: I don't know if it's because this temporary crown was killing me or what, but I was having some really bad dreams last night.
Turtle: Like what?
Foo: Well, in one you started levitating... floating about five feet off the floor. I told you to stop, and for once you listened right away. You fell on the floor, caught your leg funny, and broke your ankle so badly that some of the small bones fell out through a tear in the skin. I was freaking out, running around trying to find a zip-loc baggie to put the bones in before rushing you to the hospital.
Turtle: My leg's fine. See?
Foo: Yeah, well... no levitating, okay?
Turtle: I'll try to restrain myself.

16 November, 2006

A palm tree, DVDs, and thee

I wasn't going to do this. I really wasn't. I'm far too indecisive about such things, which is really my way of saying that I have a hard time thinking of what movies I've actually seen. On the other hand, that should make things easier since the ones I do remember must've made an impression.

Here's my list of the movies I'd choose to take along if I knew I were going to be exiled stranded on a desert island:
  • Western - Tombstone
  • Horror - Saving Private Ryan (hey... I was horrified)
  • Sci-Fi - Serenity
  • Musical - Rocky Horror Picture Show (I loathe musicals, generally)
  • Comedy - Monty Python's Holy Grail
  • War - Red Dawn
  • Action - Hellboy
  • Foreign - The Triplets of Bellville
  • Classic (before 1960) - The Magnificent Seven
  • Documentary - Ride With The Devil (not technically a documentary, but praised as being historically accurate)
  • Bonus Pick (any genre) - Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels

15 November, 2006

Lost in translation

Some of your comments regarding my awkward years reminded me of an anecdote that ties together my 6th grade year and our parallel discussion about dialects:

It was the start of the first school year after we had moved to Kentucky, which meant that on the first day of 6th grade I had had only about a month to get used to the Southern twang. As I sat at my desk with my purse-sized pencil case, filling out the usual first-day-of-school forms (did any of us really know our dad's work phone number or that of our family doctor?), the little girl at the next desk spoke.

"Could ah borry a pin?" she politely asked.

"I'm sorry," I said. "A what?"

"A pin," she repeated, as though to a piece of wood. "Kin ah borry a pin?"

"A pin?"

"Yeah, a pin."

We traveled a couple thousand miles around the earth's axis* while my brain feverishly tried to make some sense of what this cute little blonde girl was asking me. Ultimately, it failed.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I don't have any pins."

"Yes you do," she said, now infuriated. "You've got a whole bunch of 'em, ah reckon."

"What... pins? Why would I have pins in my pencil case? All I have are pencils and pe--"

I blushed.

"Oh. You mean a pen, right?"

"Yeah," she muttered, certain I was mocking her. "An aynk pin, so ah kin fill out this here paper."

I sheepishly handed her a brand new Bic ballpoint. What in God's name kind of place had I landed in, where Es were Is and Is were As? Most perturbatory.

I did terribly on my spelling tests, that first year.

* In fact, it was probably more like 2 or 3 miles, but sometimes applying science to something just sucks all the fun right out of it. Or pops it with a pen.

14 November, 2006

Whur y'all fruhm?

Gwynne got me again with her posting of a quiz about American English dialects. My result:

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Inland North

You may think you speak "Standard English straight out of the dictionary" but when you step away from the Great Lakes you get asked annoying questions like "Are you from Wisconsin?" or "Are you from Chicago?" Chances are you call carbonated drinks "pop." [Not any more. I compromised on "soda". -Foo]

The Northeast

The Midland


The South


The West

North Central

What American accent do you have?
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Long weekend wrap-up

Which is long? The weekend, or the wrap-up? The weekend, definitely; the posting, probably.

Apart from the cruise that Turtle and I took back in May, I went into October not having used as much of my vacation time as I thought I had. As a consequence, I found myself needing to burn (or lose) 13 days by the end of the year. I've elected to take a handful of Mondays and Fridays off, which makes for some nice long weekends, and never mind that my days off are mostly booked with last-minute medical and dental appointments. Gotta use up that flex spending account, you know.


Sat at my computer until 10am or so, and then went out for a bike ride. It was windy, I'd been fighting some kind of bug, and I hadn't been on the bike for a couple weeks. After 11 miles, I decided I wasn't feeling it and threw in the towel.

After lunch, I headed down to Plano, where I had an appointment to have an echocardiogram. This, because of something my internist's PA thought she heard during my routine physical. There we were, talking about cycling and whether or not it was strictly necessary for me to have a prostate exam this year, and she dropped the bomb:

"So... what are we doing about this murmur?"

I chuckled. "Go on, pull the other one."

"No, really," she said. "You have a heart murmur."

"I've never had one before, and I didn't have one when I came in earlier this year," I said. "And that was to make sure some tightness in my chest wasn't heart-related."

"Well, you have one now," she said, apologetically.

So I had the echocardiogram, courtesy of Pam, the pleasant young technician who turned the monitor so that I could watch the valves of my heart flapping open and shut. I was struck by how much an echocardiogram resembled a sonogram.

"So, can you tell whether it's a boy, or a girl?" I asked innocently.

Pam blinked. "Excuse me?"

"You know, can you tell its gender from the picture?"

She searched my eyes for a long moment and correctly concluded that I was full of crap.

"Behave or I'll take away your pillow," she said.


Saturday/Sunday (core weekend)

Lots of the usual. Goofing off in my PJ bottoms, unraveling the mysteries of CSS-oriented design. Watching The Libertine on DVD (an unexpectedly grim experience). Going to church. Eating too much pizza (both days). Re-watching X-men III: The Last Stand and catching some interesting details I'd missed the first time around. Reconciling several months' worth of bank statements.

Scintillating, no?


Got up, showered, and headed to the dentist's office for a crown replacement. There was nothing really wrong with the existing one, aside from the fact that my previous dentist did a botch job on it. After more than five years, I still couldn't chew anything more resistant than a banana on that side, and the blasted thing was oversized enough that I frequently found myself masticating my own tongue. Why do it now, after so long? Gotta use up that flex money.

Got on the bike again, felt good, and managed to finish up before the construction workers awoke from their siestas to mess with me. When I returned from riding, there was a message from my internist's office on the voicemail, the gist of which is that my heart is perfectly normal. Either it's perfectly normal to have a certain amount of murmur, or the murmur has mysteriously disappeared.

The human body is so weird (and so is mine).

12 November, 2006

Awkward years

Over at Hubbadoo, Anne has thrown down the gauntlet with her Awkward Days post, in which she challenges those most likely to wear a pocket protector to publicly out themselves. The prize? The dubious honor of the King Dork crown.

Okay, I threw in that last bit on my own—primarily because, putting aside the fact that mine were awkward decades, I'm about the closest thing you'll ever see to a shoo in.

In her picture, Anne was in 5th grade. I was in 6th grade at the time this was taken and looked two years younger. Contrary to any impression you might have based on the highwaters, I would not hit my underachieving growth spurt for another three years.

And when I did, I was still a dork. At least the girl I had a crush on tipped me off to the fact that the mere existence of a top button didn't mandate its use. I can still remember her mocking laughter, but the lesson was helpful never the less.

C'est la vie. We can't all be tall or cool or pretty, and yet... there are still surprises.

Many years too late for it to have helped my self esteem, I gained an interesting insight during a phone conversation with my next-youngest sibling. She still lives in the town where I suffered through adolescence, and she works with some of the people with whom I attended high school. She'd been talking with Vince (not his real name), a football letterman who was a class or two ahead of me, and he said to pass along his regards.

"That Foo... he was pretty cool," Vince told her. "I remember he always seemed like he really had it all together."

I couldn't recall ever having had a single conversation with the guy. He was tall, athletic, had a blinding smile, and usually had a couple cheerleaders swooning along beside him. If anyone had asked, I would been positive this was a guy who had no idea we walked the same halls every day. And I would have been wrong.

We're all Losers; we're all Cool. You just have to ask the right person.

06 November, 2006

I passed!

I'm sure I will, at least. After more years with my employer than I care to remember, I finally had to take my very first drug screening test. Thanks, Messrs. Graham, Leach, and Bliley.

This morning was when The Examiners came around and, heaven help them, I was prepared. You might ask how one prepares for such a test. Or not... but I'll tell you anyway.
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Lots of strong, black coffee
There's nothing in my body that wasn't prescribed by a doctor or purchased at a fast food drive-through, so I'm confident I'll pass with flying colors. However, it may not be a perfect score.

I expect there could be deductions for going outside the lines.

Cool tool

I stumbled across a very handy Firefox extension this morning and wanted to share. Those of you who don't poke around in the innards of your blog templates and wouldn't know a <div> if it crawled up your leg and nipped you on the bum will not be interested.

When deconstructing an existing page layout on the way to putting it all back together using CSS, the biggest challenge often is figuring out how the existing document is organized. Sure, you can run the code through Tidy and hope the indents are right so that you can match closing tags with their mates, but it's an imperfect solution, especially for pages with a lot of content and multiple sub-sections.

That's where the View Source Chart extension for Firefox comes in. After downloading and installing this extension (written by Jennifer Madden), you'll be able to right click on a page and have View Source Chart display a hierarchical view of the entire document, complete with handy little boxes that give you visual cues as to what goes where. Even better, you can click on individual sections to collapse them and get them out of the way to make finding the higher level sections easier.

And, oh yes... it's free.

05 November, 2006

Zoom zoom

After a week of working at it, I've finally got a new car. The process was relatively painless, the one fly in the ointment being that the first salesman who ran out the door and grabbed on to my leg when I paid my first visit to the dealership was green as a tomato worm. He had only been selling cars for a few weeks, didn't really have a lot of answers to my lengthy list of questions, and ultimately cost me a couple wasted trips to the dealership. Things went more smoothly once The Hoary Veteran (a very pleasant fellow whose real name was Bruce) took me in tow when I visited during one of The New Guy's days off. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

My New World

Part of the challenge, as it was explained to me, is that Mazda has decreased the dealers' allocations of 5-doors (or compact wagon, as I've also seen it) for the 2007 model year. There I was, standing in the showroom with my checkbook in tow (I even brought my own pen!), and the sales staff were having trouble coming up with more than one to show me.

"Well, we have this black one," The New Guy told me. "It's pretty sharp, huh?"

"It's good enough for a test drive, and it does look sharp," I agreed. "But the only black car I've ever owned as a Texas resident is the one I owned when I moved here from out of state. Never again."

The New Guy gave me a look utterly devoid of comprehension.

"You know, because black is so hot," I said, attempting to bring him along.

"Definitely," he said, nodding and flashing a grin that went just beyond conspiratorial but didn't quite reach lascivious. "Black is very hot."

I suspected we weren't on the same wavelength, so I cut to the chase.

"I will not be buying a black car."

With that settled, we set about checking inventory to see what was available, only to discover that all the other Mazda 3 hatchbacks had manual transmissions. After 10 years of daily commutes in the beep-and-creepy Dallas traffic, one of my primary reasons for buying a new car was to get my left foot off the clutch. Those lovely creatures with their 5-speed manual transmissions and sporting a variety of lovely paint schemes were dead to me.

To shorten the story a bit, I ended up working with Bruce and Eric The Acquirer to find me a car. They were expecting delivery of a gray one (along with Phantom Blue and Aurora Blue, one of my three preferred colors) in a couple weeks but would also do a search to see if they could get one sooner from another dealer. The next day, I got a phone call from Turtle saying that The New Guy had called to say that they'd found one, that it would be driven in the next day, and what time would I like to come in to take delivery. I called back and asked if 10am would be good, and he said it would be just great.

At 10am yesterday, I showed up at the dealership to find that not only would the car not arrive for another three hours, but it was The New Guy's day off. Bruce and Eric were as mystified as they were apologetic. Since I was already there, I sat down with Bruce and worked out a few details regarding my trade in before heading home to wait and fall asleep in front of some really lame horror movie starring the post-car accident Mark Hamill.

Cutting further to the chase, at 6pm I drove off the lot. Still fumbling to figure out where all the light switches were and how to work them, I pulled on to the highway and immediately found myself in the midst of a traffic jam.

I thought. The blessed relief of an automatic transmission.

It figures that the day after I buy a new car, Texas can't spare me a little sunshine for pictures. But it's gray, after all, so call it a theme.

02 November, 2006

Meeped: Day 3

The bad news:

I can only send e-mail from my Road Runner e-mail accounts using SMTP from my home computers. When I'm at work (which is about 80% of my computer time), I'll have to either use RR's webmail, or another account—like, say, from one of my personal domains. Someone representing himself as a tier two support person for Road Runner posted on the forum at dslreports.com and confirmed the way their SMTP authentication works:
our smtp server authentication is IP driven no other authentication is supported... so if you are on a foreign connection its not going to work which is a pain i know !!!!!!!
Not a huge hardship, now that I've migrated my domains from Yahoo! Domains to GoDaddy so that my e-mail forwards actually work dependably. However, there are places where I'd like to provide an e-mail address that I can POP (that lets out my standby Yahoo! e-mail) and that isn't associated with my unique and very recognizable domain names (see my previous comments about online paranoia).

The good news:

It looks like the dust is starting to settle a bit, and speeds at the Foo household are comparable to what we had with Comcast. According to Speakeasy's speed test:

I can't remember what we're supposed to be getting, but it's a point of reference. Certainly, it's better than what I get at work:

In fairness, I should point out that the connection at work has to deal with a whole office of bandwidth hogs like the guy who sits for hours and watches old episodes of Whose Line Is It Anyway? on his computer.

Another bit of good news is that I did some checking into Grande Communications, which may or may not be the one cable alternative to Time-Warner/Road Runner in our neighborhood. I'll be looking at their pricing for comparable speeds, of course, but I did some initial research into their phone/internet/cable TV bundles, and it looks like going with Grande would be about $60 cheaper for comparable features. Of course, there are still all the tariffs and taxes to factor in, but I would argue that a savings of $20/month and ditching Time-Warner could still be considered improvement.


I'm having a vacation day so that I can go get my annual physical out of the way and then mosey—'cause that's how I do things when I'm on vacation—up to the Mazda dealership to see if I can make a deal for a new car. I even ran the old one through the car wash last night, and then came home and vacuumed up all the mulch and breakfast biscuit crumbs that had taken up residence in the carpet and upholstery over the past [mumble] years.

October searches

  • gravity pulls in allen,texas Allen does not suck.
  • misfire peristalsis Yeah, well... you make me puke too, so it evens out.
  • meaning of bad penny You ain't from around here, are ya?
  • list of abbreations I see you've started without me.
  • sweeturtle I couldn't agree more!

Deep thought

Parents of conjoined twins: if you have girls, please don't name them Sybil and Phyllis. Kids are cruel. [I shouldn't have to explain this one to you, but I will if I have to. -Foo]

01 November, 2006

Meeped: Day 2

After receiving absolutely no response to my questions about procedures for doing the migration manually, without installing RR's ActiveX poo, I finally succumbed to social engineering and did exactly what I was expected to do. I gave in and just ran their bloody wizard.

I now have a stupid, grinning roadrunner cartoon permanently embedded in my Outlook Express e-mail client, an ActiveX program I can't find to remove, and a mostly-working internet connection. Browsing doesn't seem to be appreciably slower, as long as I'm viewing a page that's already in cache, and I'm able to receive e-mails from the POP3 server.

Unfortunately, attempting to send an e-mail to an address in some other domain besides Road Runner gets me something like this:

An unknown error has occurred. Account: 'FooRider @ RR', Server: 'smtp-server.tx.rr.com', Protocol: SMTP, Server Response: '421 Service not available', Port: 25, Secure(SSL): No, Server Error: 421, Error Number: 0x800CCC67

or this

The message could not be sent because one of the recipients was rejected by the server. The rejected e-mail address was 'xxxxx@yahoo.com'. Subject 'Re: grrrrrrrrrrr', Account: 'FooRider @ RR', Server: 'smtp-server.tx.rr.com', Protocol: SMTP, Server Response: '550 relaying mail to yahoo.com is not allowed', Port: 25, Secure(SSL): No, Server Error: 550, Error Number: 0x800CCC79

The first is no surprise, given what I've read on forums regarding Comcast-to-Road Runner migrations suffered out on the left coast. But does Road Runner honestly expect me to give up being able to send e-mails from my work machine by SMTP?

That's exactly the question I asked in my second missive to Road Runner's tech support. I don't actually expect to hear back from them this time either, but those folks are not without a sense of humor. From their tech support page:
Road Runner is proud to offer industry leading tech support through a variety of channels. All of our online tech support channels are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Outlined below are your technical support channels:

Technical E-mail Support

Try our Technical E-mail Support where you can get answers in hours not days.

"Hours not days"? Good one, guys. I just can't stop chuckling.

31 October, 2006

Meeped: It begins

For months, the Foo household has been receiving from Time-Warner Cable a mind-numbing barrage of propaganda regarding their impending ownership of our business. There are the postcards, the pamphlets, the e-mails, and the extremely annoying TV ads that gleefully remind us twice at every commercial break how they're "fine tuning" our cable service.

If throwing a spanner in the works can be considered fine tuning, I suppose that's a true statement. Turtle called this morning to tell me she'd received an e-mail instructing her to convert her Comcast e-mail account(s) over to the new, exciting Road Runner accounts. I hadn't received any such notifications, so I asked her to hold up and forward a copy of the e-mail to me.

According to the e-mail, "all you have to do" is run their handy wizard, which downloads and installs some sort of ActiveX control and modifies your Internet Explorer browser with neato Road Runner stuff. This malware activates your Road Runner service, "optimizes" your computer to run with it, and then goes through every e-mail client it can find on your system and modifies your e-mail configurations. "Never mind the details," it seems to say. "I know what I'm doing."

In other words, it's time to make a full system backup and dust off the OS reinstallation disks.

Meanwhile, I noticed this morning that I haven't received any e-mail to one of the public comcast.net addresses I use for mailing lists and other correspondence that might attract spam. It's a forwarding address that I've set up to pass everything along to my primary comcast.net mailbox, but it turns out that Time-Warner went ahead and switched it to forward to some new tx.rr.com address that doesn't exist because I haven't created it yet!

They're fine-tuning my internet experience, you know.

It gets better. I visited the Time-Warner web page that provides migration information for the North Dallas victims. Yes, Road Runner will still be providing free anti-virus and firewall software, as Comcast did, but instead of McAfee, we get some half-arsed junk put out by Computer Associates. I've used Computer Associates' stuff before, and it was crap; but I thought maybe things had improved, so I went a-Googling for reviews. Words like "ineffective" and "system crash" kept cropping up in the user reviews. PC Magazine's review was more diplomatic but said essentially the same thing. Looks like I'll be shelling out some bucks for ZoneAlarm's security suite.

Thanks for letting me vent.

29 October, 2006


As I was working on the image, I was reminded of a comment one of our friends made at dinner the other evening.

"Hey, you're the big clock expert," she began somewhat ominously. "How come clocks with Roman numerals always use 'IIII' instead of 'IV'?"

I prefaced my answer by saying that I'd never really given it any thought and then admitted that I didn't know the answer—though I suspected it had to do with aesthetics and balance. One look at my little collage above should be enough to convince anyone that my grasp of compositional balance is tenuous at best, but there you have it.

Since then, I took 15 seconds out of my busy schedule to Google for the answer and was surprised that this is a topic of some lukewarm debate. If you're interested in how that all shakes out, Cecil Adams, in his typically entertaining fashion, covers it pretty well in this article.

Now playing: Inspiral Carpets, Revenge Of The Goldfish

23 October, 2006

Pedaling hard

It is as the title suggests, but only in a figurative sense of being very busy (without, some might argue, getting anywhere fast). In fact, I haven't been on the bike for over a week.

While the blogging and biking world passes me by, I've been feverishing picking up the slack left at work since four of my fellow cube dwellers recently got sacked. At home, I've been almost as feverishly ("Hmm. You're a little warm...") working on putting together a reasonably bulletproof Dreamweaver template for Turtle's side business. As a consequence of the latter, I've finally spent the time to really understand the CSS box model and—more to the point—the mis-implementation of it by various versions of Internet Explorer.

I took the time to attend an 80th birthday party with Turtle this past weekend (when I usually would have been riding my bike), but aside from that I've been a very non-social holed-up-in-my-office little W3C nerd.

18 October, 2006

Jesus, His arms wide

Turtle and I were in the car—she driving and me doing my part by looking around and howling along with the radio. As we passed a semi with a 2/3-scale portrait of Christ painted on the side of the cab, my first thought was There's something you don't see every day.

Even Jesus' posture seemed to say, "Hey... it beats the heck out of me. It's not my truck."

My second thought was Jesus, His arms wide—a reference to the metaphorical language central to the "Darmok" episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I didn't realize it until I went to hunt down a Wikipedia link for this post, but in the Tamarians' language "arms wide" meant "gift" or "to give".

And suddenly it all made sense to me.

16 October, 2006

Slacker with a capital slack

Yes, that's right. I have nothing to report about Saturday's PBA Fall Century ride. It's not that I'm too lazy to type it up, as believable as that might be. It's because I didn't go.

As of Friday afternoon, I was still waffling. With my confidence shaken by a couple sub-par (in my opinion) performances in the preceding weeks, and considering my general malaise, I came up with a short list of reasons why giving it a miss would be the smart and responsible thing to do:
  1. I had missed church the previous two weekends, first because Turtle and I were in San Antonio, and then last weekend because the Bonham ride and trip home took me longer than I had estimated. And then on Sunday evening, when I had intended to go, I fell into my usual Sunday routine and forgot. If I did the century, I wouldn't make it home in time to go again this week—and would be too exhausted to go, in any case.
  2. Time. At a 15 mph pace, I estimated that it would take in excess of 9 hours to complete the ride. Figure about 6½ hours of actual riding and at least another 2 or 3 hours for a lunch break and other stops.
  3. Turtle had been patiently waiting for a block of my time so that we could put together the initial design template for her business web site. If I did the century, I'd be gone all day Saturday (see #2) and most likely wiped out for a lot of Sunday.
  4. The weather forecast called for 20% chance of thunderstorms starting Saturday afternoon. The prospect of riding the latter portion of a 100-mile ride in the rain and having to dodge lightning bolts didn't thrill me.
  5. Finally, if it turned out that I'm just not strong enough to go the distance, Turtle would already be a good hour and a half away (at church) when I discovered it. There'd be no one to come and retrieve my capital-L-on-the-forehead-wearing butt.
So I wimped out, instead choosing to do one of my usual 40-mile Saturday morning rides (which was lovely, thanks for asking). I also got churched up, Saturday evening. That must've been the right thing to do, because we were blessed with a slow, steady, all-day rain on Sunday. Perfect weather for putting together a reasonably presentable web site template for Turtle (though the font on the header graphic still looks dodgy to me (sorry, Dear)), only taking short breaks to eat and watch an episode of Carnivale: Season Two.

If you want to know how the Fall Century went, you'll have to wait and see if rcarlino (who probably didn't wimp out) posts a comment about it.

08 October, 2006

Ride Report: Autumn In Bonham (Bonham, TX)

I didn't do the Autumn in Bonham ride last year, because of some sort of schedule conflict. This year, I wasn't planning on it just because I felt I'd maxed out my 2006 entry fee budget. However, word on the street is that it's a really nice ride, and I felt an obligation to take a crack at the Leonard Leviathans—three very large (for Texas) hills—after missing them during the Cotton Patch Classic, so I signed up anyway.

The drive up ended up taking less time than I expected, so I parked up close, picked up my ride number and t-shirt (my second favorite design of this season, by the way), and set about unloading and assembling my bike. The guy parked next to me turned out to be Blanca from over on BikeJournal.com, so we chatted with each other for a while and then with various other acquaintances as they arrived.

It continues to amaze me that I go to these rallies with hundreds of other riders and always seem to run into at least a dozen people I know (including Lance, Lance's son, Allez, and Allez's husband). I think that's kind of neat.

Shortly before 9 am, everyone lined up and we got under way. I started off riding with John, local legend and webmaster of the popular bicycle-stuff.com, but we got separated early, at an intersection where a police officer had his SUV parked right in the middle of the intersection and gave confusing instructions about which groups were supposed to go which way. I went left; John went straight, never to be seen (by me) again.

Almost immediately, we came to a long climb. And then another. And another. Cool, I thought. We're getting this all out of the way early, while our legs are still fresh.

But they kept coming... and coming... and by my first stop at the second rest stop, my quads were already grousing at me. I'd maintained a 16.3 mph average to that point, but I knew that I was going to have to back off my assaults on the climbs if I was going to survive the rest of the 64-mile route (which, in typical bike rally fashion, was actually .1 mile short of 67 miles).

While I was eating a banana and chatting up one of the grandmotherly volunteers, a couple of those acquaintances I mentioned before rolled up at the rest stop: Steve (who rides a fire engine red Bacchetta Café recumbent) and Peggy (who looks and sounds enough like our blog buddy, Allez, that they could be sisters) from Frisco. Knowing that I ride a more sane pace when socializing, I joined up with them and their friend for the rest of the hilly, energy-sucking-chip-seal-plagued, beautiful-scenery-having ride.

This was one of those routes that really made me wish that my digital camera weren't quite so bulky. There were surreal fields of some sort of golden-flowered weed clumps. There were barns and cows. There were interesting little near-ghost towns that just begged to have their weathered facades and peeling columns photographed. Everywhere we went, people smiled, yelled, and waved from porches and front yards.

I was impressed, overall, with how the drivers in the area didn't feel compelled to threaten us with their vehicles. In fact, the only close calls I had all day were near Leonard. In one case, I had come to a full stop at a four way intersection and awaited my turn to go. As I did, the elderly woman in the PT Cruiser decided she wanted to go. So I stopped. She waved for me to go, and as I did, she started to pull out again. So I stopped. She waved me on. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

The other was a police officer, who came within a foot of clipping me with his passenger side mirror as I balanced precariously on the white line along one of the few stretches of road that didn't have a nice, wide shoulder to retreat to. At the next rest stop, I mentioned this to one of the volunteers. When I described the guy to her, she told me that this was "the Leonard cop", that he was a jerk, and that he'd been buzzing the rally participants all day.

Way to serve and protect, Barney.

Finally, we came to the Leviathans, and I remembered what I'd been told by others who had ridden them. The first two were steep but made manageable by the fact that they were prefaced by nice descents. When I saw the big hills ahead, I shifted to the biggest gear I had and gave gravity a hand. I reminded myself not to overdo it on the way down because I'd need my quads and hamstrings for the climb, but I needn't have bothered. At 37 mph, I spun out (i.e., ran out of top end gears) and had to coast until I reached the point of resistance on the climb.

Two down, no problem.

But the third hill... that one was every bit as nasty as I'd heard. It wasn't preceded by as much of a downhill, leeched away all your momentum, and then got steeper as it turned. And all on that momentum-robbing chip seal. When I was already into my small ring by the halfway point, I knew I was in trouble, but I kept churning away. Two thirds of the way up, I'd run out of gears on the low end. With my mucles wrung out by all the day's previous climbs, I could no longer spin and was reduced to mashing on the pedals. Twenty yards from the top, I was down to about 5 mph and nearing my stall speed—you can't really track stand a recumbent—but my guts were telling my brain to tell my legs that we were almost there and to stop being such wussies.

That's when my right quad flew all of us the bird and threw a cramp.

Rather than risk the embarrassment of falling over or the embarrassment of tearing something and having to ride the SAG wagon (although, now that I think of it, I can't recall seeing one all day), I put my feet down and walked the short distance to the top. Meanwhile, Steve veered around me and cleared the top. I could attribute his success to slightly lower gearing or to slightly wider tires that roll better on the chip seal. I may have used up too much of my legs earlier in the ride, or it may go back to the hammerfest I did with a couple friends after work, two days earlier. The bottom line is that I didn't beat the hill, and that's a bitter pill for me to swallow.

The rest of the ride was no sweat. Once it had made its point, my right quad behaved itself. We had an enjoyable, uneventful ride back to the starting point, where we discovered that most of the cars were gone and the organizers had pretty much folded up their tent. We must have dawdled at a couple rest stops longer than I'd realized, because even with all the climbing I still ended the day with a 16 mph rolling average.

Bonham was certainly one of the most challenging rides I've done this season, but I enjoyed the route, the scenery, and the company. I'm just thinking maybe I need to find a leg press to work out on before I consider going back for seconds.

05 October, 2006

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Those of you who know what to do with this sort of thing will find this sort of thing sort of useful.

He so horny

This is a short week for me (praise the Lord!) because I took a vacation day Monday. Originally, the thought was that Turtle and I might spend an extra day bumming around the New Braunfels area after attending a family gathering over the weekend, but events didn't play out that way. Instead, I had the luxury of a whole day during which I could whittle away at my endless list of Things That Need Done during the middle of the day—that magical time when crowds are thin and I haven't just spent an hour battling every Tomas, Rick, and Herold intent on fraying my last good nerve.

One of these tasks was the dreaded (by me, at least) trip to Costco for the next two months' supply of beer and wine, toilet paper, frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts and ground beef patties, fresh pineapple, and a half dozen bagels1. Turtle, ever the compassionate one, offered to go with, but I turned her down. This was going to be a surgical strike. I planned to be in and out within half an hour, and I already had my path through the store mapped out in my head.

Into the parking lot, dodge the departing shoppers with their walkers and oxygen tanks, grab a cart (one with four round wheels, this time), flash the membership card. Hard left, down the aisle at a lope, weaving around the vacant-eyed, slack-jawed woman in curlers, executing a perfect bump and roll around the Korean national jabbering on a cell phone. Grab the beer and wine, and heave the cart toward the fruits and veggies. Grab a package of pineapple on the fly, swing right toward the freezer section.

Blast. What size bag of chicken breasts? Quick phone call to the missus.

Grab my breasts and my meat (Stop. It.). Hard right at the end of the aisle, and I had the skids of soft drinks in my si—ABORT! ABORT! Hauling hard on my cart, I screeched to a cartoon halt to narrowly avoid colliding with a cart that had appeared from a side aisle, followed closely by an elderly man.

Crisis averted. The old duffer shuffled his way slowly down the aisle in front of me and, with time on my hands, I found myself wondering... what the hell is he wearing on his head?

I dismissed my conclusion twice before accepting what my eyes told me, but perched on this adult's head was a child's toy viking helmet, complete with eight-inch horns.

I worked my way past him, ostensibly to get to the Diet Coke. In reality, I just wanted to get a better look at this guy. I expected to see him smirking, like he was just goofing. Or scowling like he'd lost a bet. Maybe drooling a bit. What I saw was a neatly-dressed man of about 70 years, with his spectacles perched on his nose and their case clipped in his breast pocket. His expression was neutral and—notwithstanding his unsignaled merge into my lane—alert. Wearing a viking helmet cocked at a jaunty angle.

As far as I could see, his cart was conspicuously bereft of SPAM.

1 This didn't quite work out according to my plan. Turtle and I don't eat a lot of bagels at home, so I only needed a half dozen. Unfortunately, when I went to pay for all my stuff, the cashier informed me that they were "a dozen for [some amount of legal tender]" and didn't I want a full dozen? I told him no, thinking that I'd get my half dozen for half the price of a full dozen. Instead, he tossed my bagels to an assistant, who whisked them away somewhere. I asked what he was doing and only then did he bother to explain that it was a dozen or nothing. Not that I actually would have left my cart and all the people lined up behind me to go to the back of the store and grab six more bagels, but the whole business kind of left a bad, bagel-less taste in my mouth.

Now playing: Queensrÿche, Operation Mindcrime

Catty chat

Turtle sent me a link to this from another site, but it cracked me up so much that I went and hunted down a copy on Youtube.com to save here for posterity.

Watch it, but not with a mouth full of coffee or yogurt.

26 September, 2006

The Old Crown Challenge

One of my 'bent buddies, who goes by the nom du gear [sic] "FlyingLaZBoy", passed along this link and made me ashamed to be associated with every ride report I've ever written. If you aren't interested in bicycles generally nor in recumbents specifically, you may not care. If your eyes glaze over at the thought of Shakespearean prose and you once had a brain aneurism after your latest good-intentioned run at the KJV Bible, you'll probably want to move along to some post about monkeys whacking a politician about the head and neck with wooden mallets (I'll be along later).
I 1 And it did come to pass, that on the nth day (no-one is quite sure which, but most theologians tend towards Thursday), the Lord did look down upon the Earth, and saw that it was flat, and really not very interesting. So he did cause parts of the Earth to rise up into the firmament. And the Children of the Lord did name the lumpy bits in the middle of northern England "the Pennines". And the Lord looked upon His work, and saw that it was good.

2 And in the evening did the Lord slump down in His favourite armchair, and did plant His feet upon His coffee table, and did scratch His balding bonce, and He did read the part of the Manual pertaining to the causing of the Children of the Lord to invent Things. And thus it did come to pass that the Children of the Lord did invent the recumbent. And the Lord looked upon His work, and saw that it was good.

If this tickles your Monty Python schtick, do follow the link and read the whole magilla. Which is not, technically, a synonym for "entertaining ride report"—but it will do. 'Twill serve.

24 September, 2006

Like a bad penny

That's what one of the women called me when I showed up for yesterday's club ride.

"I thought we'd chased you off, since you haven't come around for, like, a couple months."

Her tone didn't register "curses, foiled again" between the lines, so I decided to take her overestimation of the time as meaning that the regulars on the ride had noted my absence and that I'd been missed.

"Actually, it's only been five weeks," I said, mentally counting back to the weekend before this year's Hotter Than Hell. "I was off growing new skin, doing a few rides I hadn't been on for a while. Had a great time fighting the wind on the Cotton Patch Classic, last weekend."

"Oh, you mean like today," she said. The wind whipped her hair across her face and she paused to pick a strand out of her mouth.

"Sort of." I watched the heavy black clouds zooming along at a pace that suggested Mother Nature had her thumb on the fast forward button. "Not so much threat of a Biblical downpour, last weekend."

The clouds had a silver lining, of course. Only about a dozen people had shown up for the ride, either fearing rain or not relishing the thought of battling the 18-29 mph wind. This was good, because it meant I wouldn't have to hang off the back to keep from getting caught up in a tightly-packed mob again.

The trip north was big fun with the wind at our backs. As we came through Allen along one of the highway frontage roads, I glanced at my computer ("digital speedometer thingy" to you non-cyclists) and saw that we were doing 25+ mph—and I was soft-pedaling!

In McKinney, we were warned by a police officer in an unmarked car after doing a rolling stop at one empty intersection. On the other side of McKinney, we were cursed energetically by a motorist unhappy with having to wait behind the group as we came to a full stop at an intersection, waited our turn, and crossed two at a time.

Heading south into Plano again, we enjoyed the challenge of climbing some of the steepest hills in the area into the same wind that made for such a quick trip out. I came within two bpm of my maximum heart rate in that section but still out-climbed three quarters of the group.

We ended up cutting the route to about 30 miles when the temperature started to drop and we started hearing some rumbling, so we made it back before the brief downpour started. It was a good ride, making up in fun what it lacked in distance.

I was waiting in line at Einstein's, afterward, and the two 20-something men in front of me started asking questions: Were we just getting back, or heading out? How far did we ride? Were we training for some kind of event? I explained that we'd just gotten back from a 30-mile ride, that we usually rode 45-50 miles, and that we weren't training for anything specific.

"Really?" he said. "You're riding just for the heck of it? That's wild."

They then explained that they'd just finished a training run in preparation for a marathon in December. I grinned, as this provided 100% of my minimum adult daily requirement for irony.

"Sounds like a lot of work," I said.

Now playing: Nickelback, All The Right Reasons

22 September, 2006

Highly motivated

It's spreading as quickly as a STD among Paris Hilton's boyfriends: the Motivator. When I saw Gwynne playing with it over on her blog, I had to have a go, too.

Get Bent

Post scriptum

I almost feel sorry for Keven, who sent me the spam entitled "defecate and squander". Maybe I should make up a motivational poster for him. You don't want to know the image I'd use, but it would probably tie in to this post rather nicely.

And in a perfect example of how honesty and optimism can be the main ingredients in a recipe for failure, we have Randy Gross, who suggests "Lets hook up tonight". Randy and Gross? As if.

16 September, 2006

Ride Report: Cotton Patch Classic (Greenville, TX)

The Cotton Patch Classic is one of those rallies that seem to largely depend upon word of mouth and reviews on sites like Bicycle-Stuff.com to get the word out, so it's not surprising that I hadn't heard of this ride until a couple months ago, when a riding companion gave me his glowing recommendation. I was initially skeptical, as the ride's web site is a bit sparse, providing registration information, route maps, and start time—but practically nothing about the Rally Round Greenville Celebration festivities that would be part of the experience. The map showing ride day parking scattered throughout downtown Greenville just shouted "CHAOS!", but I sent in my entry fee and waiver and made my plans to attend.

Greenville is between 45 minutes' and an hour's drive from my home, depending on who's driving. One of the nice things the CPC folks did for those of us who would travel from the Dallas area was to provide packet pick-up sessions at a couple local bike shops a few days before the rally. One of these was my own shop of choice, on my way home from work, so I just stopped by on Thursday to pick up my numer tag, map, and t-shirt. Having my number pinned to my seat bag before I ever left the house for Greenville this morning and not having to mess with packet pick-up when I got there was a thing of beauty.

I mentioned my concern about finding parking, but the CPC organizers had that figured out, as well. As I approached the downtown area on highway 380, a volunteer with a walkie-talkie and a flashlight flagged me down and directed me down the proper street to the next volunteer with a walkie-talkie and a flashlight—and so on. Within minutes, I was safely parked next to a bunch of racer boyz who were cranking techno music and debating which was better: depilatory cream or a razor.

It was a few minutes before 7:00 and I didn't have to pick up my packet, so I had plenty of time to unload and assemble my bike (I load it all in the back of my car if I have to drive more than 20 miles or so), apply sun screen, etc. By 7:30, I'd exited one of the provided porta johns and headed for the staging area provided for those of us riding the tour routes. The racers were being staged at another corner of the town square.

With time to kill, I spotted a couple people I know from the local bike clubs and just enjoyed socializing until a few minutes before 8:00, when I headed toward the rear third of the group. After my experience with a mass start at the Tour de Paris, I was hoping that by hanging out more toward the back I might find a little more room to ride during the first five miles. As it turned out, this start of 800+ people (I saw tag number 885, but there may have been higher) didn't stay clumped up long, so even that was a pleasant surprise.

Within a mile of the start, I'd spotted Raymond and Judy, a couple I met a couple weekends ago on a local club ride, riding with Dave, who was part of the small pack of recumbents I rode with for a while during the Collin Classic. I tucked in to make an even four, and we were having a good old time for about a mile.

"GLASS!!" I yelled, as I picked my way through the remains of a discarded Smirnoff Ice bottle.

"Pf-SSssssSSSsssst!" Dave's rear tire responded, as he rode right through the shards.

The first tube change took 10 minutes, and we made it about 25 yards before beginning the second. Judy and I had very carefully checked the tire for glass and hadn't found anything that might cause another flat, but with a second opportunity to take a look, we discovered a 3/8" cut in the tire. The four of us decided that this must've been big enough so that the new tube bulged out through it and flatted, so we applied a tire patch to the inside of the tire and booted it with a dollar bill. Dave didn't have another tube, but since I carry two and just happen to be one of the relatively few people who would carry the 650c tube he needed, we were all set. Karma cooperated by sending us the Plano Cycling & Fitness SAG wagon, so I was able to replace my tube. Just to keep the karma positive, I pressed a five-dollar bill into Jesse's hand (yes, I know the names of the PC&C employees).

Jesse pointed out that the shop doesn't charge people for tubes on rides like this. I pointed out that I appreciate the amount of time and expense the shop devotes to supporting charity rallies and that it made me feel good to know I was one of the few people who would ever consider paying for a tube. It's rare to catch Jesse without a smile on his face, but my comment got a real face splitter out of him.

Half an hour after the first puncture, we were back on our way. By then, even the woman who got a late start towing a baby trailer and shepherding a little boy on a bike with 10" wheels had passed us. We weren't going out of our way to make up time, but with a bit of a tailwind and all that clear air to ride in, we averaged over 18 mph for the first twenty miles and had begun to pass some stragglers. We just rode our ride, enjoying each other's company and the beautiful countryside.

I was enjoying the tail wind and taking in the rural sights when Raymond pulled up short after noticing his rear wheel was wobbling.

Fifteen or twenty minutes later, Raymond and David had kludged the errant spoke back into the rim. At this point, we had a group meeting. We could either go ahead with our plan to ride the 63-mile route, climb the Leonard hills, get our metric, and never see another rider; or we could go a little shorter, ride the 54-mile route, and make it back to Greenville before all the smoothies and pizza were gone. Hmm... 54 miles won out, the ayes unanimous. When we got to Leonard, we turned east toward Bailey (map), skipping the gnarly hills and gaining about 7 miles on the 63-milers.

It turned out we'd made the right choice. Between the stiff south headwind, the long string of Escher rollers,* and (most significantly) the cramps that Dave was fighting with 15 miles to go, we were glad for a little less challenge and a lot more fun. The notorious Leonard hills will still be there next year, and taking the "shortcut" meant we ended up on the same rest stop schedule as Lancenotstrong, Allez, and Allez' husband—so I got to have some nice little visits with them.

When we arrived back in downtown Greenville, the party was in full swing. There were go kart races, all sorts of awnings sheltering people selling who knows what, top fuel dragsters and antique Fords on display, live music, and... oh yes: strawberry smoothies. And plenty of pizza. We chose to sit around a table and chat instead of indulging in all the happy chaos, but there was a great vibe in the air that capped off the day quite nicely.

I've mentally added the Cotton Patch Classic to my 2007 calendar.

* This expression is the result of a conversation I had with another rider, who wondered aloud, "How can we just keep going up without ever coming down?" I observed that I'd been on routes where I'd thought the same thing and that it was like riding in an Escher print.

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...