Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Pet Peeve of the day: Powerless

I’ve told you the only thing less reliable than the power at my house is Microsoft’s Hotmail, so I recently installed 9-volt batteries into both of my alarm clocks in the event of a power failure. This morning, I had to use them, and the alarms did indeed wake.

That’s when I groggily noticed the problem: both clocks’ digital faces were blank. A quick check of their functions revealed that everything worked except the clock. How ridiculous is that? The stereo worked. The alarm – presuming you’d set it before the power loss – worked fine. Clearly the time was known, otherwise it couldn’t have sounded the alarm. So why can’t they show me the time? Both of these things are from different manufacturers. I know that a few LEDs don’t take much of any power. Certainly they take less than the beeping alarm and blaring stereo at full volume.

What kind of stupid standard is this? What kind of idiot engineer says “I know what we’ll do!”

Number two: My abdominal muscles

They are pathetic. As a bike racer, I get an absurd amount of cardiovascular exercise. My quadriceps and calves get mercilessly hammered upon, and the rest of my lower body, plus my back, suffer similarly. You’d be surprised at how much riding a road bike uses your arms, too, especially when you’re standing up out of the saddle or going hard up a big hill. Sure, you won’t end up with silly, “decorative” muscle- and-fitness-magazine-type arms, but they’ll get used.

The odd muscle group out in all of this is your abs. Leaned over, tucked in an aerodynamic position, you could totally relax your abdominal muscles and nothing would change. Now, I’m supposed to do all of these boring exercises (read: stuff that isn’t riding a bicycle) to “strengthen my core” and become “more balanced.”

Yeah, whatever.

Except this week, I actually started doing them. This highlighted for the first time just how useless my abs are in relation to everything else. Ever tried Pistol Squats? I mentioned them before. They’re supposed to be pretty hard, but I can handle them. But, regular, boring old leg-lifts? You know, palms and back flat on the floor, legs straight and feet together, picking your legs up and letting them down? I can’t do twenty in sequence. That’s pretty silly. I suppose this is why, despite weighing less than ten stone at six feet tall, my belly doesn’t have a pack of anything.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Pet Peeve of the Day – Sorry, registration required!

When using Google or other browsing for news and articles, the absolutely most annoying thing in the world is getting not the article but a registration required message. It’s intolerable. It’s worse than a dead link or a “page not found,” because in that case, the data’s just not available. Registration required means we’ve got what you’re interested in, but we’re not going to give it to you unless you jump through some hoops.

Look, I’m not THAT interested. I don’t care that “registration is free, and takes less than five minutes!” I’m just browsing the internet, and there are plenty of news sites that are free, no registration required, that will tell me about what I want to know. I went to your site because you had an interesting headline, or Google listed the start of your article, or something. If you want to incorporate ads into your website, that’s okay, but I’m not adding you guys to the list of “spam me, please!”

So stop it.

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Interference!

When my cell phone is receiving a text message and it’s sitting near my computer screen, the monitor will flicker briefly, three times, a moment before the phone realizes it’s got a message. Woah. FCC compliant indeed!

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Pet Peeve of the day number two: “Check Masters”

Everyone knows about those disgusting “payday loan” places, right? They offer you the ability to borrow money, without checking your credit, and call it a “payday advance.” They can give you a loan of $500, for two weeks, for the low low fee of $75.00! Do the math and that’s about 400% interest.

We all know those places are evil, right? I mean, the typical Mafioso loanshark rates are more like 100-150%. But those are bad and illegal, of course. And of course, the reason that payday loan places charge what they do: state law. It’s the maximum amount they’re legally allowed to charge, of course. But the existence of these places isn’t even the Pet Peeve.

My problem is a specific one here ins Washington: Check Masters. They’ve got an advertising campaign full of friendly, happy, smiling people, and declare that they do things differently. They care about you, they respect you as a person. While they charge you 400% interest.

Would you stop pretending that this is anything other than a last ditch, no-other-choices method used by people who are going to get reamed by someone one way or the other?
When a Pound is not a Pound:

Sometimes, it’s 1 pound, plus 1/6. Sometimes, it’s 2.6 pounds.

If you’re not interested in being as obese as the average American, you’ve probably heard that it takes about 3500 calories to make a pound, so a 500 calorie deficit per day will lead you to lose about a pound a week, and the reverse.

I’d always been opposed to the nonsense of moneymakin’ fad diets, like the ever-infamous Atkins program, instead preferring to believe that life was simpler, that a calorie was a calorie and a pound was a pound, regardless of what its source is.

That may not be entirely correct. Reading a book on cycling training (Performance Cycling, David Morris, Ragged Mountain Press, 2003), the section on nutrition describes the differences between the way the body metabolizes fat and carbohydrate. Apparently, the actual number of calories (kilocalories, more accurately) in a pound is 3600, but that’s only for fat. For carbohydrate, the process is a bit more complicated, as sugar must be metabolically converted to fat before being stored in adipose tissue (“fat cells”). This isn’t a perfectly efficient conversion, says Morris, which I should’ve thought of. It takes about 4200 calories of sugars to become a pound of fat.

Woah, woah, stop the bus. You’re telling me that I can eat MORE carbs than fats, for the same weight effects?

Yeah, pretty much. And of course you know fat has more than double the calories by weight that sugar does – 9 compared to 4. So 400 grams of excess dietary fat will lead to a pound of weight gain, which is pretty efficient, since it’s 454 grams to a pound and all. But for sugars, you can consume over a kilo of it – 1050 gm, to be exact – to have the same effect.

Take that, low-carbers. Sometimes, a pound is not a pound.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Pet Peeve of the Day – Car advertising and Gremlin power!

Ever see a classic car from the 30’s or 40’s? My folks have a 1946 Studebaker convertible, and if you don’t recognize the “rocket ship” hood ornament, you wouldn’t really have any indication of what it is.

By the 60’s, the trunk had picked up a small, script version of the company’s name, or the model name, occasionally both. Once in a while you’d also get a description of a feature of the car, like “400” or “SS,” but that was about it. Mopar was pretty garish sometimes, I’ll admit, but you could also buy a Dodge Daytona in the color “plum crazy,” or a “Superbee” in yellow and black, complete with a little decal of a bee.

Once you got to the 80’s, practically every car had adopted the format where the trunk contains the brand symbol in the center, the model on one side, and the trim level following the model. This applies even to boring cars, “[Honda H] Civic HX” and the like.

In the post-modern era, the brand has trumped the product. Ever see a modern Ford truck? The bed’s door has been made a massive, flat panel, the better to display a pie-plate-sized Blue Oval. By the time you can see the truck, you know it’s a Ford. Giant decals on the side indicate “4 x 4” and “Off-Road!!!” You know, to emphasize their toughness.

Erm, so what?

The pet peeve isn’t the manufacturers forcing consumers to purchase rolling advertisements along with their products, although that’s a little annoying.
The pet peeve is when folks pay money just to make the advertisement bigger, and more garish, for a rather boring car.

Is this about you? Do you own a compact car? Have you added a large decal to the windshield that reads “Powered by Honda!?” Or, are you the guy in my apartment complex with a black Mitsubishi sedan? It would be unassuming, except that there are no fewer than 6 large Mitsu logos that you’ve decaled on there, along with little flames coming out of some of them and “MITSUBISHI” in large letters across the windshield.

Yes, I know race cars do this sort of thing. They are paid to, so that when they are on TV, you dork, they’re more noticeable. What you’ve got going on is the opposite of one of those “my other car is a Ferrari” bumper stickers. Hooray! You have an inexpensive compact car! Congratulations!

As a followup, have you ever seen a supercar in person, like a Ferrari or Lamborghini? They’ve got their own logos, fairly small, and sometimes a script version of the company name on that back. That’s it. Beyond that, the styling speaks for itself. You don’t have one of those.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Things Shouted at Me While Cycling (mostly From Moving Vehicles):

For some reason, people in cars often shout things at people on bikes. I don’t really understand this – do they think we’re that funny? Is it because the equipment de-humanizes us? What is it about someone out riding that makes a driver think, “let’s shout things at him!” I don’t run, so I don’t really know, but I don’t often hear runners complain about the things drivers shout at them.

I suppose I should replace “people on bikes” with “cyclists,” because I don’t think the random guy riding home slowly from work with a backpack and jeans gets shouted at in the same way. Somehow wearing cycling gear gets their thought process on shouting, but it still doesn’t make much sense.

A lot of times, these folks aren’t very nice, shouting obscenities, sitting on horns, what have you, but I’m not going to talk about that. Though the fact that this has to exist is a little disheartening.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had a surprising lack of outright obscenities, and even a few supportive comments, though this sort of sudden “support” from strange moving vehicles I could usually do without. I do realize they’re probably usually attempting to mock me, but, whatever. In addition to the usual multitude of unintelligible whoops and hollers, I’ve gotten:
  • "Go Lance!" -- Several times. Logical, I guess, but still weird. When you see some guys playing basketball, do you shout “Go Michael Jordan”?
  • ”Wow, good job!” -- This one from a soccer mom-type lady as I’d just sprinted up a fairly steep hill. Do I get a gold star?
  • ”Nice ass!” -- This one twice. Once, from a couple of younger guys, you know the type, who think they are VERY cool with flipped-up-collared Polo shirts and cargo shorts. The second time from a pair of jailbait-looking young ladies in daddy’s Mercedes, who then swerved from giggling so much.
  • This last one wasn’t from a car, but a fitness rider out for a ride himself on a hybrid/upright type bike. He was going up the steepest hill in the area – kudos for that – at about 4 miles per hour. “Hey, *puff* that’s cheating! *huff* No fair!” he said as I passed him at road-bike-type-speeds. That got a laugh.
Okay, so, seriously, you only get to whoop and cheer and yell at cyclists riding by you when they are racing. If you want to go camping in the mountains, get drunk, paint a bunch of grafitti on the road, and then shout and cheer at guys on bikes as they ride past, then go find a bike race to watch.

Saturday, September 02, 2006



So, one Hippopotamus says to the other...

Friday, September 01, 2006

Pet peeve of the day:

This was going to be called “Make Offer,” in reference to people who place classified ads, but don’t list a price. Listen, if you want to auction your stuff, eBay makes it easier than it’s ever been by a mile. If you want to simply sell something, tell me how much it costs. I’m not interested in this game. “Look, I’ve got some stuff, you give me some money, okay?” No good!

Then I found this gem, which has changed my subject line to: how NOT to sell something.

“Zipp 404 clincher wheelset, 700c for Shimano with skewers. Came on a bike just bought, so there. Dimpled version, so the latest model. CX-ray spokes. You would never know they weren't new. If you need a photo, you don't know what you are looking at. These are flawless. If you don't agree send them back for FULL refund. I am Moots10 on ebay, 274 positive feedbacks. Let me know what you think. We all know Colorado Cyclist get $1750 for front & rear. If your offer is out of reason, I will not reply. Thanks.”

Oh, yeah, that’s going to work. List an expensive item with no price, just ask for offers. Furthermore, what you need to do is INSULT your potential buyers. “So there!” you say, emphasis added. Then you don’t offer pictures, and, for good measure, insult your potential buyers, because they “don’t know what they are looking at.” Don’t worry that the reason many people want pictures of an item is to prove that it’s real and in your possession. Next, declare that you have a lot of feedback on eBay. Okay, but then why aren’t you selling these on eBay? How do I have any idea that the user with that name on eBay is you? The point of feedback on eBay is that it’s a verifiable system, a way to tell whether you are who you say you are. You can’t just declare that you have feedback on eBay and expect to do well. Then, for good measure, you ask for an unspecified 4-figure amount of money, and then finish it off by insulting your potential buyers.

And then you say thanks.

No, thank you. Or, rather:
No, thank you.

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While I’m on the subject of selling, I’m going to talk to you about several companies that clearly don’t want to sell me anything. Amazon is one of them. I’ve never actually ordered from these fine people before, but I’d heard they had a product I was looking for, and clicked on over. Yes indeed, it turned out they stocked what I was looking for, so I went as far as putting it in the virtual basket and hitting up the virtual checkout counter. When the virtual cashier asked me what I wanted to do with it, though, I got so mad I just walked out of the store, leaving the virtual product to be virtually restocked.

No sale!

Where’d they go wrong?

It’s the shipping. Since this product cost over a certain amount, I was told that it qualified for “free super saver shipping.” The virtual checkout clerk, though, told me that the method they used for this was basically to hand it to a hobo who was hitchhiking cross-country in the same general direction as yours truly and hope it got here. That’s why the default, highlighted shipping auction was “standard shipping,” which still took up to a week as you’d expect ground shipping to take. Fine, but what does that cost? Or if I’d like to upgrade to 2-day shipping, how much does that cost? It didn’t tell me. I’m sure it would’ve mentioned it at some point, but I had to enter in my bank account information first.

Look, I’m not giving you my back account number if you don’t at least tell me how much you’re going to be charging it! This is worse than those informercial “free sample, only $19.95 shipping (and handling)” deals.

To cap it all off, it also tried to tell me my total was $30 less than it really was, with the default payment method of the shiny new Amazon.com Visa I was supposed to apply for right there.

Re – Jected. Go back to the jungle, Bezos.


Add: there was a link I eventually found that lead to some more information about their shipping and policies. I'd already rejected the purchase, but I clicked on it out of curiosity. Dead link. Oops. Nice work, again.