Monday, September 22, 2008

Like a swift kick to the biscuits

Why do I root for Rutgers and the Browns?

A collective a 0-6 record. A collectively embarrassing highlight (or should I say "lowlight"? ZINGER!) reel.

I love sports, if only because they afford a sense of drama to my purposefully drama-free life. They're pure, unscripted soap-operas, where the actors occasionally destroy each others' ACLs. And at the end of each episode, even after the epic overtime nail-biters, the drama is gone and I'm back to real life.

But, 0-6. Fooey and damnation.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


I went to a pirate concert last night, which was cool in and of itself. Pirate Punk, actually. You've gotta love songs about rum and the high seas, especially when said shanties shatter your eardrums.

At one point, the frontman asked, "be anyone in the audience a bloody ninja?". I held my tongue.

Anyway, as much fun as it was to watch a dude sing into a shark-mike about a whore from Shanghai, that wasn't the craziest part of the night.

It went down like this: I would be the designated driver, or so I found out when I got picked up. No big deal, I don't need to drink to enjoy Musical Piracy.

I would be driving someone else's car, or so the logistics worked out. No big deal, cars are cars, right?

I would be driving a standard transmission. But I don't know how to drive stick.

So, this was an adventure.

Mind you, I know how standard gearboxes work. Back in the heady days of yesteryear, as an undergrad, I'd designed a 5-speed gearbox for class, which was pertinent to my studies for some reason. When it comes to standard transmission, I'm book-smart.

Real life was a different matter. I stalled in Highland Park, but only a few times. By the time we got to Rochelle Park, I was only occasionally forgetting how to get into first. With the exception of a missed downshift on the way home (2nd is not 4th), I was smooth like butter, and even parallel parked without destroying anything!

Whoa. I can kinda drive stick now... and I know kung fu.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Why I didn't race today

So I was on my commuter bike in New Brunswick, riding from the lab to meet some friends for Happy Hour. The bike is a fixie, meaning it has only one speed and can't coast.

Somehow, my pants got caught between the chainring and the chain. This stopped the crank from moving... and since this is a fixie, this stopped the bike. Suddenly.

I flew over the front of the bike before I even realized what was happening. Luckily - very luckily - I didn't try to break my fall with my hands, which would've probably broken my collarbone.

Earning the "ninja" nickname, I dispersed most of the impact with an awkward roll. My hands came up to protectect my face, but the brunt of the force spread over my head, shoulder, and back (actually, my backpack).

At the risk of sounding repetitive, I'll say it again: WEAR YOUR HELMET.

Anyway, I am okay, mom.

Unfortunately, these were my favorite pants.

And this was my favorite skin.

I didn't love of this Nutrigrain bar, though. Crushing it meant nothing.

Friday, September 19, 2008

I got PIRGed again

I don't have much money. I'm comfortable enough, but I don't just have money lying around that I can throw at the Rutgers Accounting Office whenever they feel ornery.

But hey, if we can't laugh at our own misfortunes... I dunno, maybe we can lash out at others?

Back to business:

So last month I had one of those weird snafus that takes place entirely over my head and affects only me, the end result of which was that I never received the updated term bill. The great state of Nueva Jersey payed my tab, but the paperwork got delayed. And then it was after the deadline.

Ah, the deadline. That arbitrary date after which I'd get charged $125.

My account had already been credited all the money I'd be getting - tuition and fees, the whole shebang - and all that was left on the balance sheet was $11.20.

Let's do the math here. 125 dollars, American, as a penalty for not paying $11.20. That's a 1216% markup.

Look at it another way. It's actually not that much extra at all, if you measure the late fee in Belarusian Rubles.

To add insult to injury, the $11.20 was the PIRG fee. You may recall, I have some strong feelings about PIRG already. Now I straight up hate them.

Balancing my account was remarkably easy. I simply said to the clerk, "I don't want to pay the PIRG fee". And that was that.

Except there was still the matter of the late fee. I'd settled my debt after the deadline, you see, and so I needed to be punished. I've been a baaaad little boy.

Let's do the math here. 125 dollars, American, as a penalty for not paying $0. That's an infinite markup.

Yeah, I'm gonna have to make some calls on Monday.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The park is beautiful in the morning

On the way to work this morning, I saw an elderly woman doing Tai Chi by a lake in the park. It seemed pleasant.

And then I realized that she was just yawning.

Oh well.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Nobody taught me how to race a bike. I'd never drafted before my first race, nor had I ever cornered at high speed, and I'd certainly never considered subtleties like positioning or safety.

My first race did not go well. Neither did my second, third, fourth, or fifth races. They were "fun", in the sense that I'm compulsively competitive, but they were mostly humiliating and overwhelming.

Somehow, I didn't quit, despite these mortifying experiences. It wouldn't have been unreasonable of me to've sold the bike, thrown the spandex out, and taken up - oh, I don't know - field hockey.

Eventually, Mark taught me how to corner, Will taught me how to position myself in a pack, and Charlie taught (okay, is teaching me) how to race offroad. Being taught, it would seem, yields improvement, which leads to genuine enjoyment.

Well isn't that something.

For the past couple of years, I've made an effort to pay it forward. Every so often, I'll organize a beginner's ride, wherein we'll ride slowly in the park and work on basic skills. The common theme is Do Not Crash Yourself Or Others, and it seems to be pretty effective.

It's unlikely that any of us "old guys" will be giving the newbies the time-management skillz necessary to fit hours of training into their already-busy weeks. It's almost impossible to convey how much fun it is to race without putting them in an actual race. We can't teach a love of the sport.

What we can do is keep them safe, so they can hang with the pack without crashing. Few things are more likely to drive new kids away than a few hours dangling miserably off the back of a paceline or a hip full of road rash. Prevent these things, and maybe they'll stick around long enough to develop that profound attachment to the bike game.

So I rolled around the park with one of the newbies, teaching him how to sit on my wheel, how to spin smoothly, how to paceline. Harold and Beth rolled through the park after their ride, and they were very helpful.

After about an hour, I think we'd made a lot of progress. Then things got weird. While we were doing cornering drills in a parking lot, four random Mexican kids on beat-up bmx bikes rolled up to us and started asking questions.

They couldn't get over how hard our tires were. They wanted to know why our seats were so small. They didn't believe how fast we could go.

Soon they started showing off, locking their rear wheels up and crashing into each other and telling tall tales of speed and derring-do.

Before we knew it, the sun was mostly set and we needed to leave. We needed to've left 10 minutes ago, actually. Halfway through the park, we were riding in the dark.

If the Monday night recovery ride scares you, if the twitchiness of newbies puts you ill-at-ease, you should ride with a bunch of local 9-year-olds. They swerved. They surged. They braked. They stood on their saddles, jumped over imaginary obstacles, and made every effort to crash each other.

"There's a car coming", I would shout, "move to the right!" And they would veer across the street, to the left, to get out of its way. As if they were visible in the low light.

I'm pretty sure I could've attacked our little peleton, to get myself out of danger... but that would've left the kids to fend for themselves, in the dark. Unsupervised.

Sure, they would've been riding by themselves had they not tacked on to the Rutgers ride. Sure, I wasn't in any way responsible for them. But dammit, now I was invested. So I rode behind them, held off the line of soccer moms in SUVs that was trailing us, and generally tried to keep them safe.

Anyway, it was fun. These kids were genuinely enjoying themselves, and it was contagious. Dangerous, perhaps, but also virulently contagious.

Once we reached the bridge over the Raritan, I snapped a quick photo. For posterity, like.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Under Deconstruction

I think this is meant to be a biting send-up of blogging...

...but to me, it's more. True, sometimes blogging simply serves as a public diary, as a scrapbook by which I'll someday recall my youthful wanderings... as a record of what has already been.

Other times, the blog is the rabbit to my greyhound, the carrot at the end of my stick. Knowing that I'm going to have some good material about which to write serves as the incentive I need to get off my lazy ass and look for some adventure.

My roommate sent me the above comic as a figurative elbow-in-the-ribs. Instead, she's reminded me that maybe the reason I've encountered a bit of writer's block is that I've been too one-dimensional (woo, research!). I need to get out of the lab, out of the apartment, maybe even (gasp!!!) out of Central Jersey.

Not yet, though. There are a few dozen pages of manuscript yet to be revised.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Calling it now

Lance Armstrong won't be racing the Tour in 2009.

Sure, he's said he will in Vanity Fair - what the hell tone does that set, by the way? - and confirmed it with CNN and with a mass email to the Livestrong email list for which I don't remember signing up.

I hereby predict that it's all poppycock. Horse hockey. Meadow muffins. Bullshit.

Here's the first clue: Johan Bruyneel, who runs Armstrong's potential team, had no idea what anyone was talking about. Maybe it was a sworn-to-secrecy, deny-deny-deny sort of scheme, to keep the focus on Lance's big announcement (in Vanity f'ing Fair). It sounded to me like he genuinely had never been informed of Armstrong's plan.

For a man whose modus operandi was borderline-compulsive planning, this seems like something he would've wanted to iron out.

Having thought about this for all of 20 seconds - 20 seconds I'll never get back [he writes in the middle of a blog post he's spent at least 5 minutes on so far] - it seems clear that this is a familiar plot from Armstrong's playbook. He's done this before, and I won't be surprised if he does it again.

Recall 2005. Recall how Armstrong spent time in the wind tunnel over the winter... time on a TRACK bike. Recall how much press he generated, planning his record breaking (surely it could go no other way) Hour Record attempt. And then in April, when he called a press conference, we were all sure it would be to announce the time and place for the attempt. The bomb he dropped, that he would retire after that year's Tour, was all the more incendiary for the unexpectedness of it.

Bait and switch, people. Armstrong does it, and he does it well.

Expect something big from him in Spring '09. Just don't expect it to be what he's telling us now.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

My brother

My little brother,

who knows how to send me into a violent rage with just a raised eyebrow,

whose throw-a-cup-of-cold-water-over-the-shower-curtain sneak-attack is the reason I still always lock the bathroom door, always,

who suddenly lives 2,419 miles from me,

needs to write his stories. is available...

Friday, September 05, 2008

I wash my hands of this election

I know who I'm voting for.

You know who you're voting for.

Let's leave it that and never ever talk about it again.

It might be fun to have a level-headed chat about the candidates' platforms, but we both know that's not going to happen.

You've chastised me for not immediately agreeing that it's a shame that women like Sarah Palin exist. You've tried to convince me that Obama's exotic name makes him a Muslim sleeper agent.

It makes you sound ignorant and small, when in fact I know that's not the case.

Nobody - okay, very very few of you - have demonstrated the capacity or willingness to talk about the issues. At best, you've just not talked about the election at all... and that's a good thing.

So good a thing is this discussion-avoidance that I hereby adopt it as my new policy.

So that's it. No more election talk. At all. Let it be the 800 lb gorilla in the room, I don't care. We're not talking about it.

And that's that.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

How is that even a question?

I took some friends to Efingers to look at bikes yesterday. For one, it would be her first bike since childhood... she just wanted a comfortable, inexpensive machine with which she could join her boyfriend in the park and on the towpath.

At one point during the salesman's pitch, she wondered, "should I buy a helmet?"

She's a smart, skeptical girl, and I think she read the salesman's affirmative answer as a profit-seeking ploy. What next, rustproofing?

So I, the neutral chauffeur, jumped in. YES. Buy a helmet.

"Even if I'm only riding on grass or the towpath?"

ESPECIALLY if you're off road.

Asked her boyfriend, who does wear a helmet, "when you're in a car, do you wear a seatbelt?"

Countered the girlfriend, "yes, but that's because it's the law." Oy.

I told her that I could list a half-dozen situations in the past few weeks where her friends and colleagues had been glad for their uncool cranial accessories. I told her how I'd once cracked a helmet while commuting to class as an undergrad, at all of 10 mph. I don't think the message got through.

What hopefully did work, or at least ended the debate, was an angle I happily stole from AngryMark ...

How many years of schooling do you have? How many decades of hard work, all of which is contained in the fragile tissue between your forehead and your ears. When you crash, it's usually sudden and violent. If you're lucky, you lose some skin from your elbow.

If you're unlucky, you go from being BME Wunderkind to drooling, dependent child. Or worse.

Why, WHY, would you risk that? How is that worth $30?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

So I'm a TA again

Isn't that something?

Oh, balls.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


Monday was just a delightful little microcosm of this summer. With the exception of karaoke, there's pretty much nothing I've done in the past few months that didn't make an appearance yesterday.

For example. I started the day revising my thesis proposal. I also ended the day revising my thesis proposal. PARTY!!!

I went on a nice long ride in the afternoon, stopping in Princeton for some ice coffee and returning by way of Dogjump. You really can't ask for more on a holiday weekend; empty roads, minimal wind, blue skies, and ice coffee.

Of course, as has been typical of the summer, I got a flat tire. I've learned my lesson since the 24 Hour fiasco, and I had two spares. In fact, I even had two tire levers, in case one snapped.

Both snapped. Typical.

Luckily, Cara had two levers of her own, both of which survived, and we were on our way again.

Once in Princeton, we set about negotiating traffic on Nassau en route to the Small World coffee shop nearest the University. Sight-seeing, like. It was great, until an SUV inexplicably stopped short.

Now, I've had low-speed collisions with the back of a stopped car before. They're not a big deal, generally scarier for the driver than for me. Like any racer, I have extensive experience with coming to a sudden stop without losing control. This shouldn't have been a problem.

Unfortunately, I decided in the last second to try to hop up on to the sidewalk, rather than totally stop. With not enough momentum and from an awkward angle, I attempted to lift my front wheel. It was not quite successful.

Again, no big deal... how many times have I bobbled over an obstacle while off-road without a problem? Lots of times. This shouldn't have been any different.

Somehow - really, I have no idea how the mechanics of this event worked out - somehow I ended up clipping my leg with my chainring.

For those who aren't in the know, a "Cat 5 Tattoo" is what happens when you accidentally rub your chain along your calf. More experienced riders shouldn't let their chains anywhere near their legs, and should also know better than to let their chains get so dirty as to make a big greasy stain. Cat 5 Tattoos are embarrassing, the mark of a wet-behind-the-ears novice, and should be avoided at all costs.

So I reached to rub the schmutz off my calf, and my hand came away covered in red.

The cuts didn't hurt at all... except for my pride.

Cat 5 Scabs

What is it with my bikes this summer?

All in all, I give this ride a 9 out of 10. With the exception of epic climbs and vicious games of cat-and-mouse, it had everything I could want in a workout. As has been the case this summer, the good has been accompanied by a handful of, shall we say, bonus... this extra does little to erase all that good, but it certainly does tip the balance in the wrong direction.

Today's the first day of the new semester... so, this sounds like as good an opportunity as ever to start a new chapter. One in which I don't run myself over.

Aaaaaaaaaand go...