Tuesday, August 31, 2010

cranky whining

My coworker at my location is out for vacation again. I'm busy; I had over a dozen calls yesterday on top of my other responsibilities. I'm feeling stretched thin.

Added to this is a side job doing an assessment on a juvenile in custody. I've offered to be backup on this additional grant my agency was awarded. It turns out that everybody else is on vacation... so I'll be driving two hours to the location in south Jersey, doing the assessment, driving two hours back, and doing the writeup and sending it in. The clinical director for this grant is a sourpuss who would find fault with an assessment by a team of Freud, Jesus, and Obi-Wan Kenobi, so I'm sure I'll get complaints about mine. The money's not that great, but I want to do it to help out the agency I work for. I took the orientation training two years ago, and haven't done one since. I'm not worried about doing the assessment or making the recommendation -- I do that stuff all the time -- but I'm sure I'm going to mess up on the procedures, or not filling in the right blanks, or something.

I set the appointment for Wednesday late afternoon, because last night I volunteered at the library, and tonight I volunteer at the bike shop. It turns out the kid's court date is Thursday morning, so there's some pressure to get the report in on Thursday. We'll see.

In the last post, I was whining about not being able to get the adjustment right on the front derailleur/crankset. I'm generally feeling stupid, overwhelmed, and incompetent.

Aren't you glad you're not hanging around with me today?

Monday, August 30, 2010

What, again?! What, STILL??!!!

There's more truth than poetry in this. (Go check it out; opens in a new tab.)

I've been working on the road bike. I found the source of the clicks (the non-drive side of the bottom bracket needed a touch with a wrench - aren't you glad you asked?). Now I'm having trouble with the front derailleur. It's fine between the small chainring and the middle, but it doesn't shift reliably between the middle and large chainrings; it sometimes hangs in either direction. A change of middle chainring (which I use the lion's share of the time), a new front derailleur, and a new chain have not solved the problem (although the new chain seems to have done the most - and I'm surprised at the amount of wear on the old chain in about 1200 miles). It certainly wasn't the set of the limit screw on the front derailleur; I loosened it until it fell out, and the setup still wouldn't shift reliably onto the big ring. I'll try a new set of cables, but if that doesn't get it, I'm gonna look at a dual instead of a triple front ring setup.

We're going to Hawaii in a few months; maybe that will be my post-trip purchase and winter project.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Trip to Washington

Very cool weekend. We drove down to DC to see the Norman Rockwell show at the American Art Museum, then to McCormick & Schmick's for dinner, then to a walking tour around DC sponsored by Ford's Theater (yes, that Ford's Theater). The guide and leader of the tour plays Elizabeth Keckley, a freed slave who became dressmaker to the high-and-mighty in Washington before and during the Civil War (and who made dresses for the wives of some famous names on both sides of that conflict). She became a confidante of Mary Todd Lincoln, and wrote a book about her experiences (apparently in an effort to help Mrs. Lincoln at a troubling time).

It was a good tour. We liked the other tour (also sponsored by Ford's Theater) better, but it's not a fair comparison.

Came back today, and we were both beat.

There was a Teabagger's Rally on Saturday, which we (of course) did not attend. We didn't notice any increased traffic driving into the DC area; the only thing we did notice was heavy usage at two Metro stops (Metro Center & Gallery Place) at midday, and some t-shirts and other impedimenta ported by some (older, Caucasian) folks on the tour, and the next day at the hotel. I've seen estimates of attendance between 87,000 and 500,000 for the event; based on our limited experience, we lean towards the lower number.

It was a delightful trip. We wind up having to do something in DC about every year or so; my wife goes through withdrawals if she doesn't get her fix. Anyplace to which we retire will have to be within easy travel distance of the District of Columbia.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Updates for August

It's been about a week since I last posted. There hasn't been much news.

I used to sing with the Philomusica choir (I've sung with choral groups, off and on [mostly on], since my teen years). This past May, I decided to stop after the concert. It was about 80% due to the fact that I couldn't learn the music (and singing is no fun for me if I feel like I haven't learned my part, or I'm not pulling my weight) and about 20% taking on too much responsibility... no, that's not true. Some unknown quantity of it is that I felt like I was putting a lot of effort into the group, and no matter what I did, it wasn't enough; I was still getting browbeaten for the music I couldn't learn and the stuff I couldn't do. It wasn't any fun any more - it hadn't been for over a month - so I stopped after the May concert.

I got a call from the conductor asking me to come back, and an email from a fellow singer asking the same (I'm starting to believe in conspiracy theories!) And, while I'm gratified, I'm sure that I would get the same feelings of being overwhelmed and underappreciated in a few months, or a year. Part of the problem is the rehearsal time; I'm an early-morning kind of guy (on this weekend day, I was up at 5:00 am) and the group rehearsals go until 10:00 pm, later than I usually go to bed. Part of it is my own undeniable hunger for acceptance, even adulation (I'm a sucker when people ask me to do stuff... "You're the best one for the job" and "You're the only one who can help me" are phrases I find hard to resist). I'll get asked to do something, and offer to do something else, and the next thing you know, I have fifty responsibilities, I'm dropping some of them, and not feeling appreciated for the ones I'm carrying on.

Besides, on Mondays I do my library thing, now.

Update 8/22/10: I got another email, from another member, asking me back. WTF?


I'm re-thinking the SRAM Rival group I wrote about in the last post. I found a lower-quality derailleur that should do the job of the one I messed up; it's a $30 fix, and it's worth a try before I dump a lot of money into a whole new groupset. I can save about $80 by not buying the whole set (I don't need the brakes), but even so, if I can get the system working for another few years for a $30 investment, it's worth it - and it's even worth $30 to find out that it won't work (IF it won't work).


My excellent wife (she really is the best thing in my life) is out working today and tomorrow at her weekend job, and she spent part of yesterday (normally a day off; she works a four-day-per-week schedule) cleaning up stuff at her main job in return for compensatory time (a poorer return, at 1:1, than overtime pay, at time-and-a-half). I feel guilty being such a lazy slug - but not guilty enough to actually do anything about it.


Ride this morning around the Sourlands of NJ; many hills (including some tough uphills and some frightening downhills) and finished in about 3 hours after about 35 miles. We started early to beat the heat, and were done early. I felt like I needed some more miles, so I got on the hybrid and rode up to Kim's, my local bike shop, to buy a replacement chain, which will be a good idea when I install the derailleur (see supra; SRAM chains have a re-usable link to reinstall them, but I'm getting on towards 2000 miles on this chain, and I had to buy a new cassette after I didn't change the last one soon enough).


One of my best work pals is taking a supervisory position in another county. She's young enough to be my daughter, and I feel all avuncular (go look it up, if you don't know what it means) towards her. She came to our last regional meeting this week, and I got a big hug before she left. And allergies... yeah, it was allergies that caused that tear in my eye; nothing else. She's getting married soon, and I'm wishing that all her apparent good luck continues as good luck.

I wish you the same. And I'll try to post a bit more regularly. (Not that anybody is actually reading this stuff...)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

100 miles

Rode a century, a 100-mile ride, with the Princeton Freewheelers yesterday. The leader had made it clear that he was going to maintain a pace of no more than 15 mph, and he went better than that; my final pace was about 14.4. This leader has a reputation for losing the people who ride ahead, so I kept him either in front or in my mirror the entire time (as my riding partner did not, and a group of four - of whom he was one - got separated, but with the help of smartphones and online mapping, we got back together again). Thirteen people started the ride; one who knew the route went ahead and met us on the way; two who had ridden to the start location peeled off and rode home as we got close to their places. The rest all made it back to our cars.

With that pace (much slower than my usual), I made a joke about going out dancing last night, but I almost could have done; I was not as beat at the end of that has I have been on 60-65 mile rides at a faster pace. I went out this morning and cranked out 20 miles. With no breakfast or coffee on board, my speed was way down (in the 17.5 mph range, rather than the almost-a-mile-per-hour faster I can usually manage), but the fact that I could turn in another 20 miles today shows how sensible the slower pace yesterday was.

A number of issues: one rider had a flat; one had trouble with headwinds. A rider let his attention wander, and ran into another while we were waiting for a light. They both went down, and while one was not hurt, the rider who ran into him showed some pain (we had to take his shoe off to get him out of the clip-in pedal), and a third rider got a wheel way out of true after the incident; he was able to ride home, but seemed distressed either about the incident, of the damage to his bike (of which he obviously takes great care), or both.

Now, there's that. I've been thinking back on some other rides: there was one in Monmouth County where the leader bonked in the heat, and another where we were attacked by an enraged driver. First, bicycling is not as innocuous a pastime as one might think; while nowhere near as dangerous as motorcycling, it is not without its threats. Second, I'm beginning to wonder if I'm a jinx. (But I'm probably not unique or important enough to qualify!)

A bit of trouble shifting now: it's hard to get the chain onto the big gear, and the chain drops from the middle chainring to the smaller when it's on the biggest cog in the back. The front derailleur has gotten hard to adjust, partly because I've used the limit screws so much (what with switching the parts from one frame to the other and back, and back again) that the screws are looking like shrapnel. And I can't find a replacement triple front derailleur for a nine-gear cogset online; they've all gone to ten-gear. I've been looking with the eye of avarice at the SRAM Rival group, and this may be my excuse to upgrade. My fantasy is that with ten gears in the back, and two gears up front, I'll be in a better position if I need to buy parts in the future... but, of course, recent events with my NINE-gear setup may suggest otherwise.

I've gotten to love the bike, the way I once did my motorcycle. And, of course, part of loving the motorcycle was the online community of which I was a part (I may have liked this more than actually riding the bike!). I'm sure that part of loving the bicycle is the people I'm getting to know, as well. More about them, I'm also sure, in future posts.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

"right to click" Firefox add-on restores function

This is a good idea.

Especially on my netbook, with its minimal screen resolution, I frequently right-click on images to get image info or alternate text. More and more frequently, especially on artist sites, the right-click functionality has been disabled, and frequently replaced with either rude or fawning text about the hard work of the artist and how it's wrong to steal.

(If I want to steal the image, there are easy ways to do it that don't involve right-click; usually a simple page save will do it.)

Now there's a Firefox extension called RightToClick that will restore the right-click functionality. It's a good idea. Check it out.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

In which Jim is an idiot

I went along on a group ride out of Allentown today, and had a rub on the bike I couldn't find; it wasn't either brake, and I couldn't find it in the drivetrain. I adjusted the seatpost and saddle, I checked the spokes, I looked at the water bottles and cages, I played with the (wired) computer. Can't figure it out. By the end of the ride, the rear wheel tracking is getting squirrelly, and the cog on it is spontaneously shifting gears (it's gotta be a busted spoke... but no). It was (luckily) a short ride.

As I'm putting the bike on the car rack to check the spokes one last time, I see the quick release is so loose that the wheel is about to fall off. Well, duh.

I keep a bell on my bike, and a fellow rider complained that it sounded like parts were falling off when I rang it. Perhaps she was being prophetic. (And perhaps you don't want to ride too near me for the time being! Although I can assure you, I won't make that mistake again soon.)

In other news, I rode into a bug of some sort, which I thought I wiped away. It turned out that it got down my jersey, and it turned out to be a wasp. It got me once before I dispatched it to wasp heaven. I'm trying to derive some deeper meaning from this event, but all that happened was that a spot under my left arm hurt for a while.

(In other other news, my coworker is back from vacation. Although she's not delighted with being back at work, I sure am glad to have her there!)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Princeton Freewheelers Event Day

The Princeton Freewheelers Bicycle Club Event was today. This Event consists of a choice of rides: 13, 26, 50, 65, and 100 mile rides that are mostly flat with some rolling hills, and a 65 mile "almost hilly" ride with enough uphills to be a challenge. My partner and I rode the 65-mile "flat" ride. We went off the route a couple of times, and added about 3-3½ miles to the route... and we rode faster together than either of us would have done alone. I think this is because each of us is trying to be sure that the other doesn't think he's a wimp, so when one of us gets ahead (even if it's to break the headwind), the other thinks he's gotta keep up. Whatever the reason, I would have expected my average speed for the 70-or-so miles to have been about 17 mph, not the almost 18.5 that we actually did.

The Freewheelers do the event well. There's a rest area every 20-25 miles, with water, Gatorade, snacks, and a toilet. Routes are well-marked (if you're paying attention), and cue sheets are provided. Pre-ride snacks, and post ride lunch, and a tee-shirt come with the fee, and there are vendors at the end. Some of the local bike shops have mechanics available to look at your bike, and there's "sag wagon" service if either the bike, or the rider, isn't going to make it.

This ride partner is a new experience for me, and, I think, for him; we're still being tender with each other, in the way of new acquaintances that are trying to work out the parameters of the contract. We don't know what to talk about with each other yet, nor what kinds of offers or demands we can make. He's not a native English speaker, and I'm a typical American with only one language (and more than a little bit of hearing loss), so I only get about 80% of what he's saying. I don't miss enough to get in too much trouble (I hope), but I suspect there's some frustration from both of us.

He's talking about doing a 100-mile ride next week. I had initially refused, but, if we're going to do a 100-mile ride, this is probably the way to do it: there will be a ride leader, who will maintain the pace (at about 16 mph) and make at least two stops. I'm afraid that if it were just my partner and I, we'd get that competitive thing going, and do the whole thing at about 18 mph... and I'd be crippled for a month.

After the ride (and a nap), my wife and I went out to the high-school graduation party of the son of a friend. This party is about the son, of course, and not about us (or even the graduate's parents); still, we had to put in an appearance. Parties where I don't know a lot of the people are hard for me; I find them enervating (as I'm typing this, the room is mostly dark so I can psychically refuel a bit) - and, of course, I was still tired from the ride (despite the nap). However, since an episode before we got married, I never ask to leave a social engagement, but wait for her to be ready. She hinted at an escape, but then got involved in a conversation with a couple she sees less than she would like, and by the time she was ready to leave, I had grown unacceptably cranky. We had A Discussion on the way home about my unsociability, and how it's reducing the number of our friends and invitations. I think we've worked out a solution for now, but there is still some rough water in the house, and more ahead on this issue.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

My bike's frame is back

Got the frame back for my own bike from Habanero. They ground off the offending seatpost binder bits, and sent along a seatpost clamp. I built it up the other night. With the new wheels, it is fast & responsive. I'm still afraid the seatpost is going to wind up sinking into the seat tube again (although it didn't tonight in about 40 minutes of not-too-strenuous riding). I've scouted out the Problem Solvers Double Seatpost Klamp in case the current clamp doesn't work... but that's probably overkill.

Where the seat stuff was ground off, there is some roughness in the finish. That will need some attention with the right grades of steel wool. I may make a non-riding-time project out of cleaning that up; I'd like to get the whole bike back to that brushed finish.

It is very cool, though, to have a bike with no looseness or play in the steerer. I love the way this bike feels. I just wish I wasn't worried about the seat tube. (My trusty Sigma BC1600 bike computer died when I was putting the bike back together, and I replaced it with a basic-basic Sigma BC509; just speed, trip distance, ride time, odometer, and clock. I'm trying to tell myself that I really don't need to know my maximum speed on any ride, and I really didn't use the stopwatch or the total ride time... but I hate giving up features I had, even if I didn't use 'em.)

Wrenches without Borders?

I've written about my volunteering at the adopt-a-shelf program at the North Brunswick Library. I've got another volunteer spot: on Tuesday nights, I zip down to Olden Avenue in Ewing, and rehabilitate donated bicycles for the Trenton Boys & Girls Club Bike Exchange. It's an activity of the Princeton Freewheelers Bicycle Club, with whom I ride regularly.

The Exchange takes donated bikes, in a range of styles and conditions, gets 'em into working order, and sells 'em. Some, especially little kids' bikes, are really inexpensive; almost all of them are real bargains. There are a few that are collector's items, and those are premium-priced – but I don't remember seeing any over $300.

Some of the donated bikes are rusted wrecks, barely useful for a few salvageable parts. Many, though, are in good shape, having only the few bike ailments common to most neglected bikes: dust, dirt, and bug casings (clean up with soap and water); flat tires (tubes are cheap – and porous; many times, all the tires need is some air); squeaky chain (oil it!).

I've worked on a bunch of kid's bikes; they usually shape up quickly, and it's a good return for a small amount of work (although getting those small tires on and off the wheels is sometimes a challenge). I remember a mountain-style bike I worked on; I don't know why it was donated. The gears shifted as smooth as pudding, the brakes were tight and responsive, the tires and tubes were good. It looked like it had barely been ridden (and perhaps that was true). My favorite, though, was a 26” girls beach cruiser, with chrome and fenders. It only needed some straightening of the front fork, air in the tires, and a cleaning. My fantasy is that it was bought by some ol' gal who's going to put a basket on the front, and maybe some plastic flowers, and use it for her grocery shopping and to deliver lunches to some of the sick people in her church. (But I've also had a geared bike that was a bit more than I bargained for; I was quietly proud of getting that one ready to sell, although I would never have admitted what a challenge it turned out to be... except I guess I just did.)

They're open Thursday nights and Saturdays... but I go on Tuesdays because it's wrenching only; no customers to get in the way. There's another mechanic about my age who's a regular, and a bunch of younger guys who could be my kids. There's a fellow who drops by who deals antique and collectible bikes, who gives us mechanical pointers and the lore of the bicycles of thirty and a hundred years ago (he has the most excellent moustache!). We have a range of knowledge and experience. There's one young guy who gets so focused that it's a bit alarming. Another appears to be having so much fun putting the bikes together that he might be paying for the privilege.

I get weekly emails about the progress of the program; they've sold over a thousand bikes this year, if I remember, and given tens of thousands of dollars to the Boys & Girls Club of Trenton. Local Trenton residents buy the bikes for their kids, or themselves, and there are also arrangements for sales of bikes to Princeton University students.

Every week, I see one that I'd like to take home and REALLY work on. But if I brought them all home, there wouldn't be enough room in the house for me, the bikes, and my wife... and I'm most eager to hang onto her. So I'll be going back to Ewing on Tuesday.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

About some weight loss

Since April 2009 (so over the course of almost a year and a half, as I write this), I have shed almost fifty lbs. People have asked how I did it, and invariably appear either disappointed or awed when I tell them. There's no secret; it's the stuff you already know:
  • Exercise hard six days per week;
  • Don't eat crap;
  • Keep track of your progress.
I'd like to elaborate on each of these three factors, and then I'll add a fourth, which I've come to think is the most important.

Exercise hard six days a week.

In Younger Next Year (from which I got most of these ideas), Chris Crowley makes an argument that you've got to do at least an hour each day, and you should mix up what you do. I don't do an hour a day, and I'll admit, I only started mixing it up three months ago; prior to that I was doing the same exercises each time, viz:
Rowing machine for 25 minutes, at a fairly high rate. I started at about 800-850 strokes in 25 minutes; now I'm up to a little over 1000.
85 pushups. (I started with 30 and added five at a time as I could).
45 “plank” flexes on each side. I lie on my side, spread my legs so that the lower leg is forward and the upper leg is back, support myself on one arm, then raise my waist so my torso-legs-waist are straight, then lower my waist. Turn over and do 45 more on the other side.
150 “sit-up crunches”. Instead of a full sit-up, I raise my shoulders until my upper body is about 40-45 degrees from the floor, and relax.
80 “back crunches”. I lie on my stomach, put my hands behind my head, and raise my shoulders and my feet off the floor 80 times. I find it helps to turn my head a little.
150 (not-quite-straightarm) lifts of two 25-lb. dumbbells.
When I start to tell people about my exercise routine, they generally stop me after the rowing, and I'm left with the impression that they think that's all I do. It's true I spend the most time with that, but the routine is all of it.

Don't eat crap.

You know what crap is. Don't eat it.

This doesn't mean you never eat anything you like. It means you eat healthily, most of the time. It means that there will be times when you're going to want to eat stuff that you know isn't healthy... and when you do, plan it into your food budget. I found I needed to plan some junk or treats into my food schedule several times per week, or I wouldn't stick with the food plan. It does mean that I don't eat stuff that's full of sugars and fats and artificial initials just because it's there, or for any other reason than I really want to, and I've either planned for it, or I'm going to allow for it later (or both). It also means, frankly, that there are times when I'm hungry. Tough. I'm 55 years old; I'm not a baby who has to get everything he wants all the time anymore.

(I don't talk about “diets”. It wasn't what the word meant originally, but “a diet” has come to mean something like, “I'll eat this way for a while, but I'm goin' back to the daily brownies and fried chicken as soon as this phase is over.” I had to change the way I eat all the time, for the long haul. It's not “a diet”, it's how I eat.)

Keep track of your progress.

I weigh myself every day, and keep daily track of my weight. I use the Hacker's Diet tracking website (there's also an excellent program by Jon Thysell for OpenOffice.Org that is almost as good, if your internet access is questionable). I like the Hacker's Diet stuff because, in addition to keeping track of your daily weight, this system also looks at your trend – so if you ate at your mother-in-law's one day, and your weight is up because you're full of salt and retaining water, you don't get disappointed and quit the whole thing. Or, on the other hand, if you visit your health-food-only friends, and your weight is down because you've ingested nothing but radishes and onion grass for a day, you won't finish a whole pecan pie the next afternoon just because the scale was friendly that morning; the trend tells you where you really are.

But I've come to see that there's another factor. I think it's more important than the other three. I didn't number them, because I don't know which of them is most important (and because it's not easy to start an ordered list in HTML with “2”), but I'll number this one “1”, because it's so important that you'll never do any of the others without it:
  1. You've gotta really want to do it.
I really didn't want to go on medication. I really didn't want to go on medication; I don't like what it means to be on medication that's not for an acute, short-term condition – it means that I have a body with systems that aren't completely intact anymore, that I need special help, and maybe that I'm starting to show the condition that's eventually going to be responsible for my death. And two-years-or-so-ago, my doctor was making the most unpleasant noises about stuff like blood pressure and blood sugar. And my wife (who's really much more into this stuff than I am) thought that we might be able to control these guys by getting my weight down and exercising regularly.

That's when I started doing the other three things (after moping around for a few months).

It turned out I had to start medication anyway (Atenolol). I'm sticking with the routine, because I'm in the habit now, and because I don't want to give up the gains I've made... and because I genuinely feel better, and because about every two hours, I find another article that talks about how exercise is the one thing that's going to keep me from becoming a peeing-my-pants, doddering oldster. (But I did make an angry, too-expensive purchase after I got the prescription. Bought new wheels for my bike. Oh, yeah, starting about three months ago, I added bicycling to the exercise mix; I cranked out 80+ miles over the past two days.)

I think the people who ask me how I lost the weight are looking for the easy way. I don't think there is an easy way. But I think you're more likely to stick to the stuff that works if you really want it. More than you want the crap food, or the sociability of eating what everybody else is eating, or to avoid the boredom and pain of exercise and eating right and keeping track.

One last thing: I've had all the breaks in this. My wife buys food and makes meals that support this kind of life, and we keep good exercise equipment in the house (and she winks at my expensive bicycle toy purchases); we don't have kids to worry about sugar and cereal and stuff; we have both money and time enough to shop, eat, and exercise like this, and I'm nerdy enough to do the internet research and the recordkeeping. These may not be available to everybody; I understand that. Each of us lives his or her own life.