Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Aaah, Real Monster!

For a while there, I was scared of my basement. Oh, by the way, I have a basement now... how cool is that? Fat lot of good a basement is when you're too scared to even set foot in it.

You see, there is a monster living in my basement. It is named Grendel, and it goes bump in the night.

99% of the time, it is content to just sit at the bottom of its tank and, well, sit. When Grendel wants out, though, Grendel gets out, and the sound of scrambling claws pierces one's very soul.

I have never won a staring contest with Grendel. Then again, Grendel may not have eyelids. Let's call it a push.

Over time, Grendel and I have reached a mutual understanding, and perhaps even a mutual respect. It will never try to eat me, so long as I never venture within chomping-range. In exchange, I have agreed to continue going about my business, because nothing I do can perturb Grendel in the slightest.

Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time ever on camera, I give you...


On a whim, I bought a half pound of Tilapia at the grocery store. There are a ton of spices in my apartment, and I'm usually up for a little mix-n-match. Today, though, I was feeling lazy. Shopping takes a lot out of a man, you know?

I had also bought canned pineapple chunks. They were on sale.

You see where I'm going with this?

Bingo bango bongo, et voila! 8 minutes later, I'm eating like a king.

It's okay to be jealous.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

So's Your Face

So my birthday was this weekend, on Sunday. Last year I'd planned on a 250 km bike ride, but instead Jay and I continued our long-standing, very amicable rivalry at Neshaminy.

This had some immediate consequences, not the least of which was that the evening preceding my birthday was tame. I resigned myself to a night of stretching, bike maintenance, packing, and carbo-loading.

Then I got a call from Bearded Megan, bless her heart. She would not let me sit at home, regardless (irregardless? unregardlingly?) of my race plans. We went to Charlie Brown's, the one and only bar in Highland Park's little "downtown" ... but only because Rite Aid was closed, so we couldn't buy 40s and drink on my stoop.

For a special birthday treat, the Bearded one bought me ice cream at the Baskin Robbins across from my house. Ice cream is always great - ALWAYS - but ice cream with a birthday candle is extra-special.

Why the E? Does it perhaps stand for something? Is the E for "Extra Special"? Does it represent some affinity for Ecstasy and other clubbing drugs ('cause I loooove clubbing)? No. It is the letter left over from the word CELEBRATE, which Megan modified for comedic purposes.

Things to note:
Yes, the candles are on a bagel.
No, Megan's not wearing her trademark beard.
Yes, we take recycling seriously.

In retrospect, this seems just a little bit Junior High. Like ooh, look what we can do with typos! At the time, though, it was pretty damn hilarious. I guess that's one of the byproducts of a good friendship - the ability to be entertained by the inane?
Celibate good times, come on!

A few hours later, I met up with Jay for the relatively short drive down to Neshaminy. Neither of us had prepared optimally, but I don't think it would've mattered much anyway. As I told Will during Saturday's ride, my legs felt "poopy".

But no matter. If nothing else, that took the pressure off of me. I would ride to whatever capacity I had during the day, with special attention paid to keeping the rubber side down.

Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men, et cetera...

Minutes after chatting with one of the course designers, who warned us that the new insane descent would be chaos if it rained, we heard thunderclaps and saw rainclouds approaching. I tried not to whimper.

photo by Todd Strauss

Jay went kersplat on the first lap when someone in front of him bobbled a rather simple log obstacle. He pulled himself together quite admirably, given that this happened 15 minutes into a 100 minute race, and finished about a minute behind yours truly.

photo by Todd Strauss

Yours truly went kersplat about 45 minutes later. In the ensuing tumble, I caught the bottom bracket with my lip. This knocked me kinda silly for a while.

photo by Todd Strauss

Also it gave me a bloody mustache. Which would be a great name for a band. Bloody Mustache.

It was not a memorable race for either of us. We both bled a fair bit, and we are both rather bruised. However, when all is said and done, neither of us dropped out, neither of us flatted out, and yes, I beat Jay. So it was a good day.

Anyway, chicks dig scars.

The MTB is officially retired for the summer. It will be called upon when I want to resharpen the ol' handling skillz for 'cross season, or when I want to hoot and holler in the woods for a few hours. For now, though, it's all road... hopefully the results will lead to an upgrade to Cat 3. We can hope.

Also, I look forward to races in which my identification is pinned to my jersey rather than drawn on my calf. This wouldn't be a big deal if I raced in any other category, but being a single speeder kinda makes me look like a bit of a Nazi, now doesn't it?

At least they're not little lightning bolts,
which has happened at other races

I went out to dinner with my family, and it was just what the doctor ordered. A great deal of food was consumed, and unsurprisingly the lion's share of it had made its way to digestion via my plate. My parents were disproportionately concerned with the sliced-up face, which looks worse than it is, but I guess that's what parenting leads to.

So. 25. The big Quarter Century. There is supposed to be some special significance to this, yes? Perhaps not. If someone needs to elevate to profundity the orbital frequency of this chunk of rock on which we live, and uses it to catalyze a change in their life, that's fine, and I wish them nothing but luck. Lord knows I've used that arbitrary excuse for change, as well as others, in the past.

For right now, though, I neither want nor need a change. I am pleased with my lot, and my cup runneth over. My research is progressing nicely, my friends are some of the best a man could ever want, I love my sport, the new apartment is amazing... What more could anyone reasonably ask for?

I could use some damn upgrade points, I guess.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Colorado Conjecture

The Colorado Cafe is an Urban Cowboy bar (UCB). Hence the "Colorado" part of the title.

We went there on Sunday - that is, I joined my roommate and her friends for a birthday party. Using my well-honed powers of observation, I drew some preliminary conclusions about the nature of socializing at a UCB. Hence the "Conjecture" part of the title.

I really don't want to go back ever again. Hence the "The" part. There will be no further conjectures.

First, having attended a bar or two in my tenure (as Chief Blogger for TheNinjaDon Inc), I propose the following framework:

There are a few features here that are worth pointing out, especially for those readers who don't spend hours a day staring at graphs. First and foremost, note that the drunker you get, the better time you have, and the more fun people around you have... but only to a point, after which nobody's having any fun.

Of course this isn't the case for everyone; some people's graphs peak quite early, so much so that they probably shouldn't drink at all. For others, the "Entertertainment" graph (Red, indicating how much entertainment you provide your friends) is abhorrently low, and they definitely shouldn't drink thankyouverymuch.

Variations from person to person leave some flexibility in the regions of interest - namely, the Drunk A-hole Gap and the Window of Clowning. In the Gap, the drinker is thoroughly enjoying himself, but this pleasure does not extend to his friends. In the Window, the drinker may no longer having such a good time, but he is the delight of his friends.

Ideally, the Entertainment graph is of high enough value to minimize the Gap and also extend the Window so that everyone is having a good time simultaneously. It's tougher than it sounds.

The One-Too-Many Asymptote is self-explanatory. Nobody wins once you've entered that regime, and there is no coming back from it.

Okay, with me so far? Now we apply this framework to a trip to the UCB. This has a couple of distinct effects.
First, notice the inclusion of the Dance Capacity graph (Black, indicating one's ability and desire to dance). While the Dance Capacity starts quite low, a few beers will increase that value such that one finds oneself on the dance floor among the cowboy boots and 10-gallon hats.
'You want us to dance? No. No.'
one says before having any drinks

This graph has a maximum at the Inflection of Cyrus (named for Billy Ray, who's 1992 chart-topper inspired millions to enjoy horrible music), which is fantastically narrow for most normal folk. After Cyrus' Inflection, the graph drops off precipitously, and while enthusiasm may still be high, the ability to dance wanes dramatically.
One then drinks with one's friends (hi Rob!)

Also note that the UCB version of the Entertainment graph is shifted, so that dancing provides a great deal of pleasure to one's friends. The "serious" dancers may hate you, and the bouncers may leer menacingly, but the entertainment value of any dancing is pointedly greater than it would be at a normal bar.

See? Entertaining!

Your correspondent's Inflection of Cyrus is rather narrow. Within 1 +/- 0.2 beers, his Dance Capacity was low... like, inappropriately so. Nobody wants to see The Robot at the Colorado Cafe.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Did I Just Watch and Enjoy Golf?

Yes. I just watched and enjoyed golf. The end is nigh.

But man oh man, Tiger Woods and some dude named Rocco put on one hell of a show. There was so much drama there, so much suspense, that even I was able to appreciate it.

I figured it would be like extra innings in baseball, where I just want somebody to win if only to put the game out of its misery. Instead, it was compelling and heart-wrenching, with each man deserving to win and pulling miracles out of their poopers.

If every golf match was this awe-inspiring, I might actually ever watch on purpose.

Congratulations, Team Columbia

I'm thriled for the newly-named Team Columbia, formerly Team High Road, which was once Team T-Mobile. When T-Mobile withdrew its sponsorship, nobody really batted an eye - sponsorships come and go, it is the circle of life.

When nobody stepped in to fill the void, though, eyebrows were raised. Now two prominent teams - Slipstream and High Road - were named not for a sponsor, but for their parent company. Had the business model of advertising-by-sponsorship changed? Was doping actually succeeding in killing the sport?

A good fan will let sponsorships influence his consumerism. If I want to go on a jellybean binge, you know I'm going to go straight for the Jelly Bellies. When looking for a consulting firm to establish my small business' employee benefits packages, I need look no further than Kelly Benefit Strategies.

How the hell does one purchase a Slipstream or a High Road? You can't. They exist only to manage the cycling teams that bear their name. There is no way for the consumer to spend money on High Road, which seems to imply that there is no way for High Road's investments - in travel, in salary, in equipment - to be returned. I'm no student of business, but I'm pretty sure that this model isn't sustainable.

So congratulations again to Team Columbia. If I find myself desperately in need of outdoor apparel and faced with the decision between Columbia-brand goods and other similarly-priced goods, I will be spending my money on the brand that sponsors my sport.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Rutgers Cycling and Barfight Team

It seems that every time I go to Harvest Moon on a Friday or Saturday, I pick a fight. So far, no punches have been thrown, which is obviously good. But I have a feeling it's coming.

It's not that I have a chip on my shoulder. I'm content to just make new friends, debate the merits of microbrewed beer, and enjoy the atmosphere that is a weekend in New Brunswick. Also I realize that on average, the dudes I've been aggravating outweigh me by at least 50 pounds... so it's not like I'm looking for a fight.

That said, I am not the sort who shies away from a confrontation, whether it's reading the riot act to a disgusting roommate or bullying a break-mate into doing his share of the work. Confrontation is okay, because without it, the assholes get their way.

So yeah, I don't get along well with the assholes. Especially not when a friend says "please save me from this asshole" or something along those lines... especially not when this friend is a girl.

Here are simple rules that everyone can follow to avoid the wrath of TheNinjaDon:
  1. Do not pick up and move TheNinjaDon
  2. Do not persist in pursuing girls you've creeped out
  3. Do not choke girls, or anyone
  4. New: Do not slobber in a girl's ear as she tries to escape
Blake talked about it, back when he was still at Rutgers, and I think we should make it official: the Rutgers Cycling and Barfight Team. It has a ring to it, doesn't it?

Jay, for one, has got my back - last night he was very much poised for action as I pushed the asshole away from his prey, which I appreciate - and our combined 300 lbs of wiry rage would be a force to be reckoned with. Also, I have a feeling that Blake would somehow appear out of thin air if I ever actually got into a fight, shouting "finally!" and wielding a bat. Mark and Will... well they've already shown their cards, and I guess they can be cheerleaders or something.

What's my secret weapon? It's not any martial arts know-how, nor is it confidence in my fists of fury. Instead, it mostly helps that I'm friends with the bouncers... and that sometimes I'm the coolest motherfucker in the world.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Get Out of the Kitchen

Opening Narration (as would be voiced by Rod Serling):
"Portrait of a man in a park, nondescript and anonymous. Thinner than most, but not gaunt, a man of average height and average features. A man who wears his tan lines like medals, but hides them under jeans and a collared shirt. A man whose eager anticipation of summer dates back to last fall. A self-proclaimed athlete, a self-proclaimed hard-man. A man relaxing in the heat, alone on a park bench. Not just any man, though; a man they call the Ninja."

The Ninja's quiet evening reverie is interrupted by the heavy thud of a bottom on the bench. He opens his eyes and looks over at his new bench-mate.

Sitting next to the the Ninja is a young man, whose cotton t-shirt suggests affiliation with the local University. The Student is sweating, beads rolling down his arms and shins and flushed face. His shirt clings to the rolls of his slouched frame, and he smiles wearily. He sighs, still staring across the park.

"Hot today, isn't it?" and the inflection is somewhere between rhetorical and exclamatory. The Ninja nods. "They say it's a heat wave," the Student goes on, "like, record setting or something".

The Ninja replies, "yeah, that's what they say".

For the first time, the Student looks over at the Ninja, looks him up and down, and he seems taken aback. "Say, aren't you dying in those clothes? Like, isn't it too hot out for jeans?"

The Ninja considers the question for a moment. "Well I suppose it is".

The Student looks pleased at the common ground he's established. Misery loves company. "Don't you just hate this weather?"

"Not at all," says the Ninja, and the Student's eyes widen again.

"I don't mind the winter, and fall and spring are okay, but I love the summer," the Ninja continues.

"But in the cold, you can keep adding layers until you're comfortable. You can only take so much off in the summer!" As if the Ninja hadn't heard that before.

"That works to a point, I guess. But the cold hurts, you know? It pierces you to the very bone. It stings at your skin and squeezes your fingers and toes. It slaps you across the face and calls you 'bitch'. No, give me the heat any day. Weather like this just wraps you in a blanket, it presses you a bit and makes you uncomfortable at worst. How bad does it ever get around here, anyway?"

"But there's a heat advisory!"

"Heat advisory, shmeat advisory. You just have to get used to it. Pace yourself, right? Drink plenty of water, too. It gets to where it actually feels good! I'm not even going to use an air conditioner this week"

"How's that?!" the Student seems horrified.

"It'll save me some money," the Ninja rations, "and it'll get me acclimatized. The heat wave will end eventually, you know."

The Student fans himself with his cap. He says nothing, shakes his head, staring at nothing in particular.

The Ninja stands, cracking first one knee, then the next. He twists his back, creating a symphony of cracking vertebrae, then rolls his shoulders to the sound of two deep pops. "I should get going," he says offhandedly, out of common courtesy more than anything else, "take 'er easy". The Student barely acknowledges, so dazedly is he leering at the far side of the park.

With a spring in his step, the Ninja walks through the park. He crosses paths with a jogger, whose shuffling gait betrays her suffering in the wilting heat, and nods knowingly.

He makes his way home. Each stride is a little shorter, each minute finds more sweat beading at his brow. He undoes another button at his collar, then another. Sweat is pooling at the small of his back, and his jeans cling to his skin.

He arrives home and his shirt is completely unbuttoned. He strips down to shorts, then sits on his couch with a heavy thud. He stares off into space, loses track of how long he's been sitting there. He sets an alarm clock and tries to sleep.

The hours go by, and as he sweats through the sheets, sleep does not come. Slowly he shuffles to the sink, splashes his face with cold water. A hollow-eyed, haggard face blinks back at him in the mirror.

After another moment, he sighs, frowning, and descends the staircase to the basement, where he removes an air conditioner from storage. He grunts his way upstairs, maneuvers the machine into the window, and turns it on. As cool air rushes out of the vents, he collapses to the bed, still frowning, and falls asleep.

Closing narration:
"Portrait of a man in his home, finally cooled. Certain of his weakness, shamed by his surrender, loathsome of his pleasure. A self-proclaimed hypocrite. A man whose only failure is measured by a metric that he himself has defined, arbitrarily and impetuously. A man, a Ninja, a fool... but a comfortable fool at last."

Monday, June 09, 2008

Music Review: MeeWee

I'm at that in-between age where some of my friends are flirting with undergrads, and others are having children. Real, live, honest-to-goodness mini-people! This post is intended for the latter... the former may enjoy it too, though, I promise.

Flantastic Dan has been working on an album for kids, producing quite a few of the songs and investing a lot of himself in this project. The album is now availabe on iTunes, and the project's website is an absolute hoot.

The project is called MeeWee, and the album is entitled "MeeWee: Hip-Hop for Kids".


Hip-Hop for Kids.

The MC of this troupe is a delightful youngster named Jabari Jones, a rather animated frontman (see what I did there? It was a pun). I would give just about anything to hear his prepubescent vocals in a rap-battle with the likes of Eminem or 50 Cent.

The lyrics these songs boast are positive and uplifting. They're perfect for your little ones, because frankly, "The Wheels on the Bus" is enough to drive anyone loony and have you ever even listened to the infanticidal lyrics of "Rockabye Baby"?

I did a little research, and it seems that these guys aren't the first to make a rap song for kids. However, MeeWee's only predecessor, Barney's Gangsta Rap (NSFW), just doesn't seem very age-appropriate. Hilarious, certainly, but not fit for toddlers.

That's where MeeWee comes in. With all sorts of rugrats being brought up by my contemporaries, it is my duty as a well respected, internationally renowned blogger to recommend MeeWee to the parents.

Actually, I was a little worried about writing this post. I didn't want to risk my credibility, as is inevitable when writing a positive review for a good friend's project. This concern was easily overcome, though, when I realized that this is a tiny blog with a limited readership, and I don't really have any real credibility to lose!

Okay, no more jokes. In all seriousness, I think this would be a great album for a parent to buy to entertain their toddler... and what a change of pace from the usual child-targeted fare!

Anyway, the website speaks for itself. Check it out: May I recommend "HipHop-opotamus"?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Oh, what a world, what a world...

Like some kind of moron, I rode from 11am to 3pm today. It was something like 95 degrees the whole time, and I don't even want to think about the heat index.

Further stupidity can be found in my decision to ride in the hills. Also I neglected to sunscreen my legs.

I got back just in time to watch the finish of the infamous Philly race. Them boys ride fast. How did the only two remaining Kelly Benefits riders end up on the front with 1k to go? How did Candelario still pull off a 5th? Congrats to them, say I.

The cough that follows a foolish ride like today's, from the hot air scorching the bronchi on its way down, has finally subsided. I've stopped sweating like a pig, too. However, my brain remains melted, pooled in my skull like so much fondue.

So there will be no blog post today.

Oh, whoops.

Saturday, June 07, 2008


It's weird, how races that last from 30 minutes to 2 hours seem to be stored in my memory as flashes of sensation. Mere moments define long, lung-burning, leg-shredding epics. It's not like I forget the rest, it's just that these moments serve as icons, as thumbnails if you will.

Last month at Granogue, the moment was that split second between when the front wheel shot out to the side and when my body hit the ground. At 'cross Nationals this year, it was the moment when the official pulled everyone off the course, as we were in danger of being lapped eventually. At Westlake last year, it was the view when I glanced back at the end of the finishing straight a mile after attacking and saw nothing, nobody even remotely close to catching us.

Sometimes they're race defining moments, like all of the ones I just mentioned. I listed them because they make sense. Sometimes, though, the moments have nothing to do with racing. The Army circuit from 2007, for example, is irrevocably linked to Bobby Darin's "Beyond the Sea", which is weird but that's how it is.

Today was one of those days. I won't remember it for the moment of desperation when I realized that I couldn't quite bridge to the solo breakaway that would eventually win. It won't be defined by the moment when I chose to go outside instead of inside through the final corner, against Will's prescient advice during yesterday's preride.

For me, today's race was defined by my trip in the race director's car, passing on group of stragglers to catch the remainder of the shredded pack in the Women's Open race. King Hermes knows how to corner on two wheels or four, and the screeching of the tires as the car leaned away from the apex of the course's nastiest turn was just fun. Very fun.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Focus and Disappointment

I love Granogue, I really do. The 'cross race in the fall is top-shelf, and the mountain bike race has been nothing but fun. The promoters, including the sweetly-named Delaware Cyclocross Coalition of Delaware, never fail to impress.

This year's race was bittersweet for me. It was my best-ever finish in a MTB race at any level, and I'm pleased with the way I rode... for the most part. There is one 15 minute period, though, that just breaks my heart to recall.

This post is intended not as a coulda-woulda-shoulda, nor as a simple race report. I'm just trying to exorcise the lingering demons.

Also, I'm trying to post some photos. Like these, from MLKImages:
a good start
the road climb

Anyway, about halfway through the first of two laps, I was riding in third (in my category, Sport Singlespeed... there were a couple of hundred of racers on the course at the time, I'd guess). This was good. By the end of the steep grassy climb, I was in first... this was very good.

I was leading a race! I never lead races. Sometimes I get the holeshot at a 'cross race, but that's rare enough, and I certainly never lead after 20 or 30 minutes.

My lead lasted for about 2 minutes. I lost my front wheel on a slick, slow, root-strewn descent, and I went down hard. While I picked myself up, I was passed by the two guys I'd just overtaken.

Here's what gets me... I just could not get back up to speed. For something like 15 minutes, I pedaled and I steered, but I didn't quite race. That one moment of KABOOM knocked me out of the game for miles. Lots of people passed me, mostly geared bikes from other categories. Two singlespeeders passed me, and I hoped in vain that they were from the Endurance Singlespeed category.

By the time I regained my rhythm, we were only halfway through the race... but it was too late. I chased like a madman, plunging myself deeper into fatigue than I've ever been during a race, but I finished in 5th.

I should have been celebrating, and it's frustrating that I wasn't. I want to be that steady-headed racer who is gracious in defeat and cool as a cucumber, so I try to suppress my teeth-gnashing instincts. The other guys rode very well, and my excuse-making detracts from their well-deserved glory. Dammit all, though, I want to win! It's a race, and if I can win it, then I'm not satisfied with not-winning. If I have potential, I want to meet that potential. It is just not in my nature to pretend it's anything but a competition.

Deep breath.

Friends are people who selflessly lift you out of a funk, not for attention nor gain but for the sake of simply improving your day. Jay, Charlie, and Olivia are great friends, and their company over the ensuing few hours had just that effect. Whether by distracting me from my own foul mood with talk of weddings and research, or by twisting my arm into attending the podium ceremony, they were exactly what I needed.
the Sport Singlespeed podium (photo by Jay #1)
note, please, the Rudy Project sunglasses and Efinger hat

You guys really are great, and I'm grateful that you were there.

A quick shout out to FatMarc, race promoter extraordinaire: The course was brilliantly designed, the atmosphere was fun, and once again you put on one of the best races of the year. Best of all, by introducing me as "TheNinjaDon" at the podium ceremony, you plastered an ear-to-ear grin on my face, and I'm thankful for that too.

This is not my final MTB race. I suppose I could write about "how far I've come since last year, how pleased I am with my progress," and so on, but the apocalypse is not nigh, and this is not my final MTB race.

As a wise, muscle-y governor once said, I'll be back.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


I've been bad about blogging recently, so bad that one might compare me to Jay #1 and not be too far off. My most recent post was last Thursday, and before that, I didn't really write anything since May 22. That's two weeks with only one real post!


As disappointed as I am in my literary productivity - even if I catch up this week, this writer needs to strike while the iron's hot to be any good - the way that life has interfered with my blogging has been nothing short of thrilling. I raced a few times, dined with good friends, moved out of Graduate Housing, attended a wedding, moved into a new apartment, and best of all, I wrote a significant chunk of my thesis proposal.

Oh, and I won a Karaoke competition, sort of.

All of these things merit a few paragraphs, some pictures if I can find them. If this blog is my diary, then I don't want to have lost these few weeks when someday I look back.

So, starting tomorrow, I'll actually be blogging again. You have my word as a ninja.