Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 - The Year in Review

Introduction

Last year I did a “Year in Review” blog post in which I made the claim that “throughout the year I’ve based my blog posts on the most important current events” and that blog topics “that must have seemed completely random to you will now, with the benefit of perspective, prove to be the most timely and pressing issues of the day.” I set about backing up those unlikely claims, in the rhetorical-joy-ride spirit of making my outlandish and patently false statement seem reasonable. I figured I’d make a tradition of that format, and set out this year to do exactly the same thing.

Alas, either I got lucky last year, or my mental faculties have severely declined during 2010, because I can’t manage to tie in my last 48 blog posts with the big news events of the year. Thus I find myself with about 150 minutes left (before I leave for a New Year’s party) to create my end-of-year blog post. So, inspired by an episode of “Magnum, P.I.” in which the writers had completely run out of ideas and/or budget and resorted to loosely tying a together bunch of old footage with Magnum and his buds sitting around reminiscing, I’ll give you a “blog post highlights” ensemble. If you enjoy it, great; if not, you can enjoy making fun of me behind my back.

January

I started off the year by racing my bike up Mt. San Bruno on January 1. At the summit, as I caught my breath after 18 minutes of terrible suffering, I witnessed the grotesque spectacle of a racer who had not only ridden too hard in the race, but had clearly partied too hard the night before. As I wrote, “He’d climbed off his bike and was sitting on a low stone guardrail, staring blankly into middle distance. To say he was frowning doesn’t cover it. Every part of him was frowning. His mouth had an exaggerated closed-lip crease of a frown, extending down so far it almost reached the edge of his chin. His eyes were frowning as though tugged downward at the outer edges. The bags under his eyes were frowning, his eyebrows were frowning, and the creases in his forehead were frowning. Moreover, as he hunched over even his shoulders were frowning. He reminded me of one of those Greek theatre tragedy masks.” I gaped for several long moments before realizing it was the friend I’d driven to the race, and was in fact looking for at that very moment. I literally hadn’t recognized him.

The race had perhaps been a test of my manhood, but a greater test awaited me in January: could I install a new dishwasher by myself, instead of hiring some handyman? I had serious misgivings, so as a twisted method of steeling my resolve I chatted with my brother online about it, and told him I was on the fence about taking on the task. I admitted, in fact, that I was feeling like a wuss. He replied, “Like a wuss—because you're sick, or scared, or what?” He sent me a link to a 28-page online installation guide, and said, “Man, with instructions like those, you can’t go wrong! Just don't let the wife see them, or she’ll figure she can do it!” (His mention of my wife was masterful; he was tacitly pointing out that my reputation as a man was on the line.) I mentioned that I didn’t have the soldering iron mentioned in the instructions, and he retorted, “You don’t have to solder! You’d use a torch, anyway. Now there’s a man’s tool.” And so on, until there was no question but that I had to try it. The post documents my trial. I’m happy to report that almost a year later, the dishwasher still working like a champ.

As a companion piece to the dishwasher installation tale, I posted an essay, from my vast personal archives, that is an extended lament on the following topic: “Men have come a long way toward contributing equally to the ongoing housekeeping and child-rearing duties; have developed impressive cooking and diaper-changing and even ironing skills; have sincerely adopted the principles of gender equality; have even learned how to be emotionally sensitive in a manly, non-effete way—and yet both women and men alike are still immersed in the timeless conviction that all men should have the robust, uncomplaining, tireless physical strength and invulnerable armored flesh of the day laborer.”

I rounded out January with an examination of how modern cyclists use electronic data-gathering devices, based on a survey of fifty-two of my cycling pals. Remarkably, though only 17% of these riders still race regularly (and 60% don’t race at all), fully three quarters of them use these sophisticated training devices, and a quarter of them use highly expensive power meters.

February

Finally, some real action hit albertnet: the story of a friend crashing on a bike ride. The crash itself, eerily, was prefigured by our chitchat earlier in the ride: “All this crash talk … could we sense fate lurking in the background? It wasn’t a day for the Grim Reaper to come looking for a soul, but perhaps we had a collective hunch that the Grim Weed-Whacker might be seeking a flesh offering.…” If you have a taste for schadenfreude, or even for a side discussion of economics or some “Star Trek” references, check it out!

I also posted an archival story of the sad demise of my old (360,000-mile veteran) ’84 Volvo; a discussion of the bedtime story ritual I have with my kids; and an impassioned plea for Gmail users to use my special high-tech Adsense blocker to foil the insidious ads that Google places alongside the e-mail. These ads are based on text within your messages and those of your friends and family, but nobody seems to care. Alas, I fear that this post, just like my 2009 essay about keyboard layout and repetitive stress injuries, was a mere tilting at windmills—that is, pissing into the wind. But hey, I tried.

March

I started the month with a long complaint titled “I’m Not Complaining.” If you don’t find the post funny, you can laugh at the accompanying doctored photo; I don’t have Photoshop so I did some actual cutting and pasting (and ended up with a paper doll of myself my kids had some fun with).

Following that, I posted an essay comparing the relative merits of highbrow and lowbrow entertainment, focusing on a comparison of the King Tut exhibit at San Francisco’s de Young museum to the movie “Avatar.” Really, it was no contest: high ambition aside, the de Young exhibit was a joke, and should have been called, “Some Stuff We Found in Tut’s Cousin’s Car.”

I filled out the month with a stab at fiction, and then posted a study, from my archives, about the strange new sports-medicine science of rinsing. Rinsing means tasting—without ingesting—energy drink. That’s right, a serious study that involves spitting out tasty beverages onto the road.

April

A pleasant surprise for the albertnet reader: a post that actually ties in nicely with current events. In May, a kid named Jordan Romero became the youngest person ever to climb Mt. Everest. The month before, I blogged about his plans to attempt this feat, comparing it to a foolhardy (but much less dangerous) exploit from my own youth: riding my bike over the highest pass in North America with almost no food, no money, and no cold-weather gear.

I also blogged about staying in a motel. Could this possibly be interesting? Well, here’s an excerpt, from a bit about the breakfast bar: “There are Plexiglas domes, with hinged doors, over trays of innocuous items like English muffins, biscuits, and bagels; what’s unsettling here are amateurish labels stuck on each saying ‘Please use tongs.’ Somebody at this motel, or from the home office, had to go buy a label-maker and make all these labels because something was happening in these breakfast rooms the dome manufacturer never anticipated. Had there been complaints of people fondling the pastries? Poking and prodding them like produce? Or something even worse?” If that grabs you, check out the full post!

April also features a story about an underground bike tour I did in and around a major western city. This story has been called “the most fascinating and thought-provoking of its kind ever published in English,” if only by me, and just now, and for self-promotional purposes. I also posted an archived story about the Markleeville Death Ride. In this post I offered a prize to the first reader to point out its sneaky literary gimmick. So far, the prize is unclaimed. It’s possible that nobody ever read the story. Your chances here are far better than with any lottery or raffle!

May

Anybody familiar with sibling rivalry will be happy to know that my brother Bryan took me to task for the article on sports-drink rinsing I posted in March. So this month I wrote a follow-up essay defending myself while also going on the offensive. If albertnet were a tacky reality-TV show, the promo for this episode would have one of us saying, “It is on. It is so on.”

If you like bicycles, and want to see a photo of a very strange beach cruiser with 36-inch wheels, and want to saturate yourself in a lively discussion of the ins and outs of bike mechanics, you’ll have to check out “Big Red – Letters to a Young Gearhead.” If this sounds appalling, turn instead to its polar opposite, art criticism. See? Albertnet has it all! And if that’s not enough, you can enjoy a photo-rich account of a couple of guys standing around in poison oak in the cold rain freezing their butts off for a couple of hours, just to spend two minutes watching the best bike racers in the world go by during the Tour of California.

June

If you’ve ever wanted to write a sonnet, but didn’t know how, I wrote a guide providing detailed instructions for the intrepid budding poet. I’m not going to say that writing a full iambic pentameter Shakespearean sonnet is child’s play, but I should point out that, having read my instructions and passed the short sample test provided, my nine-year-old child wrote two beautiful sonnets, which she gave to my wife and me for Christmas. (I’ll post one of them, at the end of the original sonnet post, shortly.)

Following that is a wild post about a very strange encounter I had with a crazy guy while chaperoning a bunch of third-graders on a field trip to San Francisco. As I wrote therein, “I actually have a track record of being singled out by crazy people. I don’t know why. I mean, we all encounter the occasional nutjob—the woman standing on a street corner holding a coffee can at her chest, pointing it at cars and shouting profanities; the dude on the department store bike zigzagging wildly down Wildcat Canyon Road yelling at my bike club, ‘You’re all dog crap!’; the woman angrily ripping leaves off a tree and stuffing them in a trash can—but crazy people seem drawn to me and often engage me in one way or another. I suppose if I’d thought to mention this to the school, they’d have found somebody to replace me as chaperone.” Read all about it here.

The Phantom Solace,” a short story I posted in June, has been called “a refreshingly off-the-wall and entirely entertaining literary lark in the tradition of Alice in Wonderland” by all zero of the people who read it. If fiction isn’t your bag, but you think you might instead like a ripping yarn about a new parent boiling over in the face of a botched diaper change, check out this post, taken from my archives.

July

Everybody loves the thrill of victory, and in July, as I drooled in anticipation of the Tour de France, I did a post cataloguing the various forms of bike race victory salutes. I used my two daughters as models for photos and movies illustrating this most beautiful of human gestures. Following that (perhaps drunk on my own bathwater), I foolishly dared to criticize soccer, “the beautiful game,” in commemoration of the single World Cup game that I’d seen on TV and was still sore from wincing my way through.

As my “from the archives” post for July I put forth an essay I wrote while a college student at UCSB, about a kid struggling to fit in in a new place while dreaming of becoming a writer. Speaking of vocations, I finished July off with an essay about the seemingly innocuous conversation opener “What do you do?”, exploring its hidden pitfalls: “The person who gets asked this question may naturally assume you’re attempting to place him in some sort of social hierarchy; if he’s insecure, the question may strike him as a euphemistic version of ‘What the hell good are you, anyway?’ Meanwhile, with our ongoing economic meltdown, the person you ask may well be unemployed, which would start the conversation off on an awkward foot indeed… This blog post is about the problems inherent in this question; the duty incumbent upon all of us to quash it; and some handy how-to suggestions.”

August

By August, I was tired of writing, and my audience (i.e., my mom) was tired of reading, so a vacation was just the thing for all (i.e., both) of us. My family and I took a long train trip, and I submitted three travelogue posts with lots of photos. A certain amount of text was inevitable—I can’t help it—but you’ll be delighted to know that the “situation room” sequences concern train car restroom disasters. Just try ignoring those! Here are the links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

I finished up the month with a from-the-archives essay about the 7,500-mile cross-country bike tour my wife and I did in 1994. The essay is the final from-the-road dispatch that I sent around, via CompuServe e-mail, from the laptop—equipped with 2400-baud modem—that I brought along on the tour. Many more photos here.

September

The kids went back to school, and I blogged about it, recalling that awful, magical annual childhood ritual. Then it was time for new cycling shoes, and I managed to wring some crushing pathos from the topic. Okay, it was nothing like crushing pathos, but I did find myself caring more about shoes than I thought a man capable of being. I included photos of very early cycling shoes, unaware that the discovery of the oldest shoes on record, magically preserved in sheep dung, had stolen my thunder three months before.

Another post from September might have embroiled me in a seditious libel lawsuit, had the injured party not been (evidently) too stoned to Google herself and notice my story. Speaking of the munchies, I also posted the tale of how I ate my way through another leg-crushing edition of the Everest Challenge bike race.

October

Every now and then I put a whole lot of work into a blog post, and in October I researched and wrote an essay about something that had been on my mind for years: the uncanny similarity between Lance Armstrong and Eminem. This essay ponders the strange question of why cyclists suspected of doping are fair game for all manner of witch hunters, while other entertainers freely abuse drugs, setting a terrible example for our kids, while going scot-free. The conclusion I reach in my analysis may surprise you. If you’re at all interested in the topic of doping in sport, don’t miss this one.

After this heavy topic I drifted into the merely caloric: a post about making pasta by hand, including guidelines, instructions, and loads of photos. Then I blogged about the Great California ShakeOut, which was the largest earthquake drill in the history of the United States. (If this seems like a pedantic subject, just think back to January and the terrible earthquake in Haiti, or February and the terrible earthquake in Chile, and if you live in an earthquake zone, ask yourself how prepared you really are.) I wrapped up October with a humor piece, from my archives, about business travel.

November

My nine-year-old struggled to learn the parts of speech by memorizing a rap song about them … and a blog post was born. It goes without saying that, having read the very tame rap she’d been given by her teacher, I had to create my own. Along the way I reflected on the strange ease with which kids memorize songs … as long as the lyrics are naughty.

Following that self-assigned writing project, I finally got around to replacing the frame of my commuter bike, documenting the difficult process (with description and photos) along the way. This is definitely one for the gearheads. For everybody else, there is a post giving poignant tales of Thanksgiving meals gone awry, and a pre-turkey bike ride that almost went really well.

I wrapped up the month with another fictional piece, this time in the guise of a scientific study of how rejection affects health. This post has been compared to the groundbreaking work of … nobody!

December

Truth can be not only stranger than fiction, but more harrowing. So it was when I was blindsided by the Lotion Sniper this year. Happily, I lived to tell the tale. Thus, I was able to continue my fond tradition of writing a whimsical Holiday Newsletter, which I’ve posted to albertnet. For once, I have actual quote-worthy praise, from my brother Max: “I laughed so hard I pissed myself!” (I’m sure he was exaggerating, but at least he didn’t damn me with faint praise.) The rest of the month, until now, was dominated by bad weather and indoor workouts, which almost killed me. Excerpts from my December '10 Trainer Diaries give a dark glimpse into this hideous realm.

Thank you

Thank you for visiting albertnet, and for following this blog (if not all year, at least for this post).
Actually, wait a second … shouldn’t you be thanking me? No, of course not. As all content creators will tell you (be it a creators of a book, play, movie, or album), I couldn’t do it without you. Except that I could. And probably do.

Anyway, happy new year!
dana albert blog

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