Monday, December 15, 2008

Oh, one other ingredient: Wool

Yes, I am an enthusiastic person, willing to try lotsa things, and say "yes" to many many requests. Like, for example: "Sure, I'll bike 100 miles for Susan Nelson's fight against cancer." But I do believe in a certain level of preparedness for things, and like a well-trained mom, 90% of the preparation involves wearing wool.

Why was I so joyous on Sunday? I was wearing my three, no, four favorite garments: an incredibly soft and warm lambswool sweater (turtle-ish neck, 1/4 zip, from Brooks Brothers, believe it or not), my 1952 (manufacture date is on the label!) Australian Army wool pants (5-pocket; I often roll them into knickers for bike riding), and Smartwool knee socks.

Also knicker tights under the pants, an Under Armor undershirt under the sweater, my team jersey over it, glove liners and fleece mittens, and, what the smart people do: plastic bags twixt my socks and shoes, adding warmth without cutting off circulation. All the people who snickered beforehand were the ones seeking out a warm engine block to put their toes on afterwards.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Snow + Lunch + Overexuberance = Racing Joy

Apropos of the Illinois State Cyclocross Championship race, I'd like to share a cartoon with you:
Married To The Sea

What a slip-slidey blast! The course was a whole lot of oxygen-sucking fun. The terrain was a a lovely mix of frozen mud, deep and rutted snow, hard-packed sand, some short steep hills with right angle turns into and out of them, and one long hill (composed of aforementioned frozen mud). Oh, and did I mention it was like 17 degrees?

Here's what I remember (this may seem like a long list, but when you consider that it's absolutely exhaustive, and that most of the observations come from the first lap), you'll come to the conclusion that a great portion of the limited athletic success that I've had has been due to the fact that my body is able to shut off oxygen to my brain, enabling better muscle performance):

Eating lunch (ahh, yes, don't say I've learned nothing this 'cross season).

Forgetting to bring a check for registration, so a nice warmup ride to an ATM and back (OK, so I haven't learned everything. But it was a great warmup).

A lousy start-line position, third row back (More not-learning things: I realized before the start that I still had my phone in my pocket and dithered about looking for someone near the line to give it to before I found teammates--thanks, guys!--watching the start).

Thankfully, most people are really slow off the line so I was able to position myself somewhere around 20th by the time of the first crash--50 yards in. Everybody in places, oh, 5-18 went down, and so I squeezed up a bit solidly into the first group of slow people.

'Round some more turns, careening downhill and left into a tunnel, and hearing as I came out, "there's a big crash on the hill! a big crash!"--whoa! no kidding. You could easily get halfway up, lose momentum, start cranking hard and spinning your rear wheel, and ploop! out goes your bike from under you. Thankfully, I stuck to the snowy unpacked side and passed another couple of folks.

Then a long slog up the sled hill--and upwind--and down, then, what's this? a fast place? on a sand path? that isn't slippery? what a joy! And, even better, a pair of barriers on flat ground? Oh, I don't mind the right turn to the barriers and the left turn out, flatland barriers are my forte, my bread and butter, my opportunity to blow by, well, a couple of people. Not enough.

My next thought was, "Why the heck is everyone going so slow? don't they know this is a race?" It turns out six-inch deep rutted snow slows some people down. Go figure. I charged a new path around them on the right, and established myself in more or less the position I'd hold for most of the race.

At this point, my memories start getting blurrier and blurrier.

I remember passing one guy only to endo fifteen seconds later coming from a concrete flat (along the lake) onto grass. Whoops, got to lift the front wheel more to get up that lip at speed.

I remember looking back and seeing a string of 2 or 3 Tatitos and thinking, "Isn't that nice? all us neighborhood guys sticking together."

I remember (fatefully) coming into the start/finish line and seeing a "2" on the laps to go sign.

I remember thinking, "do I have one or two laps to go?"

I remember getting passed by somebody in an orange jersey and thinking, "Shoot, that guy's got a broken wrist! can't let him beat me!"

And, "can I stick with him for this last lap so I can sprint with him?"

And, "poor guy, his wrist must be killing him, why's he pulling out of the race?"

And, "no, I won't take a doughnut handup thanks I'm racing! If it was beer..." and then crashing.
(are you getting the picture? I wasn't)

And, "dang, the field is really spread out; I can't see any of my competition ahead of me."

And, "oh, the crowd must have all gone to see the finish."

And, "god, what will the lap count say now? do I have one more to do or is this it?"

And a very firm voice outside of my head saying as I crossed the line, "You're done."

And then a cool-down ride, and a couple of people asking, "Why'd you do an extra lap?"

Now I just need to equip my fans with a big "STOP, FORREST, STOP!" sign. Or better, "Sprint, Forrest, sprint!" Clearly my IQ drops to about 23 over the course of a race.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Nice fenders...

Here's a little project for y'all. Get your hands on some SKS fenders (the P45s are good if you're running wider tires, up to about 35 mm; the P35s if you're going a little smaller). They come in boring black or a pretty spiffy silver, with black and clear stripes.

The SKSs have nice mounting hardware: double struts and a pop-out mounting so that if road detritus gets stuck between your fender and tire you don't come to a screeching, ass-over-teakettle halt.

But you want your fenders to be a little different; you want to add some color to a black and silver bike. So you get your hands on a can of Krylon plastic spray paint and some masking tape, et voila. Oh, note that we masked the inside of the fenders when we sprayed so that the clear stayed clear. Come to think of it, it's possible that if you didn't mask the inside you'd get a very subtle stripe of color through the clear stripes, and if you wanted to be really really subtle you could leave the outside silver and just paint the inside

They're going on my Dad's black Raleigh and I think they'll look sharp.

Monday, December 8, 2008

I'm just sayin' has a "Universal Wish List Button" you can add to your browser; it will allow you to add items from non-Amazon sites to your wish list.

Pretty cool.

Concessive-impulsive disorder

n. phrase: The habit, nay, reflex, of always saying "yes," even when you really shouldn't. May result in unexpected delights.

Or extreme exhaustion.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Team Fat Cyclist: Win Susan!

Does the full-zip jersey make me look fat? I hope so.

I've mentioned Elden Nelson, the Fat Cyclist before, but now's the time to talk a little more about what he's done for me and the rest of the world, and what I'm trying to give back to him, by giving back to the rest of the world. And what you can do to help.

The Fat Cyclist is one of the best blogs on the internet, hands down. Yes, it's a little more personal if you like bicycling, or if you have some sort of capacity for human emotion, but even if not, you'll laugh your coffee out your nose at "An Open Letter to Assos" and its follow-up, "The Wit and Wisdom of Dr. Michael Lämmler". If the screamingly funny posts don't get you, then he gives away some really cool bike stuff in contests and drawings every now and then and you're hooked. And if you follow the posts, you'll cry as I did when you read that Susan, Elden's wife, has had a relapse of her breast cancer, and it has metastasized to her brain, with thousands of tiny tumors like dandelion seeds in her brain.

I've commented occasionally that TV shows are for people who don't have interesting, or attractive, or funny friends, but the thing about the internet is that you can actually get to be friends with interesting, funny, smart, attractive, hard working, wonderful people. And I consider Elden to be my friend (it says we are, right there on Facebook!). He's the sort of friend you want to be more like; not perfect (we all have our moments. And jeez, he serves brats with no beer.) but when I read his writing, he makes me want to be a better person, a better dad, a better husband. Like another big brother. Because, after all, it doesn't really matter what kind of a cyclist you are.

So we (the internet) try to 'be there' for Susan and Elden and the kids, and those of us who are in Utah can come over with dinner, and help clean the house and the like. But when Elden says, "This is helpful," and it's something we can do--we jump. Seriously, he could say, "I really need you all to send me your toenail clippings," and he'd be able to open a glue factory in a week. And so he's put together a fundraising team for the Lance Armstrong Foundation (did I mention Elden's a bicyclist?), and he asked for team members to create the largest, most successful fundraising team in the history of the event. I jumped. And jumped in for the Seattle ride, on June 21--it seemed only appropriate, in that the other person I look up to like him is my brother, that I go ride in his town. (By the way, brother Wombat, can I sleep on your sofa?)

In our family we know something about cancer from a couple of different sides: Dr. Fledermaus's family tree has a terrifying streak running through it (thankfully, late-arriving, slow-moving, and excisable), and Dr. Fledermaus herself has a Ph.D. studying the disease. One thing I'm learning too well is that I'm now at the age when my cohort of friends is starting to develop cancer. Three good friends, all with kids, have been diagnosed in the past two years, with varying prognoses. But one thing I didn't know was the range of things that the Armstrong Foundation does. Yes, they support research (amen!) and treatment, but they also provide a huge range of services to cancer patients and their families. They provide personal guidance, counseling, really, in a way that all the books and brochures and even doctors can't.

All of which is to say, I'm asking now, and I'll probably ask again sometime before June, for you to chip in a few bucks by clicking here. In return, I'll ride a hundred miles with your names on my back, and if any of you can come to Seattle, too, I'll grill brats for you according to Elden's recipe (ok, I use the same recipe). We'll have a send-off grill in Chicago, too (where we know a thing or two about bratwurst).

And if I win anything, I'll share like Bat Jr., and try to gloat humorously.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Co-op is dead. Long live the Co-op.

12 kinds of soy milk
No buttermilk

And then...

"Our card machines are down: no credit or debit cards, no checks, cash

As so often over the past thirteen years, I went to Walgreen's.

Reports of enlightment greatly exaggerated

I'm flabbergasted that in our day and age, someone can (try to) use the color of a kid's diapers and the painting of his toenails as reasons not to allow a parent to see his kid. The kid clearly likes his diapers: '"(Kennedy) pulls down his pants and says, 'Mommy, look how pretty they are,'" she said of the diapers.' Likewise the nail polish: '"He'd say, 'Mommy, I don't want to get my nails wet. I don't want to mess them up,'" she said. "It took two hours to get him in the bath."'

Props to Urlacher. I think he knows something about masculinity, and I hope his example of openmindedness is heeded. Now if only I could get my kid to be a little less overwhelmingly gender-stereotypical in her dress!

Friday, November 21, 2008


There's significantbuzz in our local corner of the bike geekery blogosphere about the recent name change of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation; it's now the Active Transportation Alliance. Reaction seems to range from the "what a colossally stupid idea," to the "what a colossally stupid idea and if you're not pissed about it you should be." I'm somewhere between these two responses, myself. SFBikeBlog's post covers most of the objections I have (and then some), but I feel more betrayed as a Chicagoan than as a biker. For the record, I don't think I'll be renewing my membership: an organization that treats its members this way is not one that I want to be a part of (though I seem to find myself in more and more such situations). The way that they made this (locally) momentous decision smarts personally, while picking a goofy name that doesn't say anything about what you stand for only offends me intellectually.

But I'm doubly disappointed that they're adopting the nickname "Active Trans." Have they no members in Lakeview? Anyhow, here's the first thing that occurred to me on hearing the term:
The take-home lesson is not to abbreviate to a prefix
(Yes, that is a mixte frame.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cyclocross update.....

I know what you're thinking--"why no race reports? You have been racing, right, Dingbat?"

Well, I missed two weeks, one due to travel and one due to ill-health but the other reason is simpler. I've been terrible. Slow. Feeling like someone's adding glue to my tires when I'm not looking. Looking back a lap or two in to make sure I didn't somehow forget to unhitch the trailer. That is, when I'm not looking back to see who's blowing by me this time.

And extra-frustrated when Nemesis (the quy who outsprinted me in JP, and whom I beat in Hawthorne Woods) is third place overall in the series.

I think, though, I can boil it down to two factors: One, umm, cardio fitness. I'm just not riding enough. Two: I'm not eating enough on race day. Breakfast followed by fruit and fruit juices is not enough fuel in the tank, which is why I'm able to go go go for a lap and a half and then--bonk. On the grass, it's not as dramatic as on pavement, so it took me a little while to figure out.

Anyhow, I had fun in Lansing yesterday; there was a sandpit and I had a blast sprinting to catch a guy at the finish line. I wasn't until I'd gasped my way around the course that I realized that I hadn't caught him so much as lapped him at the line. But I held off the guy who was on my lap, which is a satisfaction. The important thing is that I got excited to train again after putting my finger on the big factors in declining performance.

Read Joe's race report for something a little more inspiring. Or Michael Barry's fun (if perhaps occasionally overwrought) recent article in the Times.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Monday, October 13, 2008

Race Report: Hawthorn Woods "Psychocross" 10/12/08

If you're able to write a detailed and accurate race report, you weren't racing hard enough. Unless you do what I do and collate the hazy memories of the race with known factors like the course itself into something that seems to make sense. But memories from the heat of exertion are terribly unreliable and even impartial observations are notoriously slippery (to wit: my calculation that I'd come in 6th, the immediately-posted result of 7th and the later, "official" result of 8th).
Be that as it may, here's my impressions of Sunday's race: It was hot, not beastly, but enough to sap some energy, and truly make one grateful for shade. In retrospect, arriving two and a half hours before the race, usually a very good idea, may have been a little, well, excessive. The course was the sort of thing that singlespeeders are supposed to dread: lots of asphalt and long runs on grass. One big big hill (a man-made tobogganing hill for the kids), which you hit 200 yards after the start, rode up and flew down, and then, just for kicks, you took a U-turn and dismounted for a barrier before heading back up to the top. I saw some people in earlier races try to ride the hill the second time up, but didn't see anyone try that in my race, but then again, I only myself and the three or four guys around me at any given point. Then you bombed down the hill again, trying to get clipped in before a whole bunch of grass and asphalt, probably a half-mile's worth, with a false flat and some very bumpy dry drainage thrown in for good measure. Then you (well, I at least) passed by your wife and daughter in the kids' playground, getting a much-needed boost in energy. An off-camber turn to the right led to a mud puddle and the only other barrier of the course, which then took you right through the center of the spectation and past the registration gazebo in an almost-terrifyingly narrow paved path with only yellow caution tape separating you from the...teeming hordes?, well, friends and families. A couple more turns took you into a mostly-dry drainage ditch around a reedy swamp. The mostly-dry came to an end when you crossed a nice sloppy mud pit and emerged onto another grassy field, which you circumnavigated for another half-mile, before a hairpin turn took you onto an asphalt path for 150 meters, a short (10m) patch of grass and a right turn onto the last 40m of asphalt leading to the finish.

My goals for this week were to start in the front row, stay in the top ten for the whole race, and not get used as a rabbit in any big flats and a lead-out man in the sprint. I fulfilled all of them.

I was first to gather for the start, and though the top ten series riders got call-ups to the line, only about five of them were racing this week so there was plenty or--well, enough-- space for me to start in the front row, all the way at the left wall. I got off the line reasonably well; there were no sharp (crashy) turns at the start, just the lead-in to and the climbing of the hill, which did wonders to string out the pack. I passed three or four people the first time up the hill (yes, that was the only time I passed anyone on the hill!), with my left crank creaking horribly. Note to self: tighten that sucker up, if it's still got any shape to the spindle holes. Then down, and back up, on foot this time, and I realized that my body really should be prepared for such cardiopulmonary abuse by regular training. Ah well. I'm in no way proud of my top of hill re-mounts. They were ugly hopping, hesitant affairs, but letting a heartbeat or two push some blood to my brain before bombing downhill and trying to get clipped back into the pedals before bouncing around the turn to the right (O God, let me not bounce around too much before my feet are equipped to absorb those impacts). And then...You mean I have to start pedalling again? Dude, I'm gonna hurl! This was the slowest part of the race for me. Lap 1 I worked it ok, getting passed and dropped by one guy (I think), Lap 2 I sat back and said Jeez, I need to let someone pass me and sit in behind him--and that worked, sort of--I got passed by an Illinois State rider whom I did later pass. Lap 3, I started to think the same thing and then realized, "wait, everybody else feels the same way I do." so I put the hammer down with all the vigor of an elderly sloth until the nausea subsided. For the first stretch of grass I managed to find someone to hang with on three of the four laps; on the last lap I'd been dropped by a group of three, and I'd just about given up on catching them when I heard, "Go Daddy! Go faster Daddy!" from Bat Junior and a firm "Head up! Back in the race!" from Dr. Fledermaus (have I mentioned that Dr. Fledermaus was a D-I varsity coxswain in college? When you're working to hard to think, she knows what to put in your head to make you tap that little bit more). On all the laps, I had good-to-stellar dismounts and remounts at the "spectators'" barrier (Thanks for the "Wow!" to whoever said that on Lap 4--I was especially proud of that one!). It helped me reel in the distance I'd lost on the asphalt. Same too with the mud puddle--three of four laps I passed someone in the mud (Ahh, the lessons of winter--snow--bike commuting: shift your weight back and never stop pedalling!).
Lap four had its own highlights: the family gave me the energy to think I could catch the group of three ahead of me, and the barrier and the mud put me in striking distance. I hammered across the grass and blew past the third of them, who'd bonked and sat up (or did we all lap him?). He apologized as I went by (we must have lapped him). Then onto the tail of that rider in the blue jersey. Why was that jersey so familiar? With a half mile (plus or minus), two doglegs and a hairpin to go, I caught him. I sat in for a second or two, but what's this? The other guy was getting away! The xXx rider who'd been in front of him by only a few bike lengths had thirty meters in the bag, and gaining! I passed blue-jersey and said, "Let's catch this guy!" There was some sort of affirmative noise--was its incoherence due to my ears' or his mouth's lack of oxygen?--and we took the hairpin together. But wait, was this too late to catch xXx, and worse, was I just leading out Blue? No time to think, just sprint sprint sprint!!! and finish, a length or two ahead of Blue.
We didn't catch xXx, but the bonus of the day? Blue was the fella who outsprinted me in Jackson Park. After I'd ridden out the finish, lain on the grass for a minute or two, and staggered to my feet, we had a smile and a handshake. This is a good rivalry!

Lessons learned? More air in the tires when there are such sharp turns on pavement. Some of them were pretty darn sketchy. Oh, yeah, and learn to turn sharply on pavement, period! Work on getting used to freewheeling again--I still don't feel as connected to the ride as I did on fixed. And I've got to be more aggressive in the corners like I was on fixed.

Photo Credit: Jeff Kao (thanks, Jeff!)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Public Service Announcement:

Hey everybody (yes, all six of you).

Doorings (that's what cyclists call it when someone inside a car opens a door in front of you) can be fatal. After Clint Micelli was killed this summer leaving work (in downtown Chicago), the Chicago cycling community got together and designed stickers, which we're aiming to place on all 31,000 parking meters in the city of Chicago, and as many light posts as possible. The stickers are a reminder; there's a web site at which offers more information and the chance to sign a "I'll look before opening" pledge.

If you'd like to help, we're looking to make another print run of 10,000 stickers, and need to raise money to do so. Chip in here.

Edit/a note on the stickers. This design with the blue and red and white picks up the colors of the Chicago city flag. If you're elsewhere, there's another design, too. Both are free to use under a creative commons license.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Race Report: Dekalb, Oct 5

I came, I rocked the run-up in the first lap, I crashed (whoops; a little too much front brake!), I had a blowout.

And there, half a lap in, was my race. I was sitting about where I wanted to be (8th-12th-ish) when the whole thing went down.

Funniest thing (in retrospect): a pair of Andre Dugast tubular tires on a bike in the Men's 4B's. That's $300/pair tires in a beginner race. Ah, eagerness!

Lessons learned: I'm fast enough that I should start in the front row. Remember to bleed speed when it's muddy with the rear brake (or legs, as the case may be).

I'm sure that the postmortem on the front tube will tell me something too.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

South Side History Bike Tour

This one for local readers:

Come explore the South Side of Chicago on the ideal exploratory vehicle. If you're a newcomer to the city and want to learn more, or an old hand at this Chicagoan thing (Eric and Jennifer!) and want to get a deeper bite of it, you'll have fun. And though Dean Boyer's been giving a bike tour for a few years now, this year we'll also benefit from Terry Nichols Clark's and Mark Hansen's good wisdom and knowledge.

This is one of the kickoff events for the new Chicago Studies program (academic and 'experiential learning').
Here's the blurb from the Chicago Studies web site. Sign up info is at the bottom--you can also sign up on facebook here.

Whether biking for recreation or transportation, sticking to the same tried and true route can become a force of habit. But on Saturday, October 4, participants in the South Side History Bike Tour will take the “road less traveled” through historic neighborhoods.

Even long-time South Siders are likely to discover something new about events and people that shaped Chicago-both the city and the University. Tour guides include John W. Boyer, Dean of the College; Terry Nichols Clark, Professor in Sociology; and J. Mark Hansen, Dean of the Social Sciences Division.

Bikers will get a first-hand look at historic Bronzeville, sneak a peek at the residence of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, admire the rugged limestone Union Stock Yard Gate, and learn about the Settlement House movement at the Jane Addams Hull House.

“We want our students to be in touch with the city, to learn from it and enjoy it. This cultural and architectural bike tour is a good way to kick off the 2008-09 academic year for the Chicago Studies Program,” Boyer said.

Participants, who must have their own bike and helmet, will meet at the Quad between Bartlett Dining Commons and the Regenstein Library at 10 a.m.

Register for the Bike Tour: Email or call 773.753.GIVE (4483).

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


OK, here's a race report. Unstructured and incoherent, perhaps, but a race report nonetheless. It betrays its origins as a personal email, cut and pasted for the benefit of other personal persons.

I was not the only one to go down, and that was not the only time I went down! In fact, in the spot that that photo was taken I went down on three or four of the six laps. It was downhill to a 180-degree turn to the right and then back up the hill. Short and steep.

On the first lap, the field hadn't yet spread out a lot and I made the 180-degree turn--taking it quite wide and was charging up the hill faster than my competition (heh heh heh) around one particular fellow who lost momentum and was waggling around quite a bit trying to stay upright. He swung left as I came around him; we hooked handlebars and we both went down.

The second lap was my fastest, through that bit at least--I took it fast and wide and didn't go down. After that, each time, I hit the dirt with my right (uphill, inside of the turn) pedal on the dirt, knocking my rear wheel out from under me. Perhaps proper cyclocross tires would have caught the ground again--but I think that more knobby tires would have slowed me down on the non-technincal half of the course. At any rate, the whole bike went out from under me. And there was a great fan there, shouting "Go singlespeed" (and later, "Go fixed!") which was a great boost (though I felt like I was letting him down as I crashed!).

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The course was pretty easily divided into the technical half--with lots of twists and turns, and several barriers--and the non-technical half, racing around big grassy fields, with some fairly tight but not extreme turns. The race started in the middle of the non-technical half, with a short straightaway on grass, crossing an asphalt path and doglegging right, then circling a softball field, then going down a shallow hill to a slight basin--meaning softer wetter ground---and then some slightly muddy ("peanut butter," not splattery wet stuff) hairpins and squiggles (this is where the 'technical stuff' begins) up, then down a hill. The second time back up the hill (we're talking 50 foot hills) was on foot: there were barriers to clear at the bottom and the top. Remount, then downhill across the soft 'basin' and up, then down the aformentioned crashing hill.

Then a few more loops on dirt and some more paved path riding, this with a 150-degree dogleg in it. My first two laps I hit my inside pedal on that turn, but with the pavement, the only result was a skip of the rear wheel and a skip in my heartbeat (the laps I didn't have pedal strike I cursed myself for not taking the turn fast enough, though, truth be told, halfway through the race I probably wouldn't have had the reaction . Downhill on the paved into where most of the spectators were, and some more turns and a barrier. I think I crashed at this dismount once. Then back through the spectators to a double corkscrew (turn left left left left and then right right right right) and a straightway on grass, slightly downhill, to another barrier. Then out into the fields.

So that's the field of battle. Here's what played out, at least what I did well and what I did poorly.

I started middle of the pack (of forty), and spent the first lap passing people who slowed down too much for turns. On a fixed gear, you know just how expensive acceleration is, so the important racing lesson of "Don't slow down!!!" is at the forefront of your mind. Many people were riding their brakes into fairly shallow turns and I blew by them. I didn't wipe out on any turns and I considered my most successful ones the ones where I had enough speed to stretch the course-marking tape on my shoulder coming out of the turns and even brush the tape stanchions with my handlebars (wheels never went outside any course markers!).

The one thing I kept in mind through all this was what one of my favorite bloggers, Kent Peterson ( said a few weeks ago: Having multiple gears doesn't make you go faster, it makes it easier for you to go slower. So I figured I had to keep the speed up.

And so I attacked, attacked, attacked.
One thought occurred to me several times during the race: "Why are all these people going so slow?" On the first lap it was their bad, for sure--too much timidity going into corners, too little fitness on the straightaways. I realize now that one fellow in particular whom I passed on each of the last three laps going into the grassy half was just using me. As a rank amateur I wasn't even thinking about the fact that he was just drafting in the fast bits and would blow by me at the finish--as he did. Very much the beginner's mistake. There was some consolation in the fact that the guy who outsprinted me for the finish made something of a goof of himself by crashing into the guy who'd finished ahead of him after the line.... (

More on Oct. 5.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Friday grab-bag (2 items)

Ari Davidow, Hebrew Typesetter Extraordinaire and someone who blogs less regularly than I do. But the links there could waste two or three days of my life.

Tandems aren't just political props. See what they can do for your

Now that's a cheese dog

All-beef dog (pre-heat in micro or broiler).
Solid bun.
Slender slab of bleu cheese.
Handful of minced onions.
A large pinch of mustard powder.

Assemble and broil until the bun's toasty and the cheese melting.

Top with cold cole slaw.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Monday, August 11, 2008

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

We made it!

It was a long, painful (at times) and wet, wet ride but we're here.
Details to follow.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Blogging the future: Race to Mackinac

The sailboat race to Mackinac begins this Saturday (July 19, 2008). If you want to follow our progress, here's how:

14-Jul-08 - 12:18pm
Dear Sailors and Friends:

For the first time in the history of the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac, all boats in the fleet will carry position transponders, which will allow spectators around the world to follow the Race. This state-of-the-art tracking system allows anyone following the race receive hourly updates on individual boats, entire sections, or even the entire 439 boat fleet as the race moves up Lake Michigan.

Race tracking services are being provided by iBoattrack, a division of Horizon Marine. There are two methods to access the tracking site maintained by iBoattrack. The first way is to go to the Race to Mackinac web site CLICK HERE) then click on multimedia and race tracking. You can also bookmark the site directly at (the site will become active shortly before the race begins).

In order to familiarize yourself with how the tracking works, we urge you to take a moment to look at iBoattrack's last race tracked—the Newport Bermuda race—CLICK HERE . Though the race is now complete, you can see how the system worked. You can easily select individual sections to track (the 'class' drop down box). You can also use the movie mode to animate the race. Note that you can mouse over any boat’s current position (except when in movie mode) and get the vessel’s boat speed and other information.

If you would like more detailed data on any boat, select either the 'Boat Mapper' or the 'Google Mapper' from the links at the top of the page. These will take you to a separate page that allows you to focus on an individual boat or boats. It allows you to animate the race too.

In addition, there are a couple of extras for users of the site to explore. First, iBoattrack will maintain and monitor discussion boards. We encourage you to visit the boards and discuss the race with other friends, family and fans of the Race. Should you have questions about the tracking system, how to use it, or how it works, iBoatrack will do their best to answer you on the boards. Second, in order to learn about the weather than the sailors are experiencing on the Race course, you may visit, which will provide regularly updated weather information during the race. A link to the site will be available on the tracking home page.

In case you encounter difficulties with the website, there is a 'help' button in the top right of each page of the tracker.

Please forward this e-mail to anyone who may be interested in following the Race, and encourage them to track your progress as you race north. We hope that this project will make the Race more exciting for your family and friends.


Greg J. Miarecki
2008 ChicagoYacht Club Race to Mackinac

Greg Freeman
2008 Chicago Yacht ClubRace to Mackinac

Winn Soldani
Technology Chair
2008 ChicagoYacht Club Race to Mackinac

Thursday, June 5, 2008

I seem to have started something

Last night, I think I started a dissertation. The problem was (is?) that I don't really know exactly what I'm writing about, and so rather than get through this exam with a whole bunch of post-it flags sticking out of books that I've read (and an extreme inability to recall what each color stood for), I'm going back to the basics: index cards. Yup, index cards.

I've done this before--not with index cards precisely, but with the same idea. The most successful papers I've written have been the result of recording in a word processing document all of my observations and important points of fact and interpretation--anything that interests me, really--and then printing it all out, cutting the individual notes, facts, pieces of evidence, ideas, clever turns of phrase, anything that occurred to me as I was reading, and laying them all out on the living room floor in logical hierarchy:

Main Point.
piece of evidence one
pieces of evidence two and three, which need to be understood together
Subpoint two
----uh oh! I have no evidence for this; better reconsider!----

You get the idea: it's a very concrete way of determining whether or not you've proved what you set out to. And to get an idea of what is provable within the scope of your paper.

This time, it's a little bigger, but I'm organizing the index cards as I go. Category cards get written up in portrait rather than landscape format so that they can act as dividers--but if the category proves unuseful, then that card gets set behind the 'no longer useful' category card.

It's flexible, and it allows me to take all the things that I find interesting and see what I can make of them. And it will, I hope, mean that at the end of taking this exam, I'll be well on the way to proposing rather than just knowing more but having no idea what I'm going to write on.

(Wish me luck.)

I've always liked Kool-Aid. Really.

We're getting new phones--Dr. Fledermaus should have an email-capable one for work (they'll pay) and so I'll be piggybacking on her acquisition, likely, with a family plan.

And so it's a good excuse to finally cave into my brother's recommendations and get a picture/email/web capable phone. (Photos he sent from the Mariners game last week, and the announcement of the CTA Bus Tracking web site, were the other two things that put me over the edge.)

So I've been doing a bunch of research, and come to the pleasant surprise that the reason the iPhone is selling so damn well is because it's cheaper than its competition.

For comparably-capable phones (no other has the music capacity of the iPhone, but all of these have qwerty keyboards) and plans (including email and web access, about the same number of minutes), here's the two-year cost of ownership (equipment purchase, activation fees, monthly charges including an estimated 25% taxes and fees).

8Gb iPhone: $2080
US Cellular HTC PPC6800: $2142
T-Mobile Wing: $2327
Verizon LG Voyager: $2480 (actually, it's probably higher; this doesn't include activation since we're currently VZW customers)
AT&T Tilt: $2558

The iPhone doesn't include insurance, but look at it this way: over two years, I could drop one in Lake Michigan and replace it at retail, and it still comes out to the same cost as the Voyager and the Tilt, which are the other two that come anywhere close to iPhone is slickness (yes, that's slightly different from coolness).

Now the only problem is that the web is vibrating with anticipation of a new iPhone release sometime in the next month or two. What's a consumer to do?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Two kinds of sex

We went to an elementary-school graduation party for a friend of ours on Friday. He's a methodical kid, loves assembling things from Legos, loves Star Wars (has since the age of one!), loves order and pattern and words and numbers, and really doesn't understand instinctively the social cues that most of us take for granted. It's been a struggle for him to get as far as he has, and so the celebration was well-merited. But that's all a little beside the point--there's wisdom to be shared here.

A couple of weeks ago, C. and his mom were in the car, and C. said, "There are two kinds of sex." His mom (from whom he inherits this trait of speaking his mind!) said, "Oh, really? Tell me more." So he explained, "Well, there's the biological kind, where you have kids. And then there's the other kind, which involves alcohol."

Friday, May 30, 2008

Why I love Jennifer's bike that she hates so much....

General Carlessness has a rant on her bike. I offer this counterpoint.

Jennifer's bike is awesome: it screams, "My rider is a hard-core commuter. She takes an off-the-shelf medium-cheap bike and rides the hell out of it. She's added the sensible accessories (fenders, rack, lights), and had the good sense to pick one of the few bike models off the shelf that will accommodate them. Check out these wide smooth tires, which everyone with any sense--and even the highest aesthetes in all of bicycledom--knows are the way to roll. Sure, I've got a suspension fork, but wer're too busy riding to spend hours agonizing over what to spend money on--and everyone knows that habit is just an ulcer on the world of cycling, caused by an infection of Consumer Culture. I take a little, and make it go a long long way.

"Besides, look at me: I'm a testament to engineering solidity--in thirty years, I'll have the bombproof reputation of a Chicago Schwinn, only I'm about a stone lighter and my brakes actually work in the rain. Shoot, she's trying to ride me into the ground so she buy something fancy, but I just keep on trucking.

"You, with the trucker hat--eff you, man! If you want to identify with the plebeian masses then you'd do well to recycle that PBR can (and the ends that you so stupidly cut off of your riser bars) into some mass-produced hybrid that will still be ridden after your knees scream for mercy and your fashion sense dictates that you leave your IRO in the garage.

"I'm keeping it real."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Why my CD drive won't open

Short answer: It's a POS, and it's started breaking after 3 years of pretty easy use.

Long answer (which is kind of neat, and also lets me know how to solve it): There's either crud on the lens of the CD, or it's scratched or otherwise failing, so it's having trouble reading the disc that's in there. The thing is, it keeps trying, spinning up the disc either every minute or continuously to see if it can get a read on it. Because it's 'active' it won't eject the disc, even when you ask it to through Windows. Windows used to time out when it failed to read a disc, but not any more.

The trick to getting the disc out is to do it while the computer's on but before Windows gets ahold of the hardware. Reboot, and while the "Dell" screen is still up, i.e., the hardware is powered but Windows hasn't fired up, hit the manual eject button.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Never too early

The alarm went off this morning, and Dr. Fledermaus said, "One snooze!" As I fumbled for the button, I said, "Not much; one snooze with you?"

Monday, May 5, 2008

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Though the weather's beautiful and I'll be longing to go, I'm going to have to skip the 9:30 ride this evening. Please, go and enjoy yourselves for me!

Friday, April 11, 2008

The state of the stacks (first in a series)

Fat Cyclist keeps us informed as to his weight, a public self-shaming into positive progress. I hereby tell you, with the same goal, the total height of all the stacks of crap paper on my desk.

147 cm

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Draw a Picture of a Bird Day

This is time sensitive, so I'm not going to rewrite; I'm just going to quote an email I received this morning.
Today, I would like to share something important with you. Several months ago it came to my attention that this day, April 8th, is none other than Draw a Picture of a Bird Day. Please join me in embracing this ridiculous holiday by (you guessed it) taking some time out of your day to draw a picture of a bird. I encourage you to do this whenever you please... over breakfast, in class, while walking across the Midway, during naptime, really your options are as wide open as the soon-to-be bird-filled sky!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Continuity and change

I've recently had the opportunity to sit on a committee meeting with two candidates for a senior student life position at the university. One seemed to fit right in here, to take immediately to the intellectual climate here of analysis and discussion. The other candidate brought an entirely different level of energy, and the discussion we had was exciting, spinning off ideas for activities, about how to make connections and draw students together, multiply energies and channel disparate groups toward common goals. Part of what was so appealing about candidate 2 was the fact that this campus already has plenty of what C1 brings to the table--detached, careful, intellectual practice.

The quesion is, when does this desire for something different transform the place into something different? Do we have a responsibility to preserve the uniquely, um, contemplative nature of this institution?

Friday, April 4, 2008

Reading Material

I'm too busy to read stuff (let alone write), so you'll have to. New additions to the "Chicago Links" there on the right:
I Hate My Developer--required reading for anyone thinking about buying into a condo conversion, and really sharp observations about life on the South Side.

General Carlessness--bike riding and editing; sound familiar? But with more content of public interest than I usually muster. (I've been utterly remiss in not linking here sooner!)

Those two are both excellent and full of stories of life in the neighborhoods I straddle (I claim Woodlawn, living and working south of the midway, but I'm in University-occupied territory, which makes for overlapping geographical identities).

Chicagoist--news, events, and observations about the city. Chicagoist's borealic focus may lead to its removal from my blogroll, but the writing's good and the topics interesting. Whether a few weeks of things I'll not see around town gets to me or not is to be determined.

The following may or may not make the blogroll; after I have some time to devote to reading them, they'll appear there or not. But you may find them interesting now.
District 299 blog. about Chicago Public Schools ChiKat and Swim and Glitter are the personal blogs of a couple of (white) south siders. Interesting observations and all, but they might prove too personal. Yochicago is another recent discovery, and seems to focus entirely on real estate.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Observations on the legal system.

1) I always thought subpoenas would come on nicer paper.

2) The hearsay rule is really really strict. I had no idea.

Small revelations, then, rather than simple observations.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

If you haven't heard: Good News!

We're having triplets! Two more girls and a boy, due in July, but the doctor says that they'll probably come early.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Lost, Season 31

Where in the Sam Hill are my other black shoes?
And that extra bicycle we had around in the fall?

And what else have I lost without yet realizing it?

Spoilers in the comments are welcome.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wednesday catch-all

All the news that fits in a 5-minute post (warning--all bike content):
Tuesday night ride report: good fun, but 'urban singletrack' (that's the rut in the park full of mud, grass, chunks of asphalt, and sand) would be more fun with company. Yes, I'll advertise again for next time. (We don't quite have the momentum for going without, yet, I guess.)

Read this. It will give you goosebumps. Hat tip to Surlyblog whose Ms. Bloggins it made cry.

My old rear wheel died last week. Time to build up that new set of wheels for next winter, a bit ahead of the planned schedule. Owen at Blackstone Bikes set me up with a SRAM three-speed internally geared hub, and it's sitting on a shelf in the living room where I can gaze fondly at it until I pick up my rims and start making a wheel. Further updates on this adventure in wheelbuilding as events warrant.

Since the demise of the geared rear, I put my fixed wheel on the Surly. The only gearing that worked without shortening my only 1/8" chain is 36x18. There's a coffee out there called 53x11; they're bikers, of course, and they, inter alia, support a cycling team. I'm thinking the coffee must be really strong. After riding 7 miles on Monday with a 25 mph tailwind, I'm thinking that they should make a supercaffeinated blend called "36x18." I was spinning like mad to keep up with myself. But I could pull the trailer without feeling like my knees would fall off.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"The Loop" v. "Downtown"

It's called "The Loop." Really. If you want to talk about "downtown" you have to go down. And down again. Here's a helpful guide:
for full-size version.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Random is as random does...

$5 says this is the future. I'm posting this so I know for whom to root in case I find myself watching some games.

..or Snow!

The ride tonight is on, the usual place (Powell's) at the usual time (9:30). The snow isn't supposed to start until after midnight, anyway.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


"The result is above all simple and big: a basic bloody-great-sack, innocent of compartments..."(Colin Fletcher, The Complete Walker III, p. 124.) My bag is the second largest Timbuk2 messenger bag, in a patriotic maroon. Let's take a look at the outside before delving into it.
There it is. The big ol' bag. Phone pocket on the strap, along with a couple of ankle straps, and--this is the real genius of the thing--my keys, on a neck lanyard. It's long enough to be able to use the keys without disattaching them, and I can throw them in my jacket or pants pocket or the bag itself. Wherever they are, I can yank them out by the strap. And, most importantly, my bag makes the biggest key fob I've ever had (you'll gather that the guiding principle of this bag is that if I don't have something attached to myself, I forget it). Similarly attached by a lanyard to the strap is my Leatherman, which lives inside the bag.

Now, if we're feeling bold, we can reach inside:
Here's what we've got. Items marked with an asterisk I've used within the past 48 hours.
  • Rain cape*
  • Wool hat (Jamaican Bobsled Team)*
  • Underseat bag--usually lives in the trailer, but I'd put it in my sack for the TuTh evening ride--and used its contents: spare tube, tire levers*
  • Burpee plant catalog+
  • Wallet*
  • Sign-up sheet for dinner trip four weeks ago+
  • Pictures of Western White Pine needles (yes, P & R, I'm still working on your Christmas gift)
  • Planner*
  • Towel* (for drying off seat if it's been rainy or snow and I haven't put the next item on it)
  • Seat cover* (On the seat while I'm inside if I realize or remember that it's going to rain or snow, or, keeping a wet seat from my butt if I don't)
  • Two bike headlights* (Usually I have one, Dr. Fledermaus has one, but for the weeknight rides, and with the lengthening evenings, I've had both)
  • One bike taillight (for the trailer--I broke one of the mounts on Monday, but my man J set me up with a new mount) to be put on in the next couple of days or before we bike anywhere in the dark.
  • One SD card USB drive (you're enjoying the benefits of it now)*
  • One book of Bat Jr. photos*
  • About 30 bike registration cards, UCPD*
  • Glove liners (it looked like spring, for a while)
  • Random pens, markers, pencils, papers.
  • Chicago bike map
  • CTA map
  • Metra schedule
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Miniature decks of cards (2)
  • Lip balms (some number greater than or equal to 1)
  • The aforementioned Leatherman
  • Study cards
  • One dime
  • The number 3 (no, really, a stick-on foam number. Pink)
  • One churchkey can opener/caplifter
  • iPod Shuffle--so that's where it was!
There we go. A lot of stuff, until Chicago weather hits. Or you get a flat. Or you eat onions at lunch. That list has evolved over a year or two, to the point where I find that if I travel (by bike, foot, PT, or car) without it, I miss something inside. May you find it as useful as I do!

Maybe I'll leave the glove liners in my bag....

Winter Storm Watch Issued by the National Weather Service at 3:49 PM CDT on March 19, 2008

... Winter Storm Watch in effect from late Thursday night through
Friday evening...

The National Weather Service in Chicago has issued a Winter Storm
Watch... which is in effect from late Thursday night through
Friday evening.

.Snow is expected to overspread the area after midnight Thursday
night and continue through the day Friday before diminishing early
Friday evening. There is a potential for storm total snowfall
accumulations of around 6 inches from late Thursday night through
early Friday evening... with a potential for some higher amounts.

A Winter Storm Watch means there is a potential for significant
snow... sleet... or ice accumulations that may impact travel.
Continue to monitor the latest forecasts.


Why is it that I make principled decisions when practical ones are called for? Why do I decide, "now's the time to simplify my bike ride; I'll leave my under-helmet-hat and glasses home at lunch time," when that (Monday) is the day that it starts sneeting (that's the Bat family term for 'wintry mix' at 4:00?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Rain or Shine!

It's genuinely crappy out there now, but it's supposed to stop raining by nighttime. 9:30 ride is still on. 40 degrees-ish, with a 12-13kt NNW wind. Headwind on the way out, tailwind home: the best kind.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Book Design

My man Jon Bruner just posted on the various presidential candidates' books (and their sales!) here. How about a bookshelf debate amongst the covers?

Clinton: I love me!
Obama: If you liked the English Patient, you'll love me.
McCain: If you like hot hot men, you'll love me.
Huckabee: I love me more than I used to.
Clinton: No, really, I'm a hottie. Annie Liebovitz told me.
McCain: You got nothin, bitch, I'm the hottest muthafucka in a flight suit.
Obama: Please, can't we all rise above this?
Huckabee: Not only am I a presidential candidate, I'm a voter. And I vote for myself.

Ok, that's played out. serious observations:

Clinton's design says, I'm Hillary Clinton and that's all you need to know. You've made up your mind about me, probably some time in 1991, so wtf, I'll sell to the lovers and hate on the haters.

Obama's: I've got something for everyone, and a vaguely pretty landscape here that you can populate in your mind's eye however you like. This design, though, is weakened by the posed shot of Barack between the snapshots of his parents--it frames him as the inauthentic one, living off the real achievements of others. Not to say that he doesn't have other virtues--I'm probably going to wind up voting for the dude--, but that's what a critical reading of the cover suggests. I'd rather, of course, have had this photo of him.

McCain's: this has gotta be the most interesting in terms of political imagery: In contrast to Obama's, it's all about authenticity. It says, "All that stuff that George Bush is faking? I'm the real deal." He plays airplanes? not when people are really shooting at him. His daddy was in the navy? My daddy and grandaddy were goddam admirals!

Huckabee's cover shows his appeal: If I can do it, you can, too! We can all become better people! And this resonates with the conservative message of self-reliance (institutional support? bah! all you need is WILL! we won't dwell on how it helps to be wealthy and white in order to get what you want).

By party lines: the democrats have women (my, how shocking!) on their covers; the Republican covers show evidence of personal achievement.

And I'll repeat here what I said in 2005: No one can beat John McCain in a general election.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Bat Jr. had her two-year check up on Tuesday (and impressed her pediatrician by naming her body parts: "What's this?"..."hair!"..."What's this?"..."ears!"..."What's this?"..."Suprasternal notch!").

By the numbers: 27 lbs, 10 1/4 oz; 34 1/4 inches tall.

Night Ride- happening again

Once again, Powells to The Other Side. We're going to go with 9:30, though next week we may shift it a bit earlier. Social pace, though if enough folks come to get a double paceline going, we may gain some speed (and speed=sleep, something I've learned to live without but people keep telling me is a good thing).
Here's a map:

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

2-dollar indecision penalty

At a local brunch restaurant, you can get an order of Eggs Benedict for something like $6.50. You can get an order of Eggs Florentine for $6.00. You can get a half-order of either for $4.00. If you split the difference, and get one of each, your bill comes to $8.00: the 2-dollar indecision penalty.

Monday, March 10, 2008


Yes, this is another biking post. Biking's on people's minds nowadays. There's a new club (click "Readme" above the photo--and bonus points if you can name the location of the photo--it took me a minute or two) in town, a big-tent club with all sorts of foci. And not ten hours before that announcement I was thinking, "shoot, I can't make the morning rides with the bike club or the bike shop; how about some evening rides? I'll invite some people!"

So the spirit of the time is not in cycling, I think, but in biking together. I won't even try to throw out ideas why (tempting as it is), merely post the invitation here: Tuesdays and Thursdays, we'll meet at Powell's at 9:30 and bike for about two hours. In an eerie parallel to the morning coffee rides, we'll aim to bike to Handlebar, have a pint, and head back. Am I forgetting anything? Let me know in the comments.

EDIT: the default destination will be The Other Side, 2434 N. Clark. Take the Lake Front Path to Fullerton, ride west about four blocks to Clark, turn right (north) on Clark, and it's half a block up on the left.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Just added to our Netflix queue

The Monkey Hustle, filmed, in part on 63rd street, back when it was a living city street. For commentary and some stills, see here.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Weather or not...

It's got to be the length and thoroughness of the winter, but depression is everywhere. Not, happily enough, among our own students, but it's hitting students across campus, other friends and's been a hard couple of weeks. What to say? How to light a hopeful little fire? Jeez, how to get outside for a couple of hours?

Friday, February 29, 2008

"No sleepy right now!"

That's our favorite Bat Jr. quote these days.

How to crash Firefox

Open Word.
Ctrl-O: Open File dialogue opens up
Now, go to your Gmail, find a Word attachment, click on Download, then select "Open."
That's all you gotta do; it will start hanging up right away, and eventually will lock up completely, and--here's the kicker--if you close Firefox you can't re-open it because it thinks it's already running. You have to restart your machine.

Thursday, February 28, 2008


A quickie, lunch-time post (culled in part from a few emails I've written over the past week):
Dr. Fledermaus, Bat Jr. and I were interviewed last week by the local media (to be linked when available online) for a segment about winter bike commuting.

It was an interesting experience to be interviewed; I've managed to avoid very many interviews and, though I'd thought about what I'd like to say--I even came up with my own sound bite ("I really like biking, and sometimes I wish that we had a 20 or 30 mile round trip. But the thing about what we're doing is that anyone can do it.") I didn't have the mental dexterity to get it into the conversation. The politician's skill of answering the question he wants to rather than what you ask continues to elude me. And then of course there was the moment after the interview when Dr F. said, "We should have mentioned global warming." and I thought, "Yeah, I suppose so." It's just that it's one of those staggeringly obvious things--surely there's no one out there who thinks that more auto exhaust is good for breathing!--that we don't even think to mention it. But, I suppose, like all bike commuters, we'd happily bore any listener for hours with all the personal, environmental, financial, etc. benefits of riding.

Dr. F did a great job summing up our goal: bike or walk within a 2-mile radius of home. Soundfamiliar? (We started doing it before Clif put it so succinctly, really! But their web site does help!

All in all, the piece was great, though, and hit all the high points, from a variety of perspectives--lots of different commuters: young, old, female, male, bike-geeky, 'normal'....

A few more things occurred to me, though, over the week since, specifically regarding our commute with a little 'un. First off, the bike trailer is really the warmest--even at the coldest outside temperatures--and, of course, quickest way to get her back and forth to day care (3/4 mile). We start off in our basement in the morning, so we're able to buckle her in while we're all inside, and put warm blankets on her. Then we bike out the loading dock and straight up the street to her day care, where we can get her out twenty feet from the door. Compare that to the alternatives: The stroller isn't nearly as weather-proof (especially since we added a zipper to the front of the trailer). A frozen-cold car seat certainly wouldn't warm up in the time it takes to get there, and the walk to and from the car would be way longer than the time we spend outside now. Waiting for the bus? Up to fifteen minutes outside.

But enough justification. It's also time to mention that we have a great advantage of a bike-in, bike-out basement which really makes this whole system work like a charm. Not everybody has that, to be sure--but a lot of people have garages, which perform just the same function!

The take-home message from the segment, and from us, is, "If we can do this, anybody can; we're all just ordinary folks!"

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Monday, February 11, 2008

German exam today went quite satisfactorily; at least, if the examiners get the same impression I did. This implies that I get my life back, for a couple of weeks at least, until studying for my next (i.e. last) exam commences.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Monday, February 4, 2008


I'm still coming down off the high of Super Sunday (Whoo hooo!!!!), and now I'm supposed to decide for whom to root on Tuesday!? Everyone says Obama will win Illinois, which I suppose is likely enough. I'm fairly convinced that either he or Clinton would make a fine president--though I am unimpressed by Hillary's pro-war record (the last time I heard a Democratic presidential candidate say something truly intelligent about the war was during the '04 election when, in a private interview, John Kerry said, "I wouldn't have voted for the war if I had known George Bush would f*** it up so badly." Oh, and John Murtha's been on the ball all the way through. Other than that, they're all full of it in one way or another).

So I could vote in the Republican primary. I like McCain, but whether he will be able to get out of the institutional restrictions of the Republican party and take action in the directions for which the Republicans claim to stand is a big question mark, and one that I am utterly unable to answer in the affirmative. I'd have been willing to give him a shot eight years ago, but probably not this time around.

I could vote for Huckabee or Romney, in the likelihood that either of them is fairly unelectable nationally. But that's like nominating a joke candidate for Senior Patrol Leader in the Boy Scouts, or student council president: the dude might get elected.

But there is another option:

Hey, I'm a peacenik libertarian! (And besides, I could continue my habit of voting for third parties/philosophically consistent and politically incapable candidates!)

The song is by one of our students, who writes:
For those of you who don't know: walking back from the last day of Kangeiko, I thought up a song about Dr. Ron Paul, Congressman from Texas, seeking the Republican nomination for the Presidency. It's not a pro-Ron Paul song, but I'd like to think that it's not entirely anti-Ron Paul either (though it probably is).

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Out to lunch

A long time ago, when I was a kid, I heard tell of people who would go to Hawaii for lunch (this was the '80s, mind you). They'd fly off in their private jets from New York (or, more likely, L.A.) and have some mindblowing lunch of conch boiled in the tears of sweatshop workers or some such, then they'd jet back and continue their "day." This always intrigued me, perhaps even inspired me--perhaps not so much as something to do, but rather as some sort of model of dedication to pleasure, no expenses bared.

I've never been so much one for the spending money (at least not on such consumables) and for most of my life I've made rather a habit of not consuming energy with such abandon, but I think today I may well have equalled the pleasure, and far surpassed the emotional satisfaction, of the jetsetters of my youthful memory.

The idea of riding to Three Floyds Brew Pub had been fermenting in my mind for some time, but today provided the first opportunity to do so (due, alas, to a death in Dr. F's family, which drew her and Bat Jr away for the weekend). Never mind the 8 inches or so of snow that has fallen over the past two days, nor the freezing (or so) temperatures of today. It's a weekend; I've done the shopping for the Super Bowl party (Go Giants!) and gotten almost twelve hours of sleep (did I mention that the toddler who usually rouses us in the morning is away?).

So, I headed out this morning--oops, early this afternoon; did I mention that the toddler who usually rouses us in the morning is away?--and rolled off down the lakefront path. It was cool and cloudy, about 30 degrees, with some breeze out of the south (a headwind on the way out is nice, since it turns into a tailwind on the way back). The roads were slushy, the trail crunchy with packed snow. The snow, the ice on the lake, the grey of the sky, the shark-colored lake made for a very limited palette, though my yellow sunglasses brightened things up in my mind.

The camera doesn't lie, though.

I followed Highway 41 South without incident (well, I did have to dodge a fella on a lawn tractor pushing a plow), and stopped for a couple of pictures at the Ewing Avenue Bridge. The industrial corridor centered on the Calumet River is always striking, and it's rare that I get to see it other than in the summer. Here's a shot upriver, with the 95th Street bridge, the two parallelogram railroad lift bridges, and behind all of them, the Skyway bridge.
You can also see from here my next landmark, off past the tugboats and cranes--the US Steel South Chicago works. It's the smokestack you see in the background, and it's just about the most visible industrial plant in the city: the Ford assembly plant in Hegewisch doesn't have the visual oomph of the steel mill.

We usually see the mill from the Skyway, so it's a treat to see it sneaking up .....

And then....

Here it is! Unfortunately, just after I shot this photo, things started to get a little difficult. Living in the bike-friendly city of Chicago, one gets spoiled about things like plowed bike paths and alleys, and what looks on Google Maps like a lovely stripe of asphalt, turns out to be covered in about nine inches of snow, except for where it's slightly packed by car traffic. I slogged through it for a block and then headed back out to the streets. Not something I object to in general, of course. However, my planning relied heavily on the South Burnham Greenway, and the William Powers Conservation Area surrounding Wolf Lake. My backup plan consisted of the Chicagoland gridded street system, and the sure knowledge that I shouldn't go east of Calumet Avenue (and if I hit it, turn south). Yes, there would be detours.

At all events, when I arrived where the Wolf Lake bike path begins, it was utterly untouched by tire, toe, or truck. I headed east (aiming for Calumet Ave, or any of a few other roads which I knew would run into it). Too early. 112th Street crosses into Indiana and stops at the Cargill plant. I stopped for a comfort break, and to take a couple of pictures of the bike, the snow, the factory, and State Line Road. Alas, the batteries were dead (I think they were a little put off by the cold). And so I retreated, slightly demoralized, to Illinois (though I did finally find out where the sequence of North-South street names in south Chicago--Avenue M, N, O...--begins: at the state line, as was doubtless obvious to everyone in the world except me), to make another attempt at the border. I turned south on Ewing Avenue, until it ended in another east-west street. No, a west street. Train tracks, the Skyway, and Wolf Lake would make maintaining a southeasterly course difficult. Curses, further from my destination.

A perk, however: A Walgreens, where I could refresh my (camera's) batteries. Next door to Pete's Market, which advertised a wide selection of meats.

Pot Roast ($2.35/lb), Sausage ($1.99), Turkey ($1.39), Baby Goat ($1.69), Spine Pork ($.99), and Back Ribs ($2.69). Baby goat!? (I couldn't take this photo on the way in--no batteries--or the way out--traffic--so I took it on the return trip.)

And then--Avenue O. Looking back at the map of my route, I wasn't on it very long, but it was enough to spark a hatred which would be fueled and aerated to great effect on the return journey. A rutted, potholed--I should say 'trenched'--heavily traveled concrete road. Ugh. I was able to hop into the William Powers Conservation Area for a half-mile or so--lo, the road through the recreation area was plowed, up to the north, too! I filed that fact away for the return journey.
On to 134th Street, which turns into 136th...when it enters Indiana (as planned)! This road is maintained by the Boy Scouts of Troop 204. Good for them! The crossing into Indiana truly feels like you're sneaking in--it's woodsy, reedy, behind a trailer park. No one caught me. (I was on a mission from God?)

More concrete roads, then up and over a railroad and into Hammond--which looked, for some reason, like the most All-American town you'd ever see. Riding through, downtown Hammond was about two dirty (ok, it's slushy, everything's dirty) blocks of perfectly ordinary-looking storefronts. We'll have to visit in spring, to see how much of this was illusion and situation, how much fact.

Then into light-industrial Munster, where my destination lies--under the water tower. But I wasn't here for the scenery (though I'd been looking out for the water tower for miles). I was here for the Alpha Kong.
The Floyds understate their case: "A very complex Belgian sextuple, sweet with caramel notes." I'd say, rather, "the richest, smoothest beverage ever to be graced with the name of beer." A revelation when I first had it--what, seven years ago? when the Floyds had no brewpub, just a corner of the warehouse in which the brewery was located with a table and a couple of taps.

And it was the most glorious warmth ever. Like hot chocolate after sledding--for adults.
I continued with the Dark Sun Stout, and The Chancellor (
Pork Schnitzel Served On A Pretzel Roll With Stone Ground Mustard And Red Cabbage).

Aahhhh. Feeling better, now. One more Alpha Kong to fortify for the return journey. And what a good decision: making conversation with the next guy at the bar yielded an unexpected reward: he was a long-lost friend of one of our nearest and dearest alumni. And, then, the fateful decision to bring back two six-packs. (I should back up: I came with no luggage, just a rack and bungees. A conscious, if foolish decision.) Here's my bike and my albatross--I mean, box--ready to go, under the water tower.

We left, my box and I, at 3:30. For what turned, as it appropriately turned out, into a three-hour tour. Before we'd made our way out of Munster the box started objecting to the condition of the road, and showing its objections by jumping off the top of my rack and hanging off the side, like a rock climber. Yack. I readjusted, resettled, rebungeed, and then did it again. Double-yack. But we proceeded, through Hammond, back across the state line into Illinois. It was a rough crossing this time: I wiped out.

I don't think the state line itself tripped me up (though I was immediately reminded of the car we were stuck behind once in Yellowstone National Park: it would slow down each time it crossed the continental divide, as though it was afraid of falling in). My mind was wandering--thinking about how neat it was that I'd met someone I'd only met twice before, and he was perhaps going to meet up with an old friend, when my wheel wandered off the asphalt into a very ugly shoulder (Troop 204 needs some heavy equipment if they want to do something about this), dropping half a foot into the snow. Down I went, onto my left side. Thankfully, like early aeronauts, who followed the rule, "Don't fly higher than you're willing to fall," I don't ride faster than I 'm willing to skid. No harm done, really.

Then, up to Wolf Lake, for the most lovely part of the journey. I took that road I'd not come down, and it went its way up by the lake. A plowed but still snow-covered road, not the fastest but way better than the treacherous Avenue O. I took a couple more photos before the sun set.

And I continued. The road was lovely, though it did seem to be bending east slightly more than I'd have preferred. Ah well, back up Calumet Avenue it would be. As long as I didn't have to ride the accursed Avenue O once again. So on I went, enjoying myself greatly, though the sun was setting. I saw the wildlife, for example.

Then the road ended. Uh oh. Clearly this would not take me out of the park. But there was a little hope: A foot bridge: perhaps it led to another entrance? But unplowed on the other side... no, anything to avoid O! I slogged for about half a mile (cleanly, mind you! no foot down in at least 6 inches of snow!), and then said screw it, and turned back.

It seemed to have gotten dark somewhere along the way. And the box continued, as you can see, to deteriorate. And the bicycle got rather snowy. But, as Lance says, it's not about the bike. No, no, it's about the necessity of paving Avenue O. Because after my four-mile detour, I found myself perhaps 200 yards further up O than I was. GARGHHHH!

On my way out of the park, I noted a prohibition, which, given the increasingly gaping side of my box, I found amusing.

I gritted my teeth, and bounced out onto Avenue O. And halfway across an overpass, the long-suffering box made a last leap for freedom. Only to wind up, as before, lingering along the side of my rear wheel. It decided, evidently, since it could not be free, it could torment its captor by sticking its corner in my spokes in the single least-stoppable (yet still, by some standards, rideable) point in all of Chicagoland. I prayed: please don't let a spoke break! I'll stop in the next driveway! I'll floss every night! I'll get caught up at work! I'll mate all the socks!

I eventually came to a driveway, and found, to my pleasant surprise, that not a bottle had broken. But the box was shot. "How would I carry two six-packs?" I wondered, "How about....Oh s***. The six carrier is broken too." I considered the possibility of hunkering down in Algar Manufacturing's parking lot, and drinking half the beer. The thought of navigating more of Avenue O, may it burn in hell, while schnockered, dissuaded me. Probably for the best.

Army pants to the rescue. I'd chosend to wear my oldest pair of pants, Australian Army issue wool combat pants. From 1952. One big cargo pocket (three beers!) Two front pockets (two in the right--the left had my wallet). And one in each hip pocket. Making for a manageable five-pack which I bungeed to the rack (with my mini-tripod in the last slot).

"My pants are full of beer!"--a catchphrase in our family since an incident I like to call "Attempted possession of alcohol in public space" from our third or fourth year in the dorm. To put things in context, what the student said in its entirety was, "I can't pull my pants up--they're full of beer." That should hint at the major problem for the rest of the ride: How much crack was I showing? And how would I get my leg over the bike? (The gravitation of my pants was all too much aided, I fear, by the camera bag, which I was wearing on the back of my belt, like a fanny pack.)

To anyone on the South Side whom I mooned this evening, therefore: I apologize.

It was still awful bumpy for that five-pack. And I still had miles to go before I slept. (Looking at the time now, I had further than I thought!) When I thought I had a nice straight shot up Avenue J, and it turned one-way against me, I thought I would have a minor breakdown. But when I dodged over to Avenue H, what a sight did I see:
That was the unexpected bonus from the trip, surely. But I still was worried about the five-pack on my back rack. Every time I hit a hidden pothole (full of slush), it would jump, and clink. I resolved not to look back. Then the landmarks started becoming more familiar: South Shore Cultural Center, the golf course, the children's hospital, the harbor, Bert (who needs a picture and a post), 63rd street, and home.

And did we make it home safe?

Oh yes. Well, the important stuff did. Count 'em!