Friday, December 14, 2007

Backwards Thinking

My employer has a deal with the Utah Transit Authority that allows them to provide monthly bus passes to employees that forfeit their free parking four out of five days a week. It must be time for the deal to be renewed because they did a transportation survey this week. The survey had 4 questions, but the main points were these:
  • If you drive and we offer you a free annual pass would you switch to the bus.
  • If you drive and we let you keep your parking space, would you buy an annual pass for about $200.
  • If you already ride the bus for free on our passes, would it bother you if we let other employees buy a pass and keep their parking spaces.
I think it is great that the powers that be are looking at ways to increase the use of public transportation, but I think they have it backwards. As it stands now, everyone is offered free (employer subsidized) parking, and if they are willing to give it up then they can have free public transit.

The question that that was missing was, "How many times a week would you drive and park if bus passes were free and parking cost x dollars per day or month?"

If we are serious about encouraging the use of mass transit we should reverse our thinking. We should provide transit passes to every employee for free, and then provide parking tokens, validations or punch passes at a reduced rate for those who want to drive.

For example - the $228 cost for the ECO pass comes out to a little less than $2 a day (there are ~ 240 working days in a year if you factor in holidays and vacation) Everyone could receive an ECO Pass and then the employer can create a parking voucher system that allows employees to buy 15 vouchers for $30 or $40. If they need to park frequently they can by a lot of vouchers. If not an employee can just buy one or two packs to last all year.

Another advantage to a Transit First mode of thinking is that it will minimize the number or single occupancy vehicle trips around a congested downtown area. Since a parking voucher would not normally allow for in and out privileges, and since every employee would have a pass, there would exist a strong incentive to use the bus and Trax to get around downtown for mid-day errands.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Be a Patriot, Ride a Bike

I came across this YouTube video of a Miller High Life commercial via the Commute By Bike blog. I have never embedded a video so I thought this might be a good first try:

Enjoy. And stop on over at Commute By Bike; it's a great cycling site.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

What to do with $12,000 - IsoTruss Mountain Bike

This has got to be the most amazing bicycle I have ever seen:
Delta7Sports - IsoTruss Mountain Bike

I quite frankly stole this image from their site, so please click through the link and give them a page hit or two.

From the description they take a single carbon fiber and wrap it around Kevlar strings to create this 'lattice' work frame.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Gorgeous Day for a Ride

Just so we are clear; There is usually a delay of a day or two between when a particular event happens and when I get a chance to write about it. The day of which I speak in the title was actually last Saturday.

I had to get up early because JuniorClimber (who hasn't blogged in over a year) made the high school basketball team and had practice at 8. So I drove him to the practice and returned home and got the road bike down from the hooks in my basement. It has been weeks upon weeks since I last showered the road bike with some love.

I made a multi-leg journey in perfect 'utility' or transportational cycling style. First I rode a couple miles to the local rec center where I attended my Saturday morning spinning class. I know, I know. When ever I ride to spinning I get a few weird looks and comments, but spinning has really helped me maintain my fitness this year, and I know I ride harder in an hour of spinning than I do in any of my normal outdoor rides.

After spinning there was a parents meeting for the basketball team. The high school is pretty close to the rec center, so that ride wasn't far. While I was in the meeting my wife sent me a text asking me to pick up her prescription at the pharmacy. That meant another 8 miles round trip which was just what I needed.

The weather was perfect. High 50's to low 60's with hardly any wind.

I fear we may not see as nice a day for cycling until March or April.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


As a family we went to Disneyland earlier this year. On the second day we spent 3+ hours in line at Space Mountain. The ride itself was excellent. There is something intriguing about riding a roller coaster in the dark, and not just one that is outside at night. In that situation you still have a clear view of what is typically a well lit track traveled by illuminated cars.

Space Mountain is exciting specifically because for most of the ride you can't tell where you are, where you are going or what comes next. Every few seconds there is a dramatic shift in direction or speed or sound.

Reading JPod is exactly like riding a roller coaster in the dark.

JPod is set in the recent past post-Dot Com bubble period at a Canadian software company that produces video games. The title is taken from the name given to a set of cubicles in which, through a quirk of management or HR, all the employees have last names that begin with J. It chronicles the attempts of the staff to cope with dysfunctional management, strange co-workers and their friends and families, and the vagaries of the retail software industry.

However, that plot summary makes the book seem much closer to 'normal' than it really is. In fact, it is more like reading the journals of a group of gen-x developers all of whom have severe nerd attention deficit disorder.

I loved it!

Preference Rating 4.5/5
Audience Rating: Adults Only - profanity, violence (very humorous, but violence nonetheless), adult situations and sexual references

Monday, October 29, 2007

San Rafael Knob Hike

Last weekend was my scout troop's annual trip to the San Rafael Swell. Usually we do a slot canyon hike with great narrows and sculpted sandstone like this:

This year we have been working on the Hiking merit badge which requires the scouts to do five 10 mile hikes in preparation for a 20-miler. Most of the slot canyon hikes are shorter than 10 miles even if you do a loop of two canyons. In order to do a 10-miler we settled on a hike in the vicinity of Devils Canyon and the San Rafael Knob.

This is more of an open country hike. It's hard to imagine how anyone ever scraped out a life in this arid high mountain desert.

Recreation in the Swell is a point of serious contention right now. The BLM recently released an updated management plan, and have closed some sensitive routes to vehicular travel. Even though I am primarily a cyclist and backpacker, I can see the allure of ATV recreation, especially in areas like the Swell. The area is crisscrossed by old ranching an mining roads. But when I see something like this, I can't help but feel that the ATV crowd deserves even more restrictions unless they can find a way to police their own.

The blatant abuse of a posted Wilderness Study Area is very offensive to me. There are literally hundreds of miles of trails and roads open in the Swell. The route closures should absolutely be honored.

Then again, some of these signs aren't the clearest route markers in the world.

The San Rafael Knob is the highest point in the swell. From where we started it would have been a 12-14 mile round trip, so this is as close as we got.

All in all, it was a nice hike. It helped that I had some of my best friends along as adult leaders.

On the way back to camp we tagged two great geocaches. If you are in the are you have to try and find Where in the Swell Am I and If you don't, Hoo Doo?. There are a lot of caches in the area, but many are much easier to find if you have an ATV to get you closer.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Rest of the Profile

When I last left off on my background our hero was locked in his bedroom after slamming the door so hard it broke when saving a program failed.

The College Hiatus
After leaving high school I worked in retail, went on a religious mission to Brazil, and lived in Illinois just long enough to meet and marry my fantastic wife and spirit her off to Utah where I entered the University of Utah. For a while I was a performing arts major. I contemplated sociology and philosophy as majors, but finally settled on economics. I planned on completing my undergraduate degree and going on to law school.

That plan got sidetracked about 3 years in when I became a research assistant for a couple of PhD students. After years of using a computer for word processing and playing Links, I found myself introduced to QuattroPro, Excel, SAS and SPSS. I began writing VBA macros in Excel to transpose data for import into the statistics packages. And I realized that I kind of liked playing with numbers on computers.

As I neared graduation, the adviser to the PhD students referred me to a Labor Market Economist at the Utah Department of Employment Security, which was later to become the Utah Department of Workforce Services. This economist needed an intern to help run occupational wage surveys. After 9 months as an intern I was hired full-time as an economist.

The Transition
Over the next couple of years I spent a lot of time dealing with Excel data files and Access database, and writing research reports on wages and economic conditions in Utah. I also found myself in the position of mediating and translating between economists and prevailing wage specialists, and programmers hired to build occupational information systems.

In 1998 I got my 'big break'. The lead programmer on one of these projects left the state and I was allowed to take over a widely distributed Access application. Over the next several months I converted the back end to SQL Server and stored procedures and the front end to a classic ASP application. That application has been upgraded a couple of times and is about to go through a major rewrite. I was a paid professional programmer.

Over the next two years I found myself more and more integrated into a programming unit that was responsible for creating economic forecasting software, and occupational information systems. It was an amazingly good fit, and allowed me to be a programmer while still using the economics and statistics I learned in school.

Embracing the Curly Brace
As the .Net framework and VS.Net became available, I made the decision to switch to C# rather than move to VB.Net. The reasons for this decision may be a good topic for another post, but for now it's enough to know that I consider myself primarily a C# web developer of database driven web applications. I do a little SQL Server DBA work, and for the last year have been working in PL/SQL on a major web application that hits an Oracle database.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

How to Irritate Three Women at Once

I love my spinning class. The depth of my love is largely a result of my spinning class being the only cycling I have been doing for weeks. The class is held three times a week, has a great instructor, and a group of 3-4 'regulars' who make it to most of the classes. On days when it's only me and the instructor she tends to customize the class to the things I am working on.

During yesterday's class we had completed two of the three core sections and were finishing up with a seated sprinting section. It's not so much that I like the sprinting drills, but just that I am pretty good at those drills. I can spin at a much higher cadence when seated than most of the other participants and usually have to turn the tension up a bit to keep from bouncing off the bike. After the first sprint Ali was complementing our effort and doing the typical motivational pep talk about working hard and sticking with it. I swear I heard her say, "Two more laps and then we cool it down."

We did another sprint and after returning to pace Ali said, "One minute at this pace and then we cool down." In the seconds after that comment I made the critical mistake of not staying quiet. Instead I said, "You mean we aren't doing one more?" At that moment I was subjected to the glares of Ali and the other two participants. The glares continued through the 'added' sprint...

I am going to miss class tomorrow because of another commitment. I think they may let me back in the class on Saturday, but we'll have to see.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Early Years

True to my normal behavior, I am reading about 5 books right now. It seems I always have a work or two of fiction and two or three tech books going at once. On of the books I am reading is the classic The Pragmatic Programmer.

In that book, which I highly recommend to anyone on the programming side of the IT world, the authors talk a lot about taking pride in and responsibility for your work. On of the ways they suggest you do that is by signing your work. In that spirit, I changed my profile to reveal my name, and figured I would do a couple of 'background' posts to let all three of you who don't actually work with me or aren't my mother, know a little about where I am coming from on the tech side.

The Early Years
I was a pretty typical bored teenager in the early eighties. Little did I know the foundation was being laid for my delusions of greatness. As the Atari console and the Apple II started making inroads in my neighborhood, my parents made a great decision. Rather than by a game system, they bought a TRS-80 Color Computer and I found myself introduced to the wonderful world of BASIC.

Like many of my generation, my teenage dream was to write video games. After copying line-by-line the sample programs in the hobbyist magazines I started trying to write a Zork clone. In case you are not familiar with Zork, it was a text based 'dungeon' game with an excellent natural language processor. At the time I had no idea what NLP was, but I thought the idea of writing a choose your own adventure type game would be cool. Mine was obviously less sophisticated. Rather than typing in your actions or queries it presented a narrative and then a few options from which you could choose.

My game authoring career came to a quick end one Sunday morning. After several hours of coding I went to save the program to a cassette tape. Ten minutes later, after saving and restarting, I tried to read my program from the tape and nothing. I yanked the tape out of the recorder and threw it across our family room into my bedroom. Then I walked in there and slammed the door so hard it broke and my dad had to come down and jimmy it for me to get out.

In high school I found myself interested in the electronics courses, and did a little pc board design, built an audio amplifier and some other neat little electronic gadgets. But other than Parsec on the home computer and Tempest in the entryway of the local grocery store, my interaction with computers was pretty slim until I entered college...

Monday, October 08, 2007

On Your Left

The Jordan River Parkway is a fairly typical urban greenway with a paved shared-use trail. It gets a lot of use by walkers, runners, skaters and cyclists, especially on the weekends.

A while back I took a group of scouts 'hiking' on the parkway and before our hike we had a discussion about courtesy and behavior on the parkway. We talked about yielding the right of way, walking single file, keeping the noise to a respectful level, etc. For almost the entire 10 mile hike we had no conflicts between trail users.

Then near the end something interesting happened. We had been passed by several cyclists, most of whom slowed, and announced themselves either vocally or with a bell. Now I ride the parkway all the time, and I know how annoying it gets to be saying "On your left." every two or three minutes, especially when the pedestrians are wearing headphones and can't hear you anyway. But I still try to do it.

As we passed under a bridge, one of the scouts up ahead of me picked up a piece of rope or twine and began swinging it around. You can probably guess what happened... Shortly thereafter a cyclist on a fairly nice bike, kitted out, zoomed past me. Why do I say zoomed? Because not only was he traveling the fastest by far when compared to all the cyclists who had passed us; he was moving so fast that I could not yell the scout's name before the cyclist overtook him. The cyclist was promptly, but quite accidentally hit in the face with the swinging rope. He turned and expressed his displeasure in an understandable, but I though excessively vile manner and rode up the trail.

I told the scout that he shared the blame for the accident, and shouldn't be swinging the rope. I also told him that it wasn't entirely his fault, because the cyclist was traveling too fast while overtaking, and did not announce himself.

I had a chance to express that opinion to the cyclist as well; he came riding back the other direction a few minutes later. I told him as politely as I could that the scout was sorry, but that by simply announcing his presence, which is common courtesy if not legally required, would have saved the scout the embarrassment and him the pain. Unfortunately I think my comments fell on deaf ears.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Searching for more than my keys

I typically find myself using the Window Search all the time. It does a great job of finding files and documents by name, filtering the criteria by date or size, and I like having results in the graphical file explorer where I can sort by several attributes. If it could find my keys at 5:30 in the morning it would be the primary function on my laptop.

My recent experience with Search has been less satisfactory. I recently inherited several thousands of lines of HTML, asp, VB 6 and JavaScript code in hundreds of files that makes up a major portion of my employers web site. At the same time our database admins rolled out a new version of one of our primary databases that serves as a back end for several desktop and web applications. Unfortunately the web site wasn't checked thoroughly for dependency on the old database, nor compatibility with the new one. (That should be a topic for a whole separate stream of posts.)

Needless to say, this week has been one composed of frantic scrambling trying to figure out what was up and what was broken, and why. In a little bit of serendipity, I found that most of the applications used one particular configuration file in which was stored the connection information tagged with a label like 'ORA_CONNECT' (Nice job, previous developers.) When an application needed to connect it would call to the root config file and get the connection information by passing the label. Pretty standard stuff.

So, my first thought was to use the Windows Search to see if I could find all files that contained the string "ORA_CONNECT". So navigated to the root directory, fired up search, entered the parameters and waited with eager expectation after clicking on search. A long list of files came up, but shockingly it did not include the three files I had looked at by hand to determine what connection was being used.

Puzzled, I set up a little test. I created a directory with two subdirectories. In the root I put a text doc, and in the subdirectories I placed an HTML, ASP and MS Word file. Each file included text that contained the string ORA_CONNECT.

I ran search on that directory, and it found everything EXCEPT the use in the ASP page. I even went back and made sure that the All Files and Include Subdirectories options were enabled. Clearly Search was not reliable.

What will I FIND

I IM'd a co-worker about what I was tying to do, and he sent me a string using the FIND command. Ah Ha! Good old find! I had forgotten that since the last time I spent hours writing MS-DOS 5 batch files years ago. Oh No! Bad FIND...

As you can see from the image, access was denied to the subdirectories. FIND does not recurse. I knew I could write a batch to recurse the directories, and save the output to a file, etc, etc; but who has that kind of time?

FINDSTR /i /s *.*

It was then that I remembered reading somewhere that there was a 'find' in windows that supported regular expressions like grep. I quick check of my links turned up the excellent site - a command line reference site for SQL Server and Oracle, which just happens to have an XP/NT section.

The page on the FINDSTR command had just exactly what I needed:

Check out the command reference on for other options, like printing the line and line number that match, and outputting the results to a text file.

Friday, September 28, 2007

More Geek - Less Cyclist

Wow - It's been a long time...

For the last several months I have been telling myself over and over that I have to come up with a schedule of some kind, and begin posting again. I am sure by now that I have lost all 3 regular readers. But with the primary focus of this blog being cycling and considering the small amount of riding I have done in the past several months my lack of motivation to type should be understandable.

This is not to say that I have been doing nothing...

For the past year I have been working on a team doing a rewrite of a major enterprise information system for state government. During that time I switched primary databases from SQL Server to Oracle, and moved from working on projects alone to working directly with 5-7 people on the web front end, and another team of 10 responsible for the desktop app and the database. As I type the new version is being moved into the production environment and being tested.

As my responsibilities in this project wind down, I find myself faced with taking over a group of web site projects left behind by an employee who moved on to greener pastures. While it is never fun to take over someone's code, it guarantees that I will have plenty to do for the next several months.

I was fortunate enough to go mountain biking for the second time this year last week. I went with several co-workers early last Friday morning and rode a portion of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail near the University of Utah. I thoroughly enjoyed it, even if I was clearly in last place the whole ride. While I recognize that taking 40 lbs. of the rider would do wonders; it would be great if I could find a way to pick up a new mountain bike. The one I have been using is my fully rigid Mtn Tek I bought in '92 and use for commuting in the winter (when I commute...). I don't think an aggressive full suspension bike is a requirement, but a couple inches of front shock travel would sure be nice.


Here is my plan. I want to post twice a week at least. Anything else would be a bonus. It's looking like the way for me to stay motivated is to plan one mid-week post on an IT or programming related topic, and one weekend post on cycling, hiking or the other outdoor fun stuff I try to do. In between I may try to do brief posts, pass along interesting links with a little comment, or I may just keep my mouth/fingers quiet.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Round Trip

Today was my first round-trip bike commute in a while, and even though I am now pretty tired I have to say that for the most part I enjoyed it.

One of the primary highlights of bike commuting this time of year is the morning conditions. Today it was in the mid 50's with only a light wind while I pedaled in at sunrise. Sunrise is a bonus. I am lucky in that while my morning commute is mostly eastward, the location of the sun is such that there are only a few brief sections of my ride where the sun creates a visibility problem.

On the way home one of the highlights is the nearly two miles I spend on 5600 West during "rush hour". Most of that distance is single lane both directions, and the cars really get stacked up. I love my own personal rush while I blow by car after car after car.

Today I had the particular highlight of wearing my new FatCyclist.Com Jersey. Very Sharp!.

Over the past several weeks the official Utah State Sport has gone into full swing - Road construction is taking place in at least one location on every one of my primary commuting routes. This leads to rough roads, debris, and squeezed spaces.

Which leads to the other lowlight - motorist conflicts. This morning I found myself in a position where I had to take the lane due to construction barriers. I figure the time I was in the lane was between 5 and 7 seconds, but it still led to a long line of irritated motorists.

On top of this there was an anti-bile editorial in the SL Tribune on Sunday. After a few years of writing back, of trying to be active in the advocacy community, and trying to promote cycling at work I find myself very tired. In some ways it feels like the fight is going out of me. In the past I would always dash off a quick response to the editor, now I just want to go for a ride.

Maybe that is the best response.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Saturday Doubleheader

I may have overdone it...

My scout troop had a 10-mile hike planned for Saturday afternoon. So far we have already done three of these on our way to earning the Hiking Merit Badge. Actually the requirements are that they do 5 ten-mile hikes and one 20-miler. I think they have 8 ten-mile hikes planned and two 20-milers on the schedule before the end of the year.

Unfortunately my assignment was to scout and plan the route on the Jordan River Parkway so that we knew where we were going and so that we could do a kind of scavenger hunt to help the miles pass. I had planned on riding a couple sections on Thursday or Friday, but the insanity that is my life right now found me on Saturday morning with no route planned.

So, I hopped on my bike, rode the 8 miles from my house to the parkway, and then rode north and south a couple of times until I was happy with the route. By the time I rode back home I had done about 35 miles.

I spent the early afternoon coaching my son's AAU basketball team, and made it back just in time to find 12 scouts and 3 parents ready to go in my front yard. Off we went, and within the first two mile I knew that this was going to be a shock to my system.

We had four kids from our new scout patrol who only hiked about 6 miles, and I found myself playing the sweeper. I actually finished a lot stronger than I thought I would. But today I am pretty sore. This is classic overtraining, but I hope that the 'shock' will jumpstart my training for the MS-150 and help me push through a weight-loss plateau I have been stuck on since just before going to Disneyland.

Then again, there is something remarkably invigorating about realizing that you went 45 mile under your own power.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Calories Burned

As a self confirmed geek, I occasionally browse over to the OmniNerd blog to check out the ramblings on tech, science and random nerdy stuff. I came across this post that is really interesting to someone like me who is interested in losing and then maintaining a healthy weight.

Calories Burned

Basically, the author of the post wore an heart rate monitor for 24 hours and tracked the calories burned as reported by the gizmo. I have one of those and have worn it for a few hours before and after exercise. Based on how my trend (not daily) weight behaves and tracking my diet, I would say that the measure on my gizmo is accurate to within +/- 5%.

Of course, knowing how many calories I am burning has never before stopped me from hitting a sticky plateau. It hasn't this year either. But one of the points that I like from OmniNerd is that a few small activity changes can make a big difference.

...physical mobility equates to energy burn and sedentary activity does not. It was surprising, however, to realize how even small amounts of activity could have such large gains in overall calorie consumption. If I were to eliminate walking to my bus, never use the stairs and skip days at the gym, my personal calorie burn would quickly dwindle into a deficit.

I have always been intrigued by how I take shortcuts on 'fat' days - those days where you suffer the acute pain of your excess baggage dragging you down. Rather than ride to work I drive. After walking from my parking area to the lot my building is on, I walk diagonally across the lot and in the South door, rather than staying on the sidewalk and walking around to the North door. Once in the building, I take the elevator to my 6th floor cubicle, rather than the stairs. On and on it goes as I avoid getting up from my chair and making any 'excess' movement.

On the flip side, I am always amazed at how big of a difference it makes when I ride 15 minutes longer twice a week, or when I start lengthening my weekend rides. What we forget often is that when we move, we feel better, we actually have more energy, and we don't think twice about moving more.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Back to the Real World

Hey! I'm back!

I can't believe how long it has been since I did a real post. Sometime in mid March we realized that the stars had aligned perfectly, and we decided to take a family vacation to Disneyland that we have been putting off since forever.

Shortly thereafter the stars when haywire for me. I had Scouting and volunteer responsibilities to tie up before we left. On top of that I neglected to check the list of deliverables on my major project at work, and had to scramble to cram about 200 hours of software development into about 95 hours of time.

Then I took over coaching an AAU 9th Grade basketball team that was short about 5 players. My son who plays on the team essentially announced an open tryout at school, and we had 12 players show up for the first practice, not counting two of the players that were already on the team. I almost have the roster settled and am very excited because this team clearly has the most talent of any team I have ever coached. Seven of the players just finished playing varsity for their Junior High teams.

Finally, it was time to jet off to 'slightly overcast' Southern California. Overall the trip was a great one, and we enjoyed three days split between Disneyland and California Adventure with one day a Universal Studios and one day just sleeping in and wandering around Downtown Disney in between. My personal favorite ride was The Mummy ride at Universal Studios. The family favorites were that one, California Screamin' and Space Mountain.

We came back to reality earlier this week, and I have literally been scrambling every day to get a handle on everything and back into some kind of routine.

My 'diet' didn't suffer quite as bad as I would have expected over that crazy 4 weeks, and I am only 2 pounds heavier than I was at the beginning of the insanity. I am looking forward to a long training ride tomorrow, and a normal routine starting next week.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Link: The Seatpost Letters

The Seatpost Letters

I know I haven't posted in a while - I promise I haven't forgotten about my loyal readers (all three of you). While you are waiting jump on over to Historian On Two Wheels and read his conversation with an entertaining demon...

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


The last couple of posts discussed motivation, which to me means the things that help get you out there being active. Visualization to me means the ideas and thoughts you feed through your brain to keep yourself work hard or motivated while you are riding.

Merckx, Lemond, Lance, Zabriskie
Clearly, one of the most common visualizations is to imagine yourself either as one of your cycling heroes or to see yourself riding against them. I am particularly fond of visualizing Dave Zabriskie since I spend so much time riding alone and he is such a great time trialist.

In a similar vein, you can imagine yourself riding or racing in the classic locations of the pro cycling tour. For example, when encounter that bone-jarring section of potholes that always develops over the winter, you can imagine that you are riding over the cobbles of the spring classics. Charging up the local hill you can conjure the image of the great climbs of the Alps or the Pyrenees.

The Factory
This is my favorite visualization, especially when I am in weight loss mode. I imagine my legs as large pistons and my 'fat' as the little pats of butter you get at a restaurant sometimes. With each stroke I envision the pistons smashing the butter and forcing it out little valves in my feet.

I am not sure what a psychiatrist would say about this visualization, but for me it seems to work, and it ties my effort to what I hope is the source of my energy as well as my hoped for result.

Your Ideas
Spring has at least temporarily broken her in Utah, with temps today expected to be near 70. Add in the early switch to Daylight Savings Time and all of a sudden it seems we are in biking season. We all could probably use a couple more visualization ideas as we try to shake out the cobwebs, and realize that the wind is somehow slowing us down in a way that the basement fan never die. What do you visualize when you have to ramp up the effort?

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Correction and Clarification

Turns out I made a couple of grievous errors in my last post about motivation. On the minor side it seems I misspelled the name of the author of one of my favorite blogs. That was an easy fix and the error was probably only noticed by him.

However, I checked in with his blog and in his post about my post (getting dizzy yet?) he wondered why I referred to him as a bad example. I went back through my post and realized the section in which I discussed Neil Brennen and his amazing weight loss gave the impression that I saw him as a bad example. That was not I intended at all, and I have changed the post to clarify my position.

It wasn't that long ago that I returned to cycling. I remember the first time I tried to ride home from work. It took me almost 2.5 hours to make it the 14 miles. My 'tush' was so sore I almost couldn't walk the next day. I never thought I would think of myself as a cyclist, but even though I have yet to lose the kind of weight that I hope, being a cyclist is part of who I am not just something I do. Even so, I can't begin to relate to the kind of transformation Neil B is going through.

So, my kudos to Neil Brennen and his inspirational blog. And Neil, if you read this one, according to the USCF, it looks like you are a stronger chess player than me as well.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Motivation - Part II

Catch up with Part I if you missed it...

Let's face it. Sometimes it's really hard to drag your sorry butt out onto the road, or into the gym, or away from the double cheeseburger. These are a couple more things that keep me motivated.

Other People
Other people can serve as motivation by setting both bad and good examples. First, a couple of bad examples. There are about 500 people that work in my building. A few of them are 'just like me', meaning that they are overweight, overstressed, and generally going down the wrong health road. There are a couple that are about ten years older than me and give me a perfect picture of what my health/life will be like if I don't make a change.

Another bad example: There is a guy waiting for the bus some mornings when I drop my son off for school. Calling him morbidly obese understates his condition. Every time I see him I have a "There but for the grace of God go I." moment.

Before I talk about the positive examples for me, let me say that these bad examples may be great examples in other areas of their lives, and even sometimes in this area.

I do have some great positive examples. I find a lot of motivation from Neil Brennen. He will probably always outweigh me, but has made huge improvement in his health while at the same time maintaining a balance in other areas, an ability I sometimes struggle to find. At work there are three people who have lost a combined 180 lbs. buy putting* the fork down, shutting the pie hole, and biking like crazy. I worship with another friend who lost 60 lbs and kept all but 15 off for over a year primarily by riding his bike.

Another inspiration are the hidden cyclists. These are the people riding bikes not so much as recreation, or as a transportation choice, but as a transportation necessity. As I commute to work I see a couple of cyclists coming the other way. There not all dressed up in spandex and lycra, nor are they riding the latest fancy road bikes. They are bundled up in regular clothes, riding heavy Wal-Mart clunkers. But they are always smiling and they never forget to wave. They remind me that riding in the snow and rain is always a possibility.

The Numbers
This is where I totally geek out. I love numbers. I have taught math and statistics, and I build econometric software for a living. So for me there are few things as exciting as seeing the results in a nice table or chart, especially if there is some neat statistical model involved.

A few years ago I first came across The Hackers Diet: How to lose weight and hair through stress and poor nutrition. The book itself is really just a common sense approach to dieting built on the simple yet oft ignored principle; if you expend more than you consume you will lose weight. On his web site he offers a set of spreadsheets as well as a PalmPilot based tool called the "Eat Watch". I have used the Eat Watch and really like it. I put my weight in every morning, and I can see what my 'trend' value is. The trend is much more important than my actual weight. It smooths out the large variations that can come through eating at a different time, being dehydrated, or any of the myriad other factors that lead to daily weight variations.

So, I get really motivated when I see a table like this:
Weekly Trend Analysis
Past Week-1.62

So when I say that I am losing around 1.5 lbs per week, I have empirical evidence to support my statement.

*As a person who was at one time at least conversationally fluent in two languages besides my native English I am occasionally amazed that anyone learns this language. For example, "He was putting pudding on the putting green." What kind of language is this where the only way to discern meaning and pronunciation is by a words context?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Motivation - Part 1

In my last post I talked a little about NeilK being a motivator for me. I thought I would take a minute and expand on that theme and discuss what serves as motivation for me as far as my riding and health go.

I also have to be honest. There is no way I am going to get everything down in one post or in one sitting.

I am a little bit of a clothes horse by nurture (and maybe by nature, but how would I know?). Two of my first jobs out of high school were as a salesman at high end men's clothing stores. Between just being around that environment, having to look sharp as a salesman, and the generous store discount I had amassed a fairly large wardrobe. Then over the years as I gradually put on weight I replaced a lot of the clothing with bigger sizes, but never at quite the same quality.

Finally, last year as I reached the point where my waist size was a full 12 inches bigger than the last day at my last clothing job, I realized I had progressed to buying bad department store clothing.

On the positive side, even as I gained weight I have kept a few favorite items of clothing. I have a couple of pair of slacks size 38 and 36 (I lost the hope of hitting 34 again years ago, even if it is coming back now). I have a few size large t-shirts, and a couple of bike jerseys and bib shorts that are European size XL - thats an L or smaller compared to US sizes. In fact, I had a pair of Levis with a 38 waist on last night. They were still a little tight, but in a few weeks I think I may have to replace them because they are my smallest jeans I own now.

But my biggest clothing motivator is a pair of corduroy pants my wife bought me for Christmas about 4 years ago. I had come through the fall working out pretty well, and was a solidly comfortable 38 waist. The label on the pants said 38, but they were tight and I measured them at just over 36 inches. Rather than take them back and exchange them I told her that I was committed to my weight loss and would be in them in a few weeks... oh the shame!

I am looking forward to May, when I figure I will be in them comfortably.

Ah, food! I love to eat, and especially to eat out. But I know that the choices I make while eating out are usually not the best. I have found that I can use food as a great motivator and there are a couple of the ways I have done that.

For example, rather than eat fast food for lunch, I will bring chili or soup or some other lunch from home for 3-4 days. Each time I stay in at work and eat what I brought I put the $5 I would have spent at Burger King in an envelope. Then, when I get that urge to get out of the office for lunch, I take the money from the envelope and go to one of the nicer local restaurants or deli's in the downtown area. In that way I find I am saving a little money because the nicer lunch seldom costs more than $8-$12, and at the nicer places I can usually make a better choice for my meal.

I am also one of those people who rides to eat for sure. So, instead of just having a banana, I tell myself that if I go to spinning I can have a banana split after class. It's a little mind trick, because unless I made other high calorie choices earlier I would probably have the ice cream anyway. But by doing this I get the banana, and I get a little less ice cream because the banana takes up some of the space in the bowl.

Coming Soon
Two other things that motivate me are other people, both as good and bad examples, and the 'numbers'. Explanations will have to follow in Motivation - Part 2

Friday, March 02, 2007

Reports of My Demise Grossly Exaggerated

I cannot believe that it has been nearly a month since my last post. I have never had a month like this one. It's been one of those periods where you struggle just to keep your head out of the water.

Here is a little of what has been going on:
  • Mrs. GeekCyclist started working as a nurse at a local children's hospital. Her position is in the Neuro Trauma Unit, one of the hardest areas in the hospital. So we have been trying to adjust to changing schedules, changing pressures, and associated craziness.
  • February is National Scout Month, and as an active BSA leader at a couple of levels I have been involved in a number of meetings and dinners. Also, our troop did it's first of 8 planned 10 mile hikes.
  • We have entered a major push on a large project at work. There are probably 15 programmers working on this project and there are a number of complications as we try to upgrade a legacy database and data entry system while building a desktop and web interface in parallel.
  • Youth basketball season was in full swing. I coach and referee for a local league, as well as having two boys that are on three teams. Thats a lot of running around.
Maintaining Sanity
Working on my health and fitness has been one of the best ways to maintain my sanity through this month. I managed to get in at least 3 spinning workouts a week throughout the month. I also started doing a little light weight training as well. My free membership at the recreation center (a perk for being a referee) ends on the 19th of March, but I will either buy a membership or a punch pass. The punch pass is a good deal because its 30 visits for $45. I don't think I would ever use the gym enough to make the monthly membership more cost effective than the punch pass.

I have been fairly consistent in controlling my diet and weight as well. Obviously the daily value is up and down, but the log smoothed trend (can you tell I deserve the 'geek' part of the geekcyclist label?) has been very stable at around 1.4 -1.6 lbs a week. I think that 1.5 lbs per week is a perfect rate of weight loss for me.

Getting Compliments
A nice thing happened on Monday. Two different friends at work mentioned that I looked good and must have lost some weight. Is really only been 20 lbs since around Thanksgiving. But 20 lbs. is making a difference in the way my clothes fit and the way I feel.

I can't wait to experience life at my goal weight in the 190's.

Giving Compliments
Props to NeilK for hitting a major milestone that I am pushing towards. After starting heavier than me last September, he left the ranks of cycling's Clydesdale division when his weight broke through to under 200 this week. My loyal readers (all three of you) will recognize NeilK from past posts as a frequent ride partner, coworker, and an inspirational friend.

It looks like he is changing his blog right now, but I hope he posts about his success soon.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Since I spent the month of January doing all my cycling either on the trainer or at spinning class, I have found myself doing a lot more stretching. I've believed in the benefits of stretching since I was running track in high school. But like so many other things in life, if it doesn't pay off immediately we have a hard time being consistent at doing the things that are good for us.

Luckily my spinning instructor ends each class with a cool-down period that includes a pretty well-rounded stretching routine. Since the first couple of classes I have found that when I ride on the trainer I have been doing the same routine.

There is a great guide to basic stretches for cyclists here.

It's described as stretches for 'before' cycling. The debate over whether it is better to stretch before or after exercise rages on. All I can say is that I find it easier to be thorough with my stretching if I do it after my workout. It seems like if I stretch before I rush through the stretches.

Your mileage may vary.

Friday, January 19, 2007

What I Learned In Spinning Class - Part II

I went to spinning class again last night. I think I did a lot better than I did the first time, but I am still pegging my HR monitor at 195 long before we hit the top of the climbing sequence. Then again, I am usually pegged within the first few minutes of any real climb so I should be used to it.

I did learn a few more lessons that I want to pass on:

1. Don't forget your towel. I ran out of the house late and forgot mine. Trying to stay 'dry' using two of the paper towels provided to wipe down the bikes didn't work at all.

2. I pedal much faster than most of the people in the class. I have found my cadence inching up over the last couple of seasons to where I now feel most comfortable at around 90 rpm. I think that most of the class is pedalling at about 70 rpm.

Which leads me to...

3. If you are not pedalling with the beat of the music, some of the drills are mentally tougher. We did what the instructor called 8-count Jumps. Basically you stand for 8 counts and then sit for 8 counts. Well, I was counting each leg on the down stroke. I must have looked like a spastic prairie dog. So in the recovery I asked how I was supposed to be counting. The instructor said it was 8 counts of the song that was playing. That was kind of awkward, becuase I didn't want to slow my pedaling that much. I did find that if I increased the tension and pedalled a little slower I actually do better on the climbs.

Well, I'm off to do a nice recovery ride at an easy 145 bpm on the trainer so I am ready for my third spinning session tomorrow.

Somebody Likes Me

Historian On Two Wheels: From 0 to 100 in Six Months: Spinning Versus a Trainer

I caught a few pings from the domain over the last week or two and bounced over there. It's a very inspirational site if you are, like me, a big guy trying to become a smaller guy.

Turns out he linked my Spinning Lessons post. It's always cool when you are a fledgling blogger to find out that somebody else has linked one of your posts. Especially if the point of the link was not to make fun of something you said or the way you said it...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Years of Failure Well Documented

I have worked for the State of Utah since the middle of 1994. One of the benefits is a program called HealthyUtah which includes a basic health and fitness assessment. The first time I went in 1995 I weighed 186 and my cholesterol level was 179. This seemed pretty healthy to me, even though it was about 20 pounds heavier than I was in 1992 when I ran a marathon.

Prior to taking that first position with the State, I was working at UPS unloading and sorting packages for 4-5 hours a night. I was also biking, rock climbing and playing basketball regularly. By the spring of 1996 Mrs. GC had given birth to our second son, we bought a house, and I was busy working full time and going to graduate school.

Suddenly I found that the Big Macs and Big Gulps had caught up with me. It seems like every year since I have 'resolved' to turn my weight and fitness level around. Don't get me wrong; while I am clearly overweight, I know that I am still in better shape than a lot of 38 year-old men. Unfortunately I attended another assessment this week, and found that HeathyUtah has tracked my 'progress' since 1998. It's not a pretty picture:

Test Date
Blood Pressure
Total Chol.
HDL Chol.
Body Comp.
01/16/07234.0120 / 742392934.132.63
11/03/05228.0128 / 802493733.031.80
08/19/03242.0128 / 822362732.033.75
08/28/02224.0122 / 802932929.031.24
10/25/01224.0120 / 922922631.031.24
10/24/00228.0130 / 882772425.0 31.80
11/09/99221.0122 / 743012230.030.82
10/29/98210.0112 / 682641532.029.29

Looking at that I wonder now why I am not dead already. But I am still here, and three weeks into the new year I am making progress on my weight loss goal. I am hopeful (a trend on 1.5 pounds per week puts me right in the zone for my resolution to weigh 193 or less on August 1. I am also realistic, recognizing that there will be 2-3 plateaus on my journey, and that as this chart suggests, I am not very good at pushing through them.

So there you have it. The whole unvarnished truth going back almost 10 years.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

What I Learned My First Time At Spinning Class

I recently returned to officiating basketball by taking a job as a referee for the rec league at my local county fitness center. The pay is peanuts, but it comes with an excellent benefit; a full membership to the center.

For months I have seen the signs about spinning classes taught at the center, but I have never tried it. When the forecast high for Salt Lake City was announced at 18 degrees for today, I decided that trying a spinning class might be a nice idea. I ended up really enjoying it, and learning a few things as well:

What I learned about attending a spinning class
  1. Show up early so you can pick a bike. I actually got to the room about 15 minutes early, and already 2 bikes were taken. Several of the others had broken water bottle cages (I observed during the class that this is because people try to bend them to hold the little mega-mart half-liter water bottles). You will want to note fan and stereo position and pick a bike located according to your preference for those influences.
  2. Show up early so you can adjust your bike. The bikes used in this class are Schwinns, with spring-loaded adjustment points for seat and handlebar height, and seat fore/aft position. It took me about 4 tries to get to a position that was relatively comfortable, but I still wasn't completely happy with it when the class started.
  3. Spinning class should take the place of a strength workout, not an aerobic base workout. There is a lot of sprinting, and a lot of out of the saddle riding to approximate climbing. If you are looking for an hour of riding at 55-65% of your max heart rate, ride the lifecycle.
What I learned about myself by attending a spinning class:
  1. I don't ride out of the saddle enough. The biggest hill on my commute is a freeway overpass. I hardly ever ride out the the saddle unless it's to stretch or to change my position for a second. I only made it half way through a couple of the climbing sequences. More than once while out of the saddle my heart rate spiked up above 185.
  2. I would kill myself on a fixie. I have a couple of friends that are into the single-speed and fixed-gear sub-culture. Over the last couple of years I have thought about building up a single speed for commuting. If I did that I would have to install a freewheel. The spinning bikes have a fixed gear and flywheel with felt brake pads used to adjust the resistance. At least 4 or 5 times I found myself nearly pitched over the handlebars when I tried to stop pedaling, or I tried to adjust my position and forgot to keep my feet turning.
  3. I like being pushed in the class environment. There were a number of exercises directed by the instructor that I have know for years I should incorporate into my training but I never do. Besides the sprints and climbing which in addition to their own merits as training devices also served as an effective interval workout the instructor directed one-legged drills and a nice stretching routine after the workout.
There are three spinning sessions a week at my fitness center, and I think at least while the weather stays frigid, I am going to try and add at least two sessions a week.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

2007 Cycling Goals

In my resolution post a few days ago, I laid out my goal to lose 45 pounds by August first. This goal is part of a challenge I joined over at FatCyclist. In order to keep my focus and keep the pressure on I decided to post some of my other cycling related goals for 2007. I am relatively new to this blogging thing, so unlike Big Guy On A Bike I can't go back and compare what I said I would do in 2006, to what actually happened, but I hope that next year I can look back and say that I accomplished all of the following:
  1. In addition to loosing the weight by August, I want to end the year with my weight still under 200. From a decade of experience, I can say unequivocally that it is at least as hard to maintain weight lost as it is to drop the weight in the first place.
  2. Buy and use a heart rate monitor. I get to thank BGOAB for this one, since I recently received a nice Amazon gift certificate from him. I have been riding fairly consistently for 5-6 years, but I ride at virtually the same level of exertion all the time. I don't have enough money for a power meter, but I hope that by using a HR monitor I can get a little more out of my commutes and training rides.
  3. Ride 3,500 miles this year. I am not sure how many miles I put in over 2006, but I know it was less than in 2005. My commute is about 15 miles, so I should get 3,000 just by riding one way at least 4 times a week. This also requires that I be a little more diligent about tracking my rides and progress.
  4. Spend some time mountain biking. I usually only ride on the road, but the New Years Eve ride got me excited about doing some mountain biking. I have hiked in the San Rafael Swell several times, and have seen great routes like the Temple Mountain Trail that I would like to try.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

New Years Day Ride

Utah has a fair number of blogging cyclists, but the most popular is probably FatCyclist. Before going any further, it should be noted that Fatty probably weighs 60 pounds less than me, but who am I to hold a grudge over his snatching my preferred name?

Anyway, on his blog he posted an invitation to come on a mountain bike ride on New Years Day. I figured that joining in would be the perfect way to begin the year. Besides getting in some miles on the first day of the year, it would be a chance to meet some new cyclist, bike a new route. It didn't hurt to have a morning ride planned to help me back off the calorie shovel on New Years Eve.

So, JuniorSprinter and I got up early, and loaded up a couple of bikes. Since we are both primarily roadies, and because my "mountain" bike is set up with slicks for foul weather commuting, neither of us was on our normal bike. JS took Mrs. GeekCyclist's Giant Sedona, I loaded up a 10 year old DiamondBack Wildwood that I inherited from a neighbor. When I say that I inherited the bike, you should read that as "He got a frame, out-of-true wheels, and all the components in ziplocs and Wal-Mart bags." I actually spent the better part of 5 or six evenings overhauling it and putting it back together. JS usually uses it, so ultimately we both ended up on bikes a little too small for us for this ride.

After driving down from Magna we actually got to the pull-off in Provo Canyon at about 9:20, so we turned around and went back into town in search of a little breakfast and some lip balm. By the time we got back up the canyon there were so many people there that we had to park across the street.

The Ride
There were still several people in the parking lot when we headed up Squaw Peak Road. The beginning part was paved, and I started to wonder why I hadn't ridden my bike with the slicks. Then after about a mile we hit a gate and the fun began. The rest of the ride was on snow packed down by snowmobiles. Now, I am not a mountain bike rider, and I commute on the flats, so trying to ride my bike up a 7% grade covered with loosely packed snow and ruts was a challenge. But it was probably the most fun challenge I've had on a bike in a while.

After ridding on the snow for a while, JS and I were promptly caught and dropped by the main group of riders. After a while a few stragglers blew past, and soon I was alone. This made my humiliation almost bearable, since the combination of my lack of skill and abundance of surplus energy stored around my waist conspired against me. I hit a rut. Since I was only going about 4 miles an hour I promptly fell over. I got back up and realized I had a problem. I couldn't get started again. I would pedal, but by the time I got my other foot on the pedal I would be swerving and falling, or I would be spinning the back wheel in the snow.

I walked for a while, let my heart rate recover a little, found a packed section and started riding again. The going was good for a few hundred yards and then I got bounced off again. The rest of the ride up could be described as the "shampoo ride" - ride, fall, walk, repeat.

The Descent

I think I was about 2/3 of a mile from the top of the climb when I caught JS and we saw the core group on their way back down. We turned the bikes around and waited for the group to catch us mostly because I figured with our lack of experience the main group would be descending much faster than we would.

Just as the main group reached our location at least 4 people crashed, including Fatty and I think Kenny right on top of each other and right in front of me. Watching that I lost a little nerve and ended up riding my brakes so hard my hands were cramped by the time I got back to the truck.

Here is Fatty's Post on the ride. Note, I was so slow that I am in neither the pictures or the video. But I assure you, I was there...

Overall, it had to have been the craziest thing I have done on a bike in decades. I cannot wait to see what this group comes up with for next year.