Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Cycling Spotlight - Stealth Training


The term “stealth training” has been thrown around by bike racers for decades but perhaps hasn’t ever been formally defined. At the risk of diluting the intrigue by getting overly analytical, well … here I go.

The essence of stealth training

Stealth training, most would agree, is extra riding to get a leg up. Often, it’s done by a member of a team who thinks an extra workout here and there, done solo, might help him or her improve more quickly than his or her teammates. (A fellow blogger offers this description, which suggests that riding in the dark and/or cold is an essential part of stealth training. I don’t agree that it is.)

Of course everybody trains solo at least some of the time; where stealth training comes in is when you could be riding with your pals but aren’t. I was accused of this when I rode for UC Berkeley in 1991; every week I’d see a group of teammates cruising down Pinehurst while I was on the way up. When questioned, I explained I had to ride earlier due to my class schedule. This met with a skeptical “mm-hmm,” as though skipping class was no big deal; i.e., the real explanation must have been the idea of getting higher quality training on my own. (I didn’t, and had no illusions to that effect.)

Sometimes stealth training is simply a matter of tact. When I was at UC Santa Barbara I’d skip riding with teammates once a week when I had to do intervals, as I couldn’t bear to be around anybody when I did them. At first I tried to be up front about it, but others insisted we could all do intervals together and still get the job done. That lasted exactly one ride and then I went back to stealth training (i.e., “Sorry, I can’t ride Tuesday afternoons anymore … I have to work.”)

Sometimes stealth training targets friends instead of teammates. In high school, I started riding every day with my new friend Pete (whom I’d met at a bike race). We were fairly well matched (though he was faster). The problem was, Pete had formerly ridden every day with another friend, and when he three of us rode together, this friend just couldn’t keep up. Pete could have made some excuse for breaking off their arrangement, like something to do with his schedule, and then Pete and I could have started our own ride that met somewhere else, but Pete didn’t want to lie—at least, he didn’t want to tell that particular lie. Instead, he told his friend, “You can’t ride with us anymore because Dana doesn’t like you.” This wasn’t entirely false, but it wasn’t the whole truth, and sure wasn’t very nice. (In case you feel bad for the third guy, don’t worry: a few years later he came past me in the collegiate national championship road race, whacked me upside the helmet, told me to get a haircut, attacked, and soloed to victory. I kid you not.)

The funniest accusation of stealth training I’ve had was from the leader of the UC Berkeley team. This came the day after a road race in which I’d beaten him. I hadn’t intended to beat him. We had a guy up the road in a two-man breakaway, so we weren’t chasing. Toward the end of the race I figured our star could win the field sprint for third, and I offered him a lead-out. He was still sulking about having missed the break; he was one of these guys who thinks that getting third when your teammate wins is still losing. He turned down my offer, so I got a sweet lead-out from another teammate and won the field sprint myself.

When I encountered this team leader at the next day’s criterium he said, “So, did you go out for a little stealth training ride yesterday evening?” I was taken aback. What kind of idiot did he take me for—I mean, who thinks it’s a good idea to get in extra training between two days of racing? Moreover, he seemed irked by the idea, as if after beating him in one race I decided to totally overturn our team hierarchy via secret solo rides. It was bizarre.

“No, I didn’t do any ‘stealth training’ yesterday,” I assured him. He glowered at me. “Dana, I saw you,” he said acidly. Turns out he’d seen me riding home from my girlfriend’s apartment (still in my team kit, as I’d gone there straight from the race). It was just a misunderstanding, easily cleared up when my girlfriend vouched for me.  (Yes, this guy actually fact-checked me. That’s how convinced he was of my treachery.)

Fortunately, accusations of stealth training are usually given (and taken) more lightly. Here’s an exchange from an old bike team email thread: 
Ceely:  Anybody got tomorrow (Memorial Day) off? Wanna ride?
Lucas [early the next morning]: No riding for me today, enjoy.
Kromer: Look for Lucas doing stealth training today. Probably a double Morgan [Territory].
Lucas: Today that’s Dana and Craig, I heard they were meeting at Wildcat and San Pablo Dam Road at 5:30 this morning.
Can stealth training involve more than one rider? Sure, if a few are going rogue together. Did this 5:30 ride count as stealth training? Yeah, I suppose it did. Craig and I were training for the Everest Challenge, which means riding Mount Diablo twice, so in the interests of not taking the whole day (which would piss off our wives), we needed to make our ride “surgical”—i.e., minimal time spent waiting around for stragglers, latecomers, or people who think it’s perfectly reasonable to stop in Danville for coffee. By scheduling the ride at 5:30 and notifying teammates only by word of mouth, we kept the group small (i.e., limited to a select crew of complete nutters).

My favorite stealth training technique, back when I rode more with the team, was to do tons of hard winter riding on the indoor trainer so that, during the early season, I could miss several team rides in a row, then show up saying how out of shape I was, and hope to surprise everyone in the famous Walking Man sprint. (This almost never worked, by the way.)

Modern stealth training

The email exchange quoted above was from before everybody was on Strava. I’m not actually a Strava user myself, so I’m no authority on how it fits in with stealth training, but this article suggests that some riders will withhold posting some of their workouts as a stealth training technique. I polled my road team on this topic, and right away a teammate replied, “It for sure goes on!” He even named a local team that’s apparently fairly notorious for this. Another teammate replied, “I don’t post any ride where I maintain more than 500 watts for over 60 minutes. So I throw away a lot of rides.” I think he’s kidding. (Or is he?)

Of course, a lot of the value of Strava is that you can see how fast a rider has been going, and thus how hard he’s been training, even when you’re not able to witness it firsthand. This could help you spy on your rivals, but also makes you vulnerable to being spied on yourself. I coach a high school mountain bike team, and during a recent ride, I brought up the topic of Strava and stealth training to a fellow coach. As we watched Lincoln, our fastest rider, leave us in the dust, the fellow coach said, “To really throw people off, Lincoln and I should just trade Garmins at the beginning of the ride!”

Coaching and stealth training

As a coach, I encourage extra training because I hold practice only three times a week, and the more advanced riders ought to be doing more. Not all riders are comfortable hitting the trails solo, so a couple of times I’ve loaned a trainer to a rider who is coming back from illness or injury, to help him or her return to fitness faster.

Several times I’ve had an ambitious rider email me asking if he or she can meet up with the team but then break off and do a totally different ride (perhaps even a road ride) with another teammate. I ignore these emails, and explain later, “Look, if you two want to cut practice, and go do some ride I don’t know about, that’s fine. But the moment you show up for the team ride, I’m responsible for you, so no, you can’t go off in other direction where I can’t provide supervision or assistance.” It’s surprising how hard it’s been for me to get this idea across. What part of “stealth” do these riders not understand?

At least half of my team’s riders do extra workouts on a regular basis, which begs the question, why not just add another practice? The convenient answer is that it would be hard to line up enough coaches. Beyond that, it might make it harder to recruit new riders, who might not want that much training, thank you very much.

But there’s a bigger reason not to add another practice: I love the initiative that stealth training requires. Recently, on a non-team-practice day, I headed out for a solo ride of my own. Fifteen minutes in, I encountered one of my riders at the Summit Reservoir in Berkeley, a common cyclist gathering point, waiting to meet some others. I’m not sure how she arranged this, because she wasn’t sure who these other riders even were. “Are you the riders I’m supposed to be meeting up with?” she was asking. Another five minutes into my ride, descending Central Park Drive, I encountered another of my riders, hammering up the climb towards me in a small group from a rival team. Ten minutes later I came upon a fellow coach, riding solo. He is a relative newcomer to cycling, having picked it up when his daughter joined the team, and was no doubt shoring up his fitness to better keep up with the youngsters. How cool is that … four stealth training missions, all in one evening!

My enthusiasm here doesn’t just come from the obvious fitness benefit. My main goal as a coach isn’t to get top race results from any individual rider, or even from the team as a whole. My main goal is to turn these kids into lifelong cyclists. I love seeing my riders out there stealth training, partaking of the sport without being led along by coaches and teammates.

I’m especially stoked when I encounter a former member of the high school team, who has now graduated and gone off to college, putting in some miles while home for winter or spring break, just for the pleasure of it. When I see that, I know the program has done its job. It is my earnest hope that most of our current riders will bring their bikes with them to college and keep at it, even if they don’t have a team to ride with. Today’s stealth ride becomes tomorrow’s … ride.

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Sunday, April 14, 2019

More Plumbing for Dummies


This post recounts my third foray into amateur plumbing. Are we talking “heart of darkness” territory? No, more like brain of darkness. But don’t expect a thriller involving a geyser of raw sewage like last time; my 15-year-old daughter seemed bored by today’s tale. But if you think you’re more patient than she is (hint: if you’ve made it this far, you probably are), read on.

The rules

Amateur plumbing is not for the fainthearted. Fortunately I am the beneficiary of my father’s wisdom here, as he taught me some rules I should always keep in mind before diving in. Ha. Ha ha ha ha ha. Of course that’s not true. That’s a nice Norman Rockwell sentiment: good ol’ pop teaching his kid the ropes. The truth is, my dad never had time to sit me down and explain anything.

This isn’t to say he was ignorant about plumbing; he could be quite clever. For example, he built a contraption that would detect when his hot water heater had failed, and would automatically drain it somehow without flooding his house. (This makes almost as much sense as periodically replacing your hot water heater.) But that was many years before I was born so I didn’t get to work alongside him, handing up wrenches and drinking in his tutelage. By the time I came along, my dad’s strategy had shifted to dodging plumbing issues for as long as possible. Eventually, his home’s master bathroom actually lacked a toilet. To be precise, he had bought a new toilet, but for years and years never got around to installing it, and the unfinished project ultimately outlived him.

I do have a set of rules around such undertakings, which come from my own observation and some lessons imparted by a bike shop boss decades ago. They aren’t specific to plumbing, but cover any kind of tricky repair. Here they are:
  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Professionals (such as plumbers) charge a lot for a reason.
  • Don’t start a project when you’re tired and stressed out.
  • Leave yourself plenty of time so you don’t end up with a half-finished project.
  • Make sure you’re always working with plenty of light.
  • Don’t start a tricky job on an empty stomach.
  • Make sure you have resources lined up in case you get stuck.
I’m sure this list isn’t complete … feel free to add your own guidelines in the comments section below.

My plumbing predicament

From the standpoint of running water, my home is a minefield. The water pressure from the municipal utility district is plenty high—in fact, it’s too high, so my drip irrigation system is prone to sudden hose failures—but virtually all the pipes within the house are original, from 1929. They’re galvanized steel rather than copper, and they’re rusting inside. This means that little bits are forever flaking off and getting carried along with the water until they reach a faucet or shower head, which traps them. This causes clogs that severely hamper the flow. To solve the problem—i.e., replace all the rotting pipes—would be a major undertaking requiring many thousands of dollars. So I put up with it.

As a result, I’m on my third bathroom sink. I’ve tried to take apart the faucets and get rid of the crap clogging them up, but to no avail. Two different plumbers have insisted that there’s nothing to be done. “There’s a cartridge in there, and once it’s clogged, the whole fixture is shot,” they claim. Excuse me, but doesn’t “cartridge” imply something that can be easily replaced? Apparently not. So recently, my fairly new kitchen faucet, which I happen to really like, started to bog down. The flow has been weakening, gradually but steadily, for months. This has driven me crazy. I cannot continue to hemorrhage money on new faucets, but neither can I bear to plunk down many thousands of dollars to replace plumbing that more or less works. Meanwhile, I refuse to get another plumber in here to tell me there’s nothing to be done but replace a bunch more hardware and pay him a bunch more money.

So, with all the aforementioned rules in mind, I finally tackled the problem myself the other night. Here’s how that went, organized by my amateur plumbing rules.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew

To recap, professional plumbers have told me you can’t fix a clogged faucet. On that basis alone, my home repair attempt was arguably foolish from the get-go. The kitchen faucet is more complicated than the bathroom ones that the plumbers threw up their hands over. It’s got the hose you can pull out, and the button that switches between fill and spray. Moreover, the lines feeding it (which are built into it and non-removable) are remarkably inflexible and scrawny. There’s all kinds of room for problems here. I was well aware of all this when contemplating my repair and deciding whether to move forward.

Don’t start a project when you’re tired or stressed out

I’m tired and stressed out most of the time these days. I have two teenage daughters, a difficult job, and too many responsibilities. Moreover, when contemplating this repair I had just finished doing my taxes (which was particularly stressful due to the major changes in the tax code and their fiscally painful repercussions). What pretty much put me over the edge was that the flow from this faucet had gotten so low it was no longer possible to wash my hands. It was like the urine output from an old man with a significantly enlarged prostate. So I was beyond tired and stress out—I was livid.

Leave yourself plenty of time

It was late evening. I was supposed to be cooking dinner for my kids, as my wife was at her night class. I was also supposed to be packing for a multi-day family road trip. We’d be leaving early in the morning the next day. In no way would I have enough time to recover from difficulties associated with this repair. I almost cannot imagine a worse time to begin.

Make sure you have plenty of light

It’s actually almost impossible for me to have good light anymore, because as I age, my vision is failing. I’m so nearsighted, an object just a few feet away is too hard to see clearly without glasses, but with my glasses anything less than two feet away is blurry. I really need bifocals, but I’m just not psychologically ready to handle that, nor am I ready to start sliding my glasses down my nose and peering over them.

I do have a great work lamp I could plug in, but I get nervous using it around water sources, for two reasons: first, the electrical outlet under my sink doesn’t have GFI, and second, the lamp might heat up my work area to where I’d start sweating too much to grip my tools. At least, these are the reasons I came up with. The reality is, I was just too impatient and lazy to set up the light.

Don’t work on an empty stomach

I hadn’t had dinner, remember? I was too impatient to have a snack before getting started, so I was good and hangry. My blood sugar was surely very low, but of course my brain doesn’t work very well in this state so I was ignoring the inner voice that warned me I was being foolish.

Have appropriate resources lined up

I had no resources lined up. The hardware store would be closing soon, and I couldn’t reach my brother Bryan, the guy I usually turn to for advice. (Click here for the transcript of my last plumbing-related chat with him.) Perhaps the most important resource would have been my wife, as she would have certainly talked me out of this ill-conceived effort from the get-go. Ironically, this was one of the main reasons I did decide to go ahead with the repair: because I knew if I waited, she’d be around to talk sense into me. And I didn’t want to be sensible. I was incensed.

So how did all this pan out?

Well, first I disconnected the faucet from the main water supply to see how the flow was without it. Wow, it was great! So great it caused a minor flood in the cabinet under the sink! That was a hassle, but I was relieved I didn’t have a bigger problem. (The rusting pipes explanation was just a theory, after all.) So then I disconnected the part of the hose that goes through the faucet from the two narrow, stiff, plastic lines feeding it. I took the faucet/hose assembly out into the garage to see if forcing compressed air through it, via my soda bottle air compressor, would help.

My younger daughter helped with this part, manning the bike pump. This gave me both my hands free to try to hold the surgical tubing against the rest of the whole mess. A lot of air leaked out, but still a fair bit of water shot out everywhere, and though I was entirely dubious that any of this would make any difference, at least it felt good to be doing something. An added bonus was that the two-liter soda bottle didn’t explode, so neither my daughter nor I came away horribly disfigured or deafened. Later, with the benefit of hindsight, I would realize how crazy this entire approach had been, but of course I wasn’t thinking straight at this point in the process.

I hooked everything back up again and if anything, the flow was even worse. I was beginning to despair, because believe me, the fact of my ignoring all six of my amateur plumbing rules was not lost on me. Moreover, I was acutely aware that I really had no idea what the hell I was doing.

So I turned my attention to the head of the faucet. There was a little plastic cylinder between the hose and the head that was intriguing. It had no little flats to accept a wrench; no little arrows indicating how to twist anything; no little screws to unscrew. But there was a tiny plastic button (visible when I took off my glasses) that seemed to do nothing, but obviously existed for a reason. I pushed it in and twisted every which way at the cylinder it was embedded in, and eventually something broke free (at first I thought, horrified, that it had actually broken, based on the sound it made). Now, I was able to take the innards of the faucet head apart.

There was a ton of crap in there, tiny bits of rust like fine gravel, little jackstones and shards and whatnot, and I scraped them out with the pointy end of a chopstick. I put it all back together, struggled a bit due to the crudely made (but it must be said, thoughtfully designed) ring assembly, turned the faucet on, and—EUREKA!—the water came gushing out like a damn hydrant! Like Niagara Falls! I let out a whoop of pure joy. After the abject, willful stupidity I’d indulged in pursuing my benighted campaign against forces far greater than I, I’d somehow managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat!

I immediately poured a Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA and had my younger daughter help me create this celebratory Beck’st:

(Alas, I don’t have a “before” picture showing the faucet’s pathetic trickle of water from only half its jets. It never occurred to me to photograph it.)

I struggle to convey to you just how totally stoked I was to have won out against the rust clogging my faucet. To ignore so many warning signs and yet prevail … it was like something that only happens on TV, like in the final seven minutes of a “Star Trek” episode. Never mind that the repair itself, upon reflection, wasn’t actually ingenious or anything; the point was, I’d confronted a soul-crushing problem that had been increasingly weighing on me for months, and had kicked its ass!

For a couple minutes, with my mystified (and bored and hungry) kids looking on, I just turned that faucet on and off over and over, watching the water blast out like magic. I felt like Eeyore putting his (popped) birthday balloon into his (empty) honey pot and taking it back out again delightedly, declaring, “It goes in and out like anything.’”

The next morning, my wife was predictably astonished that I’d taken on such a foolhardy project at such an inopportune time. Examining my motivation after the fact, I was able to explain: while it’s true that I’d had half a dozen good reasons to put off my repair, I’m sure my dad had, too, with that toilet he never got around to installing. Waiting for some magic opportunity to bang out a home repair can be a slippery slope. Throughout my childhood, problems continually went unsolved or un-tackled and there was nothing I could do about it. As I make my own way through adult life, I find I’d rather crash and burn than risk continuing my dad’s legacy of procrastination.

Further reading

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Sunday, April 7, 2019

From the Archives - Studying French at UC Santa Barbara


My older daughter has been accepted by a number of colleges, among them UC Santa Barbara. I’m tempted to say, in a grave tone, “Don’t do it, kid. You don’t have to go down the same road I did.” But actually, I’d be stoked if she followed in my footsteps. Then I could lord it over her—you know, “I paved the way, I got their first,” etc. (Yes, of course I’m still joking.) Anyway, in honor of this opportunity, and of my (first) alma mater, here’s another UCSB essay from my archives.

French class at UCSB - November 14, 1988

I’m always ranting and raving about UCSB. Does that mean it’s the greatest? It could … though it could also just mean I’m just insecure about my life and am boasting about my circumstances to shore up my fragile ego. (Perhaps the real truth lies somewhere in between.)

I have a friend who would kill to attend UCSB, based solely on the abundance of gorgeous girls here, but he can’t get in because he has never taken, and in fact refused to take, a foreign language class. All the schools in the UC system require like three years of a foreign language, so he’d have to take care of this at a community college and transfer in.

I wish I could get through to this guy. Foreign languages classes are actually kind of a hoot, especially at college. You get some of the wackiest, most behaviorally bizarre instructors. A trained student can spot a foreign language instructor a mile off. First of all, they never wear normal looking clothes. I think they do all their shopping in Europe, or maybe at a special foreign language instructor boutique. It’s hard to describe these outfits. Let’s just say if every garment could be a beret, that’s what these clothes would be.

This sartorial oddness goes back, I believe, to a secret longing of each foreign language teacher to either be elsewhere, or be thought to have come from elsewhere. They’ve all cultivated this aura of longing, like they’re in exile or something. I’m not like some wild-eyed patriot or anything, but I’m sometimes tempted to say something rash, like: “America: love it or leave it!”

Another instant sign of a foreign language teacher is his or her tendency to speak English with a foreign accent. Surely some of these people are native born, or have at least been here long enough to adapt, but I can’t help but think they’re clinging to this accent as some sign of authenticity. Kind of hypocritical, isn’t it, when they lower our grades for lacking a perfect accent in the foreign tongue they’re teaching us?

Here’s another weirdness: all the foreign language instructors smoke. Every last one of them. Just cruise by Phelps Hall, where they hang out between classes, and you’ll see them, standing around puffing away. They can’t help but to look self conscious, because they know that besides your occasional “social smoker” (i.e., who only smokes when getting wasted at a party), they are the only smokers at UCSB. They are also the only instructors whose hanging out we can witness, because other instructors, who don’t have to worry about stinking up their classrooms and offices, hang out indoors where the students can’t get at them.

The foreign language curriculum is a curiosity too, well worth observing. My French textbook, for example, teaches more than grammar and conversation: it gives us insights into the differences between these cultures, and particularly into how France is basically better. My textbook, oddly, is the Teacher’s Annotated Edition, which offers some interesting insight into the pedagogical process. For example, in the section of the book teaching the comparative structure in French, using physical appearance as a model, the book offers this advice to the teacher: “In order to avoid sensitive areas of weight and height, such questions have been omitted. If students feel comfortable about it, they could also describe these aspects.”

This seems like a minefield for the instructor. Sure, he or she could try to go by body type, on the theory that if nobody in the class is overweight, they’ll all be comfortable being compared. But of course that’s absurd; distorted self-images are rampant among the college set. And it’s not like the instructor can just ask us. Who’s going to raise a hand and say, “That subject is strictly off-limits for me owing to my poor self-esteem”? Nobody, that’s who. Surprisingly, my instructor ignored the textbook’s advice and went right ahead with calling students up to the front of the room to be compared. To my great relief, nobody seemed uncomfortable. The only problem was that all the girls in my class are about the same height and weight, making comparative statements impossible. Maybe that’s why so many of us bombed the last test.

Building on my original point of the French air of superiority, the book feels safe telling the teacher how to promote French supremacy, since it knows the teacher is a French supremacist anyway. For example, next to the French translation of Cinderella is this note: “Suggestion: Point out that “Cendrillon” is from Les Contes de ma Mère l’Oye by Charles Perrault (as are “Le Petit Chaperon Rouge [Little Red Riding Hood], “L’Histoire de Tom Pouce” [Tom Thumb], “Barbe Bleue” [Bluebeard], etc.).” Now this seems harmless enough at first, until you look at the “etc.” What’s that supposed to mean? Literally, it means “and the others.” As in, “Not only these three stories, but just about every other good kid’s story as well, are originally French.”

Let me interject at this point: the English version of “Little Red Riding Hood” is a lot better than the French, since in our tale both the grandmother and Little Red Riding Hood get eaten, and then the wolf gets killed, instead of the boring ending where the girl simply kills the wolf. Meanwhile, the publisher knows this note is far from innocuous, because it’s only in the Teacher’s Annotated edition. (I checked Molly’s standard edition to make sure.)  I’ll tell you what’s going on here: the publisher knows it has a receptive audience in the instructor … and it’s his or her job to figure out how to subtly inculcate the Americans.

The French supremacy theme is further promoted by the never-ending menagerie of intelligent, charming, and nice people you see in these textbooks. You’ll never get a statement like, “C’est Pierre. Pierre est un perdant [loser].” This is true across the board. I can remember a dialogue from my junior high French 1A book: “Est-ce qu’elle est intelligente? Oui! Et est-ce qu’elle est charmante? Oui! Est-ce qu’elle est belle? Mais bien sure, elle est Francaise!” [Is she smart? Yes! And is she charming? Yes! Is she pretty? But of course, she is French!] You never get, “Est-ce qu’il va mourir d’une mort horrible d’un cancer du poumon?” [Will he die a horrible death from lung cancer?] even though it’s highly likely more French people smoke than are intelligent and charming.

But cultural oddities aside, foreign language classes at the college level are actually very hi-tech. The pride and joy of the department is the Foreign Language Learning Lab. Let me take you on a tour of this outstanding facility.

Kerr Hall, home of the Learning Lab, is one of the most modern buildings on campus. I’m surprised it doesn’t have one of those scrolling digital signs. Instead there’s just this printed one: “Learning Lab upstairs.” Interestingly, the Learning Lab is the only place on the whole campus that offers signage of any kind. Up the stairs, there’s another sign: “Learning Lab down the hall.” Down the hall, there’s yet another: “Learning Lab across from this room.” Why all the signs? Well, I have my own theory: this lab is so different from anything we students have ever seen before, we wouldn’t even know what to look for!

First, you have to punch the clock, just like at a factory. Unlike me, most UCSB students have probably never been near a factory, so this is surely quite novel for them. I guess the faculty somehow doubts that we students will avail ourselves of this cutting edge learning technology on our own volition, so they have to monitor, and thus enforce, our use of the Lab. And how much usage is that? Let’s have a look at these timecards. Hmmm, Leigh Malone only put in three minutes during her last session. Must have been called away. And the one before that was similarly brief. How much can you really get done in three minutes? And look at this, Rebecca Martin forgot to punch out last week. And Don Stannage forgot to punch in, so he just wrote in the time. Oh yeah, I believe that.

What’s that? You’re wondering why I’m punching Leigh’s and Molly’s timecards in addition to my own? Well, we kind of have a deal going. We look after each other. I don’t suppose this is a purely ethical behavior, no, but the Language Lab is 10% of our grade, and we’re just trying to survive.

See that redheaded kid over there reading a magazine? Well, his name is Christopher, and I’ve seen him here before; he’s in my class. Let’s check out his card: yep! he’s on the clock! Now, this guy is a veteran of the Language Lab, and has discovered a little loophole: it doesn’t actually matter what you do in here. You could practice French, you could do your math homework … heck, you could theoretically read a comic book or even sleep. It’s kind of along the lines of a t-shirt I saw recently: “They can send me to college, but they can’t make me think!”

So here’s what you do when you’re actually learning French here. You talk into the recorder, and it tapes your voice. Then, by using the repeat feature, you can listen to your own voice spoken back to you (as long as you keep straight the “Drill” button vs. the “Play” button … that does stymie some of the students). It’s a fascinating experience because not only does your own played-back voice sound high-pitched, nasally, and weird—like your recorded voice always does—but you can tell how bad your accent is, without the instructor having to complain to you in class. That’s the beauty of this technology.

Just look out over that sea of heads, all hung low as their eyes scan their workbooks. Well, not a sea, I guess … more of a puddle. But anyway, you are looking at some seriously voracious students. Wait, that guy is bobbing his head around! He’s really getting into it! Look, his foot’s tapping, this guy’s having a great time! Let’s see what language he’s taking: oh, right. Led Zepplin … right there on his tape case. And his workbook seems to be an issue of Rolling Stone. See, at college there are a lot more languages to take than just French, German, and Spanish!

I love all the posters in this lab, locked in a bitter struggle for dominance. One arrogant French instructor probably put up the first “France” poster, and then a German instructor felt compelled to represent his country, and on down the line. That’s why there’re about fifty posters on that one wall. And they don’t go unnoticed, either; just look at the students gazing at them. Well, okay, fair enough, they’re actually gazing off into space. But what do you expect? This is college.

Over there is the Operations Desk. If you ask the clerk there how to operate the machinery, he’ll give you a tape with all the instructions recorded on it. But it’s a Catch-22, isn’t it? If you can’t work the machine, you can’t play the tape, so you won’t hear the instructions. That’s why you have to bring your Walkman the first time here. What do you mean, “What if you don’t own a Walkman?” This is California, man! Everybody owns a Walkman!

This is my favorite poster: “Learning, culture, and friendship at the Learning Lab.” Well, obviously you can learn here, and in the foreign language department, culture always comes with the learning. But friendship? I’ve never made any friends here. Is that because everybody’s plugged into a set of headphones and can’t talk? No, it must mean I’m just not outgoing enough. Standing in line at the cassette library, for example, is a great place to strike up a conversation. If only a line would ever develop.

Well, I’ve got some learning to do here, so I’ll have to leave you alone for a while. You can listen to any tapes you want. Just ask the clerk to get you started. I’ll be over here covering Chapter 13, Simon & Garfunkel.

In summary, the foreign language department is a reason why you should attend UCSB, not a reason not to. French class gives me a chance to diversify my college experience, make friends, and broaden my horizons culturally. Plus, it’s an easy “C.”

For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Responding to Reader Comments


As described here, my only goal for this blog is to post four times a month. This morning, March 31 with the pressure on, I had no ideas. In desperation, I searched the Internet for prompts and found “101 Blog Content Ideas To Make Your Blog Post ‘HOT.’” One of the prompts caught my eye: responding to reader comments. That’s the subject of this post.

I don’t have time to reply to all reader comments, of course, but in the spirit of Frequently Asked Questions I’ve chosen the most representative ones. Read these and you’ll feel like you and I are having a cordial face-to-face conversation!

But first – the non-starter blog prompts

Before I get into the reader comments, I want to showcase a few of the “101 Blog Content Ideas” that fell flat. Consider idea #49, “Show off your personal stuff; car(s), house, accessories” to create “a motivational blog post for someone who doesn’t own those kinds of things.” So I should make my readers envious, so that they’ll knuckle down and go make enough money for their own 2006 Volvo wagon or wooden-handled rubber spatula set? I couldn’t really get behind this idea. After all, in my very first blog post I recounted how the first blog I ever saw, in the late ‘90s, “was the web equivalent of a grade school kid shyly showing a friend around his house, showcasing his room and his toys. It seemed sort of sad, kind of a ‘this is my bike, do you like it?’ thing. So I was aware, very early on, of the risk of self-indulgence that a blog presents.”

Even less promising was prompt #51, “Create a blog post about your bad habits,” which said, “Smoking, alcohol, drugs, yes they could be blog ideas too! Tell them something shocking!” In general, not just with my blog but in life, I try to avoid incriminating myself in writing. Meanwhile, my bad habits are not exactly shocking. Sometimes I go to bed without flossing, or get crazy and have a second beer.

Continuing through the “Content Ideas” post, I hit pay dirt with #54, “Answer to every single comment personally.” I’m told this will make my “readers feel special and honored” and that through this kindness I can “get new friends, co-authors or even business partners.” Now, the obvious way to answer comments would be to email the commenters directly (where possible) or post a response directly below their comment, in context, as I’ve done here:

The problem is, if I answered below each comment, I wouldn’t get a new post out of it, and you wouldn’t get to see everything lovingly curated and distilled into the Comment Response Platinum Collection you see here. So I’ll just have to hope those commenters find this post.

Comments on “Nash Bridges Towed My Car

Jeson David: “Incredible articles and extraordinary format. Your blog entry merits the greater part of the positive criticism it's been getting.” elia and ponto michigan auto accident lawyer

Dear Jeson: I’m really glad you like my post, and thanks for saying so. However, I feel a bit awkward being told that my blog format is extraordinary. To be honest, when I was first starting out as a blogger I went with the stock template that Blogger provided and, other than adding an image-based masthead, I never got around to changing a single thing. In other words, my blog format is about as generic as you can get. You should be praising Blogger! Oh, and one more thing: on the topic of the link you helpfully included, to the law firm of Elia and Ponto, I should probably be completely transparent here and let you know that my blog doesn’t necessary reach very many readers in the Detroit area where Elia and Ponto practice. I’ve never catered to a regional audience; in fact, over 60% of my readers are overseas, with some 20% hailing from Russia and the Ukraine. I hope using my blog to promote Elia and Ponto hasn’t been a letdown for you.

Lizza Kim: “If somebody wants expert take on the main topic of blogging next I advise him/her to go to this site, continue the fussy job.” car locksmith Dallas

Dear Lizza: I think with the phrase “fussy job” you have captured the very essence of my blog, in a concise and eloquent way. If I didn’t rely on the momentum that the search term “albertnet” has built up over the last decade, I might strongly consider changing the name of this blog to “Fussy Job.” In fact, I’ve just confirmed that the domain name fussyjob.com is available. Since I’m too busy to do any rebranding at this time, I give you my blessing to take fussyjob.com for yourself! Perhaps this would be a good name for your locksmith service in Dallas, and (frankly) a better way to promote it than linking to this blog.

Genious Person: “Pretty good post. I have just stumbled upon your blog and enjoyed reading your blog posts very much. I am looking for new posts to get more precious info. Big thanks for the useful info.” Mobile diesel mechanic tampa

Dear Genious: I have to be honest with you, I’m feeling a little hurt that you only found my towed car post to be “pretty good.” Since we’re being candid with each other in the realm of self worth, I think my post is nothing short of brilliant. To have it so tepidly acclaimed by a self-possessed genius who spells “genius” wrong kind of stings. (Yeah, I know it’s possible you’re being ironic with your spelling, but that doesn’t really give you the right to damn my work with faint praise.)

Mia Simth: “Our credit repair services work to fix past credit mistakes and verify credit report accuracy. Talk to a credit repair expert today!”  Hungary Grand Prix

Dear Mia: Thanks for writing in. It’s hard to make my reply very personal because in your comment you haven’t really opened up about your feelings on my blog post, or anything else, though I guess I appreciate your helpful attitude. It just so happens that my credit reports are a mess due to a data breach that compromised my SSN, but I didn’t get very far following your link. It took me to a website dedicated to Formula 1 car racing coverage. (At least this ties in nicely with my post!) Now, because I like to get to know my readers, I’d like to ask a kind of personal question, if you don’t mind: are you married, by any chance, to Max Simth, who posted a comment on my Bike Helmets post? The reason I ask is that “Simth” is kind of an odd name. I wonder if there’s some charming story about a bureaucratic goof at Ellis Island when some ancestor of yours or Max’s first came to this country. Please do share!

Comments on Bike Helmets

Max Simth: “I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.” Best Mountain Bikes Under 1000

Dear Max: If I guessed wrong about you and Mia (see above), perhaps this is a great way for the two of you to meet! What a nice pair of coincidences: you both have this strange last name, and you both enjoy reading albertnet! And there’s yet another coincidence: even though my Bike Helmet post is over eight years old, and my Nash Bridges Towed My Car post is more than six years old, you and Mia both commented just last month, within a week of each other! When the coincidences pile up like this, it’s hard not to suspect that Fate is at work here. It’s time you and Mia met! Please let me know if you’d like me to make an introduction.

Chaddi Gang: “Please continue this great work and I look forward to more of your awesome blog posts.” eliaandponto.com

Dear Chaddi: Glad you love my blog! And speaking of amazing coincidences, do you know Jeson David? Like you, he recommended the Elia & Ponto law firm via these pages. It’s tempting to think you guys are neighbors in the Detroit area, but I note that your blog, Chaddi Gang, is written in Urdu. Maybe it’s just a coincidence you both like Elia & Ponto and albertnet? Anyway, have a great day!

CompanionLink: I as of late ran over your website and have been perusing along. I thought I would leave my first remark. I don't realize what to say with the exception of that I have delighted in perusing. Decent blog. I will continue going to this web journal regularly.” google sync outlook

Dear CompanionLink: Thanks for the kind words, but I have to ask, what the hell kind of name is “CompanionLink”? And where do you get off committing blatant plagiarism on my blog? The semantic similarity of your comment to Max’s, above, cannot be written off as coincidence. I can’t help but wonder if your text is just boilerplate, as a way to hijack my blog to promote your tool for syncing Google with Outlook. Even that doesn’t seem original, since another commenter on this post, John Butler, has his own blog called “outlook android sync.” All this brings to mind an interesting question: if you and John Butler were to engage in a swimming race from Cuba to Iceland, who would drown first? (Answer: Hard to say, but it’s definitely worth trying.)


Okay Jeson, Lizza, Genious, Mia, Max, et al … I hope you feel special and honored based on my heartfelt responses to your comments. Dare I dream that you and I might become friends, or perhaps co-author some blog posts or comments together? Shoot, maybe we can even become business partners, or those of you with connections to Elia & Ponto can put in a good word for me! I’m so grateful to all of you for your loving attention to my blog. All of you except CompanionLink, that is … CL, you can just get lost, and don’t ever comment on my blog again.

For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Ignorance vs. the Internet


It is an article of faith among most modern non-Amish Americans that the Internet, with the limitless access to information it puts at our fingertips, is essentially a good thing. I’m here to suggest it’s not that simple. Choosing ignorance may often be the better strategy.

The Internet lifestyle

If you work in an office, you surely see people slumped over their computers most of the time. Some of them are using these new standing desks, but they’re still hunched. I’m usually hunched too. We are all beyond reproach, however, because we are doing this for a reason: we’re making money.

Kids are another story. Watching teenagers in their natural habitat nowadays is more boring than watching animals at the zoo. These kids just sit there, not slumped over necessarily but zoned out, slack-jawed, staring into their screens as if pithed, totally passive. We parents tell ourselves that it will be okay because they’re all digital natives and will be the next Zuckerberg.

Of course it’s absurd to complain about this because a generation ago teens were all rotting their brains out with TV, which was arguably even worse. At least they’re getting all kinds of information now, right?

Well, that’s actually the problem. They’re being trained to over-consume putatively useful information, which bad habit they’ll carry into adulthood. At least I outgrew “Simon & Simon” and “Remington Steele.” My kids are already watching grown-up talk shows about politics on YouTube, which doesn’t look like a behavior with a finite lifespan. My older daughter keeps quizzing me on this or that dull political topic and I never have anything to say. I used to tell her to ignore all that because she can’t even vote, but she’ll be of age as of the next election. So now I tell her, “Learn enough to figure out how you’ll vote. That’s not a ton of information. The issues, and the differences between the parties, are not subtle. Don’t overdo your research.” But it’s hopeless. Her entire generation seems hell bent on consuming this mountain of information. Because it’s there.

Of course there’s a ton of useless entertainment on the Internet, too, and modern kids are continually cycling among like ten browser tabs, doing the screen equivalent of the Hometown Buffet if it had taste spoons. I’ve throttled down the streaming video on my kids’ WiFi to 250K, so for them it’s like a slow-loading slide show, and super lo-res, almost like a child’s finger painting. It’s such a poignant experience watching this sad process unfold, my kids melting into the furniture as their brains ooze into the ether. But it would be even sadder if they were having the best possible Internet experience, or if they were having this experience while out in the world. (Lacking smartphones, at least my kids are aware of their surroundings when out and about.)

But doesn’t everyone need to relax?

I had a college roommate who played video games (on my TV) 24x7. When the rest of us called him out on it, because we wanted to rot our brains out to, say, “Star Trek – The Next Generation,” he would say, “Okay, just a minute,” and then play for another hour. When we verbally assaulted him and assassinated his character, he’d say, “Hey, man, after a hard day in class I just need to unwind, okay?” This was a joke because he sent most of the time shouting profanities at the screen.

My kids don’t do that, thankfully, but it would certainly be a stretch to say the Internet is, for them, fundamentally a platform for relaxation. The World Wide Web is loaded with rich repositories of stress. For my older daughter lately, its greatest source of strife is the collection of websites dealing with college admissions. Naturally, this application process is a potent source of stress no matter what, but the Internet is like a cat-o’-nine-tails these kids can and do flog themselves with. Let’s compare the college application process from my generation to the current one.

When I applied, I had my target school and my “safety” schools, just like the modern kids. My high school counselor said I’d have a decent shot at getting into UC Berkeley. My grades weren’t perfect, so I knew it wasn’t a sure thing so I applied to a bunch of other UCs as well. I think I spent like half an hour looking them up in “US News & World Report,” which gave me their ratings (number of stars) and a little paragraph on each. I mailed in applications to most of them and then pretty much got on with my life. The die was cast and at some point I’d get either good or bad news.

There was no real info about when I’d hear back, what my odds really were, or anything like that. Anybody I happened to talk to about college assured me I’d never get into Berkeley. I didn’t argue; I mean, what would be the point? They had their hunch, I had mine, and there wasn’t much evidence to support either position.

Some months passed, during which I barely thought about college. Then I started getting responses. Berkeley rejected me, and the rest accepted me. I made a plan to go to some UC, didn’t really matter which, and then transfer to Berkeley as a junior. Everybody assured me I’d never get in that way either because Berkeley didn’t like transfer students, etc. Again, I just shrugged. Who had any real info on this stuff? As it happened, my friends were wrong the second time around: one day I got a packet in the mail saying I’d been accepted. So I went. That was about it.

My daughter started her college application process like a year in advance. She combed the Internet for every scrap of information pertaining to every college she considered applying to. She maintained a master spreadsheet tracking them. She could quote massive amounts of statistics about each one: acceptance rate, average weighted GPA of students accepted, average SAT scores, national ranking, self-reported student satisfaction levels, lifestyle ratings, you name it. Tracking all this info was like a part time job. Meanwhile, there are apparently scores of websites where other students post the bloggy equivalent of “you’ll never get in there,” etc., and tips and tricks for applying that are probably about as reliable as homeopathic medicine. All this adds up to a massive time and energy sink for my daughter, her friends, and probably most college-bound teenagers these days.

But hey, it’s probably a better use of time than playing video games, right? Well, not necessarily, the way the stress can accumulate. The colleges seemed to tease my kid almost continuously, deferring her and putting her on waiting lists and announcing the approximate date when they’d inform her of her fate, etc. My daughter, and apparently most of her friends, were really stressed out during this process, their futures seeming to hang in the balance. When my daughter was deferred and then, months later, finally rejected by Northwestern, she was terribly distraught and immediately began researching the odds of transferring in later. When that answer was less than encouraging she started looking at transfer acceptance statistics for all the schools she’s interested in. She basically leaped from one conveyor belt to another. Sure, gathering information feels like the first step in an action plan, but she won’t be transferring for like two and a half years … what’s the rush?

(Of course I am not just talking about my own kid here. I’m sure her behavior around college apps is not unique or even remarkable for her cohort. And my kids’ overall Internet use is either typical of their generation or lower.)

When I applied to transfer to Berkeley I had no idea what the acceptance statistics were. If I’d wanted to worry over this, and pick at everything like a damn scab, I wouldn’t have had any real means to do so anyway. Where would I have researched this stuff? The public library? Yeah, right. I just shrugged and hoped for the best.

Now the Internet provides more college info than anybody could possibly have the time to ingest, which we naturally assume is valuable. But has anything really changed? Sure, our kids can bury themselves in data, but does that actually increase their chances of getting the college they want? Not that I can see. They’re just flagellating themselves, greatly exacerbating the already wrenching ordeal of college applications, and building up a giant body of facts and statistics to use in bemoaning their wretchedness to parents and friends. A generation ago, all we had to say was, “I was rejected,” which was a mercifully brief report.

Of course this overall phenomenon doesn’t end with higher education. I’ll bet most college seniors do a great deal of fretting over how they’re going to find a job. They probably bury themselves in even more data then. Myself, I did nothing. I just did my schoolwork and put off thinking about what would come next. I graduated, stayed in the Bay Area because there are plenty of jobs here, and applied for the first reasonable job that came along. I was hired inside of a week, and started my adult life.

Years later I had people asking me (and my wife), “Wow, you graduated in 1992? So you started your career during that horrible recession?” I didn’t know what to say, other than the truth: I was totally unaware of the recession. Nobody told me about it, and I didn’t read the news. My wife had exactly the same experience. We both wandered blithely into the job market and found work, just as we’d both nonchalantly transferred to UC Berkeley without knowing or caring how feasible a plan that really was. If our total lack of regard for the situation on the ground had any effect at all, it was probably just being less nervous during our interviews. So to me, this modern era of analyzing everything to death via the limitless Internet just looks like a way to maximize stress.

On the brighter side

But the Internet has a bright side, right? It helps us celebrate life! If we have a great hot fudge sundae or a really tasty beer, we can share that experience with our friends and family!

Well, as much as I do enjoy Beck’sting, of course all this social media has already devolved into soul-crushing one-upmanship, as has been bemoaned and documented so thoroughly I need not grow that mountain of evidence and opinion any more here. But there’s a less commonly cited downside to celebrating our activities, triumphs, and little life pleasures over the Internet, which I’d like to point out.

I’ve been reading this article in “The New Yorker” about Outdoor Voices, a clothing company whose marketing theme is “doing things,” by which they mean any kind of exercise—doesn’t have to be a marathon or a Tough Mudder—and feeling good about it. The feeling good part generally involves showcasing your activity, yourself, and your cute outfit via Instagram, with the hashtag #Doingthings. Now, if the opposite of “doing things” is being totally sedentary and stuck to a screen of some kind, then I’m all for it … but why does the act of not staring at a screen have to rely on the Internet to promote and celebrate itself?

Let me tell you a story. I coach a high school mountain bike team, which means I get plenty of exercise and access to the outdoors. Sometimes, though, depending on what group I ride with, I do a little extra riding after practice, to get in some good hammering (which is what leads to the really sweet endorphins). One evening I got home from the team ride, changed into my road shoes, grabbed my road bike, and headed back out. Going up a nice 12% grade in the Berkeley hills, I came upon one of my student athletes. Just like me, he’d decided to go do a little “stealth training” of his own! Just for the love of the sport! I was really stoked to see this.

“Getting in a few extra miles, eh?” I asked him. He replied, “Yeah, I’m trying to get 10,000 feet of climbing in one day.” Wow, I thought … some kind of personal ambition, I guess, maybe almost like a little vision quest. How totally cool. “Is this just something you cooked up on your own?” I asked. He said, “Well, it’s kind of a Strava thing.”

My heart sank. Of course this was more than just a private little bike ride. Nothing is private anymore. Everything is celebrated. There are t-shirts that say, “If it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen.” What an annoyingly cynical slogan. It’s pretty much the nail in the coffin of riding for riding’s sake. Now, every time we swing our leg over the bike, we’re guaranteed kudos.

Not that I have anything against Strava per se. I don’t happen to use it, because I’m too old and slow to care anymore how I stack up against others, and moreover I don’t want kudos. More to the point, I don’t want to give kudos because it takes too much time … time I could be riding more, cleaning up my bike, reading a book, or all the other stuff I don’t have time for. Can’t I just make a blanket statement that I love cycling and applaud you for doing it in general? And am I not making enough of a statement by donating my time and energy to coach these kids, in hopes of turning them into lifelong cyclists? Why does pushing ever more data up to the Internet need to be a part of that?

What is to be done?

Look, I’m not trying to suggest that you should curtail your Internet use. I’m just promoting a bit more awareness, so that when you’re sponging up info via this platform—or any platform, frankly—you might pause here and there and ask yourself if the info your getting is really worth the time and trouble. Is it making you money? Is it making you happy? Is it making you better? And if you have kids, you might consider talking about all this with them. (They won’t listen, of course, but as parents we gotta try, right?)

For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Even More Beer Pix - Beck’st-O-Rama!

NOTE: This post is rated R for alcohol references.


Okay, my last blog post was pretty hifalutin, with all that Latin and the obscure references to Sir Thomas Wyatt’s illicit affair with Anne Boleyn. So, I think it’s time for a fluff piece. And, after the warm critical reception to my H.B. Albert Memorial Beck’sts post, and the runaway box office success of the Beck’sting post before it, I’ve decided that this cheap-reboot endless-sequel thing is really the way to go!

Now, if you’re feeling all left out because you’ve never heard of Beck’sting (and really, what rock have you been hiding under?) click here for my original Beck’sting post, which will tell you all you need to know about this global phenomenon.

As before, I’ve grouped these Beck’sts thematically. Since a Beck’st isn’t just a photo, but a photo with a caption or other gloss, I’ve included that too, and the initials of the Beck’ster. Where you see one letter only (e.g., “T—”) that’s somebody’s spouse, kid, or another friend.

Photobomb Beck’st

DA: Best. Photo. Bomb. Ever. This is a Bear Bottle IPA, or maybe a Bare Bottle, maybe even a Rebuttal. It’s really loud in here. I asked the barmaid twice to repeat the name but just couldn’t make out what she said. Whatever it is, it’s completely and totally off the chain. I love the hazy IPAs.

[Postscript: Having done some research, I found this beer was actually from Barebottle Brew Co. in San Francisco, and was probably their Colonel Kush Hazy IPA.]

Perfunctory Beck’st

DW: I had this DB Fresh Squeeze at the local pub while watching the Sounders/Timbers game on Sunday night. I was pretty knackered from a 91 mile ride in the smoky heat ​that day and dragged myself out to watch the game. I actually didn’t even feel like having a beer (no man should utter those words), but pub, game, you know, seemed like the thing to do. I also had many glasses of ice water in those slightly blue tinted plastic cups that make water taste so good. The IPA was “just fine” like the Pliny. It was no Barley Brown’s.

Cheap and free Beck’sts

PCS: Boys! A friend of mine had this IPA at a party last week. $4.99 for a six pack! Pretty tasty!

DW: $4.99 for a IPA six pack! Unheard of. I’m surprised it didn’t come in those white, generic cans and just said “IPA” on them. Like the old “BEER” ones did. This is an oatmeal stout that my friend, the Angry German, made. My daughter and his daughter did the graphics. I don’t know if they sampled it or not, I didn’t ask.

DW (continued): It was his first go around of brewing and he did a nice job. I decided to have a beer during the week because all of our relatives and old friends’ houses burned down in Ventura today. Including our old house that we used to live in (not the one on the beach, D—, where we had a gun pulled on us, but the one up in the hills that I don’t think you ever saw). Everyone is evacuated and sorting through it all. What a year of extreme weather! I promise to have a more positive bext tomorrow night.

Amazing Tales Beck’st

DA: Ask me about this water bottle.

JL: I’d like to know about the water bottle.

DA: As I wrote in a blog post awhile back: look at the bright orange water bottle in the background there. It’s an important part of the bike. It has a story: I had it on my bike when I lived in San Luis Obispo, and a local racer actually asked me to stop using it. He was very proud of being Dutch, and told me that an orange water bottle was kind of his trademark in the peloton. I thought his request was absurd and reeked of narcissism. I was working at a bike shop at the time, and happened to learn that Specialized was blowing out those orange bottles for thirty cents apiece wholesale. I ordered like two dozen of them and gave them out to all my friends. At the next race, they were all over the place. If anything, the orange bottle had become the trademark of the Cuesta Community College cycling team, not the Dutch Douchebag.

JL: This is a good story and I’m sorry I missed it on your blog but am happy to have it excerpted here! The Dutch can be so touchy!

DA: About that water bottle and my blog excerpt ... I only pasted that from my blog because it would have taken about half an hour to type all that with my thumbs. I wasn’t trying to insinuate that anybody should have seen that blog post. I take it as an article of faith that most of my blog posts go unread, which is oddly pleasing to me ... it makes my blog seem really elite, like it’s too logorrheic for just anyone. But just in case you want to see the post from whence that tidbit sprang: here!

DA (continued): Here’s another story from that night, for no particular reason. After Fieldwork, C— and I headed over to The Pub. We went to this back patio where this really scary looking guy engaged me in discourse. (I have a long history of attracting crazy people.) He looked like one of these Star Wars villains, Darth Maul or whatever—very thin, kind of ashen and ghastly, almost sepulchral in this hooded sweatshirt with the hood up creating a shadow over his face. His opening salvo was, “I know you—you slept with Cheryl and I can prove it because I watched it on the Internet!” It seemed that to deny this would be so predictable, and frankly so boring, that I decided to take a page out of the improv playbook: they always say “yes, and...” instead of “no.” I replied, “I did sleep with Cheryl, many times, though I wasn’t aware she filmed it.” This kicked off quite a dialogue, which included how I ended up getting with Cheryl (I found her in bed with my wife and thought it only fair to be allowed in), and how my ongoing fling with Cheryl damaged Darth’s relationship with her, and so forth. Then the discussion rambled around a bit until Darth looked at C— and said, “You’re his wingman, huh.” C—, perhaps also following the improv rule, said something like, “Yes, and I’m glad you noticed.” At this point I found I could no longer follow the improv rule, and said to C—, “Wait a second, I’m your wingman! I’m not the kind of guy who gets a wingman! I’m not ready!” Etc. Anyway, it was at least a 15-minute conversation and when we got up to leave, Darth suddenly turned on me, yelling, “There isn’t a damn thing you’ve said tonight that’s true! You’re nothing but a damn liar!” Uh, good point ... but why did he wait until the end to notice, or say so? I’m glad, though ... I don’t want him coming after me because of something I supposedly did with Cheryl. Anyway, there’s probably a lot more I meant to tell you, but it’s not coming to mind. Thank you for tuning in to this edition of “Behind The Beck’sts,” brought to you by Silver Moon Brewing, est. 2003.

Mall date Beck’st

PCS: S— and I had a date whilst the kiddos were at “Star Wars” [Episode 8]. Our date was at a place in a mall which was somewhat repulsive though it had a couple things going for it....1) it had over 100 beers on tap and 2) it was showing biathlon racing [skiing & shooting] on the TVs. I generally hate watching TV in a bar/restaurant though I’ll take biathlon. I had a Rogue beer (some nondescript IPA) and a Delirium Tremens. I’ve attached a photo of the Delirium Tremens ... damn it was delicious! I don’t think I’ve ever had it and I was duly impressed. Please don’t take offense to the stemware.

DW: So glad you had the gumption to pull off a mall date. Your inner strength is an inspiration. Did you choose to not see “Star Wars”? Or did your kids ask you not to come? I went a few weeks ago and was duly disappointed. That beer looks great. No offense taken, but noted. Sometimes we have to make a sacrifice for something good.

DA: Stemware notwithstanding, that’s a pretty good-sized “pour” of Delirium Tremens, P—. I’d say that’s a good place. Some places around here would serve it in a thimble. A— wants me to take her to “Star Wars.” I’m not sure I have it in me. I’m just so tired of these retreads. Last night E— and I saw “Lady Bird” in the theater. It was very refreshing and original. And yes, since you’re wondering, I am trying to show off by acting far too highbrow for silly sci-fi movies.

Macro Beck’st

JL: Look, it’s a Beck’st!

BA: Haha, someone’s got a new macro lens!

JL: Yes, new lens. It was “refurbished”, so quite a good deal — less than $200. It allows me to take photos of things that are less than an inch from the lens. Usually that’s an insect, but this time it’s a Sierra Nevada.

Compulsory Beck’st

DA: E— is so irked at how skinny I have gotten, she went out and bought two six-packs of beer that she has ordered me to drink, purely for the weight gain. (My foray with the South Beach Diet was all too successful.) So here I am drinking at home alone, violating my own policy! Well, I have the cat for company, but she is an asocial predatory beast with little use for me ... kind of like my daughters, come to think of it. This Ballast Point Sculpin IPA is brilliant. I recommend you buy this when you find it available. It is great all by itself, or paired with a tabby cat.

BA: You’ve got a pretty tough life there, D—. Not only did E— tell you get fat, and made you drink beers, but she even bought you the beers! Next she’ll be bringing home the Zach’s pizza and Mac and Cheese and standing over you while you scarf it down.

DW: I am with E— on this one. Nobody your age should be getting a PR in body fat index. Eat, man, eat! Don’t make me come down there and have a pizza eating contest with you again!

BA: D—, he may be scrawny and weak, but one thing I would not do is engage him in an eating fight. Over the decades I’ve seen him eat, and when he gets on a roll, there’s no stopping him. Speed, volume, duration, spag, pizza, Thanksgiving, he can do it all. I’m sure you’ve seen it. He shows no sign of decline, either. It’s astounding. I don’t know what’s wrong with his body, but he can just eat and eat and eat, whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and he never gets fat. If he does lay off the American diet for a few weeks, he gets into this situation where his wife has to buy him beer.

Speaking of pizza

DA: E— is out tonight and I got Zach’s pizza with the kids. And you can’t have ‘za without beer, can you?

DA: J—, remember you invoked this rule at Zach’s the night before the Death Ride? And P—, remember we did that epic ride and then ate too much Zach’s and got all bloated and you hated me? And D—, remember I talked endlessly about how great Zach’s is, and took you and T— there and you both hated it because you don’t like tomatoes? Anyway, this Fat Tire is a bit flat because it’s so old. I bought it for the big bike team party in October and we forgot to put it out (along with the rest of the beer, duh!). Oh well.

JL: Indeed that is a rule—one I learned from my father in fact. Pizza goes with beer. What else goes with beer? Well, nearly everything, but certainly waiting for take-out food is one. Which is what I’m doing. So there’s this:

This supposedly a “imperial India pale lager”, whatever that is. But it’s definitely not pale, and doesn’t taste like any lager I’ve ever had, though it’s not unlike some stouts. It doesn’t hurt that it’s 8.5%! Oh, and it’s local, though you wouldn’t know that from the name. It’s made in Azambuja, a place name that I assure I did not just make up.

Post-op Beck’st

Home from helping my mom post-surgery. She is doing great, which is a relief, because last time I helped out post-op, the patient frickin DIED. Mom sent me home with some of the goodies you see here (other than the bread, which is local). I call this the “Finer things” Beck’st.” Good times!

BA: Meanwhile, back at Mom’s house, I’ve taken over for D— who tagged me in a week ago. D— must have really lazed out here because Mom’s got me working like a slave. I guess she actually worked D— pretty hard, too, but yeah, it’s like she’s punishing me for all the chores I didn’t do as a child. Maybe it just feels like that... On the brighter side, D— left me some beers in the fridge, which was downright good of him, and they’ve been a real life saver, let me tell you. I haven’t enjoyed a beer quite so much in a long time, I guess I feel like I’ve earned it. Unfortunately, they’ve run out, I’ve drunk them all up. I may have to replenish for the weekend. This photo shows what I’ve been enjoying, very much, in fact, a high octane Imperial IPA.

DA: Wow, nice! Too bad you’ve run out of beers. After my long commute today I settled down in the backyard with this bad boy. You can tell I was fried by how poor a photo it is, with the background in focus and the beer blurry. Then I ate food that was too hot and fried all the skin on the roof of my mouth. I’m not bitter, though!

Then E— asked me to open a bottle of Chianti. Why? Because people love the word “Chianti.” So I couldn’t get past the protective layer of foil over the top. Well, I eventually did. It was damn hard because I was so fried from my two-hour drive. I practically couldn’t function and I almost gave up. I told E— of the trouble I was having and she said, kindly, “Well, you’re not Italian.” I said, “Damn straight. My ancestors didn’t drink wine. They drank mead. And when they weren’t drinking that, they were drinking frickin’ blood, from the bodies of their enemies. They’d cut their heads off and drink blood right out of their neck stumps!” Finally I went at the foil with a big knife and it’s a miracle I didn’t stab myself. On purpose. Well so then I went in there with a corkscrew and the cork broke in half. Somehow, switching to a more nimble corkscrew, I managed to remove the bottom half of the cork instead of plunging it into the wine. But you know what? I may as well have, because the wine wasn’t any good anyway. Wine never is.

BA (one day later): D—, the beer you left for me ran out so I had to head to the store. I figured as long as I was going to be drinking beers, I ought to get some exercise, so I grabbed a backpack and walked there. I felt a little like a hobo heading back to camp with my backpack full of clinking bottles, but hey, a man’s gotta do what he’s gotta do. So in the photo you see our dinner, with a kind Total Domination IPA, which I enjoyed, served in, well, a glass of some sort. I’m getting the sense here that that’s not the right vessel. As you know, Mom doesn’t have a proper beer glass, so, sue me. You’ll notice the sandwich, I blame you for breaking my South Beach diet with that bread. Mom says you made her buy it, so she made me eat it. Anyway, chewing all those carbs gave me a mighty thirst, so I had two of those Total Dominations. Pretty swell.

Conspicuous Connoisseurship

DW: This is a Sun River Brewing Australian Lager at Brother John’s Public House.

I wanted to try something different. When it first arrived, I took a long whiff. Not because I think that makes any difference, but because if people see me do that, they’ll think I am some beer expert who knows the etiquette. I don’t know the etiquette of beer tasting or anything else. This beer had an unusual taste. Imagine pulling out the insole of an old shoe, soaking it into a large glass of water in the sun for a few days, pulling it out, and drinking the remains. That’s what this beer tasted like...but it was not too bad. It was, you know, acquired. Like kimchi.

DA: You crack my shít up! I think to look like a proper beer snob you need to thoughtfully stroke your goatee while wearing the intelligent and thoughtful expression of a true intellectual like John Paul Sartre or Jonathan Vaughters.

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