Saturday, May 26, 2007

One More Time at the Book Cellar

My encore appearance Wednesday at The Book Cellar was disappointing, but I had a good time anyway. Months ago I suggested to Suzy (the owner) that she should do a summer-themed event. Naturally, my own book figured in the mix, but I also suggested books about baseball, gardening, grilling, and other summer subjects. In retrospect, I should have figured that my repeat signing wouldn't generate much interest.

Suzy introduced the authors alphabetically. I got to go first despite the middle-ish position of my surname. In a word, I was rusty. I hadn't talked about the book much since last year, and it showed. I forgot nearly everything I had said at last year's signings to drum up interest in the book. On the bright side, I did my first reading. Last July at The Book Cellar, fellow author Noah Leiberman read a page or two from his book The Flat Stick. I declined to read, and I had been regretting it ever since. Reading from Biking Illinois is a great way to show that it's more than just "turn right, turn left." I chose the sidebar from the "Merry Miles to Maeystown" ride, which describes the founding of Waterloo, the town where the ride begins. The legend involves a "cheeky Irishman," and I got a lot of laughs with it.

Next Margaret Littman, who has written or edited a bunch of titles, talked about the new second edition of The Dog Lover's Companion to Chicago. The revisions were much more work than she expected; the task took nine months. One growing trend is that many park districts are opening up their pools to dogs the day before they close for the season. One of my mom's friends does the same with her pool.

The final author of the evening was Lucy Saunders. She talked about Grilling With Beer as a microbrewery representative poured free samples of a beer featured in one of the book's recipes. We don't often think about book design, but Saunders explained that she self-published because she had special requirements for this book. First she wanted a spiral binding so the book would lay flat, a common and useful feature for any cookbook. The problem with a spiral is that when the book is on a shelf in a store or at home, the title is not visible. She went to a Canadian printer to get what she wanted: the front cover wraps around the spiral spine to show the title. Grilling With Beer is available online but not through

Afterward a couple of guys asked me questions but no one bought my book. I enjoyed talking with the other authors as I autographed a tall stack of books for stock. I hope Suzy can sell them; Biking Illinois has done well at The Book Cellar so far. Finally, Lucy Saunders bought a copy of my book so I wasn't shut out for the night.
Grilling With Beer

Why Was Newt Gingrich Speaker of the House?

Because he sure as hell can't write!

My grammarian readers (I know there are at least two of you) will enjoy Janet Maslin's review of Pearl Harbor, the latest book by everyone's favorite "family values" hypocrite, Newt Gingrich (cowritten with William R. Forstchen). Apparently this book was so important that the rushed publisher decided to skip the copyediting phase. How else could you explain painfully redundant phrases like "to withdraw backward was impossible?" (Actually, Newt, to withdraw forward is impossible.) Maslin writes
This is not a matter of isolated typographical errors. It is a serious case for the comma police, since the book’s war on punctuation is almost as heated as the air assaults it describes.
She follows with an example. But this is my favorite passage from Pearl Harbor:
James nodded his thanks, opened the wax paper and looked a bit suspiciously at the offering, it looked to be a day or two old and suddenly he had a real longing for the faculty dining room on campus, always a good selection of Western and Asian food to choose from, darn good conversations to be found, and here he now sat with a disheveled captain who, with the added realization, due to the direction of the wind, was in serious need of a good shower.
Perhaps I was wrong about skipping the copyediting phase. It is perfectly reasonable for a copyeditor, after reading a sentence like that, to throw up his or her hands in defeat. I mean, it can be fixed but where would you start?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Avoid the Obvious

If you run a pizzeria, what color should your menu be? One answer that comes to mind is red and green ink on white paper. After all, the Italian flag is comprised of those colors, and you want to promise an authentic Italian dining experience.*

Don't do it.

Looking in our menu drawer (arguably the most often used drawer in our kitchen), I see no less than eleven menus and flyers for pizza with red and green ink on white paper: La Villa, Papa Georgio's, Shamino's, Godfather's, and Angelo's to name a few. When I have an urge to order a pizza from La Villa, I will open the drawer in search of the familiar menu... and see as many as ten similar menus first, any of which could tempt me to change my mind about where to order dinner.

Which menus would you find easily in a drawer?

The lesson is clear: avoid the obvious when designing menus, brochures, flyers, etc. The last thing you want is to blend in and be confused with your competitors. Take a good look at them before choosing your own motif. And for goodness' sake, please have someone proofread your menu before printing. I'm leery of ordering a pizza from someone who can't spell pepperoni.

* More accurately, an American interpretation of an authentic Italian dining experience.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Bastard of the Day

Although I had a great time signing books there last August, Borders in Lincoln Village earns today's award.

Before we left the house last night, I went to the Borders Web site to check their hours. Since they were supposed to be open until 10 PM, we went out to eat first, arriving at Borders around 8:35 PM. So imagine my surprise minutes later when a voice came over the P.A. with that familiar line: "Attention Borders Customers... The store will be closing in 15 minutes..."

We checked the hours on the front door as we left, and Sunday's closing time was blank. In other words, there was no clue anywhere that the bastards were closing at 9 PM. Why bother to put your store hours online if they are wrong?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Woman Delivered My Pizza

Tonight when I answered the door, I was shocked to see a woman coming up the stairs to deliver my pizza. Those of you who live in suburbia, exurbia, and beyond won't recognize the significance of this. But here in the big, bad city, I would have been less surprised to see a hobbit come trudging up the steps of our porch. Females don't deliver food in Chicago. I've lived here for more than 12 years in three different neighborhoods (all relatively good), ordering pizza once a week on average, and I cannot recall ever getting my pizza from a woman before. It happens often on vacation, but never in the city.

Safety concerns are the obvious explanation. I don't have any statistics, but according to my scans of the local paper's police blotter, delivery people are robbed on a somewhat regular basis. Occasionally worse things happen, but usually it's just about cash.

Alas, women aren't any better than men at this job. Once again, I received a pizza with the cheese and toppings slid over to one side. That's the second time this week from two different restaurants. What the hell, can't anyone properly transport a pizza in this city anymore?

Friday, May 18, 2007

Dell Has a Great Idea

Maybe I'll have to reconside my boycott of Dell computers. The company is proposing multiple levels of technical support for customers ranging from "geeks to grandmas." I think Dell's idea should have been implemented a decade ago. There is such a range of knowledge among computer users that it doesn't make sense to treat everyone the same way.

I hate calling tech support and being asked if my computer is plugged in. Sheesh, I have a degree in computer science with ten years of IT development experience, which often makes me more qualified than the person at the other end of the line. I have to be in pretty deep before I even consider calling tech support. So when I do, I want the assistance of an expert, not inane queries about whether I remembered to turn on the monitor.

One wonders how they will determine which level of support to offer to a caller. I think there should be a quiz while the caller is on hold. First question: "How many e-mail messages have you forwarded to your entire address book in the past month?" If it's greater than five, you get granny support. At least that's how I'd identify my grandmother!

No College For Rosco

I always say the best reason to have dogs instead of kids is that you don't have to pay for college. The Chicago Tribune reports that next year University of Illinois tuition is going up 9.5% to $8,440 per year. That is almost as much as I paid at private Aurora University in the early 1990s. As I recall, tuition was $8,900 junior year and $9,300 senior year. Fortunately, I covered most of that with scholarships.

Of course, tuition increases are not news anymore. Education costs have been rising at a higher rate than inflation for many years. Out of curiosity, I looked up current tuition at my alma mater. For the 2007-2008 year, full-time students will pay $8,375 per semester. That's an increase of 80% in fifteen years!

I guess that makes me feel a little better about paying $2,700 for Rosco's knee surgery two years ago -- it still beats hell out of paying for college.

Participate in CBF Events, Win Biking Illinois

I am proud to announce that autographed copies of Biking Illinois will be offered as raffle prizes at four major Chicagoland Bicycle Federation events this year:
Since 2000, I have supported the CBF in their efforts to improve the bicycling environment in northeastern Illinois. The organization has accomplished a great deal in that time, and I encourage anyone who rides to join. The CBF also produces the best bike map of the area, which is free with membership. More than four dozen area bike shops plus over sixty other businesses offer special discounts to CBF members. Add it all up, and membership is practically free.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bastard of the Day

Today's award goes to the pizza delivery guy. For the first time in years, I opened the box to find all the cheese and toppings were shifted to one side. If not for the tall rim of the deep dish crust, my cheese would have been all over the box. The worst part is that I had already given the pizza-tilting bastard a good tip. Should I open the box at the door and inspect my pizza before tipping?

Lyrics of the Day

I'm a couple of days late, but today's lyrics are from one of my favorite Lucinda Williams songs, "Changed The Locks." My brother might call it a Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers song (from the She's The One soundtrack), but Williams wrote it:

I changed the lock on my front door so you can't see me anymore
And you can't come inside my house, and you can't lie down on my couch
I changed the lock on my front door
The song builds intensity as the singer changes one thing after another to evade a former lover: phone number, car, clothes, train tracks, and finally the name of the town. Both the original and Petty's version are excellent.

On Tuesday we changed the lock on our front door. This is significant because it was likely the first time in our home's 88-year existence. In fact, our old mortise lock was a non-standard size... and the size of mortise locks was standardized in the 1930s!

The lock wasn't in great shape when we bought our home nine years ago, and its condition has steadily deteriorated under my neglectful watch (this is why we don't have kids--I can't even take care of a house). For the past two months, it has been nearly impossible to unlock the door from the outside. Every time we shamefully skulked down the walkway to our side door, I could feel the eyes of our neighbors--responsible homeowners--glaring at us with disdain.

I always feel a little guilty about tossing away vintage features of our home, even when they are worn out and hardly functional. So many of our house's original features have been stripped away by previous owners that I want to keep what little is left. In this case, however, I became frustrated enough with the old lock that I wanted to simply be done with it.

Our new lock didn't come cheaply. We paid over $500 for the hardware and labor, which included filling in the space formerly occupied by our oversized, non-standard lock. In return, we have a deadbolt twice as deep, knobs that don't require set screws, secure door plates, and a lock that works when you turn the key. It looks good and works great, but it lacks the charm of the old one. The installer took away the old lock, and part of me wonders if it's selling for $$$ on eBay right now.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Bastard of the Day

I suppose some might say I'm a bastard for using the occasion of someone's death to bestow this honor (see Ken Lay), but today's bastard is Jerry Falwell. I could give countless reasons, but here is my favorite. After 9/11 Falwell claimed he knew who was responsible:
The ACLU's gotta take a lot of blame for this. And I know I'll hear from them for this, but throwing God off successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the Pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say, "You helped this happen."
Gosh, that's even more misguided than, "They hate us for our freedom!" Even partner-in-crime Pat Robertson -- who at first agreed with Falwell -- distanced himself from the outrageous comments in the days that followed. I snagged an MP3 of this rant, and for five years it has resided on my hard drive in a directory titled "humor." But too many people really take crap like this seriously; too many people took Falwell seriously regardless of how ridiculous he sounded to America's immoral majority. Today the world is a better place without the bastard. For a timeline of the bad reverend's transgresssions, see The Carpetbagger Report.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Bike Basics Workshop

Cycling Sisters and the Fighting 47th Ward (as it was known long before I arrived) are putting on a free bike maintenance workshop this Saturday, May 12 from 10 AM to 3 PM at 4100 N. Damen Ave. Mayor Daley's Bicycling Ambassadors will be there, and later Alderman Gene Schulter will lead a ride through the neighborhood. And there will be raffle prizes including a bike, a trailer, helmets, gift certificates, holiday packages... and an autographed copy of Biking Illinois!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Bastard of the Day

Today's award goes to suburban xenophobes who oppose sidewalks. A Chicago Tribune article details the latest "controversy:" suburbanites don't want sidewalks because they are afraid of who might be walking in their neighborhoods:

[Hubert] Frank, 68, who organized a petition for Whitehall Drive, said sidewalks could also pose a safety risk by welcoming strangers into the neighborhood. "There's strange things happening in the world today, so why would we want to open up that possibility?" he said. "We are connected, we all know each other. The concern is, who knows what you'd be encouraging to come through."

Surely the next jihad will be charging into Northbrook on their new sidewalks!

As unbelievable as it may seem to suburbanites, some people walk places instead of driving everywhere. And some of those people are even employed and white just like you, you whiny bastards.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Bastard of the Day

Today's bastard is doping cyclist Ivan Basso. From
"Yes, I am Birillo. It was me that suggested to be called this way," said the former Discovery Channel rider, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport. After months of denials to any links with Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes and his offices that were raided in OperaciĆ³n Puerto Ivan Basso revealed that the name 'Birillo' that appeared on bags of blood sequestered were of significance... Basso had historically denied Birillo as being the name of his dog, he insisted in his original CONI summons that his dog's name was 'Tarello'.
You may think I am calling Basso a bastard for doping or for lying about it for so long. No, what makes Basso a bastard is that he dragged his dog into it!

Monday, May 07, 2007

If We Lost, Who Won?

A great article on AlterNet by Gary Brecher discusses who won the war in Iraq. Early on, he paints a picture that nearly had the milk from my breakfast cereal dribbling out of my nose:
At a regional level the big winner is obvious: Iran. In fact, Iran wins so big in this war I think that Dick Cheney's DNA should be checked out by a reputable lab, because he has to be a Persian mole. My theory is that they took a fiery young Revolutionary Guard from the slums of Tehran, dipped him in a vat of lye to get that pale, pasty Anglo skin, zapped his scalp for that authentic bald CEO look, squirted a quart of cholesterol into his arteries so he'd develop classic American cardiac disease, and parachuted him into the outskirts of some Wyoming town.
Iran has lost a regional enemy and gained "a risk-free laboratory to spy on American forces in action. If they feel like trying out a new weapon or tactic to deal with U.S. armor, all they have to do is feed the supplies or diagrams to one of their puppet Shia groups." Should the U.S. choose to unleash their military on Iran, the Iranians will be ready.

Meanwhile, the long-term winners will be ascendant powers India and China. They have watched the U.S. burn through a trillion dollars in a losing cause while shoring up their own economies.

Brecher also describes how the war has hurt two major U.S. allies in the region, Israel and Turkey, and admonishes our VP: "Happy now, Cheney, you Khomeini-loving, anti-American mole?" I love it.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Weird Comment

I know it's irrelevant and spammish (albeit non-commercial), and I'll probably delete it sometime, but what do you think of the bizarre comment left by Anonymous on the previous blog entry?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Bike Lovers, Dog Lovers, Beer Lovers

The Book Cellar, my local bookstore, is having an author event on Wednesday, May 23 at 7 PM to get people psyched up for warm weather activities. Participants will include Margaret Littman (Dog Lover's Companion to Chicago: The Inside Scoop on Where to Take Your Dog), Lucy Saunders (Grilling with Beer), and Lincoln Square's most renowned bicycling author, yours truly (Biking Illinois: 60 Great Road Trips and Trail Rides).

The Book Cellar is located at 4736-38 North Lincoln Avenue, just a couple of minutes from the Western Avenue stop on the Brown Line. There are lots of great restaurants nearby if you want to eat before or after. I have not scheduled any other signings this summer, so don't wait for "some other time."

Naomi Wolf Jumps on Fascism Bandwagon

A growing number of insightful writers are documenting America's descent toward fascism. The latest is Naomi Wolf, best known for The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women. Although her new book The End of America: A Letter of Warning To A Young Patriot isn't coming out until September, you can read "Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps" now at AlterNet. She focuses on the erosion of rights without even mentioning the corporate element described by Benito Mussolini (another clear sign that we're on that path). I just wonder how many books must be written about this before people wake up to what's happening in 21st century America. Turn off the TV, put down the National Enquirer, pull your head out, and open your eyes.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Bastard of the Day

Cabbie killer Michael Jackson is still a bastard. His exclusive interview with the local ABC affiliate did nothing to change my opinion.

He thinks his case would have turned out differently if the judge had allowed him to present the cabbie's prior offenses to the court. He just doesn't get it. It doesn't matter whether the cabbie was a saint or a sinner. It doesn't even matter that the cabbie threatened him first. What matters is that after his personal safety was no longer threatened, Jackson got behind the wheel of the cab and ran the guy over repeatedly. All he had to do was walk away, but he chose to kill. And I don't care if Jackson claims he thought he "only" ran over the cabbie once -- once was enough to crush him, and once was enough to deserve a conviction. He got off easy, really. With good behavior he'll be out in 2010.

But wait, there's more. Jackson whined that his charitable works were suppressed in court. Again, he doesn't get it. It wouldn't matter if he was Mother Teresa -- if you kill somebody, you have to pay the price.

And finally, there was Jackson's detached, pointless pseudo-apology to the family:
"I apologize that he's passed away. I apologize that the man decided to attack me," Jackson said. "I can't imagine what it's like to lose a father. For that, I'm very sorry for their loss."
What a bastard.

Mama Told Me Not To Come

What's the best advice your mother gave you that you ignored?

Mine: "Marry an orphan."

C'mon everybody, chime in with your own answer in the comments...