Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Bzzzkills Might Actually Work

I did this year's LIVESTRONG Challenge Austin on Sunday. Rather than a century ride as in the past, this year's was shorted to 90 (actually about 88, by my bike computer) "due to the organization's standards for road safety" (I guess the roads were crappy enough in places that there wasn't a good way to make a 100 mile route in the area). Instead of taking place NE of Austin (it used to leave from the Travis County Expo Center) and going through terrain that is mostly rolling hills and largely cotton fields (albeit with some tough winds), this year's route was moved to be SW of town. It left out of Dripping Springs HS, and spent most of the time on rural roads in Dripping Springs and Wimberley. I knew this area would certainly be a lot hillier than the old route, but it turns out that the roads were also rougher, and the winds were definitely a bitch once again.

The organization posted the route map, as well as the elevation profile, and even a longer description of the route. The route was definitely pretty (large portions running parallel to rivers), and the out of towners were probably pretty excited to see plenty of real longhorns (I even saw a guy get off his bike and take pictures the first time we hit a pasture full of them). I rode solo in past years, but had Jane and Roman keeping me company for the first 40 miles -- that definitely makes the miles go by a bit more easily. Even still, this 90 mile ride was easily the hardest organized ride I've done. It was definitely more challenging than any of the past true centuries (including the old routes of the same ride).

It took 6 hours of rolling time (almost to the second), which is s-l-o-w: 14-15 mph average. Compare that to the 20.1 mph average for a past 100 mile Hotter N Hell Hundred ride, and that gives an idea of how much more difficult this one was (I'm sure I am saddled with a few extra pounds as well!).

The last HH 100 ride left me with partially numb fingers (also known as handlebar palsy or by its true name, ulnar neuropathy) for probably 2 weeks. I'm not sure if some of that was due to switching to new gloves. They felt a bit less padded than my old gloves, but that might mostly be in my head (as both are Pearl Izumi Gel-Lites). Nick pointed me at the Bontrager Bzzzkill harmonic dampers. They come in aluminum and brass (more effective, but heavier) versions. I ordered a pair of the aluminum ones for $10 online and gave them a try, starting with this ride. I also switched back to my old gloves. Despite this being roughly as long of a ride as the HH 100, but with poorer quality roads, I ended up with only very very minor numbness. So, maybe it was due to the dampers, maybe not...but at $10, it's hard to go too wrong.

Oh -- and my ride managed to raise $500 for cancer efforts! Thanks to all you donated. That was also conveniently the level needed to get a free hat, so I got some swag out of it.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Nobel Committee Cements Its Political Bent

I guess there can't be much claim that the Nobel Peace Prize is apolitical. When Arafat won in 1994, you could chalk it up as a fluke (perhaps saying that to award it to Perez and Rabin but not Top Dog Terrorist would make the prize look overly Israeli-friendly, that it takes both sides to move the peace process). When the Carter won in 2002, you could say coincidence. With Gore winning this year for a movie version of a hyperbole-laden Powerpoint slide'd have to say 3 data points makes a trend. I'm not sure what this does to merit the Peace Price. I can clearly see the case for past recipients -- Schweitzer worked for decades before getting it, and Mandela (despite his bad points) is an easy case to make as well. Heck, Mother Theresa would be another easy example. Those were all major efforts, sustained over long periods of time, often with great personal hardship or risk. Today, it's being awarded for the redemption of a failed politician for a really sweet (and blurry on the details, by his own admission) slide deck with movie distribution.

Monday, August 27, 2007

I Can Still Walk

The ride went pretty well, I suppose. Colleen and I rode together the entire way, linking up with a 4 or 5 Air Force guys (she knew two of them from when they were formerly stationed at Sheppard AFB) for the last 35 or so miles.

I was an idiot and tried to reset my bike computer the morning of the ride (the display was flashing in a way that supposedly indicates that the head unit's batteries were low..but they were not that old), and ended up completely messing it up, leaving it in a state of failed syncing with the wireless speed/cadence sensor. So, I have no idea what the overall rolling time was. Our best guess is about 5.5 hours. We stopped at more rest stops this year and for longer, and I think that is probably why my lower back hurt, but not to the same level as it has in some previous years.

One thing that was new was a numbness and tingling in my middle, ring, and pinky fingers on both hands. I didn't think much of it at the time, thinking it was just some temporary numbness from so many hours on the road and the amount of vibration from some of the rough roads. Waking up Sunday, though, it was still numb. Today, it's no different -- still numb. I did a bit of searching and found that it looks to be something often called 'cyclist's palsy' or ulnar neuropathy. It's explained in plenty of detail here and here and here, but the summary is that it's an inflammation of the ulnar nerve (it runs down the entire length of the arm to the hand) from overuse -- in this case, all of the hours of constant vibration and gripping of the handlebars.

Nick has run into this before, and found that some vibration damping bar end plugs from Bontrager (the Bzzzkill) work very well.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

I Hope I Can Still Walk On Sunday

I'm heading out tomorrow shortly after lunch to drive (actually, for Jen to drive) up to Wichita Falls for this year's Hotter 'N Hell Hundred. This year, the HHH people made both elevation maps, like this: well as a GPS coordinates map, suitable for loading into Google Earth. It's pretty cool -- you can take a virtual tour of the route this way. The map file is here, if anyone wants to try. I'm pretty heavy at the moment, and having been out of the pool for a few's not going to be pretty!

Before the ride each year, I usually take my bike to a shop to get tuned up. The past few years, I took it to Nelo's. This year, I decided to try one of Bicycle Sport Shop's more extensive tune ups, their Pro Tune. I think it's basically like the tune ups I've had in the past, but with full disassembly, cleaning, then readjustment of the drivetrain. I haven't had anything more major than the basic tune up done on the bike since getting it, and it already had a bunch of miles when I purchased it used. The previous owner had it for a bit over a year and estimates he put 6-7000 miles on it! He was a sponsored rider of some sort, at least.

Anyway, the day the bike was supposed to be finished, they called and said 'dude, I have some bad news.' It turns out that the hub flange on my rear wheel was cracked, and so I'd need a new wheel ($$$). Apparently, the tech said that the wheels already on my bike (Rolf Sestrieres) were some 'crazy light, climbing/racing focused ones'. He thought that at '180-something' I was likely over the recommended weight limit for my wheels (they aren't made anymore, but he thinks the recommended limit was 155 or 165). Me being a porker probably contributed to the wheel crack. I tried to see what my options were for a comparable caliber replacement. He said he'd get back to me, and came back with 3 options: Mavic Ksyrium SL, Bontrager X-Lite, Mavic Ksyrium Elite. The first two are direct competitors, and the last is a less expensive and heavier version of the first. He used to recommend the Ksyrium SLs, but said that upon finding that Bontrager has a 5 year warranty, that was his pick. Unfortunately, both of those were out of stock. Maybe because they are such a big Trek shop (Trek owns Bontrager), they thought they'd have a much better shot at getting an expedited order of the X-Lites to the shop in time for the ride (he was guessing 7-10 days for the Mavics).

I went ahead with the X-Lites, and thankfully, the expedited order came Thursday. They turned it around that afternoon, and I picked up the bike yesterday evening. They gave me the busted wheel back as well. This is what the crack was:

The new wheel is on the bike and now my ride looks like (with fresh wraps, a new chain, and a replaced rear tire, too):
The downside is that this was definitely the most expensive shop work ($718!) I've ever had. I'd be scared to see how much cheaper these wheels are online. BSS charged $450 just for that single rear wheel...but I've seen used sets on EBay for less than $300. For example, BSS charged $45 for a 9-speed Dura-Ace/XTR chain. Looking on Performance Bike's website? Normally $35, currently on sale or $22!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Friday, August 03, 2007

Dog is Free!

I watched way too much of this show when I was in Detroit all week every week (including the special episode on the whole Andrew Luster pursuit). It looks like Dog doesn't have to worry anymore!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Citizen Moore: An American Maverick

..this I gotta read. It should be hilarious (in a sad way). Some of Moore's stuff is funny, but it's tarnished by having to play so loosely with the facts to pull it off. The author of a coming bio on this well known buffoon has a piece today in the Independent worth a read at this link.

Monday, July 02, 2007

New gadgets!

I picked up a BlackBerry 8300 ('Curve') a few days after it came out on AT&T. It's my first BB, and also my first PDA sort of phone. I previously had the messaging-oriented Nokia 6822 (never offered on Cingular/AT&T; it was a mild update to the 6820 that was available on Cingular), and the 6800 before that. The 6800 was pretty sweet when I got it, and the 6822 was a worthwhile upgrade..but by this point, it was really long in the tooth. Worth of all, it had pretty crappy reception. The Sony/Ericsson 525A that I briefly had after the 6800 (and concurrent with the 6822; I got it when renewing my contract) had far far better reception. It was the difference between usable cell reception at my house and having to stand in certain rooms to use the phone (and even then, spottily).

The Good:

  • Great battery life. I've been going nearly a week between charges.
  • Slim enough. Takes up little space in Jen's purse!
  • Great reception. I'm getting 3/5 to 4/5 in my study at home. The 6822 would often drop calls in the same spot!
  • Pretty snappy UI paired with a great screen.
  • The messaging is super easy to use (I suppose this is really a BB-wide feature, though), and the keyboard is easy to use. I think the 'old style' keyboard on the 8300 is probably easier to type on than the sleeker keyboard on the 8800, owing to the 8800's lack of any space between keys.
The Bad:
  • I always wish it was a bit slimmer. For it to stay this wide, it would have to be thinner yet to be in a pocket and not look dorky.
  • I wish it had the GPS that appears in the 8800. I probably wouldn't use this a ton, but when I did use it, I'd probably be quite thankful. It would saved Luie and I on our adventures on the way to Lincoln, RI (we overshot by 40 minutes and had to stop at a Tim Hortons to find out where the hell we were). I just ordered a QSTARZ BT-Q1000 yesterday!
  • I don't care so much about lack of WiFi, but 3G data would be nice. It's still not a huge deal (due to the Sprint card I just got, see below), but would make the sluggish EDGE browsing and Google Maps data transfer less painful. Then again, I'm not sure it would be worth the huge hit to battery life.

I also picked this up (picking up a Sprint contract in the process...glad I can expense this!) It's a Sierra Wireless 595U, a USB-based Rev A EVDO card. Having this makes the slow EDGE on the Curve not that big of a deal, as I can now fall back to this when I need to get online from a client site (or the coffee shop). I was getting over 130 KB/second sustained using it last week while at Mozart's, downloading Eclipse 3.3.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Ride for the Roses Once Again..

Jane managed to goad me into coming out to the RunFar monthly time trial at the S. Mopac loop on Tuesday. It seems they have the results up already. It didn't go too bad -- ok, I think. 21.6 mph. I had no idea what my average was going to be, as I can't seem to get the Cateye unit I bought last fall to reset and work correctly (Jane has the same unit, and the same problem!). If I can start riding again and get an additional 1-2 mph, I'd move way up the list. The fastest guys there were pretty crazy fast, though (29.9 mph average around the loop??).

I think there is lots of room for improvement though: if you count only rolling time, I averaged 20.1 over the entire Hotter 'N Hell Hundred course (quite flat) a few times ago. The weather was much cooler than normal that year, admittedly...making it pretty similar to the weather during Tuesday's TT, actually. Perhaps I can get close to that again at this year's HH100.

Livestrong was running a promotion yesterday to get people to sign up for this year's Ride for the Roses -- the registration fee was halved for yesterday and yesterday only. They wanted to get 500 new registrants on May 16...and it looks like they ended up getting over 1200. The fund raising requirement is not halved, however. It's gone way up since the last time I rode it (2005, when it was $100), now up to $250. People should expect to get fundraising emails from me on this one!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Windows Picture Viewer Doesn't Play Nicely With Orientation Flags!

All of my titles were pretty short, so I went with a long, descriptive one.

The past few albums I've published have had an annoying problem -- all of the thumbnails always look fine, but the larger (but still scaled) image that is displayed after clicking on the thumbnail sometimes was completely messed up: it was clearly the same picture a thumbnail had been displayed of...but now all in green and pink and black! It seemed like a small minority of the pictures were this way, and I wasn't sure why.

I published a new album today (, containing pictures from Jen's visit to SF, her birthday, and her new bike), and some of the pictures had this same problem. I then realized: the pictures that appeared in green were all of the pictures that I had rotated in Windows Picture & Fax Viewer. I went to the JAlbum support forums, and promptly found this thread. Apparently, some software does not correctly update the orientation flag when rotating pictures, and Windows Picture & Fax viewer is one such program. It turns out that JAlbum correctly does the rotations, and will do it automatically when it comes across photos taken sideways (I could have avoided all of that manual rotation entirely!).

In other news, Jen thinks this ad is completely about me. I didn't know Budweiser had even heard of me!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Overdue pictures...

A new album was finally posted (remotely, from the hotel in Burlingame and also from HQ in San Mateo). This has dessert party pictures as well as all of the pictures from Loyens' wedding.

This is the middle of week 2 of the 3 week Guidewire initial training, and Jen comes in this weekend to visit (she's never been to San Francisco). Oddly today, just as I was working with Luie to debug some GScript he had written, I received an IM from Brandon, pointing me at this post that he had just seen!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Mark Zupan!

Jen and I went to see Bob Saget do standup last night at the Paramount Theater. That was pretty damn funny (I still can't get used to Danny Tanner being as vulgar as the real Saget!).

More noteworthy: we had great seats up close (row A!), in a strip of 4 seats on the left side aisle. Jen and I had the two rightmost seats of that strip...and the other 2 seats were occupied by Mark Zupan and his girlfriend, Jessica! Mark Zupan is the main character of the documentary from 2005 called Murderball. He's one of the players on the US Paralympic wheelchair rugby team, and was the most covered character in the movie. He's the one in the picture on the linked IMDB entry.

At the intermission (the opening comic was quite funny), I talked to him for a few minutes. He's an extremely nice guy and very friendly. He even offered to grab me a beer as he headed up to the bar at the end of the intermission!

I'd been telling Jen about the movie probably just two or three weeks ago -- I guess now I need to be sure she sees it! I'd seen his book, Gimp, at Barnes & Noble when it came out this fall, so I picked it up while out today.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Interesting piece on our lamest living ex-peanut farmer..

Coming on hot on the heels of the spate of high profile resignations from Jimmah's foundation (in protest over the slanted and factually wrong contents of his new book), Alan Dershowitz has this bit on some of the foundation's funding. Worth a read. I love the title: Ex-President for Sale!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Book Commentary: The End of Poverty

The lead up to the holidays had me pretty busy with work, and so I was doing even less reading than normal. During my flight out to DC over my birthday weekend, I started Jeffery Sachs' The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time. I nearly finished it on the flight to and from Michigan over Christmas, and finally polished it off earlier this week at home one night.

Maybe I was on a development economics kick lately, what with the William Easterly book I mentioned a few posts ago. With Bono's name prominently displayed on the front (he wrote the forward), I was a bit apprehensive about the content of this book (not sure what balance it was going to strike between evangelizing pamphlet and scholarly work). With Bono being in the picture, it seemed a pretty safe bet that plenty of content on AIDS and debt relief would be on the menu!

The book is not half bad. It does do a pretty good job of making the case that most Western nations give far less foreign aid than their citizens think. By 'most Western nations', he almost entirely means the United States, as the entire book is fairly laden with America as not sufficiently generous, given its wealth. Sure, we give far more aid than any other country, in absolute dollar's just that when you rank countries by the amount of aid given as a percentage of GDP, we come out way down the list (the mid-teens, I think). He says this without a mention other forms of aid provided by Western nations, such as indirect subsidies provided to other countries (here I'm thinking of the giant indirect defense subsidy that the USA provides -- why bother having a capable military when you know that the USA has your back if things hit the fan?). In any case, the average person on the street (like the ones Leno accosts) probably would throw out figures like 20% (of GDP) for our foreign aid outlay..when it's more in the neighborhood of 0.2%. At the end of the book, he lays out a 'plan' via which an increase to 0.7% would put us on a path to completely eliminating extreme poverty by 2025. The plan is meant to be somewhat front loaded: it provides increased official direct assistance for food, medicines, technical assistance and so on, while focusing on building up the physical infrastructure and education of the citizens towards a self sustaining critical mass. It's the whole feeding giving a man food versus teaching him to fish sort of thing: getting the developing countries on a path via which they can (under their own power, with slightly downward trending ODA) continue to climb the development ladder under their own power.

This all sounds fine and good, there seems to be way too much hand waving away of the challenges. He cites all of the common developed world gripes about how foreign aid being pissed away in developing world assistance projects: loss due to corruption, loss due to insufficient social and physical infrastructure to absorb large amounts of aid, insufficient education among the populace to implement some projects, widespread AIDS, and so on. He debunks all of this with a smattering of counterexamples and not much else. His counterexamples don't seem to be sufficiently powerful to explain away the vast bulk of examples as one might find in a book like Easterly's. Simply labeling nearly all past foreign aid projects (all but the ones he was involved in...more on that later) as failures due to underfunding or poor implementation might work if done for a few cases, but he seems to use this as the reason to explain why Africa is still such a pit (in fact, the GDP per head has even dropped in many countries since the 1960s!). In general, he comes off as as the overly optimistic idealist, whereas Easterly's book had more of a ring of a bemused, world-weary pragmatist. Sachs always seems so utterly confused and dumbfounded when he talks about getting less than 100% of the money he asks for when he comes up with multi-billion dollar aid projects for this or that, always giving the impression that of course this aid project is more worthy than whatever else it is competing with for government handouts.

This brings me to the earlier thing. Reading this book, you'd get the impression that every good or successful international development economics project in the past 20 years had Jeff Sachs at the center. He writes about his instrumental role in a number of successful projects, and has glowing praise for groups with which he had to work -- such as the UN, and for Kofi (who I think he billed as the finest statesman on the planet!) in particular. Organizations with which he has butted horns: the IMF, the World Bank...he has plenty of disparaging remarks about them. Above all though, he has trash to talk about figures within the US government, particularly Republican administrations (his political orientation is never a mystery in this book). The last portion of the book has a healthy dose of anti-Bush remarks as well, but it seemed like this would be showing up sooner or later. In fact, VDH had a piece just today about the tendency to blame America first and foremost. It's a relevant read here.