Monday, March 31, 2008

BikingIllinois.com Updates!

Two years after Biking Illinois was published, I still haven't "finished" the BikingIllinois.com Web site. I originally intended to put up photos of every ride along with a write-up of my experiences planning and pedaling each one.

After a flurry of work over the past week, I can at least say that I'm halfway done. I also added ride numbers to the main page and the individual pages. I'm sure I had a reason for omitting them before, but I've forgotten what it was.

The latest narratives aren't up to my usual level of verbosity. Frankly, I did these rides nearly three years ago and don't remember much beyond what I wrote down at the time (which is already in the book, of course). The new rides include photos and some background about how I chose or named the routes, but don't expect details like those in the day rides and tours at DJRider.com.

Here are the most recent additions to BikingIllinois.com:

18 - Busse Woods
34 - Goodbye Norma Jean
39 - Havana
49 - Greenville
50 - Watch for Wild Turkeys
59 - Lucky Horseshoe
60 - Give Peace a Chance

I also added an unfortunate update for Ride 13: the Chester Gould-Dick Tracy Museum in Woodstock will be closing in June 2008 due to a lack of visitors.

There's more to come, of course, but I know better than to set any firm deadlines.

Bastard of the Day

Some spamming bastard has been spoofing my Biking Illinois e-mail address to send ads for knock-off watches and handbags. I know this because I have received more than 1,200 "delivery failure" messages from e-mail servers around the world in the past week. However much you dislike spam, you won't know true hatred until a spammer starts using your address. If I could get my hands on this bastard, I'd do things even Dick Cheney would consider cruel and unusual.

God only knows how many of this bastard's messages reached their intended recipients. So far, I haven't received any hostile responses -- with the possible exception of a message in Czech that I can't translate* -- but I surely didn't make any friends this past week. Thanks a lot, you bastard.


*If anyone fluent in Czech is reading this, please tell me what "Tato schránka je trvale mimo provoz" means.

Friday, March 28, 2008

No More "Happy Endings"

From today's Alderman Schulter Reports e-mail:
Alderman Schulter is pleased to announce that, after requesting an investigation on a local business operating without a proper business license, Cook County Sherriff Tom Dart arrested four individuals in connection to a prostitution ring operated out of Bamboo Massage at 4351 N. Western Avenue. This establishment has now been officially shut down.
If you think about it for a moment, this really shouldn't have been too difficult to figure out. What is bamboo? According to Wikipedia, it's "the fastest growing woody plant in the world." Essentially, this local business of ill repute was named "Woody Massage."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Challenge to W. Axl Rose

If the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing aren't enough inspiration, maybe this will help:

PLANO, Texas (March 26, 2008) – Tired of a world in which Americans idolize wannabe singers and musicals about high schoolers pass as rock ‘n roll music, Dr Pepper is encouraging (ok, begging) Axl Rose to finally release his 17-year-in-the-making belabored masterpiece, Chinese Democracy, in 2008. In an unprecedented show of solidarity with Axl, everyone in America, except estranged GNR guitarists Slash and Buckethead, will receive a free can of Dr Pepper if the album ships some time -- anytime! -- in 2008. Dr Pepper supports Axl, and fully understands that sometimes you have to make it through the jungle before you get it right.
This marketing campaign is brilliant. No unreleased album has suffered such a long and twisted history as Chinese Democracy. Axl has hired and fired countless sidemen, thrown several tantrums, and remixed the whole mess a dozen times. I remember following this saga online ten years ago when the disc was already "long awaited." Since then, Guns N' Roses has done multiple tours supporting this legendary non-release. I'm surely not the first writer to quip that Axl is waiting until there actually is democracy in China.

Would I buy Chinese Democracy? My interest in GnR has been waning for so long that I probably wouldn't bother anymore. Besides, disappointment is almost guaranteed after 17 years of hype and anticipation. Even Appetite for Destruction, a genuine classic, may have collapsed under the weight of so many mixing sessions and band roster changes.

If I had a can of Dr Pepper for every supposed Chinese Democracy release date I've heard, I'd... well, I guess I'd really have to pee. Will Dr Pepper's challenge finally get Axl to stop remixing and start pressing CDs? You can follow all the exciting inaction on the Chinese Democracy When? blog.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Bastard of the Day

I've been against the Iraq War since before it started, and I have always supported free speech, even when it nearly got me booted out of high school. But Catholic Schoolgirls Against the War, the group who squirted fake blood on parishioners at Holy Name Cathedral during Easter mass, win the Bastards of the Day award.

My ire stems from one paragraph deep within the Chicago Tribune's story:
Catholic Schoolgirls Against the War, however, may have been preaching to the choir—literally. Both Pope Benedict XVI and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have opposed the war since its inception, with the pope using his own Easter homily Sunday to renew calls for an Iraq resolution that would "safeguard peace and the common good." After the service, the cardinal reiterated the Catholic Church's opposition to the war, but he said mass is not the place to protest the U.S.-led invasion.
The Catholic Church does not support this war, so why disturb an Easter mass? That's like protesting at the French embassy. If the Schoolgirls (who aren't all female, btw) had any guts, they'd be squirting blood on Bush and Cheney, or at least squirting blood in those bastards' churches (aside from the issue of whether to politely respect religious gatherings in general). Or maybe they should have protested in the giant evangelical Christian churches -- those worshippers helped reelect Bush/Cheney, implicitly supporting the war. I have a hunch that most Chicago Catholics vote Democratic.

While Sunday's action succeeded as a publicity stunt, I can't imagine it helped the Schoolgirls' cause much. Naturally, they issued a statement that perfectly illustrated the ridiculousness of the protest:
The statement lauded protesters' efforts to remind the churchgoers that George and Daley met two months ago with the president, described as the "principal public figure responsible for initiating the carnage in Iraq."
So they protested at Holy Name because Cardinal George and Mayor Daley met with President Bush? Do they have any idea how many people meet with the president? Why don't they go squirt blood on the championship sports teams that get invited to the White House? Also, do they know what George or Daley might have said to Bush when they met? I sincerely doubt that Cardinal George gave Bush a big thumbs-up on Iraq. I can't imagine Bush cares how a cardinal and a mayor feel about the war, anyway.

For that matter, why didn't the Schoolgirls go squirt blood on Mayor Daley? I know why -- because he has police security, whereas Holy Name is an easy target. Sheesh, all they had to do was push past a 70-year-old usher with cancer! Wow, those Schoolgirl bastards sure are brave!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Thesaurus Fun

Ever try to find the right word in a thesaurus and come across something wildly inappropriate for the tone of the piece? I imagine that's what inspired this recent Onion article:
87 Killed In Violent Kerfuffle

ISLAMABAD—Eighty-seven people were killed and 114 wounded at an open-air market in Islamabad yesterday in one of the worst ruckuses to hit the Pakistani capital in years. Witnesses said that the bloody to-do occurred shortly before noontime prayers, and that dozens were instantly killed by the doozy of a shockwave. Many more were reportedly trampled to death in the rush to escape the foofaraw.
While visiting The Onion online, I also discovered that my favorite columnist, stoner Jim Anchower, has his own homepage!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Get a Life!

Literally:
SYDNEY, Australia - A painful breakup with his wife has prompted a man to put his entire life -- his house, his car, his job, even his friends -- up for sale online in an effort to start over. Ian Usher, a British immigrant to Australia, said Tuesday he would auction everything he owns and more on eBay starting June 22. "On the day it's all sold and settled, I intend to walk out of my front door with my wallet in one pocket and my passport in the other, nothing else at all," Usher says on his Web site. Up for bid is Usher's three bedroom house in the western city of Perth and everything inside it, his car, motorcycle, jet ski and parachuting gear. Usher says he is also selling a one-time introduction to his friends and a trial run at his job -- a plan endorsed by his friends and his employer.
If nothing else, Usher, 44, has set a new record for most extreme midlife crisis.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Bastard of the Day

Pro cyclists are tested regularly for illegal subtances. But sometimes a cyclist truly deserves privacy:
Belgian cyclist Kevin van Impe raised strong objections to being visited by anti-doping controllers while he was making arrangements for the funeral of his infant son this week. The Quick Step rider was at a crematorium in Lochristi, Belgium when a drug tester showed up demanding the rider provide a sample, and warned that he would face a two-year suspension if he refused.
Oh, sure. It's the old "burying my dead baby" excuse that cheating cyclists always use to evade testing! The drug tester was just following orders, so the BotD award goes to whichever heartless, inflexible governing body is responsible for this (the news brief isn't clear). Sheesh.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

My Six-Word Memoir

This meme, likely inspired by Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure, is making the rounds on cycling blogs. When I first read about the book a month ago, I had no idea what mine would be. Actually, Jennifer's memoir would work, but I can't just write, "Ditto ditto ditto ditto ditto ditto." Besides, if I wanted to copy someone, I'd probably go for my favorite entry from what I've seen of the book: "I like big butts, can't lie."

Sometimes the answer is that there is no answer. Hence
Brevity isn't my thing. Buzz off.
That's the clean version. I don't think I'll bother submitting it at www.sixwordmemoir.com.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Bastard of the Day

How many times is Alderman Bernard Stone going to win this award? He's the best reason not to live in Rogers Park... and that's saying something because I can think of an awful lot of reasons not to live in Rogers Park.

Some Chicago aldermen want home sellers to share the burden of the city's real estate transfer tax with buyers (don't sellers already pay a transfer tax to Cook County?). Stone, the same bastard who declared that he deserves a $20,000 raise ($98K/year isn't enough), and also the same bastard who refused to allow a bridge for a bike path just because nobody licked his boots in the process, says, "Prices have appreciated so greatly over the last few years I am really not going to cry too much for the sellers."

Look here, you bastard. Not everyone draws a six-figure salary for a part-time job like alderman. For most people, their homes are their primary, if not sole, retirement investment. Why should you be allowed to skim money from them? Most of those people need every penny they can get from selling their homes.

Worst of all, this is an "escape tax," a way to soak people one last time before they leave Chicago. When we sell our house, we won't benefit from any real estate transfer tax we pay because we'll be gone. How fair is that? At least buyers paying the real estate transfer tax will theoretically get something for their money.

Geez, I can't believe there aren't enough intelligent people in Rogers Park to bounce this bastard out of office.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Where Have All The Secretaries Gone?

I never thought I would feel sentimental for good ol' Secretaries Day!

It's bad enough that secretary was deemed too limiting a word and replaced with the obfuscatory yet tolerable administrative assistant. But while I wasn't paying attention, it changed again -- this time to administrative professional. Apparently, the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) is to blame:

IAAP defines administrative professionals as "individuals who are responsible for administrative tasks and coordination of information in support of an office related environment and who are dedicated to furthering their personal and professional growth in their chosen profession."
That's bull. You can't just make a term mean whatever you want it to mean. The critical "support" element is not inherent in the term administrative professional. By any normal definition (i.e., not the one promulgated by the IAAP), the term administrative professional is so vague that it would include administrators as well. Isn't a professional who administers something an administrative professional? Of course, National Secretaries Day was established to honor assistants, not bosses. By renaming it Administrative Professionals Day/Week®*, the IAAP just confuses everyone.

The more I read on the IAAP's site, the more I dislike the organization. For example, the IAAP belittles secretaries of the past with this self-serving description of how duties have "evolved," which supposedly justifies the renamed "holiday." I have a hard time believing that secretaries never fulfilled any of the duties in the "Now" column, just as I doubt that many of today's "administrative professionals" do everything described in that column. This "evolution" is just a function of downsizing anyway -- everyone in the workplace wears more hats than before.

The IAAP provides a FAQs page about Administrative Professionals Week. Oddly enough, the questions are not all answered, so I'll provide my own answers in italics:

  • Who qualifies as an administrative professional? Anyone we say; it's our definition.

  • Why was the event’s name changed from "Secretaries Week"? Because we changed the name of our organization in 1998.

  • Should my secretary feel slighted by the change? No, but he/she might not like our "evolution" press release, and not just if he/she is a creationist.

  • What is an appropriate gift of appreciation for busy assistants? We recommend giving them memberships in the IAAP.
Before the hate mail comes in, I want to make clear that I like secretaries or whatever you want to call them, and I have no problem with giving them recognition. My criticism is directed only toward the goofiness of the IAAP.


* I also have a problem with this being a registered trademark of the IAAP (scroll to bottom of this page). Any "holiday" that is trademarked doesn't belong in the greeting card aisle (notice that the store chose not to display the "®" in blatant violation of the IAAP's trademark claim, and if you look closely, apparently administrative professionals has not yet been translated into Spanish).

Illinois Bike Maps = Rare Collectibles?

I made a disturbing discovery on a recent visit to the Illinois Department of Transportation's bicycling pages:
The Map Sales Office is closed and no further information is available at this time. We apologize for the inconvenience
Uh-oh. I contacted the League of Illinois Bicyclists, who in turn contacted their point man at IDOT. He confirmed that IDOT's district bike maps cannot be ordered at this time and said he did not know when they would be available again. In the meantime, he suggested two ways to access the maps online.

The first method, interactive maps by IDOT district, is unwieldy at best. I think it's a lousy interface, and a few instructions would help immensely. The map area on the screen is way too small (not sized to the browser window like Google Maps are), and you pretty much have to know what you're looking for in order to find it. This may be workable for locals but not for touring cyclists.

The second way is to download a PDF for each county. Again, this is easier for locals than for tourists. Someone crossing Illinois north-south may have to print up to 20 county maps. What I don't like about county maps is matching them up with other counties. The way IDOT presents the maps, this is an utter nightmare because each county scales differently for printing. Forget about lining up the roads from one county to the next. Plus, you need a color printer to make the maps readable (maybe I'm the only person still using a black & white HP LaserJet from the last millennium?).

Some visitor centers and bike shops still have IDOT's paper bike maps if you're willing and able to hunt for them. Unfortunately, in my experience, their maps are often one or two editions out of date. I'd hate to plan a long ride through Illinois without paper maps, and I'm very glad I didn't have to settle for the online or PDF maps while writing my book. I never would have found many of the great road rides, especially downstate. This is a huge step backward for Illinois bicycling, so I hope the paper maps will be available again soon.

Other Illinois bicycle maps: For Chicago area cycling, the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation map is much better than IDOT's map of northeastern Illinois and well worth $6.95. The City of Chicago publishes a free map, but bike routes end abruptly at the city limits. DuPage County and Kane County also offer maps, and the new Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission's map wisely overlaps with about six miles of Illinois. The LIB has been working to develop bike maps for smaller cities such as Springfield, Aurora, Rockford, and the Quad Cities area (including Iowa). They also have guidebooks (with maps and cue sheets) for three popular touring routes: the Grand Illinois Trail, the Mississippi River Trail, and the Route 66 Trail (note that these are "trails" in name but include many miles of roads). All of the LIB's maps and guides can be downloaded as PDFs.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Strap-On Tools

Mom, just skip to the next post before I blush. Everyone else, be advised that the following link is "not safe for work!"

The late Molly Ivins stars in this hilarious video documenting the arcane, inane, insane laws that apply to "marital aids" in Texas. Read the accompanying text if you want, but don't miss the video.

As a bonus, the video also discusses the similarly ridiculous Texas sodomy laws. Keep watching; you'll love Molly's last line.

I miss Molly so much!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Road House Blues

I saw the movie Road House many years ago. To be honest, I only remember two things about it:
  1. It starred Patrick Swayze.
  2. It featured a young, talented, blind guitarist named Jeff Healey.

Last night, my brother mentioned that Swayze is suffering from pancreatic cancer. While his doctor states that he is "responding well to treatment thus far," the odds are against him. The American Cancer Society says that only 23% of pancreatic cancer patients survive more than a year.

In a morbid coincidence, I had some news to share with my brother. This week I have been mourning the loss of Jeff Healey, who died of cancer on Sunday at the too-young age of 41. Healey lost his eyes to a cancer called retinoblastoma when he was eight months old. He thought that was the end of it, but in 2005 he learned that retinoblastoma causes a blood mutation that makes the victim susceptible to other forms of cancer. Last year, he had cancerous tissue removed from his legs and lungs, but the disease continued unabated.

Healey began playing guitar at age three and performed his first gigs at age six. He had a distinctive style, sitting with the guitar flat across his lap. His first album, See The Light by the Jeff Healey Band, was by far his most popular. The first single, "Confidence Man," was a great rocker, but the ballad "Angel Eyes" became his biggest hit, peaking at number five on the Billboard charts (incidentally, John Hiatt wrote both songs). He released several more blues/rock albums which had progressively less success in the U.S.

Early jazz was Healey's true passion. In the new millennium, he released a series of early jazz-style records, playing trumpet and acoustic guitar in Jeff Healey's Jazz Wizards. He also hosted jazz programs on Canadian radio featuring songs from his personal collection of more than 30,000 78 RPM records.

A new album returning to blues/rock is scheduled for release on April 22 in the U.S. For curious listeners, I recommend See The Light and/or The Very Best of the Jeff Healey Band (oddly, this UK import does not include "Angel Eyes" -- maybe it wasn't a hit there?).

Green Bicycling Test

I wrote this yesterday afternoon but I was too tired to finish it (I had been up all night sorting out a year of accounting for DJWriter, Inc.). My brother woke me up at 9 PM, and we talked on the phone for eight hours. By then, I was tired again. Anyway, I'm finally awake enough to wrap this up, so here it is...

I'm not sure what I think about this. At first blush, I'd say hardcore environmentalists like the Sierra Club can suck the fun out of anything, even bicycling, with a depressing injection of eco-guilt. Go ahead, take the "How Green Is My Bike Ride?" test. Then come back and we'll talk about the results.

Much to my amazement, I did well:

Your score: 82 out of 100 points.
American Flyer (80-100 points):
You're truly using your bicycle to save the planet. Keep pedaling!
I've never felt like my cycling was saving the planet. In fact, I do some things that are blatantly eco-unfriendly, the cycling equivalent of dumping motor oil in a river. Incredibly, they didn't take off many points for those behaviors, but they docked me harshly for another rather innocuous answer.

My worst answer was clearly #2. I drive to most of my bike rides. Heck, the main reason I chose a hatchback was to cart my bike around (at least we own a compact car). I know that wastes gas, pollutes the atmosphere, etc., but I get little joy from city cycling. Being hyper-alert in the city wears me out. I can ride 20 miles on the North Branch Trail and feel less exhausted than I do riding the six miles from my doorstep to the start of that trail. I also prefer suburban streets -- fewer stop signs and parallel parkers -- so sometimes I drive to road rides, too (my wife is a Chicago police officer so moving out of the city isn't an option). Somehow, the Sierra Club gave me six of ten points for this environmentally irresponsible/unforgivable behavior. Question #6 about my favorite type of riding, which is on a deserted country road, is similar. From my home, it's more than an hour's drive to any country roads, even further to deserted ones. They gave me eight points, but I deserve less. For goodness' sake, I even wrote a book premised on driving someplace to ride (although I try to accommodate everyone).

Instead, my worst score was on #3. When it gets dark, I don't ride my bike. There are rare occasions (once or twice a year) when I use battery-powered lights, but I generally avoid it. For that, the Sierra Club gave me five points out of ten. But there's nothing inherently wrong environmentally with not riding at night. They presume that this restriction limits my cycling and automatically makes me drive more, but it really doesn't. Living the semi-employed freelance lifestyle, I ride as much as I care to during daylight hours. Besides, I'm an old married guy -- where am I going to go at night?

I must be doing something green to score 82/100, though. Each of these practices earned ten points: I patch my tubes, I ride steel frames (generally -- five of seven bikes are steel, and I ride them 95% of the time), I clean my chain with citrus solvent (albeit not much more often than I ride at night), I have racks and fenders on my primary bike (plus rear racks on three others), and I fill my water bottles from the tap (at least when I'm home -- when I travel, I often choose bottled water over awful-tasting motel water).

What have I gained from this test? Not much. I'm already doing some good things, but I am unlikely to change the bad ones. Considering that someone who doesn't own a car only beat me by four points, I think this test is a dubious measure of greenness.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

I Love Vermont

Specifically, I love Brattleboro and Marlboro:
Voters in two Vermont towns approved measures Tuesday calling for the indictment of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for what they consider violations of the Constitution. More symbolic than anything, the items sought to have police arrest Bush and Cheney if they ever visit Brattleboro or nearby Marlboro or to extradite them for prosecution elsewhere -- if they're not impeached first.
Way to take the bull by the horns, folks. I'm glad somebody is willing to do what the Democrats in Congress will not. The best part of the article is this poorly crafted retort from a Republican National Committee spokesperson:
"It appears that the left wing knows no bounds in their willingness to waste taxpayer dollars to make a futile counterproductive partisan political point," said Blair Latoff. "Town people would be much better served by elected officials who sought to solve problems rather than create them." [emphasis added]
You mean problems like the Iraq War that Bush created even though Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11 and wasn't hiding weapons of mass destruction? Just replace "town people" with "all Americans" and for once, the RNC and I agree on something.

Monday, March 03, 2008

A Deep, Meaningful Experience For All

I got an e-mail today from someone in Hillsboro, Illinois promoting an all-you-can-eat pancake and sausage/biscuits and gravy breakfast fundraiser on Saturday, March 29. That's the same day as the Hillsboro-Roubaix bicycle race although such a meal is better suited for a famished cyclotourist than for a chubby competitor trying to shed weight early in the Midwest racing season. Breakfast will be served at the Hillsboro Moose Club on Main Street from 6 AM to 11 AM, and it's only $6 for adults/$4 for kids 5-12.

They probably contacted me because my Hillsboro-Roubaix Web page comes up first in a Google search for "Hillsboro-Roubaix". It's consistently one of the three most popular pages at BikingIllinois.com. Some readers may be thinking, Wow, Dave is such a swell guy to promote this for free. Seasoned readers know that there is always a price. Well, here's where I get to have my fun...

As I mentioned above, this event is a fundraiser:
All proceeds go to benefit Hillsboro High School’s Post Prom 2008, which provides a safe, substance-free after-prom event for our youth!
I know what they meant, but isn't every prom-related event "substance-free"?

WTTW Overshares

When I saw a program on Monday night's TV schedule called My Music: My Generation - The 60s, I thought, I'll bet my mom might enjoy that. Then I went to the Web site of WTTW, our local PBS affiliate, to find out more about the show. A handy link on the homepage leads to this:
Following up on the same audience as The 60s Experience and This Land Is Your Land this My Music special appeals to the "sixties generation" of baby boomers. The program focuses on the years 1965 -1969 and includes essential 60s folk rock, R&B and pop in the latest production in the My Music fundraising series, designed to attract and renew the 50+ crowd who "survived the sixties" to support public television. The 8-CD set features the biggest hits by the original 1960's artists in this celebration and collection of "folks" that lived through the decade of change, peace, love and protest music. [emphasis added]
Somebody at WTTW screwed up. It's bad enough that this mentions "the 8-CD set" -- that shows that the program description likely was cribbed from a "thank-you gift" description. But to bluntly state that this program was "designed" to get people over age 50 to make pledges? That's crass.

"Hello, Mom? I just called to tell you about a show tonight on Channel 11. It's got a bunch of sixties music, and they really want your money."

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Hats Off to Dorothy!

Former -- dare I say legendary -- Chicago alderman Dorothy Tillman was arrested for criminal trespassing in Montgomery, AL today after an altercation at the hospital where her elderly aunt was being treated. Tillman stated, "They knocked me down on the ground. They knocked my hat off..."

Whoa! Stop right there. You do not knock off this lady's hat. It's in that Jim Croce song:

You don't tug on Superman's cape
You don't spit into the wind
You don't pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger
And you don't knock off Dorothy's hat, da do da do...

"One of them put his knees on my spine and threatened to Taser me," she continued. Ouch, that sounds a bit harsh considering Tillman is 60 years old and, as far as I can tell, does not take steroids or HGH. Then the officers put her in "leg chains and shackles." Those Montgomery police don't mess around! She's probably still on their list from her civil rights days. At least she wasn't packing heat today like she did in the City Council.