Wednesday, December 31, 2008

And to You, Too

Oh, and, by the way, I'd like to wish all 7 of our regular readers---and anyone else reading this---a happy new year.

Happy Freakin' New Year to Me

Holy. Flurking. Schnit. Happy new year to me, I guess.

PR: Fight Gone Bad*

Today, I set a new PR on my version of Fight Gone Bad.*  I completed 255 repetitions/kilocalories, an improvement of 36 over my only previous score.

* Since we don't own a 20-pound medicine ball or have 10-foot ceilings, we sub thrusters with 2 20-pound dumbbells for the wall-ball shots.0

I Call it MiPhone

So far, my iPhone, is, as our leet-speaking friends would say, is teh awesome.  I plan to post more extensively---and understandably---after a another week or so of using it.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Nibble, nibble, nibble...

I have started on a New Year's resolution early this year. This year I've decided to try something a little different...but first, some background.

I have played the violin since I was 2 years old. One thing that you may or may not know about playing a string instrument is that you must keep your fingernails extremely short. This is a pretty good example of how one's fingers need to be placed on the can see that if your fingernails were at all long, you wouldn't be able to press down on the string with your fingertip. So, as a kid, my nails always had to be cut short. At some point, I realized that I had my own pair of fingernail clippers built right into my mouth...yep! I am a nail-biter from wayback.

However, I stopped playing seriously sometime in high school and I haven't been a member of an orchestra for a while, so there is no reason I can't grow my nails a little bit. Thus, I have finally decided to NOT bite my nails. Even if I cut them super short again (because, frankly, after having them so short all my life, having them even a little bit long feels weird), I have resolved to try to break my nail-biting habit. Look at my progress so far!

See? I have little white bits at the ends! If I actually manage to grow them a little bit long, I'm going to treat myself to a manicure at my hair salon.

So, for anyone who knows me in real life, feel free to yell at me if you see me biting on my nails. It is something I tend to do sort of unconsciously when I'm reading or working on the computer, so having someone point out to me when I'm doing it might actually be helpful.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

iPhonizzle, as Ashley would say.

Alison bought me an iPhone 3G for my birthday.  Who has the coolest wife around?  I do, that's who.


I just realized that, though I've used this word repeatedly on the blog, I never actually defined it:
Michaelmas, noun.  The holiday honoring me, observed yearly on the anniversary of my birth.

PR: Michael

I set a new personal record on the workout that bears my name---though it wasn't named after me---tonight:  21:55, almost 2 minutes faster than my previous best.

Holidays in the ATL

Regular readers may have noted a drop in activity here on the Offical Blog of Team Grondul lately.  Alison, Newton, and I just returned from a weeklong trip to Atlanta, where we spent the both Christmas and Michaelmas.  It was a good trip, all considered:  we spent some time with both sides of my family, ate at a couple of my favorite restaurants, and tried to relax.

Friday, December 19, 2008

PR: Filthy Fifty

I set a new personal record for the god-awful workout known as The Filthy Fifty* today: 29:30, 72 seconds faster than my previous best, way back in January.

* I make a couple of substitutions for this workout due mostly to lack of equipment.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Muffy 5/15/1994 – 12/16/2008

Muffy was my family dog. We got her the summer before I went away to college from a pet store, not knowing any better. My mom had been thinking about getting a dog. Because I had allergies, she thought she wanted a Bichon, so she asked a local pet store to call her if they got any Bichons in. When they called, we went over, but the Bichon was a little boy and my mom wanted a girl pup. In the next cage over, we spotted Muffy. She looked just like the Bichon pup...a little white ball of fluff. But we were told she was a malti-poo. We played with her for half an hour in the pet store and fell in love. It was nearing closing time and they didn't take credit cards, so we gave them a deposit with the cash we had on hand and planned to come back the next day and pick her up. When we came back, she stood up in the little ex-pen she was in, wagging her back end as fast as she could and barked at us. We've always told the story that she recognized us when we came back for her...she knew we were her family. She rode home in my lap.

Muffy was a bright spot in our lives during a very hard time. My father had left our family just two years before we got her. My mom had gone back to work after he left and I was going away to college, so my sister was, for the first time, going to come home from elementary school to an empty house. Except it wasn't empty when Muffy was there. She greeted my sister with puppy kisses every day after school. It seems like such a small thing, but I will always, always be grateful that Muffy was there so Ashley didn't have to be home all alone when she was so little. In her later years, Muffy became something of a snowbird. My mom began having to travel to Florida to help her mother with some health issues, so Muffy went with her.

About a year and a half ago, Muffy was diagnosed with multiple health issues: a collapsing trachea, enlarged heart and liver, impaired kidney function and bladder stones. Lately she has been getting worse...unable to make it outside to pee, having weakness in her back legs. My mom called me today to let me know that she had taken Muffy to the vet yesterday and had her put to sleep. She had a tumor on her leg and wouldn't put weight on it and she wasn't getting up to go outside anymore. The vet thinks she had a stroke. I'm so sad for my sister who is going home soon for Christmas...she bought Muffy presents and was looking forward to seeing her again, especially because she knew it was probably for the last time.

Rest in peace, Muffy. We all loved you very much. You were my first dog, and the smartest dog I've ever known. May doggie heaven be full of soft pillows, warm laps, and bowls full of popcorn that you don't have to share.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Crate

It's important to train your dog to think of his crate as a safe, comfortable, pleasant place to be.  That way, you can confine him to it when necessary without him feeling imprisoned.  Fortunately, crate training is made easier because dogs have a denning instint.  It's that instint that leads Newton to loiter under our coffee table or Alison's desks.  Unfortunately, as new dog owners, we did a poor job of making Newton's crate his happy place.  We recently met with some success on this front when we noticed how much Newton loves to curl up on one of our blankets.  This blanket is stuffed with goose down, which may be a strong factor in Newton's affinity for it.  After we folded the blanket and placed it in his crate, Newton suddently began going into the crate on his own, even lounging in there for for long periods.

In the above photo, you can see Newton relaxing in the crate.  The down blanket is the blue one.  The green one is actually a baby blanket we bought soon after we first brought our little puppy home.


For the record, even before Barack Obama was elected, I predicted that he would appoint Hillary Clinton his Secretaty of State.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Tapered Fibers

I don't usually post about my work, partially because it's not very accessible to the lay reader but mostly because I'm the kind of person who leaves work at the workplace. However, I'd like to share some pretty micrographs---photographs taken through a microscope---that Michael D., Brian R. and I took on Friday.

As part of this project, we are learning how to taper an optical fiber, which start out with a diameter of 125 um, down to 5 um or narrower. At this diameter, and at our intended operating wavelength of 1000 or 1550 nm, the evanescent field of the guided optical mode extends beyond the surface of the glass and carries a significant fraction of the optical power. In other words, the fiber still guides light, but much of that light is carried along outside the fiber, in the air or whatever happens to be around the fiber.

Our plan is to take advantage of the properties of this kind of fiber and incorporate one into a passively mode-locked fiber laser. But that's not important for understanding these pics, so I won't elaborate. (Also, I'd rather not disclose our---read, Michael D.'s---clever plans.)

This is an untapered section of the fiber. Note that its diameter is 125 um.

Here you can see the beginning of the taper.

More of the tapered region.

This is the waist, or narrowest part, of the taper.

This is a much higher-magnification image of the waist. Note that the fiber is about 5 um in diameter here. The depth of focus at this magnification is only a few microns, so it's impossible to get a single image in which both the upper surface of glass, closest to the camera, and the edges are in focus. Additionally, becuase the fiber is mounted with a bit of a slope, with the right end of the fiber closer to the camera than the left, we can't get both ends of this image in focus.

Recipe: Chili Dog Casserole

Alison posts most---to date, all---of our recipes, so I thought it was time for me to post one of my own. What follows is a "recipe" for the chili dog casserole I make---assemble, really---sometimes when I'm feeling lazy, espcially when Alison isn't around. This dish is well within the bounds of what I call "bachelor food." What I mean by that phrase will be obvious when you read the recipe, if it isn't clear from the dish's title.

  • 4 hot dogs. I use uncured chicken dogs, but you can use something more traditional, if you like.
  • 1/2 can chili. I use low-fat vegetarian chili, but again you can certainly use "regular" chili.
  • 2 hamburger buns. I use whole wheat buns, but...
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped onion.
Cut the hot dogs to whatever length you desire, mix with the chili. Heat in the mircowave to desired temperature. Pull the buns into smaller pieces. Add the buns and onion to the heated mixture. Stir, then eat with a spork.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Dog Christmas Comes Early

Yesterday, we got together with Newton's dog friends in the neighborhood and they exchanged Christmas presents. Newton got two great new toys that he really loves. Be advised that total scruffiness follows. Newton needs a grooming in the worst way, but we haven't been able to bathe him since his surgery...he's scheduled to get all handsome-ified next week. Speaking of his surgery, the biopsy results came back as yay! Another Christmas present...a clean bill of health!

Check out his Frosty the Snowman toy from Sam and Jack, the pugs!

And he got this cool toy from Quinn. What's in there, Newton?

Santa balls! Good boy!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

My Superpowers

I am, in general, an incompetent boob. However, I do have a few distinctive talents, which I like to think of as my mutant superpowers. Here are the first couple that spring to mind:
  • I'm uncannily good at picking the smallest possible Tupperware---or Rubbermaid, sure---container that will hold the leftovers in questions. Apparently, I've internalized the concept of conservation of volume.
  • I can pick out celebrities from their voice-over work in cartoons, documentaries, and advertisements. Jeff Goldblum and Mike Rowe, you can't hide from me.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Memristors: Nobel Material

Mark my words:  Memristors will win the Nobel Prize in Physics someday.  These devices are interesting from a scientific perspective because they represent a fourth circuit element (in addition to resistors, capacitors, and inductors) that was predicted 37 years ago. From a practical standpoint, they may make it possible to replace some of the transistors in computer chips in a several-to-one ratio, resulting in smaller chips for a given functionality or more functionality for a given chip size. This is a Huge Deal. Additionally, since synapses behave a bit like memristors, memristors may be used to implement neural networks.

PR: Annie

7:13, with tuck jumps substituted for double unders.  That's 63 seconds faster than my previous best.

Monday, December 08, 2008


I had a dream last night wherein I conversed with General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner about his plans for the company post-bailout.  I guess it's fair to say the automotive apocalypse, or carpocalypse, is weighing on my mind.


The most thorough car review ever on British television.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Lessons Newton Taught Us: Furniture Exceptions

One of our rules proscribing Newton's behavior:
The dog is allowed on all furniture except the DDR mats.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Intrepid Ibex

I just installed Ubuntu 8.10, Intrepid Ibex, onto my laptop last night. The new OS seems to be working well. It's even fixed a sound problem I had with 8.4, so I'm quite pleased with it.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Blake's 7 Amuses Unintentionally

I'm about 12 episodes into Blake's 7 now, and I thought I should point out a couple of the show's amusing shortcomings:

  • The incidental music seems to have been lifted, without modification, from Doctor Who episodes of the same era.  This re-use of material isn't entirely surprising given the links between the series.  Both shows aired on the Beeb,  B7 was created by Terry Nation, who wrote for Doctor Who and created the Daleks,* and, most relevantly, B7's music was composed by Who veteran,  Dudley Simpson.
  • The fight sequences are completely ridiculous, and not the fun kind of ridiculous like you'd find in a Hong Kong kung fu film.    Imagine a fight scene from the original Star Trek, but slowed down to about 3/4 speed and with the punches replaced by the kind of awkward shoving you might see between 8-year-old sisters.  Leave in the 2-handed "clubbing," though.

* I guess Nation is the nearest real-life equivalent to Davros, then. 

Software Review: SweatShop Timer

We've been using the SweatShop timer for more than a year now, so I thought I should post a review.

The Setup

This timer is a small program intended for timing multiple rounds and rests during a workout;  I find it invaluable for Tabata workouts, but it is helpful for others as well.  It can also be used for sparring matches.  Alison has even used it to time debates among students in a class she TAed.  The number of rounds, length of rounds, and length of rests can all be adjusted freely.  Several audible alerts can be enabled or disabled to make it easy to follow the timing without watching the large, central display.  The program is free and contains no adware or, apparently, spyware.

The Bottom Line

Considering its functions and its price, I give the SweatShop timer 9.0 out of 10.

PR: Tabata Something Else

447 reps.  That's an improvement of more than 10% over my previous best.

Friday, November 28, 2008

PR: Nate 1.5

On Thursday, the CrossFit gods prescribed a fixed-time workout of the day. Probably the plurality of WODs specify an amount of work to be performed in the shortest possible time, and the next most popular category instructs the trainee to perform some number of sets and reps with the maximum possible loads, and time is not a factor.  By contrast, Thursday's workout, Nate, asks the trainee to complete as many rounds of three exercises as possible in 20 minutes.  I like to believe the high lords of CrossFit knew many CrossFitters would be busy with Thanksgiving, so they assigned a WOD that anyone, regardless of fitness level, could complete, with warmup, in under a half an hour.  For me, something like Fran or 30 Muscle-Ups for Time would have taken a lot less time, but for others, those same workouts might have taken 30 minutes or longer.   So, I guess I'm thankful for the insight with which that WOD was chosen.

Nate calls for, among other exercises, kettlebell swings with 2 poods, which equals 72 pounds.  I usually use the prescribed weight for each WOD, even though the workouts are designed for a 175-pound male and can be scaled down or up as appropriate.  Unfortunately, I have a hard time doing kettlebell swings with that much weight.  I think a certain amount of body mass is helpful for counterbalancing the kettlebell during the movement, regardless of the exerciser's strength.  So, for Nate, I do the KB swings with 1.5 poods or 54 pounds.  Even so, the hardest part of Nate 1.5, as I call it, is still the swings;  the muscle-ups and handstand push-ups are easy by comparison.

The preceding 2 paragraphs were my overly verbose way of introducing and qualifying the personal record I set on Nate 1.5 on Thursday.  I managed to record 13 and 1/3 rounds, by which I mean 13 rounds and 2 muscle-ups.  That's a 2-round imrovement over my previous best.

Enjoy the Contrast, Again

Regular readers may remember when I posted a pair of photographs contrasting Mia with a neighbor's  F-150-based Ford Excursion.  Now I'd like to post another brace of pics, this time featuring a different neighbor's F-150.

Enjoy the contrast.


Alison and I hosted the fourth consecutive Very Team Grondul Thanksgiving yesterday.  We had our largest-ever turnout:  8 people including ourselves.  I'd like to offer my thanks to everyone for making it such an enjoyable holiday.

This was our first VTGTG with family, since Ashley now lives in the DC area.  Her visit actually started the evening before.  She stayed over to help us with our night-before cooking.  Newton loves his Auntie Ashley, and he spent the night cuddled up with her on our fold-out bed.  Here's a photo of Newton, Ashley, and me as we relaxed on that piece of furniture Thanksgiving morning.

Newton was well behaved throughout our Thanksgiving gathering.  As a reward for that, and because he's such a cutie, we let him "clean up" the turkey platter.  He was happy to lend a paw, as you can see from these pictures:

You can also see that Newton's not quite looking himself.  He's had a disturbing growth on the back of his neck for a couple of months, and we had it removed on Tuesday.  The incision site was shaved, as was his left forearm, where his IV was inserted.  He's wearing the inflatable "travel-pillow" collar to prevent him from scratching his wound.  We're hoping the biopsy comes back with "benign" written across the top.  We're also hoping he makes a speedy recovery.  If he doesn't, it won't be for lack of protien.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

PR: Lynn

Today's CrossFit workout of the day was Lynn, which consists of 5 rounds of maximum repetitions of bodyweight* bench press supersetted with max reps of pull-ups.  Lynn always manages to make me feel sick to my stomach.  I think the shear number of reps in each superset is what nauseates me.  Today, however, I was careful to take longer breaks between supersets, and I was able to set 2 personal records.  The first PR was for my single-round total:  18 bench presses and 33 pull-ups for a total of 51 reps.  My second PR was for the entire workout:  65 + 119 = 184.  And, I did it without feeling (too much) like I was going to vomit.

* Today, for me, that meant 138 pounds.

The Guild Aligns with Microsoft

It seems that the second season of Felicia Day's web series The Guild will appear on Microsoft's online video service.  This development means that each episode will be available on the Zune, on MSN, andthrough Xbox Live a few weeks before becoming available at The Guild's official site.  This news also means that Day won't have to ask for donations in order to be able to pay to "film" the show.

Update:  The first ep of the second season is available now;  we just watched it on our Xbox (and the TV that Nick so graciously gave us).

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Positive Experience

I've owned my Mazdaspeed Miata for 9 months now, and I still look forward to driving it everytime I get in the car.  I guess that's as positive a review of the vehicle as I can give.

Poor James

When I read the headline of this article, I was interested.  After all, I enjoyed James Marsters' portrayal of Spike in the Buffyverse, and perhaps my favorite TV series of all time was a sci-fictionWestern.  But then, when I read the phrase "Sci Fi Channel original movie" I lost all hope.  Sci Fi's origial movies, which have names like Mansquito and Abominable, are universally terrible. 

Friday, November 21, 2008


I recently came across this amazing display of driving skill.  It shows rally driver Ken Block practicing a rather extreme version of gymkhana, which itself is something like autocross.  You might want to fast-forward through the first 40 seconds or so of specs and explanatory text.

PR: Row 5 km

This evening, I set a new personal record for the 5-km row:  21 minute, 47.4 s.  That's only 0.8 s better than my previous best, but I feel justified in posting it because the workout was so arduous.  I just wasn't feeling fast today, and every single stroke was a struggle.  I only managed to set this time because my rower continously displays a projected finish time, given the current pace.  Also, I tried to motivate myself with the promise of this exact post.  I only post these PRs as a means of self-motivation, you see.

Pushing Daisies Pushes Daises

Well, crap.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Here's a word I've found handy a few times:
prevenge, noun.  Preemptive revenge taken in response to anticipated actions.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Does anyone care to offer an opinion on the new color scheme?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Book Review: The Last Colony

(This review contains no significant spoilers.)

My recent trip to California entailed about 8 hours of travel each way, and I knew I'd have some time to myself after dinner each night, so I was sure to take a couple of novels with me. I managed to read the final 2/3 of John Scalzi's
The Last Colony on the first day. Here is my review.

The Setup

TLC is the third novel set in Scalzi's Old Man's War universe. The main characters are John Perry, the protagonist and narrator of Old Man's War, and Jane Sagan, who played significant roles in both OMW and The Ghost Brigades. The story follows Perry and Sagan as they establish a new colony planet for the Colonial Union. The colonization effort, as you may suspect, does not go entirely to plan.

What I Liked

  • Scalzi doesn't just give us more of the humorously narrated but remarkably violent battles of OMW or the musings on the meaning of identity and conciousness of TLC. This book takes place in the same universe, but it has a very different subject and tone. The humor is stil there---that seems to be part and parcel of Perry's narration---but story is principally about pollitical and social intrique, which gives the whole book a certain paranoid, tense feeling.
  • The plot holds some twists and turns that keep the reader interested.
  • The characters are interestingly constructed and compellingly written.
  • The universe if very richly imagined.

What I Disliked

  • There is one aspect of the colony planet's ecology that is addressed briefly, but that I think could have been explored more extensively and to good effect.

The Bottom Line

Overall, I give The Last Colony 8.5 out of 10. It's the equal of Scalzi's first 2 OMW novels, but, as I said, is not simply a duplicate of either of them.

A Bunch of Rocks

I've cut down, recently, on the frequency of posts that are essential just look-at-this links to elswhere on the interwebs.  Today's xkcd, however, is so thought-provoking that it simply demands I point it out. 

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Mailman? Seriously?

Those of you who know us in meatspace are aware that Alison didn't take my surname when we were wed.  She made that choice, I believe, not only because it would be strange to abandon her family name after 29 years with it, but also because she had already established her work identity under her birth name.  Certainly, since she'd already published several papers, changing her name would not be helpful.

Anyway, her grandmother insists on addressing cards to us with "Mr. and Mrs." followd by my full name.  What I find hilarious about this approach is that she writes our address in this manner because she doesn't want the mailman to think we aren't married.  Seriously.

I Need to Think BIG

Instead of mucking tweaking Mia with a larger intercooler and better brake pads, perhaps I should go whole-hog with a Flyin' Miata FM II conversion.  I mean, how can I argue with this dynamometer trace?

Intercoolah and Baby Teeth

While I was taking photos of Mia for my recent post on her new winter footwear, I took the opportunity to snap a picture of the new, larger intercooler I installed a couple of weeks ago.

Below is a photo of the new charge cooler in place.  You may note that it is offset to the starbord (passenger) side.

Below is a photo of a stock Mazdaspeed Miata for comparison.  This is not my Mia, but she looked exacly the same.  The stock unit is quite a bit smaller, and would be almost completely blocked from view by my front license plate, even with the plate folded at the top and bottom as it is.*

Incidentally, these photographs show that I've replaced the 2 stock "tow hooks"---really tie-down loops  or tie-down eyes**---with larger ones designed for Spec Miatas.  These hooks are the black hoops visible on either side of the car's "grill" in each photo.  The new parts have much larger holes and project a bit further forward, which should make them easier to see and reach in the event that I need to be towed off the side of the road or or---more likely--out of the gravel at a race track.

* I should point out that I remove the plate for track days and autocrossing, both to get better charge cooling from the intercooler and to get better engine cooling from the radiator.  Oh, and, for what it's worth, I folded the top and bottom of the plate to a 90 degrees using a sheet metal brake in the machine shop at work.  It's amazing how much stiffer the plate is now.

** The "tow hooks" are intended for tying the car down during transportation from the Hiroshima plant to the dealer.  They aren't really intended for towing, though they work reasonably well for that, being secured to the chassis with 3 large bolts, though my new ones should work better.  Some Miata enthusiats find them to be unattractive and remove them.  These same folks call these parts "baby teeth" because of their location in the Miata's "mouth" port and their eventual absence.

Sisters, Again

Ashly came by a week or so ago, and she and Alison had a girls' day at the mall.  They also found time to fit in some Super Mario Brothers on Alison's Nintendo Entertainment System.

If this photo looks familar to you, that's because I posted one that was eerily similar about 6 months ago.

Beware Summer Tires

My Miata, Mia, has worn "summer" tires since I bought her. These tires provide good grip in warm weather, but when the air and road temperatures get down to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less, the compound gets hard, and the grip fades. A lot. And if there is snow or ice on the road, these tires would likely lead me on some unplanned off-road excursions. Mia's so-called summer tires are, in truth, good for 3 seasons here in Maryland, not just the summer. Winter is another story. So, today I bolted on the winter wheels and tires I recently purchased.*

The tires are Dunlop SP Winter Sport M3 models in the 205/50R15 size. They are 10 mm narrower than the 215s summer tires, but it should be just about perfect for snow use. The tires are mounted on the famous** 949Racing 6UL wheels in the nickel finish and the 15x7.5+34 size. These wheels are the maximum width that Dunlop recommends for these tires; I bought wider-than-necessary wheels so that I would have the option of mounting wide---probably 225---R-compound tires on them later, if I wanted to make this car into a dedicated track toy.

You may have noticed that these wheels are much smaller in diameter---2 inches smaller---than the stock Mazdaspeed wheels. This change saves significant unsprung weight, which should improve the function of the suspension, but with the possible cost of increased transverse sidewall flex when turning. With the slightly narrower tires, I've cut the weight of each corner from 39.1 pounds down to 31.1. That's a huge weight savings.

Below is a photo of Mia with her new shoes. You can see that the outside diameter of the tires is a bit smaller, 8 mm in fact. That reduction sadly exacerbates theMia's unsightly wheel-well gap, and it should also affect the effective gearing slightly.

Below is a photo of the front left of the car, showing the pleasant nickel finish on the 6ULs. Also visible in this image are the decals I've added to the vehicle. They are, from front to back, a traffic cone (signifying autocross), Summit Point's Main Circuit, Thunderbolt Circuit at New Jersey Motorsports Park, and a "Christmas Tree" (representing drag racing). I purchased these decals from Levant Goken at, and I'd recommend that site to anyone looking for something like these.

This third photo shows one minor cosmetic benefit of the smaller wheels. With them mounted, my brake rotors don't seem comically undersized anymore.

* You might be wondering why I didn't simply put all-season tires on my wheels when I bought new rubber this spring. Well, all-season tires are, by nature, a compromise between warm- and cold-whether performance. By having separate 3-season and winter tires, I can have more-or-less maximum possible traction in any weather ranging from excruciatingly hot to light-ish snow. If we somehow get heavy snow here, I'm unlikely to be interested in hitting the roads, anyway. The downside to having separate setups is the additional cost associated with 2 sets of wheels and tires as well as the additional storage requirement.

** In Miata circles, at least. These wheels are designed specifically for small import cars with the 4x100 lug pattern, and they offer low weight and high strength at very modest prices. One of the guys in my club says it's foolish to buy anything else. They are also available in widths up to 9 inches, so they are quite popular with drivers of heavily modified Miatae.

Book Review: The Ghost Brigades

(This review contains no significant spoilers for The Ghost Brigades, but it does included some spoilers for Old Man's War.)

About a week ago, I polished off The Ghost Brigades,  John Scalzi's indirect sequel to Old Man's War.  Here is my review:

The Setup

The novel follows Jared Dirac, a member of the Colonial Defense Force's Special Forces, which are colloquially known as the Ghost Brigades, since each member is created from the genes of a dead person.  Dirac is somewhat different from the rest of the Special Forces soldiers, and he was created to fill a particular purpose.  The story examines the meaning of concepts such as identity and conciousness.

What I Liked

  • I was pleasently surprised, when I began reading TGB that Scalzi hadn't chosen to simply write "more of the same," more of what made Old Man's War so successful;  the feel of this newer book is very different from that of OMW, and there's much less emphasis on battle.
  • The examination of the nature of Dirac's identity is interesting, as is the discussion of the Obin's conciousness.
  • The story itself is very compelling.

What I Disliked

  • I can't think of any aspect of this book that I didn't enjoy.

The Bottom Line

Overall, I give The Ghost Brigades 8.5 out of 10.  It's every bit as good as Scalzi's first novel, but quite different.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Made-Up-WOD: Newport

I spent most of the last week at the LEOS Annual Meeting in Newport Beach, California.  While I was there, I availed myself of the hotel's fitness center.  I did some stairclimbing, weight training, and even some "ellipticizing" during the first 3 days, but, for the last day, I was inspired to make up my own CrossFit-style workout of the day.  I was pretty happy with what I invented, so I've decided to name this WOD "Newport," in honor of the 
For minimum time, do 4 rounds of the following:
10 box jumps, 20 inches
10 decline setups on the steepest setting
10 1-arm dumbbell snatches, 40 pounds, left arm
10 1-arm dumbbell snatches, 40 pounds, right arm
10 1-arm pushups left arm
10 1-arm pushups right arm
For the record, I managed to finish in 28 minutes, 40 seconds without pushing myself too hard.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

See Ya Later

The uncreatively named Gears of War 2 arrived today, so don't expect to see many posts from us for the next week or so.

And just in case you thought he was kidding...

...or at least exaggerating about the wedding cake thing:


The One Face

Check it out.  I just found this photo taken during the Olympic weightlifting seminar we attended last October.  Both of us are clearly visible, since we are nerds and like to "sit" near the front of every class we take.  

You'll note that I'm making The Face.  I've learned from Alison that it's the only face I make, whether I'm doing math, working out, or cutting into the cake that I fed her at our wedding*.  Apparently, any activity that requires even minor concentration or exertion is met with The Face.   I like to think of it as "One Face to rule them all."  I actually sometimes get cramps in the muscles around my cheek bones from forming that expression.  Strange, I know. 

* She fed me a strawberry.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Ooo! Secrets!

I found this link on another blog I read and thought I'd share it (thanks, Ken, for suggesting I do so). Here is the setup, quoted directly from the introduction to the article:

The disclosures are among many revealed in "How He Did It, 2008," the latest installment in NEWSWEEK's Special Election Project, which was first published in 1984. As in the previous editions, "How He Did It, 2008" is an inside, behind-the-scenes account of the presidential election produced by a special team of reporters working for more than a year on an embargoed basis and detached from the weekly magazine and Everything the project team learns is kept confidential until the day after the polls close.

Dollhouse Trails Again

Another Dollhouse trailer is available for your viewing pleasure.  This one does a good job of explaining the premise in a subtle and interesting way.

Schadenfreude Pie

Obama fans in the readership might want to bake a schadenfreude pie today.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Monday, November 03, 2008

Formula One 2008

Regular readers know that I've always been a bit of a car guy, but that I've been obsessed with everything automotive since I acquired my Miata in February. I've had a lot of fun working on Mia, driving her on the track, autocrossing her, and even taking her to work. My direct motorsports experience has gotten me interested in motorsports spectating.

So, I've been following Formula One this season, and I actually watched about the half of the F1 races. Most of the individual races were quite interesting, though I was irritated by at least one example of Ferarri bias. Additionally, watching the driver's championship evolve over this year has added another degree of entertainment. This season the driver's championship was decided on the last corner or the last lap of the last race, which made for tense and exciting spectating.

I plan to watch again in 2009.

PR: Rowing Michael

Sometimes, if the weather isn't optimal, or if my afternoon snack was too large or too late, then I replace the running in the workout known as Michael with rowing. That was the case today.

I managed to set a new personal record on "Rowing Michael" of 20:15, just 23 seconds better than my previous best. I think I'll find posting a sub-20-minute time quite difficult.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Why You Should be Watching Pushing Daisies

Here's a short opinion piece about why Pushing Daisies is the best series on TV, and why you should be watching it. Hear me now and believe me later: you need to watch this show.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Book Review: Rollback

(This review contains no significant spoilers.)

Last night---early this morning, to be honest---I finished reading Rollback, written by perhaps Canada's premier science-fiction author, the Hugo-winning Robert J. Sawyer. Here's my review.

The Setup

The bulk of the story takes place in the mid-twenty-first century. 38 years ago, SETI finally received a message from an alien civilization. The message came from the Sigma Draconis system, 19.1 light-years from Earth. A response to Earth's reply---thus, the second message form Sigma Draconis---has just arrived, but this time, it is encrypted. The woman who translated the first message, Sarah Halifax, is still alive and now 87. In order to give her the chance to decrypt the new message, and to continue humanity's dialog with the Dracons, Sarah is offered a rollback, a new multi-billion-dollar procedure to return her biological age to her mid-twenties.* The rollback does not go exactly as planned, and, further complicating matters, Sarah begins to have difficulties relating to her husband, Don, because of the effective age difference between them. Ethical dilemmas arise through the novel, and others are also discussed.

What I Liked

  • Sarah and Don are both interesting people.
  • The two main plot lines, the communication with the aliens and the ramifications of the rollback, are both compelling.
  • The story moves along quickly.

What I Disliked

  • While the ethical dilemmas and marital tension were interesting, I found myself much more excited to learn how the first alien message was translated, what it meant, how the second, encrypted message would be decrypted, and what it meant.

My Conclusions

Overall, I give Rollback 8.0 out of 10. It's quite good, and I recommend it.

* Yes, this is the second consecutive book that I've read which has a significant element of age-reduction about it.

Apple Oatmeal Crumble Recipe

Hey guys! I had a hankering for something sweet and appley the other day, but I didn't want to make an entire pie or an entire pan of apple crisp. That leads to bad, bad things. So, I found this recipe at Epicurious and I tweaked it just a tad (see below for my version). Basically I left out the lemon juice because I didn't have any and I doubled the topping and added more spices. I mean, c'mon! Even with double the topping, you're eating a whole apple and only 2 tablespoons of sugar and 2 teaspoons of butter. Did I mention the whole apple? And oats! It's practiaclly health food!

  • 1 granny smith apple, peeled, cored, and sliced thinly
  • 2 Tblsp packed brown sugar
  • 2 Tblsp water
  • 1/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 tsp cold butter cut into bits
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Toss sliced apples with 1 tblsp of brown sugar in a small ceramic baking dish. Sprinkle with water. Bake 20 mins.
  3. Meanwhile, stir together oats, remaining tblsp brown sugar, and spices. Rub the butter into the oat mixture until distributed.
  4. Sprinkle topping over apples and bake 20-25 mins more until topping is golden brown.
  5. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream. (See?! You're even getting your dairy in. HEALTH FOOD, I'm telling you!)

Book Review: Old Man's War

(This review contains no significant spoilers.)

A few days ago, I finished reading Old Man's War, the debut novel of author, blogger, and inventor of the Bacon Cat, John Scalzi.  OMW came in third for the Hugo Award in 2006.  Here's my review of the book.

The Setup

Somewhere around the twenty-third century, the Colonial Defense Force, which is responsible for the defense of humanity's numerous colony planets, is recruiting 75-year-old Earth-living humans.  Most of the recruits assume that the CDF has some way of reversing the aging process, because what good would 75-year-olds be in a military force.  No one knows for sure, though, because those who leave Earth never come back.  The story is told in the first person by widower John Perry as he enlists in the CDF, passes through basic training, and is deployed on various missions.  If you think this description sounds like something Heinlein would have written, then you aren't alone;  all the critics agree, as does Scalzi himself.

What I Liked

  • The writing is surprisingly funny.  Hilarious, in fact.  (I'd say the most amusing scene in the book is the one where we first meet the drill sergeant.  If you elect to read this book, let me know if you agree.) 
  • The plot is quite entertaining.  Unlike many books I read, there was not a single thread in which I found myself uninterested.
  • The story moves along very quickly.  There's no time to become bored with any stage of the plot, because we move on to the next one in short order.
  • The universe that Scalzi has built is richly detailed and fully realized.   In particular, the rejuvenation process I mentioned is not, in fact, what everyone expects, but it is well thought-out.  And trademarked.  Additionally, the OMW  universe is populated with numerous interesting sentient species, most of whom seem to be both hostile and deadly to humans.

What I Disliked

  • Frankly, I can't think of anything I dislike about this novel.


Overall, I give Old Man's War 8.5 out of 10.  It's the most enjoyable text-only novel I've read in quite some time, and I look forward to reading the other books that take place in the same universe

PR: Thruster

Today I set a personal record for the thruster:  167 pounds.  So, um, yay me.

Mickey would be so proud!

Here is a little public service announcement for all of you who shop online...just in time for holiday shopping! I found a website called You can go to that site and search for any online retailer and it will list a whole bunch of coupon codes for that shipping, xx% off, $x off your order, etc, etc. They also allow you to provide feedback about whether the code worked for you or not, so each listed code says how frequently it worked for other people.

There is even a Firefox extension available that will automatically inform you if online coupons are available at for the store whose page you are currently on. Nifty!

I have used codes from this site twice now (once at Macy's and once at PetSmart) and both times it worked out great! Happy shopping!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Book Review: Cosm

(This review contains no significant spoilers.)

I recently polished off Gegory Benford's Cosm.  Here's my review.

The Setup

The book follows  a particle physicist who has accidentally created a seemingly physics-defying macroscopic object during an accelerator experiment, as attempts to understand the object and maintain her possession of it.

What I Liked

  • The book seems to have a very strong basis in real physics and astronomy,* as you would expect from Benford, since he is a professor or astrophysics at the University of California, Irvine.
  • The depiction of scientific research and the lives of research scientists is quite realistic.
  • The plot moves along quickly.  I found the book to be a real page-turner.

What I Disliked

  • One or two plot developments were predictable.


Overall, I give this book 8.0 out of 10.  I recommend it to anyone to whom its premise sounds interesting.

* Amusingly, although the astrophysics in the book is very well researched, I did notice a factual error regarding the protagonist's Miata.  I think this observation says more about me that about the author.

Roasted Cherry Tomato Pasta

Hey everyone! I thought I'd share the meal that we had for dinner was SO GOOD. I'm still a little fixated on it and I want to eat more of it, so instead I'm going to write about it. I'm sure that will be JUST as satisfying, right?


OK, I basically adapted the recipe from this Emeril Lagasse recipe on the food network site. I know, right? It's really shocking that Michael would eat anything Emeril makes. However, it should be noted that by "adapted" I mean " pretty much totally copied except for I left out all the fatty cheese at the end". Aha! Mystery solved.

  • approx 2.5 lbs cherry tomatoes, halved (note: Emeril's recipe called for various colors of tomatoes...yellow and heirloom green in addition to red. They were hard to find and I'm not that fancy. All red works great, too.)
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 Tblsp balsamic vinegar
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup chiffonade fresh basil leaves
  • 2 Tblsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano (Emeril's recipe calls for 1 tsp of fresh...I don't use oregano that often, so I elected to just use my dried oregano that I already had rather than buy expensive, fresh oregano of which I would use one tsp and then throw the rest away after I found it several weeks later all nasty in the bottom of my fridge.)
  • 1/2 package of Angel hair pasta (We use whole wheat...yum!)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine tomatoes, garlic, oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes in a large glass baking dish. Bake 40-45 mins.
  3. When the tomatoes are done baking, toss in the basil, parsley, and oregano.
  4. Meanwhile, cook the pasta and then toss with the tomatoes.
  5. EAT!
If you choose to check out the link above you'll see that the original recipe called for ricotta salata and pecorino cheeses as well as a bunch of toasted pine nuts. My version is probably less tasty, but on the upside I'll be able to wear my pants tomorrow. I sprinkled some grated parmesan on it and called it a day. If you add all the cheese, you might want to use the entire package of pasta as the original recipe calls for (the whole package ended up being too many noodles with just the tomatoes) and make sure your sweats are clean.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Book Review: Watchmen

(This review contains no significant spoilers.)

As part of my recent resurgent interest in reading, I finally got around to tackling Watchmen.  I purchased this graphic novel, which is generally regarded as the most significant example of its kind ever published, at least 3 years ago.  I never actually read it until now, however, because I couldn't get past the art, which is, in some ways, rather poor. As I shall explain, I was foolish to be so put off by the artwork.

The Setup

Watchmen takes place in an alternate-reality America where the US soundly won the Vietnam War, and Richard Nixon is serving an unprecedented fifth term as the President.  The main story, the investigation of what appears to be the serial killing of masked heroes, occurs in October and November of 1985, but the book is laced with flashbacks reaching as far back as 1939.  Each of the 12 chapters---the  issues of the original limited run of the Watchmen comic---also features several pages on supplementary text.  This text is pulled from one character's autobiography, newspaper interviews with characters, documents from one character's history, and so on.

What I Liked
  • The main story, the investigation of the murders, is interesting, though it is not the most intriguing aspect of this book.
  • The extremely nonlinear way in which the story is told and in which the characters' history is slowly revealed is fascinating.
  • The characters themselves are interesting, especially Rorschach, and Dr. Manhattan.  I think Rorschach is my favorite, though I wouldn't want to spend any time with him.  Or near him.  Or in the same city with him.
  • The composition of the comic panels is extremely well done.  Some examples:  the reader often must look through the foreground to see that the important content is in the background, some of the panels are echoed throughout the volume, many panels feature dual storylines that mirror each other, and the angles from which the panels are "shot" are carefully chosen to draw attention to elements within each panel.
  • The Tales of the Black Freighter, a comic-within-the-comic is an interesting idea, and it suggests that, in a world of masked adventurers, comics might not be about them.
  • The story is very realistic.  Only one of the "superheroes" in the book has any kind of powers, and the way society reacts to these vigilantes seems fairly believable to me.
  • Interpersonal relationships are a key part of the story, and they are well explored.
  • I enjoyed how the book explores the motivations and evolution of the masked adventurers

What I Disliked
  • As I said, I was turned off by the art when I first picked up the book The drawing is crude, at least by modern comic-cook standards, and the coloring is very flat and uniform.  (As I said before, though, the composition aspect of the art is excellent.)
  • The Tales of the Black Freighter, though an interesting premise, simply drags on too long, and mostly made me annoyed that I had to read that storyline before getting back to the "real" plot.
  • The exact mechanism by which the main antagonist intends to achieve his or her goal is, well, a little silly.


Overall, I give Watchmen 9.0 out of 10, one of the highest ratings I've ever given.  It's the best graphic novel and one of the best novels of any kind that I have read.  I encourage you to read this book.  You won't regret it.

I'm also looking forward to seeing the film based on this comic.  I'm worried about the movie version, though.  The extremely nonlinear means by which the story is told might confuse many viewers, so I'm not sure how much of it will be implemented for the film.  Additionally, since the book has far less "action" than the typical superhero movie, I'm concerned the the filmmakers will feel the need to punch up the flick with a bunch of choreographed fight sequences and explosions.  We shall see.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Alison and I hosted the fourth annual edition of the Team Grondul BYOP* Pumpkin-Carving Party about a week ago.  It went quite well:  we had our largest ever turnout, and I believe everyone had a good time.  So, I'd like to thank everyone who showed up and contributed to the festive mood.

* Bring Your Own Pumpkin, natch.

That's not an Intercooler. THAT's an Intercooler.

I installed a new intercooler into Mia today, with help from the Chesapeake Area Roadsters club.  The new intercooler has a volume about 1.8 times that of the puny stock unit, so I hope to see substantially less heat soak and more consistent boost when driving the car hard.

Shouldn't B7 be 40% Better than B5?

I've lately been watching the "classic" British science-fiction series Blake's 7.  So far---8 episodes in---I'm enjoying it.  Look for a review of the show in, oh, about 44 episodes.