Tuesday, January 31, 2012

cracked website: 5 reason riding is the most humiliating...

You ought to go check out the Cracked.Com website regularly anyway, just because they're snarky and funny, and because Winston Rowntree, of Subnormality, does such excellent stuff there (check out The 8 Things You Can Do With A Cover Song).

But when I was stumblin' around the web this morning, I cam across 5 Reasons Riding a Bike is the Most Humiliating Exercise. For example, from just the first one, on saddle height (entitled, "You Can Kill Yourself Just Getting On (if You Do it Right)"):

Common sense tells you that when you come to a stop on your bike, you want to be able to quickly put a foot down so you don't, you know, fall over.

But apparently that's crazy talk. You're actually supposed to be able to fully extend your leg when the pedal is all the way down, to get full use of your leg muscles, because pedaling with your knees always bent is like duck-walking a footrace -- you're not fully using your muscles, and the other racers will laugh heartily at you... Since the pedal is several inches above the ground (or it would scrape it), that puts your foot several inches above the ground when your leg is fully extended -- which means you can't put your foot down.

Well, it made me laugh, anyway. Go check it out.

(Also check out my other blog - the one on the Charity rides. I've got some new ones, and new info about the existing ones.)

Monday, January 30, 2012

winning weight loss technique

More truth than poetry in this, especially in our kitchen recently:

Original here.

kites & bricks

This Dictionary of Roadie Slang hasn't been updated in almost a decade. Still, it has two terms of particular interest to me this morning. The first is "brick":
brick -- Bad climber, good descender. Opposite of: kite.
The second, of course, is "kite":
kite -- Good climber, bad descender. Opposite of: brick.
I don't think everyone who struggles up a hill is a brick, although there are riders who are fearsome on the flats, who just crumble when they come to a hill.

But I'm a kite. I'm good (for my class) on an uphill, and terrified that I'm going to lose control on the downhill. My goal for the year is to gain some brickish skills without losing my kite characteristics.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Dave C's B'Day Ride

A riding friend who was most supportive during the illness and death of my father turned 60 today, and decided months ago that he wanted to have a ride today, even though it was January. He had plans for iffy weather (including a mountain bike route if there was to be snow), but the weather came up clear and almost 50F, so seventeen of his friends did a 35-or-so-mile loop (forgive the open route; I didn't manage to get the GPS turned on correctly until a mile or so into the ride). He'd planned it with a number of points at which we could turn back if the weather threatened; as things turned out, we didn't need to do so. I swept at the back, and was surprised that a couple of normally-strong riders were keepin' me company back there in the cheap seats... but one was on a cyclo-cross bike with wide, knobby tires, and I understand she underestimated their rolling resistance. Another rider, an apparent newbie, either didn't eat or didn't drink enough, and was sufferin' at the end, but finished OK (I'd like to think my company and words of encouragement made his efforts less arduous, but I'm sure I'm over-valuing my effectiveness... nonetheless, it's for riders who have days like that that I like to sweep). Then the birthday dude had us all back to his house for food, drinks, and way too much respect and deference from his delightful family.

Laura OLPH was there, and we got to chatting at his house afterwards. She figured that since her birthday and mine are both in May, we might do a combined birthday ride - but if you add our ages, the sum is more miles than anybody might want to do that early in the season (although, Laura, if you convert that many miles to kilometers, it might be doable...). So we might do a combined celebration... or we might not; it strikes me that more of the work would probably be on her than on me, and that's not fair, nor is it much of an incentive for her to put it together. (I would like an excuse to meet her husband, Professor Jack, so I could gush over one of his books.)

Then back home to the excellent wife's chicken piccata (yummy, except the capers in the recipe look like boogers to me; I gotta scrape 'em off), and a laundry, and chores and set up for work tomorrow (when the diet starts... again... the scales are telling me I've been living a little too well).

charity ride updates and saturday ride

First, I got some new info about some charity rides, and updated the other, new project blog. Go check it out. One of the updates is about the Franklin Township Food Bank Tour de Franklin, which is about as local to me as a charity ride gets (Franklin Township starts at the end of my block). I did this ride last year at the suggestion of an anonymous fellow rider I met on the road, and had a great time. This year, it's on my 57th birthday. I may try to get a group to do the metric century, although I remember it was an early start (some of my recollections are on the event post on the other blog.

Yesterday, Laura OLPH led an invitational ride (invitational because she didn't see anything she liked in the Princeton Freewheelers ride list, and it was way too late to run anything there). We were able to avoid some kind of event in Lambertville, and still had good distance with a decent, but not unmanageable, amount of climbing (the link goes to the Ride with GPS site, mostly because they always show the largest amount of climb among all the sites we use. We hope that this is because they use better algorithms for determining altitude, and not just to feed our egos!). I didn't eat enough, and was sufferin' through the last fifteen miles or so, but it was still a fun ride on a pretty day. (And if I didn't eat enough, how come I'm still gaining weight over the last two days? There's no justice.)

Today, I'll be goin' out later for a ride for a pal's 60th birthday; I'll plan to sweep. He's invited a group big enough to have its own zip code, and the ride will probably be short; there is a non-zero possibility that the first riders will be pulling back into the start as the last riders are leaving... which will make my sweep responsibilities easy. I may post about that ride later.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

old & sluggish

Remember that 20-mile bike loop, including Coppermine Hill, that I did three times last year a over 19 mph average?

Today may rate was a shameful, sluggish 17.5.

Part of it was that the temps were below 50F, and part that there was a headwind all the way out. But most of it was having dropped out of shape, and trending 4-5 lbs. heavier than I was even two months ago.

I'll be glad when the weather improves, and I can ride more regularly again.

Laura OLPH is threatening to lead a ride this Saturday. Bring it, Laura, this tub o' lard needs to get away from the keyboard and the corn chips.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

seeking drug abuse treatment

In real life, I'm a drug- and alcohol-abuse counselor (I've got a license hanging on the wall that says that the state of NJ thinks I can do it, too). I rarely post about that on this blog, partly because blogging on work-related stuff is risky. But I know that I have knowledge that people sometimes want, and when they want it, they are sometimes shy about asking directly.

So here's a bit of info that may be useful. The National Institute of Drug Abuse has published a guide called "Seeking Drug Abuse Treatment: Know What To Ask". The guide is short, to-the-point, and right on the money.

Direct links to the guide: as a .pdf, and as an epub that you can read on most mobile reading devices.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

new project: charity rides blog

This is my new project:

Charity Rides: Central NJ

It's a blog that will show listings of charity rides local riders might want to do. The rules are:
  • Close enough that I might want to do it (I live on the border of North Brunswick & Kendall Park, NJ);
  • Some amount of the cost of the ride must go to a charity other than a bike club (which is why the Gran Fondo makes the cut, and the Princeton Event does not);
  • There has to be some information about the upcoming ride (not just last year's ride), even if, at the time of the post, it's just a date placeholder.

It's not going to be a complete list, and, frankly, I don't expect much traffic in the first year. I figure it won't really be until summer of 2013 that it will get much traffic, and it won't be until after that that the rides themselves will show any notice.

And if it doesn't go anywhere, I can drop it.

I'll spend part of this snowy weekend sending emails to the bike clubs asking for links, email blasts, and ongoing mentions in their ride listings.

Friday, January 20, 2012

sopa/pipa: content creator's opinion

Back in November, I wrote about supporting an upcoming novel called The Beauty of Our Weapons. I got my pre-release copy (I like it; I'll post a review and link when it's available for sale), but I'm posting this because I took the opportunity to ask the author, Darusha Wehm, about her take on the SOPA and PIPA bills. Here's part of her response, reproduced with her permission:
I took my sites down yesterday as a protest against SOPA/PIPA and I've signed a petition from non-US citizens to the State Department about it.

I've never seen any reliable information regarding actual losses in sales due to piracy and I know for sure that the more readers I get (however they got a hold of my work) the better off I am as an author.

Regardless, I don't think that SOPA/PIPA actually do much against real piracy and are instead very dangerous for free speech and national sovereignty - from what I understand they are particularly geared toward sites that are not governed by US law. It's disturbing to me as a citizen of other countries that a foreign state is trying to compel me legally.

I could go on. The short answer is that as a content creator I'm against S&P because a) the online piracy threat is not real (unlike the maritime piracy threat which is real and deadly and no one cares) and b) because of the chilling effect these laws would have on me and everyone else who wants to express themselves online.

I would not presume to say that she speaks for all content creators, or all independent content creators, or anyone but herself. Nonetheless, at lest one content creator who generates cash from her content is pretty clearly anti-PIPA/SOPA. (And the "maritime piracy" issue has meaning to her because she lives on a ship, and travels.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Many sites are dark today in protest of the proposed SOPA and PIPA bills. Although they are supposedly designed to stop piracy, they would have the effect of making websites and hosts liable for copyrighted information placed on them, even by users. Many of the sites we use regularly, like Wikipedia, Google, and Facebook, would be liable to be taken down, or made unavailable, due to this faulty legislation.

Piracy is a problem (although I think it's nowhere near as much of a problem as we've been led to believe), but this legislation is not the way to control it.

Find out more about this bad legislation here.

And click here for a way to contact your legislators about these bills. I've called mine. Have you?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

hoc possum (hog possum?)

Laura OLPH told me her affirmation, when she's feelin' all down and incompetent, is, "I can do this." I translated it into Latin for her: hoc possum... which resulted in her doodling up the following bit of whimsy:

Original here, with a photo of the artwork in situ.

I can't decide if the proper response is to "Hrmph" or to be honored.

Monday, January 16, 2012

need some discipline & routine

I'm near the end of a four-day weekend during which it's been too cold to ride, and for which I had few plans. I did get out to buy a rack for the city bike (on a gift certificate we won at the Princeton Freewheeler's Holiday Party), and I learned that the garage door opener replacement I have my eye on goes on and off sale (it was about $150 at Sears when I looked before New Year's, then about $180 last week; now the price is back down... but the price is steady at Home Depot, although it's not available at all stores...).

... and got out to a chamber music concert with the excellent wife and friends at the Westminster Choir College, followed by excellent pizza at Conte's...

But I've had entirely too much free time. I've been eating too much junk, and I'm now up to a weight I haven't been since June of 2009. I've been wallowing in self-pity and lack of direction. I haven't heard from some people from whom I usually am in frequent contact, and I'm afraid I have inadvertently upset one or more of them. I've put in an application for another job, the description of which seems to suit my experience and talents, and now I can't tell which is more worrisome to me: that I might not hear from them, or that I might.

I doubt any of this would have happened if I had simply had more to do. Unstructured time is not my friend.

Speaking of friends, it's time to email a friend who's selling a house, and whom we're planning to visit in the spring. The only way to get out of this funk is to take some action.

(I'm planning to install the garage door opener myself when the weather's a bit warmer. Y'wanna help?)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

ira glass on storytelling... & everything else

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

Yes. it's about storytelling. But it's about everything you do, when you are starting out. It was me with bike mechanics, with drawing (until I got frustrated & didn't go back), with counseling, with computers, and with this new project that's not ready for prime time yet (although it may be in the links list on the right of this page soon).

Stick to it. Malcolm Gladwell has been flogging the 10,000 hour rule, that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve success. That's five years of full-time at 40 hours per week. Not every task requires that, but skills require attention. With time, not only do skills improve, but the person you are changes - you will see and think differently.

Don't get sidetracked by child prodigies; they rarely amount to anything other than curiosities in the long term. Even when they do, like Mozart, it's generally because they've continued to work. Mozart's childhood stuff is adequate but not great; it's interesting primarily because he was so young. If that was all there was, he'd be a historical footnote. The great Mozart is the stuff of his adulthood. 10,000 hours? Music was ALL he did for his whole life. Yes, he had the predisposition. But he also put in the time.

(And if you don't know Ira Glass from This American Life, you're in for a treat. Go check it out and listen to a couple of episodes. I get it to exercise to every week.)

Friday, January 13, 2012

hanging the quilts

Years ago - maybe when we first moved into this condo - I inherited a quilt made by my paternal great-grandmother. I didn't know how to display it, other than that it should be kept out of the light, so I rigged a rack where I could keep it partly folded and displayed in the stairway. But any time it got bumped, it needed to be re-hung.

Then, at Thanksgiving, my mother gave me a piece of embroidery her mother had done, and I knew it was time to do something permanent about hanging these things. During that trip, we stopped at the Folk Art Museum on the Blue Ridge Parkway, where there are always quilts on display, and I saw that they were hung by sewing a sleeve across the top of the back and running a stick through. After tome advice from a co-worker who's a quilter, and some internet research, I found some polyester ribbon I could use as the sleeve, and the instructions on how to do the sewing. It didn't sound hard, and it's not - but it's boring and time consuming (to do both took about four hours), and threading the needle is no easy task with these new glasses (remind me to complain about my new glasses), and I broke the needle threader about 85% of the way through the job (thanks to the gods that I had some beeswax in the drawer).

Still, they're done and hung, and I want to show them off. The one from my great grandmother hangs across the wall at the turn in the stairwell:

I was able to use the rack I'd previously built to hang it. You can see a better picture of the quilt with the rack here. There are a gajillion little hexagons in that quilt, and the large blocks are all color-matched. it's a beautiful thing.

The embroidery hangs on a side wall of the stairwell. It's much smaller than the full-size quilt; at about three feet (one meter) wide, it was probably meant for a crib. Every alternating block has a character from Mother Goose:

Here's a close-up of three of the images: At top, Tom, tom, the piper's son, stealing a pig; then Little Red Riding Hood (although that hat doesn't look very like a hood to me); and Puss in Boots, below:

I like 'em, and I'm glad I have 'em, but I hope I never have to do that kind of sewing again. And quilting will never be among my hobbies.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

spam comment? i'm honored!

I've hit a milestone.

A post I put up in October on modifying my hybrid into a city bike has received a comment from someone I don't know. I checked it out, and it turns out it's a spam comment with a link to an online kid's bike vendor on the Left Coast (I'm not linking to it here; the use of spam commenting is an underhanded practice to increase search-engine visibility, and I don't want to reward it by giving them another link).

While I'm ticked that my blog is being used for such an underhanded thing (I have few enough real readers; I don't need parasites); I'm also intrigued that someone actually found my post. How deep on a search engine would you have to go to find that old post from October? And which search criteria would you use?

I'm ambivalent about deleting the comment. Yes, it's parasitic, but it is at least an indication that somebody actually looked at the article! And, as I remember from my single-and-always-striking-out-when-asking-for-dates phase (which lasted for most of my 20's and much of the time between my marriages), negative attention is better than no attention.

(I'll probably delete it in a day or so. But still...)

Monday, January 9, 2012

treadmill lessons

We went out and bought the Proform 6.0 treadmill. We got it at the Sports Authority store in Piscataway (they were great; more on them later), and didn't want to spend the $85 in shipping, so we stuffed it into the back of the Prius, tied down the hatch as best we could, and drove it home.

Despite it being the smallest in the store, it's bigger than the un-powered unit it replaced. The excellent wife didn't think these units would be as big as they are, despite the fact that every one we've seen, in every hotel and gym we've visited, are of similar size, or larger. She also doesn't visualize sizes well from numerical dimensions. It was clear that the existing setup of equipment and space would not be able to continue. We had a bit of a spat about that, in which I'm afraid I did not behave nobly. Sorry, Regina.

When we got home, the excellent wife and I manhandled the box into the garage and opened it, hoping to be able to get the individual pieces up the stairs to the final destination... but the base/belt/motor is a single unit, and between the bulk and the weight, we couldn't get it anywhere. So to bed, where I spent the sleepless parts of the night feeling idiotic.

The excellent wife, however, must have been making plans. Before bed, she had called the store to see what to do, and, while I was out on a ride on the next day (a Sunday), she went back to the store... where she got a couple of staffers to agree to come out and move the base unit upstairs. That same day. For free. So when I got back from the ride, I got a call from her to expect these fellows, and shortly thereafter, in they came (two very polite and helpful young gents; I no longer despair for the younger generation... although they treated me with way too much respect) and moved the unit into place is less time than I've been taking composing and writing this post. I parted with a double-sawbuck for their efforts. I am definitely going to find a way to throw more cash at that business, and I recommend you do, too.

Then to work on the assembly. It's moderate-fussy, and took a few hours; the parts mostly fit right. There's a cable that needs to be fished through a support beam, and they've helpfully included a length of twist-em already fished through so you can pull the wire back. A required Allen wrench was included (as was an Allen wrench that didn't fit... huh?); the Phillips screwdriver (also required) was not, but I think that's reasonable.

It's working now; the excellent wife used it this morning. Since it is bigger than the unit it replaced, we may need to rearrange the stuff in that room so I have space for my pushups and weight stuff, but it looks like we'll be able to do that. (I joke that my condo has a theater, gym, office, and conservatory... and they're all the same room.) And it's much quieter than the non-powered one, which was a surprise to me. (The excellent wife has wanted one of these for years; I'm glad it's in the house. Well, I'm glad NOW; there were times over the last day or so when I could cheerfully have pitched it. If I could have lifted it, that is.)

What on earth are we going to do if we ever have to get rid of it?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

belated celebrations

It's kind of an unstated goal of mine to ride at least once every calendar month each year. In 2011, I missed January. For 2012, I've made 100% of my goal so far for the year; OLPH & the Hill Slugs got out for a slow, backwards ride (mostly new roads, but some of them were roads with which I was vaguely familiar, in the other direction). Eight of us went, and the same eight completed, which is a rarity on the rides I've done in the past few months.

Laura OLPH bills her rides as "B" pace (rated by the Princeton Freewheelers as 15-16mph average), and she called this one a "slow B", but I really maintained a slowish "C+" pace, possibly because I was sweeping, as usual, and some of the riders were slow. I think that riders who can maintain a certain pace on the flats don't realize that we are all generally slower on the hills; while you can pick up the pace on the downhills, you spend many more minutes struggling your way up than gliding your way down.

That said, it was, as always for Laura, a beautiful ride on what became a beautiful day: chilly when we departed, but several of us (including your correspondent) shed layers during the ride (and I wished I could have shed another; as I write, my bike clothes for today are enjoying a much-needed laundering).

This is one of the things I wish I could have been doing last week, instead of what I was doing.

For this evening, the excellent wife and I are having our belated New Year's celebration. We always go out to an early dinner, often at McCormick & Schmick's. We'll do that tonight (as we couldn't a week ago). Then, we'll probably drop by the Sports Authority, where she has cast the eye of desire upon a new treadmill. The one she's been using is old, and was never ideal. The authors of Younger Next Year say that you should get good gear for athletic pursuits, and her current treadmill just isn't that good. Here's hoping the new one will be. (Plus, I get to do they assembly. Building toys! An excuse to use tools! WOO-HOO!)

Friday, January 6, 2012

probably not a buddhist

My recent experiences with death, including that of my father, have me thinking about pain and suffering. And when the topic of suffering arises, I keep bumping into the Buddhist Four Noble Truths:
  1. Life is suffering;
  2. The origin if suffering is attachment;
  3. It is possible to end suffering; and
  4. The means to this ending.
(Before I go off on my rant, I need to say that the English word "suffering" is the translation of a Pali word, usually transliterated as dukka, and "suffering" may be a mistranslation. But "suffering" is the word most often presented, and I think it's the word Westerners think of when they talk about the Four Noble Truths.)

I think Buddhism is an Eastern way of dealing with the pain of life, which, as the first truth implies, is inevitable (some writers give the first truth as, "Suffering is unavoidable", which sounds better to me). But I am a Westerner, as are most of the people I know, and our focus is different, I think. We seek not to avoid suffering by avoiding attachments. Instead, I think we embrace life. Joy and suffering are all part of it.

While I don't suppose that anyone can disagree with the Four Noble Truths, I think that they don't engage the Western mind and spirit because we don't see that the purpose of life is to avoid suffering. For me, I think the truth is that life involves suffering, that the cause of suffering is attachment, and that I should be mindful of where I put my attachments in order to avoid needless suffering. But I don't think it's my goal to be detached or dispassionate (to use the language of one of the linked articles). When it's time to be passionate, I will be passionate. And I will take what comes with that.

We are, after all, a long time dead. For those of us who have a belief in an afterlife (and your current correspondent is not among them), we have no knowledge of what it will be... but I suggest it will not be like this life (or it would be this life). I think it's our duty to live this life while we can, with everything that that involves.

(In other news, I really miss my excellent keyboard. This papier-maché impostor is a chore to use.)

OLPH has a ride scheduled for tomorrow, which suggests that there will be a light-hearted bike post in the near future. Occasional readers, do not despair!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

back from the memorial service

The excellent wife and I have just returned (hours ago) from visiting my mother for my father's memorial service in Weaverville, outside Asheville, NC. We're both headache-y and tired from the ride (and from the week) and looking forward to sleeping in our own bed and eating normally (restaurant food is good, but I'm sure I've gotten way out of shape on a week of it).

Mother was grateful for our attendance, and for helping her get started going through my father's things. She forced some of his stuff on us, and other stuff I was happy to take away. I'm reading this text on a flat-panel, 17" monitor that my father had just taking up space in his basement; he didn't want to give up his smaller CRT. I don't get it.

Some things I learned this week:
  1. My father accumulated an awful lot of stuff. Much of it became useless immediately upon his death; other stuff was just junk. Some has some value, but some of that only has value to certain people, either because only they have the skills to put it to use, or for sentimental reasons, or whatever.
  2. Sentimental value is overrated.
  3. The property distribution of a dead relative brings out the worst in some of us. When my brother-in-law was last at my father's house, he took a quantity of my dad's tools with him. I have no use for that stuff, nor do I want to give it house room... nonetheless, for a few seconds, my nose was severely out of joint: how dare he just take that stuff, without even discussing it with me? I had to make a point of letting that go.
  4. Seeing the stuff my dad kept, I have resolved to get rid of some of my own junk. There are two drawers at home, in particular, about 90% of the contents of which is stuff even I would say is useless.
  5. I now have a lifetime supply of jackknives.
I'm sure I didn't learn it this week, but it's nonetheless true: this would have sucked WAY worse if the excellent wife 1) had not been along, and 2) hadn't been so excellent. I told her that a number of times this week, and now I'm telling you.

I'll plan to go in to work for a short time tomorrow to catch up on some paperwork. This weekend, I see OLPH has a ride scheduled, as does Winter Larry, and the weather might hold for both. I'm hoping to pedal away some emotional weirdness.

Monday, January 2, 2012

... and all ye need to know

Every weekday, Delancey Place sends out an email on a historical theme, although they give "historical" the broadest interpretation. Today's was on the Japanese concept of "...'wabi-sabi'", the Japanese aesthetic whereby greatness exists in the inconspicuous and overlooked details, and beauty can be coaxed out of ugliness." (I would have felt better if they'd italicized the Japanese word.) From today's email:

  1. All things are impermanent. The inclination toward nothingness is unrelenting and univer­sal. Even things that have all the earmarks of substance - things that are hard, inert, solid present noing more than the illusion of permanence. We may wear blinders, use ruses to forget, ignore, or pretend otherwise - but all comes to nothing in the end. Everything wears down. The planets and stars, and even intan­gible things like reputation, family heritage, historical memory, scientific theorems, mathematical proofs, great art and literature (even in digital form) - all eventually fade into oblivion and nonexistence.
  2. All things are imperfect. Nothing that exists is without imperfections. When we look really closely at things we see the flaws. The sharp edge of a razor blade, when magnified, reveals microscopic pits, chips, and variegations. Every craftsman knows the limits of perfection: the imperfections glare back. And as things begin to break down and approach the primor­dial state, they become even less perfect, more irregular.
  3. All things are incomplete. All things, includ­ing the universe itself, are in a constant, never-ending state of becoming or dissolving. Often we arbitrarily designate moments, points along the way, as 'finished' or 'complete.' But when does something's destiny finally come to fruition? Is the plant complete when it flowers? When it goes to seed? When the seeds sprout? When everything turns into compost? The notion of completion has no basis in wabi-sabi.
'Greatness' exists in the inconspicuous and overlooked details. Wabi-sabi represents the exact opposite of the Western ideal of great beauty as something monumental, spectacular, and enduring. Wabi-sabi is not found in nature at moments of bloom and lushness, but at moments of inception or subsiding.

Original email text here.

In my current mood, especially, there seems to be a whole world view in that; for months, I've been saying, "Everything ends." I need to do more reading on wabi-sabi.

(Title text, of course, from Keats's Ode on a Grecian Urn.)