Thursday, July 24, 2008

New Digs, Ladies

I've obtained new hosting. Check me out here.
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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Expectations, Disappointments, and New Stuff That's Better than the Old

I had big plans for this next post, a grand salute to one of the greatest retailers in American history, the Sears Roebuck Corporation.

"What's that, pinko?" you ask, "You would say nice things about a multi-million-dollar corporation without insinuating that they feed babies to mutated puppies?"

Indeed, I would reply, but then they had to go and disappoint me, but I suppose it wasn't really their fault. Anyway, I bought me a new 'spensive toy, so I'm happy again. Allow me to elucidate:

My wife and I love us some old stuff, and I love me some tools, so we're always hitting the estate sales around here looking for deals. Just last weekend, we thought we hit the jackpot, too. There in the (I assume dead) guy's workshop was none other than an old behemoth Sears Craftsman Accra-Arm 10" radial arm saw. Quite possibly the Platonic Ideal of power tools, and something that would fill a very necessary gap in my garage, as I have no table saw or power miter saw. This bad boy would cover all that (with the exception of ripping long boards, which I've needed to do exactly once in this house).

We got a good deal on it, brought it home with the understanding that we could take it back if it did not in fact work. In my head I envisioned celebrating the purchase of this device with a blog post, as it's been a while since I gave y'all a Tool of the Week.

When I got home, I got the bright idea to take the saw off the arm before setting it up (much lighter that way), and that's when I realized that part of the saw had in fact deteriorated and broken off in a million little metal pieces. It was two plates in particular, responsible for holding in the ball bearings that allow the saw to slide back and forth along the arm. Should have looked closer in the shop, but lesson learned.

But my father told me that he believed you could still order parts for old Craftsman tools, and so I went to their website. Sure enough, they have a site for ordering parts, and amazingly, my saw came up when I punched in the model number. Not good enough for you? Well, they even had exploded diagrams of the whole thing so I could visually pick out the parts I need, and a simple ordering form so I could buy them.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is how a company should be run. Now I was definitely going to write them up, and for some contrast, I was specifically going to link this utterly fascinating comment about how Sears, one of the world's largest and most respected retailers, was perfectly positioned to completely own e-commerce, to be bigger than Amazon and Wal-Mart combined, and let it slip through their fingers for lack of vision. I'd probably wrap up this cautionary tale with some wistful damn thing about how she'd almost certainly die a slow death, or at least be forever relegated to the back seat of retail, but would nevertheless be the Great Grey Lady of Commerce or some damn thing.

Then I hit the "order" button.

Whoops, sorry, we don't have these parts anymore.

Rarely in my life have I been so crestfallen over not being able to buy something. It had started as a neat vintage they-don't-make-them-like-they-used-to power tool, then morphed into the anticipated satisfaction of a personal fixer-upper, and was supposed to end with my joyful participation in one of the oldest and most celebrated customer service departments in US history. Suck it, Best Buy.

Alas, it wasn't to be. Now I'm left with a saw what don't cut nothin', but still hopeful of finding a web forum somewhere that will turn up a parts site. I'm trying to be realistic, but I just want to get that sweet thing out there running. Hell, I completely reorganized my garage just to give it a place of prominence by the door.

But don't worry about me, for I have drowned my sorrows by becoming Apple's bitch. It was with no small sense of shame that I did so, but just two days ago and in direct rebellion against a strong, visceral aversion, I actually purchased an iPod Nano. Why did I do this? Well, I have a reason, but it's all about cross-promotion.

In short, my old mp3 player broke after an unfortunate encounter with my bathroom floor. We needed a new one, then, and Jennifer and I set a price limit, one that would get me nowhere near the cost of an 8GB Nano. However, it called to me with the intoxicating song of Nike + iPod, just about the most brilliant idea Apple's had since they invented the iPod — and yes, I'm aware of that overhyped phone they made. So I coughed up the difference out of my own pocket.

You get a kit that has a wireless pedometer that connects to your iPod and sends it data while you run: distance, speed, time. While you run, you periodically hear from a very nice woman who lives in your headphones and tells you how far you've gone. Then every time you sync your iPod with your computer, it uploads the data to iTunes and Nike's nikeplus site, where you can track your data and get involved with other runners. You can set personal goals or even create or accept running challenges (I just today started a distance challenge with the folks over at MetaFilter). You can map out and save running courses there using their own Google Maps-based web app.

It's a huge motivator, has lots of neat whistles and bells, plugs you into a worldwide community of runners, and I'm excited as hell about it. Their site could stand to be a lot more community-focused than it is just by giving users the ability to "friend" other members and communicate with them as you can on sites like Flickr and Netflix, but hopefully they'll get there soon. Regardless, it's still one hell of a lot of fun and has given me renewed enthusiasm about running.

When you're done reading this, go back to the front page and look over to my sidebar. You'll see new widgets that have my personal stats and the rankings for the MetaFilter challenge. See where it says two miles there? It LIES. I decided to spend the first two miles of my four-mile run today calibrating the thing, but of course it doesn't count that mileage, so it looks like I was a big sissy today and couldn't gut out more than a deuce. Try not to think less of me. [EDIT: This was written after my first run Thursday, and I've since racked up some mileage. Did eight more today (Saturday), and with just those two runs, starting nearly halfway through this month's challenge, I've jumped to number six in the standings. I rule.]

Thinking about this new toy fitness aid in the context of my probably failed power tool purchase made me reflect that while few if any stores today can match Sears' level of customer service in its heyday, data and web application technology have come so far that businesses can at least give their customers a hell of a lot more ancillary benefits than a web-less world ever could. Pay the base price for an iPod, get a really nice way to listen to music. Slap down another 30 bucks, and you'll not only get your workouts tracked for you, but you'll be able to run against the world.

Take me, for instance. I'm in a running challenge against people on at least three continents. Whatever that is, it's not nothing. It is, in fact, something that makes me feel curiously hopeful for the future.

Even if the goddamn saw never works right.
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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Holy Crap

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you The Greatest Five Second Video on the Internet (make sure you've got audio):

There is no more inside.
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Friday, May 04, 2007

Asphalt Is Still My Bitch

Two months to the day. That must be a sitewide record.

Yes, I again ran until I hurt, this time in the hilly hills of midtown Nashville, Tennessee. There, under weather conditions that were frankly too warm, I pounded pavement from Centennial Park to LP Field, home of the Tennessee Titans. I finished nearly six full minutes off my Little Rock time, and I'm happy enough with that. Nashville's course is harder (at least in the first half — I have yet to tackle the endless hill of Little Rock's second half) due to the hills and the heat, and but for the last two miles, I felt like a million bucks the whole way.

I also managed to finish precisely fifteen minutes behind NFL running back Eddie George, a feat that gives me no small amount of pride (and therefore one that I cannot refrain from telling people about). George goes on in that article to describe running a half marathon as "really difficult," even harder than playing an NFL game, and decided to be a big girl and not go for the full marathon next year. I am going for the full next year, therefore I could kick Eddie George's ass. Q.E.D.

And yes, the ladies (and gents) turned out to look at my ass (that should jump down to "Impersonation of a Tool" -- hit refresh if it doesn't). Whoever wrote that clearly spends too long thinking about the furry glory of my posterior, not that I can blame him/her. But on the subject of butts, I will say that finding an attractive one in front of you to focus on is a good way to take your mind off the pain at mile ten. Here is what I look like when I do that:

I was roundly mocked the next day when my calves locked up and I stomped around stiff-legged like the bastard son of Boris Karloff and Forrest Gump. It was worth it, though, if for no other reason than that it made my pregnant wife shut her whining up and pamper me for a couple of days, in accordance with God's Holy Plan. I also saw fellow sufferers around town, using an identification scheme I call And You Shall Know Us by the Severity of Our Limping. I found it encouraging, as if I'd joined a secret society. We should have handshakes and stuff.

Now I'm pretty well recovered and easing back into my mileage, and I hope to be back up to fifteen or twenty miles a week before too terribly long. I have a second finisher's medal and now begin the long and arduous climb up to 26.2. I'm tentatively planning to make it by Memphis in December, but if not, there's always Little Rock next year. I won't feel like a man until I conquer that goddamn hill.
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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Asphalt Is My Bitch

Well, the good news is my ankle doesn't hurt, thanks to a combo of increased naproxin dosage, extremely reduced mileage in the last two weeks of training, and careful attention to how I run.

The bad news is now my hip hurts, I believe due in large part to inadequate stretching after the race. Later I plan to break that hip, and then begin a life full of bermuda shorts and velcro shoes.

But the great news is that I finished my first half-marathon, and I finished IN FIRST PLACE.

Ha ha, fooled you. No way I would have won, don't be stupid. I find your naïveté to be as tedious and unsophisticated as a popcorn fart. Have yourself bathed and brought to my chambers.

My experience, mile by mile:
  • Mile 0: I recall through experience that you know it's cold when your pee actually steams.

  • Mile 1: The adjustable zipper on my water belt breaks, so now the bottle won't stay in. I'm going to have to carry this sumbitch IN MY HAND FOR THE NEXT TWELVE MI... Hey, the Arkansas River, sweet! I wonder if Terri's headboard is still down there?

  • Mile 2: Against all reason, I peel off my long-sleeve shirt and strip down to my compression shirt. Five female runners start licking the sweat from my biceps.

  • Mile 3: I realize I'm about to pass the CEO of the bank I used to work for. I am gonna smoke this old fool.

  • Mile 4: A gospel band on a flatbed trailer. With electric instruments. And backup singers. COOLEST THING EVER.

  • Mile 5: The CEO of my bank passes me. This old man is going DOWN. Just as soon as I walk for a couple of minutes and have some Gatorade Rain. You know, it really is refreshing.

  • Mile 6: Clinton Library. You know what would be cool? If it was the George Clinton library. Funkiest books in all the land. I would take that tour, and Bootsy would be there. Goddamn, I love Bootsy.

  • Mile 7: HAHAHA LOOK AT THOSE MORONS STUCK ON THE FREEWAY OFF-RAMP DON'T THEY KNOW THAT IT'S — hey, is that my car? Yes, that appears to be my wife. Baby? Baby! OVER HERE IF YOU WANT TO TAKE THE GODDAMN PICTURE — Yes, hi, I love you too. Thank you for your support.

  • Mile 8: I can see the Capitol, and the finish line from here. I am heartened by this, if a bit confused, as it looks closer than five miles away. Then we turn left. I begin weeping.

  • Mile 9: You're not tired. You're not tired. You're not...fuck, I'm tired.

  • Mile 10:
    Republican Runner #1: There's the governor's mansion. Wish I'd realized we were going by there, I'd have some suggestions to put in his mailbox.

    Republican Runner #2: Did you know Bill Clinton never actually had a residence in this state?

    RR1: Really?

    RR2: Yeah, no, seriously. Never lived or paid taxes in Arkansas.



  • Mile 12: I'm going to just lie down here and sleep for awhile. Yes, forever sleep... Hey, is little dot up ahead my old boss?

  • Mile 13: Oops, I may have just stepped on the 5K finisher's mat. That...that may fuck up my official time.

  • Mile 13.1: I turn into a big pile of poo and lie, steaming and clumpy, upon the pavement.

The clock time was 2:15:30, roughly, and I crossed the start line about two and a half minutes after the gun was fired, so I figure my chip time's about 2:13:00 or thereabouts. I'm immensely proud of this time. With my lower body acting up the way it has, I figured it'd be two and a half hours at least, maybe closer to three. So hot damn for that.

After greeting my wife and wiping off what salt and sweat I could, I headed off for free stuff and some salty food. I passed a very unfortunate man who hadn't protected his nipples and now looked like he'd been shot twice in the chest by a Red Rider BB gun. Me, I wore the ever-flattering compression-style shirt, so I didn't even need nipple tape. I like to keep my headlights on high beam in the morning.

You think you're in awe of a real marathoner when you're not even thinking about training for that distance, but you're wrong. Contrary to my expectation, the goal of running 26.2 miles has if anything gotten bigger and more impressive now that I've gone halfway. I finished the half absolutely spent, unable to understand how one could then go on and do another 13.1. So if you've ever done a full marathon, you are, in my humble estimation, the love child of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Johnny Cash.

I was also grateful to not have been lapped by a Kenyan, though as it turned out, this year's winner, who came in about fifteen or twenty minutes behind me (the sissy), was a Polish gentleman. Congratulations to him and all the winners.

Right now I'm not quite as jellified as I was before, just tired (but unable to nap, and believe me, I tried my best). Turns out I ate and hydrated well enough, too, so there weren't any unpleasant after-effects, just one hell of a big endorphin high. And I say, with a former record of not-insignificant drug use to back me up on this, it's one hell of a high to have. I just had to run thirteen damn miles to get it, where before I only needed an old honey bear, a broken pipe, and the screen out of an old faucet.

I hope to have some video up of my finish later this week. For now, you'll have only still photos of me before, during, and after:

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

In Which I Poo Myself

Jack, everybody. Everybody, Jack.

Yes, dear readers, it has a penis.

This whole pregancy thing wasn't entirely real to me before yesterday. I mean, there were all the usual external signs: my wife started eating more, getting more emotional, not sleeping as well, farting, etc., but these were merely changes of degree, not of kind. It was missustool turned up to eleven. The sort of thing that leads one to think about prescription drug therapy. It wasn't really real. There was no baby there, just a grainy black-and-white video of a lump with a little blinking light in the middle of it that somebody told me was a heart.

As the pregnancy progressed and her belly swelled, we followed along on this great website (that's this week of development) and freaked out as we saw appendages and facial features begin to take form, but again, not really real. Just drawings. I mean, that's not my kid.

But yesterday I saw it — him move for the first time. I saw his fingers and toes and facial features. I saw him get pissed off when they tried shaking him with the ultrasound device to get him to move into a better position to see his heart. I saw him open and close his mouth.

Well, that wasn't the first thing I saw. The first thing I saw was this:

The nurse running the ultrasound's jaw dropped. "Holy shit, that kid is HUNG," she gasped. "When he grows up, he'll get more ass than a toilet seat."

"That's my boy," I said, and missustool cried out, "Oh, SNAP!" Then came the high-fives.

That is my boy. First shot, the first hello to his parents, and it was all ass and junk. Then he waved. No shit, he actually waved.

His full name is James Wray Reed. James being the name of, oh, every other man in both our families. My great-grandfather and grandfather and father and brother, my wife's great-grandfather and grandfather and father and brother and nephew. And since they've exhausted pretty much every known nickname and diminutive for James, we chose Jack.

You may be asking, "How did you get Jack from James?"

Well, I say, "Shut up."

Seeing little Jack moving around was what finally drove it home to me: That's my son in there.

My boy.

My boy Jack.

Jesus, just to say it like that.

And so it sinks in one level deeper: I am a father now, and life is about to change big time. I remain as excited and terrified as I was the day my wife shoved that urine-soaked plastic stick in my face, but now there's a far more personal dimension to it. I've seen the person I'm to meet. I've seen his face, and I think he looks a bit like me.

I want so very badly to say hello. I want so very badly to reassure him that the life he is about to enter, though full of pain and uncertainty, is going to be marvelous beyond his ken. I want to rub his belly and pretend to be pirates with him and teach him my favorite game of all time, Stinky Feet. I want to hold him upside-down over a toilet and threaten to dunk him (a friend taught me that one). I want to tell him to never stop being a big goddamn kid.

God, what a lot of cornball crap. I can't help it. I just turned into one great big sucker, and I don't give a damn.

Anyway, hi, Jack. Can't wait to shake your hand.
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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Gaze Not Too Deeply Into My Pants, Lest You Feel Them Gazing Back Into You

My goddamn ankle hurts.

It began with grand visions of spritual healing and ends with me here, ice on my bare ankle on a Friday night. Life do take the occasional ironic turn, ain't she.

I'll not bore you with more whining. I feel I've done more than enough of that here. So suffice it to say that this has been a rough week both at work and at home, replete with large bills and increased uncertainty of the future. Things came to a head after I got home from work this afternoon and a coworker IMed me to let me know that my immediate VP, the man pulling for my promotion and the one person I hung my hopes on more than anyone at the company, resigned. What's more, he was likely forced to do so by the geniuses at Übercorp for the unforgivable crime of being honest with them about what's happening in the department and how he feels about it.

This is not crushing news. Not yet, anyway. It certainly doesn't bode well for the department or our Infernal Masters, as this man was both the glue that held what remained of the programming staff together and the architect of the entire software system. He alone was worth five programmers and a senior manager. Without him, if even just a few more go, then Übercorp and my employer are, as they say, fucked. You may understand my concern.

Things have gotten ugly among management. They've done their best to shield us, but we didn't exactly fall off the boat yesterday. We can tell when Mommy and Daddy fight. So it's a bit stressful, but we manage to meet it with humor and an admittedly strained sense of camaraderie. Time will tell how much more strained things will get.

So I had this great idea. This weekend's run, a grand fourteen-miler, to be embarked upon after wakey-wakey, egg and bakey. But I got to thinking how cleansing a run can be, how the droning rhythm of your feet and the weariness in your legs takes you into the core of yourself and hypnotizes you. I thought of how running to the brink of exhaustion has brought me small drops of salvation. I thought of the vast silent void that I confront within myself on some of my long runs, the bottomless chasm that Nietzsche argued comprised the whole of reality and Kierkegaard believed we must find a way to cross if we are to discover God.

Grandiose sentiment, maybe, but it is very real to me. I both love and fear gazing into it. Without fail, I walk away from it feeling some small measure of healing. Not to mention what it's doing to my beer gut.

Hence my bright idea: Midnight Run.

I'd kiss my wife goodnight at about ten-thirty or eleven, suit up, then go for two five-mile laps and a four through the neighborhood. Across JFK, back around to Ridge Road, zig-zag up to H Street, down the hill past the newer McMansions to the lake, along the lake to North Hills, then back up the hill to home. Rinse, repeat, then one more time without crossing JFK.

I was excited. I would confront my anxieties out there, burn them off on the asphalt, sweat them out of my thighs, cough them up into people's yards. I would run fourteen damn miles, be home by two, have a stretch and a shower and then climb into bed, renewed and revitalized. Tomorrow morning, I would awake to inform my wife of what I had done, and she would commission a nude sculpture of me wrestling a centaur to the ground.

It was about mile three when I realized my left ankle wasn't going to make it. Flat feet, overpronation. Motion-control shoes to correct the problem were only going to do so much, and I was going to have to slack off. Thanks, gene pool.

I could only allow myself to finish the first lap, that's all. Just five measly miles. Supposed to be nine more. But if I try to run through it, the pain gets worse and there goes the half marathon in two weeks. It's not looking good to finish the full in Nashville this year, unless I start to see marked improvement soon. I may have to lay up and wait until the next season. So even this, the one vent I have for everything else that's gone wrong, even this becomes threatened by trouble. My 2:00 a.m. rebirth? Done.

Of course it was done. It was a manufactured moment the very second I conceived of the idea in my head. I might as well have been running down a beach barefoot, wearing white linen that flowed out behind me like wings or some goddamn thing. The true moments come when you don't expect them. They come after mile eight, when you've spent miles five through seven trying not to ask yourself why the hell you started this hobby, and suddenly you realize that I've made it, I somehow found the Valhalla of athleticism: I am in The Zone. My legs are running because they want to, my lungs pouring air in and out because it suits their fancy. My body wants only to go faster. All is in harmony.

Or perhaps it's in the middle of a horrible movie or bullshitting about nothing or staring at a menu in a Mexican restaurant and contemplating the fish tacos, I don't know. Life has a funny sense of timing. The only thing you can count on is that it won't let you manufacture truth. It reveals that on its own time, so you might as well just do what you can and leave the rest behind you. Put an ice pack on your ankle, grab something to drink, and fight off the sleepiness for one more hour before you succumb. Tomorrow is another day, and all, and tomorrow will bring what it chooses to bring.

So here I sit, not gazing into that void so much as shouting into it, not out of anger but simple curiosity of what it might bring. Perhaps nothing. Perhaps I will get up, go to bed, and dream of Pringles potato chips and burlesque. Perhaps next Saturday I'll kick ass on that fourteen. Who knows. All I know now is that I'm out of steam and must toddle off, and perhaps that's all that I needed in the first place.
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