Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Misspelling in Hawaii


Earlier this month, my family took a vacation to Kauai.  (There, I typed “Kauai” without misspelling it.  That word, and all Hawaiian words, often trip me up, as “Hawaiian” did just now, and it’s a good thing—perhaps—that  my word processing program instantly flagged the error.)

Where was I?  Oh, right, Hawaii.  I can’t blog about how great a time I had there, because nobody wants to hear about it.  But I also can’t complain about anything, because any complaint that starts out “When I was in Hawaii” isn’t going to generate any sympathy.  And yet, this having been a terribly expensive vacation, I feel like I should somehow get some good blogging mileage out of it (as I have done with an overpriced museum visit and a pricey pair of cycling shoes).  So in this post I’m going to examine the strange sense I got that nobody in Hawaii can spell.

Not that I’m not saying Hawaiians can’t spell.  Somehow, visitors to Hawaii also can’t.

Misspelled food

My family is a foodie bunch.  (Can “foodie” be an adjective?  It can now!)  So perhaps it’s not surprising that the first misspellings we spotted were food-related.  The very first was a section on a menu called “Desert.”  I cut people slack when they (incorrectly) write “just desserts” because when the word “desert” is used as a noun but (correctly) pronounced like “dessert,” to indicate “something that is deserved,” we’re into some pretty arcane English-major territory.  But when a restaurant misses that second “s” in “dessert,” you hope they’re better at hygiene than spelling.  Still, we’d have brushed it off had not another restaurant, a day or two later, made the same error.

Later on, we saw “TACO’S” on the banner for a taqueria called Da Crack, and I decided this wasn’t a deliberate error (along the lines of “da” for “the”) but just an uneducated approach to spelling that treats apostrophes like garnish.  (Too bad Da Crack didn’t have any really good garnish, like cilantro.)

In the case of ethnic food, particularly Asian food, I’m very quick to forgive misspellings, and often count them as a sign of authenticity (along with their cousins, the weird word choices you see like “Fire Burst Stomach Trips” or “Eight Precious Rice Pudding”).  And sometimes Asian restaurant misspellings can be really funny, like “Braised pork in spicy Human sauce.” 

I’m less understanding when it comes to Western misspellings, like we found in our condo.  The hosts had left a handy list of restaurant recommendations, and it had some pretty blatant errors.  For example, a burger place was touted as “a much healthier choose than McDonald’s.”  The name of this burger place?  “Bubba’s Buger.”  This led to lots of corollary jokes (especially popular with my daughters) such as, “Anybody feel like eating boogers tonight?”  But the funniest misspelling on this list was a recommendation for a health food restaurant where we should “order the Acai bowel, full of antioxidants and pure energy.”

Misspelled journal entries

Perhaps you’ve stayed in a bed & breakfast or inn where there’s a nicely bound little journal in which guests can record their feelings about the place.  This journal doesn’t function like Yelp, since you’ve already paid for and occupied the place, so most guests just gush about how great a time they had and how wonderful everything is.  So there’s a lot of gloating, and perhaps some one-upmanship as well (i.e., attempts to be more thoughtful or articulate than the last guy).

Almost every entry in the little book at our Princeville condo had misspellings.  Here is a partial list, courtesy of my older daughter who read them out to me as she went along: 
  • beutifil, beutifilly
  • foget
  • eastun (for “eastern”)
  • beatifull
  • evere (I had to see this one myself to make sure it wasn’t just a handwriting flourish)
  • do able (for “doable”)
  • awsome
  • well (for “we’ll”)
  • what so ever
  • cando (for “condo”)
  • click our heals (within a “Wizard of Oz” reference)
  • use to (for “used to”)

What I found particularly strange about all this is that the people writing in the guidebook didn’t seem slapdash about it; their handwriting was neat and their sentences well-crafted.  None of the entries looked to have been penned by a sloppy t(w)een  (other than that of my own daughter); and there weren’t any LOLs or FWIWs or GR8s or other signs of Gen-Y shorthand.  And yet it costs big bucks to stay in this “cando,” so it’s not like these were uneducated people.  I was, and am, deeply perplexed.

By the way, here is my own condo journal entry, which you can scrutinize for misspellings and/or one-upmanship:

Why so much misspelling?

I suppose it would be very imperialist of me, almost Manifest-Destiny-ish you might say, to judge Hawaiians’ spelling of English words when their native language is so very, very different.  Throughout our vacation I struggled to pronounce the native Hawaiian words that frequently popped up as place names and other proper nouns.  I fared far worse than our GPS narrator when saying, for example, “Ala Kalanikaumaka Street” (though we noticed that the GPS Lady pronounced it a little differently each time).  And yet this is actually pretty straightforward compared to words like “pu’uwai”  and “ku’uipo,” with their surplus of vowels and weirdly placed apostrophes.

Still, I can’t explain away the English misspellings based on the oddities of Hawaiian spelling.  After all, plenty of people are able to master two entirely different alphabets; as a high school student I was pretty good at spelling Russian words correctly.

Could poor spelling be related to the blissful, carefree apathy that comes from drifting your life away in an island paradise?  Well, it is the case that the lovely Anini Beach had been called “Wanini Beach” until the “W” fell off the sign, and rather than fix the sign, the Hawaiians just shrugged their shoulders and let “Anini” become the new name. 

But, as you’ve already noticed, these theories don’t explain why visitors to Kauai, like those writing in the condo journal, can’t spell.  It’s not like something comes over us in the week or two we spend here.   Even my daughter’s journal entry had only one typo—a missing apostrophe—which is exactly the kind of sloppy mistake she makes at home.

And those comical misspellings in the list of restaurant recommendations provided by the condo owners?  Well, the owners don’t actually live in Hawaii.  This is their just guest home.  If memory serves, they live in Texas.

And so, after much reflection, I’ve decided that the misspellings have little to do with Hawaii, and mostly to do with technology—and the lack of it.


Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the journal in the condo is that it’s the rare example of non-typed text.  Think about this for a second:  how often do you read something handwritten?  The non-typed text I come across generally falls into one of two categories:  1) graffiti, and 2) my kids’ schoolwork.  Do I see misspellings in these kinds of text? 

Why, yes.  Perhaps the only words I see among graffiti that are consistently spelled right are the profanities.  Everything else reflects the fecal-mindedness of the graffitist.  Meanwhile, my twelve-year-old isn’t bad at spelling, but my younger daughter, age ten, still has much room to improve.  A sonnet she wrote recently— which  had very good meter and perfect rhyme, and which was very deep, being a letter to her future teenage self, bagging on herself in advance and promoting nostalgia for a time when she wasn’t “blotet [sic] and lazy”—contained no fewer than twenty-three spelling errors.

Aside from graffiti and kids’ stuff, virtually everything I read is typed, and our modern means of typing have all kinds of built-in technology to (help) eradicate misspellings and typos.  The original tool, the spell-checker, not only identifies errors but arguably helps people learn from their mistakes.  The spell-checker is not a perfect tool—for example, it’ll catch “buger” but not “Acai bowel”—but it’s been masking poor spelling fairly effectively for about thirty years now.  (At least, when it’s turned on.  I’m going to assume that restaurant people just aren’t very good with computers.)

The problem is, the classic spell-checker is losing out to more modern tools that are less educational.  Smartphones have features that enable you to type sloppily, generating character strings that only remotely resemble words; the operating system is smart enough to make good guesses at what you’re trying to type.  I can type “t-y-p” and it suggests “type,” “types,” “typo,” and “typed” and I can touch any of these to accept that word.  This is especially handy with trickier words like “beautiful.” 

When I’m on my smartphone I use the Swype technique, aka slide-typing, where I drag my finger through the letters of a word and, amazingly, the OS recognizes these words, no matter how sloppy I get.  It’s not so good with “Acai” or “mahalo” but does great with most common English words.  If I Swype “beutifil” it seamlessly corrects it to “beautiful,” just as it discreetly turns “awsome” to “awesome.”  Typing in this way, a person could generate readable text for decades without ever learning how to spell.  This is just great, until you’re suddenly forced to use a pen and paper to compose your message.

So, if you think the spelling is bad now in handwritten messages, just you wait.  We’re seeing the mere lack of spell-checker now; in another couple decades, when Gen-Y starts making enough money to rent “candos,” they’ll be even less well equipped to work out tricky words like “bowl” and “awesome” on their own.

Epilogue:  voice recognition

Do people also use voice recognition software to compose messages?  I don’t know.  I suspect that this technology is mainly used for giving instructions to your phone, and that the modern generation prefers the silence of typing and Swyping.  That said, it’s hard to really tell.  When you see a guy walking down the sidewalk yakking on his smartphone, he could either a) be having an old-fashioned voice conversation, b) be dictating a message to his e-mail program, or c) be a crazy person talking loudly to nobody or nothing at all, with the phone held up as a prop.

As it happens, I did investigate the efficacy of voice-recognition for large bodies of text:  because I find Swype typing tedious (and didn’t have a laptop with me on vacation), I dictated a restaurant review to my phone.  Needless to say, I’ll be making that review available on albertnet:  maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Biased Blow-By-Blow, Tour de France 2014, Stage 17


Perhaps you don’t feel like getting up early enough to watch the Tour de France live.  And maybe the TV schedule is too complicated for you, or you’re just not quite interested enough to spend an hour or two watching, and yet want more complete coverage than a final-ten-km video.  Above all, maybe you’re tired of commentators biting their tongues when a known doper does something “not normal” but they have to report it at face value, praising the doper for his strength as though it were legit.  If you’re any of these people, or in fact anyone at all, read on for my journalistically unchained, often biased blow-by-blow report of stage 17, the penultimate mountain stage in this year’s Tour.

Biased Blow-By-Blow Report – 2014 Tour de France Stage 17

I join the coverage just in time to hear “we’re going to take a break.”  So now I’m looking at an ad for LeMond.  Not the cookie, but the three-time Tour de France champ and his new show.  So in the interest of fairness here is an ad for the Le-mond cookie.

Today I’m back to my postcard-sized live Internet feed after seeing most of this Tour on an actual TV set while on vacation.  (I didn’t have an actual PC on me, which is why I didn’t file other reports, other than the second stage which you can read about here.)

The riders are on the second of four climbs on this short but brutal stage.  This climb is the category 1 Col de Peyresourde, 13 km at 7%.  The rider in bib number 3, Vasil Kiryienka (Team Sky), is off the front solo.  His nickname, Vaseline, isn’t really his nickname.  At least, not that I know of.  Actually, his nickname is the White Russian because he’s from Belorussia.  All right, I’m going to come right out and say it:  I don’t know this rider’s nickname.  In fact, though I’ve heard his name many times, I know almost nothing about him.

So Kiryienka has about 45 seconds on a chase group of about twenty.  In that group are Bauke Mollema (Belkin Pro Cycling) who sits in 10th overall ; Pierre Rolland (Europcar) who is in 12th overall; Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) who’s in 13th; Frank Schleck (Trek Factory Racing) who’s in 14th; and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) who is way down in 68th but always a contender for a stage win and who will want to pick up KOM points today, being only one point behind polka-dot-rocking Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo), who is also in this group.

Speaking of J-Rod’s team, I would like to point out that every English speaker in this sport misspells, and mispronounces, “Katusha.”  You can read it in the Russian on their jerseys, or at least I can, and the second vowel is a ю, which sounds like “you.”  So it should be “Katyushka.”  There, I’m glad to finally get that off my chest.

Other than the guys I already mentioned, the chase group doesn’t have any GC contenders.  It does, however, have race leader Vincenzo Nibali’s Astana teammate, Jakob Fuglsang, who’s all the way down in 72nd place after a harrowing high speed crash earlier in the Tour.  The poor guy came in way after the leaders that day, probably just happy to make the time cut, and when asked how he felt he replied (rather casually, I thought), “Well, I’ve had better days, but nothing’s broken.  I just hurt everywhere.”

Kiryienka is really motoring along and now has about 2½ minutes over the chase group, which has about 5 minutes on the peloton.

Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing Team) needs to be worried about this breakaway because a few riders in it aren’t that far behind him in the GC.  Mollema trails him by only a couple of minutes; Rolland by a couple more; and Van Den Broeck by a minute more than that.

J-Rod outsprints Majka to the summit of the Peyresourde and takes 2 points out of him in the KOM competition. 

This Eurosport announcer just said something about “taking your crêpes suzettes out of the fridge and putting them on your head.”  What on earth?

Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Jesus Herrada (Movistar) have broken free from the chase group and are narrowing in a bit on Kiryienka.

Now they’re on a commercial break.  The Euro ads are far less depressing than the American ones I’ve been seeing for the last two weeks.  I’ve been watching on NBC-SN, which seems to be one of those second-tier networks with cheap ad space catering to a similarly second-tier audience.  The ads, taken together, create a composite profile of a vain, balding man whose home is in foreclosure, and who is trying to lose weight via light beer and vitamin products, and has some kind of sports injury requiring a high-tech knee brace with rejuvenating copper thread (and real simulated snake oil) in it, and whose PC is infested with viruses.  Other than the Tour, this NBC-SN network covers car racing, poker, and a bunch of hour-long infomercials for music CD collections like “Pop Goes the 70s.”  I was getting pretty depressed by all these commercials so now it’s good to see the same ads for cycling shoes, bikes, bike trainers, and watches that Eurosport has been dishing up for years.

Now the coverage is back on and they’re showing helicopter footage of the third climb, the first category Col de Val Louron-Azet, 7.4 km at 8.3%.  It looks suitably monstrous from above:  barren stone faces with sharp edges.

“Cointreau and Nutella in a pancake, not good for the head,” the announcer says.  Man, it’s hard enough to watch the racers while also typing this report when the commentators are actually making sense. 

Roche and Herrada are back in the main chase, which has shed a few riders and now numbers 17 souls, 1:20 behind Kiryienka.

Kiryienka is 5km from the summit of this penultimate climb.  His lead having been cut in half, I’m pretty sure he’ll get caught on the final descent or at least on the final climb, the famous Huis Categorie (beyond-category) Pla d’Adet, 10.2 km at 8.3%.

I really hope the yellow jersey group can catch all these guys.  Not surprisingly I’ve been rooting for Tejay throughout this Tour, and despite a crash early on he was doing great, sitting 5th in the GC with just a few minutes between himself and 2nd overall.  But then yesterday, the first stage I didn’t get to watch, he finally had that dreaded bad day and slipped to sixth, 9:25 behind the apparently unbeatable Nibali and 4:37 behind the filthy doping Valverde who’s still in second.

One thing I love about watching cycling is that I can relate somewhat to the experience of these guys.  No, I’ve never been in any way close to them in ability, but when I have a bad day, I get a taste of the misery that produces.  I’m turning the pedals of a similar bicycle, at a similar cadence, using similar muscle groups, over (in some cases) the same climbs.  That’s a lot different from the home viewers of Indy car racing, who have only ever driven consumer-oriented sedans and station wagons and who are bound by the national speed limit.

So when somebody completely detonates on a mountain stage, my heart goes out to him because eleven years ago, after flying (in my penguin-like way) over the Col de la Croix de Fer and the Col du Telegraphe, I cracked at the base of the Col du Galibier and had to deal not only with the horror of being passed by dozens of guys, but with the profound wretchedness of having to make it over two more horrific climbs, while limiting my losses, before I could call it a day.  In the third week of the Tour this kind of bodily breakdown is bound to afflict somebody and it’ll be something to see.

Kiryienka is really suffering now and his gap is down to 41 seconds as he nears the summit.

Now the chasers have got him in their sights.  Wow, he’s really grimacing.  I wonder what’s going through his head.  Is it “What was I thinking?”  Or is he so fried his mind is a complete blank?  Well, they’ve got him, 300 meters from the summit.  This KOM sprint will be fun to watch.

There goes Rodriguez!  Majka is right on his wheel!  Majka goes for the pass, but he is denied!  Unless there’s a major shakeup on the final climb, J-Rod will have the polka-dot jersey at the end of the day.  (Did you notice just now how I used the phrase “at the end of the day” to actually mean “at the end of the day” instead of as a clichéd throwaway expression conveying practically nothing?  You’re welcome.)

The yellow jersey group is over the summit now.  AG2R La Mondiale attacks!  This is probably designed to give their leader, Romain Bardet, an opportunity to take time out of Thibaud Pinot (FDJ.fr).  Pinot sits in 3rd overall, two places ahead of Bardet, and has the white Best Young Rider jersey that Bardet wants to get back.  Surely Bardet is counting on Pinot’s notoriously poor descending skills, which were sad and sometimes bewildering to witness during last year’s Tour.  But Pinot has gotten a lot better and I doubt this attack will mean much with that giant climb still to come.  I’d hate to be Pinot right now, though ... I’ll bet he’s completely stressed out at the pace this group is having to pour on.  Serious pucker-factor there.

What’s really interesting to note is how small this yellow jersey group is.  It’s down to about ten riders.  I’m not sure how far back the rest of the peloton is, or if there even is one anymore.  This group is now only 2:15 down on the breakaway.  I wonder where Tejay is.  That’s one disadvantage to this Eurosport coverage:  being enemies of freedom, the British commentators don’t pay any special attention to American riders.

I’m pretty sure Tejay is in this group.  There’s definitely a BMC guy and he’d be the most likely guy to still be in this group.  (His teammates Peter Velits and Amaël Moinard are in the front group.)  I don’t see any Lampre-Merida riders here, so the other American hopeful, Chris Horner, must have been dropped.

Speaking of Horner, my daughter made a good point the other morning as we were enjoying the Tour together and I was explaining the white jersey competition.  “They should have a best old rider competition,” Alexa rightly pointed out.  Wouldn’t that be great?  He’d get a grey jersey, of course.

The front group is on the final climb now, and Roche has attacked.  He’s immediately matched by Giovanni Visconti (Movistar Team).  Now he’s attacked again and has a pretty good gap.  This group has broken up a lot.  For now we have Roche and Visconti, and a bit behind them Moinard and Rolland, distanced from the rest.

The yellow jersey group is at 1:55 and I think they’ll catch most if not all of the original breakaway riders.

Roche really looks miserable now as he falls off Visconti’s pace.  Roche’s face is the nonverbal equivalent of whining.

Back in what’s left of the original breakaway, Majka attacks!  He’s looking to distance Rodriguez (and of course anybody else he can).  He looks pretty good but now the camera is following Visconti again so I’m not sure if ... okay, Majka’s attack was fruitless and now Schleck is taking up the pace.

Bardet is by himself ... I guess he was dropped at some point by the yellow jersey group and is fighting to stay in contact. 

And now, in the breakaway group, Majka has attacked again and has a good gap!  There are double KOM points at the top of this climb, and by now he’s learned he can’t outsprint Rodriguez.  He grabs the antenna of a motorbike!  I don’t know why!  I think he’s trying to steal it!  Maybe this guy grew up on the wrong side of the tracks.  Other than that I can’t imagine his motivation for this bizarre act.  I mean, yeah, when I’m struggling on a climb I’m tempted to grab anything I can, like the saddle of a little girl on a BMX bike who has just passed me, but this is the Tour and it’s not like Majka could get away with hanging on like that.  What will he say later?  That he was trying to make a point to the motorbike driver, like “You shouldn’t be here” when clearly the guy should?  Totally bizarre.

Visconti is looking very solid as he continues in the lead.  He’s only got 7 km to go, but they’re a tough 7 km.  He has half a minute on Roche, who has now been joined by Moinard and Rolland.

Back in the yellow jersey group, Jan-Christophe Peraud (AG2R La Mondiale) has attacked!  He’s sitting in 4th overall, a minute out of third, so it’s not hard to guess his motivation.  Nibali easily matches him, but this group could explode if there are enough of these attacks.

Majka is really going well, having a sizable gap on the Rodriguez group.

Tejay is still hanging in what is now a group of five:  Nibali, Peraud, an evidently resurgent Bardet, and—whoah, there goes Nibali again!  This is really making things tough.  Peraud is able to match Nibali but that’s it, Tejay looks like he’s dropped along with with Pinot and Bardet.  Notably missing here is Valverde, who has not responded well to all these accelerations and is dropped.  I’m sure Valverde will have strong words for his pharmacist tonight if he can’t catch back up.

Majka must have passed Roche, Moinard, and Rolland at some point because he now catches Visconti.  It’s amazing how quickly he made his way to the front of the race.  He might just be able to get a stage win today.

Tejay’s trio has passed Van Den Broeck.  That original breakaway has been totally scattered, needless to say.  Rodriguez is struggling and will very likely lose the KOM jersey, as Majka is at only 3 km to go.

Nibali attacks yet again!  He’s insatiable!

And now Majka attacks Visconti!  And it’s an amazing attack!  He’s totally spanked him!  Man, Majka has got the power.  Really, really blistering pace he just put up.

And my Internet feed has frozen.  Damn it!

Majka looks at the camera and gives a wink.  That’s how awesome he feels.  Now he’s under the 1 km thingy.  It’s tempting to call it a banner but it’s these four tubes arching over the road.  Well, more like two tubes that intersect each other, like giant crêpes suzettes.  (Have I lost my mind?)

Now Nibali has 1 km to go.  He’s kind of promiscuous, Nibali ... every time I see him he’s with a different rider.  Now it’s some Cannondale guy, must be Alessandro De Marchi who I swear has come out of nowhere.

Majka has this in the bag!  He’s pumping his fist.  And now he crosses the line with the very popular pointing-at-myself victory salute

Oh, good, he amends it with a more traditional victory salute.  More on this topic in a minute.

Nibali crosses the line with Peraud right on his wheel.  Rolland crosses, and now Schleck with Mollema right on him.  Roche is not far behind. 

Valverde is over the line, 1:34 down, with Tejay and the two youngsters right behind him.

One name that has not come up at all today is Leopold Konig.  This Team Netapp-Endura rider was in 7th in the GC going into this stage, a handful of seconds behind Tejay.  He’s been dropped today so that’s good for Tejay.

Now, back to this victory salute thing.  I’m really getting tired of the pointing-at-myself business.  The sheer me-me-me aspect of it is just not very gracious.  And last week, we saw Nibali doing this bizarre thumb-sucking salute when he won his second stage.  I guess it was a shout-out to his infant offspring, but you think the baby was watching?  I doubt it.  Babies care even less about bike racing than American adults.

LeMond is being interviewed by some EuroDouche wearing awful, simply awful orange pants.  They’re the color of orange sherbet.  If I were LeMond I would refuse to let the camera roll until the guy changed into some normal pants.

So, where was I?  Oh yeah, victory salutes.  When Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) won yesterday, his victory salute was a big bow.  I thought that was corny, but it sort of fits.  Rogers, being a major doper, was giving a performance, the mere semblance of having actually bested everybody.  It’s kind of like Kevin Spacey giving a bow after playing Richard III onstage:  no, Spacey himself didn’t die during the performance, but he did a good rendition of Richard III dying, just as Rogers really did look like the best man yesterday.

I guess I should be happy to be seeing LeMond’s commentary instead of just watching the barbaric, retrograde spectacle of podium girls presenting awards, but I guess I just can’t get past the orange pants of LeMond’s co-commentator.  Plus they keep bringing strangers over to talk.  I guess this is the Tinkoff-Saxo director they’re talking to now.  Do I care what he has to say?  Well, I don’t know.  He’s not a master orator or anything.  “Majka is a fun kid,” he says.  Yeah, I gathered that based on the wink.  You know what?  I think I better cut this off here.  I have my day job to get to.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Taking the Certification Exam


Who knows why you decide to get certified.  Maybe your employer demands it.  Or maybe it’s just a demonstration of your commitment to your career.  Perhaps it increases your salary, or your value on the job market.  Whatever the case, you’ve gone to the boot camp or done your self-study track, you’ve read the book and the study guide, you’ve made your flashcards, you’ve taken the sample tests, you’ve combed the Internet for other resources, and now you’re going to actually take the test.  Here’s what to expect.

Taking your certification exam

Signing up will be more difficult than you expect.  These test facilities are low-margin operations.  The simple steps to create your account won’t work.  Click submit and the screen shimmers, refreshes, and you’re back where you started.  Open a ticket.  Try a different browser.  Only when you try a totally different PC will it work.

When you show up, they’ll thrust you a dog-eared sheet of rules in a greasy clear plastic sleeve.  You won’t read the rules because, really, what recourse would you have if you don’t like one of them?  Besides, you’ll mind your own business and not try to cheat.  So you nod and sign the form.  They require two forms of ID.  The instructions here are unclear:  one must be a government-issued photo ID, the other can be something basic like a credit card, but an example they give of an acceptable photo ID is your employer-issued work ID.  But unless you work for the government, this doesn’t meet the requirements.  The reason you even worry about it is that your driver’s license, or driver license (depending on what state you live in), is expired.  There is a rule that it can’t be expired.  Do you lead with the employer-issued ID, then?  No, it doesn’t look official enough.  You hold your breath while the clerk dutifully records the expiration date of your driver license, without registering the fact that it’s expired.

They’ll ask you to turn off your electronic device, but you won’t have brought one, especially not your laptop because you know the lockers are only big enough for a small purse.  They make you take everything out of your pockets and even remove your watch.  You put your personal effects in the little locker.  The key has a giant fob and they forbid you to put it in your pocket.  Then they make your turn your pockets inside out while standing on the painted clown feet.  Standing there with your pockets pulled out, you suddenly realize you’re acting out the non-verbal punch line of a dumb riddle:  “Would you rather kiss an elephant on the trunk or a rabbit between the ears?”  Then they make you pull up your sleeves and your pant legs.  You quip, “Nothing up my sleeves!” in some nonspecific cartoon voice, and to your amazement this gets a chuckle.  You thought these people were humorless.  

Then they will go over you with the wand, like at the airport, looking for—what?  Weapons?  You turn around.  “Arms out to the sides.”  You will now be looking at a calendar on the wall showing that famous statue in Rio de Janeiro, Christ the Redeemer, seen from behind, and you’ll realize your acting it out, too.

Certain rules will be recited to you.  “You are not allowed to visit your locker during breaks,” she will say.  She is new and her colleague will correct her:  “No, you actually are.  For medication only, or food, no checking notes or turning on your phone.”  The new person will have the hang of this job in two weeks tops and then it will get progressively less interesting and rewarding.  For now she is going into the actual testing room to prepare your computer.  It is very quiet in there and there are a dozen video cameras under little domes attached to the ceiling.  It could be that some of the domes have no camera within them:  placebo cameras.  There are partitions between the test stations, like the partitions between urinals in your nicer restrooms.

Of course it isn’t actually possible to cheat on this kind of test.  You will recall with a chuckle how a guy once tried to read your bluebook during a English Lit final exam.  How could he possibly have hoped to gain enough insight, without the context of your sprawling essay, to improve his own?  Then you’ll recall a really funny tale one of your professors told you.  He was giving a summer session course on feminist literature.  There was one man in this class, an immensely obese and hairy fellow who always came to class wearing only a Speedo.  (This was during the sixties.)  He was so fat, the rolls obscured the Speedo and he appeared to be naked.  During the final exam, the woman seated next to him suddenly became flustered, turned in her exam after only ten minutes, and left.  Written in her bluebook was:  “I need to talk to you in your office.”  She came to the professor’s office the next day and complained, “That man was looking at my bluebook.  I looked over at his to see if he was copying off of me, and discovered that he was writing about my breasts!”  The professor replied, “Well, in fairness, he was actually writing about Gertrude Stein’s breasts.  But it’s okay, you can retake the exam.”

Lost in this reverie you almost won’t notice the clerk gesturing to you come over to your PC.  It will be a cheap desktop, sitting right up on the desk, very old school, and the monitor, though a flat-screen, will be crooked and cheap and sad.  You will be given two little whiteboards that aren’t boards but just sheets of plastic, and two greasy dry-erase pens.  You will label these “transparencies” because you will feel a need to classify the simple objects available to you during the test.  But they’re not actually transparencies, because they’re not transparent.

You must display your two forms of ID and your key on the desk.  It will be too hot in there but when you remove your sweater you’ll be told to put it back on:  “The cameras don’t like extra objects in their field of view.”  Except it might be a clumsier, or perhaps less clumsy phrase, than “field of view.”  You will also be given a little calculator, which will serve no purpose during the test expect perhaps calculating your possible score if you know which problems you probably missed, which you won’t.

There will be a PC tutorial on how to use the multiple-choice test software.  It will be emphasized that the sample test you take will not have any bearing on your score for the actual test, but this won’t satisfy everybody.  Some people will be sweating bullets and will consider skipping the tutorial.  So just in case, the questions in the sample test will include the answers so you can ace the test and boost your confidence.  The test will be about astronomy, and you might learn something from it.

During the actual test the proctor will come stand behind you for minutes at a time.  They will have warned you that they reserve the right to do this.  You will remember that the rules also stated, in bold, so you noticed it, that everything you do will be recorded, visually and audio-ly.  Is there an equivalent word for “visually” that connotes sound?  Don’t ponder this:  the clock is ticking!  You’re wasting time!

The test will be made more difficult by awkwardness in the answers.  There are two versions of this awkwardness:  either all four answers will seem wrong, or more than one will seem right (when only one answer is allowed).  You are forbidden to disclose any content of the test, as doing so would cause irreparable harm to the certifying body, harm that no financial compensation can remedy.  So I will explain the awkwardness modes via analogy.

Suppose the test was evaluating your knowledge of what food is served in Italian restaurants.  The question “What boiled entree item is most popular?” would have these answers:
A. Minestrone
B. Spaghetti
C. Noodles
D. Ravioli

You know the best answer is “pasta,” but that’s not an option.  And “spaghetti” is too specific.  So it must be “noodles,” but that doesn’t really cover penne, farfalle, etc. which are not long and ribbon-like.  And doesn’t it technically have to have egg in it to be a noodle?

Or, the answers will be:
A. Minestrone
B. Noodles
C. Alimentary paste
D. Ravioli

You won’t like “noodles” for the reasons given above, but what the hell is alimentary paste?  That phrase certainly wasn’t in the book or the training or the sample tests.  It is both the correct answer and the weirdest possible way of expressing it. 

Depending on the test, there may be one more possible scenario:  there actually will be two totally correct answers (in this example, pasta and alimentary paste) but you’re only allowed to choose one, so you literally have a 50/50 chance of getting it right, and that’s just the way it goes.  Your instructor will have warned you about this.

The cryptic answer choices will be far worse on the actual test, of course, because the subject matter will be totally arcane to begin with, not something simple like food. 

There will not be a buzzer you slap when you’re done with the test.  The testing software will tell you that you’re done, and a printer somewhere in the facility will print out your score, but this will not alert anybody.  So you’ll sit there for a little bit before venturing out of the test room, feeling like you’re doing something wrong.  You’ll be clutching your greasy transparencies, your giant locker key, and your two forms of ID, and you will smell like a dog because you’ve sweated so much in your wool sweater.  

There will be congestion in the lobby area because so many people take these tests.  Priority will go to an unfortunate woman who is checking out to take a break and must be escorted to her locker.  She is in a huge hurry; it may be that she is making for the restroom to throw up.  You will present your items to the clerk who will be visibly flummoxed for some time before realizing you’re at the wrong desk because you took that other type of test.  You will finally be given your score printout, which looks like you cooked it up yourself.  But they initial it and use this special stamp to make it official.  Because you didn’t bring anything to the test, you have no folder or bag to put this in, so you’ll carry it—unfolded because it’s an official document—in your hand when you walk back across town to your office.

One more thing:  they will not wipe clean your greasy transparencies, nor had they provided a tissue so you could do this.  They put the transparencies in a folder.  Will somebody analyze your scribblings later, to determine if you cheated somehow?  Or will they scrutinize them as part of a larger psychological experiment?  Could it be that you only thought you were enhancing your career prospects through this ordeal, but were actually unwittingly taking part in a study?  You will never know.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Biased Blow-By-Blow, Tour de France 2014, Stage 2


Once again I’m delivering a live blow-by-blow report of the Tour de France, this time the second stage.  (Okay, it’s only live if you’re chatting online with me, which opportunity so few of you have availed yourselves of, but I try to post the final report before most Californians are even awake.)

Sure, you could watch replays of the race online, or read the cyclingnews report, but then you’d be missing my utterly frank commentary, the kind of commentary that responsible journalists aren’t allowed to make or which would be, for them, career-limiting moves.  Since bloggers can’t be fired, I’m going to call a spade “a filthy doping spade” and also make fun of any rider who I think deserves it.

I’ve noticed that the mobile version of my blog includes a thumbnail photo with each post, even before you select it, and I don’t want that first photo to give anything away.  So here’s a random photo of Tour legend Greg LeMond being interviewed after the race. 

 Biased Blow-By-Blow Report – 2014 Tour de France Stage Two

Not surprisingly, nothing much is happening yet with 90 kilometers to go in this stage.  There’s a small breakaway group about 2:30 ahead of the peloton.  They’re heading up the Côte de Ripponden, a category 3 climb, where they’ll duke it out for King of the Mountain (KOM) points.  I have joined the coverage far too late to see the riders on the Côte de Blubberhouses, and the amazing thing is that I didn’t make up that name.  It’s really called that in the listing I downloaded last night.  It’s a shame my kids aren’t here to giggle over “Blubberhouses,” or to enjoy a “teachable moment” as I explain to Alexa, who’s studying French in middle school, that it should be “Côte des Blubberhouses.”

I didn’t originally plan to cover this year’s Tour de France at all because last year’s race was such a travesty.  Christopher Froome (Team Sky) was so dominant in both time trialing and climbing, there was just no way for anything interesting to happen.  I can’t overstate how unrealistic it is for a tiny, scrawny pure-climber type to do so well in flat time trials.  Let me make a soccer analogy:  it would be like a player who can lead the offense but also be the goalie, at the same time.  He’d be running back and forth across the field, shooting on goal, passing, and then—in the goalie role—blocking shots and throwing the ball to himself, outrunning the thrown ball to take up the offense again.  The big problem with my analogy, of course, is that such a soccer game would actually be pretty fun to watch, unlike the Tour de France lately.

But today’s course is supposed to be pretty awesome.  It’s in England, on some very narrow roads, and it has a whole lot of short climbs, making it comparable to a spring classic.  (If you don’t know what a “classic” is in this context, you’ve come to the right place.  This blog caters to newbies and experts alike.  For my explanation of the classics, click here.)

In addition to the cool course, today promises some crazy action because it’s the Tour de France and this early in the three weeks everybody still has plenty of energy left.  Everybody tries to get to the front of the peloton at the same time, due to the race radios, and this creates a very dangerous situation.  What’s that, you ask?  Why do radios cause this phenomenon?  Well, I’m going to make a college dormitory analogy.  (Yeah, I know, that’s my answer to everything.)  Imagine that you’re a college kid, living in the dorms, and you’ve got this really helpful guidance counselor who speaks to you through a radio 24x7.  Imagine if your every move is dictated by this guy over that radio.  I mean, you don’t eat, you don’t sleep, you don’t even go to the bathroom without this guy telling you to.  And of course you’re not unique; every single student has the same arrangement.  And for some reason every counselor tells every student to go to the bathroom at the same time.  With all that synchronized flushing, of course the plumbing system is completely overwhelmed, which is the dorm equivalent of a pileup in the peloton.

Not that I’m hoping to see crashes, of course.  I wouldn’t wish any injury to anybody.  Whoah, speak of the devil!  Froomestrong’s eerily strong super-domestique Richie Porte has hit the deck.  (See?  I do actually plan on describing some of the racing here.)

Amazingly, after an incredibly slow bike change, Porte is chasing the peloton all by himself.  The storied Sky team, while the best in the business at doping (possibly even better than Postal back in the day), seems to be oddly poor at everything else, such as supporting a rider who a) is Froome’s best asset in the mountains, and b) is Sky’s second hope for the overall classification should anything happen to Froome.  They’re just letting the guy suffer by himself against the peloton.  (Don’t even get me started on the abject stupidity of excluding Bradley Wiggins, a former Tour winner, from the race simply because including him might scare Froome and/or bruise his ego.)

Okay, finally they’ve sent Danny Pate back to help Porte.  This is such bad timing for Porte... this early in the race he probably hasn’t even gotten a blood bag yet, and he looks to be really suffering.  (No, I don’t know for a fact that Sky is doing blood transfusions, but when Sky can routinely put four guys on the front of the lead group on a major climb and ratchet up the pace until honest-to-God GC contenders are being spat out the back, you have to assume they’re doing everything, perhaps including some stuff the other teams haven’t discovered yet.)

Sky has sent another rider back for Porte.  It’s Bernhard Eisel.  “More hands on the pump,” the Eurosport guy says, employing a charming metaphor in true British fashion.  That should help (the extra support rider, not the announcer’s metaphor), though these guys are climbing the Côte de Holme Moss, the hardest climb of the stage (a category 2) so the draft won’t help Porte too much.  Speaking of Moss—a different Moss this time, that being the supermodel Kate Moss—I was chatting with a pal the other day about how Froome is even thinner than Kate Moss, and how if she met him she’d say, “Dude, go eat half a sandwich or something!”  This got us thinking about how this new clothing that Sky wears, which is sheer and mesh and totally obscene, would look a lot better on Kate Moss than on Froomie.  Not that I’m a big fan of fashion models or anything; they’re too thin and should take a page from the playbook of the non-super models who adorn the hoods of muscle cars.  But anyway, the less predictable conclusion we came to is that if Kate Moss were put on the same doping program that Froome is on, she could probably win the Tour de France.  And that might be really good for the sport.

So, back to the Côte de Holme Moss:  Thomas Voeckler (Team Europcar) is hammering and gaining on Blel Kadri (AG2R La Mondiale), hoping to pass him up by the summit and get the 5 KOM points on offer.  (If “Blel” is a typo, it’s not my typo.  That’s how it’s spelled in the start list.)  The Eurosport announcer has called Voeckler a “commando style” rider, and I’m not sure he (the announcer) knows what he’s saying.  My brothers and I always took “commando style” to mean “doing something while naked that is normally done while clothed,” such as working at a bike shop (full disclosure:  we wore aprons), but I think the general connotation of “commando style” is “not wearing underwear” in which case every rider in the peloton (and every peloton) would meet this description.

Froomie has dropped his chain!  That’s ridiculous.  This totally avoidable mechanical problem has become practically an epidemic.  I just don’t understand it.  He’s not panicking, though, despite this happening on a cat 2 climb, because he’s so much like Dash, the character in “The Incredibles” who due to his super-powers has to hold back in running races so as not to give himself away.  This particular comparison breaks down in that Froome isn’t as convincing as Dash; he keeps forgetting to soft-pedal and takes the lead too early and defends it without even having to breathe through his mouth.

Kadri has crushed Voeckler on the Côte de Holme Moss and gets top KOM points.  And now some Cofidis rider has passed Voeckler for the runner-up points.  It’s a glorious sprint!  Wow, Voeckler surged and looked like he had it but the other guy, Nicolas Edet, just totally spanked him.  Fine by me ... I’ve never liked Voeckler.  I don’t know why.

The yellow jersey, Marcel Kittel (Team Giant-Shimano), is way off the back.  His team somehow conjured up a yellow bike for him.  It’s not that surprising when an obvious GC contender has a yellow bike waiting for him in case he takes the overall lead, but it’s pretty surprising to anticipate, with such confidence, that your best sprinter will prevail in a chaotic flat stage.  Either the team mechanic just grabbed a can of yellow spray-paint, or the team made special arrangements.  That would sure put the pressure on a guy, though I guess it’d be a drop in the bucket for a Tour de France stage winner anyway.

Kadri is attempting to solo and has like 30 seconds on a small chase group comprising Voeckler, Edet, and Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).  If Kadri can hold this for a bit longer he’ll get KOM points on the Côte de Midhopestones, and if he lasts 13 km he’ll get the points for the Côte de Bradfield, a 1-km cat 4 climb, which would put him in the lead in the KOM competition.  And if he’s really good and can make it 7 km longer out front he’ll get the points for the 1.5-km cat 3 Côte d’Oughtibridge.  Those are pretty big ifs though.

So, if you missed yesterday’s stage, there were to my mind two really noteworthy things about it.  First, Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) tried to shoot through a gap that didn’t really exist, and crashed really hard, taking down Simon Gerrans (Orica Greenedge) in the process.  Cav is out of the Tour with a separated shoulder, which is a great shame because a) it’s a shame when anybody crashes out, b) he’s a formidable rider who always makes the sprint finishes more exciting, and c) he gives pretty interesting interviews because he wins so often he probably practices his speeches in front of the mirror. 

The other notable thing about yesterday’s stage is that, despite it being a flat stage specifically designed for sprinters, Froome finished in sixth place.  Again, it’s very difficult to express how absurd it is that Froome can seemingly do it all.  There have been decent climbers who could duke it out in field sprints, such as Heinrich Haussler (this year riding for IAM Cycling), but they’re only KOM-style climbers—the kind who do fine on shorter climbs and have the punch to finish first over them.  But Froome is a real Grand Tour climber who does well on the long climbs because he’s so small and light, he’s practically doing no work so it’s like a motorcycle dropping a semi.  No true pocket-climber has ever done anything in a final sprint on this kind of Tour stage and in fact wouldn’t even bother trying.  It would be no less astonishing if a jockey, rounding the final bend in a horse race, decided to jump off his horse and run the rest of the way in himself.

Porte is back in the main bunch, by the way, and Kadri has been caught.  The riders now have 35 km to go and have crested the Côte de Midhopestones.  Wow, the race reshuffled when I wasn’t looking.  It looks like a couple of Garmin guys are on the front now.  Vincenzo Nibali (Astana Pro Team) is in there, rocking the Italian national champion jersey.  One of the Garmin guys is Andrew Talansky, the American who won the Critérium du Dauphiné recently.  That race started out really boring, with Froomie absolutely crushing everybody on an early mountain stage, but then Froome crashed in a later stage and was hurt badly enough to relinquish his lead and make the race worth watching.

Man, Garmin is just sitting on the front, hammering the pace.  They’re approaching the Côte de Bradfield.  Wow, Kittel is only just finishing the Côte de Midhopestones.  He’s over 7 minutes back now.  I doubt he cares that much since surely he’s mainly interested in the green points jersey (for best sprinter), and wants to be fresh for future sprint stages.  He could lose this stage by seven feet or seven minutes and there wouldn’t be any difference to him.

This Côte de Bradfield climb hasn’t ended up being very exciting.  Perhaps the pace is too high for any KOM contender to try anything.  They’re over it now without a sprint.  It was only worth one point anyway.

So all the main GC contenders and most of the green jersey contenders are still together.  They’re snaking through a little town that looks very charming.  I have to confess, I do enjoy the scenery in these European stage races.  America has plenty of wilderness, which I really appreciate, but so many of our little towns just look like strip malls with tract houses attached.

The peloton is on the Côte d’Oughtibridge.  It’s a cat 3 due to only being 1.5 km long, but it’s a 9% grade.  These climbs never look as steep on TV.  The camera angles just seem to flatten everything out.  It’s scary to think that the camera also adds five pounds.

Alexander Kristoff (Team Katusha), winner of this year’s Milan-San Remo, goes off the back.  Serves him right because his helmet  is so fricking ugly.  It’s the same dome-like thing that was sitting crooked on his head during his victory salute in San Remo. 

Pierre Rolland (Europcar) and some AG2R bloke are off the front at the moment.  It’s 14 km to go.  Not sure what the gap is at this point, or what the point is either.

Rolland is soloing!  He’s obviously going uphill but it’s not a named climb.  Pretty decent gap but then, it’s a huge group behind him with all the sprinters’ teams.

Cannondale is swarming at the front, making sure Peter Sagan is in great position.  Oddly, Rolland is holding them off.  I don’t know what he’s after unless it’s the single KOM point at the top of the Côte de Jenkin Road.  Funny climb names, these.  This is England, after all, where they surely don’t say “Côte” unless it’s French affectation, which the Brits aren’t known for.  I guess this handy little chart I found on the Internet has been Franco-fied.  I wonder how they’d have tweaked “Blubberhouses.”  Côte de Maison de Blubbér?  Anyway, it’s 5 km until that final climb ... is there any way Rolland could hang on that long?

Answer:  no.  He’s already caught with 8 km to the finish.

So, Jenkins road could be very exciting.  It’s in about 3 km and is just under 1 km long, but it’s a 10.8% grade.  Perfect for Sagan, who climbs better than the sprinters.  A few years ago Sagan seemed equal to the fastest sprinters in the world, but that’s changed.  Fortunately for him, Simon Gerrans, one of the best sprinters in the race, has just been dropped.  So Gerrans, Kristoff, and Kittel are all dropped and Cav is out of the race, so Sagan’s chances are pretty good.

Nibali attacks!  Pretty awesome!  But here comes Contador, or “Lubrador” as my online correspondent called him earlier.  Oddly this was in the context of my pal hoping, as I do, that Contador is well lubed for this race.  We used to hate all dopers, but anything is better than Froome totally dominating.  It’s pretty sad when we’re rooting for a known doper, and liar (using the “tainted imported beef” excuse that oddly enough actually worked for one rider), especially one who, as his victory salute, pantomimes shooting a gun.  Yes, as annoying as all that is, it’s better than watching Froome mock everybody with his grotesquely awkward riding style and smug grin.

Speak of the devil!  Froome totally attacks!  He takes the KOM point, but more to the point shows his would-be rivals that he’s totally recovered from his Dauphiné crash.

Sagan hits the front!  He’s in a full tuck on this descent.  It’s 4 km to go.  Sagan is absolutely murdering it.  But at this speed, slipstreams are very long and he hasn’t shed the peloton yet—or what’s left of it.  Dudes are strung out in a long line, big gaps developing here and there.

Some Astana guys attacks and a BMC is right on him—I think it’s Tejay van Gardaren.  It’s 2.3 km to go.  Now they’re slowing up and watching each other and I hear the hackneyed phrase “cat and mouse” for the third time today.

Wow, Nibali launches a supersonic attack up the side of the road!  He’s trying to solo!  Just a tremendous boost of speed.  It’s kind of incredible how big a gap he’s opened up in such short time.  It’s a slight uphill which certainly serves him.  Criminy, he’s on fire.  The peloton has broken in two with a group of maybe twenty splint off from the rest. 

Only 800 meters for Nibali!  I think he’s got it!  But wait, the pack is absolutely drilling it!  Sagan is leading the effort.  But now he looks back, lays off the pedals, and suddenly everybody is watching each other again.  It’s slightly uphill and 250 meters to go ... will Nibali hold out?  And will my Internet feed hold out!?  Nibali looks back, he’s out of the saddle, the group swarming behind him, and DAMN!  He’s got it!  What a badass!  Balls like King Kong!

I don’t know if Nibali is just lucky or really, really smart because I sure wouldn’t have predicted the sprinters would screw up so badly, all looking at each other instead of just going for the line.  It’s like when you’re playing volleyball and the ball come arching over the net, its trajectory obvious, its speed low, and yet everybody just stands there, figuring somebody else will get it, and BONK!  It’s on the ground.

Van Garderen was 9th, Talansky 7th, so a pretty impressive showing by the U.S.  I sort of have to say that because I’ve been feeling guilty lately for not supporting our economy better.

So Nibali took 2 seconds out of the rest, and is the new race leader!  If I’m not mistaken, that’s his first-ever yellow jersey enough though he’s often a GC contender in this race. 

Nibali is being interviewed and says, “Everybody thinks I suck so I knew they’d let me go.”  At least, that’s what I think he said—I got distracted for a second.  It’s what I hope he said.

Eurosport is showing some highlights.  But now my feed is blocked by an ad for a beautiful girl who’s “Looking for a boyfriend.”  Her name is Liz.  Poor Liz.  It’s showing a snapshot of her chat and nobody is responding!  She’s just waiting for some nice Internet user to notice her!  But I don’t care.  I’d rather hear what LeMond has to say about the race.  He’s questioning Sky’s stupidity in taking so long to send riders back to help Porte.

Now LeMond is on to discussing the race in general.  “I’m not very optimistic about the Americans’ chances,” says LeMond.  Hmmm.  Some part of me thinks LeMond wouldn’t mind continuing to be the only American to officially win the Tour.

They’re showing very brief snippets of the podium ceremony but nested within a boring interview with Kittel.  Sagan gets the green jersey (and the white jersey of best young rider but they only showed like two seconds of that and I missing grabbing a snapshot).

I was already losing my patience with this endless interview format, and now they’ve brought over the notorious doper and all-around tool Alejandro Valverde, so I’m going to cut this coverage off here.  I hope you’ve enjoyed my biased account.