Thursday, August 28, 2014

screw top surprise

I've never knowingly had wine poured from a screw top bottle, until yesterday. That's not to say I've never had it, since if a glass was brought to me, I have no way of knowing what container it had been in. But all my bottles are cork. How's that line go? "Call me old fashioned."

But this was pretty darned good! I suppose eventually I won't be able to buy cork anymore and will have to go to an artificial cork, or replace my glass and got to screw tops myself. Not soon, I hope.

I'm not sure what it is lately. Walking from work to where I usually park I've been wading through people towing luggage, and people smoking. You might know I walk past the front door to the Palliser Hotel, but there isn't usually much luggage there. This was all from there towards the tower and then to the bus station near City Hall. Luggage everywhere!

And smokers. I'm trying to be calm here. Waiting on the LRT to come home today, it was broken. Lots of people waiting. And smokers just upwind, on the platform. Near the no smoking signs. This is where I want giant remote controlled fire extinguishers. I'm sure glad I don't have to use the LRT much.

The swim this morning was excellent, mainly because I was trying not to look like a weenie in front of the awesome Katie F. She was cruising back and forth, recovering from winning (first overall girl) a race last weekend. My almost full speed is barely faster than her cool down speed. Still, I was in the  water 40 minutes, lots of stuff, felt good about it.

Two work farewell lunches in two weeks. Chris the developer that started the same day as me had his last day today. Last week was my buddy Sean from Skystone. My office roomie Jason has been sick, but his last day was today too. Our little corner of the office is getting very quiet.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Ok, so I screamed like a little girl

This morning I didn't really think about the cupping my massage therapist did yesterday. There was a small tender spot on the back of my thigh that looks like it had been scraped. I thought about it very loudly after getting into the shower this morning! I hope I didn't wake the neighbours. Like nipple chafe, only worse. This evening it's much better, seems to be fully scabbed over. The other spots just look like they got a bit of sun.

My legs felt good enough to try running in the new Altras again. This time I really did shut off the WiFi in my phone and got a much more reasonable looking pace line on my graph. My legs felt great during the run, with only the smallest of twinges. Normally I'd have kept on running, but with breaking in new shoes I want to take it easy. I could feel my feet getting a bit tired, and some of the twinges were in odd places. I really do have trouble running at a steady pace without my run buddy.

Afterward I stretched and used my new gear roller. Feels so good, and digs so deep!

As I was walking home I discovered that either one of my neighbours has won the lottery, or has rich friends. In the photo this looks like a nice yellow, but in fact it's a neon green. I'm reasonably certain that If the top was up I couldn't get into it, and with the top down once in, I wouldn't be able to get back out again.

Monday, August 25, 2014

squid marks from sleeping funny

Sunday was a zoom with book club friends coming over. A book club isn't really quite the right word, it's more of a social club. I had finished the one book, but nobody else read that one, and I hadn't read the one that two other people really liked. At the moment I'm totally spacing on the next book. And we forgot to set a date for the next meeting.

I was feeling pretty good, though I was gradually getting creakier and creakier as the day went on. Then getting up today was a thoughtful process. I think I had contorted myself into an odd position while sleeping. My hams and back were so tight, and my neck was so stiff I could barely do shoulder checks driving to work.

The swim was nothing to write home about. Short with some extra stretching. I was so looking forward to my massage, and since she just got a cupping certificate, we were going to try that.

She told me a couple of them really spucked on and I might get some bruising. The one just above my knee looks like I had a bit of a scrape happening. It's a really odd feeling. Massage is mostly compression, with a bit of cross-ways striation happening, but this is actually suction. One can pull the muscles up and around a bit, and I think it's all good. I'll have to check tomorrow to see if there are any other marks like a giant squid tried to drag me under for dinner.

I do have to admit I went into the massage very tight, and I'm feeling much better now. She really worked over the hams, and the tops of my shoulders. I have no idea why any of that was tight.

I forgot the chocolate! Linda had brought home some high end chocolate a couple weeks ago. The ingredients list is very sparse. You might have to turn the photos sideways and embiggen them to read the very, very short ingredient list. It was all wonderful. The ginger, and the mocha were excellent, and the Habanero had a very nice bit of zing. In comparison the Madagascar was a bit bland, but only in comparison. They were all excellent, even if the plastic wrapping required an actual tool to open.

One never knows in Calgary, but this might well be my last evening this year sitting out on the back patio, drinking wine and writing, while wearing only shorts and a T shirt. We have been loving the new back yard! Like so many other things, we should have done it long ago.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

gears and zero drop

Is this not fearsome looking? How could I not buy it?

It already has the Linda seal of approval for how it worked over her shoulders.

Believe it or not, I went to a shoe sale the other day. One of these things is not quite like the others.

Mine were samplers in the $50 box. I don't have especially wide feet, but my little toes sometimes feel the pinch. When I saw how roomy the toe box was I had to try them. These are zero drop shoes, meaning the distance between both the heel and the ball of my foot to the floor is the same. Most shoes have a built up heel.

I've done a bit of barefoot running. A very little bit. It's good for reminding yourself of what a mid-foot stride is, since it's essentially impossible to run on your heels barefoot. Of course, that exposes your feet to anything that might be on the ground or path. Let's not talk about that.

I had thought I'd like to try a zero drop shoe, but was unwilling to bet full price on liking them. At less than half I'm willing to go for it. Today was actually my first run in them, and I don't have the first idea how far or long I went in them. Just knowing the neighborhood, I'm thinking not quite 2 K.

The GPS was terrible today, both apps lied their faces off. In 25 minutes running, they both thought I'd done nearly 7 K. NOT! I started with my Asics and ran maybe 2 K, just enough to feel warmed up. Then I changed into the Atra's and headed out. I was astonished how light and stable my feet felt. My quads were a bit tired but that's a typical thing these days. Toward the end I could feel the very beginning of a calf twinge, but if I hadn't been paying attention I probably wouldn't have noticed it. Then it was back into the Asics for maybe another K or so, which was almost a bit of a shamble at the end. My feet felt really clumsy in the Asics.

Throughout this I was getting the most amazing pace times, but I didn't believe a word of it. At the time I thought that whatever it was measuring, it would at least measure consistently, and I'd be able to tell where I changed shoes by the big change in the pace line. Tell me, can you see where I changed shoes?

Thought not. Sometimes I wonder why I bother. Here's the crazy map. Linda thinks it looks like a savage dog.

Friday was another swim lesson. My buddy is doing great! The biggest problem to overcome now is learning to roll to breathe. We did some exercises there, but I'm really pleased at the progress so far. I got kicked out of the teach pool for a bit, and I managed to get in some hard sprints.

Even when I swim I'm one of the first people into work these days, and I got this neat reflection shot just down the hall from my office.

And lastly, one of the more adorable photos of Curtis and Celina. How can I not publish this?

Celina was grumbling at me while I was writing, complaining that Curtis gets all the photo action, and that she's much the prettier kitty, so I should include more of her. So here she is.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Cats, grab bag, highly technical swim stuff

My readers really liked my political rant. That hit the all time top 10 very quickly! The recent rant on the ALS bucket videos, not so much. That's what's fun about doing the blog; I can never guess how popular something is going to be.

Today I was wandering around tying to deal with stuff on the way to writing this blog. With cats underfoot every step of the way. Then I get this look when I actually do sit down.

Later on he was happier about it.

The pool was lovely this morning. Nice half hour swim with a variety of stuff, very nice.

This is where it gets highly technical, describing what I was thinking about during my swim. If you aren't a swimmer, you might want to go on to the next blog.

Most people get their arm out in front of their head ok, then it goes all wrong. They don't enter the water cleanly. Then they push down on the water, trying to roll their bodies, most often trying to breathe or get their head out of the water. Then they grab a handful of water and bubbles and try to throw it backwards while leading with their elbow. No wonder they aren't swimming quickly, and that's without talking about anything else.

Just so you know where I'm coming from, my test today was 50 m, 43 seconds, 40 strokes, counting each arm. Assume 3 seconds each push off (start and flip turn) where my arms aren't moving, so 20 strokes per arm in 37 seconds is 1.85 seconds per stroke. Let's just say half the time is recovery, with my arm either leaving the water or out of it. Down to .925 seconds. I'm guessing that two thirds of that is the actual power stroke, pushing against the water and where my arm is moving slowest, so that's .616 seconds. That leaves .308 of a second for my hand and arm to enter the water and get vertical.

Blinking your eyes takes about a tenth to a third of a second. My times might be a bit off, but the time from my hand entering the water to the time the power phase is done in a small number of eye blinks. That's the piece I was working on today.

Clearly this happens much too quickly to consciously control. This is where practice and the water feel comes in. The idea is to get your hand and forearm as vertical in the water as soon as possible, as far forward of your shoulder as possible. That gives you the longest possible time to have your hand and arm anchored so you can move your body past it, with your elbow high throughout.

I was working on feeling the water as my hand slid in, then trying to angle it down while catching water, just as if there was a beach ball or barrel under my forearm. Not pushing the water down, but inserting my hand into the water like a knife into a cake. Just like the wind over an airplane wing produces lift at right angles to the wind direction, I'm trying to produce forward motion. Remember when you were a kid, waving your hands out the car window? Angling your hand up or down just a little moved your whole arm pretty quickly. (Yes, I realize kids that grew up when almost every car is air conditioned have no idea what I'm talking about.) And it isn't even my whole hand at first; it starts with bending the fingers ever so slightly to initiate the catch, as the very first step to getting vertical.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. There is the small fraction of time from where the hand enters the water and extends forward to the full reach of your arm. Some people say you should glide like this a little bit, since this is when your waterline is longest. However long you glide will depend on exactly how fast you are going, and how efficiently you can pull. As you extend your hand forward is where you bend your fingers to start the catch. All this should be very clean, with as few bubbles as possible. Generally I look straight down, but today I was trying to peek forward to see what the bubble situation was. Bubbles are bad, generally speaking.

This is all very subtle, and comes from feeling the water over the very tips of your fingers. How far the fingers are apart, where the thumb is throughout, exactly how cupped the hand is will be slightly different for everybody, depending on their exact body mechanics and speed. I was playing with some of these variables and seeing how it felt.

This feel of the water over your hands and past your body is all important, and it goes away fast if you don't swim. It goes away faster than your fitness. Almost as fast as a boy's first time. Most people think they have lost fitness when they can't swim as fast, but it's more likely the water feel is gone, leading to a poorer stroke. I've had my 1000 m time change by as much as a minute within a week, just because the feel is there one day, and not the other. Fitness doesn't change that fast.

My experience has been that if I swim twice a week I just barely maintain the water feel. Three times a week and I'll improve. Four times a week, but not every week in a month is perfect for me to improve my swimming, and yet not beat up my shoulders.

I rarely think about trying to swim fast. Even when I'm doing intervals I'm not thinking about going fast. I'm thinking about technique, trying to be clean in the water, trying for a good stroke, and trying to nail my flip turn. A clean technique means you can swim faster, and probably with less effort.

Many coaches give their athletes a ton of drills. I don't agree with that, with a couple of exceptions. If you want to get better at getting your forearm vertical in the water soon, swim with your hands in a snug but not clenched fist. It will feel like you're flailing, but that's ok. There are some other drills that are good for teaching specific aspects of a stroke, but unless someone is watching it's much too easy to cheat the drill, and that's a waste of time.

The secret is swimming lots while thinking about your stroke. I look at my time every 50 m, and if I'm more than second slower than I expect, I start paying attention to my stroke to see what I'm messing up. How much is lots? Depends on your goals. You should be swimming your goal race distance at least once a week, even if you're doing Ironman. Not your first week, of course, you have to build to it. If my goal race was a half iron next summer, especially if I was doing the swim leg of a relay (hint, hint) I'd be looking at swimming at least 2 K every swim, minimum of 3 times a week.

If you're learning to swim you will find it enormously tiring at first. It's odd, but a sloppy slow swimmer is getting a better work out than clean fast swimmer. Swim what you can, rest if you must, and try again. I swam lots in my early 20's, to the point a 20 minute 1000m didn't even get my heart rate into the aerobic zone. Then I stopped for many years. I thought it would be easy to get there again. Not. It was brutal at times, and took years. The first time I did it again I nearly puked. The next time a couple of days later I was 20 seconds faster and felt great.

You have two goals as you learn to swim:

One is to extend how far you can swim at a steady pace. Part of this is finding out where your cardio and muscle endurance is. But once you can hit about 8 minutes straight, you should be good for quite a bit longer. It might take a long time to get to that eight minutes, but very soon after that you'll be doing twice and three times that. Keep track of whatever pace this is.

Two is to swim faster by swimming clean for a much shorter distance. Probably 25 m at first, then later 50. Aim for several to 10 seconds faster than your regular pace. Get your breath mostly back, then do it again. Build to doing 10 reps, then start shortening the rest, or swimming faster. You will notice that your regular pace is faster too, without really trying.

Since many of my readers are women, I looked for a male swimmer model. Just because. Get a drool kleenex and check out this amazing video. I mean, the stroke is amazing. (Try not to drool too much!) Look at the data they give in the lower right corner. Look how few bubbles he produces. Look how steady his head is during the body roll. Look at the bent elbow so far forward of the body. Look how frigging fast he is going! His easy pace is faster than I can swim all out. Then again, I don't want to think about how much practice it took to get this good.

This video is an age group woman swimming in an endless pool, with a coach giving lots of good comments. I specifically like what she says about head position. Here's one of a superb female swimmer who has a really high stroke rate, but as the commentary points out, still has the classic elements of a great stroke. If you've got shorter arms, have the cardio, and can maintain the turnover, this might work for you.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A rant, and I might have burned out the weed whacker

There was a feeble attempt at plank last night after my run. I felt so bad about it I didn't even want to mention it. Only 60 seconds, and stopped with low back and right knee pain. Considering I'd been up to 1:45 and was going for 2 minutes, I was pretty disappointed.

And none tonight, not after the mega yard work. You see, we planted new grass when we did the back yard. As suggested we watered the heck out of it, and let it grow a bit long. I might have got carried away with that.

During the lodge staining I was laying cardboard down to save me from kneeling on stone, and from getting the stone spattered with stain. That cardboard carried over onto the grass and flattened it down pretty good.

It was pretty long. Really long. Long enough that when I started working on it this evening I quickly realized it was soaking wet underneath. It hasn't rained for several days now, and we've had hot sunny weather. Wet grass, thick wet long grass, is very hard to deal with. By the end of an hour of running nearly constantly my poor weed whacker was making a funny noise and beginning to smell. I'm not fussed, I think it's on it's last legs anyway. The cord feeding mechanism is getting very fussy.

It's still pretty uneven, but better than what it was. If it dried out I could consider tackling it with the push mower, or make another more careful pass with the weed whacker. The other day my neighbor was working his hedge, and it was only after I was almost done that I realized I should have asked to borrow it.

I suppose I should have taken a before picture, but there's lots of those if you look in the background of the lodge staining shots. Here's the after. A garbage bag and a half of clippings.

Have you seen those ice bucket videos that are polluting the internet lately? I shake my head at the videos that go viral sometimes, and this is one of them. Supposedly it's raised a lot of money for ALS, and so far so good.

But the name and shame thing troubles me. Dump a bucket of ice water on yourself, and you get to challenge others to do the same or send money to ALS. Pardon me for being blunt, but fuck you. I make my choices about charitable giving based on my values and where I see the help needed. I've given various one time donations when I've thought appropriate, and I've also participated in ongoing paycheck deductions. I don't need to be bullied into an either or choice.

I can appreciate that charities are hustling for a buck ever more aggressively as government funding is cut back. Everything is always more expensive, and there is a never ending list of charities for us to give to, each claiming to be more worthy than the last.

Don't get me wrong, many of them ARE worthy, no denying that. Some are not, given they appear to duplicate other organizations. Some are scams, and it's getting harder and harder to tell. But the needs never stop no matter how much money is given, and next year there are new charities for new conditions.

So I can understand the need for a gimmick to raise awareness and trigger the urge to give generously. Supposedly the bucket of ice water is to simulate what ALS does. I wonder if anyone has asked an ALS sufferer what they think of that idea. But do we give because it matches our values, or because it's the cause de jour? I suppose the charities don't care, as long as the cheque doesn't bounce.

One of my windmills to tilt at is the whole raising awareness thing. I think it's a fraud. It lets someone give themselves a warm and fuzzy feeling while not actually doing anything real for the cause. They're trying to persuade others to do something, and are hoping for a multiplier effect. I wonder how real that is. In the meantime, they've raised awareness, and other people start doing their thing to raise awareness, and everybody is aware, but nobody does anything.

That's why I say Bah! I think that one case of someone getting in and doing something real is worth a hundred cases of someone raising awareness. Something real can be donating money, if the group actually needs money, and most of them do. Or it could be actually doing something by volunteering your time to do something the group actually needs done. Which might not be obvious, but if you're really impelled to help out, you'll find a way to do it. I'm certainly far more impressed by someone giving their time than their money, and I'm more impressed with people giving money over those raising awareness.

At the bottom of the barrel are those that say "I"ll pray for you." Screw you too. What that means is you aren't willing to do anything, but want to feel good about it. Prayer, in the sense that most people use it, is a complete and total waste of time. It's actually insulting on so many levels. It implies that you've got an in with your god, and you can talk him into doing something for the group needing help. It implies your moral superiority in that you know what to tell god to give them. It implies that your prayer is more valuable than money or time. It implies that even if they had been smart enough to pray, that isn't good enough. You can't eat prayers, and they won't keep you warm in a Canadian winter.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Who inspired me today?

Saturday Linda and I went to the Dali exhibit at the Glenbow. Very nice! ( you'll never know how much it's hurting to pass by all the dalliance puns that are burbling in my brain.) I'm not a big painting kind of guy, but I really enjoyed them. Then there was a Bee Kingdom about some glass artists here in town that I really enjoyed, and here I'd never heard of them.

Today my buddy Michelle was signed up to do a duathlon out in Strathmore, and at the last moment helped another girl who had lost her relay team. Deb did the swim, and Michelle did the bike and run. What's more, she did it on her brand new (to her, late this week) Trek Madone. It's a sweet looking ride! They say never do anything new in a race, but the conditions were propitious and she went for it.

I had an amazing day watching the women only triathlon! Yes, watching pro athletes, and the elite age groupers is inspiring, but in a different way. These women, in all their various shapes and sizes and ages and degree of skill and conditioning, were out there giving their all. To them, a 500 m swim is a big deal. Watching some of them swim was actually a little bit painful for me as they thrashed and floundered.

But what's important is they got into the water and got'er done. They conquered their fears and stuck with it. That is HUGE! Next time they'll fear a little less, and that will make the swim better.

Deb laid down a solid swim time. They changed chips, and Michelle was off like someone who had done it a zillion times. It was sort of a wave start that I didn't really understand. Michelle was one of the last bikes off the relay rack, and was the first back by a long way. Then off on the run after a lightning transition. She had a really good run, and they ended up as first overall relay team!

Here's a bunch of photos, but blogger has mixed them up and I'm too lazy to fix the order:

Can you tell she is so excited and ready to race!

With her swim partner Deb.

And my swim buddy Deb from Renfrew pool days. We had a wonderful chat getting caught up while people were out on the bikes. I love her spirit of wanting to get out and try new things.

Nobody ever has to tell this girl to smile for the camera! Richelle did a great job announcing.

Here's Michelle just about to finish.

Showing off their medals.

They got some nice swag.

Great legs!

Yes, in the middle of all the hubbub of transition, she is taking a selfie. I think this is a soothing activity for her.

Chip fastening.

And she's off!

And she's back.

All in all a wonderful day. I'm inspired by Deb and Michelle winning the relay, and just as inspired by all the various women getting out and doing it.

I was out for a run as well in the evening, 5K, 35 minutes feeling pretty good. The actual pace graph is whacked. I am trusting Runmeter less and less. My brief glimpse at the other program gave me slightly different numbers, but I'm not going to go look at the moment. I want to hit publish and go pour a glass of wine.

So who inspired you recently?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Swim training fun

Sort of by accident on short notice, it worked out I could swim with a buddy that had wanted some feedback. We decided on Talisman, and it was no real surprise to also meet up with my buddy Katie that I water run with. We chatted a bit, and then got on with it.

I had thought about this a bit, and wanted to break it down into small steps, depending on how it went. After a bit of water running, and proving that floating worked, I took some swim video. This will be a great starting point to see progress.

From there we worked through body position in the water, breathing to alternate sides, and starting to work on stroke a bit. My buddy is a champ, and absorbed it all. The test swim after was much, much better.

This was fun in lots of ways for me. Swimming for me is a very cerebral activity. I'm not bored in the slightest swooshing up and down the pool. Part of the time I can be thinking about something else entirely, and some of the time I'm concentrating on my swim. Thinking about how to express that to another person was very interesting.

I didn't actually get to swim much, other than demoing want I wanted done, but that was fine.

In other fitness news I was somehow joined into a plank a day group. I'm up to a minute and 45 seconds, bathed in sweat. This is pretty good for me. I think I topped out at about 2.5 minutes at my best. It will be interesting to see if I can do better.

My back is still kind of stiff if I try to rush it. As long as I move slow and easy, all is fine.

No progress on the novel synopsis in brackets, but I've been thinking about it. You guys will be the first to hear.

Big day tomorrow at the Glenbow for the Dali exhibit!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Mid-week working vacation day with a DONE!

Such a productive day! It went zoom, but I got so much done.

Swim and water run for about 45 minutes altogether. Stretched in the pool for a while. Water feel was pretty good considering how little I've been swimming.

Visiting the famous Dr Macdonald. The ART was so good. The back crickle crackle wasn't too alarming, and it all felt really good.

Home, started staining the last coat on the lodge. This is the clear coat with UV protection and stuff. Fortunately it goes on much quicker than the white layer did. Much. It took about 5 hours in two goes to wait for the sun to move around so I could stain in shade.

A run in the hot sun. Lovely. 30 minutes, 4.5 K. Fairly steady pace. I've decided that the Runmeter elevations are truly whacked. So much so I'm wondering what the point is. In the half K stretch or so along 24 St, it showed elevation changes of up to 10 m, which is more than 30 feet. This is a flat road, people, slightly downhill.

My next door neighbor chanced to see me running, and said I was awful slow. My response was that I was out in the heat, and still moving.

Lunch. Errands. Bison Burgers. More lodge staining, and DONE!!!! At last. But now there's a fence...

Then drinking wine while working on my novel, looking at a couple of scenes, and trying to think critically about if they are really necessary. They still are, though maybe they can be shortened. Blogged. Looke at the plants Linda rescued from a buddy.

Time for bed.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Map a network, find holes. Sigh

I felt like such a klutz today. Normally I think of myself as reasonably graceful on my feet for a big guy. Not today. I nearly tripped over my own feet twice, and came perilously close to dropping a full glass of ice water on a tile floor. That plus a headache and feeling cold all day gave me some disorientation. I felt that not running was the better part of discretion.

Then there was the real mental aspect. I'm all fired up after WWC to move full steam ahead on my book. One bit of advice I got was to back out a bit, then write the synopsis to make sure I know where the story is going, and the arc of each character. So I started.

Some of my new readers might not know what I do for a day job. One thing is to map processes or data migration. One of my prime rules is that if you can't make the map or diagram neat, then either the process is a mess or I don't fully understand it yet.

I've been working on The Sweet Elixir since the beginning of last November. NaNoWriMo and all. I thought I knew the story and the 5 main characters fairly well. I've got the arc of how each character evolves during the story, so far so good. I once upon a time built a map of who was best friends with who, within the group of close friends and immediate family. So far so good there too. I used Aeon Timeline to ensure I kept the ages and sequence of events straight, and that's mostly so far so good, though I messed up at first.

Then I started mapping out which character steps up to help another character in a major way when they need it most. You'd think in a group of close friends, it would all balance out. Oops. I missed a scene. And I have an extra scene. Well, really, I'm sure a ruthless editor would say several extra scenes. That's ok.

One thing that Brandon Sanderson said that made a lot of sense was about building to the climax. It's really hard for pantser like me (he called us discovery writers) to come up with really good endings. And he nailed it. I've never really been happy with my ending. Any of the 3 that I've written so far. So either my story isn't ending in the right place, or I'm goofing on the ending structure itself. Brandon had some suggestions that I'm going to try.

The one that I think will really help is to treat the chunks of story as being inside the brackets in a math operation. The opening and closing brackets have to match, and they have to be properly nested. Now, there's two ways of doing this, normal math order or Reverse Polish Notation. I see puzzled looks on some faces. Look it up, or try math on an HP calculator. I've been doing that since high school, and still have trouble using a "normal" calculator.

So I'm planning on writing out the synopsis in brackets, both ways. Which makes me wonder if I could write it like a SQL statement. Hmmm.

A as (SELECT Char_E
         FROM Middle_Aged_Men
         ORDER BY buried in work, heart attack, rediscovers love for family)
B as (SELECT Char_P
ect, ect, ect.

Hmmm, maybe that's too much like work. And speaking of work, here's the view from my new office. Splendid, I'm sure you'll agree.

Monday, August 11, 2014

WWC or, The Cat Judge Shall Hear Of This

Much of my weekend was spent at the When Words Collide convention. Conference. Whatever. I'm still mentally unpacking it, and having to drag my tail into my day job and unpack my office didn't help.

The best part of thew weekend was running into people I haven't seen for a while, and actually having the time to chat with them. Over the 3 days I attended 15 hours of programming, though I bailed out before the end of the 2 hour one with Brandon Sanderson. I was doing really well, and it was interesting, then it got a bit off the rails at the very end.

I don't intend to give a summary of all the panels, suffice to say that all had at least some moments of interest, and that almost all were well worth attending. A few were hard choices, but such is the life of multi-stream programming. I talked a bit the other day about buying the book if you like it. That's still the big message. Much of the rest was of interest to me in revising the book I'm working on, and in a little while, marketing it.

I really enjoyed the whole weekend, and have already bought a membership for next year. Based on one of the panels I attended, I'm planning to volunteer to present one myself. It was all well run, and all the volunteers I ran into were friendly and helpful.

Part of the messages from the editors and publishers was very interesting. They talked again and again about making your query letter perfect, and to follow the submission guidelines exactly. Perfect (spelling, grammatically, and info content) and following the guidelines. These aren't a secret formula, they are printed in books and everything. How hard can it be? Well, considering I've been reading that exact same advice for at least 30 years, and been hearing it for several, I guess some people have difficulty with it.

Other than that, the best advice for me came from Robert J Sawyer. It happens I already knew it, since it came from Robert Heinlein, and I'd read it many years ago. But I forgot. This is slightly paraphrased.
You must write. (so far so good)
Finish what you start. (working on that.)
Do not rewrite except to order by editor. (I only wish)
Put it on the market (soon, very soon, I hope)
Keep it on the market till it sells. (Princess Bride was rejected 18 times, or so I've read. I'm not sure if this encourages me, or discourages me.)

Now, bear in mind that this advice was written by the person who is widely regarded as THE science fiction writer of all time.

Now, you are wondering, why will the cat judge hear of this? Our various cats have made it clear to us that eventually we will all meet up again, and this time it's the cats in charge. A cat will judge the various human cat interactions over our lives, and will reward us, or not. It has been made clear to us the best reward we can expect is to be buried in a giant kitty box for several eternities.

My great crime this weekend was to be out of the house for much of it, when Curtis wanted a lap. Then when I was home there was a brief episode of tooth brushing, which he doesn't particularly mind, but little lap time. Guilty he says. Guilty, guilty, guilty.

To assuage the guilt, here are some more pretty flowers in bloom. Stupid photostream. You'll have to wait until tomorrow. I can't wait till Apple replaces the whole darned thing. It's always the photos I want to put in the blog, or show someone, that don't show up. Sigh. Wait, there they are.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Well, THAT was popular

You guys really liked that rant I published on Thursday. I got some very nice feedback on it, thank you very much. Upon re-reading it wasn't quite as frothing and trenchant as I might have liked, but still, my blood was up and I pounded that out in about an hour. There may well be a followup. Stay tuned.

Since then I've been buried in the When Words Collide conference. It's a major writing and readers conference, and it's been a lot of fun for me. There's a ton of people I run into that I know, and the panels have been very interesting.

I just got out of a panel where 5 medium and small publishers talk about the state of publishing in Canada. It was fascinating. I wouldn't dream of trying to sum of the hour of discussion, except for this. If you pick up a book and like it, buy it. Right then. Books are cheap, in the grand scheme of things. Do not put it down. I had not realized bookstores return books much, much more quickly than they used to. A book that isn't selling well in a month, A MONTH will be returned.

A book that is displayed at the store on Tuesday will have it's sales figures reviewed on Thursday. Those sales numbers will influence what little promotion budget might be given to a new author. So you can't dither. If you want to continue to see bookstores in your community, buy the frigging book. Buy it and give it to someone you think might like it. Otherwise, when you get around to, thinking, yeah I should have bought it and want it now, it's probably too late.

One of the panels was about wit, especially on twitter. Brevity and all. You may have seen the traffic on it, and if you're curious, search the hashtag #lolyyc. Immortal humour, I tell you. But what was fun was attending the panel in person, at the same time as participating on line. That's really the first time I've done this, and would like to do it again.

The autograph lineup was interesting. Brandon Sanderson, the guy that finished up Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series had a line up down the room. Jack Whyte, Robert J. Sawyer, no line up. If I was an autograph junkie I could have them all autographed and time to chat with both to boot. As it is, I did get to chat with Robert Sawyer a bit. In his panels he has stressed the need to build a relationship with readers, and by golly he delivers. It isn't blah blah blah nice to meet you gotta go. It's an actual chat. He looks at your name tag. I want to go buy all his books that I don't have.

There's also been some quiet time between panels where I've done lots of work on my current book, and I've been having major thoughts about what happens next. I think I know what I'm going to do for NaNoWriMo later this year.

The conference isn't over yet, still some panels to attend. I should go buy some books. And somehow, once I get home I need to find the time to do some things that need to be done. Drink some wine, talk to the cats, BBQ some rack of lamb. I should probably iron some clothes to wear to work next week. Mowing the lawn is a bonus. Don't come by expecting to see a neat lawn, though the flowers are really doing well.

The clouds were really pretty last night, what with the super moon rising off to one side, and the light from the sunset lighting up some higher clouds. The photo doesn't really do justice to it. Plus one of Curtis willing me to give him some crunchies. The blog posts with photos of Curtis in them usually get more readers.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

A political rant, c/w frothing, and trenchant wit

Once upon a time, on August 30, 1971, a new government was elected in Alberta, the Progressive Conservatives. This doesn't happen often; we've had three, count 'em THREE governments in 108 years. In less than a month, that same government will have been in office for 43 years. On Sept 5, 2014, the Alberta government will become the longest serving government in Canadian history. The people that voted in that first government are now almost all senior citizens.

The quality of premiers are in order, excellent, pretty bad, pretty good, dreadful, worse, and currently unelected. Even people that don't follow politics will have heard of Alison Redford. It is a name that will live in infamy in Alberta politics. It might, just might, bring down the government next election. We can only hope.

To set the stage, I'm an ordinary Albertan, perhaps a bit more politically aware than many. I like to follow politics, but I don't make a fetish of it. I'm currently furious with the whole situation. I'm furious with the PC's for a whole raft of reasons, some of which I'll get into. I want them voted out, preferably today. I want them GONE! I am not alone.

My problem is that the Wildrose party is standing next in line, and they're worse. Essentially they are PC's too, just older, angrier, whiter, and ever so much more Christian. Wildrose are the party with the  "lake of fire", against the Charter of Rights, and anti-gay bigots as candidates, with a leader that said this was ok because "free speech". Uhuh. They've said they've changed. Uhuh. All that means is that they are better at either hiding the bigots, or resorting to dog whistle politics, and hope it passes muster.

Last election Redford pulled the PC party's chestnuts out of the fire. Wildrose was coming on strong, and people were pissed at the PCs. Redford duped I mean, sweet talked the teacher's union into supporting her. Wildrose said some really stupid things. Albertans are conservative (sigh) but most of them are not outright bigots and haters anymore. At least not publicly. Redford and the PC's won with the normal strong majority. (Alberta has never, ever had a minority government, not even close.)

Then look what happened. Bill 9 and 10 to allow the owners of pension funds to rape and pillage at will. Draconian anti-union legislation that essentially said take what we offer or else. Endless Alberta Health Services scandals over extraordinary expense claims. "Cookie" Duckett will live on in infamy too, though really it was his own doing. He could have told reporters, "Give me a minute to eat, and we can scrum on the front steps". But no. There are numerous other issues that just get onto the radar, then fade. The PC party is not without experience in hiding problems.

Then we started finding out about Redford's expenses. Holy cow. She makes Bev Oda's $16 orange juice look like a piker. There was $45,000 for a trip to South Africa. Understating the cost of government trips by many 10's of thousands of dollars by simply not including the costs of some of the staff. Block booking government airplanes with fake passengers who cancelled at the last minute so that Redford could fly alone. That doesn't happen by accident.

Then we find out it was routine for Redford to take her child with her on trips, sometimes with a nanny, and sometimes with a friend of the kid. How nice for them. I know lots of people that would like to take their kids on business trips. I know that some people have combined a family vacation with a business trip, and exquisite care was taken to separate company and private expenses. Let's just say that care was not taken in Redford's case.

Of course, the PC party has thrown Redford under the bus. Again and again. It's the only thing they know how to do. They hounded her out of the Premier's office, and now they've hounded her out of politics. They are frantic to blame everything on her. They want it all to stick to her, and dupe the electorate in the next election with their shiny new leader. It worked last time, after all.

They can't blame unfreezing their own salaries, and giving themselves a raise, on Redford. They did it, hoping the electorate wouldn't notice in all the other smoke.

All the Redford excesses did not happen in a vacuum. It's all of a piece. The whole PC party is like Duffy, the Senator recently in the news, who felt entitled to his entitlements. The PC's are arrogant, secretive (they recently released a blank report as a FOI response), vindictive, (it's well known that if various organizations don't support the party, there will be no government $ for them after), and I certainly perceive the party as altogether corrupt. And why would people stay in a corrupt system? They want in on the gravy train.

Today's auditor general report is scathing and damning. Here's the conclusion from the front of the report. quote

Overall conclusion
Premier Redford and her office used public resources inappropriately. They consistently failed to demonstrate in the documents we examined that their travel expenses were necessary and a reasonable and appropriate use of public resources—in other words economical and in support of a government business objective. Premier Redford used public assets (aircraft) for personal and partisan purposes. And Premier Redford was involved in a plan to convert public space in a public building into personal living space.
The Department of Treasury Board and Finance has not explained to Albertans why it believes the extra cost over alternatives to owning a fleet of aircraft is judged to be worthwhile.
Where there was a lack of desirable clarity in polices (for example, the appropriateness of a family member travelling on a government aircraft), we have inferred the policy intent from the overriding principles. Use of a public asset in the absence of a government business objective is personal use and inappropriate.
Overall, the expense practices and use of public assets by Premier Redford and her office have fallen short of publicly stated goals. How could this have happened? The answer is the aura of power around Premier Redford and her office and the perception that the influence of the office should not be questioned. We observed a tendency to work around or ignore rules in order to fulfill requests coming from the premier’s office in ways that avoided leaving the premier with personal responsibility for decisions. Other areas of government were wary of challenging decisions made in the premier’s office. All of the failings might have been prevented or detected earlier with oversight designed to provide substantive challenge. 

Most ordinary people would call a lot of that theft.

Then there was the conversion of the 11th floor to private space exclusively for Redford. Again, a quote from the same report.

Conclusion—The Office of the Premier became involved in the redevelopment plan for the 10th and
th floors of the Edmonton Federal Building in May 2012. This resulted in a change in use of space on the 11th floor from open hosting space for government caucus to a premier’s suite. The Department of Infrastructure accepted floor plans signed by the premier’s executive assistant as the authorization to change the use and design of the 11th floor to a premier’s suite and incur additional project design and construction costs. It accepted the plans even though this was a significant change in use of the space. The department told us that it viewed Premier Redford as the authorized decision maker for the 11th floor user group (cabinet and government caucus). 

I don't know why Alberta politics are the way they are. It is what it is, and change is difficult. Yet, I believe change is coming. Lots of people I know are more than willing to place their vote elsewhere. Perhaps force of habit and fear of the unknown prompted many people to change their votes at the last minute during the last election. But every day Alberta gets more liberal as people move in from the rest of Canada.

There is currently a contest to choose the next premier. The leader by far is a guy that has never been in office as an Alberta PC, though he has federal experience. His hands are clean of Alberta muck at least. The other two candidates are up to the muck to their eyeballs but they don't want you to notice. One was actually Redford's deputy premier, and he was right there helping to throw her under the bus. The other was perceived by many as a bully on a payback mission during the civic election, and every City employee I know was relieved he didn't become Mayor. He tries to take credit for stopping the redevelopment of the Federal Building, which he didn't. The report makes it clear it's still going ahead, though not with personal quarters for the premier and family.

Something I think I should mention. Gender has nothing whatever to do with this. Redford's personal failings are what got her into this mess. She demonstrated incompetence at the highest provincial office, just like her predecessor. Unfortunately, there are some that think this is what happens when we elect females. There are words for them, but I won't dignify them by using the polite words, and since this is a family blog I won't use the vulgar ones.

Something else I should mention. It's entirely reasonable that our civil servants travel on public business, stay in reasonable hotels, and get reasonable meals along the way. Reasonably nice is fine, I don't want to stay in a dump, and I don't expect my representatives to do so either. But neither should they be in the swankiest hotel in town, unless we're talking small town Alberta.

And another thing. In all this I'm not referring to rank and file public service workers. Teachers, nurses, cops, firefighters, rank and file shufflers of paper that are essential to a modern society, those sort of people. Everyday people doing their jobs, and probably chafing under really tight rules while seeing their lords and masters living high on the hog. I'm on about elected politicians and the very senior staffers. They are the ones that do not seem to be subject to the rules.

Even the loose policies that we do have are not enforced. We know that most politicians are like pigs at the trough; they have no concept of reasonable. We need clear rules about what is or is not reasonable, and everybody in public service should be getting their expense account reviewed and approved in accordance with those rules before being compensated. All of them should be made public within a reasonable time period, say 6 months. It's our money, after all.

I am angry that everybody involved says "they want to put this behind them", and get back to governing. That's exactly what a thief would say, lets put the issue of the theft behind us, and move on so I can enjoy my gains. We should be turning over every rock in the provincial government, looking for improper use of public funds. I want heads rolling. Redford should just be the first. Lots of other people should be thrown out of government service, and not be allowed in any other public service job ever.

The Twitter hashtag #mistakesweremade is brilliant and sad at the same time. Redford et al are not regretting the mistakes. They are regretting getting caught. There was a blog I read recently, and the gist of it was "stop beating on Redford, she's dead already". I disagree. The beating should continue till we know we get to the end, not just to where's it's convenient for those in power. The beatings should spread out as needed. We need examples made of politicians that abuse our trust.

The image of politicians in Canada is so bad that even people with unimpeachable integrity are looked at askance if they run for elected office, and that's a sad thing. But this is what happens when a group covers up for it's own. They might think it's just a few bad apples, and they should be overlooked, but that Australian General totally nailed it. "The standard you walk past is the standard you accept." For too long Albertans have walked past unacceptable actions on the part of their politicians. Time for a change.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Will I? Won't I? Could I???

A couple of posts ago, one of my readers asked if I would ever do the full Ironman distance again. I last did it almost exactly 4 years ago. Ironman Canada, one of the last on the Penticton course. How time flies.

Could I do it now? Absolutely not. I might survive the swim, but I'd never survive the bike. It isn't even a matter of not making the bike cutoff time. I'd have to stop and let the ambulance take me away, if I let it go that far. My last bike ride was barely 20 K. Whether I could do the marathon becomes a moot point if I never get to the bike dismount line.

In one sense, I miss the training. My life was very simple then. I wasn't working for much of 2009 and very early 2010, and had very understanding employers during peak training. I'd get up, drop Linda at work, go for a swim, do the job search thing, go for a run or a bike ride, usually have dinner prep in hand for when Linda got home, even if she might do the actual cooking. Enmax didn't particularly care what hours I worked. Skystone was happy to let me come in the morning, do whatever meetings might be required on bike days, go home to bike, and then work from home. Those were the days.

I miss the camaraderie of training with other people doing it. You are part of a group that knows what you're going through. They know what to say to help you keep going, and to support you on the days when you have to roll over and get a few more hours of sleep. Unless you've done Ironman, you have no idea.

I take my hat off to those that train for ironman while working full time. Add parenthood into the mix, and I bow down. The training and resulting laundry is essentially a part time job. Nobody ever told me about the laundry before hand. I don't miss that.

Even with an employer now that doesn't care what hours I work, or how long I take for lunch, I'm struggling trying to be consistent. Not to whine, but my legs/hips/back or various combinations thereof have had varying degrees of crankiness for several years now. It comes and goes. Just sitting in the horrible chairs at work didn't help, and I'm not sure how much standing the entire day does. Plus all the other stuff I've got going on.

Lots of times the run has been pretty good, or even excellent by my standards. Then I push a bit too far, or a bit too fast, and cranky sets in again. Somewhere about 10 to 15 K, even easy, is where I run into problems. So this time I'd like to build to about 5-8 K as a regular thing, then ease up on 10 K, sneaking up on it like a lion after a wildebeest. Let's see how that goes.

My swim had been doing really well, until the pool flooded late June 2013. I didn't swim for several months till the facility was repaired, and I've never really got back into the groove again. It's been a year. I really must.

And the bike, I loved getting out and enjoying the spectacular scenery. But I'm not sure if it's the bike fit, or the bit of arthritis on the lowest discs of my spinal cord, or permanently seized up muscles in my low back, or what, but being on the bike is a struggle.

One big change for me is that my recovery time has increased a lot. I'd have to factor that in as well, and make sure I had a coach that knew the stress / recovery thing will take longer than for the kids in their mid 30's.

So let's assume I'm retired for a couple years, and could be as regular as I liked, getting as much sleep when and as needed. Let's assume I could build the volume very gradually, and avoid any breakdowns over the 3 or 4 years I'd need. Would I actually do that? I don't think so.

I'd like to be more fit than I am, but I don't think I want or need to be fit enough to do the full distance. Maybe Olympic distance, with a half every now and then. I still want to run a marathon, preferably in a reasonable time without it being a death march or a suffer-fest. I think with that kind of time on my hands I'd like to catch up on some of the house stuff, and work more on my writing. I'd like to sell at least one of the three (mostly) novels I've written, and I've been getting ideas for another one.

So there you go. Probably not, but never say never. My Ironman Finisher jacket might wear out, and I'd have to do it again, to get another one. And if Sister Madonna Buder can do one in her 80's, who am I to complain about being creaky in my 50's?

Today was an interesting change for me. I had an off-site meeting for 9am. At first I thought I'd drop Linda off, swim, then head for the meeting. But as I thought about it more, it didn't seem like a good idea for several reasons. For a guy that thinks a lot about processes, you'd think it would be easy. Eventually I arrived at the happy place where I dropped Linda at the LRT, came home, ran a little run,  had breakfast and headed out to the meeting.

Then Lee Valley Tools. I've rarely seen it this busy. Amazing. At least they had lots of staff on. Then Costco. Sheesh. Crowded and a gong show. Do you twitter fans know about @DBagParkingYYC? It's photos of bad parking jobs in Calgary, sometimes with witty commentary. I was thinking we needed one for shopping carts today.

BBQ has been seafood lately. Lots of fun. Look at the size of these shrimp! Plus some pretty flowers for you.