29 December, 2007

Mein Großvater

My mother's father – or „mein Großvater“ – wasn't German, technically. He was born in 1902, on a farm in northeast Ohio, to first-generation Americans whose parents came to this country from the Alsace region of France. This was always a little confusing to me, when Grandpa used to tell us that his grandparents came from France but spoke German, not French. Once I got involved with my family's genealogy research, I learned that the Alsatians indeed spoke a dialect of German.*

Grandpa Herman
At some point while Turtle's parents were visiting, the women were playing games and listening to Christmas CDs. “Silent Night” came on, and I was thinking of Grandpa and how we kids used to beg him to sing „Stille Nacht“ to us in his broken German.

The base image is a small photo Grandpa took of himself sometime in the 1970s at one of those automated photo booths you see at the mall. The pocket watch is one that he bought used around 1930 and passed down to me when I was in college (it still runs and keeps perfect time). The smaller blended image is Grandpa on his wedding day, in 1936.

* I admit to taking a certain amount of pleasure in telling people that even my French ancestors were German.

28 December, 2007

Christmas keepsake

On Christmas, while we were out in the garage opening our presents, my father-in-law walked over and handed me a small, heavy box secured with a rubber band. Inside, I found three well-used, brass-case pocket watches.

“I don't know anything about these,” he said. “Whether they're worth anything, I mean. I found them when I was going through some of the stuff we were redding up at Mom's house. They were Dad's, and you can see that one of them has his initials on it.”

And then he kind of shrugged. “Like I said, I don't know if they're worth anything.”

Cyclist pocket watch
Well, they are – to me, at least. Maybe not in the monetary sense, but even if I weren't so fascinated with weathered old things with a sense of history about them, the real riches lay in the fact that my dad-in-law thinks enough of me to pass on these family treasures to me. Whether he sees them as such, or not, is entirely beside the point.

An added bonus is the design I found on the back of one of the cases, which depicts a bicycle racer. Based on the style of the clothes and the handlebars, I'd guess it was from the 1920s or so.

26 December, 2007

Christmas 2007: Still Breathing

This year, instead of packing up and taking to the road for the holidays, Turtle and I hosted her mom and dad, her sister, and her niece here in Texas. For the past week, I'd been dusting, vacuuming, cleaning, sneaking in a few last-minute shopping expeditions, and driving halfway to Oklahoma to find a wet (not “damp”) where I could buy fixin’s for adult liquid refreshments.

My father-in-law is insanely allergic to the cats. Even though we had the carpets cleaned and despite my having thoroughly dusted and vacuumed the house from top to bottom three times in two weeks prior to his arrival, he can only handle being in the house for about as long as it takes to use the bathroom. Longer than that, and his eyes swell up, his sinuses fill with mucus, and he sneezes violently and continuously. He and my mother-in-law booked a room at a nearby hotel, but he (and I) spent all the Christmas festivities out in the garage, where I'd set up lawn chairs, a folding table, and an electric oil radiator with a small fan blowing across it to provide some heat.

And we went “bumming”. I knew going in that Turtle's dad probably wouldn't be able to spend any time in the house, so I planned to take him with me to some electronics stores to shop for a new TV to replace the 26-inch Magnavox I've had since 1989. We were successful, and Turtle and I are now enjoying the bright picture, wide screen and (some) HD clarity of a 40" LCD Samsung set (LN-T4061F, for anyone who's interested in particulars). Now all I have to do is find a set of surround sound speakers we can afford.

Christmas day was a little unusual. While the women had themselves a noisy hen party inside, Dad and I hung out on the front porch. It was chilly and breezy but, as long as we occasionally moved our lawn chairs to stay in the sun, pleasant enough. A little before the crockpot turkey was ready, we set up a long table in the garage and dolled it up with a red table cloth. How many of you can say you had your Christmas feast in the garage?

This morning, it's a dreary, rainy day. My parents-in-law and my niece are driving home in the yuck. We drove my sister-in-law to the airport at 5:00 this morning, and by now she's touched down and fighting her way through throngs of fellow holiday travelers to recover her luggage. The house is quiet (the housekeeping staff are on strike for the day), and the cats have come out of hiding. The place feels a little lonely, but we have some fun memories.

Oh yeah: Merry Christmas!

20 December, 2007

IE8 on Acid(2)

In a move that almost certainly had nothing to do with Opera's lawsuit [cough], Microsoft has announced that an in-development version of Internet Explorer 8 has successfully rendered the Acid2 browser test.

Taking this announcement at face value (no pun intended), one might be tempted to think that Microsoft's browser development team has finally seen the error of its non-standard rendering ways. But... I've been verbally abusing Microsoft for a long time and can't just turn on a dime. I'm skeptical.

True, it seems that years of pressure and ill will over the debacle that was IE 6 have convinced Microsoft that it can't just run rough-shod over the W3C recommendations that standards based browsers follow. The IE 8 announcement makes some pleasing noises in this regard, but it seems to me that there's also quite a bit of tap dancing going on:
When we look at the long lists of standards (even from just one standards body, like the W3C), which standards are the most important for us to support? The web has many kinds of standards – true industry standards, like those from the W3C, de facto standards, unilateral standards, open standards, and more. Some standards like RSS or OpenSearch lack a formal standards body yet work pretty well today across multiple implementations. Many advances in web technologies, like the img tag, start out as unilateral extensions by a vendor. The X in AJAX, for example, has only started the formal standardization process relatively recently. As some comments have pointed out, CSS 2.1, one of the key standards that Acid2 exercises, is not “finalized” yet. Different individuals have different opinions about different standards. The important thing about the Acid2 test is that it reflects what one particular group of smart people “consider most important for the future of the web.”
Which, to me, reads a bit like – and I'm quoting my internal paraphrasing here – “We see Firefox's market share increasing and feel Safari and Opera nipping at our heels, and we admit that there's a demand for standards compliance. But we're Microsoft, dammit. We'll comply with the W3C standards where doing so is to our advantage and continue to push our own where it isn't.”

18 December, 2007

The future of web standards

Perhaps in response to Andy Clarke's recent call for the disbanding of the CSS working committee – in turn prompted by Opera's lawsuit against Microsoft – James over at The B-List has uncorked a truly perceptive analysis of The future of web standards.

Read it, if you're geek enough to care.

15 December, 2007

Settling in

I'm taking a break from putting together my task list of things that need to get done before my in-laws arrive for Christmas and thought I'd "send up a flare" to let everyone know I'm still around.

The move to the new office building is complete. At 6' x 6', my new cube – more of a stall since it has only two full walls – is less than half the size of the one I was in before, and this has underscored for me the lesson that no matter your situation, things can always get worse. And yet, aside from the cramped conditions, I feel like the work environment is going to be better. The aisles are wider, so despite having less desktop and storage space, the conditions aren't claustrophobic. Even better, the moaning, endlessly Eeyore-ish woman who kept me on the brink of homicide each day is on another floor. Even better, my new neighbors and team members are quiet and enjoyable to work with. It's also rather reassuring to have most of my former teammates officing in the same building again.

Things are finally starting to gel in terms of my new position, as well. I can finally start focusing on doing my job instead of trying to figure out what that job might be. I feel more like I'm starting to move forward instead of in circles.

Meanwhile, Turtle and I are beginning that frantic dash to complete all those Christmas tasks that we probably should have been working on two weeks ago. We've both been a little blue, lately, and the result was too much procrastination.

I've now been off my bike for 33 days. I've got to find time and motivation enough to ride another 25 miles if I want to reach 2000 miles for the year. Some of that motivation may come tomorrow, when Turtle and I attend a Christmas party being held by one of my MS 150 teammates. You can bet St. Bob will be there and trying to get everyone revved up to get out in the cold to start training for the 2008 ride!

I had another birthday and will save you the bother of asking the question with the simple response "pretty darned old". Turtle is always hard pressed to come up with gift ideas for me, and this year was no exception. However, she knows how much trouble I have with my back and remembered how she had to pry me out of the demo chair when I tried out one of those Shiatsu massage pads at the mall a couple years ago. She also knows that I'm kind of picky about this sort of thing, so on my birthday she took me out for lunch and then to the store to pick out just the model of massager that I wanted. The store was having some sort of sale, and Turtle had a coupon, so we ended up getting this delightful contraption for about 40% off its usual price.

This is going to be so awesome the next time my back is killing me as the result of yard work or honey-dos! I can now have a massage any time I want without Turtle having to aggravate her carpal tunnel giving me a massage.

03 December, 2007

Monday update

I'd apologize for the lack of original postings here, but I don't want to sound like a stuck record. I could post about my confusion and frustration over the way in which things are being managed (or more to the point, not being managed) since my company was purchased earlier this year – but I won't. I'm pretty sure the only people who aren't in exactly the same boat are those who work for themselves.

No bike riding for the past three weeks. Worse, I'm not feeling very motivated to do anything to change that. The good news is that, after my cardiologist appointment this past week, I'm cleared to ride. I just have to get out from under the laptop and do it.

Turtle and I did roll up our sleeves and put up our Christmas decorations, this past weekend. As a token of my affection, I stoically set about shuttling boxes out of the space above the garage, spent an hour or so debugging and untangling strands of lights, and then a couple more hours putting it all together. But as usual, I had to admit it looked nice, once it was all up and I was able to kick back with a beer, a couple Advil, and a Darvocet.

Also this past week, Turtle orchestrated the process of having most of our carpeting and all the tile floors cleaned. We're hoping that this will allow my father-in-law to spend at least a little time inside the house, when Turtle's family joins us for Christmas. Pop's deathly allergic to our furry dependents, so he and I spent a lot of time hanging out in the garage with a space heater, last time he and Mom came for a visit. It's not too bad, as garages go, but it would be nicer to be inside.

Then again, no one tries to talk us into playing board games when we're in the garage...

29 November, 2007

The Dictionary of Image

My first attempts at contributing to The Dictionary of Image (pool) on Flickr.


Originally uploaded by FooRider





The inner workings of my great-grandfather's Seth Thomas black mantel clock. It was given to him and my grandmother on the occasion of their wedding and again, to Turtle and me, on the occasion of ours.





27 November, 2007


That would be “unidentified fecal objects”, in this case. Don't laugh; this is serious business. Until my dad posted a link to the “Space Toilet” video on YouTube, I had never really given a lot of thought to the engineering implications of bodily functions in outer space. The video appears to be taken from a serious presentation by Col. Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency, but you'd think it was a stand-up comedy show. I guess that no matter how you slice it, poo is kinda funny.

While I'm at it, Turtle called this morning to tell me about a video of two cats having a conversation. After watching it on Yahoo!, I thought I might go looking for a copy on YouTube but was too lazy to actually do so. As luck would have it, the Space Toilet video has a link to the talking cats. Check it out; it's cute. For those of you who don't speak Cat, there's a dubbed version.

17 November, 2007

Flickr: Photos from Paul Grand

When it comes to art – what ever you reckon art to be – I'm one of those people who knows what he likes when he sees it. Sometimes, I even have a flash of inspiration for some imagery I'd like to create, but I don't have the PhotoShop skills to pull it off.

Paul Grand has the eye and the skills. Combining photography with typographical elements and a helping of age (or grunge), his is a style that really appeals to me. I don't know what a trained artist would call it, but I'll go with "mixed media" or maybe "scrapbook-ish".

Flickr: Photos from Paul Grand

One of these days, when I have a bunch of free time, I've got to enroll in a PhotoShop-oriented design class. Or buy some decent filters.

If you like Grand's work, there are quite a few talented, like-minded surrealists hanging out on Flickr's Man Ray group. Check it out!

16 November, 2007

Stop draggin' my heart around

Almost exactly a year ago, I was taking advantage of my use-'em-or-lose-'em vacation days to get some doctor appointments out of the way. My internist and his PA heard a heart murmer that they hadn't heard the previous year, which prompted an echocardiogram and two attempted appointments for cardio stress tests. The scheduling nurse couldn't pull her head out of her... Cosmopolitan long enough to get it right, and I ran out of vacation days. I figured I'd get it rescheduled after the first of the year, but then things got busy and I never bothered. If hitting 190 beats per minute on my weekend bike rides hadn't given me a massive coronary, how bad could it be?

I went for my annual physical today, and the murmer's still there. The doctor is perplexed, because the echocardiogram didn't show anything to suggest where the gooshing noise is coming from. And he wants to know where the gooshing noise is coming from.

So now, I get to add a cardiologist to my growing collection of specialists and hope that he'll find nothing worth cracking a sternum over. I prefer to keep my medical issues in the realm of abrasions, contusions, and dislocations. You know: stuff you get from bike crashes.

The up side is that my labs came back good, all my boy parts passed muster, my neck and back haven't flared up since earlier this summer, and I have a new pair of bifocals that I can actually see through without giving myself a headache. It's a pretty good place to be, heading into Thanksgiving week.

11 November, 2007

Artwork of note(s)

For those of us who just can't get enough of secret codes and fine art and music, there's a new twist on Leonardo Da Vinci's "The Last Supper".
Discovery News : Discovery Channel: "[R]ather than conspiracy theories, the new code points to a hidden musical score, a sacred text and a three-dimensional chalice."
The first I'd heard of this theory was this morning, while I was watching ABC's Good Morning America. Although they did play a bit of the composition in the clip, they apparently felt that the reporter's running line of chatter was more important than the music, which was relegated to background noise. However, there's a video on their site that will allow you to hear a bit, if you're interested. I can't link directly to the clip, as it's obfuscated by JavaScript; however, you can find it by going here and looking for the Nov. 9 video in the search results.

Pala's theory is not without its detractors, of course.

04 November, 2007

The Elements of Typographic Style Applied to the Web

Speaking of things that are handy as pockets on shirts, if you love fonts and have ever had the need desire to more fully understand the whys and wherefores of web typography, have I got a deal for you.

Check out The Elements of Typographic Style Applied to the Web - a practical guide to web typography.

I'd tell you to tell 'em Foo sent you, but they'd probably be all like, "Foo who?" And then you'd probably be all embarrassed for me and like, "Tee hee." Unbecoming one of your obvious breeding and discernment, that's all I'm saying.

Handy as a pocket on a shirt

Back in August, I posted about my choice of utility over fashion, when it comes to dressing myself. Today, I have further anecdotal evidence.

It's about 80° here today, so Turtle and I went out for one of our customary bike tours of our neighborhood and those surrounding. The smell of beef on someone's grill smelled really good, so when we got back to the house we decided we'd have burgers for lunch. Still in my cycling jersey and shorts, I was doing my usual balancing act with a plate of burger patties, spatula, and three different bottles of seasonings. I approached the kitchen door with no free hand to turn the knob, and it suddenly dawned on me that my cycling jersey had three pockets in the back.

Three pockets. Three bottles of seasonings. Problem solved.

I wonder if someone makes a cycling jersey with "Kiss the cook" printed across the chest.

Got CSS? Get Firebug.

Check out this powerful Firefox plug-in for examining and tweaking your CSS:

Firebug - Web Development Evolved

A tip of the hat to I Love Typography.

29 October, 2007

Saddle(d) up

After what seemed like a lot longer than the 16 days I actually was off the bike, I took advantage of my vacation day and the gorgeous, 70-degree weather to sneak out for a short ride around the neighborhood. Here's how I break it down:

My legs don't feel nearly as strong as they did earlier in the season.I'd still rather ride than jog.
I had to come to a full stop twice for the same school bus (in accordance with my status as a vehicle), which had its flashers on and its stop sign out.
I grinned and rolled my eyes at the driver, and he cracked up. And the kids cheered me on as they disembarked.
Some of the cheering sounded like "Get a car, old man."
At least they weren't confused by my "mannaries" and got my gender right.
One woman pulling out of her driveway looked right at me and kept creeping forward, seemingly intent on making me stop for her.
Because she was looking right at me, I was able to convey, by adept employment of pantomime, that I was fit'n ta go all Texas Chainring Massacre on her driver-side door. She stopped.
The seam of the cheap-ass chamois in my new Bellwether shorts chafed the heck out of my right thigh.
Fortunately, it was worst when I was walking, and at least it wasn't The Boys that got rubbed the wrong way. And I now know what kind of shorts not to buy in the future.
At 17.9 miles and an average speed of 16.8 mph, it wasn't the memorable sort of ride to which I'd typically devote blog space.
This posting should reassure Slow Joe Recumbo, who was starting to wonder if I would ever post anything about cycling again.

Now playing: Rob Dickinson, Fresh Wine For The Horses

28 October, 2007

We're baaack

Want some cheese with that fish?
It took us about 13 hours, but we're back from Destin, Florida.

Not a lot to write about, except to say that Turtle and I had a nice time relaxing and spending time with her mom and dad.

There are a few more pictures on Flickr.

21 October, 2007

Where on earth are Foo and Turtle?

Despite the post title, my grand plan was less to make a real contest of it than to provide a place to drop some vacation photos. Unfortunately, after the first couple, the weather turned and there haven't been many photo ops.

It's been raining here, and when it's not raining it's so humid that when we went out for a while yesterday, all the store windows were steamed up. Last night (10/22), the waves were quite large - by my landlubber standards, at least - and all the "local" TV stations were issuing tornado watches. On the up side, the locals have really been needing the rain that we (apparently) brought with us from Texas.

Here's a quick shot out the door from this morning. I'm hoping I'll get to take some more interesting pictures before we leave this weekend.

19 October, 2007

Don't start with me

Over the years, I've installed a lot of Windows applications on my computers, and I find it irritating when a new addition has the arrogance to set itself up to start every time I boot up my computer. Often, the solution is as simple as setting a configuration option, but sometimes the application doesn't provide the option to turn off auto loading.

This morning, when I installed an application that allows me to synchronize my Palm handheld with my Yahoo! calendar, I quickly discovered that it was one of the rude variety that insists on starting up, whether I need it or not. That's when I paid a visit to Annoyances.org, a handy site where you can find lots of tips about how to deal with all sorts of obscure little Windows... well, annoyances.

In this case, I learned that the solution to my auto-run problem went like this:
  1. Open Start -> Run and type in "msconfig". Press enter.
  2. When msconfig starts, select the "Startup" tab and find the offending program in the list.
  3. Uncheck the box next to the program you want to stop auto-loading.
  4. Click "Apply" and then "OK".
  5. When you reboot, you'll receive a message telling you that you've changed your configuration and do you want to run msconfig and see this message every time you reboot? Check the box that says not to show the message again, and... voila!

15 October, 2007


I strolled in to my cube this morning with plans to dive back into Beginning XML 1st ed., which I'd been studying when I left. Weighing in at over five pounds (by my estimation), about 2½" thick, and with a cover printed in the WROX standard red and gold, it's hard to miss. Yet missing it was. In that spot next to the pile of ASP.NET and C# books, there was no nerdily-grinning photo of the book's author—only bare desktop.

I promptly fired off an e-mail carpet bomb, requesting that whichever of my developer colleagues had "borrowed" the book in my absence should please promptly return it (or state their ransom demands). They promptly fired back notes disavowing any knowledge of my book.

Which leads me to one of two conclusions: either one of the cleaning staff has higher aspirations than emptying my waste can, or He is trying to tell me that my seven-year-old 1st edition isn't going to cut it, and I should order Beginning XML, 4th ed. (and expense it).

Update: The XML book never did turn up. I need it to prepare for my new job responsibilities, so I went ahead and ordered a new, 4th edition copy of the same title from Amazon, yesterday morning. Yesterday afternoon, I got an e-mail from the receptionist informing me that I had received a package that was too big for my mail slot. I thought, No frickin' way. But sure enough, it was the book I'd ordered earlier in the day. Now, I did spring for 2-day shipping, and the book did ship from just the other side of the Metromess, but... holy cow, that's fast. It usually takes at least a day just to process an order.

14 October, 2007

Weekend update

This past week, my employer sent me, along with two of my colleagues, to a five-day ASP.NET training course. Two days of C# with one instructor followed by three more days of Visual Studio 2005 and ASP.NET GUI training. The C# side didn't really cover much that I hadn't already picked up from books and web tutorials, and the instructor had a tendency to wander into personal anecdotes unrelated to the material. But the ASP.NET section was awesome. The instructor was very knowledgeable in the material, but perhaps more important, she did and excellent job of keeping us engaged and focused. There were cow jokes involved.

I find training classes like this exhausting but worthwhile. Sitting in class, trying to cram everything into my brain is tough enough, but the training facility was clear on the opposite side of the metroplex, and the classes ran 9am-5pm. In other words, I had three hours of rush hour beep-and-creep driving--for the first couple days, at least. After that, I decided I'd rather get up and do my morning drive at my usual time, in lighter traffic. In my mind, it's much better to spend 40 minutes driving and kill the slack 2+ hours 'til class time reading a Dan Brown book than to spend 1½ hours clawing my way through traffic and arriving in a Really Bad Mood. The return trips still stank, but I did manage to find a route that cut the drive time down to about an hour.

But I digress. It was a good class, and I learned a lot of good stuff--not the least of which, that I need to learn to "let it go" and accept the fact that using Visual Studio to create ASP.NET 2.0 web applications means that I don't have to code everything myself, from the ground up. Weird... but cool.

There's a dark side to increased productivity, as illustrated by this morning's Dilbert, which Turtle just brought to my attention.


Back to work, tomorrow. I haven't heard anything from my new supervisor, this past week, so I'm assuming that I'm not to report to the new office yet. I'll be back at the old place, where I'm scheduled to sit in on a "webinar" and learn how substantial the benefits plan cuts will be.

I'm trying to impress Turtle with my efforts to embrace change, but I'm feeling a bit like a cork being tossed around in the ocean.

06 October, 2007

Veteran Removes Illegal Mexican Flag

In Reno, Nevada, a local Veteran may be brought up on charges after cutting down a Mexican flag being flown illegally above the U.S. flag. A local television station had received numerous complaints from residents and went to investigate. When their reporter arrived, the Veteran took the opportunity to make a public statement. He quickly lowered the flags and used his army-issue knife to cut them down, taking possession of the U.S. flag and leaving the Mexican flag where it fell.
The man commented "I'm Jim Brossert and I took this flag down in honor of my country with a knife from the United States army. I'm a veteran, I am not going to see this done to my country. if they want to fight us, then they need to be men, and they need to come and fight us, but I want somebody to fight me for this flag. They're not going to get it back."
Link (Infowars.net)

According to the Infowars article, similar events have been reported in Maywood, CA., Tucson, Arizona, and Jupiter, Florida.

Earlier this year, there was a flap when it was discovered that someone had climbed the broadcast tower of a local conservative talk radio station and planted a Mexican flag there. It took a couple days to get someone to climb up and take it down, during which time the radio station faced fines for the infraction.

Call me reactionary, but I can't help feeling a bit like we're under siege and just too polite to do much about it. Except for Jim Brossert, I mean.

A tip of the hat to Cowtown Patty.

Boo Boo Kitty

Fuzzy Dependant #1 has lately decided that ear scratches and drive-by belly rubs aren't enough. He's discovered Daddy's Lap and is not shy about demanding his rightful place there, sometimes at the expense of whatever I happen to be typing on my laptop keyboard at the time.

Turtle recently captured this moment of pure bliss.

05 October, 2007


I think we've established by now that my inner child is far too suppressed for me to get too excited about Hallowe'en any more, but some of these costumes are just hilarious. My favorites are the Parade Rock 'n' Roller and the Man-eating Shark.

If you buy one of these, I want to see pictures.


So... I'm sitting here in my cube, with my XML/XSLT/XPath book in front of me, and I just finished rendering one of the exercises. What used to be a fairly innocuous bit of XML has transformed into a giant robot that's now duck walking between the rows of cubicles, trying not to step on the hotline people.

Could I have mis-coded something in my style sheet?

04 October, 2007

Paradigm shift

Ever since the company I work for was purchased earlier this year, the word has been that development on the project I've worked on for the past 10 years would be ending and that our team would be redistributed among several other groups. During my tenure, my primary responsibility had been to find ways to make the application run on the mainframe—a role that had long kept me on the periphery of things and under the radar of the people who hand out cool new things to work on.

Ironically, the fact that I wasn't well versed in some of the more esoteric inner workings of the code worked in my favor when we received our new assignments.

Because much of what I did wasn't very interesting and involved lots of time waiting for programs to compile and link, I entertained myself by learning what I could about HTML, CSS, and various other web technologies that I could get my hands on without having to request software licenses from MIS. All those years I'd spent tinkering, I thought I'd never have any professional use for the things I was learning, but it turns out that my side efforts positioned me well to be assigned to a team that's doing ASP.NET and C# development. And, because I wasn't one of the experts for the old project's core architecture, I was easily released from maintenance responsibilities.

That all sounded very promising, but I've been hearing for years how I was going on to bigger and better things. Nothing had ever changed, so I had my doubts that it would be any different this time—until this past Friday, at least. That's when it all came together. Decisions were made. Schedules were set and briefings held. Training classes were scheduled.

All the tinkering and reading I've done over the years, on my own time, is going to come into play now. My new responsibilities will involve large, steaming helpings of XML, XSLT, XPath, DOM, JavaScript, CSS, etc. and my familiarity with those technologies will make it a whole lot easier to get my head around the new stuff and more quickly make a contribution. I get to work with technology that's not 30 years old, and I'm kind of stoked about it!

25 September, 2007

CSS: IE7 float / italic / background positioning bug

I recently stumbled on a peculiar (but not unexpected) Internet Explorer 7 bug that has caused me hours of head scratching. To the best of my knowledge and Googling, this specific behavior hasn't been documented on any of the usual guru sites, such as Position Is Everything, so I'll attempt to document it here.


For purposes of this discussion, I've pared my page structure down to the most basic structure required to produced the undesirable behavior. Here you see a body element, which contains a centered div with the id content.
<div id="wrap">
<div id="content">
<div id="timestamp">Updated 09.25.2007!</div>
<div id="copyright">Copyright © 2007</div>
My CSS code sets a static width of 500px for this block, gives it a white background, and centers it horizontally in body. The body has a 1008px x 3px background image that repeats on the y-axis and is centered horizontally. The content div's left and right edges align with the left and right edges of the background's gold "box".

Within the content block, I define two more divs: timestamp and copyright. I want timestamp to appear in italics and line up to the right, so I apply font-style:italic and float:right to it. The complete CSS looks like this:
body {
background: #000 url("bg-test.gif") repeat-y center top;
font:normal normal x-small "Trebuchet MS",Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;
margin:0; padding:0;
/* IE hacks follow */
font-size/* */:/**/small;
#wrap {
margin:1em auto;
#content {
#copyright {
#timestamp {
In most browsers (yes, even IE 6), this renders like the following screenshot:

In IE 7, the content div remains centered, but body's background image position has shifted toward the right.

The Cause

So what's happening here? After a bit of tinkering, I discovered that the layout broke only so long as I floated the timestamp div. Unfortunately, none of the usual tricks for correcting IE's float bugs had any effect.

Eventually, I removed the italic style from the timestamp text, in an attempt to reduce the code to the bare minimum required to reproduce the problem. Which went away. I put italics back, and it returned. This reminded me of an article I'd seen on PIE, which described a bug in the way that IE handles widths for italicized text. It didn't seem to directly address the background image problem, but it led me to experiment with setting an explicit width for the floated timestamp div.

The Fix

I set width:10em, which is large enough to accomodate the timestamp text and, because it's in em-units, will expand if the viewer increases the browser's default text size. Then, to make the date text align as far to the right as possible, I set text-align:right.

Bingo. Problem solved circumvented.

Update: I submitted this write-up to “Big John” of PIE fame only to discover after several rounds of head scratching e-mails that this bug doesn't seem to occur in all IE 7 installations (including Big John's). I get it on my personal laptop and my desktop box at work, but my work laptop and some co-workers' workstations don't exhibit the behavior. All IE 7 version numbers tested are the same, so it may be related to something in the maintenance levels of Windows XP itself or in the metrics of the fonts installed on a given computer. Very weird.

To see if your IE 7 installation exhibits the bug, try the demo here. For the record, the IE 7 Windows factory at browsershots.org exhibits the centering bug.

17 September, 2007

How did I get here?

This month's search terms:
  • sparks are going to fly cause i'm turned on again (see "friction burns")
  • "dilated eyes" eye drops Which reminds me that I still haven't made my opthalmologist appointment.
  • jessica alba shoulder ride Blasted thought police...
  • buy.pickle.juice Not. While. I. Can. Get. It. For. Free.
  • i'm singing a song rolling along "Locomotive Breath", occasionally.
  • "rear steering bike" I've read the discussions, but I still think this sounds like a Bad Idea.
  • zoom foo Yes, but probably not for another week or two.
  • a word for people addicted to riding mountain bikes "Mosquito bait". No, wait. That's two words.
  • badonkadonk site:blogspot.com Sounds intriguing.
  • ladiesladies "flush them" Dial back the mysogyny, dude. You just need to find the right one. And you might try bathing.
  • nabumetone dogs I think I get it: an anti-inflammatory punk rock band. Revolutionary (or not).

Now playing: OK Go, Oh No

15 September, 2007

How the Web works

I was Googling to find a web page cross reference of CSS color codes to named colors, which I found at the Color Schemer blog. I stayed around to browse the blog postings and found this posting with a photo of a Mazda 3 hatchback with a clever license plate (Dorian's would probably be "A0A0A0", for those geeks playing along at home).

I followed the photo link to Flickr, where I learned from visitors' comments that the car lives (or works) right next door to my old office, in Dallas. Considering that most Mazda 3 hatches seem to be gray, silver, blue, or white, I figured there was a pretty decent chance that this was the same red Mazda I've seen a couple times over the past few months. One of the commenters seemed to be the car's owner, T. Scott Stromberg, and curiosity compelled me to follow his posted link to his web site.

I don't have the sort of eye for art that some of you have, and Stromberg's style doesn't really speak to me; but the guy definitely has talent. I could easily see his art hanging in some jazz joint or Mexican restaurant. And, if I were working on a festive web design, I might well be inspired to borrow from his palette of colors.

Which would lead me back here, which, if memory serves, is how the world wide web worked before we had all these cool search engines to take us right to where we need to go.

10 September, 2007

Hand me my pith helmet, Livingston...

...I'm on Safari.

Ever since I became interested in developing standards-compliant web content, using semantic mark-up and CSS, I've tried to keep a representative sampling of browsers and different versions of those browsers on the various computers to which I have access. All well and good, as long as we're only talking about Windows boxes; but what about the bunch of you Apple devotees?

When Emma first posted about browsershots.org, I rejoiced. Finally, I'd be able to see my pages as they rendered on Safari and other non-Windows browsers. The catch is that lots of web developers (and wanna-bes) rejoiced, as well, the result being that there's usually a long queue of other sites waiting for their screenshots.

This morning, I learned that Apple has made available a public beta of its Safari 3 browser for Windows XP and Vista and, although I wouldn't quite say I rejoiced, I did promptly download and install the thing to add to my collection.  It probably does not render XHTML/CSS in precisely the same way as earlier Mac-only versions do, and so doesn't replace browsershots.org in utility, but how can I pass up another weapon in my standards compliance arsenal? 

02 September, 2007

No accounting for taste

In previous postings, I've mentioned that I've become the caretaker of various family treasures, sometimes under mild protest. At an early age, I had it drilled into me that "It's impolite to beg" and, as a result, I've always been reticent about accepting my aging relatives' possessions. At least, that's part of it. Another reason is that I feel that I'm somehow hastening their departure from this world by allowing them to give away their stuff. I know: illogical.

None of which explains the wotsit at right.

During the same visit when my granduncle Carl sent home another of his clocks, we were hanging out in the cellar. It was all pretty much as I remembered it from my childhood. Same slightly musty smell. Same cinderblock walls. Maybe a little smaller than I remembered.

"I've got to start getting rid of some of this old junk," he said. "I'm not going to be around much longer."

At nearly 90 years old, he might have had a point, but I don't even like to think about his passing. In some ways, I'm closer to Carl and my aunt Mary than I was to my grandparents, the last of whom passed in 2000. Still, I know that with no children of their own, they've been sticking name tags on their various treasures for years, so that they could ensure that they found their way to the people they felt would appreciate them most.

"It's just a bunch of junk," Carl repeated. "But if there's any of this you want, I wish you'd take it."

Okay. There was one thing. For as long as I could remember, there had always been this weird cast iron bottle opener mounted on the wall. Kind of a scary thing, to a small kid, with its four wild eyes and bucked teeth, but it had made an impression. I'd always associate the memory of it with that basement, and I told Carl as much. He didn't know what I meant, at first. It had been there since sometime before I was born, and it had long since faded into invisibility for him.

When I pointed it out, he promptly grabbed a screwdriver from the battered toolbox he'd used when he worked as a machinist. Still shaking his head in amazement that I'd pick 'that old thing' as a memento, he placed it in my hand and laughed.

"You'll have to mount that on the wall in your kitchen and think of your old uncle whenever you open a beer," he said. Which is entirely the point.

Except I'm pretty sure I'd never get away with putting it in our kitchen.

But wait. There's more!

I can't remember what I was looking for, but I found a web site the other day that sells reproductions of Carl's bottle opener. And then, because my interest gets piqued by the strangest things, I continued looking. I found an auction site that had a mint condition specimen with its original box. And then, a woman's description of the same bottle opener, which she'd found in the remains of a fire. She's apparently interested in odd things, as well, because she actually took the time to research it.

27 August, 2007

Attention, entities of the earth

My fledgling attempts to learn HTML and create a web site came 'way back in 1995. My goal was to create a web presence for my family's genealogy research. Since much of that research is riddled with German, I frequently found myself in need of umlauts but never often enough to justify the mental real estate to memorize the HTML entities for the decorated characters.

Enter Leftlogic's HTML Entity Character Lookup tool. Now, instead of Googling all over the web for a long list of HTML entities that may or may not give me what I'm looking for, I can now enter a character that kind of looks like the one I want, and the tool shows me a list of candidates. For you fans of the forbidden fruit, there's even a dashboard widget you can download.


24 August, 2007

Shadow World

Turtle e-mailed me a movie file this morning, and I enjoyed it so much that I just had to run right out and find it on YouTube so that I could share it with you. The movie was a Raymond Crowe performance of "What A Wonderful World", acted out with shadow puppets.

I encourage you to watch this and be entertained.

Now playing: Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Corelli: 12 Concerti Grossi, Op.6

19 August, 2007

They came from the oil fields

That's right. This weekend, Turtle and I had the pleasure of meeting and having dinner with Janie and her husband while they were in The Metromess for other events.

I'm always just a little apprehensive when setting up a meeting with someone I know from online but have never met before, in the physical realm. That may sound like a strange admission, coming from a man who first met his wife in an IRC chat channel and regularly attended computer BBS gatherings during the early '90s; but a first real-life meeting with an online acquaintance is like a blind date. Or a box of chocolates. Oh, you can get a certain sense of people from how they write and what they write about, but there's always the chance to find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, with Too Much Information or too little to talk about.

Like that time in 1992 when I drove an hour or so to a BBS potluck. I'd had some good results making new friends when I attended a similar gathering from one of the other BBS systems in the area, and I was feeling adventurous. I arrived to find an unusual mix of nerdy, rough, and just plain unusual characters, but the people seemed nice enough. The conversation over dinner was typical computer nerd stuff, but afterwards, when everyone adjourned to the living room for a marijuana-fueled Traci Lords film festival...

Well, let's just say my capacity for new experience had been exceeded. Call me a coward—or a prude, if you must—but I faked the onset of a migraine and fled.

I'm pleased to say that our dinner with Janie and her husband was nothing like that. The four of us fell easily into a wandering, seamless, laughter-filled conversation that was cut short only when Turtle and I had to leave for an appointment before church. No weirdness, and the only hint of marijuana was the fern-like print of my shirt. It was big fun, and I'm glad we had the chance to meet!

So now I've met Bill and Janie, which makes me 2 for 2 in the Blogger Blind Date "success" column.

14 August, 2007

Nerds and the fashion void

In case anyone is keeping track, it stopped raining a month or so ago. The wet weather and cooler than normal temperatures have given way to the customary hot, dry weather that we north Texans are used to. When I rolled into the driveway after my evening commute, Dorian's in-dash thermometer read 105 °F.

I've been working some long hours lately. That has put the brakes on my after-work bike riding and makes it tough to find time for routine chores like mowing the lawn. Turtle, being in attuned to such things, was waiting for me when I walked in the house.

"You're not planning to mow the lawn, are you?" she asked. When I didn't immediately respond with the 'no' she was looking for, she continued. "I was talking to Mom, and she says you should take it easy, have a nice cold beer or two, and not die."

"Mmm," I said, noncommittally. I knew that the only beer on the premises was in the garage, where it was about 120°.

But what's that got to do with nerd chic? you're probably wondering.

For as long as I can remember, one of the defining characteristics of nerds has been their complete lack of fashion sense.* Thick glasses, held together with safety pins and Scotch brand tape. Highwater trousers. Sweater vests. Not last year's fashions, nor even those from the year before—five years, ten years ago.

I've always felt it was unfair to assume that nerds can't dress themselves presentably. It's just lower on their list of priorities than hacking the Linux kernel or re-watching the entire Firefly series from start to finish (including Serenity) in one sitting. Why blow perfectly good money on a new pair of eyeglasses when it could be spent on a Visual Studio 2005 upgrade?

It's with that kind of mentality that, the minute Turtle's car was out of sight and on the way to her meeting, I went to my closet and grabbed my old red, sleeveless cycling jersey (the one whose elastic waistband was shot). I dug out an old pair of navy gym shorts (the ones whose drawstring had broken) and my old Halo sweatband, dressed, and headed out to mow the lawn.

Sure, the combination of tight cycling jersey and shorts that displayed just how weird a cyclist's tan lines really are would have elicited hoots and jeers from the guys down at the local day labor office. But from a practical standpoint, the wicking fabric of the jersey got me the most cooling benefit from what little breeze there was to be had. The sweatband kept the perspiration (okay... rivers of sweat) from burning my eyes. The shorts... well, let's just say I don't have the flabbiest man legs and bum on the cul de sac.

I was just finishing up when one of those Lexus [snicker] trucks pulled up in front of the next door neighbors' house, and a woman in a tailored white linen suit climbed out. As she made her way up the sidewalk, I saw her eyeing me and imagined that she was horrified by my attire.

Yep, I thought, cracking a grin. Still got it.

That, or she was mesmerized by my tan lines.

* I say "their", but I don't think that's fooling anyone. We're talking about me.

05 August, 2007


Through The Simpsons' eighteen-year history, we've seen lots of guest celebrities reduced to two dimensions. I've always wondered how I'd look with yellow skin and googly eyes... and now I know.

As part of the non-stop hype for the recently-released Simpsons movie, Burger King has put together a web site where you can upload a picture of yourself, answer a few non-personal questions, and see what the analyzer thinks you'd look like as a cartoon character from the Simpsons. I was frankly surprised by how well this worked.

You can try too. www.simpsonizeme.com

22 July, 2007

Ride report: Tour de Paris (Paris, TX)

The 90-mile drive to Paris in the pre-dawn hour was a little spooky because of heavy fog along the way, but the day dawned sunny and clear. I rolled into the Paris High School parking lot at a little after 7am, started unloading my gear, and immediately started streaming sweat. As I was preparing to leave the house, I couldn't decide between a short-sleeved jersey and a sleeveless one. I was glad I'd brought both and chose the sleeveless.

At a little after 7:30, I'd finished with my preparations—sunblock, HRM, bike assembled—and gave The Stradas a call. They were still about 15 minutes from the high school and unlikely to be ready to go by start time, so I went ahead and began making my way toward the starting line.

A few minutes before 8:00, the organizers made a few remarks and then handed the microphone over to a gentleman introduced as Lance Armstrong's dad. He went on for a couple minutes about how the Tour de France didn't hold quite the same interest for him as it had in years past. The riders laughed, but I was distracted. I seemed to recall that Lance didn't have any kind of relationship with his father and referred to him as "the DNA donor." It seemed rather... uninformed for the Tour de Paris organizers to have this guy as a special guest when Lance Armstrong didn't even acknowledge him. Turns out I was the uninformed one, though. When I got home, I looked it up and discovered Terry Armstrong is Lance's step-father—and one who's obviously quite proud of his adopted son, at that.

Aaanyway... we got off promptly at 8:00 and, because I'd managed to find a spot toward the front of the group, I had very little of the claustrophobia I experienced last year, at the start. Last year, I was toward the back with all the wobblies; this year, I was up with the hammerheads. We took off, and most of the folks around me coalesced into several pace lines. Those who didn't rode in a predictably, orderly fashion, and in no time at all I was in clear air. At least, I was in clear air until I caught up with one of the pace lines, which was writhing back and forth across the entire width of the lane. So I passed them. And then I passed another. I finished the first 10 miles with an average speed of 21 mph.

Between miles 10 and 20, the pace lines reeled me in again. As they passed, one of the guys smirked and said, "Guess you're not as as fast as you thought, huh?" I told him that I reckoned I could keep up the pace just fine, if I'd been sitting on and sucking wheel all day, instead of going it alone. He just grunted and sucked on past.

When I made my first stop at mile 30, I had an average of 20.4 mph, but it was starting to heat up. The roads were rougher than I'd remembered them from last year, and I'd come to the realization that I might have mismanaged my resources on the first half. I hung around at the stop for longer than I normally would have done, hoping to hook up with the bunch of RBENT folks I thought were supposed to be in attendance. Corsa Ken arrived after a bit, but no sign of The Stradas or anyone else, so I took off before my legs got any stiffer.

I could tell I was fading. Though there were no serious climbs on the route (and no rollers of consequence until we hit Rt. 19), my legs felt rubbery on every incline. I went into conservation mode, spinning more and tucking everything in on the slight downhills to get aero and conserve energy. Still, I must have been doing better than some people. Somewhere around mile 35, I picked up a tail and towed a very fit-looking young fellow on a cyclocross bike for about 5 miles before he peeled off at a rest stop. He expressed his appreciation but never offered to take a pull. The moral? Don't let any DF rider tell you that he can't get a draft off a recumbent.

At mile 50, I "had" to stop again. I needed pickle juice and a few minutes off the bike in front of the gasoline-powered cooling fan that was set up there. Corsa Ken showed up a few minutes later, and Steve Strada shortly after that.

Steve was looking strong and only stopped because we yelled at him. So strong, in fact, that when we headed out again, I could tell that I was holding him back. Once we got into the final stretch and the rollers, I admitted to him that I was cooked and that he shouldn't let me hold him back. He didn't. Meanwhile, I continued on in energy conservation mode, feeling every one of the days during June when I should have been riding and getting stronger... but hadn't.

And yet, as I was grinding my teeth and spinning my way up one climb, I passed a DF rider in a Rolling Stones jersey.

"Hey," he said. "I'll toss you a rope and you can pull me, okay?"

"Good luck with that," I told him, but I was thinking, Up yours. This Little Engine That Could is through towing roadies for the day. He passed me, but I caught him (and passed him) once we made the turn on to the smooth straight stretch leading to the high school. "No fair!" he called out, laughing. "You're coasting!"

I dug in and cranked it up to 23 mph, trying to bring my average up a tick from 18.9 to 19, but I never quite made it. That said, "nearly 19" is a new record for me at any distance, so I mark it as a good day. My heart rate monitor showed that I'd averaged 165 bpm (86% of my maximum) for the duration of the ride.

Special congratulations go out to dallasbikr, who finished 100K on a fixie with an 18+ average. Dude, you're sick!

10 July, 2007

A time for Heroes

...and Chuck.

I've been seeing the amusing and slightly mysterious teases on NBC for the last week or so. Tonight I finally took the bait and wandered over to the www.chuckssecret.com web site to see what the deal is.

The fact that I'm now eagerly awaiting the Fall premier of this show probably reveals more about me than I'd like, but I can't wait. Based on the preview, Chuck looks like Get Smart meets Gotcha meets Clerks, with maybe a bit of The Office (if The Office took place in Best Buy and if it was funny).

09 July, 2007

Lost in translation

I'm often impressed with Google's language translation service. Sometimes, I'm amazed—but not by the accuracy of the results.

I've mentioned in passing that some of the work I'm doing involves Unicode support. Since I don't speak or write Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, or any of the other language that requires characters outside the ISO-8859-1 code page character set, I've been tapping Google for some test data.

Sometimes the results are rather interesting, as in the case of this Arabic translation of a well-known children's rhyme:

ماري كان قليلا الحمل. عن ابتزاز الابيض الذي كان الثلج. في كل مكان ذهبت ماري، انالحملكان متأكداان نسلكه.

...which Google translates back to English as...

Mary had a little pregnancy.
The blackmail was Snow White.
Everywhere I went Mary, that the pregnancy was sure to go.

I know we're seen as infidels and all, but that spin seems just a bit cynical, even to me.

More disturbing, perhaps, is the fact that the phrase "I like monkeys because they taste like chicken" makes the round trip from English to Arabic and back with no problem.

Now playing: Spock's Beard, Snow

08 July, 2007

Ride report: RBENT club ride (Celina, TX)

On the RBENT forum, one of the members commented on his disappointment with the Mesquite Rodeo Ride, noting that one of his usual routes had better roads with less traffic, and he didn't have to pay to ride on them. One thing led to another, and before he knew it he had gotten roped into organizing a Saturday club ride showcasing 50+ miles of his favorite route.

It's been tricky finding time to ride during the past couple months, what with all the rain we've been having. As the date for the ride approached, we all watched the weather reports very carefully and hoped that we'd catch a break in the weather, and we did—sort of. There was no significant chance of rain in the forecast, and by 8am when we headed out from the quaint little town square at Celina, it was sunny with blue skies and fluffy white clouds. It was humid and was going to get hot, but I was slathered in sun block and carried nearly two liters of water, as well as a bottle of Accelerade. No problem.

We got our legs warmed up and before long were cranking along the wide shoulder of FM-289 at around 20 mph.

Mechanicals 1-3

About ten miles up the road, at Gunter, there was a problem. One of the DF (a.k.a., "normal bike") riders who had joined us had a flat. A couple people stayed back to help while the rest of us went on to wait at a convenience store a short distance up the road. And wait. And wait. (We later found out that he changed the first flat but didn't get the tube seated correctly and immediately flatted again.) While we were waiting, one of the guys noticed that his rear tire had a bulge. After some discussion, he decided it would be best to turn back.

Finally, we were back on the road, heading west along FM-121 toward Lake Ray Roberts. Traffic was a non issue, for once, as our route had been chosen expressly for its scenery and wide shoulders or low traffic.

Mechanical 4

We were enjoying the sun and the scenery when someone called out "FLAT!" We pulled off, and the victim set about replacing his punctured tube. Mrs. Strada and I stood baking in the sun while discussing the luck deficit that was developing, and the cruel twists of fate intertwined with a career as a professional bowler.

Finally, we... well, you get the idea. We turned south on FM-377 toward Pilot Point. More nice scenery and great company. As we entered Ray Roberts State Park and passed over a thin finger of the lake, we were all amazed at how high the water was. Last year's many exposed tree stumps were hidden, and the water level was into the canopies of trees that normally stand on the bank, well up from the usual water line. We wondered what we'd see when we crossed the dam, further on in our ride.

Mechanicals 5 and 6

About a mile from FM-455, where we'd turn and head west over the dam, I heard the dreaded "FSSSsssSSSsssSSSsss!" that signaled yet another puncture. This time, it was me. I called out "Mechanical!" and rolled into the parking lot next to a strip mall while there was still a little air in the tire. I think I pulled off the fastest tube change of the day, but maybe it only seemed that way because I was busy. Still, it was long enough for our bad luck to find another one of the DF riders, who broke his chain. I'm not sure how he managed to repair it, but he'd already headed back home by the time I finished changing my flat. Or maybe someone came and picked him up. I didn't find out about the problem until we were all back on the road.

We headed west on FM-455 toward the dam. By this time, we had spent so much time stopped by the side of the road that the heat had caught up with us. In the heat of summer, a successful ride is as much about staying on the move and completing the ride before it gets hot as it is about going the distance. The combination of heat, distance, and having to warm up our muscles after every repair stop was starting to wear on everyone, and our pace had slowed by a few miles per hour. Chip seal that hadn't seemed so bad in the early stages of the route was now drawing complaints from a couple of the riders who had lost their happy thoughts.

And then the remaining DF rider (see mechanicals 1 and 2) flatted.

Mechanicals 7 and 8

The poor guy. Mr. Strada stayed back with him while the rest of us rolled slowly on, in search of some shade. There was none.

A cell phone rang. It was Mr. Strada. "Um... we need a 700c tube. Does anyone have one?"

Most DF road bikes use 700cm rims, and so there's usually an abundance of spare tubes of the correct size. Unfortunately, on this day, the two other DF riders had had to turn back, and most of the remaining bikes were Bacchettas with dual 650cm wheels. Fortunately, one of the recumbents was of the big rear/little front wheel variety, and its rider pedaled back to donate his spare 700cm tube. Normally, this wouldn't be a big deal, but on a ride like the one we were having, the generosity of such a gesture was huge and was not lost on me.

Meanwhile, we waited, baking in the sun. We re-applied sun block. We finally decided that the best way to keep cool would be to keep moving, so we headed out at a leisurely pace across the dam. Halfway across, the cell phone rang. The flat was fixed and we were ready to move on. We returned to where the mechanics were waiting and were just about to roll out when...

"Damn," the DF rider said. "I just flatted again."

He hadn't even gotten back on the bike. Out of options, he found himself some shade to sit in and called the DF riders who'd turned back earlier to come and pick him up.


We made it through the return trip without any further mechanical mishaps, but by this time everyone was dragging and feeling the effects of the heat. I continued to drink from my water bladder, but my breakfast was long gone and the snacks and energy gel hadn't done much to perk me up. Our pleasant ride was rapidly turning into an epic.

At Aubrey, we turned east on FM-428 for the home stretch back to Celina and a series of rolling and not-so-rolling hills. One of the guys, who normally rides a fast, sexy lowracer was having a tough time. "Anything less than a 20 mph average just isn't worth bringing the racer," he'd said earlier in the day. It was a decision he had come to regret, I suspect.

I was feeling a bit beaten down too, but I concentrated on pedaling in circles and remembering to drink often, all the while watching my average speed fall. When we rolled into the town square, my computer showed 60.17 miles. All it would take is a few leisurely laps up and down the lightly-traveled streets to complete two more miles and a full metric century—but I was done. I had developed a thousand-yard stare, and my legs felt rubbery. I needed air conditioning and food.

Under normal circumstances, this would have been a really fun ride (instead of a pleasant epic). The company was great, and it was fun riding with a bunch of fast recumbents, but the heat, the bad luck, and the fact that I really haven't been on the bike for a month made for a long day. I'll be ready to try it again when the rain stops and I've had a chance to get acclimated to the heat.

I'll bring more than my usual two spare tubes, however.

04 July, 2007

Long may she wave

  • 3 half-inch screws - 30¢
  • 3 lead screw anchors - 15¢
  • 4 hours hammer drill rental from Home Depot - $41.75
  • 5 minutes of my time (not counting the 45 minutes I spent trying to drill the first ¼" of the first hole in the brick and the 1½ hours spent running to and from Home Depot for drill rental) - FREE
  • Seeing Old Glory flapping in front of the new house - Priceless

Happy Independence Day!

30 June, 2007

Teatro de los artes marcial

Wanna see something really funny? Catch some cheesy old Hong Kong chop-socky flick on Telemundo, dubbed in Spanish. Say, Invicible Armor, the synopsis of which reads, "Falsamente acusado de asesinato por un corrupto oficial, un hombre usa las artes marciales para limpiar su honor."

The truly disconcerting part is that I actually got the gist of it.


It was only as I was finding my way back here to begin this post that the irony of the previous post's title hit me. After two solid weeks of rain and one of the wettest springs in the state's history, Texas is anything but dry. Waterlogged, maybe.

I think we can safely declare that the past couple years' drought is safely over.

Anyway, with more storms in the forecast and after... um... sleeping a bit too late to get myself around in time to go riding with any of the local clubs, I'm planted in front of the TV, catching up with what's going on in the world.

The iPhone

I want to preface my remarks by noting that Apple's new superphone does look cool. I know that Bill has been salivating over this thing for months, and I expect Eric has been eyeing his new toy budget, as well.

BUT... I guess I'm not the gadget geek I used to be. I just don't get what's so special about a phone that plays music and has fancy scrolling graphics that people would feel compelled to camp out in long lines, in the rain, for a chance to buy one. Maybe I'm just cheap, because when I see all these ads touting phones that allow you to browse the web or watch TV shows from the comfort of your phone, all I can think is, "Wow. The air time for that must cost a bundle." So cheap that Turtle and I don't even spring for the extra $15/month that would allow us to make use of our camera phones.

Which leads me toward another rant about how devious it is to make camera or music phones cheap, but design them so that the only way of getting content on or off of them is to upload/download them using costly air time. But I'll resist the urge and move on.

In the news

Just when I had begun to think that Americans were starting to wise up, it looks like some of us have rediscovered the joys of frivolous litigation. When I heard about the recent $54 million (note: not $54M) lawsuit brought by a D.C. judge against a dry cleaner who misplaced a pair of his pants, I took it in stride. I view our nation's capital in much the same way as I do Hollywood, each being in its own way a sort of common sense black hole from which only ridiculousness can escape. [link]

The next story was about a woman who is suing Mars, the makers of Starburst fruit chews, claiming that, "about 3 chews and it literally locked my jaw… and it just literally pulled my jaw out of joint." [link]

Lady, you've been around long enough and have eaten enough candy to have experienced Sugar-Daddy, Tootsie Roll, and Laffy Taffy (i.e. "old-timer candy"). If you can't figure out that something like Starburst could be hazardous to your crowns, you probably should be required to wear a helmet when walking.


25 June, 2007

Dry Spell Outlasts Dry Humor. Film at 11:00

I know, it's unconscionable to go as long as I have without posting, but while my current work situation doesn't provide much in the way of entertaining anecdotes, I'm pleased to report that I seem to have appeared on my boss's boss's radar. Is it presumptuous of me to dream that I might someday battle my way out of the cubicle and into an office again?

Maybe not, but I'm far too occupied with exceeding expectations (and getting noticed for it) to concern myself with that, just now.


I rediscovered some bicycling poetry I wrote a couple years ago. Since I can't seem to keep track of this stuff, I'm archiving it here.

There once was a C++ coder
Who was known for his powerful odor.
He said, "I commute
And it's hot out, to boot;
But my bike, she's content 'cause I rode 'er."

I'm a big fan of Harry Graham, so...

Willie up the hillside spun,
The price his burning hamstrings paid.
When halfway up he said, "I'm done."
Poor William didn't make the grade.

Willie on a bike of red
Bonked because he had no Gu.
He wore no helmet on his head,
And now he's dead: he bonked it too.

And a wee limerick...

There once was a man from Nantucket
Whose bike was so tough he could huck* it.
He rode off the edge
Of a very high ledge—
They retrieved his remains with a bucket.

* A mountain biking term meaning to... well, throw oneself off a cliff without a second thought, basically.

11 June, 2007

Ride report: Collin Classic (McKinney, TX)

The 16th Collin Classic was a very different ride from the 14th Collin Classic I first took part in, back in 2005. That one was beastly hot, the 50-something mile route was crazy with large-aggregate chip seal, and I was still suffering on a DF bike. After what seemed at the time like an ungodly amount of climbing, we had to battle up one of the vicious hills on the frontage road running south along US-75—only to arrive at McKinney High School to find that the Chipotle eats we'd been promised had been replaced with jelly sandwiches or rubbery hot dogs. Some people were irate because the t-shirts had run out, and they'd been given headsweats instead.

The Classic took a lot of knocks that year, and the ride director has since worked very hard to address the criticisms. In 2006, there was a lot less chip seal, the giant hill at the end had been deleted from the route, and there was pizza and fajita tacos for afters.

This year, the improvements to the 55-mile route (in fact, 53.72 miles) continued. There were still plenty of hills to climb, but I can't remember a ride route that had such a generous portion of smooth, well-maintained pavement. There was a small amount of chip seal, but it didn't feel particularly rough to me. Either it had been broken in, or running my tires a couple PSI softer this year helped. There was no wind to fight, and the heat wasn't too bad.

I had another very good day.

Mr. Strada, Corsa Ken, Mrs. Strada, and a boy named Foo.
(Photo courtesy of www.bicycle-stuff.com.)

I started off with The Stradas and Corsa Ken, but that didn't last more than 100 yards. Thanks to the crush of riders and a mechanical glitch involving Mrs. Strada's computer sensor, I quickly became separated from The Stradas. Not long after, I lost Ken as well. Without any social governor to keep my hammerhead wanna-be tendencies in check, I set about the business of passing... well, anyone between me and a vacant stretch of road. I hadn't started out feeling particularly spry, but my legs warmed up and the HRM showed an average around 160 bpm (not unreasonable, for me). By mile 30, the crowd had thinned slightly, and I pulled in to the rest stop to wait for the Stradas so we could regroup. When they arrived, we compared computer readings and found we'd been averaging 18.5 mph to that point.

A bit further down the road, Mrs. Strada took a spill at a railroad crossing and got banged up a bit. She's a trooper, though, and after taking a few minutes to clean her injuries, we were all back on the road. We all made it across the finish line at around 3 hours and 15 minutes, in plenty of time to chow down on questionable-looking (but muy delicioso) soft tacos filled with a mixture of eggs, potatoes, and some sort of meat-like substance that may or may not have been chicken.

It was in the cafeteria that I finally caught up with LanceNotStrong, Allez, and Allez's husband. I'd run into rcarlino before the ride, and he said Lance was looking for me, but I never was able to spot their group during the ride. I took the opportunity to interrupt their conversation for a few minutes before leaving them to analyze the contents of their tacos.

Notwithstanding my glowing review of the Wild Ride, the 16th Collin Classic might have replaced it as my best for-pay ride experience of this season, if the route had been about 10 miles longer and if I'd spent less time separated from my riding buddies. As it is, I'm pretty pleased at having finished a ride of that length, with hills, with an 18.1 mph rolling average.

08 June, 2007

On the juice

Lest any of you be tempted to suspect that I'm kidding about the pickle juice that's become increasingly popular with cyclists over the last year or so, I present Exhibit A.

Or maybe Exhibit P. Or D. Just... look at the picture.

I know what you're thinking, because I thought the same thing: "Eww. Nasty." And yes, all else being equal, you won't catch me lounging in front of the TV, sipping this stuff after a hard day at work. That's what a nice, cold dunkelweisen is for.

On the other hand, when I'm 40 miles into a hilly bike ride and sweating like a pig, this stuff is a real picker-upper. Still doesn't taste great... but better.


I found this on my camera while retrieving the picture of the pickle juice. Turtle's out of town for the weekend and may enjoy this shot of her baby girl.

03 June, 2007

Ride report: Mesquite Rodeo Ride (Mesquite, TX)

I've been back on the bike and participating in charity rallies since 2004, but I had never tried the Mesquite Rodeo Bike Ride before. At the urging of the Stradas and a couple of DF buddies from the Plano club, I signed myself up for the 56-mile course. Turtle signed up for the 20.

It takes the two of us a bit longer than most to get our collective show on the road and to get unloaded and set up, so we arrived at the Resistol arena (or Mesquite Convention Center... whatever) at around 7am. As a result, we got a prime handicap parking spot next to the hotel and set about setting up her handcycle and my bike. And then we waited, watching for the RBENT bunch we were supposed to meet. And waited. By a few minutes before 8:00, Turtle had returned from her pre-ride pit stop, and we still hadn't seen a single familiar face on a recumbent. I later learned that this was because everyone else had parked on the complete opposite side of the convention center.

But no matter. With a few minutes to spare, we made our way to the starting pack where we got Turtle introduced to a couple RBENT folks doing the short route, and I hooked up with my bunch. The start was... awkward. Fred Flintstoning it up a grade to start on a wet street with a bunch of high-strung DF riders is not the ideal way to begin a ride, but we managed and set about picking our way through the pack toward clear air. The Stradas and I quickly got separated from the rest of our group.

Early on, I was impressed with the traffic control, not only for the motorists but also in the way that we cyclists were funneled to where we needed to be by means of liberal application of road cones. Sure, it made things a little dodgy having to at the same time avoid cones knocked over by inattentive riders and greasy-looking puddles on the streets—but there were half a dozen intersections and lane transitions that would have been much less safe without them. Route layout and intersection were, with few exceptions, better than for the Wild Ride, and that's saying something. I thought the route was a nice mix of urban and country riding, and while I could have done without some of the teeth-rattling, multiply-patched sections of pavement, sometimes that's just the price you pay for beautiful scenery and the not-entirely-unpleasant tang of cow poo in your nostrils.

Let's go, let's go...Foo and FlyingLaZBoySquirrel camBack on the road
Photos Copyright © 2007 by flyinglazboy

The route was, at once, less hilly than I'd heard in the past and more hilly than more recent reports had led me to believe. Maybe it was just that I was having an off day (or feeling the effects of not having ridden in nearly two weeks), but it seemed like we did an awful lot of climbing for the less than 1500 feet of elevation gain the ride is supposed to have. But it was all good, and the best part is that instead of getting smacked by the thunderstorms that were predicted, we got a nice, sunny day.

And Blue Bell ice cream for afters.

I kind of wish that there had been a chance to log my sixth metric century (100 km = about 62.5 miles) of the year, but given that I thought I might have to downshift to one of the shorter routes because of the weather, 56 miles and change is just fine. Motorists were sharing the road nicely (except the woman who nearly dislocated her shoulder rolling down her window to spit and scream obscenities at us), we didn't have any unpleasant encounters with racer boys, and the company couldn't have been better. Unless...

Nah. Scratch that. I don't know if Jessica Alba even knows how to ride a bike.

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...