Monday, April 28, 2008

News from the front [April 28, 2008]

Meet Too Tall.

Too Tall is a chocolate bunny that is, incredibly, too tall for his packaging. Too Tall is so tall, in fact, his ears have burst through the box top.

But is this the truth? Is Too Tall truly taller than his bunny comrades? It turns out Too Tall isn't tall enough.

As you can see, there is plenty of room in the bottom of Too Tall's box. His feet could rest comfortably on the real bottom, and there would be clearance between his "too tall" ears and the box top. There's no need for the hole.

Removed from his packaging, the effect is even more astounding. What would happen if you or I were to lie to little children like Too Tall is doing? Is his ego the only true thing bursting from the box?

I believe so. I believe Too Tall has an inferiority complex. It could stem from his hollow nature, or his average height, or a lack of a loving relationship in his parental rabbit den. Whatever the origin, Too Tall is simply telling a too-tall tale.

What kind of society have we become?

In other news, I got promoted last Tuesday to "Senior Communications Specialist." That means I'll be doing more of this, and some other video- and web-based projects. Which is cool.

But it also means I have to toss out my unused business cards and order new ones. Not cool.

Have a dirty...anything?

Two words: Magic Eraser.

I tried it out on my iBook this weekend, and it looks like a new friggin' laptop. Amazing. And all from simple abrasion.

Running season is here again, and the new Nike+iPod kit is doing wonders. Just to have numbers (calories, average time per mile, etc.) to go along with my workouts is a dream come true.

What's better is the iPod Nano is so much better to run with than my clunky 30 GB model.

Worked 24 hours in two days this weekend. Joy.

A few birthdays, mine included, came and went without much celebration on my part, and I'm sorry for that.

Keith, hope your par-tay was fab.

Mine? Simple enough, and much appreciated. Just a nice relaxing weekend at home.

Spring is here, which means the entire universe changes direction, and moods lift like evaporating snow.

This year, I've really started to pay attention to birds. Not just my good friend the whip-poor-will (who I swear I will actually lay eyes on for once), but also the cardinal and the starling and all the noise-makers who are so cheerful first thing in the morning.

Buds are budding, trees are greening, and the birds are returning, as they do every year, to fill our hearts with gladness.

Now to figure out which ones are making which noises.

Speaking of noises, I got my bike fixed so that I can tackle the Falling Water Trail - all 10 miles (one way) of it to Concord.

A quick breakfast, and off I'll go on some sunny Saturday. Eat lunch in Concord, and bike back. If that isn't the perfect day, I don't know what is.

And speaking of perfect, my BBQ chicken breast is sizzling. Off to dinner.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Look what I found...

Another version of myself. From 2003-2004.

Hot damn. Nothing like cringing at your former self.



I started running last summer after seeing a set of podcasts that made the whole thing really easy. I even ran my first 5k (not a sponsored one, just me out running one night), the longest distance I had run since track season in high school.

Near the end of the season last year, I hurt my knee because of the way I run. It turns out that I roll my feet on the inside, which wears away the soles of my shoes and is rough on my knee. This season, now that the weather is breaking, I decided to grab some supporting Nikes. While I was at the shoe store, the salesman offered me the Nike+ sports set - which fit my style of shoe - and I decided to give it a try.

It seems like for $30 you'd get more, but the whole set only involves a little red and white sensor and a white plug-in receiver for your iPod Nano. Setup is super easy: simply put the sensor into the little hole in your shoe (you don't need a Nike shoe, either), and plug the other part into your iPod. That's it.

To calibrate the sensor, I charted a mile walk around a nearby park. The sensor read the mile distance very well, reading out "0.98 miles" by the time I reached the actual mile. After the calibration I set the iPod to a normal workout to see how it did. Here's what I got:


I only walked a mile, but it still charted my pace and how many calories I burned. Pretty cool. You can set your iPod to give you voiced encouragement (in male or female), and set it for miles or metric.

After iTunes logged my first "run," I went to the Nike+ site to upload my info, and it showed me a cool visualization of the whole thing:


But that's where I got my first hiccup. I tried registering for the Nike+ community stuff, and accidentally logged my birth year as "2008." The site then froze, saying "children under age 13 are not allowed to register." After logging off, then logging back into the sight with Safari, it was still locking me out. A quick call to Nike HQ, and a friendly guy name Mike (who works on a Sunday!) told me that the site resets these kinds of things after two hours.

I waited until Monday afternoon to try again, entering my true birthday, and things were smooth sailing. I set a goal for myself, and typed in a resolution:


There at the top, it shows my profile information and custom icon. It also logged my mile-long Sunday walk. The coolest part of the whole deal is the challenges.


People from around the world post challenges based on distance, most miles accumulated, fastest time running a certain distance, and a distance goal - say, 50 miles during a month. You can do it individually or in teams, and if you meet the challenge you get awarded a trophy. I signed up for a few simple challenges just to get me started:


So for this one I have to run seven miles. That's it. Some of them, however, are pretty challenging - made for only the hardcore runners you hear stories about. But the competition is there, and I could feel the motivational effects before I even took my first run. After reading some of the challenges, I wanted to lace up my Nikes and get started on those challenges.

Forums, a store, customizable maps of your routes - the whole thing is pretty comprehensive. One thing that turned me off, though, was the site's Flash interface. Sometimes it would grind to a halt, and the transitions between the site's areas were painfully slow. I did try a desktop application, HERE, but it may take me a while to get the hang of it.

I still have to get out and try the Nike+ kit on a true run, but until then I'm pretty well impressed. As the running season goes along, I'll report anything else I find. But I've picked my "Powersong" (KMFDM's "DIY"), I've got my iTunes playlist ready, and my shoes are broken-in.

Someone cue "Eye of the Tiger."

Friday, April 4, 2008

Americans are masochistic in Maine.

You start throwing around phrases like "economic downturn" and "...not since the Depression," and it makes one question the sanity of cutting out of town on another cross-country trip - where even the Hamptons are facing declining real estate values.

Gas. Wheat and milk. The price of everything, except houses, is going up, and here I sit on the edge of discovery, ready to journey into the heart of Old America and look into our revolutionary past. What shaped us as a country? Where did the Founding Fathers come from? Is fresh-off-the-boat crab meat really that tasty?

The answers to these questions, and more, I hope to find when I set out on May 16 to the original colonies. I’ll land on my own version of Plymouth Rock, I’ll walk down the streets of Philadelphia, bread in hand, and I’ll swim in the same pond that taught Thoreau to abandon his fellow citizens and embrace the wilderness as the last respite of a sanity-seeking intelligence. If he could spend time in prison to protest his country’s war-mongering, then surely I can sit on the banks of the Delaware and find out if Washington’s late-night crossing was worth the trouble.

Jefferson taught that a government should keep its powers within the confines of the Constitution, except while he was president, and so I don’t feel so bad taking my government money and putting it into my gas tank to run wild all over New England. If Route 66 was a quest to discover the world and my place in it, this trip is a journey to the roots of our country. What makes us tick? Where do we come from? Why can you talk about the weather with anyone, anywhere, anytime and not sound like a raving lunatic?

I’ve decided that I renting a car for this trip would be a waste. The states are so small, and the driving so non-perilous, that my little Suzuki should do just fine. It would have croaked on the side of some Colorado mountainside, but I believe the rolling hills of Vermont will not be such a chore.

I’ve also decided that, since the states are so close together, the back roads and state highways will be more than adequate to see everything I want to see in a reasonable amount of time.

The trip begins where our Declaration of Independance did: in Philadelphia, a logical starting point to a trek so historical. I’ll lay eyes on the Liberty Bell, and Mr. Franklin’s printing shop, and the building where demigods, as Jefferson called them, met and decided to try out a nation-sized experiment. From there it’s down to Maryland, up to Delaware and New Jersey, and straight through for a night (or two) in Boston and on to Maine, where I’ll stream through Route 1 and 3 on back to New Hampshire. Vermont is a resting stop before tackling Saratoga and upstate New York, with a finish through wherever I think the Adams Family (presidential, not kooky) would want to see last.

These trips are the travel equivalent to a Greatest Hits album: not a full picture, but a quick browse-through of the catalog. I may not get to a Red Socks game, but I’ll be sure to grab a picture of Fenway if I’m in the neighborhood.

The vacation time is set, the money is in the bank - what I need now are a few B&B ideas and a map of rest stops for those nights I feel like braving the New England spring nights in my spacious backseat. Nothing beats an economic downturn like a trip out of town and a few adventures along the way. Clinton and Obama can fight for the few remaining states until they’re blue-er in the face; I’ll be finding out about the prize they so greedily seek.

All that’s left is the getting there.