Wednesday, January 18, 2017

webcomic: lunar baboon

Regular readers may know (or may not; I haven't linked to any of my regulars in these posts for about a year and a half) that I have a few webcomics that I check out regularly. I've got another favorite (just because I check them regularly doesn't mean I like all of them all the time). Below is the most recent Lunar Baboon:

(The quality probably suffered due to compression; you can check out the original.)

I wish he posted more regularly and frequently.

I'm home sick from work today, which makes me feel both guilty (leaving my responsibilities on my coworkers) and anxious (twice in my life, I've returned from a work absence to find my job in jeopardy). This comic (this one, AND the series) helps me to find perspective.

The artist and I have little in common; he's 30 years younger than I, with kid, but I like the way he places his priorities (he makes many comics about priorities).

Check it out.

Monday, January 16, 2017

in which plain jim confesses to utter dissipation

While friends have been out hiking and biking, I've been spending my recent days in unproductive idleness. The Excellent Wife (TEW) was down in Florida for a few days: the Excellent Mother-In-Law had decided that she was Florida-bound to see the grandchildren and great-grandchildren (and the one daughter who lives down there), and TEW went along to act as guide on the plane, arranger-of-arrangements, carrier-of-luggage-and-bottled-oxygen-supplies, fetcher-of-airport-wheelchairs, and to attend to similar duties. She left me alone from Wednesday to Sunday with adequate food and warnings not to get into too much trouble while she wasn't around to monitor my comings and goings.

I get up quite early most days. On weekdays this is partly due to the fact that both of us need to get excercised, abluted, dressed, and out the door in time to arrive in a timely manner at our respective employments. On the Thursday, I didn't have to be at work until 10. Normally, I'd be out of bed before 5:00 in order to allow for the activities noted, but, without the need to make space for her, I lolled about a bit, then a bit more... and almost didn't make it to work on time.

The idle time has me re-thinking retirement plans. In a few months, I'll be old enough to collect Social Security. My Social Security "full retirement age" is sixty-six-and-a-bit, but if I can't find anything better to do than I've been able to come up with this weekend, the inactivity might be malignant, perhaps even fatal. I'd better keep working, unless work becomes worse than idleness.

Friday afternoon, though, I engaged in an activity I'd been thinking about, off and on, for thirty-plus years. When I first moved to New Jersey in the mid 80s, I worked at the Fireman's Fund Insurance Company (since taken over by Allianz), somewhere on Route 10 in Parsippany. Paydays brought an extra quarter-hour for lunch, and my fellow employees went to Arthur's in Morris Plains for excellent burgers a few times. On the menu then, and now, was/is a 48-oz. steak. It was a topic of some discussion among my coworkers then, and I never forgot it.

Now, I loves me some steak, and have always eaten about as much as is available without seeming like a complete Philistine. TEW asked me once, "How much steak will you eat?", to which the answer was (of course), "How much have you got?". It's been on my mind for a few years to go order the 48-oz. steak, just to have the experience, and I knew that TEW would not want to participate in it (and her disapproving eye-roll when she heard about might result in permanent ocular damage). So I decided to go on the Friday she was away.

I'm glad I did. It's not a great steak (although the concept of a "bad steak" is not one that will stay together in my head), but it's good. It's good enough that there was not enough left to worry about bringing any home (there was a streak of fat in the middle that I left). I now know how much steak is enough (two and a half pounds would probably have done it), and I never have to do this again. (In case you were worried, TEW's eye-roll caused only minor vertigo and no visual problems to speak of.)

But now it's time to get back to routine: work, keeping my usual hours, and arranging my diet so that the six-or-so extra pounds I'm carrying doesn't take up permanent residence. The ankle is improving; if the weather holds this weekend, I'll try to get a few miles in on the bike to see what I can do.

Monday, January 2, 2017

new years, and new eccentricity

It turned out, just as I had nothing pithy to say about Christmas, I had nothing much to say about the turning of the year, either. On New Year's Eve, we went to an open house at a Quaker friend's, then to the Lawrenceville Hogmanay Bonfire, where (in the not-too-cold) we wrote our 2016-related troubles on paper (I, of course, had come prepared with a bulleted list of nine items) and threw then into the fire, symbolically (if not effectively) consigning them to the ashes. We then enjoyed a hot dog from Captain Paul's, official caterer to the event; went into the Brearly House to hear the promised bagpiper (who had, by some process beyond my ken, transformed into a fiddler); and came home to be in bed by 10:30 pm.

There's nobody parties like Regina and Jim. Boy, howdy.

(If you're in the area, and you haven't done so, do go to Captain Paul's. It's not gourmet food, by any means, but it's the friendliest place [almost all of the staff are family of some degree or other], and both times we've gone, we've been accosted by amiable eccentrics of no mean entertainment value. The proprietors keep to limited hours in deference to their employees' real lives, so we can't always make the 40-minute trip in time to get there before they close, but I have yet to be disappointed by the experience.)

In other news, speaking of eccentrics, I've got a new eccentricity (I can hear the groans of, "Do you NEED another one?"). In the work Secret Santa giveaway, I received two Yule-related neckties, one of which was a not-a-clip-on bow tie. I've tied bow ties on others' necks, so I thought it would be a simple matter to do it for myself, but it's not as easy backwards and in the mirror. A Google search unearthed Alton Brown's video, so I used that method.

The bow tie got YONKS of comments, and I was smitten. I've already started a collection, and designated Wednesdays as Bow Tie Day.

But a day or two later, I happened upon Lindybeige's video. His method is different. It uses less of the tie's length. And I just couldn't get it.

(Lindybeige is cool, too. Let's start with this: he's a Lindy dancer with useful opinions on weapons, including medieval ones. Don't you find that intriguing? Well, I did.)

After trying (and failing) at this method, I found I couldn't replicate Brown's, either. So I went on a mad search for videos on tying bow ties (and their names are Legion). I've got a method, now (I've been practicing all weekend) that's mostly based on this:

... but don't ask me to teach it to you.

In other news, if you're stuck for a gift to give Plain Jim, a bow tie might do. I wear 'em with white shirts, so don't be afraid of the gaudy.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

un-christmas post, and rule 5

I haven't anything useful to post about Christmas that I haven't already (except that we went to Wigilia at The Excellent Mother-in-Law's last night, and The Excellent Wife [TEW] and I agree that all of her family is crazy to one degree or another, but there's some hope for the younger ones). I'm on-call again, and actually had to do some work. As I so frequently say in my emails, "Hrmph."

There's been a flurry of emails about a ride for tomorrow. Tom included this text in one of his emails:
Jim. I know you may not be able to ride yet because of the injured foot but I would invoke rule 5 because this video proves you don't need two good legs to be able to ride. BTW where can I get one of those pirogi Christmas shirts I know a few people who might actually want one. 

The video link is this:

After having been out too late, and upright on the affected foot too long, I was wishing it were amputated last night, it hurt that bad; but no such luck. I also can't reliably clip out of the pedal, which might lead to either aggravating the current injury, or having a matching one on the right. I don't want to risk that... but, OTOH, it WOULD lead to a spirited Rule 5 discussion. Maybe.

On the OTHER other hand, I remembered posting this pic four years ago:

Yeah, I'm not doing that, either.

As for the ugly pierogi shirt, it is, apparently, available in any number of formats. Tell 'em Plain Dzimu sent ya.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

favorite tool, cleaning and restoration

Laura OLPH's husband, Professor Jack, is (I think it fair to say; I had to look up the word to be sure) a fountain pen aficionado. I like rolling writers, but I wouldn't say that I care enough about them to know one from another. But it has come to me that I am fussy about computer keyboards. On the super-geeky-Linux-computer that I use for real writing and processor-intensive work, I have a Unicomp keyboard (the Ultra Classic White USB Buckling Spring), and, to the computer I use at work, I've attached an Epson-branded IBM Model M with the buckling-spring action, that I got at a garage sale back before the world went completely mad. (You can decide exactly when that was; I've had the keyboard for well over a decade.)

That old keyboard has the big 5-pin DIN connector, that doesn't connect to anything anymore. I have a DIN-to-PS2 adapter there, and then a PS2-to-USB connector after that (I had to get a standards-compliant one; the cheap one that comes with some keyboards doesn't provide the right kind of power, or something). The keyboard is loud; I had to put it on a towel to mute the noise in order to reduce the complaints of my neighbors. But I'm much faster and more accurate on it than I am on most keyboards (especially these combinations of jokes and excrescences that are laptop keyboards, on which I'm typing this now, and which is resisting me at every turn. How do you write BOOKS on these, Professor Jack?). Typing on the membrane keyboards provided at work hurts my hands, and feels klutzy. I've decided that the use of this keyboard is a "reasonable accommodation", within the meaning of the ADA.

The age of the work keyboard is probably a non-trivial percentage of my own age, and it was beginning to show it. I decided to bring it home and clean the key caps. The caps pop off. I soaked 'em in some hot water and detergent, and they're substantially less grimy. But beneath the key action, the plate below looked a bit scary. I pried off the plastic undercaps, and got to this:

Much of that scriminess was caked in and wouldn't just blow out with the compressed-air can, but the judicial application of alcohol on a rag and elbow grease got much of it. Some had to be chopped out with a screwdriver.

Into each of those white cylinders in the key centers goes a tiny spring, under the white undercap. I lost one and one broke, but the rest are back in place (I've sacrificed two of the F1-12 keys in the top row, for the time being).

The springs are available for about 10¢ each... but you have to buy 'em in lots of 100. Even with that and shipping, it's much cheaper than buying a new-old clicky-spring keyboard (and now I'll have supplies for the next time I do this... which, if I keep to my current schedule, will be a couple of years after I retire). I expect the cavalry to arrive with new supplies before the New Year.

(You take pictures of the keyboard as you're taking the key caps off to make sure you get 'em back on in the proper places. The one thing I flunked in high school was Personal Typing, in which class we had typewriters - yes, manual typewriters - with no labels on the keys. Typing speed was a function of words-per-minute minus a factor for errors, and I regularly got typing speeds in the negative range. [Time and experience have greatly improved my accuracy.] I would not like to have to depend on my memory to restore the key caps to their proper places.)

(Oh, and I've been checking my progress typing on this benighted plague of a laptop keyboard; I'd say I got an average of four errors per paragraph that I had to go back and fix; there were five in this sentence alone. I assure you; I'm much more accurate and speedy on a real damn keyboard.)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

seasonal, appropriately cultural, and yummy

If my mother-in-law had thought of these twenty years ago...

Wesołych Świąt i Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku to all of youse-all, just in case I don't get to see youse, or update this in the meantime. (Thank heavens for translation websites; finding all those special characters is a pain in the dupa.)

Unapologetically  stolen from today's Oddman.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

out of sorts

I've been on-call this weekend, which means I have to carry the cell phone and I've had to do about five hours worth of work since Friday night (it could be worse; until recently, I couldn't be more than 30 minutes from a computer). Between that and the idle time in the recliner with my feet up, I've been engaging in junk-food-like bouts of self-pity, doing online shopping and ruminating on my misfortunes and the essential unfairness of the universe (Camus called it "benign indifference"; I must be crankier than he was).

Luckily for my wallet, it's about a week to Christmas and so it's unwise to buy myself anything, as experience has shown that some things that I would get for myself have a tendency to show up, unbidden, wrapped in paper and good wishes. (I've been hinting after neckties; do you suppose any will appear?). I've cast the critical eye on the Krakow Monster; there's something about the look of it I do not love, but it might be just that the fenders need cleaning and adjustment. I've also been carrying on a flirtation with the Lezyne Micro Floor Drive HPG, which is part pump and part jewelry. Joe M has one on his new(ish) Soma San Marcos. It's much prettier (although no more functional) than the Topeak Road Morph clipped onto the Monster.

I WAS able to do a repair to the trunk latch on the Prius after some internet research, so I'm feeling a bit less totally incompetent than I was last week after completely failing to get down a flight of stairs safely, a task I had been negotiating successfully for five and a half decades prior to that. But I also notice I've been unnecessarily cranky. Or maybe I'm simply over-examining my behavior and motives, due to idleness and boredom.

I think I just need to go back to work. Could it be Monday, soon, please?

Friday, December 16, 2016


It took a few days after the sprained ankle for the ecchymosis to really set in, and for the past three days, the foot's color and texture is reminiscent of Starry Night if ol' Vince had included a bit more pinky-purple. I don't know if that was what raised The Excellent Wife (TEW)'s concern, but nothing would do except that I had to drop in at the local doc-in-the-box today and get a professional opinion. So thither did I fly after work today.

(Believe me, you'd rather have this picture than one of the affected member at this point.)

The doc in question took a couple of X-rays, determined that there was nothing broken, and told me that the best thing I could do was stay off it and keep it elevated and that it would heal in 2-3 weeks (faster if I stay off it and keep it elevated). He then hustled me out so me could deal with real sick people.

I've been walking with a cane this week, but now it looks like I don't have to anymore, although I am going to do my best to persuade TEW that I should stay in the recliner with my legs up so that I can avoid the chores I don't want to do. On the other hand, the enforced idleness is less fun than I had anticipated.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

no more biking for 2016...

The Excellent Wife (TEW) and I went in to the Philadelphia Museum of Art today. She wanted a date, and she saw that the Pennsylvania GirlChoir was going to do a seasonal concert around the museum. It sounded like a cool idea; we could drop in to see a few paintings and hear the concert, then head to the Reading Terminal Market for a feed, and back home, without too much of a time commitment.

The good news is that the choir rocked. The pieces were engaging and musically interesting, and the sound was excellent. I have some experience with choral music; technically, these kids had some difficult stuff to do, and they did it well.

The bad news is that, shortly before the girls were to sing, I fell on the stair in the great hall and twisted my left ankle. Security staff and first responders came to my rescue; I was helped off the stairs and onto a bench; the injury was examined and iced; advice was given; details were taken. A wheelchair was provided so I could be wheeled around to hear the choir (I also had one of my canes, because I never go anywhere I'm expected to walk or stand for a long time without one - remind me to complain to you about my back someday). When we were to leave, TEW was given directions on where to bring the car to minimize my walking, and a guard wheeled me out to the car and helped me in. I have nothing but praise for the Museum staff.

We went to the Market, and it was clear that the ankle was pretty badly injured. Walking was painful. I don't know what I would have done if I didn't have the cane with me (well, I would probably have hobbled with an arm over TEW's shoulder, but having the cane reduced the indignity, and saved TEW from the burden). I was able to walk to where TEW came out of the parking garage with the car, and, after the ride home, to my chair, where I now have the ankle under a cold compress again. I've ingested a bit of naproxen, and I'm worrying about how I'm going to navigate to work in the morning. I'll bring the cane; perhaps I'll bring them back in style... or perhaps I'll just confirm my coworkers' suspicions that I'm a superannuated nonsense.

I suspect this is the end on my biking for 2016. Even if the weather breaks fair, experience suggests I'll take longer to heal than the few weeks we have left in this year. Here's hoping for a speedy, and complete, recovery. Your well-wishes are appreciated.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

no-pace, no-hammer, no-drop, chilly trail ride

Laura OLPH had hoped to do a no-pace, no-drop ride today so that she could invite some of the C+ rides with whom she used to ride before she got bitten by the hill bug, but the predicted 37ºF high today meant that they probably wouldn't come out. She settled on a 20-mile route around the Lawrence-Hopewell Trail, in hopes that at least some of it would be in the woods and out of the chilly wind. Well, some of it was.

Laura and I rode in together from her house, and picked up the others at the parking area near Foxcroft Road.

A pleasant surprise: a Jaguar rolled in, containing Dave C and Florida Flatlander Cheryl. They weren't riding, but it was good to see them.

The 30mm tires on the Krakow Monster are just about wide enough to handle the trail. Much of it is paved (in some places we followed roads); some is gravel; there was a badly washed-out section behind a school which was a trial for me. The others were on bikes that ran from cyclocross to real mountain bikes; they seemed to have less trouble with the varying surfaces than I. (Perhaps I was reacting to the cold; it was barely 32ºF when we left.)

We took a shortcut along a pipeline right-of-way, which had grassy gullies; I tried to turn out of one and went over. I banged my leg up a little on my pedal, but it turned out to my more of an injury to dignity than flesh-and-bone. (Muddied up my brand-new tights, though!). And I think, before I do another trail ride, I'll remove the fenders: first, I can't clip in with 'em on because I get toe-strikes on the fenders in slow turns, and second, leaves and such get caught and make the most annoying noises.

On the bridge at Province Line:

At the end:

Route page. And from my stats, I see that I've gotten 83 rides in this year, a little over 3100 miles (pretty thin, actually), and I've ridden at least four times in every calendar month of 2016 except this month... and I only need one more to make it. (Not tomorrow, though; hot date with TEW!)

Monday, December 5, 2016

more like flying than anything we can do.

Friend Ricky G posted this pic on the Princeton FreeWheelers Facebook page a few days ago, and I found it so evocative that I asked his permission to steal it.

I'm sure the sign is from some stable or other, trying to make the case that equitation is close to flight. But it's Ricky's bike in the picture that got me thinking.

We've all seen birds gliding and diving effortlessly through the air, and those of us on bikes may have made the connection to that experience when we're whipping down a hill. If the road surface is reasonably good, and the bike's in decent repair, the experience is smooth and exhilarating. (It's much smoother on a bike than on a horse, even if you know what you're doing on the horse.)

But I think ALL of riding the bike is like flying. When you look up at migrating birds, they're maintaining a pace to stay up there. And the "vee" shape that flocks of migrating birds assume is analogous to what riders do in a paceline, letting one rider pull another into the wind.

But I think even grinding up a hill is like flying. Here's why: We have those benighted geese that take up residence a few times per year near the commercial building that serves as the office in which I work. When they alight in the parking lot, and cars come, the geese don't just take off to get out of the way. They try to slowly waddle, or quickly run out of the way of traffic, and sometimes they don't make it and they get hit. If flying were easy for them, why wouldn't they just take off?

I don't think flying is easy for them. I think they work hard to get up to those high altitudes, and when they land, they might not have the energy for a while to do it again. It's easy to glide and dive once you're up there... but it's not easy to get back up. Just like it's not easy to get to the top of Coppermine or Federal Twist... and just like that, you might not have the energy to do it again once you've done it once today.

I really do think riding a bike is pretty close to flying. I'm glad we found a machine with which to do it.