Archive for April, 2009

Happy decaversary!

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

In April 1999, I was a senior consultant with Plaut Consulting. My client was a regional baking company located in rural south Georgia, and I commuted back and forth each week. Every Sunday I flew Delta through Atlanta to Tallahassee and then drove north to Thomasville, and reversed the trip on Thursdays.

My friend Bill worked for Plaut, too, as a project manager. We both worked for the Atlanta office, and spent a lot of quality time in Hartsfield Airport!

One Thursday evening — April 29 — my flight home was delayed by severe weather. I made it from Thomasville to Tallahassee to Atlanta, but then I was stuck. As it happened, Bill was flying into Atlanta for a meeting the next day. So we made plans to meet at the Crown Room and hang out together while I waited for the weather to clear.

However, the weather worsened and the flight delays got longer, and I got more and more frustrated. But Bill was unfazed, friendly and reassuring. After the minutes turned to hours, Bill proposed that I simply reschedule my flight for the next morning and join him for dinner and a movie in Atlanta.

I don’t switch gears easily, but I eventually decided that Bill’s offer was pragmatic, and sounded kinda fun. We left the airport and enjoyed a delightful evening together. That was ten years ago, today, and we’ve been together ever since. Happy decaversary to us!

2009 BP MS150 MS80 MS48.5 Re-cap

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Well, yesterday marked the end of my Spring 2009 cycling season and the preparation for the BP MS150. First of all, a big “Thank You!” to all of the people who donated, on my account or anyone else’s. I have facetiously posted that MS is a disease that causes people to ride bicycles long distances, but in reality it is a debilitating breakdown in the central nervous system. I saw a few folks with MS along the way, and most of them appeared to have a variation on a motor disorder (e.g., Huntington’s, Parkinson’s). Lots of shaking when they were supposed to be still, and these were the ones who were functional enough to bicycle 150 miles. Something like 80% of the funds collected by the MS Society goes to programs, so they aren’t your typical non-profit that spends most of its money raising more money.

That being said, I am currently sitting at $1,020 in donations, well above my $400 minimum. What a success! Since I raised more than $1,000, then I get to “register early” for next year to start the Cycle of Abuse all over again. If you haven’t donated yet, and are considering doing so, please take a moment to donate before July 31st. However, I will also have my 2010 campaign website up in late October, which will still count for Tax Year 2009, unless you make some whacked-out pledge scheme like Shot-a-Stair.

I spent Wednesday and Thursday mostly watching the weather. There was a low pressure front moving from the Pacific Northwest down the jet stream, and when one of those hits the moisture coming off the Gulf of Mexico, we end up getting rain. Lots and lots of rain. Oh, yeah, any moving air mass of that size also tends to bring with it wind. Lots of wind. One of the news channels had a cute graphic showing bicycles moving from Houston to Austin, with wind direction and speed. Saturday was looking wet, but with a strong tailwind (off of the Gulf). I am hoping against hope that the rain will come early and hard.

I spent the morning at REI getting rain gear and rain-friendly camping gear: an 8″ air mattress, a sleeping bag, waterproof compression sacks, chamois towel, etc. Around 10am, the sprinkles started. The first major line of rain storms came through around noon (inch-an-hour type rain). The rain came in waves, with a couple of hours of rain, followed by a couple of hours of light sprinkles. This continued through the afternoon. Around 5pm, the Day 1 ride was canceled due to a few of the day 1 breakpoints suffering damage (i.e., being blown away), and the overnight campgrounds being flooded (i.e., nowhere for 12,000 people to sleep).

Lots and lots of more rain in the morning. Around noon, it started letting up, and finally cleared around 5pm. The forecast for Sunday was for lots of sun. Time for revised packing and bed! It’s a good drive out to La Grange for the Day 2 Start.

RIDE DAY (Sunday)
Up at 4am for the 2 hour drive to make it to the Day 2 starting point in La Grange, TX (pop. 4,600) for the 7am team picture and the 8am start. According to the MS150 organizers, more than 11,000 riders (out of 13,000 registrants) started Day 2.

In all of the chaos, we couldn’t make the team picture happen, but that’s not too surprising. This was reasonably impressive for something thrown together at the last minute, as it was. Did I mention that wind comes with the low pressure front that moved through? Looks like we are in for headwinds most of the day.

One of the fun things about the ride is that the locals come out to cheer us on.

While we started out in a big group, by the time we got to the first official break point, the riders were already starting to spread out.

Oh, yeah, it’s still windy.

After about 20 miles, we headed into Buescher and Bastrop State Parks. This is really the signature section of the two-day ride. There are some quad-busting climbs, at least for this flat-lander, and some great scenery that occasionally “peaks” out through the tree cover.

If you think you might want a shot at views like this from a bicycle seat, but don’t want the fundraising or camping experiences that go with the MS150, there is a training ride, Pedal Through the Pines, that is now on my training calendar for next year.

Along the way, I did see a few other Deloitte folks. Despite having over 100 people registered, we never really got any groups together of any significant size. These people were coming into the break point in the park as I was headed out. I like the team jersey — I need to remember to order one next year!

One of the cool toys I picked up for the ride was a GPS-enabled cycling computer (Garmin Edge 705; more on this later). Aside from making sure that I don’t stray too far from the course route, it also has the ability to upload my ride data to a computer. It gives me some pretty cool charts showing things like the elevation profile of the ride (spoiler alert!).

Here’s what Garmin’s application told me for the total ride:

  • Total elevation gain: 2,829 ft.
  • Total elevation loss: 2,629 ft.
  • Calories Burned: 5,716 C
  • Total Ride Time: 3:50:19 — more foreshadowing here

And my speed, as well:

Since I spent a lot of time riding my brakes on the downhills (why there are so few places where I am over 30 mph), I didn’t exactly think to take a lot of pictures in the park, either. However, here are some cool videos that someone took last year from a helmet cam. This will give you something of a sense for what it’s like under the canopy. Pay a bit of attention to when people aren’t pedaling. That’s when it is the most fun!

What you will notice is that there is a lot of coasting during the downhills and a lot of places where the riders are up out of the saddle on the uphills. Shifting during this time can be problematic due too much tension on the chain, and my bike was no exception. I ended up “dropping my chain” when I found myself in the odd position of being in too small of a gear during the first big climb (about mile 25). Unfortunately, I didn’t just drop my chain, I wedged it in between the smallest and middle cog rings on my front set of gears (the “chainring”). With the chain completely caught tight, the rear derailleur arm snapped hard against my drive-side chainstay (the arms of the bike that go from the pedals to the rear wheel), gouging my frame. This would prove to be my undoing after lunch. On one of the places where I let myself get a bit aggressive, I felt a bit of a twinge in my rear wheel, so I backed down and made sure to ride a bit more within the limits of the bike and the course than I might otherwise have ridden.

Anyway, here’s a gratuitous picture of a group of us Deloitte folks at lunch. On the menu: 6″ turkey sandwich from Subway. This is a welcome change from what had been a steady diet of PowerBars and Oatmeal Protein Bars.

After lunch, I was really dragging. Lethargic just doesn’t begin to describe it. It wasn’t the wind, though I hadn’t appreciated at the time how sheltered we were in the park. It turns out that I was rubbing a brake, and at mile 48.5 I finally had enough frustration with going slowly to check my bike out. I found adjusted the brake, and caught site of a prickly pear cactus that was just coming into bloom, so I crossed the road in my bike shoes to snap a photo.

Getting back on my bike, I didn’t think about what gear I had been in before stopping, and I clipped my left foot into the pedal and pushed off with my right. With a light heart and a determination to finish off the ride in style and grace, I clipped my right foot into its pedal, gathered myself and prepared to unleash a pedal stroke so mighty that it would strike fear into all of the residents of Tokyo that the wrath of Quadzilla was about to fall on them once again!




Instead of taking off like a rocket, I was rapidly slowing down. Time to unclip in a bit of a panic (Quadzilla is apparently built to “go”, not to “stop”), so that I don’t fall over onto rocks, barbed wire or cactus. I get unclipped, and what do I find? My chainstay, that was previously gouged, had snapped! In trying to put too much power into too big of a gear, I ended up folding over the gearing mechanism and could no longer put power into the bike. Day’s over, thanks for playing.

Let me zoom in on that crack, to give you a better view of what my dilemma was:

What followed was approximately four hours of sheer torture as I waited by the side of the road for a support van that had spare room to haul me up to the next rest stop. Then it was a wait in a LONG line of cyclists trying to make it into Austin. I’ll spare the gory details, but this was where I became most irritated by the unprepared cyclists around me and the organization trying to pander to their dreams of glory for an event that sold out in seven hours. Let’s leave it that by the time we made it into Austin, all of the food was gone and there was nothing left to do but to grab a shower (an appreciated luxury by me, a necessity for the people with whom I shared a bus) and a bus back to La Grange.

We got to La Grange at 8:45pm, but the truck with our bikes wasn’t due in until 9:15pm, since it was the last one of the day. Great! Yet another reminder of my ignoble end. A smart man would have eaten dinner at the Dairy Queen in La Grange, but I, I am not such a smart man. I hung out with a beverage, and daydreamed of a nice meal to lighten my spirits on the trip home. Since my bike was one of the first ones on the truck, I didn’t get it back until close to 9:30pm, at which point, my dreams of a nice dinner turned into a Filet-o-Fish from a McDonald’s in Columbus. If you are ever thinking of pushing dinner just a few more hours or even minutes on a Sunday night in rural Texas, just don’t. When life hands you a Sonic, make a Lemon-Lime Slushie.

I pulled into the house around 11:30pm, utterly exhausted and still fuming about the SAG experience. I was also feeling a complete lack of closure from my first MS150 experience. No feel-good story here about man-vs-nature (and/or man vs. farm-to-market road), merely a broken down bicycle and an itch I’ll have to wait a year to scratch. I hope you will join me then, too!

Houston Area Survey on who supports transit

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

Rice professor Stephen Klineberg released the 2009 findings from the Houston Area Survey this week. I heard him address the Texas Economic and Demographic Association (TEDA) on Thursday.

Klineberg presents Houston Area Survey results

Klineberg has conducted this unique longitudinal survey of attitudes among Harris County voters every year since 1982. I’m especially interested in the questions related to transportation, planning, and urban/suburban issues. For example, when asked:

Which of these proposals would be the best long-term solution to the traffic problems in the Houston area: building bigger and better roads and highways, making improvements in public transportation, such as trains, buses, and light rail, or developing communities where people can live closer to where they work and shop? (TRAFFIC1)

50% of respondents said “transit” would be best, up this year from 41.6% in 2007. Further, more Houstonians aspire to use transit. When asked:

Agree/Disagree: Even if public transportation were much more efficient than it is today, I would still drive my car to work. (CARBEST)

45% of respondents disagreed, seeking an alternative to their car commute, up from 38% in 2007. Even Houstonians are coming to appreciate mass transit. That’s pretty damned cool.

One of Klineberg’s students — Trevor Gill — took the analysis further, data diving to see what transit supporters have in common. Gill used regression analysis to determine which other questions were most correlated with transit support. Here’s where things get interesting:

Do you believe that homosexuality is morally wrong or is it morally acceptable? (GAYWRONG)

People who believe homosexuality is morally wrong are significantly less likely to support transit: 43.5% vs 56.2%

For/Against: What about a true life sentence without the possibility of parole, as an alternative to the death penalty? (LIFESENT)

People who advocate the death penalty rather than life sentences are less likely to support transit: 42.6% vs 55.4%

Does the increasing immigration into this country today [rotate]: Mostly strengthen American culture; or: Mostly threaten American culture? (IMMEFFS)

People who believe immigration threatens American culture are less likely to support transit: 45.4% vs 54.7%

These three questions were more predictive than any others. Klineberg observed that what they have in common is comfort — or lack of comfort — with people who are different from oneself. People who are comfortable with diversity are much more likely to support public mass transit.

It’s tantalizing to assume the opposite, that transit opponents are all pro-death, gay-hating, bigots. But they taught us in statistics class that asserting the contrapositive is an error. But then continuing to oppose transit in an age of rising energy costs and dependence on foreign oil is an error, too. :-)

downtown Houston
Downtown Houston seen from the top of the parking garage at the Federal Reserve office on Allen Parkway, where Klineberg’s talked.

Adventias: Perils of laundry day…

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

As long as I can remember, our Gran’mom had great fashion sense. She was the first person I knew who subscribed to Vogue. She has lovely clothes, many of which require delicate care or dry cleaning.

Sarah was always cautious with laundering, more likely to dry clean something that didn’t need it than the other way around. Finding one of her wool sweaters in the dryer — shrunk to doll size — last year was a sign that her dementia was progressing.

When Sarah moved into Belmont, laundry service was part of the living assistance offered. I was skeptical that anyone doing institutional laundry would navigate her wardrobe adequately. But the prospect of consigning myself to go do her laundry every week was unbearable. So we signed her up for laundry service.

That first week in December, I remember pondering how laundry day would work. The sign on her door said “Your laundry & housekeeping day is Thursday.” So that first Thursday I work up and called her PAL (personal assistance liaison) promptly at 8:00 am to let her know I would come over to help sort laundry. Genesis, sounding a little defensive, told me she had collected everything around 6:00 am and it was already done. All of it.

“Done” meant washed warm and dried. “All of it” turned out to include a pair of black wool trousers that Sarah had put in her hamper. They came out of the dryer 3-4 inches shorter than they went in, and considerably fluffier. Ugh. I decided that I would just have to go every Wednesday to sort laundry. I told myself that I ought to visit Gran’mom every week anyway, and Wednesday was as good a day as any.

For twenty weeks, I’ve sorted Sarah’s laundry, transported her dry cleaning, and occasionally brought things home for hand washing. Until this week. Somehow I left her off my calendar and didn’t go. Thursday at 7:30 am, I woke to Sarah calling. She said she’d “never faced laundry day unassisted” and wasn’t sure what to do. Uh oh. I urged her to make sure everything in the hamper was machine washable, but I wasn’t optimistic she could manage the task.

Unfortunately, laundry day did not go well. Her PAL grabbed not only the clothes from the hamper, but also clothes Sarah had worn and hung back up. She failed to check the pockets, sending a lipstick through both the washer and the dryer. Ugh.

lipstick everywhere
A forgotten lipstick left pinkish smudges all over every garment.

In addition, Sarah put one of her silk sweaters in the hamper. So it also got the full treatment.

battered silk sweater
Fine-gauge silk sweaters, agitators, and dryers don’t mix well.

To be fair, I might not have prevented the lipstick mishap. But I could at least have saved the sweater. It makes me both sad and frustrated. Feeling responsible for the longevity of her clothes is just one more burden. But I won’t miss next week.

In the meantime, if you know any good ways to remove lipstick stains, or have a favorite vendor for cute, comfortable, cotton-sturdy clothes, please send them along.

Our first year of BillandBob!

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

Time must fly when we’re busy. March 22 marked the first anniversary of our blog, and it slipped by without us noticing! In honor of the occasion, I created a Wordle “word cloud” out of the 163 posts from the first year:

wordle cloud of year one

The creative act of writing this blog — posting photos, stories, and commentary — is definitely satisfying in its own right. However, we must thank you, our friends and family, for reading and commenting. We have really enjoyed having this virtual venue to share our lives with you!

Rain, rain, go away

Friday, April 17th, 2009

So, the first day of the MS150 has been canceled due to inclement weather. Looks like I’ll only be doing the MS80 on Sunday. Fortunately, the ride times has been bumped from a 6:45am start to an 8am start. The downside is that I’ll need to caravan with 10,000+ other riders into the town of La Grange (pop. 4,645) gawdawful early on Sunday in order to be ready to ride by about 8am. Of course, this means that I have no excuse for skipping Buescher and Bastrop State Parks, if the modified route lets us go through these traditional stretches of the MS150.

Well, it’s 10:30pm, and WAY past when I was expecting to be in bed, so I’ll sign off for the moment with a promise to update the blog with how things shape up for Sunday.

Great read: Gladwell’s Outliers

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

Malcolm Gladwell's OutliersI read a fascinating book last week. In fact, it’s the first book I’ve read cover-to-cover in a long time.

Our culture generally explains successful people (e.g. Bill Gates, Bobby Fischer, the Beatles) in terms of personal attributes: intelligence, ambition, innate talent, hard work, etc. All of these are surely essential. But Malcolm Gladwell argues compellingly in Outliers: The story of success that one’s personal success is invariably rooted in a bigger picture.

Gladwell challenges the myth of the “self-made man.” With fascinating data and anecdotes, he shows that to understand which individuals succeed (and which don’t), we must consider their “ecology.” Like a tree that thrives in a forest, individuals enjoy hidden advantages (and disadvantages) from their family, the culture around them, their historical context, and unique opportunities that come their way.

While well-researched and well-documented, Gladwell’s narrative is also gripping. The ideas in this book have powerful implications for ourselves, for how we educate our children, and for society. I encourage you to read it.

Great new gadget: Raytek MiniTemp!

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

You have probably noticed that my husband is a technophile. I like techno-toys, too. However, Bill’s ability to appreciate the ways a new tool might fit into our lives dramatically exceeds my own. That can make gift exchanges in our household entertaining*.

*By “entertaining,” I mean awkward or hard to watch.

One Christmas, Bill bought me a super-powerful Palm Vx PDA. But I couldn’t think of anything important/desirable it would do that I couldn’t already do with my trusty old Palm III, so we sold it to a friend. Another Christmas, Bill bought me one of the very first iPods. While I agreed that it was stylish, I couldn’t imagine needing an MP3 player that would hold more than an hour’s worth of tunes, which my Nomad already did, so Bill returned it for a refund.

Bill fared better in 2007 when he tried again with an iPod nano, either because six years later I finally recognized its utility, or because he had it engraved. It’s hard to say.

Some husbands would have given up on technology gifts altogether. But Bill figured out that he just needs to paint his unimaginative wife a better picture of how I might use a new toy. Enter my favorite new gadget: the Raytek MT6 MiniTemp!

Raytek MT6 MiniTemp

If you’re unfamiliar with them, Raytek makes infrared, noncontact, industrial temperature measurement instruments. We first encountered them in June 2003. We added insulation to the walls of our bungalow, and a contractor let us borrow his infrared thermometer to assess the thermal improvements. Getting instantaneous heat readings off the walls, windows, kitty, etc. was a LOT of fun, but I couldn’t justify owning one.

But in 2008, Bill got me one for Christmas. At first I was puzzled: we spend a fraction of the time we used to on home improvement. But then Bill explained: where can temperature make a big difference day-to-day? In the kitchen!

Raytek french toast

Now I know that 330°F is the perfect temperature for cooking eggs, that hot tea is drinkable at 125°F but not at 130°F, and so much more. And while I obviously don’t need to know any of this, my french toast is getting pretty fantastic in the meantime!