30. oktoober 2003

Book report

It was Victor's turn to go to the hockey game last night (the way it's going, we'll be arguing over who has to go, not who gets to go), and since the game wasn't on tv I actually sat down and read a book.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom. It came in the mail yesterday, and I'd forgotten ordering it. I was intrigued by the premise when I read a review...in heaven, five people who crossed your path before they died meet you to explain, or help you learn, the meaning of your life.

In a management class I took recently the facilitator kept asking "Does this resonate with you?" That term was bugging me, but now I find myself considering using it...this book is about the huge consequences of the inconsequential acts of everyday life and how everyone is intertwined. I guess it resonated.

It was a quick read, and a thoughtful book. I won't say much because I don't want to spoil it for anyone who might want to read it...the rest of this is not about the book but about me.

For a good chunk of my life I recited the Nicene Creed without thinking very carefully about what it meant. As I got older and did examine it, I started having my doubts...first over issues that struck me as more political than spiritual...and I quit saying "I believe."

For years not having any real belief didn't bother me at all. I also enjoyed sleeping in on Sundays.

For the last couple of years, though, I have started pondering questions that are philosophical. I wasn't (am not, I should say; this hasn't ended) engaging in an intellectual exercise, and for awhile I was embarrassed that these matters were occupying so much of my time and brain. I mean, I have important things to worry about. I have a training program to develop for work. I have to figure out how to allocate my 401(k) distribution. I have to find dental insurance.

At some point I came around to the idea...is there anything more fundamental than this? Doesn't the rest of it pretty much hinge on "What the hell am I supposed to be doing here?"

I've come up with some ideas I like...my version of heaven, say, or why there are so many different religions. But obviously liking an idea doesn't make it valid.

I took the Belief-o-matic quiz and came up a Liberal Quaker. I looked 'em up, and I agreed with a lot of what I read...but in the end, why decide to "believe" George Fox's ideas? I could just list my ideas, call it Nicism, and whamo, now I'm a believer.

I have a friend who was a very smart, scientifically-inclined atheist who became a Christian. (She is still very smart and scientific, incidentally.) C.S. Lewis convinced her, and she gave me a copy of Mere Christianity a couple years ago on Good Friday.

(Good Friday, I'd told her, was the one day I acutely felt my lapsed Catholicism, because it is the one day of the year you can't get back in...any other you can go to confession, go to Mass, receive the Eucharist. There is no Eucharist on Good Friday. God is dead...)

I understand the logic of her faith but I don't feel it. In a way I kind of envy the people who do...the people I know who have a strong faith, whether it is in a specific religion or that they are just satisfied with their own ideas of why they are here and what they do, seem so much...healthier...that I am.

I'm really rambling, more than I intended to. When I started typing I was going to say that I have been thinking about this interconnectedness (is that a word?), and wondering if that is some sort of first step to finding a belief...

Instead I just got off track. Ah, well. Maybe the five people I'll meet will explain it all.

Posted by Nic at 17:39 | Comments (1) | TrackBack

29. oktoober 2003

Bad feelings (another grammar rant)

I was reading the latests Caps news (talk about bad) and saw a quote from GM George McPhee about defenseman Nolan Yonkman, who tore a ligament in his knee and is now probably out for the season.

"You feel badly for the player because he looks like with the right development he's got a good chance to play at this level," McPhee said.

I'm not picking on McPhee, because I keep seeing the phrase feel badly used by someone expressing sorrow, sympathy, or guilt. Every time I do, I think "No, you don't, you feel bad. Badly is an adverb!"

I am not the perfect grammarian, but I remember that much from junior high. I-subject. Feel-linking verb. Bad-adjective describing subject. Badly-adverb modifying verb. Unless you mean that you aren't good at feeling, the correct word there is bad.


Well, maybe not. It looks like feel badly has some advocates, or at least those who allow for it, including the American Heritage Book of English Usage and The Columbia Guide to Standard American English.

So feel badly is good.

That makes me feel bad.

Posted by Nic at 13:02 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Some safety tips for Halloween

I'm on various safety-related e-mail lists because of my job, and this week has been Halloween safety tip time from groups like the Consumer Product Safety Commission and National Safety Council.

I wish this stuff were obvious to everyone, but you know somewhere somebody's gonna set the house on fire with a tipped-over candle, and some kid's gonna be hurt because he couldn't see out of his mask. (The coustume tips always remind me of the old Saturday Night Live skit with Dan Aykroyd as Irwin Hainway, selling the "Invisible Pedestrian" ("not for blind kids") and "Johnny Human Torch" costumes.)

There are also a few tips that CPSC and NSC left out:

  • When it appears that you have killed the monster, never check to see if it's really dead.
  • Never read a book of demon summoning aloud, even as a joke.
  • Do not search the basement, especially if the power has gone out.
  • As a general rule, don't solve puzzles that open portals to Hell.
  • Do not take anything from the dead.
  • If you find a town which looks deserted, there's probably a good reason for it. Don't stop and look around.
  • If your companions suddenly begin to exhibit uncharacteristic behavior such as hissing, fascination for blood, glowing eyes, increasing hairiness, and so on, kill them immediately.
  • Beware of strangers bearing tools; for example, chainsaws, staple guns, hedge trimmers, electric carving knives, combines, lawnmowers, butane torches, soldering irons, band saws, or any devices made from deceased companions.
  • If you find that your house is built upon a cemetery, now is the time to move in with the in laws. This also applies to houses that had previous inhabitants who went mad or committed suicide or died in some horrible fashion, or had inhabitants who performed satanic practices.

Good advice for any time of year, really...

Let's be careful out there!

Posted by Nic at 10:04 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

28. oktoober 2003


This story, about a woman whose body was found buried under debris in her own house, caught my attention last week.

Actually the headline D.C. Woman Missing for Year Found In Basement made me say "What the hell?" out loud on the Metro. (My seatmate glanced down at my paper and did not edge away from me or anything, but then again lots of people talk to themselves on public transportation.)

So apparently last summer this 62-year-old went missing. Police and fire personnel checked her house, which "was stacked from floor to ceiling with magazines, clothes and assorted trash," and didn't find her. Last week a contractor who was cleaning the house out at the request of relatives found the body.

Probably the woman had some kind of medical condition that incapactited or killed her when she was down in the basement, and junk fell on top of her, and by the time the authorities showed up, she wasn't visable under the pile of magazines or something. (This is my analysis.) Poor woman. This may sound awful, but I hope that it was a heart attack or something quick, and that she wasn't just trapped under an avalanche of stuff.

My pain reading this story was partly for the woman, and partly fear for my future.

I come from a family of pack rats, I'm afraid. It isn't as bad as people who truly suffer from hoarding, but man we have too much stuff.

My grandparent's house, when I was a kid, was a treasure trove. My mom always suggested that the reason they kept everything was that they'd lived through the Depression, so they couldn't bring themselves to get rid of anything they might need again someday. Whatever the reason was, I spent hours reading old magazines, playing with my father's old toys, and turning old clothes into costumes.

After my grandfather died and my grandmother's health declined the state of the house deteriorated. She no long dusted and vaccumed, and instead of neatly putting things away, things just accumulated into clutter. When my grandmother died it took us nearly a year to actually get the house emptied. Much went into dumpsters, much went to Goodwill and the Salvation Army. I got some things that were of great sentimental value (the candy dish I raided every visit) and things I just found cool, like an aluminium Christmas tree with a color wheel.

Way too much of the stuff ended up in my parents' basement. And my parents, who didn't live through the Depression and can't use that excuse, were already well on their way toward filling the basement with their own stuff before they added the contents of my grandmother's house. When they die I'll be cramming it all into my basement, I know it.

My sister has really learned from this. She has three kids and a small house, and is actively trying to discourage more stuff. The kids get savings bonds for presents. She's declared war on knick-knacks.

I agree with her in principle, but I am weak. I keep books because maybe I'll want to read them again. I keep magazines because, hey, a couple of those articles were really useful and that recipe looked good. I keep things that are useless but "cool," like the talking Taco Bell dog. And worst of all, I am pathologically sentimental, so I can't get rid of presents or anything else that has a connection to someone I love.

I used to justify keeping so much that I loved as a kid by saying someday my kids would love it too. But there will be no little Nics and grand Nics, so I need to repent before the day I'm old and frail and crushed to death under three generations of treasures.

Posted by Nic at 20:40 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

26. oktoober 2003

A tale of two sandwiches

I was quite taken with the SPAM website I found last night. It got me thinking...I have never had SPAM. In college somebody gave me a tin of something called "potted meat food product," but I didn't eat that either. I did used to love Underwood Deviled Ham. And then rounding out the tinned meat lineup, there was canned corned beef.

There were two distinct corned beefs in my house growing up. My father loved a canned corned beef sandwich: toasted white bread, with yellow mustard on one slice and mayonaise on the other, sliced corned beef and pickles.

My mother would shudder when he ate it. Mom's corned beef came from the deli and only from the deli, served on rye bread with spicy mustard and swiss cheese.

I knew the origins of my mother's sandwich; my grandfather had grown up in Brooklyn. And my taste swung it that direction [Reubens, actually] , too, so I didn't give dad's sandwich much thought.

Then one day I was flipping through White Trash Cooking and did a doubletake. There on page 73: "Canned Corned Beef Sandwich." The recipe didn't call for yellow mustard, but it did offer the advice that it was "delicious with a Cocola!"

Suddenly dad's sandwich was no longer an abomination, is was as much a part of my culinary cultural heritage as mom's.

Posted by Nic at 19:37 | Comments (5) | TrackBack

25. oktoober 2003

Sing along with me...

Spam Spam Spam Spam. Lovely Spam! Wonderful Spam! Spam Spa-a-a-a-a-am Spam Spa-a-a-a-a-am Spam. Lovely Spam! Lovely Spam! Lovely Spam! Lovely Spam! Lovely Spam! Spam Spam Spam Spam!

I still have MT set up to e-mail me if I get a comment on a blog entry. I just downloaded my mail and lo and behond, a comment!

On an entry from...a month ago.

And the comment appears to be an ad for something called "soma" but in a syntax that resembles...gibberish. With links that send me...back to my own comments.


(Oh, and I'll take the Lobster Thermidor a Crevette with a mornay sauce served in a Provencale manner with shallots and aubergines garnished with truffle pate, brandy and with a fried egg on top and Spam, please.)

Please remember that SPAM is a registered trademark of the Hormel Foods Corporation.

Posted by Nic at 19:34 | Comments (1) | TrackBack

24. oktoober 2003

Who I am

I finally got around to adding the blogs I had bookmarked in my browsers to my template here. I was going to try to put the non-sports, non-food ones in some kind of categories or order, too, but they are all over the map...so I guess the only category that fits is "stuff I read at least occasionally."

Looking at that list, I wonder what impression I give people. It's like that 100 Things exercise...it says so much and little, it is so true and so misleading.

Slightly related to that thought, we were talking about personality tests and so on at work today. It started with Myers-Briggs, which I have actually had professionally administered and evaluated. (I was being laid off and the job placement agency that was part of my benefits package included it.) I've also had the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (a job I applied for required that one.)

Then we started talking about others that seemed a bit less concrete, like Belief-o-Matic , for those trying to figure out their religion. Then there's the Political Compass. Then once all the scores are in, you can check your biases about people who aren't just like you over at Tolerence.org.

Posted by Nic at 18:33 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

23. oktoober 2003

Maybe it's better to just stick with the Irish Spring

The CPSC is recalling the book Candle and Soap Making For Dummies.

The reason is that "[t]he instructions in the book for making lye combine sodium hydroxide and water in an incorrect order. This could cause the mixture to bubble over, posing a burn hazard to consumers."

Uh, yeah.

Or it might, oh, say, errupt in your face and eat out your eyes!

(Don't believe me? See some gross pictures of chemical burns.)

At first I was chuckling about the fact that a "For Dummies" book would be recalled...it just seemed a bit, I dunno, ironic...but then I was thinking that a lot of people probably don't even remember the high school chemisty lesson about not adding water to acids, much less realize that the same holds for a strong base.

Once I get to thinking about it, my safety gene kicks in and I just think about some poor slob getting hurt. The "For Dummies" books I have all seem pretty good, so I imagine that they recommend wearing goggles and taking other appropriate cautions while working with the NaOH...unless the same fact-checker or editor or sloppy writer who messed up the sodium hydroxide into the water thing messed that up too.

This is why none of my hobbies involve chemicals*. Hell, I don't even like cleaning the tub.

*EDIT: I dashed this off quickly. I mean, of course, that none of my hobbies involve exposing myself to highly hazardous chemicals...

Posted by Nic at 12:10 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

21. oktoober 2003


A la Victor, I was going to do some special post for number 100. I've been thinking about it for the last couple days, mentally composing, but in the end I just went with the extemporaneous reaction to the NHLBI blood pressure press release.

Ah well. It was a good one. Sorry you missed it.

Things are going well at the geek conference.

I'm surprised, though, by how tired I am after sitting all day. It is a typical conference experience: two hours of Powerpoint. 15 minute break. Two hours of Powerpoint. Lunch. Two hours of Powerpoint...I made a huge mistake Sunday. We had a working lunch in the hotel. In my attempt to try to stay moderately healthy through four days of hotel & restaurant food I had decided to go vegetarian while I was there...so I ended up with pasta, bulgur salad, and corn. Such carbo-loading would have been fine had I been doing a marathon in the afternoon, but as it happened I was fighting to keep my eyes propped open during the next Powerpoint presentation even though I was interested. (90% of the normal population would probably have been falling asleep even if they'd had amphetamines for lunch, I suspect.)

Today I visited vendors. I really am in the market for some vendables, so I handed out my cards and got some nice highlighters in return. I can't bring myself to take stuff unless my company might actually be buying the product...I know that's weird. Today a guy practically begged me to take a coffee cup, but I couldn't use his product. He said I could have the cup anyway. (I might have given in, but I didn't want to carry it home on the train.)

I think my reluctance to take the promo stuff came from a trade show I worked many years ago. (Boy did I look fat and ugly surrounded by the marketing reps!) The logic at the time was to have a "technical" person there to answer questions. Thing was, nobody had questions. They had tote bags from another vendor, and they just went from booth to booth, opening their bags for the free t-shirts and pens like they were trick-or-treating. All we had were crappy Bic pens, too, so most people passed us up in favor of the fake Mont Blancs in the next booth. I haven't been able to get excited by trade shows since.

Of course, this would all change if vendors were giving out something really cool, like a Slinky.

Posted by Nic at 20:48 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Serenity NOW dammit!

NHLBI Study Finds Hostility, Impatience Increase Hypertension Risk

I have been making an effort to improve my impatience and hostility for awhile now, not for my heart so much but because, well, frankly, I was a bitch. (Not to put too fine a point on it...)

I have made strides. (And my blood pressure, which was borderline high a couple years ago, is fine now, coincidentally.)

The funny thing about going from an obnoxious, hostile, impatient person to a calm, patient, good-tempered person is that no one believes you can do it.

I have been reading some Buddhist works, including writings by a monk named Thich Nhat Hanh.
He wrote a book called Anger which I bought a while ago but haven't started yet. The other day I went looking for it...not in my pile of books to read. Not on any of the book shelves. Not...anywhere.

When Victor arrived home that evening I was still searching. He asked what I was looking for, and when I told him he said...he smirked..."Are you gonna have a tantrum if you can't find it?"

Posted by Nic at 18:23 | Comments (1) | TrackBack

18. oktoober 2003

this weekend's doings



Last night while watching the game, I realized that I screwed up this weekend...instead of my usual sleeping in, I'd managed to arrange it so that Saturday was as early as a normal day, and Sunday earlier.

Today I had to get up early to meet my sister for the Alzheimer's Association Memory Walk. A few weeks ago we decided to sign up for several charity walks...for me, I'm forcing myself to get off my lazy ass, for her it's a chance to let her husband spend some quality time with all three of their kids. (My BIL isn't a bad guy, but he has the...shall all I say "old fashioned"...mindset that it is mom's job to rear children, and when he has them it is babysitting.)

Anyway, we were able to find fundraisers for every disease or condition that has affected our family or friends, I think. This week, for example, we had our pick of an American Heart Association walk, the Tour of Hope for cancer research, and a walk for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

We decided to the Memory Walk because this past year my BIL's father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. It's already...tough, and that sounds like a dumb way to put it as I type this. Duh, it's tough. Tough is an understatement, and it's going to get tougher. My niece is just starting to notice that things aren't quite right, that Pop always forgets what she just told him. My sister is dreading the time when the kids are more aware and their grandfather less so.

Anyway, when the alarm went off this morning I was regreting the idea, but it turned out to be a beautiful day, and the walk (about a 5K, I think) was in a park, around a lake and through woods. It was crisp and sunny, perfect walking weather. And the sponsors had some good swag. (Now you know...I don't do it for a cause, I do it for t-shirts.)

Tomorrow it won't be as scenic; I have a chemical safety conference in Crystal City. That means four days of early mornings and late evenings, but except for that I actually love being around safety geeks. Every session of the conference opens with someone pointing out the fire exits. It's also the only place where I can use "methyl ethyl death acid" in casual conversation and nobody says "huh?" It's so nice to belong.

Posted by Nic at 13:28 | Comments (1) | TrackBack

17. oktoober 2003

Something for the hockey fans

Most of my blogging is usually just my own wandering thoughts, but every once in a while as I follow the links around the Internet I pass over something so good I am compelled to share:

Via the Hockey Pundits, Mike Ulmer's column in today's Toronto Sun.

I was just talking about John Kordic the other night...

Posted by Nic at 19:22 | Comments (0) | TrackBack


According to WTOP, the news is not good:

"This year was not a good one" for pumpkins, said Fenby Moore, vice president of Larriland Farm in Woodbine, echoing the sentiments of many area farmers. He said it was "way too wet and too cool.

I admit, I am one of the people who has helped pumpkins become a big cash crop. I buy multiples...I like a tall oval one to carve with a scary face, and a round one for the jolly classic jack o'lantern, and some small ones to keep around uncarved through the fall.

I don't carve very well, either. I refuse to use the templates, even though those pumpkins turn out really cool, because every year I think I'm going to get better. I don't, but hope springs eternal.

When I was a kid, one year instead of carving the pumpkins we decorated them with paint and mom used them to make pies. She didn't like the idea of wasting the food, I guess, and that thought occurs to me every year, too. But frankly, the fresh pumpkin was a lot stringier than a can of Libby's.

When I was a slightly older kid my brother and I used to go out for pumpkins and cider in the fall. We'd buy multiple bottles of the fresh, unpasturized cider from a farm nearby (it is now a housing development, alas) and stick them in the downstairs refrigerator. A couple weeks later it'd be fizzy and tart. What did we know of fermentation?

So that's my weekend to-do list, this week or next. Pumpkins and cider, even if the pumpkins aren't so good.

Posted by Nic at 14:38 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

14. oktoober 2003

we are experiencing technical difficulties

I'm under the weather. One of the rattios is under the weather. The computer is under the weather.

I have to spend the next two days in management training. Hopefully I'll learn how to deal with the problem child on my staff who picked a fight with payroll while I was off at the doctor today. (Payroll! If there is any department with which you remain on good terms, it is payroll. Duh!)

Perhaps I'll just go to bed and it will all look brighter in the morning?

Posted by Nic at 21:04 | Comments (2) | TrackBack

12. oktoober 2003

Super Secret Chili Spice Mix

This is for Susie, who noticed that my chili recipe was missing a little something...

Specifically, the spices.

Okay, the super secret mix:

Equal parts salt, pepper, paprika, oregano, ground cumin, chili powder, and red pepper flakes.

You might be saying "Wait a second...isn't that just the ingredients in chili powder, plus the chili powder itself?"

Yeah, pretty much. But it works.

As for amounts, spiciness is so individual. I use about 4 tablespoons of the mix per batch of chili; I think Victor would prefer it hotter and I've had a few people tell me it was too spicy.

I will say that the heat kinda sneaks up on you, so taste it twice and wait a second before deciding whether to dump more spices in. The first time I made it I had to brown an additional pound of meat and chop a second onion to get it back to where I could eat it.

I hope you like it. If you don't, blame Victor...he's the one who convinced me that the chili was good enough to share. Normally I am very shy about giving people recipes I made up, because I will feel guilty if they are underwhelmed.

Posted by Nic at 18:28 | Comments (2) | TrackBack

10. oktoober 2003

Another long trip down memory lane

One game does not a season make…but last night was a nice way to start.

(Yes, that’s it. No whooping, no gloating. I don’t get super-emotional, which some people take as a sign that I am not a true fan. It isn’t that, it’s just that I have learned to pace myself. I’ll be more animated in, say, the second round of the playoffs.)

I got a wee bit emotional last night when the 30th season pre-game ceremony honored four past Caps: Yvon Labre (I wrote about him last week…the picture-with-my-hero thing), Rod Langway, Dale Hunter, and Calle Johansson. They brought them out to center ice one at a time, while the names of all the players over the years scrolled across the telescreen. Yvon represented the 1970’s, Rod the 80’s, and Dale the 90’s. I was speculating that current captain Steve Konowalchuk would be skating out to join them, but seeing Calle was a nice surprise. I notice no one is wearing his number 6 this year, so I hope that means his jersey will be retired with the other three. (I’d like to see Mike Gartner’s 11 retired too, for that matter.)

When I saw Timo Blomqvist’s name flash by on the screen, I said “If they didn’t bring him in tonight, I’m going home.” I was just being a smart aleck, but I truly was a big Timo Blomqvist fan.

(Cue the wavy flashback effect.)

Thinking about it, I realize that those mid-80’s Bryan Murray years were my favorite. Some of that is probably situational…I was in school, no responsibilities, so I could make hockey my number one priority. I went to every home game. They were my good old days.

I loved the team we had then, and the gritty, defensive hockey they played. It wasn’t high-scoring and it wasn’t always pretty, at least not a Guy Lafleur-speeding-gracefully-down-the-ice kind of pretty, or a Wayne Gretzky-setting-up-an-impossible-play kinda pretty. It was mucking-and-grinding pretty. They called those guys “plumbers.” I still have a t-shirt from one of those years with the slogan “Hard work gets it done.”

Rod Langway and Mike Gartner are in the Hall of Fame; if you’re a hockey fan you know Scott Stevens. Last night I was boring Victor to death on the Metro ride home with a recitation of the other players I remember so fondly (besides Timo Blomqvist): Doug Jarvis (the Iron Man). Dave Christian (of the USA hockey Christians). Bengt Gustaffson. Gaetan Duchesne (I remember playing Edmonton and watching him stick to the Great One like glue.) Dave Shand. Bob Gould. Alan Haworth. Pat Riggin. Al Jensen.

These are all really happy memories until I think about the playoffs. Last time I saw Dave Shand he was behind the bench in a coat and tie, and he turned his back to the ice in the final second of the loss to the Islanders that ended the playoffs and his time in the NHL.

Back then I used to get very emotional.

(Every once in a while Victor catches me mis-remembering something. I’ll have a playoff series in the wrong season, or think two players were on a line together when in reality they weren’t even on the team at the same time. So I guess I’m saying, take my reminiscing with a grain of salt. I did leave a few brain cells behind in the Showcase Pub & Eatery, and in the intervening years I have had other priorities replace hockey at the top. Then there’s that false memory syndrome so common in those who have suffered great emotional trauma.)

So (back to the present) a 6-1 win is a good thing, and it was a good game. There's a fine group of players in Capitals uniforms, and maybe one day I will impress (or bore) the kids with stories of Peter Bondra and Olie Kolzig. And I think it's situational...I'm an adult now, I need to worry about work and a list of other responsibilities. So as good as it may get, these just aren't my good old days.

Posted by Nic at 14:20 | Comments (1) | TrackBack

9. oktoober 2003

Bikes...on target

My picture post last night was just an experiment to see if I could use Adobe Photoshop Element’s automatically-generated web album feature on Movable Type. I’m getting really lazy in my old age and I balk at hand coding anymore. Anyway, I just pulled nine random pictures from the files to do my test and Heather noticed that one was a bike. (Victor on his 2002 Jamis Ventura, in fact.)

Once upon a time I was a cyclist, at least in the serious recreational sense. Then our bodies started falling apart, and the house started falling apart from all those weekends of complete neglect (Go for a ride, or recaulk the shower? Tough decision there!), and we obtained a houseful of rodents.

The rides also started to feel more dangerous. The area where we used to ride most was a pretty rural part of the county without much traffic, especially on Sundays. And we got on the road early, 7:30, 8:00. But as the development spread and the traffic picked up, I lost some of my comfort on the road.

I’ve only really been scared twice. Once I was in the parking lot of a 7-11 where I’d stopped for Gatorade, and a guy in a big pickup truck said something to the effect of “Cyclists don’t belong on roads and I should run you over,” but with a lot more profanity. I was with a group that day, at least. The second time was a Friday afternoon when I’d gotten off work early, so I’d gone out to do a few miles in the neighborhood before rush hour. This time a tow truck driver passed me, backed up, and then suggested that if I wanted something between my legs he had something better than a bicycle seat, but his tone was not exactly flirtatious. That was the last time I rode alone.

Mixed use trails are a mixed blessing…I like being away from scary trucks, but the trade-offs are the kids on rollerblades, the walkers with headphones, the unleashed dogs, etc., etc. I get a bit frustrated when I say “I’m passing you on your left” only to have the person then leap to the left, sending me off the path into the poison ivy to avoid running them over.

So now I pretty much only ride in parks with roads. I feel a little stupid putting my bike on a rack and driving 15 minutes to do ten miles, but it gives me the peace of remaining in one piece. For me it’s just recreation, though, so I can make the decision to ride only were I feel it’s as safe as it gets.

My brother lives in Austin, home of American hero Lance Armstrong. I understand Lance is routinely run off the road and a target for bottles thrown from vehicles. My brother uses a bike as his primary transportation (he’s a young starving artist type and can’t afford a car) and I worry constantly about him. My cousin, similar situation, commutes by bike up in Baltimore; he was hit by a car last year and ended up in the hospital with a bunch of broken bones and a new appreciation for helmets.

This summer, radio “shock jocks” in Raleigh, Cleveland, and Houston all broadcast some of that hysterical, cutting-edge shock jock banter about running cyclists off the road, throwing bottles at them, and other witty ways to try to kill them. The League of American Bicyclists is trying to fight back, and VeloNews had an interesting piece on the legal aspects.

But it isn’t the disc jockeys that bother me so much as it’s the people calling in to echo the sentiment of the driver in the 7-11 parking lot…apparently there are a lot of people out there who see targets on the backs of cycylists.

Posted by Nic at 11:42 | Comments (3) | TrackBack

8. oktoober 2003

What happens if I...

test-beercanchix test-bike test-byrd
test-fedex test-krycek test-ncaatrophy
test-ocean test-pianoplayer test-rizzo
Posted by Nic at 19:32 | Comments (5) | TrackBack

This will be of no interest

I think toxicology is one of the coolest of the ~ologies, so my ears always perk up when there’s a news story with a toxicology angle.

Right now we have one here, because a local school had to be shut down because of mercury contamination. That isn’t a completely unheard-of event…two schools in Mississippi and a library in Indiana had mercury problems last month.

Mercury cleanup is an expensive proposition, and the kids in DC did a lot of damage, spreading somewhere around 250 milliliters of it around the school. (Apparently they thought it looked like something from a Terminator movie when they flung it off their fingers.)

Mercury is fun. I don’t know anyone my age or older that doesn’t have a story or two about playing with a broken thermometer or barometer and chasing those slippery silver balls around a tabletop or floor. The problem is that the amount of mercury in a thermometer (about half an ounce to an ounce) is sufficient to kill a small child.

Mercury’s chief hazard is chronic inhalation of the fumes. In household poisonings, you usually find that somebody breaks a thermometer or something, the mercury vaporizes and persists in the environment (spread through the house by the vacuum cleaner in some cases) and the family breathes it in. Kids are at biggest risk, and serious poisoning can result from less than two weeks’ exposure.

The symptoms include tremors, clumsiness, personality changes, memory problems, and emotional instability. (You know the phrase “mad as a hatter”? Hatters used mercuric nitrate in making felt for the hats, and their chronic occupational exposure left them, well, mad.)

I was reading through the tox literature on mercury poisoning this morning. I was actually trying to find a specific case that I remember from a few years ago where two boys had broken something (I think it was a sphygmomanometer) in their bedroom and hidden it from their parents. Both boys were hospitalized with neurological problems and the younger brother did die. I couldn’t find that specific case. I was surprised, though, that a lot of the reported poisonings aren’t from accidents with mercury-containing items, but from people trying to refine gold or extract silver from old dental amalgam in their kitchens. Home smelting, who’d have thunk it?

Even more interesting (in a I-never-would-have-thought-of-this way) is the exposure from certain religious rituals. Apparently mercury is sold as “azogue” and is sprinkled around the house or burned in candles (which is a great way to vaporize it) in Esperitismo, Santeria, and Voodoo. (I don’t know much, I admit, about any of them. They kinda scare me, and they scared me before I found out they were into mercury poisoning.)

There was some discussion on a safety mailing list to which I belong about how we all, as kids, used to play with mercury. Being chemists, lab safety officers, industrial hygienists, etc., nobody thinks that the remediation efforts in DC are overkill, and nobody is giving their kids a handful of mercury to play with now. But in trading stories we did find that our youthful exposure was not insignificant, leading several people to formulate the same hypothesis:

Mercury exposure causes normal people to become safety professionals.

After all, there has to be some explanation...

Posted by Nic at 12:19 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

7. oktoober 2003

My desk on a Monday morning

My desk on a Monday morning.

Actually, I bought a new toy, one of those really cheap fixed-focus, flashless digital cameras. The thing is about two inches square, and it runs on a AAA battery. It takes pretty poor pictures...or gives the pictures a surreal quality, if you like things with a positive spin. I'm having fun with it, though.

Here's my view from the Metro window.

And finally, a self-portrait.

Posted by Nic at 19:31 | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Chili today, hot tamale

One thing I like about the cool weather coming in is the chance to make chili again. (I suppose I could make chili in the summer, but it doesn't feel right somehow.)

I've been fooling with a chili recipe for a few years now, and I finally have it how I like it...minimal work, maximum yield. Throw it in the crock pot and get at least three meals out of it.

It also works without meat as a vegetarian chili; that is actually the way I make it most often now.

Brown about a pound of ground meat...beef, turkey, pork, a mixture. Drain the meat and retain a small amount of the grease.

Or, if you want to go vegetarian, use a little olive oil in a frying pan.

Cook a chopped onion and two cloves of chopped garlic in the grease or olive oil. When the onion is soft, pour a few ounces of beer in the pan. Add the meat back in, if you're using meat.

It doesn't matter what kind of beer, although I wouldn't use anything too sweet. I'd say a "full-bodied ale" would be best.

Simmer the onions, garlic, and meat in the beer for a few minutes.

While that simmers, drain a can of kidney beans and a can of black beans. Dump the beans and a 28-ounce can of undrained tomatoes (crushed are good. If you use whole tomatoes, break them up.) into a heavy pot (or Crock-Pot), then add the onion, garlic, meat, and beer.

If you aren't using meat, drain and add another can or two of beans. I usually go for variety...maybe a can of pintos and a can of navy beans.

Season to taste with Super Secret Chili Spice Mix and cook over low heat (or on low in the crockpot) for an hour or more.

Serve over spaghetti, topped with chopped raw onion, chopped fresh tomato, cheddar cheese, and maybe a little sour cream if you were too heavy-handed with the Super Secret Chili Spice. (That stuff sneaks up on ya.)

Leftovers make a good lunch wrapped in a tortilla, and very small amounts of leftovers can even be used as an omlette filling.

Posted by Nic at 14:56 | Comments (4) | TrackBack

5. oktoober 2003


I had a surprise visit from one of my oldest friends this weekend. We grew up together, but he moved out west a few years ago and I only see him every year or so when he's home to visit the family. One of the funny things about him is that he usually calls me when he's here, not days or weeks before when he plans the trips, so it's always a surprise.

Anyway, he always says "Come visit me sometime!" And I never have, because that would involve getting on a plane, and I don't do that.

I have flown. If I truly had to, I would fly. For example, my brother lives in Texas (I have never visited him either) and if he called and said he needed me, I'd be on the next plane out. But I won't do it unless it is absolutely necessary.

It is a phobia. I have three: flying, water, and fire.

Actually, I'm afraid of crashing, drowning, and suffocation and burning...

The water one is the only one I can understand. It is still an unreasonable fear, but I know where I got it. I was caught in a rip current in the Gulf of Mexico once, and I honestly thought I was going to drown. It's a bit of a longer story than that, but for the purpose of this post, the result was that I can no longer get past my knees in a natural body of water without my heart pounding, cold sweats, and an imposible-to-ignore urge to return to dry land.

With fire, it's more of a paranoia than a phobia. I actually love to watch campfires, fires in fireplaces, that sort of thing. I build a good campfire. I'm just absolutely terrified of a fire in my house. I'm not sure why this is, either...I mean, a healthy concern is one thing, it makes people change the batteries in their smoke detectors and (ahem) quickly exit buildings when an alarm sounds. But my concern has a pathological quality to it. A few years ago I realized that the wiring in my basement was a little unusual, and until I had an electrician check it out, I used to call home during the day to see if my answering machine picked up, because if the maching picked up it meant my house hadn't burned down. I know that's not normal.

And for flying...again, no idea where it came from. A neighbor of ours was killed in the Air Florida crash in '82, but I know people who have died in automobile crashes and I still drive. It wasn't 9/11, because I was scared to fly before then. Since then, though, I have found flying easier to avoid because my company cut way back on business travel, and instead of having to justify not going out of town, my bosses are pleased when I come to them with local training and travel alternatives.

Actually admitting my phobias is new for me. For years I have found excuses to turn down sailing invitations, rafting trips, and swimming. I've had excuses for missing weddings and visits (like to my friend) that required flying. Just recently I started to admit it, and people have actually been, at least to my face, understanding.

This weekend my friend called my bluff, and when I hemmed and hawed about having time to go see him, he said "Do you just not want to fly?" I said well, yeah, actually, that's pretty much it.

He gave me a hug and said "We have an Amtrak station."

All aboard.

Posted by Nic at 10:34 | Comments (1) | TrackBack

3. oktoober 2003

No, really, I don't care

We had a fire drill today.

I'm curious...those of you who don't work in safety-related jobs, do you hate fire drills? Do you try to get out of leaving the building during a fire drill? Do you think the safety manager is a moron for making you go through the ridiculous effort of a fire drill when, obviously, anyone with half a brain is going to be able to get out of the building just fine, thank you very much?

Pehaps those are leading questions.

So I was monitoring the fire drill, and actually I didn't hear too much grumbling today, probably because is was a beautiful, cloudless, crisp afternoon and even the biggest complainers welcomed a ten-minute break in the sun. But I did catch a few people who, when the alarm sounded, passed two available exit doors and went down a stairwell to get personal belongings from their offices before leaving the building.

"I never leave the building without my purse."

"What if there was a fire and we couldn't go back in? How would I get home without my keys?"

"Somebody might steal my money while the building is empty."

I don't care any more. The problem is, I can't say that out loud (well, I shouldn't. I have said it, and my boss pretended to ignore it. He implied that I should not say it again.)

I'm sure this is a training issue, but I am at a loss as to how to train adults who think that going down a stairwell to retrieve their keys and purses in a potentially burning building makes sense.

Much like I said about the health issues a couple days ago, there are a few people at work that I care about. My sister works there, and for her I might even do the supremely unsafe and stupid and go into a burning building to try to get her out if it came to it...she has three kids and I don't. But the rest...crispy critters. Maybe you should have paid a little more attention during the safety assembly.

I care if I get fired. I care if I get sued.

And as much as I wish I didn't, I obviously care about the people I say I don't care about, otherwise this would not still be on my mind at 11:30 on Friday night.

Posted by Nic at 23:25 | Comments (1) | TrackBack

2. oktoober 2003

Get that man a Strunk & White

I'm not going to say much about the Rush Limbaugh thing. I don't like him, it was a stupid thing to say, and I think he was quite wrong anyway. I'll be perfectly happy without him on ESPN.

But one thing bugged the heck out of me: The media has been very desirous...

I think it's the use of the present perfect continuous tense instead of the plain ol' present tense (the media desires...) that's making the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

That put me in a bad grammar mood, then on the way to work I heard a county councilman interviewed on the radio. He was still complaining about the power outages after the Isabel, and he wants the power company to "underground" the wires. He used it several times: If we undergrounded wires the trees couldn't knock them out. Undergrounding is worth the expense.

I was pounding the steering wheel yelling "Bury! Bury! The word you are looking for is bury!"

(I suppose people in hastily-typed blog houses shouldn't throw grammatical stones...I hope at least this whiny entry is error-free.)

Posted by Nic at 17:37 | Comments (1) | TrackBack

1. oktoober 2003

Now the good news

Now, if I did work for the Center for Thoughtful and Reasonable Analysis of All Available Data with Appropriate Advisories on the Limitations of Said Data for Informed and Responsible Individuals Who Are Willing to Make Decisions and Accept the Consequences, I would be all over this research:

A study in this month's European Journal of Clinical Nutrition is reporting that it is unlikely that beer intake is associated with obesity.

The researchers stated in their objective that"[t]here is a common notion that beer drinkers are, on average, more 'obese' than either nondrinkers or drinkers of wine or spirits. This is reflected, for example, by the expression 'beer belly'."

After studying male and female beer drinkers and non-drinkers (no alcohol, that is) in the Czech Republic, the researchers found that men who drank beer and smoked did have a higher waist-to-hip ratio, but in nonsmoking men and in women the waist-to-hip ratio was not increased. In men the body mass index was not related to beer drinking, and in women, the beer drinkers actually had lower BMIs than the nondrinkers.

Forget the burrito, gimmie a beer.

Posted by Nic at 20:35 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

This won't get me back to church

I just went through today's e-mail, and I noticed that in the midst of the porn spam and the prescription drug spam I had a lot of "meet Christian singles" spam. That's weird. Maybe because I never responded to the generic dating service offers they sent, they are trying some niche marketing...maybe Ill get "meet Wiccan singles" next.

This one looks particularly suspicious, or at least particularly creepy:

Subject: Saw YOU in church, loved what I saw.
I saw you at church this sunday and I fell in love wow...
Click below to chat up with this person!
Click Here - it'sFREE!

Posted by Nic at 19:09 | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Bean burritos (again)

I have a bean burrito addiction. (Actually, all Mexican food, but bean burritos in particular.) I heard on the news yesterday that the Center for Science in the Public Interest had evaluated the menus at Baja Fresh and Chipotle, two of the fast food places where I frequently indulge in my bean burrito fixes, and I had a pretty good idea that I'd be dismayed by the results.

I already knew the damage from Baja Fresh, because they have their nutrional information on their web page. I'm in Weight Watchers and I'd looked everything up to calculate the points. I have been frustrated that Chipotle didn't have the numbers available (I even e-mailed and asked). Now I know why...just the freakin' tortilla has 340 calories.

So the burrito I get, the vegetarian without sour cream or cheese, is still 980 calories and 36 grams of fat.

I did a quick Internet search to find the whole report and I stumbled across an interesting web page...kinda the anti-CSPI. It's called the Center for Consumer Freedom, which has representatives from the restaurant industry, food companies, and consumers. (I wonder who the consumers are.) Their press release response to the CSPI had me rolling, especially

"Once again, the killjoys at CSPI have made lemons out of lemonade," said Richard Berman, Executive Director of the Center for Consumer Freedom. "This ridiculous tirade against Mexican dining is a classic reminder that while most of us derive pleasure from food, CSPI exists only to whine about it. As usual, the group's latest so-called research is a complete rejection of common sense, and suggests that Americans are too stupid to make their own food choices."

Now, ok, CSPI gets quite bombastic in some of their publications (one of their regular features is called "Food Porn"), but at least they are getting the nutritional information out there. Since health information in the popular press seems to be of the "This Will Kill You" or the "This Will Cure You" variety, a certain hysteria is probably inevitable.

(When I was in journalism school I did a semester-long independent study with a scientific reporter. It is difficult to report on many scientific subjects without dumbing the material down too much or being too complex...and the average reader of the average daily paper or weekly magazine is looking for the "And this affects me how...?" angle. So I'm not saying that to bash "the press.")

Oh, and I do appreciate the information that CSPI gets out. I do want to know that a Chipotle tortilla is 340 calories. They irk me, though, when they go beyond informing and start calling for recalls of products, as they are with a meat substitute called Quorn. A lot of people are sensitive to Quorn and get a pretty bad reaction. I sympathize, because I have food sensitivities and I've experienced the adverse reaction in a public place thing, and that ain't cool at all. But I can tolerate Quorn. I like it. And while I think that every box should have a label warning people that a percentage of the population has a sensitivity or intolerence, and while I think that every product that includes it should be adequately labelled so that sensitive people can avoid it, darn it, I want to be able to buy it.

Switching tirades back to the Center for Consumer Freedom...I loved the comment about Americans being to stupid to make their own food choices. The CDC reports the prevalence of obesity among adults to be almost 20%, way up from the last ten years. Is their an adult left in the country who hasn't seen the data on the health consequences of obesity?

I can probably count on my hands the number of people in the country whose health actually concerns me. If everybody else wanted to eat three Big Macs a day I really don't care. I don't care if people smoke unfiltered Camels and shoot heroin either. Or if they ride motorcycles without helmets. My only objection to any of that is the economic cost I need to absorb when the consequences of their decisions catch up to them, but hey. I walk and hike in tax-supported public parks that the morbidly obese, hypertensive, diabetic, arthritic non-exerciser doesn't use. So maybe it evens out in the end.)

I had a point...oh yeah. Some people are downright stupid, but some of us are just busy. So the information necessary to exercise common sense needs to be available. It's on cigarettes, it's on alcohol, it can be on a burrito.

Personally I'd love to work for the Center for Thoughtful and Reasonable Analysis of All Available Data with Appropriate Advisories on the Limitations of Said Data for Informed and Responsible Individuals Who Are Willing to Make Decisions and Accept the Consequences.

But I'm not quitting my day job.

Posted by Nic at 12:32 | Comments (1) | TrackBack