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!