Tuesday, February 28, 2012

New Shoes

Recently, Cathy and I decided to try and ease into some running. Nothing huge, just a little bit of something different as cross training. I used to run a bunch as did Cathy, but in the past half dozen years I've become incapable of running. Check that, what I mean is that every time I would try and start up running, I would make it a very short distance before developing massive pain in the lower quads. Once I hit that threshold, I'd be crippled for a few days.

This was weird as my legs should be much stronger now than ever before. The reality, I think, has nothing to do with strength. I believe the problem is that I do little beside cycling, which doesn't actually bear any weight or more, require one to absorb impact. XC skiing is no help either, not that I've done any of that this year. The bottom line is that my legs can't handle the constant impact absorption encountered from a run.

The fix is actually really simple, but pretty tedious. You need to start out slow and short and build up very gradually. By short, we are talking before the pain develops. For me starting from scratch, that was about 7 minutes. After 7 minutes of road running my quads started to throb. So there you have it, I needed to start at/below a mile depending on how fast I was running. That is what I did and I've been slowly, really slowly, building up over the past couple of weeks. I'm not running every day, just a few times a week at most. So far, so good.

So since I was just starting out I though hey, what better thing to do than to switch it up. Let's get off the road and hit the trail. And so we did. It has been good save a few issues that Cathy has had. She can ride the heck out of those trails on a MTB and never hit the deck but running for reason seems to be problematic. Two runs in a row she has caught her toe and gone over the bars. It's easy to see how this happens. You are fatigued, running on a trail that is a slightly uphill, nasty, babyhead field. Of course, when you spill you do so onto a bunch of rocks, adding injury to insult. Time to back off, slow done and take it easy. Hard to do though when you are on the other side of the coin.

In keeping with the theme of change we also decided to give the minimalist/bare-foot style running a try. No, not a literal bare-foot run but a run with minimalist shoes, built much like racing flats with very little drip from heel to toe. Cathy was first to try it with some Merrell Gloves and I got some New Balance MT10. Both have 4mm of drop and use Vibram soles with some built in foot-bed protection from sharp rocks and such.

Today was my first run in them as I've been sick for the past week now. I'd been wearing them around to get used to them and have been quite pleased. Very comfortable and I like the wide toe/fore-foot box to promote proper flexing and absorption by the fore-foot. In the woods they felt very comfortable and natural, almost like a slipper and less a shoe.

My New Balance Minimus MT10 trail runners. So far, so good.

I'd been running with a Salomon Speedcross which was also somewhat minimal and I noticed very little difference beyond the fact that the soles were a little thinner and as such I could feel trail features significantly more through the MT10. That said, I ran on some crushed rock and it was fine. As always you have to be extremely careful of foot placement and trail features when trail running. You also need to be prepared for ankle roll by running lightly and not planting really hard on one foot, so you can shift weight quickly if you feel it start to roll. Because these shoes have minimal heel width, they are less likely to help stabilize your ankles I would think. That said, your strike should be more fore/mid-foot and less heel, which should be less likely to roll anyhow.

What I did notice was that I must be more of a mid-foot striker as I didn't need to change my gate/stride or plant at all. This is also good in that it should mean I'm already minimizing impact, which I need to do given my knee and back issues. Always nice to be ahead of the game, which literally never seems to happen for me.

Cathy's very spiffy Merrill Gloves, which gave her heel blisters unfortunately.

In general, I had a very good initial experience. I actually went a little further than I had in previous runs despite the new shoes and in fact, partially because of them. They felt really good. I only has one small bout of knee pain and that was after a steep descent, so no surprise. It also quickly dissipated. The only residual issue is a little quad soreness as I hadn't run in a week and also, I suspect, because I pushed a little further than the last time. No blisters, no irritation and no hot spots. Game on!

Monday, February 27, 2012


In holding with the recent thread of posts I've had going on, well, disorders I guess, here's another of my favorites. I'm pretty "fussy" when it comes to bike maintenance. I like to say that "a clean bike is a happy bike" and a happy bike makes for a happy rider. I do my best to keep all of our bikes as clean as possible.

My two year old drivetrain all spiffy and fresh.

To that end I've setup multiple conveniences to make the process of cleaning the bikes as simple and efficient as possible. We've got an outdoor bike stand at the back faucet, the one that has hot water plumbed into it. This is for the fine detail work. At the front faucet I have a hanging rack with two bike hooks. This is the area used for either pre-cleaning the really filthy bikes, such as after a muddy cyclocross race, or for a light rinse if that is all that is needed after a mildly messy ride.

In general, the bikes get cleaned to some degree after every ride unless of course there was no need. I find very few things in life more offensive that a truly grimy drivetrain. Inevitably you come into contact with it and you come away from the encounter nasty. There is only one way to fix that and unfortunately it is labor intensive and needs to be done on a regular basis.

The drivetrain on the beater bike which has ~6k miles on it, still fresh and clean.

Last week I took advantage of my new hot water faucet and went to ton on the road bike drivetrains. Each of them are multiple years old and have countless miles on them. However, with some hot water, light degreaser and elbow grease they really do come pretty darn clean. The transformation is almost amazing. Dry them off and add fresh, light lube and you are right back in business.

The bikes are happy, and so am I.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

On Target

This past Friday afternoon was pretty darn miserable. It pretty much rained most of the day and got harder and steadier as the day progressed. Cathy took part of the afternoon off as she had worked 50 plus hours the past couple of weeks and already had 39 logged as of mid day Friday. All that from a job that never has overtime.

In looking for something to do I suggested we go hit the range and sling some lead. I packed up the new Savage Mark II we got with the custom Eastern Sierra Armory stock. Very nice setup for Biathlon, which with the lack of snow this season we've done exactly ZERO times this year.

I also threw in my Remington 887 Nitro Mag tactical and some clays. Yea, I know, it's not really designed for clays, it's designed to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and it's all out of bubble gum. Works fine though even with the breacher choke. Good for opening up doors and busting clays. Anyhow, we shot a box of shells in the rain and the weapon continually jammed up. It's never been right and I just did some searching. Turns out that it is a common problem. Guess I need to contact the manufacturer.

After that we made our way to a different range and set up our little spinning steel triple target against the back stop along with one paper target to sight in on. The range was about 53 meters or so as we were shooting under cover from the bench. The targets are 4", 3" and 2" for the steel and 8" for the paper. A few magazines and we had it dialed dead on. We then moved to the spinning targets.

Lots of fun for not a whole lot of money. You have to love the .22 for that. We shot high velocity ammo as it's way cheaper than standard velocity, which is used in competition. Only difference is in the trajectory, slightly. Cathy was killing it hitting like 10 for 10 in a row on the 4" from a rest.

We then tried to hit the smaller targets, which was difficult as you couldn't actually see them. You could barely see the 4" through the peep sights with no magnification. We would sight on the 4" and then just creep over a little to where the other target "should be". It worked more often than not and Cathy even hit the 2" at 50+ meters once.

We each took turns shooting offhand as well. I managed 3 in a row on the 4" but then ran into trouble seeing the target as we'd shot the neon sticker, which was all that we could actually see, pretty much off from it.

Good fun and a great way to spend a dreary afternoon. Thanks Cath! On a side note, I just installed a new upper on my AR. My S&W M&P15 is the sport model, which didn't have a forward assist or dust cover. It does now as well as a new sling mount.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


I'm often amazed at the generosity of some people. Since we put the NEBC Junior Development Team together last year we have received a number of donations from club members and friends for clothing and goods. Earlier this week my friend Jason donated his old, complete road bike which he'd been hit by a car on. Despite the damage there were still some good usable parts to be had, which will be put to good use. Another buddy Rich donated a vintage purple Zaskar and a box of parts that have been put to good use as well as those donations made by countless other friends and club mates.

Over the past season these donations have resulted in us being able to get team race and training clothing on the backs of the kids on the team. We have also been able to piece together numerous cyclocross and mountain bikes for the team members to use. Friends have donated tons of new and used goods to the cause and it has made a huge difference.

Yesterday, a friend gave me a shout with a potential donation. He asked if I was interested in an old single-speed mountain bike for the team. I told him that I certainly was and thanked him profusely. I've been putting single-speed MTBs together for some of the kids over the winter so this was perfect timing. I've got one of the kids on my spare SS MTB and built another for one of the other kids from an old TREK donated by my friend Chris.

You see, I'm a huge proponent of single-speed mountain bikes. If you haven't guessed, I'm kind of old-school. I say let them learn to ride on a rigid single-speed before they get to play with gears and suspension. This will make you a better rider. It will force you to learn invaluable skills like conservation of momentum, reading the trail for lines and looking/planning ahead. With a single-speed you can't just come into a hill slow and shift down, you need to recognize that a hill is coming and hit it hard. With the lack of suspension you need to read the trail for a clean line and then be able to negotiate it. All good skills that pay huge dividends regardless of the bike you are riding.

Classic Phil Wood Kiss Off rigid steel SS with White Ind. Dos Eno drivetrain.

Anyhow, yesterday my friend Clayton donated a classic, his personal Phil Wood Kiss Off rigid single-speed MTB. I anxiously headed over to Pedal Power in the AM to meet him and snag the bike. The thing is decked with a very choice White Industries Dos Eno freewheel and matching crank. It has sweet Phil Woods hubs to match. This is a true classic that had unfortunately over the years found it's way to the back corner of the garage, alone and unloved. It will be greatly appreciated by the team and will continue it's life for some time.

Thank you Clayton and thank you all for your donations and help.

Friday, February 24, 2012


In the past year or so I've had numerous discussions as well as reflections on the topic of compulsion and obsession. I'm not talking about addiction, that is something that is a little different and for what it's worth, something that I've not struggled with. What I've come to believe is that these are traits that are hard wired into our personalities. For me, I can say for certain that I have trouble overindulging and being able to pull the plug. It is often as if my mind keeps saying "one more". Depending on how you target this trait it can be really bad, or maybe not less bad.

As I've hinted at or clearly elaborated on in the past here, I've wrestled with excess a number of times in the past and in a number of different ways. One common theme has been food. I really like food, all food, and lots of it. Variety is the key but if you don't have the variety, you can always sub in quantity. I suspect that I have a genetic predisposition to overindulgence, that my serotonin or endorphin receptors are out of whack (I saw that on the Discovery Channel so it's got to be true). All that I can say for sure is that I have a difficult time with satisfaction.

The way that I've gotten control of this is channel my obsessiveness into physical activity. Yes, I still wrestle with the food consumption issues but they are somewhat mitigated by the blocks of physical activity. Another positive spin is that if you start hanging out with compulsive people, your personal compulsion doesn't seem nearly as bad. Great quote by Rodney Dangerfield, "if you want to look thin, you hang out with fat people". There are few groups more compulsive that competitive cyclists, so there you have it.

New PowerTap hub ready to build onto my old Zipp 404.

In the whole compulsive vein, I've got a streak going, which has gotten somewhat to the point of obsession. It started December 29th as a decry of the lack of winter but has grown from there. Typically, I would use January and February as time away from the bike so to speak, and focus on other activities like cross country skiing and snowshoeing. You know, variety. With the race season literally culminating for me in the middle of December, there had been plenty of opportunity to ride during the race season. A break is good.

Alas, it wasn't to be this year as perpetual fall led to premature spring and we never really touched upon true winter. At first my plan was to ride every day until the weather changed, then it was every day in January, a feat that would normally be unheard of. This year, however, it came pretty easy. Now it has progressed and dragged on and on.

Assuming I ride today it will be day 58 of consecutive riding. Before you say anything, that doesn't mean that I've been out there hammering every day. I've been doing active recovery on the bike here and there, which is pretty consistent with what I've done in the past. Really, if you think of those that use bicycles as primary transit, they likely ride every day, much like driving a car every day is commonplace for us. This is more about the fact that the streak has become somewhat of a compulsion now, in that I feel (self imposed) pressure to keep it going. I am compelled to ride my bike today, regardless, so the streak can continue.

Isn't recognition the first step to recovery? I was talking about athletic recovery with my buddy Skip earlier this week. I admitted that I am terrible at recovery and downtime but that I recognize that. If recognition really is the first step to recovery and I recognize that I fail at recovery then maybe I'm really partially recovered anyhow. Right?

I've got to go start building my new PowerTap hub into my good road wheel so I can obsess some more over the details. Speaking of which, have you used Strava at all? It gives you yet another means of obsession, records for common sections of road. Now every ride can be a virtual race against yourself and everyone else out there.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

New Groups

As the years pass I've come to realize a few things, a core of those lessons is that almost nothing is static. Virtually everything is bound to change at some point or another. Even those things that do remain constant, evolve in some way or another.

For me, one of the core constants that I have had in my adult life is cycling. That constant anchor has, however, changed and evolved over time. What started as a purely social and recreational activity has grown to, in many ways, be a true cornerstone of my existence. Much of my life is built around the bike, be that social, training or racing. As one could expect, we gravitate toward those with like passions and values. Being health concision and devoted to cycling and athletics is it really any wonder that the circle of friend shares those core values?

My whole point here is that as we move through life, discovering, or re-discovering who we are or who we have become, the people that we know and the groups that we associate with also change. I've had the same core group of ride partners for some time but in recent years that has begun to change. People's lives and priorities take different courses, leading them toward differing destinations.This divergence ends up drawing us apart and unfortunately, the ties that once drew people together may force them apart. It's sad in many ways but I think that after inception, most friendships really are fleeting.

Last week I connected with my old college roommate via Linked-In. I really hadn't heard from him since I went through an ugly divorce many years ago. He was good friends with both of us and although disappointed, I completely understood him wanting to not be involved. I also realize that I was a dick in terms of the circumstances around that separation and divorce, fore which I still feel badly. That said, I look at where I've ended up because of my actions and wouldn't risk changing a thing. Hard choices reap pain but not regret. This is one of those past friendships that I would really like to see reconnect on some level. Hopefully social networking and the Internets will further help that.

Drawing upon this new groups theme, you know, the one in the title, I hooked up with a new ride group this past weekend. I'd traveled and raced in common circles with local tough guy Skip for years but we had never actually ridden together. Last week he added me to his list and this past Saturday I was able to attend one of his group rides. I wasn't feeling stellar and knew I'd be in for some suffering at the hands of this particular ride group. The plan was to head out to Wachussett Mountain and back via a fairly direct route. I'd ridden out there maybe a half dozen times in the past but we always did a more circuitous loop rather than an out and back.

Saturday AM I rode over to West Concord for the start and found a large group amassing. Among the group were some local powerhouses as well as a good number of climbing and general ass hauling specialists. It was good to meet some new people and great to get a hearty helping of whup-ass served to me. I suffered on the steep and longer climbs but made it home in one piece for the most past. However, my already a little bit tired legs took a beating from the day's climbing. They were screaming at me for sure and I was pretty beat.

Sunday started with Cathy and I doing a short trail run. We then discussed various ride plans between ourselves and on the internet, finally deciding that we would do our own thing that day and plan a bigger ride for President's Day. After much deliberation we decided to do a road ride. Cathy rode her geared bike and I my single-speed cross bike. That was a very bad plan. Riding the road on the SSCX is never what you hope it to be; a nice easy spin. It translated to furiously spinning to do 20mph on the flats with big fat cross semi-slicks or slogging up the hills way over geared. We did a little over 40miles and it had nothing to do with recovery. Not what I needed.

Monday had me worried, literally. Sunday night I drank far too many beers and margaritas celebrating the kittens 2nd birthday. Yes, we had a party, with a cake and yes, they had cake, but no tequilla or beer. Two is far too young to be drinking tequilla. I woke up slightly hung-over and was faced with the reality that I'd have to suffer the consequences of my actions. Not only the actions the previous night but the fact that I'd offered to lead a ride that day for Skip's crew. I also put together a ride loop that was, lets say, a little on the optimistic side. When I dressed and headed out the temperature was still in the mid twenties and the wind was brisk. It warmed a bit on the ride to the Concord start but was still cool. I was suffering and that would be the theme of the day. Despite that, the few of us that rode, Skip, Jerry and I, managed to have a good solid ride. I was junk on the hills and literally flew backwards but was able to maintain OK on the flats. It didn't kill me but it really did hurt.

This ended up a solid three day weekend with just over 200 miles. Not bad for February. Of course, now I'm coming down with a cold and feel like crud today. My knee is also sore as sin. Time for some rest and recovery I suspect.

Friday, February 17, 2012


Although I've been physically separated from work for a few weeks now, today was my official final day as an IBM/Rational Software employee. This morning I handed in my badge and got my final paycheck.

It was 12 years ago that I was mired in the worst job in the world, at least as far as I could tell, working 16 hours a day pretty much 7 days a week for a miserable tech start-up company with no end in sight and making no headway. After seven weeks it had gotten so bad that I snapped and walked out, literally. From there I took my time and looked at a number of local mid-sized tech companies. I wasn't interested in working for a large company as, prior to the start-up, I'd worked for and subsequently left an offshoot of Lotus, Iris Associates, that had been assimilated by, you guessed it, IBM. It was unfortunate as this was the most quality, dynamic and interesting group I'd ever worked with. They worked really hard and played even harder. Good times gone bad when the man stepped in.

In my search I gave considerable weight to proximity to my home. I'm vehemently opposed to wasting time and resources on long commutes to/from a workplace. Live and work locally is a much more sustainable and responsible approach. Rational Software and Open Market were the two strong choices and the choice was pretty easy. Rational ended up being the clear winner, partially as it was less than two miles from home and the position was working with the Cadillac of source control products, ClearCase. I clearly recall a sunny spring day riding my bike to deliver my signed offer letter back to Rational. In hindsight it was very fortunate that I didn't go with OpenMarket as that was a huge disaster about to happen.

Things went well at Rational and I really felt as though I'd found a new home. I liked my job and I liked the people there. All good things must end though and three and a half years in rumors of a corporate sell off started to swirl. The stock started to tank because of this and all of us employees with ESPP shares that we had been diligently holding, now saw our real income (ESPP stock is purchased with basepay funds automatically) investments, direct investments in the company which we had faith and belief in, dip under water.

I recall the morning when the news broke, the worst case scenario from my perspective, that IBM had bought Rational Software. The president came around and told some people in person, myself included, soliciting feedback from them. I reacted honestly and bluntly conveying my disappointment and the fact that I'd previously broken away from IBM, intentionally. He took it in stride and moved on. As the details emerged we all understood why the top executives were happy, they all made out just fine as they always do and within six months, when their contractual arrangements expired, were gone. Unfortunately for those of us with recent stock purchases, IBM basically purchased Rational as a fire sale, literally below the stripped capital value of the company. It always seemed to be questionable, at least to me, but there were never any lawsuits so I guess that there was no impropriety. I guess.

Flipping quickly through the years that followed the purchase, we were bent, folded and manipulated into the IBMer mold. I remember them strongly using that term as propaganda in the transition. They really tried to push the IBM family and community values, values and community that I personally never saw. I suspect they were concepts of years long since past, a past that the company clung to at least in principle if not in practice. Morale declined, people left, people just plain disappeared and there was constant management change. You see, the way for the big company is to have constant rotation of middle management, grooming them for bigger and better. Those that drink the Kool-Aid and tow the line will surely be destine for greatness. Those who don't will eventually find themselves without a seat.

Over the years I became more and more despondent. For much of the time I could still focus inward on what I was doing and just let the residual noise flow by. I continued working with the same group on the products I knew and respected and the bottom line was that the pay was good and I worked close to home. I was going through the motions but I was OK with that. I'd come to realize that a job is rarely an adventure. The best case scenario is that you can find something that affords good pay and a reasonable work/life balance. I had that and I made the realization that it was as good as it gets. And so I would question my motives from time to time but always come back to the same realization, that I had it as good as it gets.

A couple years ago, IBM decided to consolidate all of the local MA labs into one giant factory. They would roll the Lexington, Waltham, Westford, Cambridge and other facilities into one site. In these times of increased awareness of the needs for global conservation, where do you think they chose for a site location? A huge, global, environmentally conscious company like that would certainly take public transportation and proximity to urban centers into account, right? One would certainly assume so. However, they chose to the old Digital/Compaq/HP site in Littleton, three miles away from the nearest public transportation and a full beltway (RT495) away from the defacto outer high tech epicenter (RT128). I convinced myself that I wouldn't make the move with them. I caved in when the time came. Alas, we all suffered from the frog in the pot scenario and numbly took the move mostly in silent acceptance.

Last year we had some changes and I got thrust into a no win situation, being lent to another project team part time while still having all of the same primary roles and responsibilities. This is known as the IBM Agile process; acknowledge the core principles of a structured practice and then intentionally disregard them. This was a recipe for disaster and as expected, I failed. For my 50% new project allocation I was expected to have 24/7 availability. The function I was expected to perform for this new assignment, I felt was a misuse of my time. I was a senior person making a boatload of money and they wanted me to monitor a broken system, a job a much less senior person making far less money would be fine for. I suggested a better use of my time and expertise would be in fixing the broken system and they could take my junior people to monitor the system in the interim. Apparently I wasn't respecting their authority and was deemed not moral enough to burn women, kids, houses and villages.

This past summer we had changes in the group that hit closer to home. Our long time manager, a person who was involved in every detail of the operation, was removed and forced to find a new home elsewhere. We then reported to a tiny little woman in Mexico. This posed challenges. Not only was English her second language and she wasn't in the same time zone, she wasn't even in the same country. She was a hands off manager who didn't care about the detail and just wanted the Cliff Notes summary of what we had done at the end of the month. She was also not terribly technical, which posed difficulties when trying to deal with technical issues. This caused confusion and numerous problems. Things turned grim.

As things were already going so swimmingly, the local executive du-jour realized that nobody was actually working from the spiffy new office they'd located in, well, hell. Who would have guessed that if you make the commute to work unattractive and seat people in a huge impersonal cube-factory and then expect odd hours coverage from them to pick up the slack from your global (ie. leverage the low cost centers around the world) development team plans that your employees would tend to work from home. And so the Return to the Labs plan was hatched early in the fall. This called for everyone working from the office five days a week. That is when I decided I needed to jump out of the pot and started looking for a new job and was also when I made a rather snide comment about the program and how I applauded the fact that we could now do work from work and have a clear delineation between work and home. That went over like a fart in church, so to speak. After getting a decent offer from a local company I decided the timing wasn't right and stayed in my old job.

Fortunately, another re-org and management changed moved our group directly into a local development organization under a well respected manager that I'd worked a project with in the past. Things looked better. At the end of the year though, just before Christmas, my review time hit and it was the short term interim manager from Mexico that would be doing the review. This was the person who realistically understood the least about what I actually did. Although there was no fault found in my work I was dinged for not doing other stuff, stuff that was not defined and that they couldn't name but was the extra credit stuff that someone of my job classification should be doing to make myself more visible to those outside my immediate organization such that when they ask someone who has not interaction with me, which they do, if I'm a keeper, they can say "you bet". Pressing the flesh. I've never been good at that and don't really care to. I fix broken stuff and make working stuff work better. I don't kiss babies. Really, babies are nasty, smelly little germ factories. I do have a habit of saying "sh!t" if I step in it and that causes problems. Sometimes it just feels wrong not to swing though.

So here we are. This is my self realization of why I grew to literally hate the company I spent so much time working for. Was it deserved? I don't know, probably not. It was the Rational BOD that undersold the company and sold out the employees. I chose not to look on the bright side and embrace the changes. I chose to dwell on the negatives and I chose to say that, and not just think it. I also chose to stay for as long as I did and not make that move. It's part of my belief though, gained from years of personal experience and the experience of others that in software, the grass is almost never greener. A job is work, otherwise they wouldn't pay you for it. There I go again, being negative. I need to start thinking Smurfs and kittens with whiskers and unicorns sh!tting rainbows. Much better.

Do I have regrets? You know, I thought that I might. I've been somewhat melancholy since the separation plan was proposed, back in December. I take this stuff personally as I do absolutely everything. I always have. I also hold a grudge, forever, quite literally. Just ask some of the people that I used to know as friends. Probably not healthy but it's part of my heritage and a trait that I've reluctantly clung to. How did it feel driving away from the office for the last time this morning? I actually felt relieved. A burden had been lifted from my shoulders and I felt free. It is sad to think that this is what it had come to, that the place I made my way to day after day, week after week and year after year was met with dread and angst.

It's too bad but really, I don't have regrets. This forced a change and in reality, I was the one controlling it, if only indirectly. I'm happy with where I am now and honestly am feeling really optimistic about things. I'm thinking that I may take some classes in my field and try and get some new skills. Maybe give it another go in software. Either that or I'm going to buy a wood-shipper and start an LLC :) Hopefully I can be done with being a miserable, crotchety, disgruntled old man. "You kids get off my lawn!".

Yep, I can do this. Onward and upward.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What Have You Done?

Today I asked myself that very question. One thing is for certain, I'm not breaking any records in terms of the quantity of stuff that I have been getting accomplished on my little break from the normal grind thing. It's been a few weeks now that I have not been officially working. What have I been doing with myself during that time?

Simply put, chores. Normal house chores that the average person spends their weekends doing but people like us, who spend their weekends and most other waking moments riding bicycles or partaking in other recreational activities never seem to find the time to complete. Over the years my project quotient has taken a drastic nose-dive. I used to be able to get a ton of stuff done, but then again I wasn't spending quite as much time on the bike as I am now. As such, I've become more and more reluctant tackle things and so, they lay in wait for vacations or other big blocks of free time that really aren't free. What always happens is that I try and cram too much content in the space of too short a time. Stupid incompressible time.

With this round I'm taking a new approach and trying to work a more realistic pace. The idea is that maybe I won't screw things up as much and the end result will turn out much better. I'm not sure if it is working or not but that's the plan. So what have I done so far? Let's lay the baseline chores that I've assumed with my newly acquired free time. These include laundry, cleaning and grocery shopping. Speaking of cleaning, I bought a new microfiber mop today. I'm hoping a damp mop with it post vacuum will be the hot setup for hardwood floors. So far, so good.

Laundry and cleaning are no big deal but grocery shopping was a very strange and new experience. Sure, I'd tagged along before but the first time I set loose solo at Stop&Shop with the self scanner was terrifying. I managed to make it through though not taking the cleanest route by any means. In reviewing the weekly flyers I've also noticed a big difference in prices between Stop&Shop and Market Basket. In doing a full on comparison the difference is huge. The produce is also way better as is the variety at the new Market Basket nearest to us. The downside is that the place is a mob-scene much of the time. I went on Sunday and actually walked back out, not being able to tolerate the commotion.

Question me not for I am the master of my realm!

Another core job is scooping the kitten poops. We have big cats and they make some very smelly and abundant poops. We have two litter boxes and they get daily attention so as to keep them as fresh as possible. In the past I was using a combo mixture for litter, that being 1/3 clay based deodorizing and 2/3 Sweet Scoops corn based litter. This kept the dust down while still giving some good absorbancy. I'd also throw on some Arm & Hammer deodorizer as well. Recently we discovered a new litter from Arm & Hammer Essentials corn based clumping litter. This stuff is awesome and smells really fresh. Heck, I bet you could make muffins out of it and they would freshen your breath to boot. Anyhow, not to brag but when it comes to scooping poop, I know some stuff.

Much less worthless in the current configuration.

Speaking of muffins, I also try and get the meals planned as well. Not a big thing but another day to day task that I've pretty much assumed.

In terms of accomplishments besides the daily home making chores, I've gotten a few done. For bike work I've built a PowerTap hub into a Zipp 404 wheel for Cathy's road bike. I've converted the bastard drop-bar 29er good for nothing bike into a dedicated rigid 29er MTB. I've built two different single-speed mountain bikes for a couple of the kids on the development team to use. I've fendered our backup cyclocross bikes for use as foul conditions road bikes, which we luckily have not needed to use yet. Besides that I've cleaned and maintained our fleet of bikes that is getting way more use this winter than any other winter in the past.

Hot or cold, you choose.

For home improvement projects I've plumbed in a hot water line into the existing cold water line for an outdoor faucet. Both the hot and cold feeds have ball valve shutoffs near the mix point so I can run hot in the winter and cold in the summer or a mix of both. This will be awesome if we ever get frozen slushy snow that we need to hose off the bikes.

The bedroom with some nice soothing earth tones.

I've done a bunch of painting as well. Finally after years and years I finished the trim on the sky lights in the bathroom and bedroom. That same bathroom got the walls redone as well as the trim and I re-caulked the bathtub surround as well. In the bedroom I redid the walls with a very pleasant new color and also added a second color for the closet doors. This was actually a two step process with the first color choice for the closet doors not being all that I'd hoped it to be. The second color was much better. While in the room I also did the molding and baseboards which actually made a big difference. I've also touched up a number of dings around the house as well as getting the water stain in the bath from where we had ice dam leakage last year.

On to some external projects after a bunch of back and forth with my design team on the layout I put what is now effectively railing and lattice on the outside of the basement walk-out. This will not only improve safety so nobody falls over in but will keep snow and leaves from finding their way into the ramp. It also cleans it up a bit and gives a nice finished look, at least I think.

New lattice and railing for the ramp.

I put chimney cap up last week as well. We had never had one and I'd always meant to put one on but there were complications. We have a double flue and the size is odd. I was also unable to find a stock unit that would affix without using concrete screws. I feared drilling holes in the chimney would introduce water which would freeze and crack the concrete. What I did was order the closest size I could get that was a hair smaller that the outer dimensions and then built a wrap-around clamp out of angle iron. I notched the angle iron for the bends of each side such that it looped back almost to itself. I notched and bent the last inch and half of each end at a right angle and drilled a hole through each tab. This wrapped around the perimeter and affixed with a bolt tightening it together between the tabs. In hindsight I should have done bolts on two of the adjacent sides to get better grip but with some construction adhesive on the inside this holds the cap on just fine.

Screw you Santa, use the front door.

This morning I installed a new garbage disposal. The old one was not very high end and came from Sears. It squealed like a pig at times and the grinding chamber was a mass of rust. The new one came from Amazon, as did the chimney cap. This one is a Waste King and is much bigger at a full 1HP, has great reviews and has a stainless grinding chamber. It was also cheap, relatively speaking. It went in pretty well and the only thing that I had to get for additional parts was a box cover that had a switch and outlet versus two switches. The old unit was wired direct but the new one came with a cord and plug. I was going to switch it over but needed more flex-conduit, which they didn't have at the hardware store. I already had a new switched outlet in my electrical parts stash so with a new cover, I was in business.

So there you have it. That's what I've been doing. I know that it doesn't sound like much but it is what it is. Oh, I forgot to mention. I've started to get back into running. I'm going really slow to start though so I don't cripple myself. I've been out 4 times in the past week but am still only up to 1.6 miles. The past couple times have been on the trail. I like it. Cathy and I are going to give a shot at trying the minimalist/barefoot running shoes. The concept really makes sense. Cathy snagged a pair of Merrill and I'm going for some New Balance MT10 I think. Both have 4mm of drop heel to toe as opposed to 11-12mm of drop for a normal running shoe. This encourages a mid-foot strike versus a heel strike which actually results in less impact. I'm missing a large chunk of cartilage in my right knee so that would be key.

I'm also on day 49 (in a row) on the bike. Still waiting for weather to rip me off it but it just hasn't happened yet. This could be a long year of biking. I'm OK with that.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Out With the Old

Now that I'm living the life of leisure, and making no worldly contribution, it made sense to start chipping away at the boatloads of projects that have accumulated of recent. Over the past six seasons that we have been racing bikes in earnest, we or moreover, I have devoted lots of time to riding and racing and less and less time to house related work. Most of the little stuff would get done but there is a hefty backlog of things that I've wanted to do.

So, this week was my birthday and we spent some time up in Maine, briefly and then came back home to take advantage of the continued spring like weather. While in Maine we did go skate ski at Black Mountain, which was able to make snow and had excellent cover. Unfortunately they don't have a lot of terrain and what they do have tends to be either up or down. For my birthday we made an excellent dinner of pizza with caramelized onion, salmon, olive oil and ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. This coupled with a great big salad was awesome. Then Cathy got me a spiffy birthday cake from Concord Teacakes, which has come to be our tradition.

I've finally started getting after some more of the projects. Last week was primarily consumed with smaller tasks but I did manage to get a fresh coat of paint on the bathroom walls and trim. It looks much cleaner, which is good. What I've discovered is that the bathroom detail is the most highly visible and scrutinized in the whole house. This is particularly true of the wall directly opposing the toilet. You really notice everything there. Not sure why.

This week was a bunch more small chores and bike work coupled with more paint. The skylights that we put in about 4 years ago never got the wood trim painted. It's a cumbersome job spend perched on a stepladder but not all that involved. Check it off, it's done.

That does not say Happy Birthday Opie!

Yesterday I went and picked out some paint to redo the master bedroom. It was last painted in 2007 and the color choice wasn't exactly what was expected. It seemed bright and cool and in reality it was. It was also very reminiscent of Smurf blue as it went on the wall. We've lived with it long enough and so it will be replaced with Apple Tart, an earthy tone that is much warmer. We are kind of on an earth tone kick so the whole house has varying bold, at least for us, color choices.

We'll see what it looks like when it's done though honestly, it has to be an improvement. I think that crap was responsible for a bunch of bad dreams. I forgot or selectively blocked out what a massive PitA it is to paint a room full of big, heavy furniture. After an hour and a half I finally got the stuff moved to the center of the room and the floors, walls and trim all cleaned up.

Out with the Powder Blue, in with the Apple Tart.

It's amazing how much dust and fur ends up under and behind all of that big heavy furniture in the course of a hand full of years. It's not like we (Cathy) never cleans or anything. I'm thinking it might be time for the cats to get a little haircut.