Monday, May 22, 2006

Something Light and Fun

I've been trying to think of something light and fun to write about all day. However, everytime I turn around, someone wants to remind me that my uncle-in-law died last week. He fainted and fell down a flight of stairs and was in a coma for a week and then he died. It's been tough for the family since it was a sudden accident sort of thing, rather than a long illness.

So, I'm going to tell you about Finale, a company that makes music composing software. Actually, I'm not going to tell you about the company, but about how wonderful the software is, and how much I enjoy using it.

I don't know how much most of you have the need to arrange a piece of music for a 4-piece band and vocals, but I have to just about every week. I'm not a very good arranger, but most of my work involves taking existing music and putting it in a key/range that is workable for most mortals. On a 4-minute piece of music, this can easily be a full-day's work, but this software allows me to get in done in less than two hours. And it's only that long because I'm an annoying perfectionist, and I want every slur demarked properly, and I have to check the guitar chords really changed properly. Once I've got everything set, I tell it to play, and I get the chance to make sure everything goes together. Tweak a chord, add an accidental, and try it again. It's the perfect tool for the person that has as much uncertainty about their musical abilities as I do.

The really great part is that afterwards I have both PDFs and MIDIs that I can send to the group and tell them to know the music before they come to practice. Anyone wanna take bets on whether any of them will actually open the files before Thursday night?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Killer Revealed

Shiner is a documented attacker of cats. Last night he had his first kill.

I let him out in the back yard, and he made a beeline for the fence. He returned with something fluffy in his mouth, and I got him to drop it. But it didn't get up and run away like the last time. My heart sank...which neighbor do I have to go tell that my dog ate their cat?

I got Shiner back in the house and away from his prize. It was late, so I got out the flashlight and went to check it out. It wasn't a cat -- it looked more like an enormous rat with huge teeth. That's right, Shiner killed himself a possum. Now, some people think possums may actually be smart, but I mostly think they are what they look like -- enormous rats. So, once I saw I wasn't going to have to apologize that some other cat wandered into our yard like an idiot, I was very pleased with Shiner. He got treats and loving, but he didn't get to eat his possum. They have random icky diseases that I'd rather not have to take Shiner to the vet for.

Oh won't the sanitation engineers have fun with my trash this week!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

I Had a Dream

Last week, I had a dream. A dream that unsettled me significantly.

My sister beat me in the Danskin.

Granted, this was the sister in the Navy, and not the sister that still lives at home. So, as part of the Navy she does PT several times a week. But this is her first triathlon, and I as the "seasoned" triathlete (I've done 5....hardly seasoned) should be able to finish before her. She has good endurance, but she's not all that fast.

So, I've kicked my training into high gear. Saturday I rode in the Armadillo Hill Country classic. I could say I rode the 105-mile course, but that would be a big lie. I did do the 28-mile course, and I was happy with how good I felt at the end of it. Memorial Day I'll be doing the Capital of Texas Triathlon (which is twice as long as the Danskin), and that will be a good measure of where I'm at two weeks before the actual event. I plan to finish that event in less than 4 hours. That would be a significant improvement over the last Olympic distance triathlon I did.

I've only ever done two lengths of these races -- Sprint and Olympic. There are also Ironmans and Half-Ironmans, but I'm not that crazy (yet). Sprint distance is broken down as an 800 meter swim, a 20K bike, and a 5K run. The Olympic distance is twice that. The one Olympic distance triathlon I did was several years ago now. It was in March in a nice deep (read, cold) lake. I was advised that I didn't need a wetsuit, but the water on race day was 62 degrees (70 degree water is the rule cutoff for not being allowed to wear a wetsuit). And if you're me, 62 degree water is cold. For those of you familiar with Barton Springs here in Austin, that holds steady at 68 degrees. Anyway, the swim was really tough, and took me nearly an hour because I couldn't get warmed up. As a result of spending almost twice as long on the swim, I had no energy for the rest of the race. I finished second-to-last at an abysmal 4:45. But I did finish. There were lots of DNFs in that race. People who got 50 meters into the swim and quit. I didn't do it pretty, but there it is.

I don't expect the water temperature to be a problem in this year's race. So, I hope I can make back a lot of the time I lost in the last one. And minimize the effect of that one longer race on my psyche.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Another Wedding

It must be wedding season. And based on the number of comments I eke out of my readers with my wedding posts (so far, 0 for 2), I can see that you like these things about as much as unsliced bread, so I'll keep this one short.

We went to yet another wedding this past weekend, and I'm glad this one is over. It was probably the most cliche wedding I've ever been to. Everything was ultra-traditional, which can be nice, but this was just cutesy and obnoxious. The DJ was probably better suited for a junior high dance than a wedding reception. The swan theme was excessive (married by a pond with swans in it, swans on the program, swan candles floating in the centerpieces, swan topper on the cake, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera). And it was a dry wedding to boot. No alcohol to try and make it more... anything.

Overall, it just made me appreciate it when people make their weddings a little bit different. That adds to the interesting-ness of life. It's the reason I live, people! Not to go to boring weddings you can buy as a kit from Target.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

I Don't Get Mad Often...

But when I do, you better get out of my way.

I nearly spit nails over this stunt David Blaine pulled this evening. I decreed I would not watch it, but since my resolve to not watch TV has been lacking and with the can't-avoid-watching-a-train-wreck phenomenon, I found myself flipping to it periodically. In case you didn't see anything about this special, it was about this magician-turned-side-show-freak who decided to hold his breath for nine minutes on live television. Why did this make me so mad? I'll tell you.

Nine minutes is hard. That's fine, but then if you know that the time would be a new world record, you'd know that. Then why hang out in a tank of water for a week and have yourself chained to the bottom of that tank so that your stunt includes not only the holding of your breath for longer than anyone else has in a record attempt, but also after subjecting your body to unknown stressors for water living for that long and picking of handcuff locks to boot? What is he really trying to prove? That he's still a magician/escape artist, and not just doing some stunt that someone else could try, too? I don't get it.

Then, if you lose consciousness holding your breath on your couch for 5 minutes, what makes you think you can do nearly twice that long in water? I hope that was early in his training, because that's a lot of time to increase. They had video of him laying on a couch and the people watching him told him he'd reached the 5-minute point, and a few seconds later he sputtered a breath, and asked how long he went. He never heard them announce 5 minutes. Hint, hint: that means there's not enough oxygen getting to your brain, dude. If there's not enough oxygen getting to your brain at 5 minutes, even with training it's going to be tough to make it 4 more minutes. I know there is a mammalian dive reflex that lowers your heartrate and allows you to use less oxygen if your face is in the water, but not four minutes worth.

And lastly, they threw out the Audrey card. Any of you who follow freediving or have had a subscription to Sports Illustrated in the last five years have most likely heard about Audrey. She was an unfortunate diver whose equipment malfunctioned (we'll give the benefit of the doubt for this particular entry) at the bottom of a world-record-attempting dive. As a result, she was under water almost 10 minutes (not the 8:30 the show cited), and was unable to be revived. While virtually everything that can go wrong did, her dive is not an indicator of how dangerous a 9-minute breathhold is. In fact, the only way a breathhold dive is dangerous is if you're dumb enough to do it alone. Otherwise, your buddy should always be able to pull you out and spontaneous breathing will commence. In a depth dive, the oxygen in your lungs is significantly compressed under the pressure of the depth, so it doesn't become as available to your core and brain as a surface dive allows. Comparing a dive to 170 meters (nearly 560 feet, or 46 stories) to a dive where you're hanging out in a tank with your forehead sticking out of the water is worse than apples to oranges. And in excessively poor taste, since her attempt didn't just fail, she died.

The only good thing that came out of this is that David Blaine failed. He had to be rescued from his tank at just over seven minutes. He's not in the record books for this stunt.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Resolution Update

There's something about posting one's New Year's resolutions that makes them harder to imagine away. Here's a look back at an update of how I'm doing on those so far this year.

1. I have slacked pretty bad on the no TV decision. I really was more productive when I wasn't watching TV, so there is definitely some value in renewing that effort.

2. I've lost 8 pounds of the 10 I planned on. I have been doing really well with eating out less and eating better. I've also stuck to my limit of two cokes in a week, and that's probably been most of my success. I don't like the taste of diet sodas, so I drink the full sugar versions, and that's a lot of empty calories. Last week I also cut most dairy out of my diet, and I felt a lot better as a result.

3. My Danskin training really kicks in now that we're less than two months before the race. I still think I can finish that race in less than an hour and a half. And I've completed the necessary first step in meeting that goal -- I registered for the race.

4. The training for number 3 is my kickoff for the training for next year's marathon. I still have some time on that one, but the running will be measured in miles instead of minutes in a short period of time.

Just thought I'd keep you all posted on my progress.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Ah, Bonaire

I started to respond to James' comment about where Bonaire is, and realized my answer was getting too long. It's hard to talk about a place that beautiful without getting a little wordy. So, I decided to make a whole post instead.

Bonaire is the little, middle island of the "ABC Islands" in the Caribbean: Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. Just north of Venezuela, its reefs are a national park where commercial fishing is illegal. It's also a Dutch colony, so the food blend is very unique and tasty. You know, things like poffertjes with fried plaintains.

We went for a week with another couple from Austin. The tiny airport handles two flights a day -- one from Puerto Rico and one from Amsterdam. There were no jetways, and two airport employees -- for baggage handling, ticketing, security, escort to and from the plane, etc. And that makes sense, since it's a small island. You can drive the complete coast in about 45 minutes.

And the diving. Breathtaking. Wow.

We dove 3 dives a day for a week, and I didn't get enough. The water is so clear and a perfect temperature for easy diving accessible from the shore. The coral was full of life -- parrotfish, tons of other brightly colored fish, various sea snakes, sharks, groupers, barracudas, crustaceans of unknown name, and these little animals attached to the coral that were light feathery things that would retreat inside themselves when they felt water rushing past them (never did figure out what those were called).

Besides diving tourists (which is a big industry there), Bonaire is a large producer of salt, and the salt fields are surprisingly interesting to look at. The sea water is introduced into pens that look a lot like rice paddies, and the water is evaporated and moved to shallower pens until the salt can be scooped up with shovels and machinery and cleaned and packaged. I was surprised by how red the water gets as it gets denser (but I suppose that's why the Red Sea is red).

And there you have it. Bonaire in a nutshell.