Anhydrous Wit

Are you pondering what I'm pondering?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Believe only half of what you read.

The following appeared in NMSU's daily Hotline of press releases yesterday (Thu. 8/28/08). I'll let you read it first; then I'll explain what's wrong with it.

New NMSU food guide now available
NMSU houses two dozen food vendors in eight separate buildings across campus. Students, faculty, staff, and visitors wishing to dine at any of these establishments can download the NMSU campus map & food guide. This new guide provides a complete list of restaurant hours, a brief description of food items, and a campus map. Download yours at

Okay, first off, I hope you didn't already try to open the food guide using the link provided, because it will come up with an error message. If you want to view it, go here and select the "Food Guide" link in the left column. (It's a pdf file, so you will need Adobe's Acrobat Reader to view it.)

Secondly, the university does not have "two dozen food vendors"; they have two dozen food outlets but only six vendors. Only the five outlets listed for Frenger Food Court are independently owned and operated. Every other establishment is a brand trademarked by Aramark, the campus food contractor, to fool the gullible into thinking that they're getting something new and different -- maybe even fresh. (Note that Aramark is my employer's prime competitor in the U.S.A., so if you really want to read about them, you'll have to look up their website yourself.)

Third, continuing along those lines, they are marketing one of the outlets as the "Taos Restaurant". (It appears only as "Taos" on the pdf file, but the word "restaurant" is painted above the entrance.) Those of you who attended (or even visited) NMSU know full well that it has been, is, and always will be, the Taos Cafeteria. Sure, they can remodel it and move things around and dress it up a bit, but it's the same old place with the same old pre-cooked food that's spooned off the same old steam tables and glopped onto the same old plastic plates that you have to carry yourself to a table. There ain't no waitress with a smile and a menu, no busboy to remove your plates and utensils and wipe down your table, and you certainly don't get something made just after you order it.

Mr. Universe

I went to Outdoor Adventures, a local bike store, after work yesterday. I had finally decided on a particular bike helmet to buy. (I prefer the red/gunmetal one, because I'm afraid that the white/silver one would make me look a little too much like Ultraman.)

The assistant (and I use that term loosely) was a college boy with a deep but gravely voice. He sounded completely unenthused to be there, and it didn't appear that helping customers was something he wanted to do, even though it's what he gets paid for. After a while, I decided that his voice sounded like a car in neutral; the engine revs, and you think you're about to go somewhere, but you're stuck in one place. If I had a deep voice like that, I surely wouldn't waste it as he did.

Anyway, College Boy said that they don't have that style, though they do stock Giro helmets. Well, do you think maybe you could order one? Naturally, he had to go check with the one adult employee in the store. Yes, it was in the catalog, so they could, and would I like them to? Wait. First, I need to try it on and see if it fits.

You'll note that the size listed for the helmet says "Universal Fit Adult". When College Boy said that "universal" means it fits everyone, I chortled and explained that I am one of the unfortunate humans who is destined to blow the "one size fits all" designation out of the water. (Have you ever noticed that many companies now say "one size fits most"? That's because of me and people like me.) I have long legs, a short torso, and narrow feet, and genetics appears to have supersized my head. (This is definitely true. One of my brothers and I inherited a large head from our mother.) You might as well call me "Little Brainy Bighead." Yeah, I know that smacks of Elmyra, but it fits nonetheless. (Hey! Something fits me.)

The store also stocks the Trek brand of bicycle helmets. The company offers the Interval XL Sport Helmet, which I guess I could live with, since we already appear to be at the "just show me something that fits and hope it isn't pink" stage. They didn't have that model on the shelf, but I tried on a "large" to see how (if) it would fit. Naturally, it didn't. Did they have any extra-larges in the back? Naturally, they didn't.

I'm heading to Albuquerque for the Labor Day weekend. Conveniently, there are one or two bicycle stores and an REI near the Costco where I refuel. I'll stop by those places with all my printouts of possible bike helmets and see if they have any that fit my Mr. Universe size head. If I'm lucky, one of the ones that fits also will be reasonably priced. If I'm really lucky, one of the ones that fits also will look cool.

If worse comes to worse, I can try again next week at the Ride-On Sports here in town. I wasn't too chuffed by the College Boy employed there, but they have a fantastic web page chock full of useful information that (it appears, at the very least) they wrote.

Heeeere's Johnny!

I wore a black shirt to work yesterday. It just happened to match my black slacks and work boots. One of my employees noted, "Hey, you look like Johnny Cash. You even have a black hat, too!"

The resemblance ends there. Trust me. You don't want me to sing at you.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

In the Heat of the Night

This post continues my sharing of my fabulous, though underused, kitchen. (See also "Chill, man!" on 8/25/08.)

This is the masterpiece in which I bake my cookies. I've hardly used the oven for anything else. Maybe I'll make some muffins this week. I think I've used just two or three burners at once; I'm not coordinated enough to cook more than that at once and keep track of everything.

I'm sorry that you can't see the stove as it fits in my kitchen, with the matching, stainless steel backsplash and fume hood, with warming shelf and lights. I really need to learn how to use my dad's digital camera (and then how to post photos in this blog). After that, I'll be able to show you the granite countertops and how everything fits together in total awesomeness.

Bread and Water

Yesterday, I planned on going to the bank after work then investigating the bakery outlet store just down the road. It started raining just as I got home, but I decided to walk to my errands anyway. It turns out to be the remnants of hurricane (or tropical storm) Julio. (Julio? But it's nearly the end of Agosto!)

It turns out that the outlet bakery isn't open to the public, at least not apparently. There were bread trucks parked outside, and bread on carts inside, but I saw through the only door that there were no shelves of day-old product, just a couple of tables used as messy work stations.

One would think that, when a business changes its format, it would change the sign outside, but it's probably cheaper to leave the sign as is and just lock the door against unwanted customers who are willing to give them money.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Little Common Cents

My town's quarterly mailing to residents announced the possibility of raising bus fare from 50 cents to 75 cents or a dollar. I have never ridden the bus in this town, but I pondered if it would be easier to pay one's fare with a dollar bill or with a dollar coin.

About 30 years ago, the U.S. issued the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin. It was a good idea (honoring a woman, substitute for dollar bills, funky edges for blind people), but it had one major problem. It was too similar to the quarter.

About 10 years ago, the Sacajawea dollar was introduced. It, too, honors a woman, and it was a pretty gold color (not so useful for blind people), but it had the same problem of being too similar in size and shape to the quarter.

Here's a hint, Government: try something different. My experiences with the Canadian dollar coin (the "loony") and the British pound coin show that they are different diameters and thicknesses, so they won't be confused with other coins.

Or would that make too much sense for our government to do?

UPDATE (8:24 a.m.) - I just received a dollar coin from Worker Bee, in exchange for a bill I gave him because our soda vending machine doesn't accept dollar coins. It has James Monroe's picture on the front (according to Thing One, Sacajawea was only on the coins for two years), his name, and the fact that he was our fifth President (1817-1823). On the reverse side is the Statue of Liberty, the coin's value, and our country's name.

The coin is slightly larger and slightly thicker than a quarter, and the edge is not grooved. However, the edge is engraved with "E pluribus unum", "In God we trust", and the year and mint location ("2008 D", in this case).

Monday, August 25, 2008

Chill, man!

My insurance agent wants me to evaluate how much the contents (clothing, dishes, appliances, furniture) of my condo cost, to make sure that I have an appropriate policy. I told her that, if everything were destroyed, I'm so fond of my professional kitchen (even if I barely cook), that I'd try to replace the stove and refrigerator, even if they are more than I need and so much more expensive than Joe Homeowner-quality.

That made me realize that, although I have told you about my kitchen before, I haven't shown you pictures. Here, from the manufacturer's web page, is my refrigerator in all its glory. If I have the guts to phone one of the local vendors and determine the price of a new one, I'll let you know.

The Circle of Death. Er... Life.

Our pest control technician applied insecticide inside our building today. We have seen more roaches and beetles than usual this year. (Last year, it was mole crickets.)

What I want to know is, why do they all come inside to die? I'd rather the insect struggle outside and get spotted by a bird, who goes, "Ooh, lunch!" Then, when the bird is convulsing because of the insecticide, it is in turn spotted by a feral cat. The cat eats the bird, and then we have one less cat randomly roaming our campus. (Note, this does not apply to pet owners who very carefully monitor their domestic cats and keep them inside.)

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Note to the Kid on the Skateboard

You'd look a lot cooler -- maybe even studly -- if you didn't have to constantly hold your pants up.

D.W.I. - Driving, Walking Idiots

If any of you live near a college campus, I'd like you to assist me with a little experiment.

Go to the campus while school is in session, sit where students tend to gather (the student union, a popular sidewalk, a residence hall, etc.), and observe. Watch the students walking by. See what they do.

Yesterday, I was driving a golf cart for campus visitors, along a section of our main pedestrian mall which had been roped off (with bright orange pylons and ribbon) for the golf carts, and I was amazed at how many students did not notice a fleet of golf carts bearing down on them. Worse yet, there was one girl who kept walking, singularly focused on something straight ahead. She had no clue that anyone else was around her. A bicyclist could have zipped around my stopped golf cart and mowed her down -- and she wasn't even on a cell. phone!

Go ahead. Look at your college campus. Watch how oblivious the students are when they're on a cell. phone -- and wonder why so few places have laws against using a cell. phone while driving.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Is this irony?

A few months ago, we completed a landscape around a renovated building. Subsequently, one of the shrubs in the courtyard died. I ordered a replacement and informed the crew it had arrived. Today, I went by the building and saw that the dead shrub had not been replaced, but it decided to grow new leaves (and flowers) on its own. The replacement shrub is still in our plant storage area, and it's dead.

I'm the canary in the coal mine.

Yesterday, the networked computers were down when I arrived at work. So, I left a voice mail for the help desk -- hoping that they'd notice that it was before 5:30 a.m. and realize that their decision to disband our department's computer support and centralize it for the entire campus isn't necessarily the best thing for those of us who come to work before 8 a.m.

Shortly after 5:30 a.m., my cell. phone rang. It was G, who used to run our computer support and officially has nothing to do with us any longer. She was trying to log in from home but couldn't, and she wondered if we were having problems. (Oh boy, were we.) She got on the horn with her former coworkers, and they fixed the problem in about an hour. She also mentioned that, if we had any other problems, she'd be in her office by 7 a.m.

The help desk phoned at 8:51 a.m. to confirm that they had received my message and to add that one of G's former coworkers, who now works in the help desk dept., had informed them that he had fixed the problem already. (Thankfully, or else I would have been sitting here, twiddling my thumbs for three-and-a-half hours before they called.)

G told me that, since I'm the first one on the computers in the morning, "You're our canary." Sure, it's good that I alert others of problems early on, but I don't care for a metaphor that involves me dying while everyone else scrambles to get the heck out. (On the brighter side, it now gives me the chance to get "Birdhouse in Your Soul" and "Whistling in the Dark", both by They Might Be Giants, stuck in my head.)

There are two other aspects to this I want to share. First, our new computer support had sent out an e-mail the day before, warning everyone in our dept. that they would be working on the network that night -- but they sent it at 4:30 p.m., two hours after my staff and I went home, so we were totally unaware. Second, after our network problem was fixed, there still was the problem with the computer terminals that our hourly employees used to enter their time each day (and it was still down when we left yesterday).

I'm not sure what the new computer support did (or intended to do), but this sounds to me like a case for, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I thought stuff like this happened to only me.

There has to be a bunch of us out there blogging about terrible experiences in restaurants, but this one sounds like me.

Anyone named Quasimodo gets free seats on the 50 yard line.

The sound of bells -- cow bells -- will afflict fans at Aggie football games this year. I remember how annoying it was when just one or two parents at high school marching band competitions would ring them. Now you want every fan at a home game to have them? If I were anywhere near the stadium during the game, I'd go spare. The referees should be paid extra.

This article, put out by the Aggie sports marketing dept., says that the bells will tie in with our history as the state's ag. school.

In addition to the debut of the Bring it-Ring it campaign, the Aggies will welcome three local high school marching bands, an appearance by Nickelodeon’s Jimmy Neutron, NMSU faculty-staff appreciation day, and of course the new Aggie defense.

What? You mean there's a football game, too? Honestly, they barely mention the game date and time, and nowhere does it say to which team the Aggies will lose. I mean, there's a chance we could win more than two games this year, so shouldn't we tell fans if we have a chance with whomever the first opponent is?

Out, out, damn roach!

It appears that there's a specialized subspecies of American cockroach living in my condo. Mind you, this is only the second one I've seen in three years, so it's not as if I'm plagued with them.

At work, they're on the floor. When I go for my weekend walks, they're on the ground. Other places I've been, they're on the floor or ground. In my home, they are climbing things four feet above the floor.

A couple years ago, I discovered one crawling up the handle of my refrigerator (the side toward the fridge door, not toward the room) when I nearly put my hand on it. Last night, one was on the neckline of a shirt hanging in my closet. ("That's an odd piece of fuzz," I thought, then, "Wait a minute. Fuzz doesn't have antennae.")

After an adrenaline burst, followed by ten seconds of spirited stomping on my shirt (which is now in the laundry pile to get rid of dirt from my shoes and the floor, not to mention bug guts), I was no longer relaxed and ready to sleep. This was disappointing, as I had nearly fallen asleep on the couch around 6:30 p.m. -- in the middle of a Pinky & the Brain DVD, of all things. It was one of my favorite episodes, too (the one about the Kicky-Sack Sack Kicker factory's annual company picnic in Secaucus), so I must have been tired.

Damn roach.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Another of life's mysteries is solved.

Thanks to a party at a coworker's house on Saturday, I now know that the employee described in my 8/8/08 post ("A Real Pain in the Neck") has tattoos on his chest and back, as well, and that the name on his neck is that of his wife, and that she has tattoos (on her left shoulder blade and her left calf) as well.

That's more than a manager should know about his employees, I think.

Hell Week

The students have returned to NMSU. Roads, sidewalks, and grocery stores no longer will be empty. (And, judging from the number of cardboard boxes we collected yesterday, every store in town is sold out of mini refrigerators and microwave ovens.)

I spent all day yesterday collecting boxes, as did most of the employees who came in to work. Sub spent the day chauffeuring one of the housing dept. directors. Ob spent the day driving himself around. At the end of the day, I told Ob that, maybe next year, we could work in shifts. Of course, it would have been nice if I could have brought it up in a planning meeting. Of course, any idea I have will be ignored.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Because, you know, we don't wait in line enough already.

Today's Las Cruces Sun-News announced that the DMV will be closing its office for training for two hours, on the third Wed. of every month (article here).

Training is good; the powers that be at the DMV have learned that much. However, taking time away from your customers, who already wait in nearly interminable lines, is bad. I'll give you an example from my own life.

Four years ago, I renewed my driver's license for eight years. Nearly three years ago, I bought my condo (anniversary is Sept. 1) and went to the DMV to change my address. Naif that I am, I thought that all they had to do was change my address and issue me a new plastic card. Nope, that would be the simple, quick thing to do. I stood in line for half an hour, just waiting to draw a number. Then, I waited another hour and a half, watching the numbers called on the north half of the room increase regularly, while the numbers on my half of the room repeatedly flatlined, were jolted by defibrillation, and flatlined again. When my number finally was called, the sourpuss behind the counter told me that I would have to pay for another full eight years to reissue a license. (No, wait; I'm not done.)

About six months later, I noticed that my car registration (in New Mexico, it's indicated by a sticker on the corner of the license plate) had expired. This is something I do not generally think about, as the DMV had, up to that point, been good about mailing me my renewal forms every two years. Apparently, this somewhat vital piece of mail was not forwarded along with the rest of my mail, might or might not have been returned to the DMV, and definitely was not remailed with my new address. Well, I'd be darned if I were going to stand in line again just to find out they couldn't (or wouldn't) help me, so I looked the DMV up online. Lo and behold, they offered both the registration process and a change of address form via the web page. (There was an added fee for online transactions, but I figured that my hourly rate for standing in line was worth at least that much.)

Now, why couldn't the drudge at DMV have mentioned -- just in passing of course, since it's not as if I actually wanted to do this -- that they have a change of address form? Could it be they don't want to serve their customers?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Quiet as a Dormouse

The necessary part for my power window arrived, so I took my car for its follow-up service yesterday. The window now operates silently. I'm surprised that I even noticed. I figured it always was normal, that humming I heard every time I opened or closed the window. It wasn't loud, after all; I just couldn't open the window when it got hot outside. (It always worked fine first thing in the morning, when it's relatively cool.) Apparently, the noise might have been a symptom of the larger problem.

The dealership did a little bit extra, too. They fixed the squeak in my door. I had been meaning to spray some WD-40 on the hinges when I had time when it wasn't so darn hot, which would be first thing in the morning, but it's always dark, and I'm on the way to work (or I was out of town for the weekend), so I never got to do it.

Now the door and the window both don't make noise, which I was so used to them doing for so long, it makes me wonder if they really are operating properly.

Door. Quiet as a mouse. Dormouse. Get it?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Those must be some nasty fire ants in his yard.

'Ant bite' turns out to be gunshot wound
Sun-News report

LAS CRUCES - What was thought to be an "ant bite" turned out to be a gunshot wound, according to sheriff's investigators.

Dona Ana County Sheriff's deputies responded to reports of two gunshot sounds near the 450 block of Marquez Street, in Anthony, N.M., about 11:30 p.m. Friday

A 19 year-old witness said he had not realized he had been shot until the next morning when his father noticed bleeding in his right upper arm.

The victim was then taken to Memorial Medical Center where he was treated for a superficial gunshot wound and released the same day. The witness reportedly told investigators immediately following the shooting he thought he had been bit by a large ant.

The investigation remains ongoing.

Flush with Energy

I offer the following post, which nicely ties in with my quest for common sense and new interest in bicycling.

August 10, 2008
By Thomas L. Friedman
Op-Ed Columnist


The Arctic Hotel in Ilulissat, Greenland, is a charming little place on the West Coast, but no one would ever confuse it for a Four Seasons - maybe a One Seasons. But when my wife and I walked back to our room after dinner the other night and turned down our dim hallway, the hall light went on. It was triggered by an energy-saving motion detector. Our toilet even had two different flushing powers depending on - how do I say this delicately - what exactly you're flushing. A two-gear toilet! I've never found any of this at an American hotel. Oh, if only we could be as energy efficient as Greenland!

A day later, I flew back to Denmark. After appointments here in Copenhagen, I was riding in a car back to my hotel at the 6 p.m. rush hour. And boy, you knew it was rush hour because 50 percent of the traffic in every intersection was bicycles. That is roughly the percentage of Danes who use two-wheelers to go to and from work or school every day here. If I lived in a city that had dedicated bike lanes everywhere, including one to the airport, I'd go to work that way, too. It means less traffic, less pollution and less obesity.

What was most impressive about this day, though, was that it was raining. No matter. The Danes simply donned rain jackets and pants for biking. If only we could be as energy smart as Denmark!

Unlike America, Denmark, which was so badly hammered by the 1973 Arab oil embargo that it banned all Sunday driving for a while, responded to that crisis in such a sustained, focused and systematic way that today it is energy independent. (And it didn't happen by Danish politicians making their people stupid by telling them the solution was simply more offshore drilling.)

What was the trick? To be sure, Denmark is much smaller than us and was lucky to discover some oil in the North Sea. But despite that, Danes imposed on themselves a set of gasoline taxes, CO2 taxes and building-and-appliance efficiency standards that allowed them to grow their economy - while barely growing their energy consumption - and gave birth to a Danish clean-power industry that is one of the most competitive in the world today. Denmark today gets nearly 20 percent of its electricity from wind. America? About 1 percent.

And did Danes suffer from their government shaping the market with energy taxes to stimulate innovations in clean power? In one word, said Connie Hedegaard, Denmark's minister of climate and energy: "No." It just forced them to innovate more - like the way Danes recycle waste heat from their coal-fired power plants and use it for home heating and hot water, or the way they incinerate their trash in central stations to provide home heating. (There are virtually no landfills here.)

There is little whining here about Denmark having $10-a-gallon gasoline because of high energy taxes. The shaping of the market with high energy standards and taxes on fossil fuels by the Danish government has actually had "a positive impact on job creation," added Hedegaard. "For example, the wind industry - it was nothing in the 1970s. Today, one-third of all terrestrial wind turbines in the world come from Denmark." In the last 10 years, Denmark's exports of energy efficiency products have tripled. Energy technology exports rose 8 percent in 2007 to more than $10.5 billion in 2006, compared with a 2 percent rise in 2007 for Danish exports as a whole.

"It is one of our fastest-growing export areas," said Hedegaard. It is one reason that unemployment in Denmark today is 1.6 percent. In 1973, said Hedegaard, "we got 99 percent of our energy from the Middle East. Today it is zero."

Frankly, when you compare how America has responded to the 1973 oil shock and how Denmark has responded, we look pathetic.

"I have observed that in all other countries, including in America, people are complaining about how prices of [gasoline] are going up," Denmark's prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, told me. "The cure is not to reduce the price, but, on the contrary, to raise it even higher to break our addiction to oil. We are going to introduce a new tax reform in the direction of even higher taxation on energy and the revenue generated on that will be used to cut taxes on personal income - so we will improve incentives to work and improve incentives to save energy and develop renewable energy."

Because it was smart taxes and incentives that spurred Danish energy companies to innovate, Ditlev Engel, the president of Vestas - Denmark's and the world's biggest wind turbine company - told me that he simply can't understand how the U.S. Congress could have just failed to extend the production tax credits for wind development in America.

Why should you care?

"We've had 35 new competitors coming out of China in the last 18 months," said Engel, "and not one out of the U.S."

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Monday, August 11, 2008

Ripped from the Headlines

Many of you probably have seen humor e-mails about real newspaper headlines that mean something different than what they actually say. I now offer the following, from today's "Hotline" (a daily press release of noteworthy items) from NMSU.

NMSU partners with law enforcement for suicide bombers training

New Mexico State University, the Las Cruces Police Department, the Dona Ana Sheriffs Department and the New Mexico State Police are pleased to join the U.S. Attorney’s Office - Anti Terrorism Advisory council and the FBI’s Terrorism Working Group in providing a free training program on suicide bombers.

The focus of this presentation will be on preparing against the spreading phenomenon of suicide terrorism and the security doctrine developed to counter this theat. The training will be presented by David Harel, who retired recently from the Israeli Security Agency after 23 years of service in a number of counter-terrorism and protective security posts.

The program is Thursday, August 14, 2008 from 8 a.m. to noon at Gerald Thomas Hall Auditorium. The program will be for law enforcement officers but is open to the public. RSVP to Rhonda Backinoff at

Once in a great while, Congress does something that makes sense.

This is a resolution to start a national bicycle strategy, not a law, but it's a start.

What most people still need to learn is that transportation involves many modes, including feet, bicycles, wheelchairs, cars, trains, planes, and boats. Not all of these are suitable for all communities, but as a whole, we need to deemphasize cars as the dominant transportation mode for all purposes. (This has been my rant for the day.)

Yeah, but in which line?

My fortune cooky this weekend told me, "You are next in line for promotion."

Sure that sounds nice, but does the promotion mean I'd have to give up my kick-ass condo and move farther from the convenient distance that I have to help my mother, because the job is in Wisconsin?

If the promotion is in-house, would the perk of occasionally sticking it to Ob and Sub be worth the aggravation of actually dealing with them day-to-day, rather than generally ignoring them, as I'm lucky enough to do right now?

Even worse, does the promotion mean I'd have more responsibility and actually earn the salary I'm receiving?

Less is More

Coworkers have been telling me that fewer people are driving, or people are driving less, because of higher gasoline prices. After driving to Albuquerque this weekend to visit my mother (and taking Thing One to visit a friend of hers), I can tell you that less driving does not mean that people are driving any better. In fact, the sensible drivers might be the ones staying off the roads, which leaves a higher proportion of maniacs and idiots behind the wheel.

Easy Rider

Gym Rat bought his motorcycle last week: a Yamaha VStar Custom. It's red and shiny, and it makes me wonder which motorcycle I'll get.

Friday, August 08, 2008

A Real Pain in the Neck

Some of our employees, the seasonal ones more than the permanent ones, have visible tattoos. I mean, their tattoos are visible outside of normal clothing. (If they have tattoos I can't see, I'd rather not know about them, thank you very much!)

One guy has flames stretching from his wrists to his elbows, and a woman's name (in cursive script) on the left side of his neck. Ouch!

I once asked a friend with tattoos (ones visible only when he takes off his T-shirt) if it hurts more to get a tattoo on soft tissue, such as the side of one's neck. He said that soft tissue and muscle are more pliable, so they actually hurt less than when a tattoo is applied over a bone (such as on the shoulder). Either way, I'm not about to find out for myself.

Naturally, I wondered about the woman whose name is forever on this man's neck. If she's his mother, sister, or daughter, that seems an okay reason to have a tattoo of her name. If she's his wife or girlfriend (or mother of his child), I hope they never split up, or he's likely to regret getting the tattoo. Maybe the woman or girl is dead, and the tattoo is a permanent reminder of her. And that's why I'm afraid to ask him; I don't want to risk dredging up bad feelings.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Lowrider Wannabes

Dear Thumper,

Even if I am destined to remain oblivious to the true meaning of "cool". Even if you extend your axles and slap on chrome wheels and tiny tires. Even if your speakers are loud enough to vibrate the teeth out of your head. Even if you screw a giant "bat wing" onto the trunk.

No matter what you do to make your car cool, it's still a Honda.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

(Insert witty bicycle reference here.)

You know, if I keep writing about my bicycle endeavors, I'm going to have to expand my knowledge of bike-related songs, puns, and whathaveyou.

Last night, I started reading The Complete Book of Bicycle Commuting (John S. Allen, 1981, Rodale Press), which I bought last week. I thought you might like to hear about some of the parts I found interesting.

The introduction, as I expected, sounds a bit dated. Before you read this bit, keep in mind that it was published less than a decade after the gas crisis of the early 1970's (Remember? When there actually wasn't enough gasoline to go around; it wasn't just people whining about the price?), and Jimmy Carter was barely out of office.

In 1975, approximately 500,000 Americans commuted to work by bicycle. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that, by 1985, up to 2.5 million cyclists will be commuting. With the price of gasoline headed toward $2 a gallon by 1981 and $3 by 1985, there is every reason to believe that the above estimates will be surpassed by a wide margin.

The book encourages me to purchase from a reputable store with an in-house mechanic, otherwise caveat emptor. Then it says that, "Every manufacturer puts out a catalog of its bikes which is usually a small pamphlet or fold-out sheet printed in inviting colors. Bike shops are happy to give away these catalogs for free."

The first bike store I visited (see "Where the Rubber Meets the Road, 7/14/08) was the only one to offer me a catalog, and I was reluctant to accept it. Not only, mind you, because everything inside is gibberish to my uneducated mind, but also because it looked like a really fancy magazine, with full-color, cardstock covers and glossy pages. Also, it was quite thick, with detailed, illustrated specifications pages. It was hardly a "small pamphlet or fold-out sheet printed in inviting colors." This thing cost serious money to produce.

I think what I shall do is sit down at a computer with someone who knows bicycles (perhaps Gym Rat or G) before returning to any of the stores. Then, maybe that person can explain why three different bikes from three different stores are, indeed, different, rather than me thinking, "A bike is a bike is a bike." (Apologies to Gertrude Stein.)

Page two of the book has a diagram titled, "Side view of the bicycle, with major parts labeled". There are 17 parts identified. None of them is the seat, the handlebars, the pedals, or the wheels. If those aren't "major parts", then I'm in way over my head.

The first truly useful thing the book told me was to check with Consumer Reports magazine, Bicycling magazine (conveniently also published by Rodale Press), or the magazine's "Bicycling Buyer's Guide". I didn't find a link for that; I think it's a special issue they publish each year within a regular month. However, the magazine does provide an online Gear and Bike Review Finder, so I can search out riders' comments on particular brands. Rodale Press also offers the Complete Guide to Bicycle Maintenance and Repair, which I probably ought to buy. (Those "This Also Might Interest You" links will get you every time.)

The next useful information came in the chapter about clothing. I had already thought of a helmet, gloves, a reflective vest, and ties/clasps to keep my pants from tangling in the chain, but I never knew you could buy a mirror that attaches to the helmet. I also ought to buy safety glasses (one tinted pair for daytime, one clear for night), in case a car in front of me kicks up a rock, or if a bug tries to commit hara kiri on my face.

The one insanely useful thing that this book lacks is a glossary to define all the terms which are new to me but, I guess, familiar to someone deciding to commute on a bike after having experience of riding casually. I'll give you several examples after this excerpt from the "One-Speeds" section of "Your Gears and How to Use Them". (I have gears? I never knew that. No wonder doctors get paid more than mechanics.)

The most common one-speed rear hub is the coaster brake hub, suitable for around-town use in relatively flat places. The brake is waterproof, a great advantage in the rain.

A coaster brake must always be used along with a hand brake on the front wheel. A rear wheel brake has only half the stopping power of a front brake, so it is unsafe for panic stops. Also, a coaster brake is not useful for long downhill runs; it will overheat until the grease boils out from inside. If your riding includes long downhills, install two hand brakes in addition to the coaster brake, and use the hand brakes on downhills.

A coaster brake prevents you from back-pedaling, so you must work harder on pedal technique to start, stop, and corner.

What's a hub?
Grease? What grease? And what does it boil out from inside of?
Why does a coaster brake prevent you from back-pedaling?

I think I need lessons even more remedial than this. Do you suppose Mr. Kotter can teach me anything about bicycles?

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Bits of my house soon will be appearing elsewhere in North America.

Last night, I heard voices outside my condo. This is highly unusual. I saw a man holding a camera walk by my living room window. He and his wife and her mother "happened" to see the place as they drove by (which I doubt, since we are separated from the street by a high wall), and it is exactly the sort of place they want to build for themselves in Ensenada, so they were taking pictures to say, "This is what we want it to look like."

I'm a bit flattered, even though I contributed nothing to the design of the building. Still, you can't deny that my flower and vegetable pots liven up a stark, though attractive, balcony.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Saturday, in the Park

Actually, it was a schoolyard, but that's the best reference I could think of. (The subsequent lyrics, "I think it was the Fourth of July," are even less fitting.)

My bicycle lesson went extremely well. I give full credit to the woman I will call "G" -- until we find a better, truly appropriate nickname. She believed more strongly in me than I did, and I ended up proving her right. (Even worse, I'm starting to run out of times when "I can't" is a decent excuse.)

G's principle, if I haven't mentioned it before (and even if I have, I'm saying it again, so tough noogies), is that some children (and me) have difficulty learning how to ride a bicycle because they have to pedal and steer and balance all at the same time. She says, if you isolate each task, it's easier to learn them all then combine them later. (If you trust Wikipedia, this citation echoes her reasoning.) In my case, it appears to have worked.

After a few times coasting down the hill, I was able to keep my balance without tipping. Maybe I don't have a balance problem, after all. Maybe, the first time I tried learning how to ride a bicycle, I was just too young. (That doesn't mean you're going to get me on a skateboard, though.) It was a fairly gentle hill, plus the unmowed Bermudagrass (up to my knees in some parts) helped keep me from going too fast. I managed to stay just a little bit on this side of panic.

My cotton T-shirt clung to me, but I don't know if it was from humidity or from me sweating because I was so nervous.

G's young daughter showed up about that time, on her own bicycle. She already knows how to ride a bike, but she enjoyed rolling down the hill, just because she could make noises on each bump. I was keeping my mouth shut, so I wouldn't make noises.

Oddly enough, I think I was breathing more heavily as gravity took me down the hill, rather than each time I had to push the bike back up the hill to do it again. I certainly appreciated the lightweight bike that G has. I just might buy one of the aluminum, bike store models, rather than a steel, "Wal-Mart Special" -- especially if I'm going to end up carrying it up and down 14 steps to my second-floor condo every time I use it.

The next step was to steer. That's something I need to practice more. My brain still hasn't fully processed how and when pushing left means going left and how and when pushing left means going right. I had a couple of near misses with one particular basketball goalpost.

Putting my feet on the pedals sounded simple enough, but looking down to find the pedals while looking ahead to avoid the tree and the soccer goal and those other metal posts proved a bit difficult.

At the bottom of the hill, I was able to pedal and turn in large circles for a while. (Turning counterclockwise was easy, so the next few times, I went clockwise.) However, the tall grass made it very difficult (not to mention the toeclips dragging beneath the pedals). I was pushing hard with my legs for little movement, so I think I've learned why gears are useful, even if I won't be learning how for a bit.

At that point, the school district's mowing crew showed up (you'd think they could have mowed the grass all summer, but I guess leaving piles of clippings from 18" tall turf the weekend before school opens isn't a bad thing to them), so G and I moved down to the basketball court at the bottom of the hill, for me to practice steering, pedaling, and starting without the benefit of gravity. It was also my first lesson in not running into other people, as G's daughter had been there for a while, doing her own laps. Let's use a broad definition and say that I rode in "circles", and then "figure-8's", for the better part of an hour.

Best of all, I felt no fear. I should go out and buy myself one of those "No Fear" T-shirts. (And maybe even a "Big Dog" T-shirt, too.)

I guess they spelled it right, after all.

The following comes from a job posting in my company.

Projected opening for a georgeous prep school located in the Northern Georgia.

Considering the state, maybe that's the correct spelling of "gorgeous".

Friday, August 01, 2008

Bicycle Race

As part of my learning, I have been seeking online information about bicycles. I didn't realize there are so many kinds. Here are a few I'm considering buying after I learn how to ride.

This is a chopper bike. I presume it's for kids too young to drive, or adults who can't afford a motorcycle.

The tall bike sounded perfect for me, just from the name, but when I saw this picture, I knew it's not something for those of us with balance issues. (Not to mention you need a friendly giraffe to help you mount and dismount it.)

An adult tricycle would allow me to carry all sorts of things, and I wouldn't have to worry about balancing on two wheels.

Some of my employees (including my coworkers Ob and Sub) apparently are incapable of driving anywhere without their companion in the passenger seat. This two-seater bike is for them.

One of the things Boss wants is fuel-saving utility vehicles. Another is a four-seat vehicle that he can use to show visitors around campus. (All our vehicles are two-seaters, including the driver.) I told him that this surrey bicycle meets both those needs.

Finally, for those of you who don't already have the title song stuck in your head, the lyrics are here.

I can clearly see your nuts.

After the remanants of Hurricane Dolly drenched us last weekend, a lot of pecans were left on the parking lot. Every day, upon arriving home from work, I'd step on a few, to open the nuts for the doves scavenging in the parking lot. Yesterday, they were gone. I presume that the landscape maintenance company that occasionally remembers we are one of their clients came and ran their blowers around the property. (They never pull the weeds, though.)

As it is said, though, nature abhors a vacuum. In the evening, we had a two-minute downpour (or sidewayspour, since the wind appeared to blow very strongly from the south) that flooded the parking lot. About five minutes later, we had a five-minute sidewayspour, this time from the north.

When I ventured out later to wheel the polycarts to the street for today's garbage collection, I saw more pecans on the parking lot (and the cars) than had fallen last weekend. Man, that was a short period of cleanliness for the parking lot! (And that, children, is today's lesson in entropy.)

Naturally, the part of the parking lot that got flooded (again) is where the polycarts are kept. I had my sandals on, so as not to drench my sneakers, and I observed that the floodwaters were quite warm. That was the silver lining to the clouds overhead.