Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

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

Thursday, January 25, 2007

This is how it goes

(when you have these delusions of upgrading and doing stage races and stuff)

8:00am - Wake up. It's sunny, which is a good thing. Drink coffee. Eat a cookie.
Weather forecast claims 52 degrees. Hoo-ray.

8:30am - Gear up!

8:45 - Ride out the door over to teh training partner's place.

9:15 - Arrive and eat some serious brekky. Eggs, bagels, banana, veggie sausage, orange juice.

9:30 - Out the door with a full belly. It's still frosty on the ground. I have arm warmers, at least.
Head north.

10:15 - We're going to be late to meet the next guy. Crap. Kick it up to 40 km / hr for about an hour.

11:30 - Meet next guy in Seattle, who's only been waiting a few minutes. Is that a raindrop?

12:00 - Yeah. It's raining. And the sun has gone, replaced by gray, gray, and gray. Kenmore.

1:30 - Sing "Rain, Rain, Go Away." It doesn't help. It's only kinda drizzly, but my fingers are cold, and we're in Bellevue.

2:00 - Meet fourth guy, but he and second guy split off here. Time to head south. It's still drizzling, my fingers are still cold.

What time is it? Where am I?

Are you cooked? Yep. Are you? Pretty much.

I guess I can do one last pull.

I guess I can do one last pull.

4:00 - hey, wow, I'm almost home.

4:15 - Try not to fall over into bed, complete with muddy clothes.

What do we got?

6 hours, 47 minutes. 119 miles.

Same time tomorrow?

You bet.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I do some merchandising at a small grocery store. Since the pink-and-white commercial holiday has arrived, naturally we ordered in a number of useless trinkets to sell. The box they came in had this label:

ATT: MANAGER!!!!
INVOICE ENCLOCED
OPEN IMMEDIATED!!!

Sic, and all that. It's like spam, only, we ordered it. And, it isn't email, or generic viagra.
---
Ebay, criminal records, and a seller's market:

eBay is great. It's also really, really weird. People talk about all the good deals you can get on eBay, and I will admit that sometimes you can; I got a pair of $1,000 Campagnolo Eurus wheels that had been used on literally ONE ride for $400, but that is mostly because the seller made some bad choices on her listing.

But, really, it's great for selling things. I've amassed a solid 300 feedback rating over the past 7 years, all of it positive, and so my auctions get plenty of attention. I sell a lot of bike gear on ebay, because I'm impatient, and, because that's what you do when you get team prices -- sell last year's gear that you got on discount, get new gear on discount, and you often aren't out much.

I'm sometimes shocked at what people are willing to pay. Most glaring of this is used cycling clothing. I recently sold some off-brand bibshorts that I had used for a year. I got 'em on clearance, so their retail was $75, I paid $40. They sold for almost $20. I mean, sure, maybe someone would think, "Hey, I got a $75 item for 20 bucks!" But, I'm kind of surprised that people would buy used shorts, especially from a stranger: you don't wear underwear under these things, folks. Couldn't you find a sale on a new item?
--
That reminds me of another thing with eBay: feedback ratings. It's a really great feature of ebay, essentially permanent and indelible feedback. But, eBay has been around a long time. Your credit record holds black marks for 7 years; bankruptcies for 10. Depending upon juristdictions, the statute of limitation on many crimes (bar murder) is 5 or 7 years. I'm pretty sure infractions on your driving record remain for 7 years. I'm pretty sure eBay didn't really think of this when they invented the feedback system. I completed my first eBay transaction in 2000, and the feedback from that sale is still on my record. As far as I can tell, it will never go away

One quick way to rate a seller that eBay has added is to check their percentage of positive feedback: a seller will say, "Johndoe, 150 feedback, 99.5% positive" and you will know he's pretty legit, just one negative along the way somewhere; probably a misunderstanding. I was recently buying from a seller with a couple of negatives, so I searched to see what the problem had been: apparently, he had reneged on some bids a while back. A while, as in, 1998, when eBay was just getting started.

What will happen in 2025, if we are still ebaying? Will 30-year-old hits still affect us?

Weird.
---

Friday, January 19, 2007

A Semblance of Normalcy, and, I am About to Talk About the Weather, Again. --

I do not think I have ever been this excited for it to be 38 degrees and raining. This is what Seattle is "supposed" to be like in January, whatever that means. See, Seattle produces some of the toughest bike riders out there because it's got some of the nastiest weather that you can actually ride in. For the past ten days, we've been holed up in our basements, porches, and the like, spinning circles on trainers like everyone else in Boston or Alaska or the Frozen Lands of Nador.

The thing of it is, we get an average of seven days of snow a year, but that's misleading, because those seven days average less than an inch of it, and it's almost never below freezing the whole day, so it just melts off and the ground never gets truly cold. The snow that is still piled on the roadsides in today's rain is from a week ago wednesday.

The lovely part about this is that it's all piled in the shoulders and sides of the roads, which is where us cyclists get to live. Also, it means that all sorts of little bits of dirt and gravel and grime are accumulated in the snow, and then that all gets shoved to the same side of the road. This means that, even if you've got fenders, you look like you've gone through a cement mixer by the end of your ride.

But I don't care, because my bike is at least moving FORWARD when I pedal, instead of just spinning in circles.



PS. No, your humble narrator cannot ever make up his mind whether to give emphasis with italics or just to use ALLCAPS. It's slicker to italicize, but that takes tags, instead of just the shift key. Am I lazy or what?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Pet Peeve of the Day:

Super-super-convenience, for a price.

What's with the trend these days of making super-fast foods even faster? I mean, seriously. It all started with instant oatmeal. INSTANT oatmeal. Have you ever seen this stuff? When you see those sitcoms depicting how bad school cafeteria food is, this is what I'm sure they're showing, a grey, textureless glop. It's also REALLY expensive. I mean, it's not absolutely expensive at $4.85 for 10, or about 50 cents per serving, but it's relatively ridciculous when you consider that oats are about a dollar a pound. That's a dime per serving, a fifth the cost of the instant crap, even if you don't care about all the packaging garbage. And that's ignoring the fact that it's actually got a texture when it's not this weird liquid oat-powder stuff.

And, the main point is, it's oatmeal here, folks. The instructions consist of "add oats to boiling water, stir." It takes about 3 minutes. Are people so inept these days that they cannot use a pot? Seriously.

And this is all over the place now. The "easy mac" revolution. Cup o' noodles. Now Campbells has these little instant-microwavable-soup creations, $2.99. Their soup is already instant, people! 1 can soup, 1 can water, add heat, DONE. A dollar.

Yes, I recognize that the take-away foods for children at school is driving this, a little, but that's just no excuse.
---

Eat your Twinkies!


For time immemorial the bizarre yellow log has been emblematic of "junk food." It's What Not to Eat. However, recent regulations and revelations about trans fats have made them oddly more appealing, in a comparative sense.

For those not in the know, in brief, trans fatty acids produce byproducts can't be digested whatsoever. They clog your arteries and you die from it. Recently, the USDA required disclosing trans fats along with saturated fats on food packaging. They gave manufacturers some notice of this, and so rather than disclose that they contained a ton of this death sludge, most big companies decided to go ahead and use something else. (Trans-fat-free oil is a good deal more expensive, or, the other way around, if normal oils are the baseline price, artificially hydrogenating oils makes things cheaper). This strange victory for health activists has caused some strange side effects, among them, that Twinkies are now trans-fat free, or nearly so, since they're allowed to claim they have zero grams of something as long as it's less than half a gram.

What still is full of trans fats? Many things that aren't required to disclose it's nutritional content, especially those that are fried. Ready-to-eat foods at fast food places aren't required to disclose on their packaging, but most companies do on their websites, so you can see that Krispy Kreme donuts, for instance, have five to seven grams of trans fats apiece. Many big burger chains have gotten rid of trans fats from their cooking, but McDonald's has not, despite their promise a couple of years back that they'd modify their recipies. The little, local junk food makers. This means all of those little muffins, "danishes," and "banana bread" that you can buy at your local convenience store. I'm sure most doughnut shops are the same. Anything fried in oil by a small ethnic-foods chain.

On the other hand, Oreo Cookies used to contain a bunch of trans fats in the "white stuff." Now they're T-F free, which is why the texture of the creme has changed ever so slightly. Hostess has elminated trans fats from most of their products, not just twinkies. Many big junk food makers, like Frito-Lay (doritos, etc), are in the clear. Starbucks's pastries, muffins, and dougnuts, are 0-g-T-F-ified.

Now, if only we could do the same with High Fructose Corn Syrup. That'll be the day.

(For the record, your humble narrator hadn't eaten a twinkie since childhood before writing this article. I couldn't even remember what one tasted like, except that they were frightening, so a lady-friend and I went on a trans-fat-free junk-food taste test experiment. The Twinkie is still a bizarre, spongy yellow creation that would survive a nuclear holocaust. Only half of one of the two little cakes in the package actually got eaten. I still wouldn't call this "food.")

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Two simple questions:

There is a latin-like prefix for many nationalities that you can use when making up little words about that country. Like, Sinophiles like the Chinese, and Anglovores eat the English.

What about Japan? "Japophobe" doesn't sound good. "Nipovore" sounds absolutely wrong.

Anyone?

Unrelated to that, why is bad tea bad? What is good about good tea?

I am drinking some Red Rose black tea right now. It's bad. It's not AS bad as Lipton's, but it's not good at all. Kinda bitter, flavorless, and flat. What do they do to make Twinnings or Bigelow better? Why is Stash "premium organic" tea especially good? Does it relate to the quality of leaves in the first place, the age of the product, the roasting method, or what?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Stop! Ninjatime!

Pet Peeve of the Day: Wasted Space in Books

It's especially common in trade paper and hardback editions of books. The author produces a volume that for whatever reason the editors decide would sell better if it were a little less slender, so they go ahead and give it falsies. What good is this, other than making the book weigh more in my bag? This week I'm reading Gavin Menzies's 1421: The Year China Discovered America (take that, Senor Colon!), and it's about X mm thick. I have the habit of thumbing through the pages before I begin a read, to get an idea of the size of the task at hand, and I found that this book labels pages up to 649. It's beefed up with 3 sections of pictures, each 8 pages in glossy. The actual book, however, ends on page 456. Beyond that, it's a postscript, appendices, an index, works cited pages, and, of course, a lot of blank pages.

Furthermore, the editors of this volume haven't heard that acknowledgements and prefaces that aren't part of the body of the text don't get the usual page numbers -- they're to be labeled in lower-case Roman numerals, starting with page i. I firmly believe the first page of actual material should be page 1! In 1421, it's page 29! Even that is an introduction, though I'll award that real, Arabic page numbers if they like. The introduction carries on until page 38, and then there is an entire page with a section title, a 2-page map, a blank page, a full-page chapter title, and a blank page. Chapter 1 begins on page 45! This continues until page 71, and then we get a blank page, a full-page chapter title, and a blank page.

In short, pages 1 to 75 have less than 25 pages of chapter 1, plus a 10-page introduction, for a ratio of about 50 per cent.

C'mon, HarperCollins. You can do better than that.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

I'm tired of talking about the weather, but I'm thinking it's the End of Days here or something. I mean, seriously. I told you before about how November 2006 was the wettest month on record at SeaTac, ever. Then some snow, which we get a bit of maybe every other year. Then we had record windstorms in January, destroyed miles and miles of powerlines -- people on my street were out for a week. I don't have any pictures of the hundreds and hundreds of downed trees...

On Sunday, it was about 50 degrees, but absolutely pouring rain, and 25-mile-an-hour winds. Good day for a 6-hour ride, eh? Tuesday was actually "nice," if you consider 45 degrees, partly cloudy, and some wind gusts "nice," but it was the calm before the proverbial storm. They said it was going to snow, but I didn't believe them.

Here's this morning, then:




Wednesday, January 10, 2007


iBike iGiveup

My dear iBike, I'm afraid it's just not going to work out between you and me. I tried, I really tried, for these past two months, to appreciate you for what you are, and I went into this knowing you wouldn't work on the trainer, or that you really needed to stick to the road. But the world has come between us: I live in Seattle, and we both know how it is around here: wet, rainy, and hilly. You just aren't cut out for this kind of thing. On flat roads in good weather you're perfect, and up smooth, steady hills just great, but when the grade gets steep and the pavement rough, you get all out of sorts. Going downhill isn't so bad anymore, now that you've got cadence, but without that "ghost" power readings were frustrating, and the wired cadence sensor you need to work costs money, and is a bit unsightly.

The thing that made the final decision, though, was the rain. Every time I try to use you in rain more than a drizzle -- quite frequent in fall and winter here -- you just aren't up to the challenge. Once water gets in your pressure port, you start reading erroneously, and so trying to track my overall training load becomes impossible. I'm flattered that you think I can average 575 watts for a 2-hour ride, but that's just not realistic.

Sure, you can change, we can ALL change, but some fundamental traits about us both exist that no firmware update is going to change.

In conclusion, you're a power calculator, and I need a power meter. Goodbye.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Why is it always dry on rest days? Yesterday I left for my ride at 10:30 in the morning and got back at 4:15, I could say it was "dusk" when I got back, but that's not entirely true, because there wasn't any sun in the first place. It was just slightly different-colored clouds. And rain, rain, rain. Then, by 8:30 at night, it was basically clear, and there was some sun this morning. Oh, well. I missed the part on Saturday where all my teammates were crashing in the ice...
Unrelated to that, I have two pet peeves of the day:

"Sticks in my craw." I'm not entirely sure WHAT that is supposed to mean, though I get the idea. What I am entirely sure of is that my life would be better if I never had to hear that ridiculous phrase again. Dictionary.com describes it as "1. the crop of a bird or insect, 2. the stomach of an animal." It even includes the colloquialism mentioned above, defined as "to cause considerable or abiding resentment." Oh, I have considerable AND abiding resentment.

This brings me to my second point: pronunciation "guides," especially in advertising. You've looked at a dictionary at SOME point in your life, I'm sure, and seen the little pronunciation guide following the word, showing you how to say it. Sometimes it'll be in AHA style, with upside-down E's, swoopy-dotted I's, and what have you. Sometimes it'll be in the superior, but more complated International Phonetic Alphabet, or IPA, guide, which works for all languages:



In either case, you don't just get to take a word, break it up into what you think the syllables are, and maybe make a letter or two capitalized. Yet, it seems this sort of pretend dictionary is de rigeur for advertisers lately. Maybe you even added something like (verb), too! You're not very clever, folks.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Not Hot List 2007

I'm not normally terribly excited about the whole celebrity thing, but I only live in a cave half-time, so when I see magazine covers or TV show clips, sometimes I'm amazed, and it's often a confused sort of amazement. Particuarly, many of the women in the mainstream media seem admired mostly for their appeance, which I suppose I should expect, but so many of them aren't even that great to look at, and that's what this list is about. It's only about women because I'm a straight male, and it's only about those who are "supposed" to be attractive to me. Though I'm all for respecting people's accomplishments as artists and human beings, that's not what I'm concerned with at the moment of inspiration. I'll admit, though, it's much easier to make my "not" list if you don't really DO anything apart from pose for the camera and maybe sing some easy-to-sing songs.

Without further ado:

1 ) Britney Spears: Okay, most people probably are about done with Ms Spears since the recent drama regarding her estranged husband, her children, and her underwear, but, I promise, I was blase about her from the get-go. Sure, when she first "burst onto the scene" as a pop princess, she was cute, but only a bit, and if you put her into any nightclub-party scene she'd be outshone by most of the women there. With plain, girl-next-door features and an expanding/shrinking figure, even without pregnancy, Spears just earns a big yawn. Though it isn't part of appearance per se, a sexy voice would earn back some points, but when she tries it just sounds like a cheesy copy.



2 ) Jessica Simpson: Yeah, she's got long legs and has spent a lot of time spraying tanning lotion on them. I see her on 36,000 magazine covers, and it's always the same: her face has too many creases in the wrong directions, and when she smiles those gleaming-white teeth, her eyes don't light up the way you'd expect. She looks like a caricature of herself. I think there's a decent chance if you put another persona in Jessica's head, I might find her at least pretty, but beauty -- even the physical side of it -- is more than just cheekbones and chin shape, it's the way it all interacts. She's probably the most physically attractive of the "not list," but she's also the most hyped for being some kind of sex goddess, and I just don't get it.



3 ) Fergie: I'd heard two of her songs / rap pieces several times on radio stations before ever actually seeing a picture of her, and I actually laughed out loud. This is a woman whose fame is built upon declaring "them boys ... be lining down the block just to watch what I got," not to mention "My Humps,", whose lyrics I looked up at the guffawing request of a friend. Um, seriously: what boys are these? I'll pass...



4 ) Jennifer Aniston: I have nothing bad to say about Jennifer Aniston; I think she's a slightly more attractive than average woman, honestly. But that's it, and it's a far cry from what many men seem to think of her. I must be missing something, but even since the earliest days of "Friends" I've never been able to figure out what it is. I have a good friend who thinks that Aniston is absolutely his dream girl, and this disparity confuses me, since men's opinions on the fairer sex are usually fairly base and hormonal.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

HNY&C -- after record rains, record winds, and record cold, it appears we are for the moment starting 2007 in some semblance of Cascadian normalcy, if you ignore the debris still everywhere from the windstorm. Weather.com forecast for Seattle, WA: Jan 3, 46 degrees fahrenheit and showers. Jan 4, 41 degrees and showers. Jan 5, 42 and showers. Jan 6, 44 and showers. Jan 7, 49 and showers. Jan 8? 47 and showers. Jan 9 has, yes, some showers, and 47 degrees, and then on jan 10, the showers become scattered and the day gets colder at 39 degrees.

I didn't notice the wet so much until I started cycling. It's no so much that it is constantly raining around here -- far from it. What it is is either constantly about to rain, or just finished raining. This means that from October until May, the roads are nearly always wet. For a cyclist, it all essentially means the same thing: so are you. Fenders help, but there's no way around it; you're going to get wet, muddy, and both too cold and too warm on any given ride.

On 31 December, a bunch of FRM teammates and I went for a cruise in the nor'east Seattle area, meaning Snoqualmie falls, Issaquah, and the like. This was just before the return to normalcy, which means sun, cold, lots of debris, and snow and ice. Thankfully, the roads were mostly free of this snow and ice, but there is a disturbing realization as you climb higher and higher in elevation and you see more and more snow on the side of the road, that at some point very shortly you are going to have to de-elevate. This means descending some of the same roads you just ascended, and really, really hoping that there isn't very much ice and snow on the road on the way down, because if there is, not much you can do is going to help. Then there is the part where you all ignore the "road closed! High water!" signs and proceed to find a couple of sections of road totally flooded out, and you are one of the three who decide it's probably not that deep, and you will proceed forward with caution, the sacrificial penguin as everyone else watches to see if there is a polar bear and it eats you you sink or fall or otherwise end up in icy water. That would have sucked, because there was nowhere dry to put a foot down, and being 1-hour into a 4-hour ride in 30-something temps, it wouldn't have been very good to do it with feet full of freezing fluids.

But no one fell, and no one got ice-watered, and it was absolutely beautiful. Though I had neither camera nor time to stop and mess about with pictures, I wish I could show it to you. For all y'alls who stay cooped up indoors, I pity you.

Speaking of bicycles, the pet peeve of the day is actually two, and concerns bike shops in the greater Portland metro area. With so many bike shops to choose from, good customer service is paramount to retaining customers, and two recently have earned a big F-U from yours truly. One is Lakeside Bicycles, on Highway 43 in that part of Lake Oswego where it is also called State Street. Here's what happened: my mother and her husband were both riding their bikes around the lake, appreciating some of the unseasonable sunshine, when there's the realization that one of the saddles is entirely uncomfortable for one of the very recreational bike riders.

A-ha, but we can fix this, think they, for there is a friendly local bike shop just 'round the corner. Surely they have saddles! And they do, although not many for the casual, recreational rider, since Lakeside is a rather high-end bike shoppe, which seems natural considering its locale. Nonetheless, a suitable-looking saddle is sourced, and paid for with the expectation that the technician will immediately install it so that the ride can be continued in comfort. In one of those maddening incompatibilities, the saddle won't fit the seatpost, for reasons the shop mechanic cannot completely understand. "Oh, well," reply the customers, "perhaps you have another saddle that will work?"

"Unfortunately not, we don't stock very much for comfort and trail bikes; we're mostly a road shop," sayeth the shop.

"Well, that's too bad," say the customers, "I guess we'll just take our money back and be on our less than comfortable way."

So far, nothing very out of line. Here's where it gets aggravating. "Well, um, er... would you like store credit?"

The customers look surprised, but try to restrain themselves and simply describe their situation: as you can see, they're not very serious roadies, and it's clear this shop doens't really suit their needs. They'll just take the refund.

"Well," says the shop, "we can't really do returns on something that you've used."

At this point, the customers are incredulous. "USED? We haven't even taken it out of the store! Your guy tried and to install the part that you sold to me, and it will not fit! You're really telling us we can't return it?"

"Um, well, you see, it's out of the package, and there are little marks on the rail --"

"Sure, from your guy trying to install it!"

You see where this is going. Lakeside, how much is that one $39.99 sale worth to you?

The second shop to get the middle finger is Portland's ever-present Bike Gallery. I'm really sad to have to hate these guys, as overall, the shops with the blue awning have been pretty good to me. But one of their managers personally screwed over the Portland State University cycling team, and for this they are on the blacklist. You shall never sell me another $10 brake binder bolt, another set of $24 brake pads, another $6 tube again!

With all of these complaints, which bike shops in the Portland area would I recommend? (You may remember my complaint about Veloce bicycles, and its self-righteous jerk of an owner, from a previous post.) My fave is Bike Central, a small, cooperatively owned shop downtown on SW Front Avenue. Dean may be a bit gruff, but he's a hell of a mechanic, the best wheelbuilder in town, and won't try to sell you a thing that you don't need. They are not a dealer of any factory-made bicycles; instead, if you'd like a complete bike, you describe your riding style, specify your budget, and get measured. 50 per cent down, and then in approximately 2 weeks, you'll have a bike ready, just for you. If you're out on the West side, Sunset cycles is nicely-equipped with Specialized bicycles, and provides excellent service. Just East of the Willamette is River City Bicycles, which I will admit is one of the more expensive shops in town and furthermore has comissioned sales associates, so it's not a very casual place either, but they have an excellent variety of bicycles and accessories of all stripes in stock, and do a lot to support the local cycling community. There are plenty of others out there that I'm sure are excellent, but I haven't dealt with all that many. Stick with what you know you like, right?