Friday, November 30, 2007

A New Gift-giving Occasion!

I was poking around on this gift ideas site for Christmas ideas for my extended family. It's kind of a cool put in the category of recipient (man, woman, teen, family, etc) and the gift-giving occasion (Christmas, birthday, graduation, etc) and it comes up with some pretty nifty ideas. However, there is a gift-giving occasion that I was not aware of - "Breakup/Divorce". I never really thought that the end of a marriage was a gift-giving occasion, but OK. You know I had to click on it. So, here are the gifts that, apparently, are appropriate to give a newly single person. I knew I had to post when I saw this idea, the third on the list.

What are these people smoking?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

OK, NOW I am ready.... get into the Christmas spirit! I get annoyed every year that the Christmas season seems to keep starting earlier and earlier. I kid you not, I went to the store to find some Halloween decorations for our party this year, and they were GONE, replaced by Christmas stuff. This was a FULL WEEK before Halloween! Insanity.

Anyway, now that Thanksgiving is over and the leftovers are becoming less and less appealing, I am ready to start thinking about Christmas. Michael and I drug out our decorations this year and put up our little 5 foot artificial tree. I know, I know...sacrilege, right? However, I am an allergy sufferer and I have vivid mucous-tinged childhood memories of the one year my family got a real tree. It was bad. Michael, however, loves plants and we both fell in love with this tiny little potted spruce tree at Lowe's. So...we decided that Newton needed his own tree this year. Also, please note our non-traditional (but super cute!) stockings.

I think he likes it, don't you?

And here he is, posing in his lovely hand-knit (by me!) Christmas sweater. I hope Muffy doesn't read the blog or else she'll ruin her Christmas surprise...guess who else is getting one? ;) Oh, incidentally, we just got him groomed and we have a whole lot less dog that we thought we did this morning. He's a skinny little thing!

Well, I hope that gets you in the holiday-season mood! I'm off to go eat some more leftovers.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Alison and I hosted the third annual Very Team Grondul Thanksgiving today. We'd like to thank everyone who attended for brightening our holiday. And for helping to fill our stomachs with yummy food.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Good Help is Hard to Find

A Lowe's recently opened not far from us. Alison and I were quite happy to see that, since Home Depot never seems to have what we want, and the salsefolk never seem to know anything.

I went to the Lowe's this morning and asked where I could find steel pipe. I was pointed to the plumbing department, even though steel is not the ideal material for use in the wet. Here's a summary of the actual conversation I had with the salsedude in plumbing:
Me, politely: "Do you have any steel pipe?"
Salseguy, confused: "You mean like copper?"
Me, a little irritated: "No, steel."
Salesguy, even more confused: "You mean like cast iron?"
Me, more than a little irritated: "No, steel."
Salesguy: "You mean like rebar?"
Me, almost more amused than irritated: "No, pipe."
Eventually, we determined that there was no steel pipe in the plumbing department. I was directed to building supplies at the far end of the store. When I got there, the salesdude seemed to understand the concept of steel pipe, but he didn't believe there was any in his part of the store. I poked around but came up empty handed. Finally, I gave up.

It appears that our dreams of a hardware store stocked with what I want and staffed by people who know where to find it are dashed. Dashed, I say. Ugh!

Nerf Maverick Revolver Cylinder and Limiter Mods: The Belles of the Ball

I occasionally poke around on the SiteMeter page for Industrial-Strength Science. It gives me a heady, Big-Brother-like sense that I know way more about what people are doing on the internet than I really should. I find the By Referrals page (under Recent Visitors) to be the most interesting. It shows on what page a visitor clicks to be directed to The Official Blog of Team Grondul. There are many referrals from our friends' blogs, like, briBreakfast Blogger, Diving into the Wreck, and, recently, Atomic Nerds. Additionally, there a numerous visits resulting from Google searches for assorted, seemingly random phrases. None of that surprises me.

What does surprise me is that, for the past few months, the single largest source of hits are searches for phrases like "nerf maverick mod." Apparently, a lot of people are interested in modifying their brightly colored and huge-but-harmless revolvers to reload more quickly and shoot slightly further. Who knew?

Fiesty Fawn

I've decided to listen to my own advise. After I encouraged everyone to run out and install the latest version of Ubuntu Linux, version 7.10 (Gusty Gibbon), on their computers, it occurred to me that I should try Ubuntu out on my schmancy laptop. I didn't install 7.10, though. After trying out the live CD, I discovered the Gusty didn't seem to support all the hardware on my quite new machine. So, I chose to give the Ubuntu community some time to develop that support, and I installed version 7.04 (Fiesty Fawn) in a dual-boot setup with Windows XP.

Fiesty supports all my hardware. In fact, it automatically detected and installed another mouse I happened to plug into the machine, while XP complains. Fiesty also boots noticeably faster. Ubuntu's Synaptic Package Manager also makes it easy to find and install new software; it's a lot easier than doing the same thing in Windows, actually.

What about usability, you ask? For most of what I do with this machine---web surf and edit documents---Ubuntu works well, with one significant caveat. The caveat comes from the interweb end. As you know, a significant amount of the video content on the intertubes is in Windows Media or QuickTime formats, and those are not natively supported by Linux. There are allegedly workarounds out there, but I haven't put in the effort to make them work, and find the situation quite annoying. Other than that issue, Fiesty is quite satisfactory. The rest of the web appears as it should, and, the document editor seems to work pretty well. It claims to read and write Microsoft Office formats, like .DOC and .PPT, but, to be honest with you, I haven't tried opening the same files with both MS and OO.o yet. I'll have to do that later.

One feature of Linux that I wasn't expecting: I can read image and other files from my Windows partition. Neat.

Anyhoo, I encourage you to give Fiesty or Gusty a try. Just be sure to test it out with the live CD before installing onto the hard drive.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

I've Swept in and Solved Eveyone's Problems

Alison and I are in Atlanta visiting my family and our friends. Since we got here two days ago we've repaired the following:
  • My dad's wireless network.
  • My dad's clock.
  • My mother's new flat-panel TV.
  • My mother's kitchen dimmer switch.
I can't help but feel that I've swept into town and solved everyone's problems. The experience has given me a heady but likely inaccurate confidence in my own technical problem-solving abilities. I'll probably try to fix someone's car before the weekend is out. That won't go well.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Curse You, Linda!

Linda is now my nemesis. And Murph. Linda a Murph are my nemeses.


My good friend Swandiver has turned me on to the Hungry Girl website. It's awesome! It is basically a well put-together site about dieting and food. I know that sounds not-so-thrilling, but basically it is a guide to finding healthier alternatives to your favorite foods either at the grocery store or at restaurants.

Much of the stuff on there is common sense for anyone who has any nutritional sense/dieting experience, but it has introduced me to some products I wasn't aware of. For example, check out this post on pizza. I love the Amy's Organics frozen spinach pizza, but I have a hard time limiting my portion to a reasonable size when I make a whole one. That post introduced me to the pocket sandwich version, which uses the same filling and crust recipe, but is packaged into a much more reasonable single-serve size. Thanks, Hungry Girl!

Also, there are some recipes on the site that offer slimmed-down alternatives to restaurant food or traditional high-calorie foods. For example, for lunch today I had her version of Taco Bell's Crunchwrap Supreme. It was very good! It was so good, I ate two of them and it was still fewer points (I follow Weight Watchers) than had I eaten the real thing.

Speaking of Weight Watchers, it seems that is Hungry Girl's nutrition plan of choice, too. Accordingly, she posts the points value for all of the foods on her website in addition to the traditional nutrition information.

So, girls (and's ostensibly for women, but there is nothing specifically feminine about the content of the site...of course, the look of the site is quite girly, but I'm sure you manly men can get over that), I highly recommend you go check it out!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


This evening, I watched a fascinating episode of Nova on my local PBS station. The ep was a 2-hour summary of the Dover intelligent-design/creationism case. I encourage you to watch it online.

Nothing Fails Like Prayer

My former overlord, Masta, just brought this piece of news to my attention. Sonny Perdue, the Governor of Georgia, where I lived two states ago and which is currently in a drought, is holding a service at the Capitol building to pray for rain. That's right, not only is he clearly endorsing religion, but he is also using state funds to pay for this shindig. Plus, he seems to expect it to actually work. Holy flurking schnit.

I'm sure George Bush is quite proud.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Economic Consequences

Brian posted a link to this interesting and educational article on the economic ramifications of the Bush presidency. I suggest you check it out.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Movie Review: The Apartment (1960)

Last night, Alison and I finally got around to watching The Apartment, which have been suggesting she see since early in our relationship. I hadn't seen this movie in some years---since before I met my bride, in fact--- so I was able to watch it with almost-fresh eyes.

What I liked:
  • The script contains a nice combination of dramatic events and comedic dialog.
  • The principal actors---Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLain, and Fred MacMurray---all do good jobs. Lemmon is the standout. He's funny, as always, but also successfully sells the drama.
  • The story is quite compelling, and it provides a disturbing insight into a particular subculture.

What I didn't like:
  • The plot develops a little slowly at times. The film could probably be trimmed from 125 minutes down to 115.
I can see why this film won 5 Oscars, including best picture. Overall, I give it 8.0 out of 10.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

More Than You Really Want To Know: Inline Speed Skates

I did a bit of inline speed skating in 2001 and 2002, when I lived in Atlanta, with the local skate club. (This is the club that puts on the famous Athens-to-Atlanta (A2A) road skate.) I grew re-excited about skating in 2004 and 2005, when I lived just outside Washington, DC, so I took to skating with a couple of clubs in that area. I'm sure you can see where this is going. Yes, the skating bug has struck again, despite the fact that weather is about to turn too cold for skating.

In speed skating, the boots---the parts of the skates that looks like shoes---are low-cut, reaching just above the ankle. This height gives good ankle mobility, but it also means that the fit must be nearly perfect to allow the skater to control each skate without developing painful and slow-healing blisters. Because the fit is so important, most boots are heat moldable; the epoxy that holds together the carbon or glass fibers that make up the stiff parts of the boots is thermoplatstic. The boots can be warmed in an oven or with a heat gun until they are pliable, then reshaped using some combination of the foot, the hands, and boot stretchers. The molding process can be repeated as needed. All this carbon fiber and heat moldability makes the boots are the most expensive part of a pair of skates. The frames are the next most costly. The bearings and wheels tend to be about equal, though the wheels need to be replaced more frequently.

Anyway, I've never been completely happy with the way my boots fit, and there are limits to what can be done with heat molding. My Verducci V-Tek boots have forefoot areas that are too narrow for my feet and ankle cuffs that are too loose; no amount of heat molding can fix that.

Once again, you can see where this is going. I bought new boots: Bont Apaches. The Apaches, which are the mid-level boots in Bont's line-up have wide, square toeboxes and, since I can therefore wear a smaller size, tighter ankle cuffs. Additionally, they have small pads, one on each side of the Achilles tendon, that really lock the heal in place, preventing heal lift. They already fit much better than the Verduccis, and I haven't really heat molded them yet.

The thing is, inline-skate technology has come quite some distance since I bought my last boots in 2002, so I broke down and bought an entirely new boot/frame/wheel/bearing package:

Perhaps I should explain. This will take a little time, so please feel free to skip the rest of this post---except perhaps for the photos---and come back later, when Alison has put something up.

Here is a partial list of the parameters that determine how a skate feels and performs.
  • Wheel size. Larger wheels have lower rolling resistance. This effect makes a noticeable difference on smooth surfaces, and an even larger one on rough roads. Unfortunately larger wheels have higher moments of inertia and are thus harder to accelerate. Additionally, larger wheels inevitably increase the height of the foot above the ground.
  • Heel height. The height of the foot above the ground is usually measured to the bottom of the skater's heel. Lower heights provide more stability and require much less ankle strength. Greater heights effectively make the skater's leg longer, which can be advantageous for leverage, but, as we'll see, modern skates put the heal higher than is optimal for most skaters, so a lower height is usually desirable.
  • Wheelbase. This parameter is measured from the front axle to the rear axle and is determined by the wheel diameters and the sizes of the inter-wheel gaps. Longer wheelbases provide more stability at speed and a larger platform to push against. Shorter wheelbases are more maneuverable, but maneuverability isn't usually an issue in speed skating.
  • Overall length. The length is also determined by wheel and gap size. Longer skates can be difficult handle, especially in crossover turns.
Way back in the early days of inline speed skating, the boots where adapted from those used in ice speed skating: they had two mounting points spaced 165 mm apart. Thus, the frames also have 165-mm spacing. The standard setup was 5 wheels 76 mm in diameter with gaps of about 1 mm. With this wheel size, it was possible to more-or-less emulate the height of an ice speed skate. By the time I joined the scene in 2001-ish, the standard setup had moved from 5x76 to 5x80. My first speed skates had a heel height of about 105 mm, which seemed adequate.

Soon thereafter, people were moving to 5x84. These skates rolled better, but the height and overall length were starting to be issues for some smaller or less burly-ankled skaters.

About this same time, skaters began experimenting with 100-mm wheels designed for kick scooters. 5 wheels of this size would be way too much skate, so 4 wheels was required. With the mounting bolts spaced 165 mm apart, the front bolt was right over the second wheel, so to keep the height semi-reasonable, that wheel was made to be 80 or 84 mm. (The rear mounting bolt is usually 12 mm higher than the front.) Because there were only 4 wheels, the gaps were quite a bit larger than those of 5-wheel skates, which meant that obstacles could "fall" in between the wheels, increasing resistance on rough surfaces. These 100-80-100-100 and 100-84-100-100 setups met with enough success that lighter, speed-skate-specific 100-mm wheels reached the market.

Soon, in about 2004, 90-mm wheels became available, and various combinations like 4x90, 100-90-100-100, and even 5x90 showed up. The 5x90 skates, meanwhile, where only ever used by the biggest, strongest skaters; they were simply way to long and heavy for anyone else. My second pair of frames where 4x90, and they had uneven spacing to move the center wheel out from under the from mounting bolt. With my boots mounted on them, the heel height was 110 mm, only 5 mm higher than my old setup with a 10-mm increase in wheel size.

Around the same time, boots and frames with 195-mm bolt spacings arrived. On some wheel combinations, like 4x90 and 4x100, this spacing moved the front bolt away from directly over the second wheel, which reduced the heel height considerably. (I didn't want to buy new boots at the time, which is why I went with the irregularly spaced 4x90). With these frames, 4x100 setups became more common.

You can guess what happened next, I'll wager: 110-mm wheels hit the market.* 4x110 setups began to crop up. Eddy Matzger won A2A on a 100-100-110-110 setup that year. (I know because I was visiting Alison in Atlanta that weekend, so we skated in Piedmont Park that Sunday morning and hung around to see the finish.)

So, by 2004, almost every possible combination of wheels up to 110 mm was in use. It was mayhem. Mayhem, I tell you.

By 2005 or 2006, things had shaken out a bit. Many smaller skaters were running 4x90. Medium-sized skaters were on 4x100. Some bigger skaters were using 100-100-110-110. The biggest skaters were on 4x100. As you can guess, the heel heights on these skates were pretty substantial. People just tried to cope with it.

In 2005, Bont introduced their 3-point mounting system. This system was designed for frames with 4 wheels 90 mm and above. The system added a third mounting point between the inner wheels and pushed the other 2 mounting points out to 202 or 216 mm, depending on boot size. This move not let the boot drop down---drape down, really---over the wheels, it also reduced the amount of material and thus weight---required to give the boot the required stiffness. One other, smaller advantage to this scheme was that it moved the pitch (the difference in height between the front and rear mounts) off of the frame and into the boot: the frame's three mounting points are all at the same height, so the boot can be designed with any amount of heel lift. Incidentally, I should mention that Bont calls their 3-point frame the Space Frame or S-Frame.

I was sold on the 3-point concept the first time I saw it, but the rather significant downsides associated with it where (a) I'd have to pony up the dough for boots and frames and (b) my choices of boots and frames would be limited to a single brand.**

Recently, 2 years later, when I decided to get back into skating, I came to the conclusion that, since I've gotten 6 and 5 years out of my previous boots, I could go ahead and get a complete 3-point package. The Apache is the middle-of-the-range boot, as I said, but the Apache package comes with the range-topping S-Frame, the one made from magnesium alloy.*** The frame I have is has a 12.5-inch wheelbase. (Yes, I know I'm mixing units here, but wheelbases are usually Imperial for some reason.) The package also comes with some grippy-but-heavy Hyper Stripe 100-mm wheels.

Here's a photo comparing my schmancy new 4x100 setup next to my older 4x90 and 5x80 skates. This photo gives some idea of the difference in wheels size between these skates. The pic also shows the difference between the new 3-point mounting system and the traditional 2-point, 165-mm mounting. (Well, it doesn't show the contrast too clearly. I need to take a better photograph.) Sharp-eyed cyclists will notice that all 3 boots use Sidi Ultra SL buckles. Hey, why re-invent the wheel?

To better illustrate the contrast between these wheels sizes, here's a photo of wheels with diameters of 80, 90, and 100 mm. I must say, those 100s seemed huge when I first put them on. Especially since my feat are only 242 mm long.

Speaking of those ginormous wheels, they are a bit of a, footfull? The heel height is about 116 mm, 6 mm higher than my last setup with 10-mm larger wheels. I think my ankles will eventually be able to cope with that height, but it will take some time and practice. My double-push technique---good slow-motion sequence halfway through this video---has never been great, and I'm going to have to work to make it as strong on 100s as on 90s. Let's just hope I can adapt before I start skating with the club in Baltimore next Spring.

I think 100 mm is as far as I can really go. I don't think I'm large or strong enough to push 4x110, and even if I where, the minimum wheelbase is 13.2 inches, and the minimum overall length is 403 mm, both of which are very long for a guy who wears 29x28 or 29-30 pants. I might try 4x104, since it appears that I can fit Hyper's 104-mm wheels on my current boot/frame combo; there's at least 2 mm between wheel and boot and 4 mm between wheels. I suspect I will return to 100 mm, though. I won't rule out trying 110 mm if I ever feel comfortable with 100 mm, but I'd have to spring for a 110-mm-specific frame to do it, so it won't happen soon.

Meanwhile, some skaters are already talking about 3x120 or 3x125 as the next step. Perhaps the 165-mm spacing will return, triumphant. Who knows?

Wow, that was a much longer post than I originally intended. I do tend to run off at the fingers, don't I?

* Actually Hyper makes at least one model of 104-mm wheel, but they are the only brand to offer one, as far as I know.

** Bont has offered to license the 3-point system to other manufactures, so others could make compatible boots or frames, but I don't think any of those products have reached the market yet.

*** The vast majority of speed-skate frames are made from aluminum (or aluminium, if you prefer) alloy.

Caught on, Flash Memory

Yesterday's CrossFit workout of the day, was 7 sets of 1-rep-max back squats. There's some difference of opinion in the lifting community as to what depth of squat is desirable. Some prescribe a 90-degree bend in the knees. Some suggest that the femurs should be parallel to the ground. (This is slightly deeper, since the shins lean forward.) Olympic weightlifters and some others descend until their thighs hit their calves. (We did quite a bit of this last kind of squat at our seminar.)

No matter how far down you decide you should go, it's very easy, when laboring under a heavily loaded barbell, to believe you've gone quite a bit lower than you in fact have. So, during yesterday's WOD, I had the bright idea to video our squats using my digital camera. This recording would let us calibrate perceived squat depth with true depth. I found the vids quite helpful, and I believe Alison did, too. I recommend you try it sometime, assuming squats are part of your lifestyle.

I won't burden you by posting our recordings, but I will tell you that I put up a personal record back squat of 265 pounds,* and Alison hit a new PR of 155. Yay us.

* My body weight yesterday morning was 139.0 pounds.

Can You Spot the Spot?

Here's an amusing action shot of our critter that was recently taken by Alison. In the pic, Newton has somehow gotten the hole punched out of a piece of paper stuck to the the exact center of his nose. He's also doing a pretty good two-legged balance.

Please note Alison's collection of Giant Microbes on the tiny chair behind him.

It's Hard Out There for a Puppy

Apparently, it's very tiring to be a dog.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Curse You, Joss Whedon!

Thanks to Nick and Amy's ongoing generosity with their DVD collection, Alison and I finished watching the entirety of Angel tonight. Sigh.

Umami Mo Arimasu Yo

Think sweet, salty, sour, and bitter are the only flavors you can taste? Think again. There's also umami. "Umami" is the name given to the flavor of glutamate, the sodium salt of which is the flavor-enhancing seasoning monosodium glutamate or MSG.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Zombie Dog...Mwahahaha!

Check it out:

Newton has always done this. He will sometimes sleep with his eyes open and one or both of them will roll down to the whites. It has always creeped me out when he does this. It's one of the very few things he does that is not particularly cute. But it is appropriate for the week of Halloween! Scary...

Post Office Showdown

I developed this habit not long after I began studying krav maga. It certainly changes one's perspective.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

No Heroes: Origins

It looks like Heroes: Origins is being shelved, for this season anyway. Stupid writers' strike.

Joss Whedon and Eliza Dushku Move into a Dollhouse

I couldn't let this article go by without comment. It seems that Joss Whedon has gotten a 7-episode deal for a new series about people whose identities can be overwritten and even erased. He's tapped Faith herself, Eliza Dushku to star in it. The bad news? The deal is with 20th Century F*x, so we can expect the series to be canceled by the time all 7 eps are broadcast. Despite the near-certain premature end, there's already a flurry of fan activity at Whedonesque.

By the way, Whedonites might also be interested in the short mention of Goners at the end of the first article. Apparently that project isn't likely to move ahead.

Update: Tim Minear, the man responsible for the Minear Effect, is involved in this project. That seals the deal; the show will be canceled.