Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Wrong Time for a Nap

Around 2:00 this afternoon I began reading a book in bed. Five minutes later, it was clear that I was too tired to read so I took a nap instead. I woke up at 4:30. Aside from my wife having left for work, I didn't think I had missed anything. Then I looked out the sun room window.

During the relatively short time I was asleep, the crew that had been preparing to demolish a house across the street had completed their work. Nine out of ten American males rate demolition among the five coolest things to watch, so I was disappointed that I missed it (my fondest corporate work memory was one summer when I had a window office where I could watch a 10-story building being dismantled). It is a testament to my sound sleeping that I didn't awaken as a building crashed to the ground less than 200 feet away.

Normally I would be upset that another vintage neighborhood home has been razed, likely to be replaced with an oversized, architecturally inappropriate semi-mansion (the lot adjacent to the teardown features what I describe as "an English cottage on steroids"). This teardown, however, has sat vacant, stripped of its face brick, for at least 18 months. So I guess I'm happier to see a new residence being built there instead of the old eyesore becoming the neighborhood crack den. And although construction isn't as cool to watch as demolition, it lasts longer so I won't sleep through it.

I really didn't think a single tractor was capable of tearing down a two-story brick structure in just a couple of hours. It's enough to make me question the point of the Three Little Pigs story.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Three More Reasons to Ride Your Bike to the Botanic Garden

In Biking Illinois, I mention that you can avoid the high parking fee at the Chicago Botanic Garden by riding your bicycle there via the North Branch Trail. You don't even have to ride all the way from home -- you can park in several forest preserve lots that are only a few miles of pedaling away. Yesterday the Cook County Forest Preserve District increased the incentive to exercise, announcing that the cost to park at the garden will go up $3 on April 1. Although the garden is in suburban Glencoe, the parking fee will be a downtown Chicago-like $15 per car. That's almost double the cost of parking there just five years ago.

Admission is still free, so ride your bike and snicker as you pass the lazy people opening their wallets at the entrance!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

McDonald's Doesn't Get It

When I saw the teaser, "McDONALD'S vs. DICTIONARIES. It wants one word expunged," I knew it had to be about "McJob," a word I learned from Douglas Coupland's Generation X about 15 years ago. The fast food giant failed to convince Merriam-Webster to remove the word several years ago, and now the Oxford English Dictionary is in the corporate crosshairs:
McDonald's executives say the definition is demeaning to its workers. "Dictionaries are supposed to be paragons of accuracy. And in this case they got it completely wrong," said Walt Riker, a McDonald's spokesman. "It's a complete disservice and incredibly demeaning to a terrific workforce and a company that's been a jobs and opportunity machine for 50 years."
But McDonald's doesn't get it. The function of a dictionary is not to avoid offense or to judge the veracity of a word's meaning; it is merely to document a language. Unless you've been living in a cultural deprivation chamber for the past decade, you know what a McJob is. Regardless of whether McDonald's likes the term, Oxford's definition is indeed accurate: "an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, esp. one created by the expansion of the service sector." Surely the Oxford folks have no intention of kowtowing to this corporate whiner.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Best Dog I Ever Met On My Bike

Bicyclists and dogs are sworn enemies. Even our dog Rosco chases bikes. Most touring cyclists come home with a story or two about dog encounters. Sometimes we tell of how we outran them going uphill even though we were exhausted after a long day. Other times we tell how we shouted them down with exclamations like "Stay!" or "No!" or even "Get off the couch!" Some tell of squirting dogs with water bottles or pepper spray to discourage their pursuit. But I've never read a cyclist-dog story quite like the one I experienced five years ago today.

I've been resisting the urge to nostalgically relive my coast-to-coast tour day by day during this fifth anniversary, but today was special: Black Dog Monday. This wasn't a chase so much as a race. My canine companion didn't want to nip my heels; he was content running on the opposite shoulder of the road. I can still picture his lean, muscular body in full stride, having a great time racing me down US 80.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Zorn Sums Up Republican Values

In his blog today, the Chicago Tribune's Eric Zorn offers "Seven reasons why homosexuality is immoral, and seven answers." The reasons come from anti-gay blog commenters and the answers come from Zorn. Of course, this is an exercise in futility -- the odds of actually changing anyone's mind about this subject are pretty darn slim. But one paragraph really caught my attention. Zorn responds to the statement, "Homosexual acts are unnatural," and then tacks on this:
And anyway, we don’t consistently look to nature for our moral principles: In nature, the sick and the feeble are consigned to die. In nature, the strong take freely and without consequence from the weak. In nature, many male mammals are cheerfully promiscuous.
That's where Zorn is wrong. Perhaps as a liberal he doesn't consider those to be "our moral principles," but this is practically the Republican platform! The sick and feeble? If they don't have the money to take care of themselves, it's their own fault. Screw 'em! The strong taking freely from the weak? That's like the rich taking from the poor, and that's the basis of capitalism -- the weak should have worked harder. And of course, Newt Gingrich is only the latest revelation in a long line of "cheerfully promiscuous" Republican leaders.


Two months ago I was lamenting my inability to complete the Sunday crossword puzzle in the Chicago Tribune Magazine. I was so close then, I guess it was just a matter of time before the stars aligned and the clues fell into place. But this morning was utterly magical. I sat down with the March 4 puzzle and cruised through it -- I finished the whole thing in one sitting! Most crosswords have at least one frustrating square where two obscure clues intersect, but this one didn't. Since it was an older puzzle, I could check my answers immediately in last Sunday's issue. Unlike last time, when I found one incorrect letter, this time the entire puzzle checked out. I did it!

Now I suppose my dad or my grandma will say, "Oh, March 4? That was a breeze. I didn't even have to read any of the down clues to finish that one."

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Lyrics of the Day

It's only one line, but it's one of my favorites. From "Shut Down" by Soul Asylum:
I can write all night but in the morning I can't read it
I'm rewriting a Web page for an ad agency this weekend (my first agency gig!), and those words came to mind early this morning as I scribbled several hundred words longhand on a notepad next to the bed (you have to record those moments of creative inspiration whenever they come). Anyone who has seen my handwriting will tell you it's downright atrocious -- people say I should have been a doctor -- and that's when I have enough light to see what I'm writing.

Fortunately, I can read what I wrote last night. I didn't stay within the lines, but at least I didn't write words on top of each other (been there). Whether any of it will end up in the final copy, I don't know yet. But it's a workable rough draft, which is quite a bit further along than I was when I went to sleep last night.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Biking Illinois Without A Car

When I scouted and selected the 60 bike rides for Biking Illinois, I carefully chose starting points that were car-friendly with ample parking and easy access from major highways. After all, automobiles are the default mode of travel for the majority of Illinoisans. I'm sure most of my readers drive to the trailheads with their bikes mounted on racks, stuffed in hatchbacks, etc.

Reading Jennifer's Grand Illinois Trail Blog reminded me that not everyone drives or wants to drive (I lived without a car for three years in the 1990s). Since she said she was thinking about buying my book, I thought she'd like to know other ways to get to the rides. I started out writing a comment on her blog highlighting certain trips, but it became too long. So for Jennifer and anyone else enjoying a car-free lifestyle, I created a Web page with directions to every ride via public transportation including Amtrak, CTA, Metra, Pace, and Greyhound. I even categorized the rides based on how easy or difficult they are to reach.

Even if you do own a car, you might consider the "Amtrak Weekend Getaways" section. Chicago, Galesburg, Alton, and Carbondale have a combination of Amtrak access, good biking including one or more rides from my book, other attractions, and convenient lodging & dining. Amtrak has roll-on service for bikes on certain Illinois routes, so why not leave the car at home? Who knows, you might decide you can live without it.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Worst News Site Writing Ever?

I omitted the lead from the previous story because it was poorly written. Then I read a few other stories from the KNXV-TV Phoenix Web site. I know I'm a stickler for this stuff, but even a casual reader would have to notice atrocities like this:
Hidden inside fire extinguishers, Border Patrol agents found as much as 80 pounds of methamphetamine Thursday.
Oh, how I love misplaced modifiers! I wonder how those Border Patrol agents managed to fit inside the fire extinguishers.

A story about the water supply begins, "More evidence that Arizona reminds gripped by drought." Not only did the writer use reminds instead of remains, but who starts a news story with a sentence fragment?

You might think I scoured the KNXV-TV site to find so many mistakes. Sadly, I only had to open five stories to find three bad leads. There is hope for this writer, though. He or she should check out this story about the podcasting "Grammar Girl."

How Was Your Valentine's Day?

I'll bet it was better than this Arizona man's:
Robert McDaniel, 43... says he met 24-year-old Tiffany Sutton about a month ago and the two got together on Valentine's Day. While undressing, she asked if he was interested in "kinky" sex and being tied up. McDaniel says he agreed and moments later, Sutton pulled out three knives with skulls on them and began slashing him... McDaniel paints a horrific picture of bleeding from his back, arms, stomach and thigh while being chased by Sutton, who was armed with a pickaxe. Minutes later, McDaniel says he passed out. "I came to a few seconds later in the fetal position on the floor and she was behind me drinking my blood, even though I continued to try and get up again," he said. "I would walk and pass out, and when I would wake up, she would be drinking these wounds from my back."
Now I'm thankful for all the Valentine's Days I spent alone!

Monday, March 05, 2007

My Favorite Weather Person

I'll start off by admitting that I am not a weather geek (definition: someone who makes a word like bombogenesis a permanent part of his blog). A weather geek would have to pick WGN's legendary Tom Skilling. He's so good that Gore Verbinski, director of The Weather Man, asked him to coach Nicolas Cage in the finer points of the craft (as seen in a short bonus film on the DVD). But despite Skilling's deep knowledge and boundless enthusiasm, he isn't my favorite weather person.

I don't watch much television news, but even if I did, Mary Kay Kleist would probably be my favorite weather person. I know what you're thinking, but no, I don't have a "thing" for her. Nor does it have anything to do with accuracy. Channel 2 claims to have the most accurate weather in Chicago, but my guess is that they are right 52% of the time instead of 51% like the others. I don't put much stock in anyone's forecast. Looking at Kleist's bio, you might wonder if I like her because she names Lance Armstrong as her "dream interview" but that's not it, either.

What makes Kleist my favorite is the way she walks around on camera. Unlike most weathercasters who stand in the foreground and move left or right, Kleist moves in all directions. Through the magic of chroma key, whenever she steps away from the cameraman, Kleist appears to be walking on the map. One can only imagine the terror she is unleashing upon the good folks of southern Indiana when she does this. I would love to see her do a weather forecast for the Far East -- imagine Kleist-zilla stomping through Tokyo!

At only five feet and two inches tall, Kleist probably has practical reasons for stepping back onto the map. It's harder for her to reach her hometown of Kenosha, Wisconsin than it is for her five-foot eleven-inch weekday counterpart, Steve Baskerville. Ironically, Baskerville says, "I wish I could be a little bit taller so I could be a basketball player." Look at the bright side, Steve -- at least you don't have to stomp all over the Hoosier State to point to Waukegan!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Inside the Mind of a Global Warming Non-Believer

My local newspaper, the News-Star (motto: "we add typos to challenge our readers"), published a letter to the editor this week claiming that global warming is fiction. The lengthy missive, written by John Allen, trots out many tired, sometimes incoherent arguments.

He starts by saying, "In the 1970s the same scientists were claiming we were heading for a deep freeze." A lot of people really hold that "ice age" prediction against the scientific community. Yet I wonder, are these really the same scientists? I mean, thirty years is a long time to be at the height of one's profession, so I doubt that this is literally true. I suspect it's a generalization promoted by the anti-science crowd (those darn scientists, they're all the same!). Even if they are the same scientists, I would argue that they are much wiser now than they were in the 1970s (I know I am). Science has come a long way in three decades. But that's not what I wanted to write about.

Near the end of his letter, Allen sees a conspiracy at work:
Global warming is nothing more than pseudo science supporting spending government grant money and forcing people to purchase "environmentally friendly" products that cost us and corporations more.
Uh, okay. And perhaps environmentalists are the new Illuminati, manipulating us to achieve their devious objectives such as clean air and water. But that's not what I wanted to write about either.

Allen saves the best for last, veering headlong into religion instead of merely summarizing his previous assertions:
I am sure when God designed our planet, he took into account we would be a developed world with an atmosphere designed to handle it.
Where do I start? First, let's presume everyone believes in God (athiests and agnostics, save your talking points for another time). So God took into account that we would be a developed world? If that is true, why did he make us go to the trouble of inventing and creating that development ourselves? Why didn't he just give Adam a hardhat and drop him into a smoke-belching factory instead of the Garden of Eden? One can imagine God looking down for thousands of years, thinking Let's see how long it takes these people to figure out mass production, heh heh. To paraphrase the late comedian Bill Hicks, I don't like the idea of a supreme being who likes to mess with us (he was talking about Christians who claim God put dinosaur bones on Earth "to test our faith").

Saying that God designed our planet to suit our future needs is probably very comforting. It basically justifies mankind's actions as God's will. God meant for us to clear-cut forests and cause the extinction of His creatures. God meant for us to spew chemicals into our rivers and give people downstream the gift of cancer. God meant for us to pump oil out of the ground and burn it in our SUVs.

But wait a second. Belief in God usually comes with some sort of belief in an evil counterforce such as Satan. Who can say where God's great plan ends and the devil's machinations begin? What if global warming is Satan's scheme to destroy God's creation? (To claim that the oil companies are in league with the Prince of Darkness is certainly nothing new.)

I've given this letter -- and particularly its final sentence -- more thought than it deserves, but here is my favorite revelation. Surely you've heard the parable about the man sitting on his roof during a flood? When a boat comes to rescue him, he waves it off, saying, "God will save me." The situation worsens and a helicopter hovers over the house. Again, he waves it off, saying that God will save him. He drowns, and when he gets to heaven he asks God, "Why did you let me drown when I believed in you?" And God says, "I sent you a boat and a helicopter!"

So, Mr. Allen, what if those scientists talking about global warming are God's way of sending us a boat or a helicopter?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Chicago Athlete "Top 20 Moments" List Utterly Senseless

A few months ago a friend who writes for Chicago Athlete sent an e-mail asking if I had any cycling-related suggestions for a list the magazine was putting together of the "Top 20 Moments in Chicago Athlete History." I started to write a reply, but I really couldn't think of any specific moments. I've only been interested in bicycling for a third of that time, and I haven't paid a lot of attention to the local racing scene. My reply said "something about Downers Grove" since the town hosts the National Criterium Championships, but I didn't know of any specific "moments." I ended up deleting the message without sending.

Now Chicago Athlete has unveiled the "Top 20 Moments in Chicago Athlete History," and frankly it just doesn't make any darned sense. The problem is that few are legitimate moments. Take the first item, the LaSalle Banks Chicago Marathon. This is an annual event, not a moment! They could have legitimately chosen a particular race and said "when so-and-so set the world record" (they lump four record-breaking moments into one entry further down the list, including the 1999 race where I pushed Khalid Khannouchi to the record as he felt my hot breath on his neck from thirteen miles behind). But how can you describe an event with 30 years of history as a moment?

Continuing with the marathon, they name "five with a dream," the founders of the race. But wait, this list is celebrating the 20th anniversary of Chicago Athlete. How could a decision made in November 1976 be one of the greatest moments in Chicago Athlete history?

It gets sillier from there, listing people like race director Carey Pinkowski, cross-country coach Joe Newton (York High School), and pro cyclist Robbie Ventura. Had Chicago Athlete zeroed in on a particular point in time, that would have been fine but a career is not a moment. For that matter, what makes Ventura more qualified than Christian Vandevelde, another local cyclist (born in Lemont) and a better one who actually rode in the Tour de France with Lance Armstrong, not merely for the same team in lesser events? I suspect that Ventura's position as a Chicago Athlete columnist had much to do with his selection.

Downers Grove did make the list -- by Chicago Athlete's definition, the mere existence of the event qualifies without regard to a moment in a specific race (say, a particularly close finish or a local winner). Ditto for Bike The Drive, the annual event that closes Lake Shore Drive to motor vehicles. Had they chosen the date the first one was held, I wouldn't complain (though if I remember correctly, the first Lake Shore Drive closure was actually part of the Boulevard Lakefront Tour, which once held Bike The Drive's position on the calendar). But the only date mentioned in the article is for the 2007 event, a moment that hasn't even come to pass yet.

The most bizarre entry is "Chicago 2016 (?)" -- the Olympics that Chicago may or may not host. How can a possible future event qualify as a great moment in history? Not only has it not happened, but it might never happen!

Alas, a list in a local publication wouldn't be complete without shamelessly pandering to its readership, the journalistic equivalent of "This Bud's for you." Why else would "everyday athletes" be listed as one of the "Top 20 Moments in Chicago Athlete History?"

Something went terribly wrong between the conception and publication of this article. Here's my theory... The original idea was to come up with a list of great moments. But the magazine's staff either couldn't think of enough specific moments or couldn't agree on which moments to choose. Then someone decided to open it up by including people and events. This made the task easier, especially when it came to building consensus. Unfortunately, no one bothered to change the name of the list from its original concept, probably because such a broad list would require a weak heading like "Top 20 Things..." The end result is nonsense.

Overall, I am thoroughly disappointed. I was hoping to learn something about great moments that I missed or forgot. Instead, I found a list of people and longtime events that no one could logically categorize as moments. To use the requisite sports metaphor, Chicago Athlete dropped the ball.