Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Form, Fit, and Function - A Tale of Two Freds

A little while ago, BikeSnobNYC took a blogger to task for pedaling around in high heels. Actually it was more the tone of the high heel wearer's comments that prompted the aside, which came at the end of particularly embarrassing rant about this guy, who tries to make a buck selling "getting started" advice. Normally I read BikeSnob for a good chuckle, and I take his critiques at face value. This one seemed a bit personal, and I guess that "Bike Shrink" offers advice is one thing, but to sell it? Why, thats, thats....

...The American Way. Even if we never know whether the advice is worth the fee. Some of you may scoff, but what Bike Shrink is trying to capitalize on is the fact that a lot of well-meaning people spend tons of cash to get started in the sport of cycling. Simply sorting out the basic necessities, the terminology, and the culture creates all sorts of confusion. Let's face it: the cycling biz is a racket built around slick unhelpful marketing. Caught in the middle are the bike shops that just want to stay in business. I'm not accusing anyone of dishonesty, all I'm saying is that finding gear that really works - and fits - is a crap shoot. I can't say how much cash I've thrown away on gear that wasn't worth the paper it was wrapped in, and I can't be alone. But that's neither here nor there. The real task is figuring out what's what without making a Fred of yourself.

Being a Fred isn't the same thing as being a Newbie. Newbie is a synonym for beginner. Its a friendly word that doesn't carry many negative connotations. Fred, on the other hand, is a pejorative - on the order to poseur - and can sometimes mean "fool". There are all kinds of Freds in all kinds of places, but Freds are only Freds in the cycling world. In the navy, a Fred is a "dink" or a "non-qual" (non-quals are the worst). In the cycling world, a Fred is a person who acts outside of the local or universally accepted mores of the cycling culture. For sure, nobody tries to be a Fred.

But it's not hard to do. Cycling is a semi-exclusive sport that attracts a lot of egos and narcissists. Just look at the professional peleton. Even so, the barrier to entry into cycling isn't insurmountable by the average Joe, but it does require a little well-spent cash. Here I'm reminded of the episode of "Malcolm In The Middle" where Malcolm's father takes up race-walking. The point is, the expense is usually the first detour on the road to Fred-dom. Everybody wants to fit in, and a lot of people come to cycling wide-eyed. Without experience to steer their choices, most wind up committing a few faux-pas that earn them the outward disdain or the sideways glance from some of the established crowd. Thus the niche that the BikeShrink aims to fill.

What's more, there are so very many ways to be a Fred, because we see now that Fredness is a matter of perception. The high-heeled pedaler boasts that she can blow by fully-kitted riders on expensive bikes without the benefit of traditional cycling garb. Indeed, she is woman, hear her roar along the road in boutique jeans and shoes. But she is no Fred because she refuses the to wear the badge of spandex. To her, any rider in a road kit is a Fred. Especially ones on bikes more expensive than hers. To the high-heeled rider, cycling requires style and class, and technical clothing doesn't measure-up.

Aside from bicycles being a cross-cultural thing, I think she's on to something. Fit and function are one thing, but style is quite another. Finding all three elements in cycling gear takes years of trial-and-error and a few shiny pennies. Sometimes its all for naught once one realizes they will never look good in a jersey and shorts. High-heeled pedaler is dismayed because she believes the cycling mores of "looking good" is akin to being confused with bad art school homework or an Old Navy mannequin. I'll agree, there is some very bad design and artwork in the average cycling outfit, but whatever is printed on the kit means something to the wearer. I think the real objection is not finding the necessity to wear in public what amounts to loud, pretentious underwear. Fred or no Fred?

Cycling might be the only sport where its possible to express your style in technical clothes. Myself, I prefer a certain subtlety if I can find it. Pro team kits are right out, and most everything else seems garish. Right now I'm the poster boy for Pearl Izumi. The Hincape stuff might be the worst-looking in terms of price, and Giordana exemplifies everything that's wrong in Europe. I have seen a few things out there that might work for my personal taste, but I have to buy them online. You never know what you'll get if you buy online, or how much it will cost to return it. That goes for anything cycling related, not just clothes. Shoes and saddles make the most difference in cycling and they are the hardest things to buy in terms of form, fit, and function. Unfortunately LBS can't invest in the inventory required to make shopping for gear easy. So its either take your chances on the Internet or buy LBS.

Over the years I've learned to embrace my Fred. In the beginning, my Fred was the over-confidence in my abilities after years out of the saddle. Then it was the goofy clothing because I refused to wear spandex. Then it was looking even goofier after I did. Then as my fitness returned, it was the poor bike handling skills and getting carried away on bike paths. Then it was the mistakes in training and nutrition, and not listening to the mechanics at the bike shop about equipment and adjustments. Then it was the awkwardness of finding a like-abled group, and being a Johnny-come-lately. Now its my white helmet and hairy legs.

I've been on the St. Louis roads for ten years now. It's taken that long to find all the things that work for me, and I'm finally comfortable with my equipment and my style. I like to train hard if for nothing else but to keep myself in good shape with age, and to maintain the ability to keep up with (and sometimes pull) a group of respectable riders. In the end we are all enthusiasts and we are all competitors and we all have our insecurities. But if you stick with something long enough, blah blah blah. I refuse to shave my legs.

P.S. - I read the other day that I might not be a Fred after all. I have white bar tape on the Masi. Alas, I let it get pretty dingy and I don't care to change it, so its back to the Fred Leagues for me.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Just To Be Sure

St. Louis doesn't have an abundance of bike lanes. Where bike lanes are available, its often necessary to remind the driving (and cycling) public what they're for:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Little Tour That Could

Out on the road we don't talk about it much, the Tour of Missouri. I think the subject has come up only once in a long while, and the conversation was more a comparison of what stages each of us would attend. Me? Whatever stage lands in St. Louis. This year that's Stage 1. A few of the others were wondering if there will be an accessible 'Etape du Tour' like there was last year. The fear being that it will be held at one of the across-the-state stages. Even more important, who will lead it now that Mary Kay as quit Maplewood? To that I'm indifferent because there's no way I can get a kitchen pass for an all-day bike ride; not now; even if it is the Tour of Missouri.

I sometimes wonder how others talk about the Tour. Is there hot debate about the strategies of major teams? Or maybe who will lead the breakaways? Maybe some gossip around a few of the riders? Or is it more like where to sit along the race routes? I can never get a sense of it. We're told the Tour of Missouri is a Big Deal(tm) - one of only two races in the United States rated as worthy of attendance by the biggest and best international teams. Indeed, the biggest teams and the biggest names have, and will, come to town. How did that happen? Are the stages that challenging? C'mon, there's bigger hills in Arkansas. It certainly can't be because of the weather. Maybe its because this is the Midwest and everyone is so nice. One thing's for sure: whoever puts the Tour together must be a fast talker.

That's a good thing. The Tour needed some fast talking to stay alive this year - or so I'm told. On July 10, the Post-Dispatch published an article by Kathleen Nelson and Tony Messenger informing that the race could be cancelled because the Department of Economic Development proposed to eliminate the $1.5 million allocation for the Tour of Missouri from the state's tourism budget. At first the article focused on the reaction of the tour organizers: "devastating". Then the article framed the cut as a poor timing issue: "interest in cycling is growing while Lance is only seconds from the lead in the Tour de France!" Like that has anything to do with it. Then it became an economic development issue: the state has an interest in investing in tourism. But really really, it was a personal political confrontation between the Tour's primary political supporter, Pete Kinder, and the governor, Jay Nixon. That Kinder is expected to challenge Nixon in 2012, and also that Kinder leads the commission from which the money would be cut, the article hints, means it must be personal.

The vacuum drawn by all the butt holes puckering across the state set off the motion detectors at my neighbors house. Those with incurable cases of Compulsive Outrage Disorder came out of the wood work, posting on forums and calling talk shows, accusing anyone who wears spandex of unspeakable crimes against humanity. The Tour pundits and cycling affectionados came out too, demanding the road be shared and threatening to withhold their carbon credits. Yes, it was clear from the article that something was rotten in Jefferson City. What was not clear from the article is why the Tour receives half its operating budget from the state and what that money is used for.

The very next day, sensing that their first attempt didn't muddy the waters enough, Kathleen Nelson published a combined Tour de France race report/political editorial ironically titled "Tour of Missouri clearer than Tour de France", complete with very bad analogies of peleton strategy and political hegemony. I guess as a counterpart, Tony Messenger filed his own report characterizing the budget proposals as "a high stakes game of chicken between the governor's office and the nonprofit agency that runs the September bike race", as if there were spandex-clad ruffians in Pete Kinder t-shirts staring down the governor though his office window.

The truth of the matter can be found by reading all three articles together, minus the hyperbole. The obvious part is that this state, like so many others, has money problems. I think the governor's staff simply pulled a bunch of non-critical line items out of the budget and asked the responsible departments to justify their expenses. All very straight forward. Of course, when the sports beat reporter and the church beat reporter "broke the news" in twenty different contexts, everybody got defensive and turned on the PR machines. At bottom was the governor's budget director asking what the money would be used for. Not an unreasonable question when the amount is $1.5 million. At top was getting the Tour organizers to turn over their books - which, by the way, the public is still yet to see.

The final word on the matter came from Messenger on July 14 in a blog entry of all things. A blog entry that was basically one long quote from Governor Nixon stating only that people who receive state money should be prepared to show their work. I'm pretty sure that's a governors responsibility. So the Tour organizers came up off the goods, the state budget staff had a look and cut them a check. Problem solved. Now that this ridiculously fabricated "tug of war between the governors office and the tourism commission" is over, you can all go back to your regularly scheduled programming. For me, that'll be riding down to the Central West End on race day to collect some autographs, have a beer, and take in the crowd.

I hope the Tour of Missouri continues. I want the Tour of Missouri to continue. But I want the drama to be on the race course, in the midst of a first class, honest-to-goodness, Pro Tour stage race that I can see up close. Everything worthwhile seems so tenuous these days. What I don't need is a sports reporter who doesn't know anything about the sport stirring up political apoplexy.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Evolution of Style

I've been trying to improve the conditions around riding the singlespeed. When I bought the bike, I took it as it sat from the shop floor and rode it home. I was thrilled with it. I still am. It's an elegant-looking bike to begin with, and I felt that bolting on typical bicycle accessories like a bottle cage or a saddle bag really detracts from the style and purpose of the bike, which is to sit in the garage ready for action. Owning a bike I can simply jump on and take off for a while with no special preparation is - or was - a great convenience. Lately though, I'm finding reality a little different. The reason?

Well, at work I look like this (really), but at home I look like this (sort of). I live in cargo shorts or jeans when I'm not in the office, and changing into bike gear is a tedious extra step. Riding in street clothes was fine for a while, and as a matter of fact, nothing beats jeans for winter riding (even if you really stand out in group rides). But I quickly found a disconnect between practicality and utility. All over the interwebs are pictures of people merrily moving along on their bikes in all kinds of get-ups: suits, dresses, cargo shorts, dress shoes, high heels, tennis shoes, etc. I don't see how they do it. For one thing, I sweat when I ride; and even if I don't, I tend to absorb the smell of my surroundings. Do they? If not, St. Louis county must be the smelliest, most sweat-condusive place on the planet.

In spite of the utility, on anything but the shortest of rides I found that jeans and street shorts tend to rub and get a little manky in the seat, especially in the summer. I solved the problem by buying a pair of these to wear under my cargo shorts. Later on, I bought a pair of these to go with them, because lets face it, summer here is brutal, and riding in Levi's or cargo shorts just doesn't cut it when the alternative is a nice pair of Zoic's. Of course, once I started wearing bike shorts, it was only a short step to athletic T's. So now I'm back to changing clothes, and the spontaneous hipster-street-clothes aspect of riding the bike is gone. And that was just the beginning.

One day I had a close call with a pile of glass. I was lucky because I had strayed a good distance from home and I would have been stuck otherwise. I started carrying a spare tube banded together with a tire lever and CO2 in the leg pockets of my shorts. Then it dawned on me that the wheels on the Masi are bolt-on. Before the next ride I remembered to grab a 15mm box-end from the tool chest. Then I thought about it, and turned around and put the tube, the wrench, the CO2, and a patch kit in a saddle bag, and strapped the bag to the bike.

The official end to my spartan urban riding came on a hot June day. I was thristy, and felt more than a little silly stuffing bottled water in the pockets of my shorts like some junior high-schooler. I found a bike shop on the way home and bought a bottle cage and a cheap bottle. The bike was now fully decked-out and so was I. Well almost.

The only thing unchanged is the pedals. The bike still sports the cheap-o platform pedals it came with. I've held out on the pedals because they are truely the utilitarian part of the bike - I can still jump on and go if the need arises. I've had more than a few instances of the need arising, and nothing is worse at, say, the moment the kids suddenly want to ride, than telling them "wait while I change my shoes". Its a buzz-kill. And while those times aren't frequent, they aren't rare either. The pedals do offer enough stability when I'm riding with the kids, but they don't begin to cut it when I'm riding on my own - especially in traffic.

Even if nobody walks around in bike shoes, I wanted to. I thought: wouldn't it be cool if there were shoes practical enough for daily wear, that also clip in, but won't scratch the kitchen floor? There is. They're damn comfy and fit my super laid-back street style too. I'm not sure what to do about winter riding yet, but I'm considering these. As for pedals, there's only one choice isn't there?

The most important thing I figured out about riding in street clothes is that I don't need to. Sure, I take short trips with the kids, or pedal to the drug store or to the gym, but I don't have to get around by bike. I'd like to, but I can't. Most of the time I use the bike to wander. I don't stop at coffee shops (or bars), commute to work, pick up groceries, or make it part of hanging out with friends. I guess what I've done is find a happy medium - somewhere this side of depending on the bike - that really suits the way I live. And my style. Without having to run around in a spandex diaper.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Who Was That Masked Man?

A few posts back I posited that while riding west to Babler one Sunday, we got a lead-out from an unlikely source. I should say that while we never got right up behind this person - or even spoke - we did get close enough for what I thought was a positive ID: the Big Shark kit, the Unmistakable Look 585, the harrowing pace; it had to be the Bugman.

But no. Bugman pointed out that it wasn't him. Nevertheless, Bugman, your dignity is safe. I can assure you that this person was time-trialing-it away from us too; so he didn't want to be seen with our group of Freds either :)

But more important: who was this impostor? This interloper? It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but that's cutting it a little fine in my opinion. Now we have a mystery solve.

Call to action lads! We have to be vigilant! We must keep our eyes pealed and a sharp look-out for what most surely must be a dangerous charlatan. If you see this person, resist the impulse to grab for the torch and pitchfork. Just mark the location of the sighting in your Garmin and report it to me immediately. Together we can root out this craven mountebank and make the roads safe for democracy once more.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Vertical Insanity

Its hill climbing madness around here. That is to say, I don't climb hills very well, and anyone who climbs faster than me is mad. But I have a twisted sense of dedication, so its my duty to keep up with the pack. Or try to. Mostly. Sometimes.

My excuse is that I weigh alot. Most of the folks I ride with weigh about a buck-seventy or less, so I make out that the extra thirty pounds I carry is all the difference in the world. On the group rides I really like to show off my power by pulling the lead-outs, but when the grade passes 5%, I sit up and take it easy. Truth is, I'm vertically apathetic - I just can't say so in mixed company. Its not cycling-chic. One must cotton to the pain! Or speak of the suffering! Can a brother get some sanity up in this bitch?

An old hand once told me that I "smooth it" up hills. I guess that charaterizes it pretty well. I have a certain cadence and breathing rhythm that I like to maintain, and humping it up Marshall hill with a grimace on isn't smooth. More important, I've noticed over the years that the typical driver is more apt to run you off the road if he sees you hunched over the bars, grinding your teeth. They subconciously think "Fred" and try to do you a favor by putting you out of your misery. Whereas flashing a cool, confident glance from a relaxed, upright position gets you an escort plus half-dressed women and cold beer at the next light. Guess which one I go for?

So why everyone on the group ride has to try to fly up these hills is beyond me. The kids? You can't tell them anything anyhow, so I let them go on with their hill-repeats and their suffering-fests. But the older folk? My generation? Its brain washing I guess. Maybe too many Gatorade commercials and "Cyclism" reruns on Versus. I was aghast to find out that one of my Sunday compadres does interval sprints uphill "just like you see in the Tour". May the ghosts of Fat Tire have mercy on his soul.

On the other hand, riding a single-speed puts a whole new perspective on riding. Call me the Gray Hipster, but I enjoy riding a fixie more than my racing bike. Why? Because no matter what I do, I can only go so fast, especially uphill. I tend to get a better look at my surroundings, and cars get a better look at me, too. I've found that my riding is style is perfect for a fixie. That cadence and breathing rhythm that I like keeps my efforts constant, and I can get around any terrain or in any kind of traffic with more power, manuverabilty, and visibility than a multi-gear bike. Its all in the leg speed.

Its also more relaxed. When the grade gets steep, only smooth will do it on a single speed. Sometimes the only choice is to stand up and mash it out; but the effort doesn't feel the same as spinning large in the bottom chainring. As a matter of fact, it doesn't feel much like effort at all. I've tried to find the same gear combinaton on the Litespeed without luck. Experimenting isn't an easy thing to do on fast group rides, and I have to maintain my suffering facade. Nevertheless I keep trying, and so I continuously get dropped on steep hills. Not that I'm really losing anything, its just so tempting to try to keep up.

So in the interest of picking up more style points while improving my climbing power, I must first improve my explosive, mild-mannered smooth.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Too Close To Home

A friend of mine was hit by a car on Doughtery Ferry Road last week, at a spot I - and a lot of you - pass regularly.
I'll let him tell the story:

[My wife] and I were riding single file along the right-hand white line of south-bound Doughtery Ferry, just where the road widens from two lanes to three lanes to make the right-turn lane for Carman Road (about a block away from the front of Barrett Elementary). [My wife] was about 50 meters behind me. It was 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon. As I recall we had a green light to proceed.

An SUV driven by a 19-year old woman talking on a cell phone cut between [my wife] and me, and plowed straight into me at approximately 40 mph, never hitting the brakes until after hitting my bike. The entire episode was witnessed (apparently) by a St. Louis County sheriff who was traveling north on Doughtery Ferry.

The SUV drove my bike seat through the left transverse processes of my lower three lumbar vertebrae, fractured my left pelvis, and broke my left femur into four pieces; fortunately the head stayed in the socket, the highest break occurring at the neck. That impact drove my abdomen into my handlebars, thrusting me horizontally off the bike to the right, into and across the righthand lane. My right scapula fractured into multiple pieces in situ (no repair possible) and broke off the end fragments of my 10th and 11th right thoracic ribs.

After four days in traction, the femur was repaired with plate and five screws, staples removed yesterday. I'm allowed no weightbearing activity of any type on my left leg and right arm, meaning I'm wheelchair bound until Labor Day. PT and OT plus lots of friends have restored my faith in humanity and the value of staying fit (the trauma and OR teams at St. Johns' were pretty convinced that I could easily have died).

That just scares the hell out of me. I think all of us have had a close call at that intersection. Fortunately my friend is alive and on the mend, but it will be a long road back.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Wild Kingdom

Here in suburbia we have the typical collection of wildlife: squirrels, rabbits, possums, small birds, and the occasional fox. The fancier neighborhoods have deer. I wouldn't say we have a good relationship with our animal brethren. Animals living in suburbia cause problems, and as a result, cause people to do strange things.

Jane has a fascination with flora and fauna - especially flora. She spends hours in the garden making everything just so. She takes pride in it. At the same time, she makes it a point to keep the squirrels and rabbits well fed by planting things in the garden they love to eat, and putting out seed for the birds by the ton. I guess you could characterize it as a sort of a love-hate relationship.

The love side of the relationship gets us endless colors and textures of flowers, all tiered amongst the ornamental trees and grasses, arranged with attention to when each variety matures, so that no part of the garden is without a blossom. There are are also herbs for fragrances and cooking (nothing, and I mean nothing, can beat fresh basil for pesto in the summertime). And there are the birds: wrens and hummingbirds, robins and cardinals, sparrows and finches and doves. There are six bird houses scattered around the yard for accommodation, all of them occupied by early spring. Those that arrive too late for housing roost in the bends of the rain gutters. Robins first, then doves, and finally pigeons; the occupancy changes marked by the size and color of the discarded egg shells that land on the walk.

The yin to the garden yang is another battle of wills. Over the years we've invested in no end of squirrel-proofing gadgets, none of them actually squirrel-proof. I've seen the little bastards shimmy up and down greased poles, unlatch locks, defeat counter-balances, chew though screen, swing over barriers like Chinese acrobats, and move heavy weights. The rabbits are nearly as cunning, and the kids have the gumption to think they're cute.

The best deterrent we ever had was a wrong-way hawk that crashed into the side of the house one afternoon. He managed to knock himself out good. At first we thought he was dead and wondered what to do with him. Then, being suburbanites, we frightened ourselves into thinking we'd run afoul of the Endangered Species Act, or the Bird Of Prey Rams Your House Act, so we left him laying on the patio. Surely there must me some law governing the disposal of dead hawks. A few panicked phone calls to the Wild Bird Sanctuary later and we found ourselves in the clear, but stuck with a hawk carcass.

He was a massive bird - almost as tall as my arm is long. The beak and the talons looked really menacing. And he was in the way. I donned my thickest pair of leather gardening gloves and prayed hawks didn't have some type of death-bite reflex. Just about the time I was reaching for him, he came-to, jerked around and stood up. His eyes looked really glassy, and he ruffled his feathers and cocked his head from side-to-side to shake off the collision. Then in one huge movement he extended his wings and launched himself up on to the the edge of the gutter. We just stood there and marveled. Then we went inside for lunch.

After lunch, Jane and I worked in the yard the rest of the day - coming and going, in and out of the house. The hawk stayed perched on the edge of the roof the whole afternoon, watching. The first thing Jane noticed was the general quiet. Then she realized that every animal within a two or three house radius had cleared off. Light bulbs appeared above our heads, and we offered the hawk everything we could think of to hang around. He was having none of it though, and finally gathered enough of himself to move on. About three or four days later, the squirrels had enough gravitas to start raiding the tomatoes again.

Lately, the squirrels have figured out how to completely detach the feeder tubes of the latest squirrel-proof bird feeders from the hangers, dropping the whole apparatus to the ground and spilling the contents. Some mornings I watch the goings-on from the kitchen window and wish I had a pellet gun. Imagine my surprise when I looked out the kitchen window and saw a flock of turkeys pecking at the ground under the bird feeder.
"Turkeys??" you might ask with a certain amount of incredulity.
Yes, I'm serious: turkeys.
You might also ask: "Where did they come from?"
I don't know. I was astonished. There were eight of them. I think seven hens and a big tom. The first thing I thought was to get a picture because no one would believe me otherwise.

One thing we're not short on in my house is cameras. I kid you not, there's a drawer full of them in the kitchen next to the sink. I flung open the drawer and grabbed a camera. Crap! Dead battery. I grabbed another. No battery! I grabbed a third. It powered up but the memory card was full! Double crap!! I looked out the window: yep, they're still there. I checked the contents of the memory card and it looked to be full of something Ben was working on, meaning it was probably worth saving. Triple crap!! I snatched the USB cable from the drawer and fired up the laptop. Once the camera was connected and downloading I checked the yard again. The turkeys were looking in the house with a sort of impatience (turkeys are said to be smart).

Finally the memory card emptied. I turned the camera on and quietly opened the back door. The birds didn't notice and kept pecking. I raised the camera, waited for focus, and took the first shot. When the picture snapped, the flash went off and the birds scattered. I got a black exposure. Quadruple crap!! I looked at the LCD again and realized Ben had enabled every possible setting on the camera- seeing all of the feature icons dotted around the edge of the screen. I turned off the flash and tried another shot but got another black exposure. I disabled a few more settings and tried again. And again. Then the birds were gone.

In all I got two "viewable" shots out of four. The best one is published above. If you look closely, you can just make out three of them under the feeder, and a few of the rest scurrying away in the neighbors yard. I felt like I was taking pictures of a Sasquatch. Really, how many turkeys can be living in suburbia? When I told the story to Jane she asked "why didn't you use the camera in your cell phone?" Silly wife.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Hovering Cat

We have two cats. Its always been that way. They came with Jane as a package deal when we were married. I'm not a pet person, but I don't mind cats, really. As pets go, cats are tolerable. They're relatively low maintenance as they tend to be self-sufficient, they're kid-friendly, and they stay out of the way unless they want something. I suppose it could be worse.

Our family has tried branching out in the pet world. We've had a few species of fish, some ants, and a snake. Various kinds of rodents have been suggested, like Guinea Pigs, hamsters, and mice, but we never seem to follow through on the idea, probably because of the snake. At any rate, none of our additions have lasted very long. Especially the fish. When it comes to new pets, I usually have the last word. I'm not opposed to extra pets - except dogs - so long as whatever we get doesn't take up too much of my time. Dogs as pets are right out for obvious reasons: being Chief Pet Taker-care-of-er means I handle the feedings and clean-up, and I refuse to spend my Saturday mornings cleaning shit out of the back yard.

Apart from a brief period of pet-free bliss in 2006, we are landed with cats. Jane is a Siamese fan, and every cat we've owned apart from one has been Siamese or some facsimile. They always come in pairs and of two distinct types: the alpha male, and the effeminate co-dependent companion.

The original pair was Vincent and Theo. Vincent was a beautiful, sturdy, flame-point Siamese - perhaps the most beautiful cat I've ever seen. He was thick and heavy and muscular, with a pure white coat. He was a terrific fighter and mouser, and ruled he the roost everywhere he went. He commanded respect. Theo, on the other hand, was skinny, slow, and sheepish. Cats have a demeanor, and if you observed Theo for any length of time, you would be convinced as we were that he was probably gay (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Before Jane and I were married, Vincent used to try to suffocate me by laying over my face when I was sleeping. It was his way of expressing his displeasure with my presence. After a time, we came to an understanding and he switched to lying around the top of my head. I actually got used to it. Not so with Theo. Theo was always under my feet. I don't like anything on my legs when I sleep, and many a night Theo found himself launched across the bed room. He never got the hint. And whether I was walking, standing, or sitting, there was me tripping over Theo. I'm surprised he was never in pieces as many times as I accidentally kicked or stepped on him. And I won't go in to the time he got caught under the garage door. But for all his quirks, Theo was a gentle, loving cat.

Right after Jane and I were married, Vincent was run over by a car. What a tragedy that was. Jane cried for hours, and Theo couldn't adjust to life without Vincent, you could tell. Eventually, Jane recovered and started looking for another cat companion. She finally found one from the same woman who sold Vincent to her. Claude was Theo's nephew, and believe it or not, you could see a kind of family resemblance. Claude wasn't a flame-point, but he had all of Vincent's other features - sleek and powerful and agile - plus much of Vincent's demeanor. He was really cool. Theo couldn't stand Claude at first, but after a few years he fell into the same sort of relationship he had with Vincent, and things went back to normal. We moved house twice and adopted three children with those cats, and they took the changes with the usual cat aloofness and disdain.

Come to find out, Siamese cats have faulty kidneys. It's an unfortunate genetic trait. So after ten years, both of our cats within a few months of each other, lay down in the living room and died. The episodes gave my children their first real life lesson, and left a void in the house that took months to fill. Ben took it hard. Explaining why his pet wouldn't be climbing out of the hole I dug in the yard is one of the hardest things I've had to do as a father. But Ben doesn't stay down for long, and one afternoon I came home to a very excited boy with a secret to tell: he had been with mom to see the new cats! Oh joy.

The current iteration of the pair is Ferdy and Cleo. Ferdy is the dominant, traditional Siamese-looking something-or-another, and Cleo is his Calico sister. Ferdy has a reckless, aloof demeanor that has mellowed a bit with age. Cleo is Theo's, well, clone - which lends some credence to our original feelings about Theo. I have the same problem with Cleo that I had with Theo: she is always under my feet or stalking my lap, and she won't take a hint. She's developed the annoyance into a routine, and we are now locked in a battle of wills.

In the mornings I like to take some of my breakfast in the study and eat it while I check email and look at the calendar and so-on. The routine starts with Cleo casually hanging around the kitchen the way cats do, rubbing back-and-forth along the corners of walls and furniture. If it looks like I might go in the right direction, she darts into the dining room and lays under the table. Once I start down the hall, I can see her eyes flash in the light as she stalks. Before I get too far along the hall, she clears the cover of the table and darts past my heel in that cat trot, angling the approach so that she gets to the door of the study only inches before me. Then, as I set my plate and coffee on the desk, its time to rub along my ankles and purr. I pull the chair out from the desk and she darts underneath and hops on the subwoofer, still purring. As I seat myself and pull to the desk she hops out to make a first attempt at my lap. If she's too slow or meets obstruction, she goes to Plan B, which is to continuously hover around under the chair, rubbing against my ankles, purring, until she can either take another crack at my lap, or I get up to leave, whichever comes first. But she *never* gives up.

Some days she gets a nice long sit in my lap. Other days she alternates her hovering with dozing on the subwoofer (except when I turn up the Panic). For two years she's maintained the same routine with no signs of letting up. I don't know why my office lap is so enticing. I don't get the same treatment when I'm out in the den watching TV. Or sitting in the kitchen. Maybe its just the routine, or the thrill of the challenge. Maybe its a sanctuary or her way of saying 'thanks'. Maybe she knows something I don't. Maybe its Theo come back to haunt me.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


nce upon a time, there was some elementary school boys who wanted to join the Cub Scouts. But there was no Cub Scout Pack at their school. The nearest pack was at another school two miles away. None of the parents of the boys had the time or the inclination to drive all the way to the other school. It was so far away, and full of boys the parents did not know. The boys were sad.

Then one day, a kind mother of one of the boys decided she would start a cub scout pack at the boys school. She went to the PTO of the school and said "I would like to start a cub scout pack at our school." The PTO had many wise people. They listened to the mother tell her story of the sad boys, and how the Scouts could turn everything in the school to gold. The PTO wisely considered the mothers story; and after much wise discussion said to the mother "as long as it doesn't cost us anything, go for it."

And the mother went for it. She called upon the Scout office and said: "I will start a new pack at our school". The Scout office rejoiced, and sent to the mother the District Executive, who wore his scout uniform, and had many forms to fill in. The District Executive said to the mother "Dear mother: read this impossibly large binder and fill in these endless forms. Then call upon the parents of your school to bring forth their boys. When they are reverently assembled, I will bravely appear again, in my uniform, clean and cheerful. For I am trustworthy and loyalty, and I will be helpful and friendly to the families, and show them kindly and courteously The Way of Obedience."

The mother set about filling in the forms. And while the mother was filling in the forms, she visited upon the playground with the other mothers. She told them of the pack, and of the coming of the District Executive. The mothers rejoiced and told the news to their sons. The sons rejoiced, and wondered how they would fit scouting in between soccer, basketball, baseball, math tutoring, art classes, and the Science Fair project. But no matter. All their friends would join. It meant swimming and camping, and the uniform was pretty cool too!

So on fateful Fall evening did gather the parents with their boys, and the District Executive cheerfully appeared once more as he promised. He passed around even more forms to the parents, then said to the mother "You, good mother, who revived what turned out to be a long-dormant pack, YOU will be the Cubmaster!" The parents were impressed and smiled amongst themselves, and the mother said "I'm not wearing that silly uniform."

Then the District Executive turned to the parents and said: "Dear parents, to the boys and to the Cubmaster you have a great responsibility!! Who among you will step forth and form The Pack Committee?! To raise money for the pack, and fill in forms, and guide the Cubmaster on her way?" The parents did look at their shoes and check their PDA's, but the District Executive held firm. Finally, after much pulling of hair and teeth did the volunteers come forth, and the Dens were sorted and the Committee formed. The District Executive looked upon his work and saw that it was good. He said to the parents "I will send to you my appointee. The One with experience to Chair your Committee until you are ready to guide yourselves. And the parents and their boys went home with stars in their eyes.

When the father of one of the boys heard the news of the pack he was happy. The father looked back on his scouting days with fondness and misty eyes, and resolved to carry on the traditions he had learned. The father pledged to himself to become Akela, and guide his boy on his Way. But the father could sense danger. He had learned long ago through many trials and much suffering to Never Again Volunteer Yourself. The father also pledged never to wear that silly uniform again.

So the father set about becoming Akela, and going to scout functions, and seeing that his boy was on his Way. The boy earned his Bobcat badge and set about becoming a Wolf Scout, and the father was proud. Then one day the wife did come from the playground and say to the father: "Good father, the Cubmaster speaks of the many traditions the cubs must uphold, like the carving of wooden cars to race, and the yearly celebration feast! For your wisdom and kindness I have named you, dear father, to sit upon the Committee and produce the feast." The father did inwardly rage, but smiled and said that he would make the best feast ever. Then the father did plod to his study to figure out feast-making, and tear apart his calendar looking for extra time.

Then after many days did The One Chair, sent by the District Executive to guide the Committee, give notice of the Gathering. On fateful evening the committee gathered at the fathers house, and lo, appeared The One Chair. And with her Delores Umbridge manner, The One Chair declared that she would rule over the committee without question, in a safe, risk-free manner, so that no organizing of pack business would actually take place. And she required of the committee to follow Roberts Rules of Order, and say the Cub Scout Promise, and talk of inconsequential things. And the parents looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders, for they didn't know any better.

However, in her exuberance, The One Chair did demand of the committee to be Trained! And so one Saturday did the parents make the perilous journey past the malls and through unending sprawl to far-away West County. For there, in West County, is the Temple of Scouts, where the oldest and wisest scout leaders are said to dwell. Find the temple the parents did; and for that Saturday the parents ate donuts and communed with the oldest and wisest scout leaders. And the old leaders revealed to the parents the Cub Scout Leader Book, and taught them the deepest scouting secrets and campfire songs. And when ended the day, the parents rejoiced at receiving their Trained insignia, and having their training cards punched. They talked amongst themselves of the knowledge they had gained. They resolved between them to wear the silly uniform, and apply the secrets of the Leader Book with enthusiasm and love.

But a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. And after the Training did the committee know they had been deceived by The One Chair. And they resolved to organize themselves according to the Leader Book and the teachings of the wise old scouts. And the father set about making attendance records, and a budget, and a website, and a resource directory, and email lists, and an activity calendar, and he did ask the other parents for input. When The One Chair discovered the fathers work, she cried: "Usurper!! How dare thee ignore the Job Description!" The One Chair assumed the father would claim the position of the Chair for himself. But the father had no such designs, and he blew off The One Chair, and worked day and night with the other parents to support the Cubmaster.

But The One Chair is powerful and can not be ignored. She complained to the Unit Commissioner, and cast spells of confusion upon the parents, so that they sent their email replies to the wrong accounts, and showed up for meetings at the wrong time. The father made copies of the Leader Book, and gave them to the parents so they would know the truth, and took control of the calendar. This caused The One Chair to cry War! and send forth her army of bureaucracy. At this point the Cubmaster was forced to smite The One Chair with a nasty email, and The One Chair did shut up.

Peace has settled upon the pack, though no one knows for how long. For the One Chair can never be completely vanquished, and those of us who know her, know she is out there still. Meanwhile, the father continues his planning of the feast, and the uploading of the records to Google Docs. He is prepared for the return of The One Chair only insomuch as to give her another chance to dispossess herself of the Obsession With The Job Description; and to get with the program and actually help with the recruiting, and drafting a budget, and organizing the den meetings. For the father knows he needs her help for the pack to succeed....

To Be Continued....

Friday, March 13, 2009

Cookies For Breakfast

Beware! Advertisers are coming for your soul. Now that you're here it may be too late!

How'd you like my boogieman impression?

OK, calm down. Let me explain:

If you've never noticed (I never do), there are AdSense ads on my blog. When I created the blog, I thought it would be fun to see what Google thought belonged as advertising on my site. There was also the prospect of a paycheck from ad revenue in the event my scribblings became renown. Well, no such luck. I'm yet to earn a dime from the ads.

While they don't take up much space, I've toyed with the idea of pulling the ads and closing my AdSense account. The thought came and went, but I really didn't pay it any mind. That is until yesterday. Yesterday I recieved this email from my partners on the AdSense Team:

We're writing to let you know about the upcoming launch of interest-based advertising, which will require you to review and make any necessary changes to your site's privacy policies. You'll also see some new options on your Account Settings page.

Interest-based advertising will allow advertisers to show ads based on a user's previous interactions with them, such as visits to advertiser website and also to reach users based on their interests (e.g. "sports enthusiast"). To develop interest categories, we will recognize the types of web pages users visit throughout the Google content network. As an example, if they visit a number of sports pages, we will add them to the "sports enthusiast" interest category. To learn more about your associated account settings, please visit the AdSense Help Center at http://www.google.com/adsense/support/bin/topic.py?topic=20310.

As a result of this announcement, your privacy policy will now need to reflect the use of interest-based advertising. Please review the information at https://www.google.com/adsense/support/bin/answer.py?answer=100557 to ensure that your site's privacy policies are up-to-date, and make any necessary changes by April 8, 2009. Because publisher sites and laws vary across countries, we're unfortunately unable to suggest specific privacy policy language.

For more information about interest-based advertising, you can also visit the Inside AdSense Blog at http://adsense.blogspot.com/2009/03/driving-monetization-with-ads-that.html.

We appreciate your participation and look forward to this upcoming enhancement.
The Google AdSense Team
First, I have to stop myself from pointing out the hilarious irony of "interest-based" advertising on THIS site. But it sounds pretty big, doesn't it?

Second, I should note that that little email has created quite a stir on the Inter-tubes. But I digress.

So what does this mean for you, my good reader? It means that the End Times are approaching. It means that Google, through me, is watching your every move. It means that with the one-two punch of Analytics and AdSense, Google will set the Mother of All Cookies in your browser. A monstrous cookie; one with the half-life of a Twinkee; one that follows you everywhere you surf; one that feeds Google's bottomless appetite for the almighty dollar and increased share-holder value. I, for my shame, have wrought this upon your soul and I am sorry. The least you can do now is buy from my line of whey-cewl cycling apparel.

A few tips: if internet-based tracking frightens you, you might want to find a hole or a cave to live in. But if you prefer to keep your suburban lifestyle, you might consider ditching Internet Exploder for Firefox with the AdBlock and NoScript add-ons. You might consider ditching Internet Exploder anyway. Because if, like me, you've realized the futility of maintaining any real privacy on the brave, new, ad-supported, corporate-controlled Interwebs, you might want to consider Firefox with the AdBlock and NoScript add-ons, just to keep a handle on the amount of information you expose.

Whew! I've done my part to keep the Intrabytes safe for democracy by raising a panic about your cyber-existence. I even went the extra mile and recommended a few simple work-arounds. For now I'm going to keep the ads and the reader counters. After all, the ads might make me some money one day, and the counters make really phat graphs. Won't you please buy my jerseys?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

My Great Movie Idea

The other day I noticed a story in the Wall Street Journal about two formerly top-secret vessels the US Navy is trying to give away. First, there is the Sea Shadow - the prototype for all modern naval radar-evading technology. Along with Sea Shadow is the Hughes Mining Barge - a floating dry-dock that was the base for the Sea Shadow. The article says the ships are being "given away", but we're talking about the Navy here, so there is probably mountains of paperwork, unending bureaucracy, and one-or-two political hoops to jump though.

Still: rough water stabilized, diesel-electric propulsion, radar stealthy. What's not to like? Too bad it would cost a fortune to move and refit. It has to be the ultimate party boat, although it would be a little tough to fish off the back.

Then I got to thinking: what if I didn't salvage it as a party boat? What if I fit it with missiles instead? I could have endless fun making the great navies of the world think they're shooting at one another. Yeah! Even better: I'd use it as part of my dastardly plot to steal missiles from a British vessel lost in the South China Sea. Then, I'd use those missiles to provoke a war between China and Great Britain. Waddaya think, huh? Yeah? Yeah? Do you think the Navy will still let me have it?

I guess it depends. I've established I have a criminally-inclined genius and a ruthless streak, but more is required:

1. I need an organization with a name I can turn into a suitably menacing acronym.
2. I need henchmen with unusual and remarkable deformities (hard to find in St. Louis).
3. What about henchwomen with names both unlikely and sexually suggestive? (I guess I could hang out at SLU).
4. I don't have a white persian cat. Would my calico work?
5. I don't enjoy monologuing. I'll have to refine that skill.
6. Can I credibly threaten the destruction of western civilization while maintaining a PG-13 rating?

Sunday, February 8, 2009


You don't get many Saturdays like this in February. Maybe in San Diego, but not in St. Louis. None of us could pass up the 65 degree weather.

Catawissa is here. We started here. Don't ask me how we got from one point to the other because I have no idea. I'm still trying to map the route.

According to the folks with Garmins on their bikes, there is 4000 feet of climbing in the 50 mile loop we rode. I believe it. It was very hilly, very windy, and very fun. And in a testament to the Weekly Workouts, I can proudly say that I was not the lantern rouge on any of the climbs. In fact, I finished all of them either in the middle or the end of the main pack. Quite an accomplishment riding with this group.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Art of Toodling

I received a fair number of comments (four) directly and by email about this post. "Love the post" they said. "But what is toodling?" I was surprised. I thought toodling was a common term. My parents accused me of it routinely. One of my officers in the Navy used to refer to killing time at sea as toodling. In all my travels I've heard endless numbers of people use the word in passing. So how is it that toodling is unknown in St. Louis?

I don't think for a minute that St. Louis was bypassed by the toodling world. I swear I have seen people here toodle. They may not have known they were toodling though; I never stopped them to ask if they're aware. Then again, midwestern culture is kind of conservative, so maybe we keep our toodling on the down-low. It may not be polite to mention toodling in mixed company either. I'll have to write to the newspaper to find out.

But what exactly is toodling? Well, there is no formal definition. Its more of a feeling; or rather, a state of being. In essence, to toodle is to meander or relax; to stroll or drift along without destination. It's a way of satisfying the soul by clearing the mind and ensnaring the senses. There are no rules.

For example, one may toodle aimlessly. Here is a couple who have toodled together since 1968, and they are so good at it, they can wrangle lunch from their friends. Here is another couple who toodle the trails of Seattle. And here is a fellow who calls himself Squishy and photographs his toodles.

One may toodle in the name of science.

Or in the name of the law.

Here is an example of toodle-spotting.

And here is some allegorical toodling (similarities in blog style notwithstanding). Google Image will supply you no end of other examples.

One may also toodle with purpose. For instance, my wife toodles in the garden. That doesn't make toodling an exclusively English passtime, but it does attest to the international recognition of the term (or our colonial past). Of course she has refined her garden toodles in the English way. No great horticultural feats are endeavored, but certain plantings are rearranged while others are ejected, and many a weed has met its demise.

I look forward to my toodles. Judging from the hits on Google, I suspect others do to. Living a modern, suburban life, toodle time is precious. Its something we teach our children and pass along from generation to generation. I think I toodle more like my father than my mother. My mother certainly toodles like her mother. My wife toodles in something of the way of her father and her mum. My kids being Ukrainian, I'm not sure whos toodle they emmulate. Early observations of my son point towards Ivan The Terrible. My daughter is very developmentally delayed, and I can't tell the toodling from her normal function - yet. As we grow the orphanage out of her, her style will blossom, and she may develop a uniquely eastern European toodle, or borrow from one of us. Only time will tell as we toodle along.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Well Now

No sooner did I post this then this was revealed. I'm sure everyone has heard about it. Of course we get the predictable malarkey like this and this. Our athletic heroes have let us down? Really? Even before activating my Wonder Twin Powers of Reading Comprehension, I understood the references to the collective "Our" - the figurative national "Us" - but it didn't stop my knee from jerking. Let "Us" down how? You're telling me some 21-year-old swimmer is supposed to be The Paragon of Moral Virtue<trumpets sound>? Yeah, Phelps' Olympic accomplishments were staggering, and we can point to him with pride as an example of athletic skill, but we're not talking Dali Lahma here. "Our" expectations of this man beyond the pool point to a very serious fundamental problem.

What is a hero? Merriam-Webster says:
he·ro \ˈhir-(ˌ)ō\ noun
1 a: a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability b: an illustrious warrior c: a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities d: one that shows great courage
OK, lets review:
- Endowed with great strength or ability? Check.
- Admired for his achievements? Check.
- Shows great courage? Check.
Hmm, we just might have a hero on our hands. Wait now, there are other qualities to consider:
- Divine decent? Certainly not.
- Mythological or legendary? Uh, no.
- Illustrious warrior? That would be stretching things.
- Noble qualities? Yeah,maybe.
I don't read anything about perfect, infallible, or keeper of the national standard. You see, the "expectations" for celebrities and athletes has become the same as with politicians. Nothing short of some divine, squeaky-clean Donny-and-Marie-type creature can occupy our public space, as if to say that the people we choose to represent us are actually Heaven-sent. That goes for the people who play football, baseball, or ride bikes, or anyone on TV. How backward and deluded is that?

Try this one on for size: Micheal Phelps wants to be normal. When I was a kid, I had the good sense to choose my heroes from the non-existent and the dead. Only comic book characters have super powers, and dead men don't make mistakes, hence they never let me down. I never counted on my heroes, nor did I model my behavior after them. For instance, Hemmingway was one of my favorite writers, and JFK was one of my favorite statesmen. You see what I'm getting at? Heroes can guide you to what is possible, but not how to live your life, because heroes are - first and foremost - tragic characters.

I can only imagine the hell that must have been Phelps' world: dogged by the press and marketeers. Agents and coaches. Endless training and interviews and sycophants. And at only 18. His life was the pool. Sequestered. I bet all that taken together can make one quite anti-social. So then he achieves what no other has at 21, and what next? I'll just bet he longed to try all those things he'd heard about, but never got to experience. All the fun of being a young man: parties and a girlfriend and the freedom to explore. To be anonymous. Unfortunately it was too late, and he'd already been twisted into a spokes-model. How sick.

Phelps certainly didn't let me down. If anything he lifted me up. He showed me that he's human after all. And he acted in a way I would expect any kid with a brain (and feelings) to act who'd been swept up by marketing machines and the world press. He rebelled. And I think the only thing he's sorry about was trusting the people he was with. That will certainly never happen again.

I don't think any less of Micheal for this either. I do, however, harbor an enormous disdain for the jerk who took his picture. I can see it now: "DUDEZ!! Check out the snaps of Phelps doin' bingers my room!" That person should have known what would happen when that picture got out. But our obsession with money and celebrity knows no bounds; and good sense and discretion isn't part of growing up any more. Why should Michael be held to a different standard just because he swims well?

So now Phelps has lost his sport and his income, and may have to face the police (apparently Kellogg's doesn't market to human beings, and South Carolina can't resist a cheap headline). That's supposed to be a tragedy. I say: fly Michael, be free.

Saturday, January 31, 2009


I love to get around on my Masi singlespeed. Its probably my favorite bike. Oh yes, riding the Litespeed is a thrill, but you can't toodle around on a Litespeed. Well I suppose you can, but it would be hard.

St. Louis isn't particularly hilly, but it does have some Hills (with a capital "H"). The Speciale Fixed make of Masi is more of a track bike, with the track geometry and spec. It came with a 48T front chainring and a 16T rear cog. That's OK for spinning around the park, but in traffic the gearing is a little steep. There have been times when I needed to Get On It, and even as strong as I've become with the bike, I can't move it fast enough in certain situations to feel safe (and not prevent knee surgery, anyway). It was time to talk to the mechanics at LBS.

LBS employs a few singlespeed affectionados, and we had a lot to talk about. In the end we decided that a 46T chainring would do the trick. They had a few in stock and set about making the swap. A few minutes into the work the mechanic discovered something: the Touro crank will only accept the 48T chainring that comes with it (something about the bevel). This was confirmed by looking through the SRAM catalog, and surfing out to the SRAM site. Of course the Touro doesn't even appear on the SRAM site any more. I surfed a little more and found this post confirming what we already knew. By that time, the mechanics had already suggested the same work-around and swapped the 16T freewheel for a 18T.

Now a new problem: the Masi also comes with some off-brand of chain. Since LBS didn't have the proper links in stock to lengthen my existing chain, I was forced to buy a new one. So, Masiguy: why the Touro crank?

In the end I'm rolling phat. That is to say, toodling with a little more confidence. It cost me a bit more than I expected, but I have just the right amount of Go (<-- is that the right way to say that?) in traffic.
Other Adjustments
One of the things I love about the Masi is the jump-on-and-go platform pedals, but the shoes I normally wear to ride, lets say I'd be better off bare-footed. I tend to pad around in these. They're comfortable and warm, especially in the winter, but the sole is really floppy. I decided I'd made-do long enough and wanted to replace them with stiffer-soled commuter shoes. Unfortunately, LBS didn't have any in my size, so I was forced to shop around. In the end I found these at Mesa Cycles. They're a bit flashier than I wanted, but they're really comfortable, warm, and feel great on platform pedals. Not to mention that I can wear them in the house and not be threatened with a horrible death.
I might have been the only rider in St. Louis not on his bike today. Yes, I missed a 60 degree January day. It happens sometimes.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The City Museum Workout

<-- Check this out. That H.R. Geiger-inspired apparatus is a network of spiral slides and staircases inside City Museum. It rises eight storeys out of "The Caves". There's only one way to get up there, and only one way to get down. If you want a real of test your fitness, I suggest you round up a couple of second graders and see how many trips to the top you can make with them.

And the trip down? Well now, I won't say the slides are built for small people. Rather, lets say they're the perfect size for the area they occupy, in order to induce blood-curdling screams. Larger people (with sturdy constitutions) have to contort and hold themselves in a half-moon shape, sort of on their side, whilst holding the feet up - but not too far up. Holding the feet too high means bumping a knee cap on the safety cage at speed (yes, I'm sure). Dragging the feet slows the blistering decent in the dark and risks a collision from behind. Mastering the proper sliding form takes only a few tries.

This is by far the most fun to be had - ever - on a snowy Sunday, anywhere. We are lucky to live in St. Louis.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Where Do They Find The Time?

Blogging is hard. Well really, its the keeping up with that takes the effort. If you're like me - on the work/kids schedule - you know that time is always at a premium. As I read through my list of usual blogs I wonder where the authors find the time to write their long, rambling discourses three or four or more times a week. It baffles me. What else do they do all day, to, you know, earn money?

Coming up with subjects for blog posts is never a problem for me. I have no end of half baked scribbles in the queue. Some of them are just titles. No, its finding the time to finish them. It takes me hours, sometimes days, to write a post, all depending on the thought. I can write paragraphs on the way to organizing an idea, only to find later that most of what I've written doesn't follow and I have to start over. Or I forget something. Or I add too much detail.

Then there's the distractions. So far this morning I've had to settle at least a dozen arguments, redirect and give comfort, judge artwork, attend a play, go to the store, relocate our wandering washing machine, clean out the furnace. And this is Sunday - you know, the day of rest.

Then there's the sitting down to do it. This blogging thing is voluntary, right? Sometimes I just don't feel like it. I like to be sure I have something to say rather than filling up space. But that's not what blogging really is, is it?

I also take that stuff from english class very seriously. I mind my dangling participles and my gerunds and my run-on sentences. Every now and then I can turn a pretty cool prepositional phrase. I should have slept through all that like the rest of my classmates, but I couldn't. I'll write and rewrite until it reads just right (the word processor was the one of the best things to ever happen to me). I continue the rewrites even after I've given up and published the post anyway, sometimes for days after it appears on the blog. There's always some little detail.

I'm lucky its snowing out today, otherwise I'd be off in some far-flung corner of the city running errands or riding my bike. As it is, the kids are in Snow Mode: alternating playing in the snow with thawing in the kitchen over snacks and an art project. We'll probably end up at the City Museum today which means I'll have to get organized and pack it up, putting my thoughts on hold once again.

So tell me: where do these people find the time? Maybe if I learn the secret I'll be a blogging wizard - a publishing marvel, and it'll look like I get paid to do this. Possibly? Nah...

Monday, January 12, 2009


Every now and then Google likes to remind me that there are tools available for measuring the appeal of my blog. I think I know the appeal: I have two Followers, one of whom is my wife, and I hardly ever get comments. Am I supposed to have a wider appeal? Dare I dream of an audience on the Internet?

Really, the blog is a vanity toy I use to document my attempts at youthful vigor or sketch a random thought. Everybody has one. I don't care who reads it, and I certainly don't expect to make a living at it. If I tried, I imagine I'd wind up in front of the publishing world equivalent of Randy, Paula, and Simon, having my ass handed to me for some heinous literary faux-pas.

My wife's blog though, that's another story. She can get thousands of unique hits a day depending on what group of Jesus freaks or Dr. Phil wannabe's she rankles. In real terms, that's enough traffic to sell the kind of advertising that pays bills. Even on a slow day her page rate is in the hundreds, because lets face it, there is a far wider audience of family voyeurs and moms comparing notes than there is of those who care anything about my take on local cycling.

Still, Google tools are simple to use, I was curious, and after a few months I had some pretty charts and reports to look at. The charts and reports tell me interesting things, like, that I have a semi-regular readership of eight; and that I have a "bounce rate" of about 80%. My most popular posts are about my submarine days, dealing with traffic, and the election (I always thought this one was my best post, but it certainly isn't the most popular). The Masi post gets the most referrals from Google searches.

Of my daily readers, most:
- use Internet Exploder;
- buy their internet access from a cable provider;
- spend an average of a minute-and-a-half on the site;
- wear spandex (I don't know how Google knows this).
I've had readers from nearly every state and a handful of foreign countries.

Sometimes, like yesterday, I get a spike in the number of readers. Normally the chart bumps along between four and eight readers a day. Suddenly it will jump to twenty or thirty readers then settle back down. This can happen once or twice a month. Google doesn't easily tell me what the extra readers are looking at or where they come from. I have to really dig to correlate page views to events. Most of the time I can't be bothered, but every now and then I'd like to know what's so interesting.

In Google's terms I'm pretty boring. Looking over my front page its not hard to see why: I publish a collection of gym workouts and ruminations about my rides around town, punctuated by the occasional commentary. To make it a bit more interesting I add maps of my rides, and links to sites published by riders who live around here - keeping the local flavor, if you will. No flashy graphics or formatting, just stuff by a hired hand at one of the local cube farms. So if I wanted to improve my readership, what would it take? What makes a great cycling blog?

Whenever I surf cycling, I notice the same three sites linked from the front page: BKW, Fat Cyclist, and BSNYC. They're even linked from my front page. Why? They seemed to be The Standard when I was putting my blog together and I jumped on the band wagon. To wit:

BKW is published by a pair of bike industry fixtures, Padraig and Radio Freddy, who I think sleep with their bicycles. They are so enamored of the sport and the lifestyle they feel the need to use the slang of the noun "professional" as a nominative verb, capitalizing the letters as if to shout it at you. "PRO is go!" Or, "that's PRO!" The diction is such that they belong to an exclusive club, with its own mores and customs that we casual riders ignore at our peril - kind of like we submariners did after we earned our dolphins (but I don't run around calling people NON-QUAL anymore). Over time I've come to appreciate BKW for the interviews, the clips of the various classic races, and the great insights from guys who take cycling very seriously.

Fat Cyclist is a truly funny journal. The blog is published by a fellow in Utah who calls himself Fatty. Fatty, of course, is something of a misnomer. Fatty isn't fat, he's a middle aged hobby rider with kids like me, but with a brilliant sense of humor. What's more, his wife is suffering with cancer and he's managed not only to maintain his sense of humor, but refine it. He also has his own line of cycling apparel that is continuously sold out. My Spring line will be debuting soon, and I'm hoping for his endorsement.

BSNYC is an amalgamation of BKW and Fat Cyclist. You get the wit of Fatty with the insight of Radio Freddy. When I read BSNYC, I dub over the commentary with the accent of the Brooklyn transplant who sits next to me at work. It's like having the cycling world related to me by Joe Pesci or Tony Sirico. The style is gritty and to the point, no mincing words or mixing metaphores. I mean, its New York City, for crissakes. The place where you can get laid just by doing a track stand in an alley (scroll down to the picture of a girls back). For contrast, let's see what's going on in St. Louis:
- Ewers smudged his carpet riding the rollers;
- Unit is busy defining embrocation, and still hasn't bought new shorts after his crash in the fall;
- James has the flu;
- some loony at Bugmans office shot herself in a porta-let (why Bugmans employer can't afford indoor plumbing is another matter).

As you can see, I have a long way to go before I have the kind of high-traffic, well respected, online journal that sell loads of pricey ads. I don't have the Phil Donahue/Montel Williams thing going for me, so I can't take that angle (or can I?). I'm not an cycling "insider" so I don't have the street cred thing going for me either. Maybe if I got a tatoo? Certainly I need to post more often than twice a week; and I need to make the posts - if not something funny or worth reading - at least snarky. My own line of clothing wouldn't hurt. Maybe I can have contest. Or take a few polls. Maybe I could buy Rock Racing. I'm open to suggestions....

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Playing With Playlists

This iTunes thingy is pretty nifty. The holidays have given me some extra time in the mornings, and I've spent the last few days putting a little organization to my music collection. There is much to organize.

In my younger days I used to traipse around the county with microphones and tape deck recording concerts. Blues Traveller, Widespread Panic, and Grateful Dead were my favorites, but I was known to stick a mic in the air for anything that made my backbone slip. I put it all away when I got married, but the hobby left me with a mountain of archived music. I'm still not sure how many hours. Lately I've dug up DAT masters from the '90's that I've never listened to.

On top of all the live stuff and the cabinet of store-bought CD's in the living room, there is iTunes: that ultra-convenient marketplace for all things media. My old MP3 player died during the summer and was replaced at Christmas with a shiney new 16Gb Nano and several iTunes gift cards. I went kinda apeshit. Between my existing collection and the Genius feature in iTunes, I collected, well, a lot.

Without being too sentimental, suffice it to say music is a big part of my life. It puts ideas in my head and gives me perspective. I grew up listening to Devo, Parliament, Al Greene, Johnny Cash, Pink Floyd, Bob Marley, Elvis Costello, Glenn Campbell, Iggy Pop, ZZ Top, the Alman Brothers. I could go on. My folks gave me my first single, "Hard Days Night", when I was six, and I played it to death on this little Playschool turntable. I bought my first album, "Houses of the Holy" with paper route money in 1973. When I was in high school, punk emerged from the ashes of disco and gave some of us a little hope and respite from the likes of Ted Nugent, Donna Summer, and Bachman Turner Overdrive. It was the heyday of FM radio and Steely Dan was there to glorify it for us. I went to my very first concert - ZZ Top at Barton Coliseum - in 1977 (I had tickets to Lynyrd Skynyrd but they never made it to town). I recorded my first Dead show in Nashville in '78.

MTV arrived just as I was going into the navy and introduced me to a new host of British bands that my wife still adores. Unfortunately we're stuck with the influence of the music "lifestyle" that MTV created - but you gotta take the bad with the good. To me, it was all too weird. I remember in the early '80's watching a video by (Duran Duran I think?) I don't remember. I do remember the song was about rejection and loneliness or something, and the scene was a girl wandering around an apartment, and then on a street. Suddenly this blender goes flying by, followed by all sorts of out-of-place objects as the scene shifted from black-and-white to color and back. What a joke. I don't have any idea what that had to do with the song, but it really typified MTV to me. I haven't looked at MTV in over twenty years, but I don't expect it would have changed much, if its even still around.

Just returned from my second westpac in the summer of '86, I found time to catch up with the scene again. I was living in San Diego in those days, and it seemed like all the music I cared about was making its way through town. I saw The Smiths and Dire Straights at SDSU. Paladins used to play regularly at a bar on the Mission Beach strip, along with Beat Farmers, The Replacements, X, Wall of Voodoo, and Los Lobos. I was in LA one weekend with some friends and caught Janes Addiction at the Wiskey-A-GoGo. And how could I ever forget Talking Heads, big suit and all, at the LA Forum? What a show! What a summer. After that I pretty-much decided I'd had enough of the navy, but I stayed on for two more years. San Diego, you know.

I have the iPod with me all the time these days. I like listening when I run or go to the gym or ride the Masi. I hook it up to some speakers when I'm putzing around the house or grilling out or playing with the kids. There is that element of exposing the kids to the influences of "my day", sort of like my dad did. Music is much more than the environmental element it was when I was growing up, but I stay true to the idea. I like to think that if it wasn't for me, there are things my kids might never hear - not while they're young, anyway. There is a crush of music vying for their attention and they already have their own idea of what's good. I don't know if they'll ever get around to exploring the live music archive. You know how boring the parents music is. But who knows?

So here's the first 50 of my Top 100 playlist. Lets see what y'all think. Comments?
Monkey Man 4:11 The Rolling Stones
Rock & Roll 3:48 Jane's Addiction
Sympathy 5:47 Jane's Addiction
Join Together 4:24 The Who
Stir It Up 5:21 Bob Marley & The Wailers
Dyin' Man 4:30 Widespread Panic
Can't Get Used to Losing You 3:02 The English Beat
What Difference Does It Make? 3:51 The Smiths
Pickin' Up The Pieces 4:26 Widespread Panic
Waiting for the End of the World 3:23 Elvis Costello
Calling Elvis 6:27 Dire Straits
In the Summertime 3:58 Shaggy
Lost in a Crowd 4:02 Rusted Root
Think 3:13 James Brown
Where I'm From 4:35 Digable Planets
Dead Egyptian Blues 3:52 Trout Fishing In America
Stay With Me 4:54 Rod Stewart, Ron Wood & Train
Stuck in the Middle with You 3:24 Stealers Wheel
Wild Kingdom 3:49 2 Skinnee J's
Folsom Prison Blues 2:45 Johnny Cash
Ace of Spades 3:06 Surf Report
Why Can't I Touch It? 6:34 Buzzcocks
One Way Out 4:58 The Allman Brothers Band
Walk on the Wild Side 4:13 Lou Reed
Hocus Pocus 6:43 Focus
Samson And Delilah 5:05 Grateful Dead
Skateaway 6:19 Dire Straits
One Summer 4:33 2 Skinnee J's
Fat Man In The Bathtub 4:53 Little Feat
Blues Prelude 4:05 Jorma Kaukonen
Two Step 6:27 Dave Matthews Band
Is This Love 7:29 Bob Marley & The Wailers
Apeman (Live) 4:01 The Kinks
Spill the Wine 4:55 War
Over the Hills and Far Away 4:49 Led Zeppelin
Godzilla 3:43 Blue Öyster Cult
Hits from the Bong 2:41 Cypress Hill
Ziggy Stardust 3:30 David Bowie
Planet Claire 4:38 The B-52's
Breakin' Down 4:01 Ben Harper
Jack (Live) 6:46 Widespread Panic
Cross Eyed Mary 3:59 Jethro Tull
Little Martha 2:08 The Allman Brothers Band
Price Of Eggs In China 3:04 Cosmic Giggle Factory
40 Miles from Denver 3:47 Yonder Mountain String Band
Nasty Dogs and Funky Kings 2:42 ZZ Top
I Know a Little 3:28 Lynyrd Skynyrd
Tomorrow Never Knows 6:15 Phil Manzanera
Down On the Corner 2:45 Creedence Clearwater Revival
One Step 11:21 Paladins