The Wrong Turn

Ralphie: Oooh fuuudge!
Ralphie as adult: Only I didn’t say “fudge.” I said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the “F-dash-dash-dash” word.

On Saturday I competed in the Charleston Challenge Duathlon. The race wasn’t very big, less than 100 participants. The distances (2 mile run, 19.2 mile bike, 2 mile run) suited me fairly well, and I was still near peak fitness from the triathlon national championship race so I liked my chances for success. On the other hand, I heard mixed reviews about this race from friends who have done it in the past. There are half a zillion turns on the bike course and (from what I heard) they are not always marked very well. I know two different people who missed turns on the bike course. One lost a little bit of time, the other lost enough time that he simply abandoned the race.

Charleston, IL is only about an hour away so I didn’t have to wake up unbearably early. I arrived at the race venue (an elementary school) with plenty of time to prepare. First they had a children’s race (actually three separate races based on age). They ran a lap around the circle drive, the bicycled around the school. It was entertaining. A number of the children still had training wheels on their bikes.

Next was the grownups race. I warmed up a little on the bike, trying to keep my eyes peeled for the orangish markings on the road that denoted the turns. I think I can handle this. I re-racked my bike and went for a short run. I needed to get used to running fast because I wasn’t going to have any time to warm up during a race this short.

The race began. I started at the front and went out with the leaders for the first half mile or so. At that point two guys started to pull away. I was in third place. I decided to let them go and keep my pace under control. The course was not marked and I wasn’t wearing my GPS, so I had no idea how fast I was going. Sometimes the adrenaline rush at the beginning of the race can mask the sensations you normally use to feel your pace.

My senior year in high school at the conference track meet I ran the first 400 m of the 3200 m run in 62 seconds. I had a 10 second lead on the rest of the pack at the end of that first lap. The rest of the race didn’t go so well. I somehow hung on to finish second place, but I really should have won. I learned a valuable lesson that day about starting too fast.

Anyway, I maintained my position the rest of the first run leg. By the end I let the two leaders gain 15-20 seconds on me. The next runners were another 10-15 seconds behind me. I entered the transition area and glanced at my watch, astonished to read 11:08. If the course was accurate I had just run my fastest two miles in 10 years.

I had a quick transition and began the bike a little winded, but feeling good. The road curved through a neighborhood before approaching a stop sign. I lost sight of the leaders through these curves. I race volunteer was standing at the intersection pointing to my left. Hmm. I didn’t see any markings on the road indicating this was a turn… I wonder why he is pointing. I looked to my left and saw a pickup truck (who had the legal right of way) coming to a stop. Oh, good. The volunteer was just alerting me to the presence of the truck. Now that the truck is stopped I can continue through the stop sign. The volunteer stared at me as I passed, though he didn’t say a word.

As I rode the next couple blocks I began to second guess myself. The road got narrow. I still couldn’t see the leaders. Did I just make a wrong turn? I looked back behind me and saw a steady stream of cyclists turning left at that intersection.

Oooh fuuudge!

I slammed on the brakes and turned around as fast as I could. As I reentered the course the same volunteer again stared at me, and again didn’t say a word. I was mad. Furious. On the plus side I unleashed that anger on my pedals and rode the next few miles like a man possessed. I quickly passed a slew of riders, nearly everyone who had passed me while I was off the course. I saw one more rider off in the distance and I chased him for miles, over half of the course. We were going almost the exact same speed and I wasn’t gaining much. The course turned. We went uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill.

About halfway through the bike I could tell he started to slow down and I regained a little motivation as I slowly reeled him in. I made the pass convincingly, but then slowed down a bit. He passed me back on the next downhill. I passed him back on the next uphill. He stayed just a few seconds behind me the rest of the ride. I couldn’t see anyone else in front of me and I was beginning to wonder whether I was leading the race. Could it be so?

I finished the bike leg in 53:48, averaging 21.4 mph. I should have ridden faster, even with all the hills, but the numerous turns made it really difficult to maintain a high speed. I reached the second transition with the other guy hot on my heels. I overheard a friend of his tell him he was in 4th place. Crap. I never caught back up with the two leaders. Oh well.

I pulled away from the guy on the run and finished a couple minutes ahead. My second run split was 12:22. My finishing time was 1:18:25, good enough for third place overall.

From studying the results I estimate I lost about 45 seconds from the wrong turn. A shame indeed, but the second place finisher was far enough ahead that it wouldn’t have made any difference. So I let it be. I was also second place in my age group, for which I won a major award (er, a large trophy). Frankly, I’m kind of glad I didn’t pick up the 1st place trophy… it was way too big.

The Geoffender

You read me my rights and then you said “Let’s go” and nothing more.

Blondie (as covered by The Mr. T Experience).

The Iron Coder competition from the recent C4[2] conference I attended had a required API (iPhone OS’s CoreLocation) and a theme (paranoia). I actually did take a couple hours on Sunday morning to throw together a submission. Sure, it wasn’t going to be polished, but still creative perhaps. I figured several people would do something like a crime map. I tried a variant on that, dealing only with one (particularly nasty) type of crime.

The app I threw together is quite simple. You press the “Geoffend” button. The app determines your location from the iPhone’s built in GPS. The app fetches from the internet and displays a list of registered sex offenders who live near your current location. If that doesn’t induce paranoia, I don’t know what will. I call it Geoffender (combining Geo with offender).

I got the app working in the iPhone simulator on my computer, but I ran into problems running the app on my actual iPhone hardware. I recently acquired a new iPhone, and I hadn’t yet set it up for development. When I tried to set it up before the contest I absolutely could not get it working. I tried everything. The iPhone platform is pretty well locked down. In order to do development you have to have various digital certificates and keys from Apple. I have these. The problem is installing them correctly is not completely straightforward. So the demo was a no go.

It’s just as well. There were many other submissions to the contest which were much better. I also learned a few things, so the time wasn’t wasted.

The Pizza Dilemma

Homer Simpson:I like pizza. I like bagels. I like hot dogs with mustard and beer. I’ll eat eggplant. I could even eat a baby deer. La la la la la la la la la la. Who’s that baby deer on the lawn

As some C4 attendees are complaining on Twitter, ordering the right kinds of pizza for a group of people presents challenges. There are people who like meat. There are people who like veggies. Some of the meat eaters won’t eat veggie pizza. Some of the veggie eaters won’t eat meat pizza.

In this particular case there was apparently an abundance of veggie pizza and not enough meat. That’s unfortunate for some. On the flip side, I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I’ve eaten pizza in a group who has ordered all meat pizzas, except for one cheese, and everybody goes straight for the cheese… leaving a hungry vegetarian and a bunch of uneaten meat pizza. This has happened to me literally dozens of times in the past 10 years (mostly in college).

The solution to the pizza dilemma is obvious, yet people often get it wrong. Order fewer meat pizzas and fewer veggie pizzas, while adding a boat load of plain cheese pizza. Sure, cheese may not be the favorite of some meat eaters or some veggie eaters, but they will eat it. Some may argue they won’t… but those people are wrong.

So instead of running out of meat pizzas and having meat eaters go away hungry, or (as is more often the case) running out of veggie pizzas and having the veggie eaters go away hungry, everyone will be able to eat cheese when their favorites run out and nobody goes away hungry.

The McJoneses

Our last name is terrible. Every email I’ve sent for the past five years has included a phonetic pronunciation of our name, yet nobody can pronounce it. Nobody can spell it. Crappy computer systems from the 1970’s (like those used by airlines, credit card companies, etc) don’t allow enough space (16 letters), nor do they allow hyphens (nor even spaces), so it all gets squished together and chopped off at the end.

When we would go to restaurants and give our name to the host[ess] to be seated it took more time to explain the name and how to spell it correctly than it did for a table to open up. At some point we got so frustrated that when we went to a restaurant we just started using the names of people we know. Then we started using random names. The problem with this is that we actually had to remember which name we used on which occasion. It was simpler to use the same name each time… but what name would it be? It had to be easy to spell & pronounce, like Jones. But we wanted something a little more unique (and perhaps a bit silly).

We settled on McJones.

I’m pretty good at keeping a straight face, but I nearly lost it the first time we used this name at a restaurant. It’s just such a ridiculous name, yet it met all our criteria. We’ve been using it for four or five years now, and it never fails to provide us with amusement.

“McJones, party of two, your table is ready.”

Rob Raguet-Schofield
(rob ra gA skO fEld)

The Jimi

When we returned to the U.S. last August I purchased one of the greatest things, the Jimi. The Jimi is the “wallet for people who hate wallets.” It’s a fabulous, tiny, semi-waterproof, plastic wallet that’s just big enough to hold identification, credit card, insurance card, and a couple bills. Tack on a key chain containing the only keys one ever needs (home, office, bike lock), and you’re good to go. It fits nicely into a bike jersey pocket, and it doesn’t matter if it gets sweaty (I sweat more than any other human).

Wherever I go I get comments on it, like “That’s a neat wallet.” My typical response is, “It keeps me from carrying too much crap around.”

an unsuitable wallet

For the past few months it hasn’t been closing all the way along the sides. More recently the plastic hinges on both sides started to rip. There’s not much left to them. It would probably last another week before completely falling apart.

Jimmy’s down!

Thankfully, I ordered a new one and it just arrived today. Hopefully this new one will last me another year before giving up the ghost.

New Jimi meets old Jimi

The Stage Race

Last weekend in West Lafayette, IN some friends and I participated in a bike race. Actually, it was three separate bike races which together formed a stage race. My Wild Card cycling team had 6 riders in the cat 4-5 race: Thomas, Luke, Mark, Karl, Dan, and Rob.

The Criterium

The first stage on Saturday was a criterium in a residential neighborhood near the campus of Purdue University. Criterium races are okay, but they’re definitely my least favorite. The idea is that the course is very short and racers ride several laps around the course for a set period of time. After the set period of time the first person to cross the finish line is the winner. Crits are generally very fast with lots of turning in close proximity to other riders, so there’s a little bit more danger involved. Perhaps danger isn’t the best word. There’s just more possibility for mistakes, both by you and the other riders.

On the bright side the roads are closed to traffic. Err, uh, at least they’re supposed to be. After warming up a little we were informed that the race organizers were having some traffic control problems. First, the course was going to be shortened by half, leaving only a 0.6 mile loop. Second, a couple of the roads were going to be open to traffic!

In the words of GOB Bluth, COME ON!

As we lined up to start the race the officiant explained a few rules. He explicitly stated that riders who get lapped should stay to the far right of the road so as not to interfere with the lead riders. Fine.

The race started. There were 57 riders. Now on narrow residential streets that may or may not be open to traffic, we could really only ride three or four wide across the road. This meant there was a huge distance from the first riders to the last riders at the start, probably a quarter mile. The fastest riders only needed to gain maybe a third of a mile to lap the slowest riders. That’s exactly what happened, and it didn’t take long.

I started a little conservatively in the middle of the pack. The lap had a short steep hill (which was to my advantage), then a long downhill with a sharp turn at the bottom (which was to my disadvantage). I passed around four or five riders each lap for about 24 minutes of the 35 minute race. The leaders were still well ahead of me and were close to catching up and lapping me.

When I finished the lap it sounded like the race directors yelled at me (as well as everyone else) to get off the course. What? The next lap they did the same thing. The pace car passed me and the lead rider was not too far behind so I moved over to the right. When I finished that lap I heard more clearly what the directors were saying, and indeed they told me to get off the course. I stopped (many other riders had already stopped) and asked one of my Wild Card teammates what was going on. Apparently they wanted all lapped riders off the course (I actually hadn’t been lapped yet). Okay, I guess, but that wasn’t what they told us before the race. Why on earth did they change their minds in the middle of the race? I guess I’ll never know. Only 13 riders remained in the race until the finish. My teammate Thomas finished 2nd in the final sprint. Kudos to him.

I apparently tied for 17th place with every other rider who was pulled on the same lap. Since this was a stage race the finishing time actually did matter, so there was some confusion how this was going to work when the majority of riders didn’t actually finish. The organizers prorated the finishing times. I was a little over one minute behind the leader after 24 minutes of racing. Worst case scenario I would have been two minutes behind after 35 minutes of racing. So my prorated time was… 5:21 back.


The prorating was equally bad for everyone, so it’s not really worth getting too upset. But lots of people take themselves a little too seriously and there were about 40 super pissed cyclists after that race.

The Road Race

Early the next morning was the road race. The 22 mile race took place mostly on a four mile loop in the country that included a pretty big hill that was clearly going to be decisive. Again, I started in the middle and worked my way up to the top third or so before we reached the hill. Several riders dropped off the back of the group on the climb. The same thing happened the next lap, and each lap after.

I stayed with the lead group the whole race. The group was down to 25 or so riders by the last lap. I thought someone might try to escape on the last hill, but the strong headwind at the top prevented that. We approached the finish line as a big group. The pace started to slow, as everyone wanted to conserve energy for the finish. Thomas was again well placed near the front of the group, so I shot to the front and whipped up the pace to lead out the sprint for him. I led for 400 meters or so until the sprint started about 200 meters before the finish. Thomas finished 2nd again, though a different rider won. My teammate Luke was also in the lead group and finished 8th. I rolled across the finish line in 15th. I was much happier with the outcome of this race than I was with the previous race. It was good that I not only stayed with the lead group, but was strong enough at the end to try to help Thomas & Luke finish higher up. I didn’t really stand a chance in the sprint anyway.

The Time Trial

Finally, on Sunday afternoon was a 5.8 mile time trial. This is a race where each rider is timed individually, starting 30 seconds apart so they can’t work together. The course was the same as part of the road race, and it included the same big hill. As an experienced triathlete I generally enjoy time trials (which are identical to the bike portion of a triathlon). I also enjoy riding on hills. Perfect… except for one thing. Take a guess what that was.

The course was point to point and it was almost entirely into the wind. Heavy riders have a harder time riding uphill than I do. I have a harder time riding into the wind than many others. The reason? Physics. I’m fairly big/tall and I’m kind of lightweight so I have a high surface area to weight ratio. Higher surface area causes more wind resistance. Lower weight (mass) means less momentum one can use to counter this effect. I shouldn’t make excuses, but when it’s related to physics I can hardly resist…

I rode reasonably well, but not as fast as I would have liked. I tied for 19th place. I averaged around 21 mph into the wind, while the winner averaged around 24 mph. Thomas also tied for 19th, and Luke was 13 seconds faster in 15th place.

The General Classification

Since the time gaps between the riders were not that large after the criterium and the road race, the time trial results pretty much determined the final overall stage race results. Here’s how the team did:

Thomas 11th
Luke 12th
Rob 15th
Mark 29th
Karl 39th
Dan 46th

We were not quite as dominant as we were in Hillsboro, but we had a solid race.

The Bike Hole

(Simpsons episode 2F21)

Homer: Hmm. I wonder why he’s so eager to go to the garage?
Moe: The “garage”? Hey fellas, the “garage”! Well, ooh la di da, Mr. French Man.
Homer: Well what do you call it?
Moe: A car hole!

Since watching this episode of the Simpsons (The Springfield Connection) I have frequently referred to our garage as a car hole. It wasn’t until more recently that I realized our car is seriously outnumbered by bikes, and under the circumstances it would be more accurate to call it a bike hole.

Anyway, I spent most of the day Saturday cleaning the bike hole (including unpacking a few boxes that have been sitting in the middle of the floor since we moved in last August).

The Elephant

(Simpsons episode 5F04)

Bart: Wow, I wish I had an elephant!
Lisa: You did, his name was Stampy, you loved him.
Bart: Oh yeah…

Apparently the circus is in town

I rode home from work last night on the same route I ride every night when I noticed an unusual smell near the University of Illinois Assembly Hall. I looked over to my right and there were two elephants being hosed down in the parking lot about 20 meters away from me. That explains the smell. It appears the circus has come to town.

Two elephants in the Assembly Hall parking lot

The Air and Space Museum

(Simpsons episode CABF05)

Warden: Look, he painted a unicorn in outer space. I’m askin’ ya, what’s it breathin’?
Homer: Air?
Warden: Ain’t no air in space!
Homer: There’s an air n’ space museum.

When I was younger I wanted to be a pilot and astronaut. This wasn’t just my answer to the question of “What do you want to be when you grow up, little boy?” I really wanted to be a pilot and astronaut. Every Monday night my dad & I would watch Wings, a show on Discovery channel that each week chronicled a different type of aircraft. I watched them all. I spent hours reading encyclopedias (remember those reference books that existed before the internet) about every single NASA space mission that had taken place. I had it all memorized. I hoped that one day I too would have the right stuff. My career ambitions may have changed over the years, but my fascination with flight and space flight remain. Needless to say, the National Air and Space Museum provided me with hours and hours of (free) enjoyment.

I woke up late last Sunday morning in D.C. after getting to bed late following the ASP reunion. I was planning to leave D.C. early that afternoon so I didn’t intend to spend much time at the museum, maybe an hour or two. Melissa & I toured the museum extensively when we were there in 2003, so I figured there probably wasn’t as much to see the second time around. I was wrong. My hour or two trip ballooned into four or five hours once I was within the museum’s walls. I covered every inch of the museum, aside from the National Treasures exhibit which inexplicably had a one hour wait.

There were many oldies but goodies. As soon as you walk in the door you are greeted by the Apollo 11 command module. The first humans to walk on the moon used this spacecraft to return to earth. Hanging just above that is the Sprit of St. Louis, the first aircraft to fly non-stop across the atlantic ocean.

Apollo 11 Command Module

Sprit of St. Louis

There were some new items added to the museum in the past five years. They added a test unit of one of the recent Mars rovers. Two similar rovers landed on mars in 2004 and are still performing experiments to this day. They also added SpaceShipOne, the first privately funded civilian spacecraft to carry a human into space (also in 2004).

Mars rover


Then there were the interesting artifacts I new a lot about in the past, but had completely forgotten. Among them were the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, a joint USA/USSR space mission in the 1970’s where astronauts & cosmonauts docked their spacecrafts together (and presumably had some kind of party). Then there was Skylab, the first attempt at a space station by the USA (also in the 1970’s) that fell back to earth (nobody was aboard at the time) and crashed in Australia. Whoops.

Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (right), Hubble telescope (backup unit, on left)

Skylab (backup unit, covered in gold foil)

Finally, something particularly interesting to me is the Gossamer Condor. This is a 70 pound bicycle with wings that was the first human powered machine to sustain flight. A similar machine to this crossed the English channel a few years later. I have a decent power to weight ratio, I could totally fly that thing :)

Gossamer Condor

So I stayed quite a bit longer than I intended. It was no problem. I returned to my quarters then departed D.C. late in the afternoon. My next stop was western Maryland, where a certain mountain awaited my arrival.

The Steamy Novel

I received an unexpected gift for Christmas in 2003. My brother Andy got me a steamy novel. Now, this wasn’t the type of steamy novel you get at a grocery store. For, you see, this novel had been personalized. Medieval Passion starred Melissa & Rob.

He had found Romance by You, a site which prints these personalized novels after entering a little bit of personal information. In the story Rob is a knight. Melissa of the house of Raguet is his love interest and has brown eyes. Jolyne is Melissa’s maidservant. Romeo is her pet.

After receiving the book, a conversation I had with Andy several weeks prior suddenly made sense. He had called me up and started asking questions about Melissa’s friends, pets, eye color, etc… but he wouldn’t tell me why he needed to know these things.

I actually read the book and it was fairly entertaining. It includes such passages as:

Rob remained speechless, caught up in the sight of his Lady spread forth upon his bed draped in nothing more than rose petals… just as he had imagined her a hundred times before.

Just like real life.

Mom & Dad receivied Pirates of Desire (I think, perhaps one of them can confirm or deny this). Travis & Blake received Tropical Treasure. Good stuff.