Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Humility On a Bicycle

About 2 years ago the wife and I decided to take up cycling. We thought it would be a fun way to spend some time to gether and a way to get some exercise. We previously had some old, cheap mountain bikes that we occasionally rode but not regularly. We never actually took them on a mountain and they weren't very well suited for riding round the neighborhood. Mine was too small and I looked like an adult trying to ride a kids bike. So, we headed to the local bike shop to check out the bikes.

This shop was huge with an overwhelming variety of types of bicycles and manufacturers. Not knowing exactly what we wanted we enlisted the help of one of the staff who was very knowledgeable.(Just about everyone who works in this store is a bike nerd.) With his help we elected to get hybrid bikes which are kind of a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike. S went for the comfort model and I went for a performance model which was very close to a road bike. We took our new bikes home and went for a ride.

It was fun. At first. We'd ride around the neighborhoods. We did a night ride around downtown Indy with about 5 thousand other people. We took our bikes to Chicago and road along the lake. We only had one problem. I wanted to ride fast and S wanted to ride slower. It became painful for me to have to pedal slowly or ride ahead and then wait for her to catch up. Apparently this is a common problem with couples who ride. Their riding abilities are different (the man usually being stronger and faster of course). How do you solve this problem? Why, get a tandem bike! We rented one and tried it out and it was fun. I could pedal as hard or as fast as I wanted and S didn't have to worry about falling behind. Sometimes I wasn't sure if she was actually pedalling but just enjoying the ride. It does take a little coordination and getting used to. You have to develop signals and the Captain (the one in front) has to warn the Stoker (the one in back) of upcoming hazards and such.

The other solution to the problem is to just not ride together. We do that more often than not. I would go out on long, hard training rides in the country a few times a week. The more I did it the more I got into it and it gradually became an obsession. I was riding all the time, by myself. I wanted to find some others at my ability level to ride with. A few of my neighbors rode and some of the guys I work with rode so I thought I might ride with them. The problem was, I couldn't keep up with them and the main reason was my bicycle. You see, there's a big difference between a hybrid bike and a high end road bike and I just couldn't hang with the roadies on my hybrid. I needed a new bike!

One of the things about cycling is this: You can never go fast enough. No matter how strong you are or how great your bike is, there's always someone out there who is stronger and faster. And you want to catch them. That takes training and that takes a fast bike.

Back to the bike shop. This time, however, I did a lot of research first so I new all about road bikes and new exactly what I wanted before I went in. I told the clerk which bike I wanted and he said " We don't have that bike in stock and we can't get anymore in. The manufacturer is sold out and won't make anymore until next years models come out". "When will that be" I asked. "About 3 months" he replied.

3 months? I couldn't believe it. There was no way I could wait 3 months for a road bike. I needed it now. I was not going to leave that shop without a new bike. So, I spent the next hour test riding about every road bike they had in the shop. I finally settled on one which was way more money than I'd planned to spend but felt like the perfect fit for me.

This is my bike:

Isn't it beautiful?

It's one of my favorite things. I
can ride pretty fast on this bike. I look good on this bike. I'm such a geek.

One of the other things about cycling is this: It can get very expensive. Not only do the bikes cost a lot of money but then you have to get all the gear. The helmet, the gloves, the bike shoes and socks. The padded spandex shorts, a myriad of bike jerseys for both hot and cold weather. Tools, pumps, glasses, heart rate monitor, bike computers, bike racks for the car. And none of this gear is cheap. As the obsession builds you find yourself making up excuses to visit the bike store. I need to get a spare tube in case I get a flat on the road. You go to the store for a 5 dollar innertube and walk out with a 75 dollar jersey, 3 new pairs of socks and a new multitool that fits perfectly in your saddle bag. And there's always components for your bike that may make it go a little bit faster. New gears. A new crank. Lighter pedals. Carbon fiber everything. It never ends.

So now I've got my new bike, I've been training hard and I'm ready to ride with the big boys. I ride with my neighbors. I ride with my partners. And I can keep up. I can hang (barely, at times). I'm even stronger than one of my partners whose been riding for years and has always made out like he was this great rider. But as strong as I've gotten there's lots of riders out there who are a lot stronger than I. I learned that lesson again this last weekend.

Saturday I went out for a 50 mile CIBA ride. There were about 200 riders. As is typical for these rides, the group starts in a pack but then quickly stretches out. There's always a group of about 25-30 riders who take off fast at the front. At the end of last summer I was in pretty good shape and could hang with this group for about 30 miles before I got dropped from the pack. On this occasion I lasted about 8 miles before I had to slow. It didn't get much better. At one point I was riding along and this girl (I say girl but she was probably about 35) pedalled right by me like she was hardly working. Just out for a leisurely ride. She was about 5'2" and couldn't have weighed more than about 100lbs. I told myself that's why she could pass me. She's got an advantage because she's so much lighter!

At about mile 17 I was riding by myself into a strong headwind only doing about 15mph when a group of 3 guys goes riding by. I quickly jump in behind them to get a break from the wind. Drafting really makes a big difference when cycling. I was able to catch my breath and get a second wind. I thought I'd try and ride with these guys as long as I could. It was a struggle. They pushed me to my limits. Two of them were clearly stronger than I and pushed the pace relentlessly. We would take turns pulling (leading),then rotate to the back. This lasted for about 12 miles till we made a turn and were no longer riding into the wind. At this point we all slowed down to get a drink and recover somewhat. It was then that I got a good look at the guys I was riding with. Two of them were older gentlemen and after talking to them a while I learned that they were each 62 years old. The third guy looked like he was about 10 years younger than me. I was chagrined. Here I was struggling to keep up with two guys who were 20 years my senior! It turns out they'd been riding bikes for longer than I'd been alive, but that was no consolation to me. One guy said he rode 7000 miles last year! I think I did about 2000.

Claerly this had turned into a macho thing for me. This was a test of my manhood. No way was I going to let 2 old guys ride away from me. I was determined to hang with them till the end of the ride and you know what? I did it. We rode hard, averaged about 21mph for the last 20 miles and I felt great afterwards. And both men said they enjoyed riding with me. That was a real compliment coming from such experienced and accomplished riders.

And another consolation: We dropped the 30 year old at mile 40. He just couldn't hang with us old guys.

Monday, April 24, 2006

More random bits

The dangers of the internet. Beware!

Punch your way through a wall full of ice.

thanks to b3ta

If you hate Brussel Sprouts as much as I do you might enjoy this game.

One of the grosser things I've seen. The infamous piss diver video.


You can be George W. and defend the Whitehouse from terrorists

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


I'm a big science fiction fan. Many of the current SF authors use nanotechnology extensively in their stories. Just about anything imagined can be accomplished with nanotech. Just read any books by Neal Asher or Charles Stross and you'll see what I mean.

What's amazing is, these ideas aren't so far fetched. Scientists are getting closer and closer to developing real machines that operate on a nano level.

Here's an article in The New Scientist on one such machine. It's a nanopore used to sequence DNA strands in microseconds.

You can watch a video of a computer simulation of the machine in action. They haven't actually built the machine yet but say that they have proved the machine will work and they do have the technology to build it. Amazing.

Are you a George W. Bush fan?

For all of you who have been Bush supporters in the past but now find yourself questioning your decision to vote for him;

Take the George Bush loyalty quiz!

my score was a 7

Monday, April 17, 2006

facing the idea of my own mortality

I've never thought of my parents as old. They've always looked very young for their ages. They've always been heathly. Heck, the men on my fathers side of the family typically live well into their nineties. I guess I just never thought about the fact that someday they won't be around. That day seems like something that should still be a long way off, in a distant and hazy future which I cannot yet perceive. My grandfather lived long enough to see my oldest son born. I've always expected my parents to do the same. We need to add another "four generations" picture to the scrapbook.

But now I'm not so sure.

Over the last few years they've had an increasing number of medical problems, some of them quite serious. Two years ago my mom developed breast cancer. She's also battled chronic headaches, back problems, bad psoriasis and a variety of other illnesses. My father was very healthy until last year when he herniated a disc in his back which really layed him out for several months. Early this year he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had surgery for that. Now, just yesterday he had a heart rythm abnormality which caused him to pass out and hit his head. He suffered a subdural hematoma, subarachnoid hemorrhage and a small parenchymal contusion to the brain. It seems like my parents are falling apart. And they're not that old. My dad will turn 70 this year and my mom is 67.

I've come to realize that despite their prior good health and our family history of longevity, either of them could be gone at any time. And this applies to me and my family as well.

In my profession I see fairly young people get serious illnesses and die every day. Or be killed in accidents. I never thought about it much. I'd become used to it. Desensitized I suppose. But I'm starting to dwell on it more. One day I saw three consecutive patients with metastatic colon cancer and they were all my age! I could develop colon cancer tomorrow. My kids could get hit by a car while riding their bikes. Or worse, be abducted by some psychopathic pervert. These things happen. You can't really prepare for them. The threat is always there.

Thinking about these things has caused me to start to reevaluate my life. Find out what it truly important to me. And I've come to the realization that I need to make some changes.

First, I need to reconnect with my parents. We haven't been particularly close the last several years. In part it's because they travel a lot and live in different parts of the country depending on the season so they aren't around that much. But partly it's my fault. I don't make the effort. I've always felt like I don't have that much in common with my parents. We don't have the same values. They have prejudices that I can't understand and cannot abide. They are extremely judgemental. We don't like to do the same sorts of things. In reality, we're probably not as different as I like to make out. And even if we are, should I let those differences keep me from having a relationship with my folks?

I think of how my mom felt after her mother died. Sure there was sadness but there was also guilt and deep regret. They didn't have a close relationship. When she was younger she didn't treat her mother well. And now that she's dead she wishes she could go back and do it all over again. Be nicer to her, spend more time with her. That's a mistake I don't want to make. I also think of my kids. Right now they love us and want to spend all their time with us. How would I feel if one day my kids didn't like me and didn't want to hang out with me anymore. I'd be extremely hurt.

Secondly, I need to focus more on my family. I need to play with the boys more.I need to have more patience with them. They're only going to be young once and I should have as much fun with them as is possible. I need to spend more time with my wife. Our relationship has taken a backseat since we had kids. Now that the boys are a little older and somewhat self sufficient S and I need to make more time to be alone together. Take a trip without the kids. Become close again.

Thirdly, I have to do something about my job. As I've mentioned in previous posts I pretty much hate my job. It's too stressful. The hours keep getting longer and longer. I get no enjoyment or personal satisfaction from it. The problem is, it's lucrative so I feel like I can't quit. I'm trapped. But why am I killing myself? For money? We've all read about those people who work hard all their lives, saving every penny, putting off vacations so they can save money for retirement and then what happens. They retire and 6 months later they're dead from a heart attack. Never got to enjoy that retirement or the fruits of their labor. All of that work for what? I've decided I need to enjoy life now. It doesn't make sense to put off things you want to do when you may not be around later to do them. And why spend your life doing a job you hate. If I quit this job I'd be alot let stressed and a lot happier. I'd probably be a nicer person too albeit a bit poorer.

I'm not afraid of death. At least, not my own death. But I'm not ready to go yet. I'd like to live a long time. I'm not sure if there's any sort of afterlife or not but I rather think there's not. Once you're dead you're dead. No second life. No second chance. That's why you have to live for the now.

I do worry about other people deaths however. The death of my parents would be upsetting. The loss of my wife would break my heart. The loss of my boys would be devastating. I can't imagine anything worse than losing ones child. It would be tough to keep going after something like that. I also think about what effect my death would have on others, particularly my kids. I have 2 wonderful, intelligent and sensitive little boys who would be profoundly affected by the death of my wife or myself. Could they recover from that? It would change them forever and not for the better. I don't want them to ever have to deal with that.

Well, enough of these melancholy ramblings. It doesn't pay to excessively dwell upon death. It's going to happen eventually and that is that. I've accepted this fact. I've got other things to do now. I have a life to live.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

you're all right. stop being such a wimp

Well it's happened again. You'd think we would have learned our lesson.

About three weeks ago #1 son started complaining of lower leg pain. We asked him if he hurt himself and he said no, his leg just started hurting. He said "I think I need some Motrin". (In our house Motrin is the cure for just about everything. Oh you have a brain tumor? Just take some Motrin. That flesh eating bacteria is chewing up your arm? Motrin should take care of that.) So we gave him some Motrin and he was fine.

2 days later the pain was back. He didn't have it all the time, just intermittently. Sometimes he'd go a couple of days without pain. Motrin usually took care of it. But over the next three weeks it got progressively worse and he said he was having trouble walking. When we got back from Spring Break we took him to get x-rays. They showed a possible stress fracture of his left tibia and a susequent MRI confirmed it.

This is what his stress fracture looks like on MRI.

The white area in the top picture is the fracture sight. The area is dark on the other 2 images.

So now he has 4 weeks of relative inactivity. No sports, no running, jumping or climbing. Just when the weather is getting nice. It figures.

This isn't the first time he's broken his leg and we thought he was faking. When he was 2 he jumped off a low platform at a playground. Later that day he said his leg hurt and refused to walk. We told him it was probably nothing and he'd be OK. After a week of him complaining we took him for x-rays and they were normal. Ah ha! See, your leg's not broken we told him. There's nothing wrong with you so stop whining. After another week of him saying his leg hurt we took him back in for more x-rays and this time they showed a fracture of his left tibia. The same bone he's broken this time! Sometimes hairline fractures in kids don't show up on x-rays for a couple of weeks. I know this. It's my job. But as is often the case, doctors usually ignore their own illnesses and those of their family members. They usually think it's nothing and you'll be better in a couple of days no matter what the problem is.

Now, #1 son is playing the guilt and sympathy cards big time. This is the second time he's had a broken leg and we didn't believe there was anything wrong with him. Are we great parents or what? We've become his personal servants. "Dad, could you get me a Dr. Pepper from the basement. I'd get it myself but my leg is broken". It's going to be a long 4 weeks.

The sad thing is, next time he complains about something hurting, or being sick, we probably won't believe him. "Just take some Motrin. You'll be fine".

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Family vacations

Just got back from a week of fun in the sun with the family, hence the lack of posts.(No, I don't own a laptop and even if I did I wouldn't take it on vacation. The whole idea is to get away; be incommunicado. I can live without the internet for a week). I'd have to say this was one of our best vacations ever. We did almost nothing all week. The weather was beautiful, the kids were happy and I didn't think about work one time. Days were spent at the beach, playing in the waves and building sand castles, or at the pool, floating on a raft with a glass of Foster's or Bass Ale in hand. We stayed up late watching movies, slept late every morning, ate lots of good food that we didn't have to cook and were generally lazy. Now that's my kind of vacation.

That is not my parents kind of vacation.

My folks don't understand the term "relaxing vacation". They don't get the concept of "doing nothing". They can't figure out why someone would want to sleep past 7 A.M.
"Get up at 10 A.M.? Why, you've wasted half the day!".

Want to know what my family vacations were like as a child? Think, the Griswolds in National Lampoon's Vacation. That comes pretty close.

Every summer my dad would take two weeks off and we'd pile in the van and take a driving trip to some part of the country. This was in the 1970's. We had a large conversion van with a fold down bed in the back. It was a lovely shade of brown with large orange and yellow stripes painted down the side. A true 70's masterpiece. It was dad, mom, me, my two sisters and my little brother. The six of us driving cross country. No DVD player. No video games. Just an 8 track tape player with a limited selection of choices. The rotation consisted of: The Statler Brothers, The Mills Brothers, The Manhatten Transfer, Abba's greatest hits and the soundtrack from Grease. Ask me to sing any song from any of those tapes. Go ahead, ask me. I can do it.

These were not relaxing trips. They were sight seeing trips. They were educational vacations. Up at the crack of dawn, into the car and we're off. How many interesting sites can we see in one day? A different motel every night. 6 people crammed into one small room. 2 double beds and 2 cots with suitcases everywhere. No room to move or stretch out. No privacy. Loading and unloading the car again and again. Hoping that the next motel would have a pool (which it seldom did and even if it had one was too disgusting to even think about going in). The kids teasing each other, fighting in the back seat, complaining "When are we gonna be there?". And dad with his "Settle down back there. Don't make me pull over. If I have to pull over you're in big trouble mister".

Another thing that added to the enjoyment was the fact that to varying degrees, everyone in my family suffers from motion sickness. Every morning my dad would break out the Dramamine tablets and break them into halves or quarters and we'd all take them. It seldom worked. We were constantly stopping at the side of the road for someone to vomit, or better yet, roll down the window while moving and hurl all over the side of the van because there just wasn't enough time to stop.

Now admittedly, some of the stuff we saw was pretty cool. The Grand Canyon was impressive. Mount Rushmore was nice. Caves were always popular. Amusement parks were always fun (except for the vomiting; motion sickness again). But some of it was extremely boring or just plain stunk. Williamsburg Virginia. Art museums. These don't hold much interest for a 10 year old. A 4 hour trip to see the second largest ball of twine in the world. It's a good thing he didn't know about this or we would have driven 3 hours out of our way just to see it.

How about some of these other attractions:
The Skinny Indian
Worlds Largest Muskie
Giant Hercules Beetle
Thermometer we saw this on our way to death valley
Carhenge looks pretty cool. I might actually go to see that.
South Of The Border is more typical of some of the cheesy places we visited.
I've been to Garnet Ghost Town. Guess what? There's nobody there. It's a ghost town.

Maybe Muffler man and Giant Girl should get together. Looks like a match made in heaven.

These summer exursions of ours were often long, slow, painful, exhausting torture sessions in an automobile. If the U.S. government wants to find Osama Bin Laden they just need to take one of his leutenants that's already been captured and send him on a car trip with my parents. He'll crack after the first day. I have vowed never to subject my kids to that kind of tourture. That is, as long as they behave. If they start disobeying me I might do it as punishment.

"Kids, if you're good we'll go to the beach this summer. but if you're bad we'll go here":