Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

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

Friday, February 27, 2009

Pet Peeve of the Day: Vision Centers

I have vision insurance for the first time since childhood, and called in a card that an optometrist in my network left with HR.

There's a $10 co-pay on exams, no problem, right?

Unless I want contacts.

Then I have to pay an additional fitting fee "starting from"$158. Starting? What the crap?

The last time I did this out of pocket, about three or four years ago, at Costco, the fee was I think $90, total, for the exam.

What gives?

Then, I try to find some information about additional providers, so I sign up for my insuror's website. Now, this is vision only insurance, mind you. They require me to pick a password that's "secure." I tend to use gobbeldygook passwords, like "dnkqqp", which mean absolutely nothing but somehow can stick out in my mind. Sometimes I do throw in a number or two.

These guys made me meet the following password criteria:

* At least 6 characters
* At least three of the following:
* Lowercase Letters
* Capital Letters
* Special Characters
* Numberals

Come on. This is not the NSA. It's vision insurance.

I hate using the shift key in passwords. I can't remember to type a slash or a colon. My bank doesn't even require this level of security.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Argentius is moving. Transmissions may be disrupted for a time.

Please do not adjust your sets.

Monday, February 16, 2009

How was your today?

I thought they'd moved on from this sort of scam -- I mean, really? Really?

Apparently so.

Emphasis mine, but the duplication is original.

"how was your today hope you are ok i saw your item on [redacted] today and
i will like to know more about this item ok and i will want you to be
honest ok all i want from you now is your understanding so that will
can make this transaction true mailing
and i will like to ask some
question about this item and i will want you to give me your final
asking price of this item but i will like to confirm from you ok also
i will want you to give me your contact address, full name including
your phone number this are the question i want to ask ok:

1. what is the condition of this item?

2. Did u accept cashier check or Certified check

3. Can u wire the rest funds on check to my shipping company atfer you deduct
your item money?

4. Can u wire the excess fund the payment you will be
receving through western union?

5 Can u send me ur full name and address with phone number for the payment?

6. final price of it and email me to:

what is there is that don't worry yourself about shipping of this item because i have my own shipping company that will come for the item pick from you when the check clears so when you get the check just deduct your money and wire the rest funds to my shipping company ok stay cool...
Hello seller

how was your today hope you are ok i saw your item on [redacted]today and
i will like to know more about this item ok and i will want you to be
honest ok all i want from you now is your understanding so that will
can make this transaction true mailing ...

At this point the entire message repeats.

Fool me once with this one, shame on me.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Raleigh Clubman Initial Review:

I picked up my '09 Raleigh Clubman last week, and have been rolling out the miles on it since.

The Clubman, new for '09, is the Swiss Army knife of road bikes -- it's got a tool for everything, even if you have to kind of fight with the screwdriver to get some things done.

Some entry-level bicycles use steel frames just for price, but there's a big difference between basic "Hi-ten" steel and nice 4130 Chromo tubing. Of course, the Clubman will never be an ultralight bike, but its 25-pound-ish weight disappears beneath the quality of the ride. Steel also means braze-ons not seen as frequently on modern road bikes: it's got a pump peg, chain holder, and rear rack mount. There's also fender mounts, two pairs of bottle cage bosses and a drilled chainstay bridge.

Picking up where the One-Way left off and growing into a multispeed bicycle, the steel frame and lugged steel fork appear traditional. Classic, understated styling is a nice contrast to the over-stickered, shout-it-from-the-rooftops branding so common on today’s bikes. The slightly sloping top tube gives the modernity of the Clubman away, and will of course be a controversial styling element.

Timeless leather Brooks Swift saddle is a hit with everyone who looks at it, and contrasts again with the modern, compact Shimano Tiagra drivetrain and black Avenir 200-series cockpit. I’m of mixed opinion about about the brown bar tape over wing-topped bars.

There's enough clearance for 700 x 27c tires with full fenders, a big contrast to the tight spaces in race-style modern road bikes, or 700 x 32c's without fenders. Long-reach brake calipers can handle these combinations, too, and if you feel like going single or fixed, it’s a can-do with the horizontal, forward-facing dropouts.

There’s also a traditional, pressed in headset on a slightly extended headtube, so you can drop that King in and ride your bars and saddle level without a riser stem. A few retro-grouches have complained that it’s still got a threadless headset, but, with all due respect – it’s time to move on. If you feel like backing down the technology, though, feel free to replace your STI’s with downtube shifters – bosses are included.

With skinny tires, the Clubman is a fast bike, accelerating nicely over small rises and rolling hills. It keeps up just fine on the single, ahem, club ride I’ve taken it on. On 32’s, it’s nearly a cyclocross bike, though the lack of clearance between caliper and tire means I wouldn’t use it for CX racing. Bring on the fire roads! 73 degree head and seat angles along with slightly elongated chainstays create predictable, neutral handling, though I haven’t pushed it to its limits in the twisties.

I barely notice I’m riding the Clubman. It feels complimentary and springy when I accelerate, smooth and relaxed when I cruise, and the nastiest parts of the horrid Tacoma pavement are ironed over, even if it cannot be run like a tank through all obstacles like the Sojourn could.

Modern categories would struggle to define the Clubman – far more affordable than a custom, bespoke steel bike but heavier than a pure race bike of similar price, the Clubman is the bike you’ll WISH you had bought. It’s not a ‘cross bike, not a touring bike, not a commuter bike, not a race bike; instead, the Clubman is just a bike.

Now go ride one.

Notes: Yes, careful observer, I did swap the bars out on my bike. I know some riders who are entirely tied to wing-style handlebars, and others who utterly refuse them. I don't find they fit my hand style, but it's a personal preference. Likewise, I think that a classic, round-bend bar would really set off this bike, but I've been using this style of Ritchey drop for a few years, and for some reason it just works for me.

Likewise, fenders. This IS Seattle.

Also, the Clubman does include a Lezyne pump, just like the Sojourn does. Thirty bucks at retail, and they work quite well, even if that means you won't need to use that pump peg -- See my review here.
Stay lucky out there.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Everyone okay out there this morning? Seattle? Portland?

I live just at the base of a 350-foot hill, surrounded by an admittedly dwindling number of trees, and find the weather out my window has little to do with the "real" weather everywhere else.

This means that, on days like today, I don't realize anything is out of the ordinary until I'm out of my complex and up the hill, when I notice, hey, the road looks all sparkly. While this is kind of pretty, it's also slick!

Yesterday, I got only a dusting of snow on my lenses, but I hear that Seattle had more snow. For all of those folks living in places where it's actually cold, don't get started about how you cna ride in snow just fine, you don't know what all the fuss is about. When it's just barely 32 degrees outside, and the snow and frost is semi-congealed on the ground, you wouldn't want to ride, either.

You've read the physics of ice skating, right? You don't skate ON the ice, you skate ABOVE it, on a thin layer of meltwater trapped between the blades and the frozen surface.

It's like that, only, without the triple toe loops. And crashing sucks more.

This is only maybe four degrees colder than average for the area, but there's a big difference between 35, where it's just wet, and 31, when it's a slick wonderland.

If you've made it in, perhaps you can answer this question about nerves and fingers for me: when I start a ride in colder temperatures, of course my hands get cold, but my LEFT INDEX FINGER almost immediately becomes painfully cold. What gives? I am sure this is some kind of nerve or circulation issue, but I'm not sure if there's an easy fix.

It happens wearing any of my 3 pairs of long-fingered gloves, and it feels colder near the start of a ride. If I ride harder, it often goes away, which leads me to believe it's somehow circulation-related. If the cold "sets in," though, it'll hurt and tingle as it warms up, and then feel a tad numb for the next four hours or so. Weird. Ideas?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Product Review : Shower's Pass Portland Jacket

Here's my coworker Karl showing it off! Yes, he's wearing my coat, so, apologies for fit...

Showers Pass is both a street in the greater Portland area with a nifty name, and a manufacturer of nifty cycling outerwear by the same name.

If you ride in the wet, you know how challenging it is to find rain-resistant gear that doesn't suck. It's hard enough to balance comfort, performance, breathability, and water-resistance without having to think about fashion!

SP's high quality cycling jackets have been well-loved in the soggy Pacific Northwest for some time, and for 2009 they released a few items that broke the typical rules of cycling gear.

The Portland jacket is designed for more than the cycling enthusiast -- it's for "lifestyle" riders like yours truly. The idea is to make a fashionable, high-tech coat that looks nice out and about, but will serve well when riding a bicycle.

Many people separate the times when they are riding a bike from doing everything else in their lives, but if you bike everywhere you go, if you want to go from your home to your office to the grocery store to the cafe on your bike, wouldn't it be nice to look presentable in all of these places?

If that all sounds like a good plan to you, and you'll be riding long enough and in harsh enough weather that your street clothes alone won't do, look into the Portland.

The Portland is and is available in variety of colors that are stylish but fairly neutral: "midnight" black, grey tweed, brown pinstripe, and beige plaid. I picked the beige plaid, which I might even go so far as to call "houndstooth." Personally, I think the cool factor of this jacket might be wasted on simple black. My Portland passed its first test at the coffee shop near my place, where it received compliments by folks who didn't know it was a cyling jacket.

The single other cyclist in attendance at that cafe was duly impressed when he found out its multi-functionality. The lack of other two-wheeled traffic there also reminded me to get out of the suburbs. Really, though, this coat is styling. Everyone who sees it casually is impressed when they learn it's what I ride in, too.

What makes the Portland a "Cycling" jacket? How is this different from other standard outdoor wear?

The fit, for one. Fairly snug across the chest and lower in front than in back, the Portland fits well when leaned over on the bike. There isn't lots of extra material at the chest, even for the Medium that I bought. At six feet even and 140lbs, I'm often stuck with "shoulders too small, sleeves too short" or "chest too baggy, flapping material on descents," but the Portland sits well. The stiff lower hem and drawcord probably help with that.

You also get zippered cuffs to close down the sleeves -- I put gauntleted gloves over them -- armpit vents to unzip as needed, and a stiff, stowable tail flap with a wide 3m reflective panel. It adds a lot of visibility at night without requiring the rider to wear a yellow coat! You will be mistaken for neither a robot nor a bumblebee.

Other features of the Portland include fleece-lined pockets in the front, for your hands when off the bike, grippy pull-tabs for the zippers, and suble reflective piping around the sides of the sleeves and back of the jacket.

One thing the Portland is NOT is heavily insulated. There's a thin layer of some sort of high-tech fabric inside the waterproof exterior, but that's about it. On the bike, this is a good thing. I think most manufacturers underestimate how much heat the body really generates when it's pinned in an aerobic exercise for a few hours. The wind and waterproofness of the Portland's fabric is mostly what keeps you warm. My coldest commute began at 17 degrees, and while my fingertips felt like they'd fall off, my core felt fine. Under the Portland, that day I wore a brushed lycra long-sleeved cycling jersey and a long-sleeved poly base layer, and that was it.

While it's not as breathable as a thin shell, and certainly can't be stuffed into one's jersey pocket, I never felt stuffy or clammy. At training intensity, I find the Portland is comfortable up to the lower 50's, but I don't think much more. Then again, I run infamously hot. In its namesake city, one could probably comfortably wear the Portland nine months a year.

One miss with the way the Portland fits is the collar. While it does feature a stand-up collar, it's lacking a solid windproof backing behind the zipper, the bite tab is small, and there's no fleecy lining to the collar. This all means that, when in cycling position, a little bit of chill and rain are allowed to enter the coat.

Also, do be aware that the thin insulation means that if you're thinking to spend much time not exercising outdoors in cool temperatures, you'll want to bring along a sweater to go beneath. In just a thermal long-sleeved T and the Portland, I was uncomfortably cold hanging about in the parks of Vancouver, BC at temperatures just below zero. Erm, 32. Um, freezing. Anyway, it makes a great outer layer, but I'm glad my Portland is big enough to fit more layers underneath.

Living in the Northwest, I'm not lacking for rain to try out the Portland in, and its watertightness does not disasspoint. No material short of a rubber suit is truly waterproof, but flood-level rains in Seattle still didn't penetrate the Portland. Made of treated fabrics rather than just a single thin layer, though, the Portland does absorb a bit of water. Hanging up in my office after a rainy commute, it was not fully dry 9 hours later for the trip home. It never penetrated through to making ME wet, so, and that's the important part.

All in all, the Portland is a creative way to live active. It'll always be something of a niche product, but it's one that I'm happy to have.

FOR : Those leading a cycling "lifestyle" who want to combine fashion and function.

NOT FOR : Racers looking for dedicated training gear.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

I'm not shocked that a certain celebrity athlete indulged in Marijuana, or that this storm in a teacup is capturing American attention at a time when, well, other stuff that actually matters may or may not be happening.

Who reads all of these comments on newspapers' websites, though?

Sometimes, I filter through them to learn a bit more about the hearts and minds of the people.

Like this :

"my goodness they should leave that boy alone everybody in there life has smoked pot what's the big deal. i'm extrem right in my views and i think pot should be legal people get real everyone gets high or has gotten high unless your a nerd"


Unless your a nerd. Or, apparently, extrem.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Bicycling in Tacoma is definitely an up-and-coming thing, and, even in the rough economic climate, the City of Destiny is marching forward with its long-awaited urban revival, even if progress is a bit slower now than it might've been pre-recession.

Every time I go through this town the weight of history is strange -- there are so many shuttered windows, but more and more I see signs of life.

Last Saturday I hopped off of the admittedtly short-ranged Tacoma Link light rail at the Tacoma dome and walked into the brand new bike shop in the Dome District: Tacoma Bike. Owner Mike Brown said he wanted to keep it real, and keep it simple. The shop's located at 309 Puyallup Avenue -- the road that turns into SR-99 heading north from town across the Puyallup River bridge.

If you want to get into T-town on a bike, you're pretty much going to ride past it unless you come from way the heck around back on River Road, or sneak in across the Morgan Murray while you can.

Anyhow, good location from the outside.

Inside, while clearly Tacoma Bike is still a work in progress, with little on the freshly-painted walls, they've got a great space in a cool old warehouse building, with exposed beams and vaulted ceilings above, and a nice view of the new bridges and construction out the big back window. Passing trains are visible from inside the store. It'd be a cool spot to have a cafe, if it weren't a bike shop.

Mike stocks bicycles from Giant and Marin, with a few smaller brands like Rocky Mountain Cycles out of Canada (and proud owner of the one and only, Co-Motion Cycles out of Oregon (though I only saw single bikes from this famed tandem builder). I saw a Look and an Orbea or two, I think.

Their service department is in one corner of the shop, and another houses a curtain and a fit machine -- a nice touch to prove that Mike and co. are serious about setting riders up on a ride that fits them.

They've also got Assos clothing -- the Gucci of the cycling world. Whatever you think of their $500 jackets, it's the only place between Redmond and Portland that you can buy it, and I've got to say, it's pretty high quality stuff. Assos used to stand alone in selling $200 jerseys, but now it feels as though every manufacturer is jumping on the uber-premium bandwagon. I guess in a land of $500 handbags, I guess, why not? All I know is their leg warmers are the only ones that I can get to stay up, and they don't even have grippers.

Round it out with some spiffy euro-pro jerseys, Seal Line dry bags, and fancy tires, and you've got a shop in which every roadie will find something to drool over. Tacoma Bike didn't seem too heavy on the mountain bike stuff yet, and it also didn't appear a dedicated commuter store, though they're happy to sell locks, tubes, and service your get-round bike.

All in all, from all of us: Welcome to the neighborhood! We need you -- at least says this Portland transplant, a city with twice the population and twenty times the bike shops.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Somehow this made it through to our office, but I don't THINK it'll be at a bike store near you.

If you need clarification, this is meant to hang on a bicycle for sale on the floor of what I can only presume will be a multi-sport athletics / outdoor store. There are others that point out the benefits of Hybrids and Cruisers. This one is for full-suspension mountain bikes.

Note the "lightweight, durable construction," and "performance engineered suspension design." This will be funny to you if you think "sport-tuned suspension" is funny in a car.

Too bad we don't have a specific tag for BMX bikes with 24 inch wheels.

Also, I know Starbucks is mixing it up a bit in a desperate attempt to stem the bleeding, and further that my vegetarianism creates a bias, but, wow, is this NOT the most disgusting new food product to hit the market?

Perhaps releasing the marvels of oatmeal on the mocha-chugging masses wasn't as efficient as they hoped.

I thought that this was a joke at first.

I HOPED that this was a joke, at first.

Then again, those disgusting meat on an english-muffin sandwiches behind the thing don't look particularly appetizing either -- I suppose that's why Howard is killing them in a return to the basics of coffee. Wait. Oh, nevermind.