Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bicycles that rock

I spent today at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. I wish I would've thought to take my camera; I saw a lot of stuff I wish I had a picture of. Clever designs, new ways to bolt things to a bike, stylized specialty bikes, wood-grain finishes (and, in at least one case, bicycle parts made from wood), new technology: it's amazing how many cool things you can do with a bike and bicycle equipment. 

It was also surprising how few people do cool things. I probably saw a hundred road bikes that were essentially identical. I suspect this is because the wildly different designs for road bikes have had decades to converge on a few very efficient design principles. Racing bike frames are all straight, not curved, because straight works better. They don't use grip shifters, because grip shifters give you less control and determine where you need to put your hands. Triathlon bikes all use aerobars, because they're the most aerodynamic option. Racing spokes are flat, rather than round, because it cuts air resistance. So it's only natural that road bikes are much more similar than they are different. Still, I was a little surprised at how little variation there was in a lot of the handmade custom bikes.

Because it's what I do, I looked at a lot of commuter bikes. I pretended I was in the market for a new extremely expensive bike, and tried to pick a bike. And I didn't find my perfect bike, no matter the price range. Admittedly, my criteria were complex: geared for speed; fenders; generator for lights; comfortable grips; good shifters; good frame geometry; durable tires; rear rack; disc brakes, nice but optional. But, still -- an entire bike show packed with custom bikes, and I didn't find a must-have in the bunch, even if I were in the market. I'd still buy an off-the-rack Soho before I'd dive at any of the ones I saw today. That said, some of the people who finished and painted the bikes were world-class. If I did buy that Soho, I'd want to have it repainted by some of the people at the show.

I did see some cool accessories, too. I was impressed with a bike-commuter backpack from Ergon. Some people had cool messenger bags, but they're mostly about the cool, not the practical. A real backpack is a superior choice for commuting, largely because it stays in place and you never need to think about it. I also saw a gyroscopic travel-mug holder for mounting on bike handlebars, and I'm kicking myself for not writing down the manufacturer. It wasn't for sale, but one of the bikes had one mounted. Also from Ergon, comfy grips -- but I can't use them with the grip shifters on my Navigator. And I saw a handlebar rack specifically designed to hold two bottles of wine.

I was also surprised that nobody was selling cool snarky cycling shirts, like GenCon people sell gaming shirts.

And, cycling-related: I like this picture (subtitled "after 16 days of ice and snow, we'd forgotten how to ride") from one of the regular commentors at

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Meet the artist

I know this is short notice, but artist Fred Wilson is talking tonight at the Madame Walker Theatre in downtown Indy. He's considering a public art project, and his previous work is interesting. I'm curious to hear him talk; he seems interesting and genuine, and I'm curious to hear what he has to say. He starts talking at 6pm at the Walker (617 Indiana Avenue).

I spend a lot of time being the nerd who runs the projector for this sort of thing, but I'm actually curious to hear him talk as well. I'm not even bringing a book.

Nu Kitteh: Bowie

We've recruited another cat into the house. Or, more accurately, an illegal-immigrant cat who kept sneaking across our poorly-guarded border has been granted resident status. Her name's Bowie, named after David because her eyes don't match. She loves being picked up and held. And she's a good lap cat, better for task-oriented laps than any of our other cats. She's completely content to just curl up and purr; she doesn't feel the need to squirm her way under your hands while you're trying to type or read.

On the down side, she pushes our indoor-cat count to five, which breaks our original cats-to-humans ratio limit, but we're happy with her. Five has to be our hard limit, though -- we're already on the verge of being Crazy Cat People....

Here's Bowie, in Laura's arms:

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Pain Scale

I went to a chiropractor yesterday to see if he could help with my persistent backache. Yes, it turns out; the doc at Mass Ave Chiropractic is very good at what he does. I'm wishing I would've done this two months ago, instead of waiting to see if it got better on its own. If you're looking for a good chiropractor downtown, I would highly recommend Dr. Keilur.

As all doctors do, he asked me the strange question: on a scale from one to ten, how much does it hurt? This always bothers me, because it's such a relative scale. A few years ago, I had a roto-tiller accident. Not the serious kind -- I hit a drainpipe underground, and the machine kicked sideways and mashed my hand into a wall. I lost a fingernail, and the doc at MedCheck picked debris off of the raw nail bed, then spent thirty seconds scrubbing it with a brush. This was probably the longest half-minute of my life; I wouldn't have thought it was possible for anything to be as urgently painful as this disinterested doctor scrubbing at the raw flesh where my fingernail used to be. I didn't realize until he was done that I was clenching my jaw, and I was clenching so hard that my jaw muscles had cramped. On the one-to-ten scale, this was probably only a nine; I could see it being worse. And, relative to that, I had a third-degree burn that was only a seven. I've had fifty or so stitches in my life, and none of the injuries that caused the wounds was more than a five. So describing back pain as a two or three is accurate, but probably doesn't convey how much my back is bothering me.

I also think there's another factor with back pain that's not covered by the pain scale. I'll call it the Annoyance Factor. Think about allergies and chronic tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Both rank a dead zero on the pain scale; they don't hurt. But they can keep you awake, distract you, and ruin your concentration, and both can seriously interfere with your daily life. They've got a high Annoyance Factor without pain. Back injuries are much the same. It doesn't need to hurt a lot to have a high Annoyance Factor, if it hurts every time you turn your head, or if it keeps you from sleeping, or if you can't reach over your head without wincing and groaning. I once needed twelve stitches on my leg from a machete injury (this is much less cool and macho than it sounds, trust me), but it had a relatively low annoyance factor. I also once needed two stitches on the tip of the thumb on my dominant hand from a frozen pot-pie injury (this one is exactly as stupid as it sounds), and this had a very high annoyance factor; it affected everything from writing to driving to brushing my teeth. There needs to be a separate scale for the Annoyance Factor. Maybe the doctor can add the two together and use the aggregate to determine treatment, instead of relying strictly on a very subjective measurement of physical pain. Then again, just as some people have a high tolerance for pain, I'm sure some people have much more tolerance for lifestyle-altering constant irritation. It's still all subjective.

And, I want to be clear that that this wasn't an issue with Dr. Keilur; I'm not complaining about him at all. His concern was much more with the limitations my back was placing on my activities, than with the arbitrary number on the pain chart. I recommend him highly.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Valentine's Day Tree

I feel a bit bad admitting this, but Laura and I took down our Christmas New Year's MLK Day Groundhog Day Valentine's Day tree yesterday. Yes, it's possible we're the last people in the greater Indianapolis area to take down our live Christmas tree. We normally take our tree down in early January and mulch it for the garden, but this year it stayed up through several more holidays than the usual Christmas and New Year's Day. But, in our defense, it was a live tree. Our plan was always to take it down as soon as it stopped drinking and started drying out, before it became a mess and/or fire hazard. And it was still lush and green and healthy until Wednesday, at which point the level in the water bowl stopped going down. We would've felt bad taking it down while it still had some life left in it, so we let it stay up and brighten our living room until it was necessary.

I have no idea how we managed to keep a live tree in such good shape for so long. I hear all kind of folk wisdom about keeping trees around longer; the big one is to put sugar in the water when you water the tree. We didn't do this. Ditto adding lemon juice, scoring the tree's base, or any of the other apocryphal tree-preservation tricks. All we did was water it with warm water, which can't make too much difference. But it was nice having it around a bit longer than normal.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

We're Fixing My Car!

After over two years of being a one-vehicle household, we're finally getting my Saturn fixed! Woo hoo! I have to confess, the fact that I'm about to bike home in the dark, in the sleet, with 20-30mph winds, is a not-insignificant part of my joy at the thought of having a car. But it'll also be nice having another vehicle. I dig the bike, but it's the wrong vehicle for picking up cat food or making trips to the hardware store.

The sad fact is that, even when we get the Saturn back from the repair shop (two weeks from now), we still won't have a really reliable vehicle. The Saturn has sat un-driven for two years, and will probably have other problems than just the transmission repair that originally put it out of comission. And the Jeep, a make not known for being mechanically sound, turns twelve this year. It's hitting the age where it's needed major, expensive repairs after 2/3 of its longish trips in the last few years. So we might be keeping the Saturn primarily as a down payment for a cheap, reliable small car in a year or two. Ads for car dealerships are sounding more and more desperate these days; I'm curious to see what we'll get as a trade-in on the Saturn.

But, in the short term, I'm getting my car back! Woo hoo again!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

New exercise metric

Once upon a time, I would listen to books on tape while I exercised. It seemed like nice multitasking; I was "reading", and also getting a workout. But recently, I've begun to figure out that I can't really do both at once. Sure, I can walk on the treadmill and listen to a book on tape. But if I'm doing real exercise, and doing it hard enough, I can't listen to a book while I'm doing it. I can jog with an audiobook, but I can't sprint with one. If I'm trying to see how many push-ups I can do in five minutes, I might as well not bother listening to the book; I'll miss so much, I'll have to listen to it again when I'm done exercising. Exercise and audiobooks are two things I can't mix without shortchanging one or the other; I had previously been shortchanging the exercise, without realizing it. So this has been my new metric: if I can think about anything other than the exercise while I'm working out, I'm not pushing hard enough.

I'm finding that I need some sort of external measurement like this when I exercise. If I just go until I'm tired or until it feels like I should stop, I've noticed I'm short of my actual maximum by quite a bit. I figured this out at the grocery a few weeks ago, when I was carrying a 40-pound bag of cat litter to the Jeep. On the walk to the Jeep, with the bag in a pinch grip, I hit a point where I realized that if this was exercise instead of a goal-oriented task (the goal being, "get to the Jeep, without having to set the bag down in the snow"), I would've already set the bag down. But I made it another 50' to the Jeep. I've noticed this with stretching, too; I'll bend to touch my toes, but with my hands at my sides, until I feel like I'm getting a good stretch. Then I'll extend my arms and realize I'm still a bit short of the ground. So I'll push until I can put my palms on the floor. So I'm exercising with a different measuring system: either a fixed number of exercises in a fixed number of sets, or I'll do one particular exercise until I'm completely incapable of doing any more.

This led to a moment of dark comedy last night. I did barbell squats until I couldn't do any more, then traded the barbell for a pair of 25# dumbbells and did more squats until I couldn't do any more, then did unweighted squats until I couldn't do any more, then I used a towel thrown over my pull-up bar as an assist and did more squats until I couldn't do any more. Then I collapsed onto the basement floor to rest, because not only couldn't I crawl up the stairs, I couldn't even climb into a chair for a few minutes. And while I was lying on the floor, it occurred to me: this would be a good time for that book on tape.

quick thoughts on some new stuff at work

We've recently acquired a nice washer/dryer at the Artsgarden. It's one of those cool all-in-one units that washes and dries. It was a bit expensive, but it perfectly met our needs: it doesn't need a dryer vent, it runs on a 20-amp circuit, it uses minimal water, and it fits in the space we have. We bought it so we could wash our tablecloths and pipe-and-drape drapes, and it's a huge improvement over our previous system, which consisted of the Artsgarden staff taking turns schlepping them home a few at a time, washing them, and bringing them back. The washer/dryer works great (though it takes almost five hours to wash and dry a load). And we've noticed that having laundry capability has substantially raised our cleanliness standards. A tablecloth had to be almost filthy/dirty before we're willing to drag it home and wash it. But now that we've got our own mini-laundromat in the basement, a few smashed cookie crumbs or a bit of spilled punch is all it takes to land linens in the washing machine.

We also replaced our old artwork display cases with new ones which are remarkably similar, but with working casters, scratch-free doors, and chip-free exteriors. They're not see-through, so you can't see the backs of the artwork from the other side of the case; artistic people dig this feature. The cases are new and shiny and bright white, and they look great. We know they won't stay that way forever, but I've got a goal: I don't want to be the first person to scratch one or take a chip out of the finish. I know it'll happen eventually, I just don't want it to be my fault the first time it happens.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Lost Years

I heard from someone on Facebook a few days ago, one of my classmates from Holy Spirit School, where I attended through 8th grade. They're apparently getting a Facebook group together of Holy Spirit grads. I thought about it for a brief moment before I decided I'm not interested. The big reason I'm not doing it is that I realized I have no memories of going to Holy Spirit.

None at all.

I have no explanation for this, but it's true. When I got the message, I spent a few minutes trying to remember who this person was, and I got nothing. Then I tried to remember any of my other classmates, and I couldn't remember anyone. The closest I could come was remembering a guy I went to school with who was a radio personality in town, but I remember him from the radio, not from school. I can't remember any moments in school or about school or involving any of those people in any way. And those years aren't a complete blank; I remember family moments and summer camps and times with non-Holy-Spirit friends. But I have no recollections of any kind involving Holy Spirit or any of the people there. I even tried looking up some names, but none of the names or faces were familiar.

I'm a bit curious about this gaping hole in my memory. I don't think I'm repressing anything in particular; it's an entire school career missing, not just a day or an event. I was the skinny asthmatic kid who didn't play any sports, which is probably even less socially fun at a Catholic school than at a public school. But social misery is fairly common, and not a reason to completely blank out years of school. I have no explanation for the memory chasm. And I didn't realize this chunk of time was even missing until I heard from one of my classmates whose name didn't sound even vaguely familiar. It makes me wonder what else I might be missing....

Sunday, February 15, 2009

It's the little things

I've now got Doctor Horrible ringtones on my phone. Whenever I get a text message, I hear the Dr. Horrible laugh from the opening. Whenever I get a call, I hear the Bad Horse Chorus. This is a little thing, to be sure. But every time my phone rings, it makes me smile....

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A working Valentine's Day

Laura and I unofficially celebrated Valentine's Day on Wednesday; we went out for a nice dinner at Scholar's Inn, then found out the Pretenders concert for which we had tickets, was canceled. So the dinner-and-a-show date was a miss, but still a good evening. Today, for V-Day, we're working conflicting schedules; I'm at the Artsgarden 11am - 4pm, and she's with the Butler Ballet from 6pm until late. Normally this would mean that we won't see each other all day, but because it's the holiday of love and romance, we decided to spend the day together anyway. She went to work with me and watched the Brenda Williams show at the Artsgarden, then we went out for a very late lunch/very early dinner, and now we're heading to Butler so I can see her show. So we get to go to work, and still spend the day together being cute and romantic. Nice!

Happy Valentine's Day, all. Enjoy!

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Bad Use Of My Time

I just looked at the movie schedule and saw five movies showing that, when I first saw the trailers, I said, "I should see that on the big screen!" They all start roughly when I get off work, I have no concrete plans for this evening, and Laura's working. And I realized that now that they're showing, I'm not interested enough to make the short trip upstairs to actually watch them. I'm not sure why they don't seem worth the trouble. I'm going to claim that it's probably not low-grade seasonal depression; I think it's that I'm acutely aware of spending money these days, and even more aware of wasting time. And watching a movie by myself seems like a poor use of limited free time. I should be writing, or doing housework, or cleaning up the yard and garden after Wednesday's wind storm, or any of a huge list of things that seem like a better use of time than soloing a movie.

I could easily justify watching a movie with someone else, of course. I have no problem justifying social time. But watching a movie alone feels like squandering precious seconds....

Sunday, February 08, 2009

World Marriage Day. Who knew?

So, today's apparently World Marriage Day, a time for all legally-married couples consisting of exactly one man and one woman to celebrate the fact that they were actually allowed to get married. Nice.

I wouldn't have known today was WMD, if we weren't hosting the Indiana WMD celebration at work. It was a time of much cake and punch, a little ballet, some Native American courting-flute music, a little couples' yoga, and an inordinate amount of prayer. Though I'm an extremely married guy, I found I couldn't relate to much of the festivities. For one thing, many of the people who spoke today seemed to believe that marriage is some grand chore, laden with strife and trauma -- that marriage is something that must be endured. I don't get this. While it does take occasional work on Laura's part and my part, our marriage is actually a lot of fun. I enjoy every day with Laura, and we share wonderful times on a daily basis. Our marriage is one of companionship and romance, caring and respect, and a whole host of little thoughtful things we do for each other on a daily basis.

So I'm taking the occasion of World Marriage Day to think happy thoughts about my wife and reflect on our relationship and our life together. And I like what I see.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

A right to be wrong

When I'm sitting at the information desk, I've noticed that people tend to collect in front of the desk and discuss their plans. And, even though there's a guy sitting inches away from them with instant access to any piece of information they need, they'll have long discussions about dinner menus (I've got all the downtown restaurants' menus here), show times (the movie schedule is taped next to my computer monitor), and all sorts of other easily-checkable facts.

And they get them wrong a lot.

I'm never sure how to deal with this. I don't want to seem like I'm eavesdropping, and it might be rude to not only interrupt their conversation, but to correct someone's facts (which, in the waning days of the age of political correctness, is somehow considered rude). So I generally let them be wrong and let them discover their errors the hard way. The exception is if they're working under assumptions that have major consequences. I had one of these a few minutes ago; a group was discussing where to go for dinner, and when to make reservations, and how much time they'd need to eat to make it to their 8pm show. And I piped up and politely informed them that the show they'd been discussing was at 6pm, 80 minutes from now. And they were unhappy, almost angry. I thought I was protecting them -- keeping them from missing their show, for which they had already purchased tickets. But they thought I was forcing them to change their afternoon plans by moving their show time two hours earlier, and depriving them of adequate time to eat a nice meal. It's not rational, and a bit funny. Still, I don't like being treated like the bad guy when I try to help.

I don't let this kind of thing change my behavior; keeping someone from missing their show is still the right thing to do. And it's probably better that they vent their grouchiness on me; if I had kept my mouth shut, and they'd gone on to miss their show, they'd probably spend the next few weeks kicking puppies at every opportunity....

Okay, done venting. Back to my day.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Tech problem: solved!

I've had a problem with my laptop for a month. It'll say it's connected to the wi-fi, and reads as having "excellent" connection strength. But it won't let me connect to the internet. I've tried restarting, hardware checks, driver updates -- the works. But the problem persisted. Worse (at least from a troubleshooting standpoint), the problem is intermittent. Sometimes it'll work, and sometimes it won't; when I took the laptop into the studio while I was downloading drivers and checking an online troubleshooting guide, I couldn't replicate the problem. On the bright side, it reduced my potential distraction set while I'm trying to write. On the down side, it had become increasingly irritating; I was unable to check mail or blog or look up words or grammar online. I was even debating (in the sense of daydreaming, with the knowledge that we can't afford it) getting a new laptop.

Turns out I solved the problem: I moved to the other end of the couch. The left side of the upstairs sofa is, apparently, a wi-fi dead zone. Shifting my buns by five feet, and the laptop by about two feet, made all the difference. It's a buggy connection here, but it works. And, if I move the laptop another foot (by sitting with my feet on the floor, instead of sideways on the couch), everything works perfectly. I'm happy it was such an easy fix. On the other hand, I liked the other side of the couch better; the light was better. And I feel a bit dull for having spent so much time being irritated with my laptop, and so much time trying to fix it, for such a silly problem....

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Potential Spousal Incompatibility

Laura and I agree on a lot of things, but we have completely different styles for making sandwiches. This has become more important recently, since we're trying to spend No Money and are brown-bagging lunches whenever we can. And her style messes with my sense of order.

Here's my way (hereafter referred to as "the correct way" )to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich:
First, remove two slices of bread from the loaf. Keep them together and in order, to ensure that they go back together with the correct sides facing each other. Separate the slices, so the facing sides are facing up. On the left piece of bread, spread an even layer of peanut butter. The peanut butter must be of uniform thickness. Gently smooth the surface of the peanut butter to remove as many knife marks as possible. Clean the knife, to prevent peanut butter jar/jelly jar cross-contamination. On the other piece of bread, spread an even layer of jelly. It helps to stir the jelly in the jar to ensure uniformity and remove lumps. The jelly must be of uniform thickness; if you're using fruit preserves, the thickness of the jelly layer must be equal to the thickness of the biggest piece of fruit. Leave a jelly-free margin of exactly 1/4" around the edge of the bread, so the jelly is less likely to squeeze out and get on your hands while eating. Lift the peanut butter bread, invert, and line it up with the jelly bread. Gently rest the two pieces of bread together, making sure the edges line up perfectly. Do not cut the sandwich; pressure from the knife destroys the uniform thickness of the peanut butter and jelly layers, and can create asymmetrical halves unless you measure carefully before you cut.

This is how Laura makes a sandwich:
Grab some bread, goop some peanut butter on it, glob some jelly directly onto the peanut butter, and mash another piece of bread on top. Then cut diagonally into asymmetrical halves.

You can see the problem.

On the plus side, she respects my quirkiness. When she's making me a sandwich, she does very well with ensuring peanut butter and jelly uniformity, and I appreciate the extra effort she's willing to expend for her intermittently Type A husband. But watching her make her own sandwich messes with my sense of order....

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Happy birthday, Mike!

Today's my brother's birthday, so I wanted to wish him a big ol' public happy birthday. Happy birthday, Mike!

Interesting things happen to Mike all the time. Some of it's so interesting that, if I weren't there to watch it, I'd be tempted to think he made it up. If he ever tells you a completely unbelievable story about being dragged off a train at gunpoint by surly Croatian border guards, he's not making it up. That actually happened. I was there. If he ever shares a bawdy story about three French girls, it's not some adolescent fantasy -- he really did that. I was there (or, there for the aftermath; I was elsewhere for the canoodling). It's got to be a recurring problem for him: this cool stuff happens to or around him, but he can't tell the tale without sounding like a complete bullshit artist or a cocky bastard.

So, in honor of his birthday, I'll tell a funny Mike story. Enjoy!
In the summer of 1995, Mike and I took a rock climbing trip to Red River Gorge. We parked the car and backpacked five or six miles into the woods, set up camp, and started climbing. In the afternoon of day two, I had a minor climbing accident. About thirty feet up, I found a sharp piece of rock and gashed my hand, almost to the bone. Mike started lowering me down so he could inspect the wound.
I should mention that Mike paid for a chunk of college as a teaching assistant for the first aid and safety class at Purdue. His first-aid kit consisted of two huge duffel bags. One was packed with things like splints and blankets, bulky and somewhat optional; the other was the important stuff. And, inside the Important Stuff bag was a smaller bag, maybe five inches around and a foot long, which was the Last-Ditch Desperate Emergency Kit. This is the bag he throws in his backpack for hiking and camping and climbing trips, and I had never seen what was inside.
It turns out that what's inside the Last-Ditch Desperate Emergency Kit is some sort of trans-dimensional space, holding far more inside than should be possible, given its outside dimensions. When my feet were back on the ground, Mike said, "okay, let's have a look at the wound."
We cleaned it up a bit with canteen water and an old t-shirt. After a few seconds of poking and prodding, he said, "you know that needs stitches, right?"
"Yeah, I thought so."
"I can do that here, if you're up for it."
"You mean, you've got a suture set in your Last-Ditch Desperate Emergency First-Aid Kit?"
Mike rolled his eyes. "Of course." He looked around for a moment. "Let's use this flat rock as a work surface. I should have a sterile drape for it."
"Wait, you've got a sterile rock cover in your Last-Ditch Desperate Emergency First-Aid Kit?"
"Pfft. Of course."
He opened The Kit and pulled out the sterile rock dressing and laid it carefully over the rock. I placed my hand down, and he peered at the wound.
"There's some moss and dirt in here. Let me fetch my debriding tweezers."
"You've got debriding tweezers in your Last-Ditch Desperate Emergency First-Aid Kit?"
More eye rolling. "Of course." He picked and dug until the wound was free of debris. "I need to rinse this out. Where's my sterile saline?"
I tried to sneak a look in the bag. "You're joking. You've got sterile saline in your Last-Ditch Desperate Emergency First-Aid Kit?"
"Of course!"
He did the rinse, brushed some wound-cleaning antiseptic into the wound ("Okay, I completely understand the presence of antiseptic in a Last-Ditch Desperate Emergency First-Aid Kit,") and got out the suture set. He gripped the needle with his suture foreceps and lined up for the first stitch. Then he looks up and says, "would you like some novocaine?"
"You mean, you've got novocaine in your Last-Ditch Desperate Emergency First-Aid Kit?"
He grinned. "Nope. Just wandered if you wanted some."

The stitches were very neat, and he aligned the edges of the wound perfectly; it barely left a scar. I've had worse stitches from doctors in actual hospitals. So, thanks for good stitches and good times, bro!