Monday, November 21, 2022

Why Wordle?

Introduction

Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not one for crossword puzzles, Sudokus, etc., and I’m certainly not looking for new ways to spend time with my smartphone. I’d rather create than solve, and as regards the digital realm my typical advice is to log off and do something useful. And yet, here I am, recommending the Wordle as a fun little puzzle and a way to (gasp) connect online.

What is Wordle?

I’ll save you a google search: Wordle is a word game you can play on the New York Times website. Every day they put up a new puzzle (i.e., a new word you have to guess). You can learn how to play in about 30 seconds and don’t need a subscription or login or anything. And because it’s the same word for everyone, you can compete with others.

Why I resisted Wordle

Here’s my introduction to the Wordle. My brain was very tired after a long workday when my phone, annoyingly, bleeped at me. At first I didn’t react. I couldn’t handle it. These stupid phones hector us all day long with all their notifications … such an intrusion. And yet, people seem to welcome this. It’s like those whackos who put ketchup on a hot dog.

After a delay—designed to convince myself I’m not my phone’s bitch—I swiped down to check the notification. Lo and behold, it was actually something good: a text from my daughter Alexa! “You ever try the NYT Wordle?” she’d written. “Seems like it would be right up your alley. We can compete to see who solves it in the fewest moves.” She followed this with a little devil emoticon.

I instantly recoiled. As I said, I don’t like puzzles. My only exception is the Jumble (i.e., anagram) in the newspaper, which I’ll do only because I can generally solve it in like 30 seconds (and if I get stuck on any of the words I just shrug it off and bail). Since the Wordle has similarities to anagrams, my daughter thought I’d like it. But “we can compete” is not necessarily an attractive proposal when coming from her … she’s a born competitor, and when we play cards she usually wins. Sometimes I’ll lose like two or three games in a row and think, what’s the point? Hasn’t it been definitively established that she’s sharper? Is this Wordle thing just another way for her to lose respect for me—to roll her eyes at the terrible toll age is taking on my brain?

I started to text my daughter back but got fed up with the tedious process of typing on my smartphone. “Maybe ugh h hmm if did it to to I’d fffd go to that position,” I texted. I was freestyling, roaming randomly across the keyboard and blindly accepting autosuggestions. I could not go on. I put my phone away for the night.

Upon reflection the next day, I decided I’d been rude, and to make amends I relented and tried the Wordle. Surprisingly, I liked it right away.

What’s cool about Wordle

Here is my first-ever Wordle result:


My first guess was a complete wash: all the letters in my trial word were wrong. At first it seemed like I’d just totally wasted one of my six tries, but actually, I was making progress: I’d ruled out two of the five vowels and two rather common consonants. I have to admit, the minor triumph of gaining useful information, even without the reward of a yellow or green tile, was refreshing given how often these days (in non-gaming scenarios) I feel like I’m just treading water.

With a game like chess, I never know how to proceed, but with Wordle I was able to continue making decent guesses based on a combination of logic and intuition. And, as you can see, I did solve the puzzle. Nowadays, with around thirty Wordles under my belt, I wouldn’t be pleased about needing five guesses, but in the moment I felt satisfied, and I hadn’t had to work very hard.

But the really fun part was comparing notes with Alexa. She took five tries too, and I got to look at her finished card and note her strategy. 

This is one of the other really cool things about Wordle: you “show your work.” It’s not like with a crossword, maze, word search, Bingo, or Sudoku, where all completed puzzles look identical. With Wordle you get a sequential view of how the solution was achieved. For example, Alexa used “MODUS” which is barely a word, in the sense that we kind of stole it from the phrase modus operandi which is not technically English. Obviously lots of words have such origins (e.g., café, alumnae) but really, when’s the last time you heard somebody use “modus”? Probably Alexa wasn’t hoping to solve the puzzle with this guess, but was testing two vowels in one go, which is smart.

The social aspect

As noted in these pages (here, here, and here), I’m not a fan of social media and texting. I didn’t even let my kids have phones until they were like 18, and my younger daughter still doesn’t use one. But it’s nice to have some contact with Alexa, especially since I’m an empty nester now, and the Wordle is a good excuse to check in daily, and a convenient method. A phone call requires both parties to be available concurrently, which is rare.

Try this with your college kid: send a text saying, “Is everything okay? Do you need anything? What’s new? Are you making friends? Getting enough sleep?” My guess is you won’t get much of a response. But the simple message “Wordle in 4” is either throwing down the gauntlet (if you’re first), or inviting your kid to compare her result, which kicks off a nice, easy dialogue. For example, looking at Alexa’s solution to that first Wordle, I noticed something in common with mine: we both tried “DOWDY.” I texted, “Great minds think alike, and so do ours, apparently!” This earned me an LOL, which is arguably the quintessential affirmation of our time. Which brings us to…

The MOULS files

On October 28, I got this Wordle result:


I was surprised by a couple of aspects of Alexa’s strategy with this one:


First off, she didn’t carry forward the E and A from her first guess. This ruined her chances of solving in two tries, but then how good were those chances, anyway? (More on this later.) And then she “guessed” MOULS, which is not a word. I mean, okay, it’s recognized as a valid Scrabble word, and Wordle accepted it, but what the hell? I’ve never heard it, and the dictionary app on my phone doesn’t have it. The prospect of winning in four moves didn’t seem well served by this entry. Neither did her next “guess,” SPANE.

Well, even though MOULS didn’t gain her much in this round, she tried it again a day or two later. I texted, “Mouls cannot be a word, can it?” This, combined with a random photo of our cat, kicked off a nice dialogue:


Thus did MOULS become a thing. A week or so later I crashed and burned for the first time, on the word PINEY, which seems about as abstract and non-wordlike as MOULS, but which Alexa somehow got in a mere three moves. I was devastated. Yeah, of course I recognize that this is just a silly game, with nothing hanging in the balance, but man … I just felt so defeated and low, especially when I compared our cards:


I complained, “You’ve got better mouls.” She replied, “Yeah, you’ve gotta embrace the mouls!” She tried to console me: “Well, at least you don’t have a year-long streak that got broken! Relatively early for a miss.” I replied, “Now you’re just rubbing it in.” She came back with, “Sorry, my intention is not to cause further mouls!”

I looked some more at my losing card and realized my last guess was really stupid: I’d put a D in it even though Wordle had told me there was no D. I had just been swinging wild, in desperation. I was also growing increasingly irritated at my own irritation. Why get all bent out of shape over a stupid game?

“No worries, the whole thing is just a pain in the mouls anyway,” I replied. What a useful catch-all word this was proving to be. And just like that, it’s entered our private lexicon. (Well, not entirely private: as Alexa has noted, her Autofill now suggests “mouls.”) A week or two later when I nailed a Wordle in three tries, she texted, “The mouls were with you today.”

Can the Wordle change us?

Some weeks into our Wordle dialogue, Alexa texted me with a discovery: “Did you know Wordle has a hard mode? You need to use every known letter in each word.” I replied that this is what I’ve always done anyway, risking the heartbreak of failure for the prospect of a better score (i.e., fewer guesses). So she switched over, with the eventual result that she crashed and burned—for the first time—on BAKER, which is one of these deadly words that offer too many possible candidates. For example, in this case you could waste a lot of tries on words ending in –AKER (e.g., FAKER, MAKER, TAKER). Ruling out several possible leading consonants with one “guess” (that wouldn’t, couldn’t include known letters) would be safer in this case.

But notwithstanding the end of her streak, Alexa came to embrace the riskier path that can lead to greater glory. I put forth that playing in the easier mode would be “like riding [your bike] up Wildcat when you could ride up Lomas Cantadas.” Alexa, who has suffered on both climbs, saw my point: “Time to go big or go home,” she replied.

Oddities

I’ve only been at this about a month, but I’ve had some fairly odd games. Look at this one: nothing but green.


And here’s its evil twin:


Victory lap

And finally, check this out:


How do you like them mouls?

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Monday, November 14, 2022

Workout Megamix Liner Notes - Part VI: Recent Updates (continued)

Introduction

As you may have seen last week, I’ve appended my original workout music playlist (from years ago) to include a bunch of new songs. Well, not actually new, and not always even newer, but stuff I more recently realized is just perfect for exercising to indoors. I got to half of these tracks last time, and here are the rest. It’s not just a list, but also the liner notes: not the ones from the musical artists, which would of course be plagiarism, but my notes on why I like a song and/or anything else interesting about it.

I’m also including, as an appendix, the complete list of all my favorite workout songs since I originally started this project. Enjoy please enjoy.


Liner Notes – Dana’s Ultimate Superfly Workout Megamix Part VI

Icky Thump - The White Stripes

              The first few White Stripes albums were amazing, but then their fifth album pretty much sucked. Critics seemed to like it, but screw them. I almost gave up on this band but then went ahead and checked out “Icky Thump,” their sixth (and alas, final) album. Daaaaaamn! The whole collection is kickass! Pretty much any of the songs on it would be a solid addition to your megamix, but this track, along with 300 MPH Torrential Outpour Blues and Martyr for my Love for You, are particularly good.

Loot My Body - Man Man

              This song has it all: it’s fast, it’s funny, it rocks, and it somehow puts me in touch with my inner hipster while mocking hipsters and making me relieved I don’t seem to have an outer hipster. I think it takes a pretty special song to do all that.

Move Your Body - Sia

              Okay, so Sia is one of those acts I decided to check out because of an Eminem song. I liked her background vocals in Beautiful Pain so I checked out a Sia disc. (Yes, an actual disc, as I’m a Spotify newb.) My first impression was wow, she really needs a better songwriter (e.g., someone like Eminem). Her lyrics are so repetitive and uninspired. At the same time, her songs do have a good energy, and half the time riding indoors I’m cross-eyed and brain-dead anyway, and upon reflection I have concluded that this song, and others on her “This Is Acting” album, are perfect for indoor workouts. Also, one of her concert tours was called “Nostalgic for the Present,” which I think is clever (in an albeit cynical way).

Non-State Actor - Soundgarden

              For many years, I thought “Down on the Upside” was Soundgarden’s final album. They’d been releasing an album every couple years during their heyday, and then they broke up, and I thought that was that. Well, while I wasn’t looking, they quietly got back together and recorded “King Animal,” after a sixteen-year hiatus. This album almost passed me by completely, but a couple years ago I came to wonder (for reasons I can’t recall) if the novel Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov might have been an influence on the band. I researched this a bit and though I never found anything to support my theory, I did come across this last album and discovered it’s fricking great. If Non-State Actor doesn’t get you amped up during your workout, nothing will. Also check out By Crooked Steps, Bones of Birds, Black Saturday, and A Thousand Days Before.

Not the Same Anymore - The Strokes

              Okay, so this is another band I lost track of, and then suddenly there was this new album, “The New Abnormal,” which dropped at almost exactly the same time the U.S. went into shelter-in-place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In that regard, the title of this album seems incredibly prescient. And it’s a kickass collection, definitely one of their finest. Not the Same Anymore starts off kind of mellow but builds nicely until it’s rocking plenty hard, and then it goes out like a lamb. Very cool indeed. Other good workout tracks from this album are Why Are Sundays So Depressing, The Adults are Talking, and Bad Decisions.

Pony - Ginuwine

              This is a workout megamix recommendation from my daughter Alexa. It’s amusing right off the bat with background vocals from some guy with an impossibly low voice. Then the proper singing kicks in, of course, or the song would be nothing but a gag. This is kind of an R&B style song, I think, so it’s kind of a departure from the general feel of my playlist, which never hurts. Very solid beat here without causing the kind of head-thrashing that eventually makes your neck sore.

Safe From Harm - Massive Attack

              This is a band I started listening to all the way back in 1991 when I was still in college. I rediscovered Massive Attack because my daughter wandered into their oeuvre and put a lot of their music on a playlist she made for me. Safe From Harm is a bit different from the rest of my megamix it that it’s trip hop instead of rock or rap. But don’t worry, it’s fast and rhythmic enough to keep your pedals turning.

Smile Like You Mean It - The Killers

              This is one of those anthem-like exuberant songs that just go well with exercise. Heck, if I were one of those people who can dance, I would surely dance to this. It’s probably not one for your everyday mix because it’s a bit repetitive and simple, but gosh, it’s great for working out. Another good Killers song is Mr. Brightside.

Soul of a Man - Beck

             I cannot keep up with Beck. He has just put out so much stuff, and nobody ever tells me. It’s like I ought to subscribe to a music magazine or something, but to my earlier point, music critics are morons, and Rolling Stone has tobacco ads (which for me is an automatic boycott). But I digress. I stumbled across Beck’s eleventh studio album, “Modern Guilt,” more than a decade after its release, and although great music often has to grow on you gradually, Soul of a Man grabbed me instantly—I was like, “Holy shit, this song is awesome!” It’s also pretty short (about 2-½ minutes) which can feel like a relief during a workout if, like me, you often rest for just a bit between tracks.

Stop - Jane’s Addiction

              For me, this song is all about nostalgia. It brings me back to my UC Santa Barbara days. Jane’s Addiction played live on the UCSB campus as part of Extravaganza1989 and I’ll never forget it. Not the concert itself, mind you, since I didn’t attend, but the fact of it. A friend said the show sucked because the band members were totally drunk. But this song—that is, the recording they made when sober—is a great fit for indoor workouts. “Stop—now go!

Thrift Shop - Macklemore

              This is a fun, funny song with a nice bouncy beat that’s great to ride along to. I absolutely love thrift shopping, and because my daughter turned me on to this song, it always reminds me of thrifting with her, and/or with her sister, and since I’m now an empty nester this song only gets more poignant over time. “This is fucking awesome.”

What’s Up Danger - Black Caviar & Blackway

              Look, let me make one thing clear: I’m not a giant fan of comic book movies (though I did like the first Wonder Woman). I’m trying to be a fricking adult, okay? According to Wikipedia, “Black Caviar claimed that ‘when the opportunity to write a song for the new Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse film came up, [their] 10-year-old selves were freaking out.’” Yeah, ten is about the perfect age for Spider-Man. But hey, the ticking-clock background effect in this song makes a nice metronome to pedal to, and being able to enjoy lowbrow pop songs is one of the great things about working out indoors.

Appendix – the complete Megamix list

For your convenience, here’s the complete list of Ultimate Superfly Workout Megamix tracks (208 songs, 54 artists, about 14 hours of music). If you feel like creating a Spotify playlist out of this that you can share with me, please do … I haven’t learned how to do that yet.

‘Till I Collapse - Eminem
16 Shots -  Stefflon Don
20 Dollar - M.I.A.
212 - Azelia Banks
8 Miles & Runnin’ - Freeway/Jay-Z
911 Is a Joke - Public Enemy
A Punchup at a Wedding - Radiohead
A Thousand Days Before - Soundgarden
A.K.A. I-D-I-O-T - The Hives
Adrenaline Rush - Obie Trice
Airbag - Radiohead
Alive - Sia
Ass Like That - Eminem
Average Man - Obie Trice
Bad Girls - M.I.A.
Bad Guy - Eminem
Be Somebody - Kings of Leon
Beautiful - Eminem
Beautiful Pain - Eminem w/ Sia
Best Rapper Alive - Lil Wayne
Black Hole Sun - Soundgarden
Black Saturday - The Strokes
Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos - Public Enemy
Blow Up the Outside World - Soundgarden
Bones of Birds - Soundgarden
Borders - M.I.A.
Born Free - M.I.A.
Brain Stew - Green Day
Broke as Fuck -  YBN Cordae
Bucky Done Gun - M.I.A.
Burden in My Hand - Soundgarden
Cash Money Millionaires - Lil Wayne
Celebrity Skin - Doja Cat
Cha Ching (Cheq 1-2 Remix) - Lady Sovereign
Charmer - Kings of Leon
Cheers - Obie Trice
Closer - Kings of Leon
Come As You Are - Nirvana
Comfortably Numb - Pink Floyd
Cool Cats - Obie Trice
Cops Shot the Kid - Nas
Creep - Radiohead
Cry Now - Obie Trice
Deja Vu - Eminem
Desperation - Eminem
Discombobulated - Eminem
Don’t Shoot (I’m a Man) - Devo
Down In It - Nine Inch Nails
Easy to Crash - Cake
Enter Sandman - Metallica
Everlong - Foo Fighters
Eyelid’s Mouth - Soundgarden
Fell In Love With a Girl - The White Stripes
Fell On Black Days - Soundgarden
Fight the Power - Public Enemy
Follow My Life - Obie Trice
Free Bird - Lynyrd Skynyrd
Fresh - Devo
Galang - M.I.A.
Get Free - Lana Del Rey
Girls LGBNAF - Ice-T
Give It Away - Red Hot Chili Peppers
Gnat - Eminem
Godzilla - Eminem
Got Hungry - Obie Trice
Hands On You - Eminem/Obie Trice
Happiness is a Warm Gun - The Breeders
Heart In a Cage - The Strokes
Heart Shaped Box - Nirvana
Heartbeat - Ice-T
Hustlers - Nas
Hypnotize - The White Stripes
I Am Not a Human Being - Lil Wayne
I Could Have Lied - Red Hot Chili Peppers
I Go To Work - Kool Moe Dee
I Will - Eminem
Icky Thump - The White Stripes
If I Had - Eminem
I’m Back - Eminem
I’m Your Pusher - Ice-T
It Takes a Muscle - M.I.A.
Jack My Dick - Obie Trice
Jesus Christ Pose - Soundgarden
Just Lose It - Eminem
Killing Lies - The Strokes
Knives Out - Radiohead
Know It Ain’t Right - M.I.A.
Last Nite - The Strokes
Legacy - Eminem
Like Suicide - Soundgarden
Little Acorns - The White Stripes
Loco-Motive - Nas
Lollipop - Lil Wayne
Longview - Green Day
Look In My Eyes - Obie Trice
Loot My Body - Man Man
Lose Yourself - Eminem
Love Me - 50 Cent
Love Me or Hate Me - Lady Sovereign
Love the Way You Lie - Eminem
Matangi - M.I.A.
Mockingbird - Eminem
Money Over Bullsh*t - Nas
Mother - Pink Floyd
Move Your Body - Sia
Mr. Brightside - The Killers
Mr. Carter - Lil Wayne
Mrs. Officer - Bobby Valentino/Lil Wayne
My Dad’s Gone Crazy - Eminem
My England - Lady Sovereign
My Mom - Eminem
My Name Is - Eminem
My Wave - Soundgarden
No Love - Lil Wayne/Eminem
No Regrets - Eminem
Non-State Actor - Soundgarden
Not Going Back - Nas
Not the Same Anymore - The Strokes
Nothing Else Matters - Metallica
Offend In Every Way - The White Stripes
On the Other Side - The Strokes
One Mic - Nas
One Time 4 Your Mind - Nas
Outshined - Soundgarden
Overfloater - Soundgarden
Paint It Black - The Rolling Stones
Paper Planes - M.I.A.
Personal - Ice-T
Pony - Ginuwine
Pump Your Fist - Kool Moe Dee
R.A.K.I.M. - Rakim
Rabbit Run - Eminem
Radio Suckers - Ice-T
Rap God - Eminem
Rewind - Nas
Rhinosaur - Soundgarden
Richard - Obie Trice
Roughnecks - Obie Trice
Safe From Harm - Massive Attack
Santeria - Sublime
Searching With My Good Eye Closed - Soundgarden
Seduction - Eminem
Seven Nation Army - The White Stripes
Sexodus - M.I.A.
Shoot Me Down -Lil Wayne
Shooter - Lil Wayne
Sick Of You - Cake
Sing For the Moment - Eminem
Smack That - Eminem
Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nirvana
Smile Like You Mean It - The Killers
So Human - Lady Sovereign
Soul of a Man - Beck
Spoonman - Soundgarden
Stan - Eminem
Stop - Jane’s Addiction
Suck My Kiss - Red Hot Chili Peppers
Sunshowers - M.I.A.
Superunknown - Soundgarden
Survival - Eminem
Sympathy For the Devil - The Rolling Stones
Take It or Leave It - The Strokes
Take, Take, Take - The White Stripes
Takeover - Jay-Z
Tango - Lady Sovereign
Tarantula - Bob Schneider
Tell Me Why - M.I.A.
That Was Just Your Life - Metallica
The Adults Are Talking - The Strokes
The Air Near My Fingers - The White Stripes
The Day I Tried To Live - Soundgarden
The Day That Never Comes - Metallica
The Girl Tried To Kill Me - Ice-T
The God That Failed - Metallica
The Hardest Button to Button - The White Stripes
The Man Who Sold the World - Nirvana
The Monster - Eminem with Rihanna
The Real Slim Shady - Eminem
The Righteous & The Wicked - Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Unforgiven - Metallica
The Unforgiven III - Metallica
Thrift Shop - Macklemore
Through Being Cool - Devo
Time To Get Ill - Beastie Boys
Truckdrivin’ Neighbors Downstairs - Beck
Trunk - Kings of Leon
U Wanna Be Me - Nas
Ultraviolence - Lana Del Rey
Unorthadox Daughter - No Lay
Untutored Youth - The Hives
Use Somebody - Kings of Leon
W.T.P. - Eminem
What I Got - Sublime
What’s Up Danger - Black Caviar & Blackway
What’s Wrong With Them - Lil Wayne
When I Come Around – Green Day
Where Did You Sleep Last Night - Nirvana
Where Is My Mind? - The Pixies
Wherever I May Roam - Metallica
Whip It - Devo
Why Are Sundays So Depressing - The Strokes
Worse Dreams - Soundgarden
Wrong Way - Sublime
XR2 - M.I.A.
Yah Yah - Eminem
You Ain’t Got Nuthin - Lil Wayne
Young Lust - Pink Floyd
Zero Chance - Soundgarden

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Monday, November 7, 2022

Workout Megamix Liner Notes - Part V: Recent Updates

Introduction

“Don’t smile until February.” These are words of wisdom I heard recently from a third-grade teacher, on how to maintain order in the classroom. But these words could just as easily apply to a winter workout regimen. Staying fit just isn’t as much fun when the cold, dark, and rain send us inside.

Almost seven years ago in these pages, I started a series on what music I recommend for indoor workouts. The tedium of riding rollers or a trainer requires a meticulously curated collection, or “megamix,” of fast-paced, hard driving rock or rap songs. (Do you also need a great playlist for brisk walking or running on that treadmill you bought during the pandemic? Of course.)

I don’t discover new music as quickly as Gen-Z does, but I have added a lot to my collection over the years, and now have many more tracks to recommend. (This makes even more sense now than it did seven years ago, because now everyone has Spotify and doesn’t have to buy or borrow CDs.) And so, here are my current recommendations, along with “liner notes” (a more metaphorical concept than ever, since so many young listeners have never seen a record jacket liner). 


Liner Notes – Dana’s Ultimate Superfly Workout Megamix Part V

212 - Azelia Banks

              I discovered this song, and this artist, through one of those YouTube algorithms. It figured since I like M.I.A. videos, I’d like this video too, and put it into my feed. Well, the algorithm wasn’t wrong. The video is fun and funny, and I dig the song too. It’s perfect for riding rollers. (But I’m still not a big fan of these algorithms.)

16 Shots -  Stefflon Don

              My daughter turned me on to this one. As with “212” above, I cannot figure out what the singer is even talking about. The song seems political and probably relates to current events, which it’d be easy enough to google, but none of that matters to me. As has been observed by the philosopher Rakim, “It’s just the beat, the beat, the beat.”

Borders - M.I.A.

              I really like M.I.A. and lots of her songs have made my workout megamix, but I have to admit, I like each album a little less than the one before it. This is my favorite song from her fifth album, AIM, from 2016. And if you have a giant plasma TV in your home gym, be sure to check out the video too. It’s pretty awesome … possibly more extras than I’ve even seen in a music video.

Broke as Fuck -  YBN Cordae

              YBN Cordae, according to Wikipedia, is “known mononymously as Cordae.” What? You don’t know this word, “mononymous”? I didn’t either. It means having only one name. But of course that’s not the case with this musician, unless you decide to call him Cordae. I mean, you could as easily say I’m known mononymously as Dana, except that I’m not known. Now, I don’t know much about Cordae except he got his start doing a remix of “My Name Is” by Eminem. How does a rapper whose name isn’t Slim Shady or Eminem make a name for himself doing a remix of “My Name Is”? Are you as confused as I am? Well, who cares. This is another song my daughter turned me on to, and you can totally pedal to it.

Celebrity Skin - Doja Cat

              This is a cover of the Hole song. If you’re reading this post out loud to somebody, you’re going to have to pause here and explain it’s H-O-L-E, not W-H-O-L-E. Anyhow, I was never crazy about the original version of this song, but the vocals in this cover take it up a notch. Solid.

Cops Shot the Kid - Nas

              This one starts off with a dude telling a story, and he does a pretty funny imitation of a white cop saying sternly, “All right you kids, stop having so much fun. Move along.” This monologue goes on for about twenty seconds, which gives you a nice respite from all that hammering, as you just soft-pedal and listen, but then the song suddenly gets hard and fast and disturbing and dark. If you sync up your pedaling, you’ll start to really suffer, but you’ll go ahead and pour on the pace because you know the song is fairly short. Man. It’s a good one.

Down In It - Nine Inch Nails

              You’re thinking “What? I thought this was new music albertnet is recommending!” No, just new to my workout megamix. This song is definitely old school. I can’t hear it without thinking of my old college roommate who, as described here, listened to this song constantly to the exclusion of all others. Nevertheless, it’s a good one and easy to dance—er, to work out—to.

Everlong - Foo Fighters

               I fricking love this song. It’s old-school at this point too, being from 1997, and though I was aware of it then, I only came to love it recently. (I was like that with avocados too … just really late learning to appreciate them.) The drumming on this in particular song is so good, I not only wish it were louder, but I wish I could be inside the drum while the song is being played. Alas, the Foo Fighters’ drummer, Taylor Hawkins, died this year, very suddenly. So it’s kind of sad to hear this song now, but mostly it’s just awesome.

Free Bird - Lynyrd Skynyrd

              Okay, this song is almost as old as I am. What’s it doing on this list? Well, I asked my older daughter to give me her top 10 workout songs, and this was one of them. I think it’s adorable how these youngsters somehow discover music this old, totally on their own somehow. I also tend to associate this song with El Freebird’s, the taqueria in Isla Vista where I won the Burrito World Championships, so it brings back good memories. And the song, though it picks up gradually and is super long, does freakin’ rock out eventually so it does totally belong in my megamix.

Get Free - Lana Del Rey

              I read somewhere that Lana Del Rey was sued by Radiohead over this song, their claim being that it ripped off “Creep.” I couldn’t make out any resemblance at all and thought this seemed crazy. So with no preamble I played the song for my daughter and asked if it reminded her of anything. She replied, “I’m getting a pretty strong ‘Creep’ vibe from it.” OMG. I obviously know nothing about music. Clearly the ripoff (or tribute, if you want to prevaricate) was clear enough to my kid, and as described here“The Guardian found that the chords used in ‘Creep’ were rare in pop music and that the melodies bore an ‘uncanny resemblance.’” But ignorant as I may be, I do know what I like, and this song is great. I was going to say something about the pacing of it, along with that of other songs, but I can’t remember my point. Suffice to say, virtually all the songs in this megamix can be synced with your pedaling, at one cadence or another, and the variety helps since sometimes ya wanna spin, and sometimes ya wanna get out of the saddle and mosh.

Godzilla - Eminem

              There seems to be a tendency among music critics to be hard on Eminem and suggest he’s washed up. This is the clearest example of incompetence I have ever seen. Not to sound like a troll or anything , but anyone who bags on Eminem is just an idiot, and the critics need to evaluate how far they’ve drifted from actual listeners, considering Eminem’s last eleven albums have hit number one on the US charts. This guy is amazing—he just gets better and better. If I gave him his due on this list of killer workout tracks, his songs would dominate and the whole post would look like an ad.  Godzilla is a lot of fun, has perfect energy for hammering your ass off, and even set a new record for speed: 10.65 syllables per second. The video is a hoot as well. You should definitely add the following tracks to your mix, too: No Regrets, Yah Yah, I Will, Gnat, No Regrets, The Ringer, and Darkness. Oh, and just about all his other songs, too.

To be continued

I thought I could cram all my new recommendations into a single post, but you lucked out: I’ve run out of space (or more to the point, you’ve run out of patience). Next week I’ll cover the rest of my modern megamix. I’ll also include, as an appendix, my entire workout song list, comprising over 200 tracks. Watch for it!

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Email me here. For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Monday, October 31, 2022

From the Archives - Bike Team Grammar Lesson

Introduction

This is a bit of a hybrid post: about half of it is from my archives, and the other half from memory. (Yes, memory is an archive of sorts, but writing down your recollections is more properly called a memoir.) Enjoy please enjoy.


From memory – bike team grammar lesson, ca. 1991

One evening over thirty years ago, I arrived early to a UC Berkeley cycling team meeting, held in a lecture hall on campus, and sat there, bored, watching the team secretary write the agenda on the chalkboard. (Remember chalkboards?) One of her items had a grammatical error, which I thoughtfully pointed out. She corrected it and then, without a word, wrote “Grammar lesson – Dana” as the next item.

Instead of saying, “Touché,” I sat quietly through the meeting until we got to “Grammar lesson,” then jumped up and headed to the stage. I doubt the secretary (or anybody else) had actually expected me to present anything, but I’d had a few minutes to come up with some material. My lesson went something like this:

Okay, first of all, spelling counts in bike racing. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. [This absolutely barebones gag actually got a few chuckles because the rest of the meeting had been predictable administrative stuff. As I was relieved to discover, this was an easy crowd … at least, if something like 50 people counts as a crowd. Compared to a modern collegiate road cycling roster, I’d say it does.]

[I went on … ] Next, always bear in mind there is no hypothetical subjunctive in proper cycling parlance. It is perfectly acceptable to say, “I won the race,” or “I lost the race.” This is the basic past tense. But it is never appropriate to say, “I would have won the race,” or “I could have won the race,” or—God forbid—“I should have won the race.” We’ve all heard this before and it’s always total BS. You either won, or you lost. Don’t ever tell a bike race story involving woulda, coulda, or shoulda.

My next topic involves an idiomatic expression. You’ve surely all heard the term “head down.” Look, this is just a figure of speech. You’re not supposed to actually ride with your head down; you need to look where you’re going. An old teammate of mine at Santa Barbara rode head down during a time trial and ran right into the back of a parked car. Not a pretty sight.

Finally, I want everybody here to understand the difference between a lectern and a podium. So many people get this wrong. This little stand in front of me, on which I could place my notes if I had any, is called a lectern. That is its proper name, no matter how many people call it a podium. The word “podium” derives from the Greek root “pod,” meaning foot. It’s the thing you stand on if you make the top three in a bike race. This is a crucial distinction because as you can see, any idiot can stand behind a lectern. To mount the podium, you have to earn it. I’m talking about this. [Here I stepped out from behind the lectern, pretended to step on to a podium, and put my arms up. To my surprise, my lesson was well received. And from then on, I was always on the agenda at Cal cycling team meetings.]

From the archives – bike team grammar lesson, November 4, 1992

[This is actually somewhat from memory, because I’m looking at the notes I prepared for the lesson, which don’t amount to a full script. Side note: I didn’t actually ride with the team in 1992 … I needed to knuckle down and focus on school. But I stayed on as grammar coach. I believe this was the first team meeting of the year.]

Today’s topic is attacks.

I’ll start with some review from last year: you have to be careful with verb tenses when you talk about bike racing. There’s no room for the hypothetical subjunctive, i.e. woulda, coulda, or shoulda. Similarly, you should be aware there is no imperfect verb tense for attack. That is, attacking is not supposed to be a habitual past action, because those who attack in every race are just clowns. You attack when you realize the moment is just right, and most of the time this never happens—you’re working for a teammate who’s got the better legs, or you’re waiting for the final sprint. Meanwhile, an attack is never something that happened over a period of time, as in “I was attacking.” If the attack lasted long enough to say that, it wasn’t a proper attack … it was just an acceleration and the peloton was probably snickering at you. An attack is sudden, decisive, and explosive—it starts and finishes almost immediately (whether it gets neutralized or you find yourself in a breakaway). To describe an attack, always use the perfect tense: “I attacked,” or even better (to quote Stephen Roche), “I fucking attacked, man.” 

Now: on to pronouns. Always use a possessive pronoun, not an indefinite pronoun, with this topic. To say “I made an attack” implies that it was one of many—i.e., no big deal. But think about it: if an attack is no big deal, what’s the point? If that’s how you attack, you’re not going hard enough and will never get away. It’s much better to say, “I made my move.” As in, the one real opportunity you might get.

Another thing. Always remember that “attack” is a transitive verb. It cannot be used by itself, like “languish” or “chill.” You need to specify whom you attacked (unless you’re Stephen Roche). If you haven’t attacked the real players, but merely went after the entire field before attrition worked its magic, you’ll just get reeled in. Better to say, “I attacked the remnants of the breakaway.” Note, however, that there’s a counterpoint to this: “detonate,” which is also technically a transitive verb, is properly used without a direct object. This is colloquial. If you say, “I totally detonated after attacking Eric Cech [one of our strongest rivals in the peloton],” everyone will understand.

I have one final thing to cover: there is no superlative in bike racing. No matter how well you’ve attacked, you cannot say, “I was the fastest rider in the race,” unless you attacked at the start line and opened up a massive lead that increased all the way to the finish. Trust me: this never happens (except once, before anyone knew who Eric Cech was). Even the best attack doesn’t make you the “fastest,” because it’s likely that any of a number of sprinters could have out-sped you if they hadn’t been chilling at the back and missed the break. It’s always better to use the comparative: “I rode faster than the field at just the right moment.”

In like fashion, you can’t ever call yourself the “smartest” rider in the race, even if you won, because many a smart racer has chilled at the back of the peloton thinking about grammar.

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Monday, October 24, 2022

Ride Report - Steepest Mile in CA

Introduction

Every few years I get together with my friend Peter for a few days of epic bike riding. We shoot for something brutal and long and, if the weather cooperates (which it didn’t in 2016), we generally achieve it. This year, Pete came all the way out here from Colorado to ride in the Santa Rosa area, where he used to attend training camps. We did four rides and this was the hardest of them. What seemed like a fairly straightforward 108-mile cruise with a mere 11,000 feet of climbing turned out to be much worse, in the best (i.e., worst) way. Read on and slake your thirst for Schadenfreude!




Executive summary

We confronted some lousy weather, a lot of climbs, and then one particular climb that in difficulty not only far exceeded anything we could have imagined, but included the steepest paved mile in all of California and the third-steepest in the country. At the summit was a douchebag in a kiosk who made us turn around, due to a road closure unknown to the Strava route planning app. This dead end cruelly lengthened an already savage ride, as we had to hammer our asses off to make it back to Santa Rosa by dark. Fortunately, we ate very well before, during, and after.

Short version

To make these rides extra epic, Pete and I largely forego training. In the month before his visit, my longest ride had been a mere 76 miles; his, even shorter. This unwise behavior gives our endeavor an extra bit of frisson; after all, anyone could pull off a really long and hard ride by actually preparing for it.

Breakfast was a leftover slice of pizza from Cibo Rustico in Santa Rosa. To be precise (and I’m fact-checking via my receipt), it was “Italian Sauage Muchroom” pizza. (How do you pronounce “Sauage”? Sewage? And much room for what?) The pizza was pretty good, even though our stinky room at the Motel 6 didn’t have a microwave oven. In fact, the fridge cost $6 extra per night … that’s how barebones this place was. And when I say “stinky” I’m not just talking about us stinking it up; it came pre-stank with the odor of stale cigarettes and the chemicals they use to mask the odor of stale cigarettes. (Yes, it was technically a non-smoking room, but when the property overall is basically a giant ashtray, the stench permeates everything.)

Now, I don’t really like cold pizza. I know many people do, but the congealed grease etc. just isn’t my thing. Fortunately, we had large cups of steaming Peet’s coffee (since our motel room also lacked a coffee maker) so I took a trick from the Dutch playbook and warmed my ‘za over my coffee cup like they do with their stroopwafels. It was slow going but worked pretty well.


Is that enough breakfast for such a long ride? Of course not, but then, what would be? The buffet court at Sizzler? So we set out on the ride knowingly undernourished. The weather threatened to be cold and overcast the entire time. (During our 47-mile ride the day before, the sun never did show its face.) Look how much clothing Pete is wearing. (I myself neglected to bring leg warmers because I was foolish enough to trust the weather forecast.)


But then, two hours in, after a couple of painful climbs, the sun came out. Things warmed up, and we did a few more climbs, and then hit the big climb—oh my god, that climb—and that’s when shit got dark. I don’t mean it got literally dark, until it literally did, but that was hours later. First we had a lot of hammering to do. In case you only care about food, I’ll save the details of the climb, and its horrific aftermath, for the full report. Let’s talk about dinner now.

Having seen Los Molcajetes Bar and Grill from the road, and having decided it looked lively (since Cibo Rustico the night before had been a bit quiet), we headed over there to refuel. This was of course after a palliative beer, showering (without shampoo, this being the Motel Sux), and a sufficiently long rest that we could walk again. Los Molcajetes was pretty well hopping, but the music was terrible. It’s not like I’m a snob, but this sounded like somebody’s five-year-old pounding on the keys of a piano, or perhaps a harpsichord. It was a tune of maybe seven or eight notes repeated ad infinitum. And the waitress was powerless to recommend a beer … perhaps she doesn’t drink. She could have just lied and said, “Oh yeah, the Farting Fathers Brewing Scuzzy Suds & Saliva Ale is amazing,” or she could’ve hedged and said “Well, the Locker-Room Lager is popular,” but she seemed almost embarrassed to be asked at all. So we tossed the dice on beers from Laughing Monk and I don’t remember a thing about them. We were pretty out of it, honestly.

But the salsa was good … there were two kinds and they were nice and fiery (or was it just my scorched throat?). There was also some cheese goo that hit the spot, though our motor control was barely up to the task of dipping our chips in it. My chille [sic] relleno burrito was huge and very tasty. (What is it with Santa Rosa restaurateurs and their spelling?) There was this odd orange sauce, almost like a romesco, over the top which was tastier than I’m making it sound. Pete had the carne asada plate and although the idea of meat made all kinds of sense, I almost always get a chile relleno burrito if it’s on offer.

Long version

A couple of hours in, when the gloom lifted, I put on my vest and we descended in the sunshine for a bit. A little over 50 miles in we reached a little gas station convenience store near Lower Lake and I indulged in a couple Hostess cupcakes (chocolate with trans-fat “kreme” filling) and a large can of Coke. At checkout I encountered this big biker guy (well, he looked like a biker, anyway; I didn’t happen to see his hog). This dude had tattoos on his face. The tats were words, and I was really curious what they said, but I was afraid to look at the guy for long enough to read them. I could well imagine him saying, “What the fuck you lookin’ at!” and slamming me into the Doritos display. So I just moved along. Pete told me later that the dude was friendly with the cashier and they were chatting out by our bikes. “Look how skinny those bikes are!” she said, and he replied, “Yeah, those dudes look super fit.” But probably that was just the meth talking.

Okay, that was inappropriate. I really shouldn’t assume someone’s a meth-head just because he has tattoos on his face. He might have been a really nice guy. His tats might have said something like “I’m thankful” or “Love wins.” In fact, maybe it was Pete who was on meth. Or hell, it could’ve been me! No, no, no, take none of this seriously. We did this ride pan y agua! Shoot, I should probably delete this whole paragraph, but I never edit my ride reports. It’s too much hassle.

Clear Lake is pretty.


After Clear Lake we hit a hard section that was mostly uphill for about 13 miles, gaining over 1,500 feet. The scenery was nice and my tasty cupcake snack was serving me well, but I have to admit, the climbing was starting to get old. And then we hit Socrates Mine Road.

Let me say first that we had no idea what we were getting into. Even though I’m the Californian, I did nothing to contribute to the route planning. Pete used this fancy feature of Strava where you tell it how many miles you want and what kind of terrain (e.g., flat, hilly, super hilly) and it gives you several options. There was no disclaimer like “This route includes a climb that will have you PUKING FOR DECADES.” Yeah, we knew we had some vertical gain left to accumulate, but never expected anything like Socrates Mine Road.

This climb is bad enough on paper: as detailed on the PJAMM Cycling website, it climbs about 1,800 feet in 3.5 miles. Discounting a couple short downhill bits, it boasts an average gradient of 10%. But that’s not what makes it so hard; neither is the fact that we started on it over 70 miles into our ride. The tough part is that 26% of the climb is between 10-15%, 17% of it is between 15-20%, and 5% is more than a 20% grade! The steepest mile of the climb averages 16.3%, making it the steepest paved mile in California. Look at this schematic from PJAMM:


Increasing the brutality was the totally crappy condition of the road: it was cracked into rough cubes, like a pan of over-baked brownies. If you rumpled this road just a bit it’d be like the cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix. The poor surface could have been due to a big fire some years back. There’s not much scenery unless you like looking at burnt trees.


Fortunately, there’s nobody up there so you can hear a car coming from really far away. (No more than two cars passed us the whole time; in fact, maybe it was just one and I hallucinated the other.) Pete’s gearing was a pretty stingy 34x25. I had a 27 cog in the back; between that and my lugubrious cadence (between 20-40 rpm), I was well off Pete’s pace. (This is always the case when the going gets tough.) At one point Pete stopped for a bit so he could snap photos of me weaving my way back and forth across the road, which was the only way I could keep from tipping over.




God, such misery. Of course I knew I’d suffer on this ride, but who knew a climb could actually be this awful? Climbs I used to think of as hard, like Mount Diablo and Mount Evans, now look, in retrospect, like playgrounds. How long could this go on? I had no idea. It seemed that forever wasn’t out of the question. Fortunately, I knew better than to pretend I had any choice in the matter. I pondered (non-verbally) this sentiment from my Everest Challenge “Pep Talk” post: “The trick is to pretend you have no choice and to take one pedal stroke at a time, riding like a robot.  Climbing stupid, you might say.  Not ‘climbing stupidly,’ which I would never recommend, but ‘climbing as though you were stupid.’” I proceeded with the mindset of pure fatalism, as though it could never occur to me that this climb, this route, this ride, indeed this very sport, were actually optional.

Have my arms ever been worked so hard while cycling? Absolutely not. I logged over two miles more than Pete on this ride, and that’s probably because I was weaving so much. It was ridiculous: I was barely making progress toward the summit. If this description is getting tedious, good—so was the climb. At least you, albertnet reader, don’t have to fucking pedal! You’re just sitting there, feeling all butt-hurt that I’m going on so long about this—but at least your butt doesn’t actually hurt, and you can just close your laptop or toss aside your phone and go do something more fun. I was trapped on that damn climb and everything hurt. If those cracks in the road had been any deeper they’d have stopped me cold and I’d still be out there.

But, eventually, we did reach the summit. Now the ride would get really good: one more climb (surely easier than this one), and the it’d be flat or downhill for the final 25 miles. A well-earned victory lap, you might say. But that’s not what happened. Instead, just as the road tipped downhill, we came upon a closed gate with a kiosk and this big dumb kid sitting in it. “You can’t go,” he said (and these were probably the first words he’d uttered all day). We asked why not. “Not allowed,” he said, after managing his second thought of the day: another salvo in his battle against mental bankruptcy. We assumed the road blockage had something to do with a geothermal power plant up there; maybe they’re afraid of terrorists or something. But Google Maps and Strava had both indicated the road was open to through traffic. Pete asked the kiosk wizard if he had a map. “Of what?” the cretin asked, dumbfounded. Pete replied, “Of your ass. I want to see if I can find your head in there.” No, Pete didn’t actually say this, he’s far too much of a gentleman. Of course the guy had no map of anything. So Pete started looking at his phone, trying to figure out another route. “I’m going to have to ask you to move along now,” the dunce said (and this might have been the longest verbal utterance of his life). I guess he considered our very presence a dire threat to the geothermal operation. And so, contrary to all human impulse, we actually turned around and headed back down Socrates Mine Road.

It wasn’t a very fun descent because we had to brake so hard. Pete’s brakes eventually started hissing even louder than mine. Even at the speeds that naturally result from such a grade (and I note that the road boasts three runaway truck ramps), the descent seemed to take forever.

(A few final footnotes. One: a photo on the PJAMM site shows a “NO OUTLET” sign at the base of the climb, which obviously would have been helpful; our theory is that this sign burned down in the fire. Two: another sign, also no longer extant, warned that “This area can expose you to chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects … including arsenic, benzene, asbestos, crystalline silica, and radionuclides.” Three: I’m assuming that on top of all this, every time a cyclist rides up Socrates Mine Road, God kills a kitten.)

Well, shit. Now we had about forty miles left to go, and two major climbs. Of course we hadn’t budgeted any time for this, so making it back to the Motel Sux by nightfall was going to be a major challenge. Exhausted as we were, we had to hammer. Into a headwind, of course.

“Get on my wheel,” Pete said. “Go as hard as you can. If you start to fall off, yell out and I’ll slow up [a tiny bit, just enough to put you on the absolute rivet so you won’t slow us down too much, you wanker],” he said. (No, he didn’t say the stuff in brackets; my brain filled that in. Accurately.) Damn, it was like a team time trial except I was too lame to even take a turn at the front. And it went on and on. I was no longer capable of pedaling in anything like a circle. Instead my legs took turns throwing punches at the pedals … and I punch like a girl. (Note to my daughters: I didn’t know you ever read my blog! And I’m just kidding! I know either of your could totally kick my ass!)

Our last big climb was 2.2 miles at 6.3%. At the base, some jerk in a pickup truck, in the opposite lane heading toward us, angrily yelled, “Fuck YOU!” I really don’t know what his problem was, other than presumably feeling that the existence of other, probably superior, people on this planet is automatic cause for maximum outrage. “I’m not angry at you … I’m just disappointed,” I did not say to him. It’s actually too bad his outburst didn’t anger me, because anger might have helped fuel my effort. That climb, short and shallow though it truly was, hurt so bad. Amazingly, we made pretty good time up it, staying right around 10 mph. At the top we stopped briefly to split an energy bar. Straddling my bike, I wasn’t even sure I could stay upright. I collapsed onto the handlebars, my arms on the brake hoods, my head dangling between them. Naturally, Pete laughed at me. You would have, too.


We set off again, and I have to say, only in hindsight do I truly appreciate how well Pete and I get along, even under circumstances like this. When he told me to ride as hard as I could so I wouldn’t get dropped, I could have said, “Oh, easy for you to say, Mr. Big-Shot-Former-Pro, with all your talent and strength and character! You’re nothing but a big bully!” and that’d have been well within spec for a knackered middle-aged cyclist with a 40% hematocrit. Meanwhile, Miss Manners would’ve surely forgiven Pete had he said, “Oh, boo-fucking-hoo, poor Mr. Parasite is all bent out of shape because he has to pedal harder than he wants to even though he’s getting a free ride without having to fight this damn headwind for even five seconds because we both know he’s too much of a pussy!” Instead we just grimly, and silently, got on with it. I acknowledged to myself the gift of this draft, no matter how unpleasant the pace was, while Pete presumably thanked his lucky stars I’m not even more weak and worthless on a bicycle.

So, what more is there to say? We hit another convenience store, right around dusk, and I wondered if it might make sense to summon a Lyft car from there (Uber is dead to me), and have one of us stay behind with the bikes while the other fetched my car from the motel. But there was a big sign that said something like, “ABSOLUTELY NO LOITERING. GET YOUR STUFF AND GET OUT OR WE’LL SEND YOU HOME TO MOTHER IN A CARDBOARD BOX.” Plus, we’re not quitters. So Pete ate some more of the little gummy bears he favors, I inhaled two more delicious Hostess cupcakes, and we headed back out. Somehow we made it over Petrified Forest Road (1.4 miles at 9.1%), notwithstanding our petrified legs.

And, eventually, as civil twilight gave its last gasp, we homed in on the Motel Sux. Needless say, in the final mile Pete’s rear tire blew out—PCCCCHHEWWW!—and he didn’t even flinch. Just rode it in.

Well, you know the rest. For $6 a night, at least the 100-decibel motel mini-fridge did a good job of keeping our beers cold. These were Racer 5s, just right for relaxing our destroyed muscles. Here is the obligatory post-ride Beck’st. Note that I’m not in any way mugging for the camera here. This is as close to a smile as I could manage.


So: was this ride even worth it? Of course. This is the kind of ordeal that case-hardens a person. And we’re going to need that hardness as we continue our descent into middle age and, eventually, decrepitude. Wish us luck, and check back in a year or two for a full report of our next exploit.

Ride stats

  • 119.37 miles
  • 8:37:47 ride time
  • 13.8 average speed (ouch!)
  • 11,896 feet cumulative elevation gain
  • 117 bpm average heart rate
  • 151 bpm max heart rate
  • 67 rpm average cadence
  • 3,886 kilocalories burned
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Thursday, October 13, 2022

The albertnet Tier Lists

Introduction

My older daughter suggested this post. She says tier lists are insanely popular. I can’t figure out what the attraction is, but I don’t exactly have my finger on the pulse of … well, anything or anybody. So what the hell, I’ll give it a whirl.

What is a tier list?

A tier list is basically a ranking of things from best to worst … I think. It started out with video game characters (protagonists?) that gamers rank based on how tough, fast, or skilled they are, I guess. “S” is the best and, according to Wikipedia, “may stand for ‘Special,’ ‘Super,’ or the Japanese word for ‘Exemplary’ (, shū).” Next down from S is A, followed by B, C, D, E, and then F, like with grades. (Never mind that students never get an “E” grade, though I once got an F+ on a bio quiz.)

How does one consume these lists? I have no idea. All my google searches simply turn up tier list generators. It’s like everyone is an author and nobody is a reader. I guess if I were on social media I would be exposed to actual lists. My daughter suggested YouTube and I found “Schlatt’s Cereal Tier List,” a 14-minute ranking of breakfast cereals, to be fairly amusing. I suppose this Schlatt guy knows what he’s doing, because his video has over 13 million views, which is even more eyeballs than my fart jokes post got. (Roughly 26 million more eyeballs, if you want to get precise.)

The example tier lists I’ve seen from the various list generator websites are pretty boring; for example, one that ranked best to worst candy (Snickers and M&Ms at the top, Jelly Belly at the bottom) seemed totally arbitrary.

Tier list generator sites

I got lost pretty quickly trying to find the perfect tier list generator. A site called tiermaker.com had lots of ads, including a video that actually had sound, at a super obnoxious volume. It was an ad for edible.com, whatever that is. I will never know, because their jingle, and the very fact of their jingle, are so annoying I’m banning the company for life no matter what they’re hawking. And when I tried to mute the video, it darted away from me, nefariously. 

This site had an insane number of templates. I thought these would just provide background stuff, splashy graphics and fancy fonts, so I chose what I thought would be a playful, fun, modern, and worldly template: “Genshin Impact Characters.” But actually, this “template” was actually a full-blown list creator whereby you drag little characters up to the grid to rank them. But how could I possibly have any opinion about any of these little avatar dudes?


I tried a few more sites and found all of them more or less tedious to work with. I honestly don’t care much about colors, fonts, or little photos I have to drag around. Nevertheless, I persevered, and eventually created…

My first tier list

I finally took some time on a site, edit.org, and created a list of THE BEST ANIMALS, just as a proof-of-concept. I don’t have particularly strong opinions on animals, nor am I really an expert, but for what it’s worth here is my very first tier list:


I hope you agree with my ranking, or—better yet!—vehemently disagree with it, so you can fire the first round in a fusillade of angry comments below this post. As for the quality of the list itself, I know it has plenty of flaws. The most glaring, perhaps, is that the picture next to each item doesn’t match the item, except in the case of Humans. The photo library on the site happened to have a free image of a human. But all the other free images I scrolled through didn’t happen to be of a cat, a shellfish, a bird of prey, etc. I searched the image library for “cat” and was told, “Register to browse millions of free photos and images.” Like hell I will!

Biting the bullet

Well, there’s almost nothing I won’t do for my albertnet readers (other than actually travel anywhere to research anything, or spend money, etc.) so I settled on what appeared to be the most promising site, Canva, and actually registered, and in relatively little time put together what I hope you’ll agree is a better effort:


The problem is, at heart I’m more of a writer than a graphic designer, thus I still found the process tedious. It’s also the case that there’s no easy way to add footnotes, and yet I’m sure you’re dying to know why I ranked human flesh over, say, soft drinks. (If you’re wondering about “sand,” it’s a reference to “Raising Arizona.”)

I really feel I need a template with more room for text (unless I decide the go the vlog route like Schlatt with his cereal). And so I created…

The albertnet tier list template

I needed a template that could be squished, stretched, and otherwise modified at my whim, without some website reigning me in. So, I messed about with tables in Word, with the idea of turning them into simple graphics. Here’s a more verbose take on Dining Options, to showcase my new template.

Dining Options

S

Homemade pasta with heart-healthy Bolognese Ragu or Alfredo, made at home with my kids (who, in this hypothetical scenario, are miraculously visiting their childhood home simultaneously)

A

Very authentic Chinese food at a local place that uses Sichuan peppercorns and MSG

B

Little Star Chicago-style pizza (or Zachary’s, if my kids insist)

C

Super-high-end Italian where the pasta serving is smaller than my fist, so I have to eat it painstakingly slowly, and then the check comes and it’s like $100 a head

D

Leftover beans and rice with extra hot sauce because the rice is starting to go bad

E

Cold cereal that has gone stale and takes like 20 minutes to get soggy in the blue-tinted skim milk that is somehow all we have

F

Sitting for over half an hour in line at a fast-food drive-thru, as miserable as the poor feedlot cattle that gave their lives so I could save a few bucks while giving myself heart disease

 Tour de France winners

Now that I have an EZ template, I can go crazy on my tier lists! Here’s one that just occurred to me:

Tour de France winners

S

Bernard Hinault, who not only won five times, but had the panache to sprint for flat-stage victories when he really didn’t need to, and also liked to throw punches at protesters who interfered with the race

A

Eddy Merckx, who would have won six Tours had it not been for a crazed fan who punched him in the stomach causing some kind of internal organ injury

B

Greg LeMond, who won by the slimmest margin ever (8 seconds), giving us the most exciting Tour ever against Laurent Fignon, the “distant professor”

C

Cadel Evans, the only rider I can think of in the modern era who actually appeared to have raced pan y agua (i.e., clean)

D

Miguel Indurain, who was boring as hell to watch but did have pretty good form

E

Jacques Anquetil, whom I couldn’t pick out of a line-up but who, it must be said, also won five Tours

F

Christopher Froome, one of the most grotesquely awkward riders ever to race a bike, but who is admittedly one of the savviest dopers any sport has ever produced

 Technology

I suppose there’s no reason I have to go with the S/A/B/C/D/E/F scale. Let’s mix it up a little:


Technological innovations

Where has this been all my life?

GPS on my phone and in my car

Game changer

Aerodynamic bicycle wheels

Yes, let’s forestall arthritis!

Biometric smartphone authentication (awesome when it works, maddening when it doesn’t)

Please laugh at my expense!

Camera phones: you’ll never miss another shot of my comically elongated head, like I’ve got the worst case of encephalitis ever

I love overpaying!

Electronic bike shifting: it’s just as good as traditional shifting, but costs way more!

Let’s just give in and be dorks

Digital wristwatches

Narcissism is the new black

Social media

Okay, that’s enough

I could go on and on with such lists, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my readers, it’s that my posts are “too long.” Well, this is probably my shortest in years … are you happy now? 

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