Sunday, January 30, 2011

Reality Check

Egotism is the anesthetic that dulls the pain of stupidity.  ~Frank Leahy

I was all proud of myself for dropping fifteen pounds, patting myself on the back, and celebrating the result of applied self discipline and focus on a goal. I'm wearing pants I haven't been able to fit in since 2008 - and they even need a belt!  So I thought to myself, what else can I wear? Then, yesterday I dug into my coat closet and pulled out my favorite leather riding jacket; the tapered one with the preacher collar.

Well, today is Sunday and I'm looking for an open bank because I need to cash a reality check. The photos below are of me in this very jacket in 2007 and trying to fit into it today.

2007 & Today
I suppose in the grand scheme of things, an awakening like this is a good thing. Actually, after reading what I just typed, I'm not sure I really believe that.  It's just another disappointing example of how far I've let myself go the last few years.  I had no intention of even taking this jacket on the Alaskapade, but I'll be damned if I can't fit into it by June 18th.

The reality is that having goals to reach for is very motivating for me and realizing them actually brightens many unrelated aspects of my life. That said, this goal is lofty enough that if I realize it, I'll need to wear a welder's helmet to keep from going blind.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

225 Pounds - 15 Down - 25 To Go

Dieting sucks. However, the rewards of eating better and working out on a daily basis do not. In my case, these results do a pretty good job of motivating me to continue with the discipline I've been recently enforcing upon myself, which is actually making the diet suck less.

Since I realized (and finally admitted to myself) the terrible shape I am in, I've made some lifestyle changes. I've cut out all processed sugar.  I've dramatically decreased my caffeine intake to an occasional glass of tea with dinner and a 5-Hour Energy shot now and then on weekends. The only soda I drink is Diet Rite Pure Zero, which has no carbs, sugar, caffeine, and no sodium. Despite all that, it actually tastes good.  I've cut alcohol altogether. I was never much of a drinker, so that one was easy.  My diet consists of lean meats, lots of poultry, plenty of low carb/low starch veggies, and if you question my commitment, I'm even eating fish.  People who know me know I do not eat fish. Now that I'm eating the right things, I just need to start eating them in smaller portions. Baby steps...

I've also been in the gym every weekday since December 27th. It's funny, but simply having the LA Fitness bar code tag on my key chain did nothing to advance my physical condition. The tag was peeling apart and the bar code was barely visible. They issued me a new one and low and behold, I'm wearing jeans I haven't been able to fit into in three years and the scale reads fifteen pound lighter. That new tag rocks!

My workouts consist primarily of cardio routines. I usually knock out three miles and 600 calories on the elliptical trainer in thirty minutes with loud, hard rock music blasting in my headphones.  I also occasionally get my a$$ handed to me in the racquetball court. I love racquetball and used to play every day. Even then, I sucked at it. I make a great target for those little blue balls and I usually come home with welts all over my back.  Nevertheless, my plan is to stick to the cardio work through January and then get back to weight training. I always bulk up fast and will have to maintain a balanced ratio of usable muscle and flexibility to just plain bulk.

The true test of my new-found discipline will be how well I stick to the diet and exercise routine when I travel.  Being on the road 45 or more weeks out of the year makes it difficult to maintain a routine. That's my reason, although really it's no excuse.  The reality is I have no excuse because the hotels I stay in all have some sort of exercise facility and I have a per diem rate that allows me to eat healthy.

I'm told muscle outweighs fat 2:1.  If that's true, I anticipate the weight drop will slow down dramatically, even beyond the typical plateau we all experience once I get back into the weights. I'm hoping the proper eating habits will continue to facilitate a consistent weight drop as the muscle mass increases.  I spent the last three years putting this weight on.  It ain't gonna fall off overnight. I have another five months to realize my goal.

Next weight update at 210 pounds.  Don't hold your breath. It could be a while.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Atlas Old and New

My helmet camera isn't the only new toy I've been playing with lately.  My 21st century atlas - the Garmin GPS I recently installed - has more perks than Micheal Jackson's nightstand.  Yet, for all its new found functionality, there are plenty of options I doubt I'll ever use. I know I have a somewhat technical occupation, but I tend to see the world more like checkers than chess and there are times when I prefer the simple to the complex.  One GPS feature I will use on the Alaskapade is its audio book player. The Zumo supports the Audible format and I love audio books. I got hooked on them when I was driving a weekly 600-mile commute to and from Houston for eighteen months. Among countless others, I devoured almost everything from Michael Chrichton, John Grisham, David Baldacci, and all of Dan Brown's work.I'll certainly use the mp3 player too and have literally months worth of tunes to keep me occupied.

I’ve decided on this trip to revisit my all-time favorite novel in Audible format. Written in 1957 by Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged takes a novel approach - figuratively and literally - to explain where America is heading. As a country, we started meandering down a slippery slope of  political correctness and collectivism back in the 1960's.  In 2009, our winding road became a straight vertical plunge at Autobahn speed. To deny it is like saying Ann Frank was just trying to avoid paying rent.  It takes 63 hours to listen to the unabridged version of Atlas Shrugged.  I can’t imagine Ms. Rand knowingly/willingly submitting any of her work to an abridged format, but it was available from Audible.  63 hours is nothing really, because on this trip I have nothing but time.

As I said, I've enjoyed audio books for years.  And really, who doesn’t like being read to?  I remember being read to by Ms. Franklin in the kindergarten class at St. David’s Episcopal Church I attended as a kid.  My family wasn’t Episcopalian.  In fact, my grandfather was a Methodist Lay Preacher.  We only went to church on Easter and Christmas and I remember I always got a new suit.  No wonder I’m an Agnostic now.  Agnosticism  does have its benefits. I'll likely never be born again because I'm pretty sure I got it right the first time. I went to this Episcopal school because my mom worked at Harper Printing across the street.  For some reason, I often saw my mom at the school talking to the faculty.  I suppose it was convenient working so close. Thinking back, there might have been another reason or two; or twelve.

For story time in Ms. Franklin’s class, we would lie on our pallets (mine was an old bathroom rug) and she would read aloud from various books to us.  The Mouse and the Motorcycle was my favorite, but I always fell asleep during story time so I missed the end of that one.  If that happens with Atlas Shrugged on this trip, I’m in big trouble.

Ms. Franklin was ancient.  Looking back, I suppose she was the Episcopal equivalent of a Nun and she looked like a mummy without its wrapping.  She wore her white hair in a tight bun and she had thick black whiskers sparsely spread over her upper lip.  We kids were all fascinated by her teeth, which she kept in a jar of water on her desk which magnified them to an unreal size.  She only put them in to talk when the pastor came into the classroom. He showed up daily to read us a Bible  story- and to yell at me for something I did.  I remember once asking him if there any Bible stories about Ms. Franklin.

As difficult to believe as this may sound, for some reason Ms. Franklin didn't like me. I’m not sure if it was because I scribbled an entire sixteen color Crayola crayon carton onto the walls of the time out room  (a closet), or if it was because I once locked her and the rest of the faculty out of the classroom, forcing them to break a window to get in at me.  Maybe it was because of the time I knocked over a candelabrum during  a daily compulsory chapel service and accidentally set a tapestry on fire.  Who knows?  It might have had something to do with something I once did with her teeth when she wasn’t looking.  She never would have found out if some other kid hadn't snitched.  Regardless, I remember her being very impatient with me.  But I digress…

I challenge anyone reading this to read Atlas Shrugged and if you don’t see parallels to what is going on in our country today, then you either didn’t really read it or your comprehension level is on par with my crayon scribbles on the wall at St. Mark’s.  In that case, the The Mouse and the Motorcycle might be for you.  If so, do me a solid and tell me how it ends.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Three Weeks in Purgatory

Not much to say with respect to the Alaskapade this week, although the trip is constantly in the back of my mind.  I think about it constantly. I dream about it at night.  I Tivo every DirecTV broadcast that has Alaska in the title.  However,I drew the line at watching Sarah Pailin's daughter on that dancing show.  This week, I'm working in a north central Ohio steel mill where the indoor temperature hovers around 20 degrees.  That isn't terribly cold, really; at least not to the locals.  It's the constant overcast gray skies outside with the absolute lack of shadows that really gets to me.

The world outside the plant can be downright depressing. You can tell any local economy is in the toilet when the largest employers are the public school system and the local hospital.  This mill is located in an economically depressed part of Ohio, which is actually most of the state. I'm told it was once the second largest employer in the city, employing roughly with 1,500 workers.  GM was the largest employer, but they recently closed their plant.  This mill manufactures stainless steel which will ultimately be used in automobile mufflers. Now, there are much fewer employees, most of whom work their asses off in the harshest of environments while constantly looking over their shoulders watching for the human resources ax. It makes me wonder what the state of this mill will be if sales of hybrid or electric vehicles ever gains traction.

This project started way back in April of 2010 with a phone call to ascertain the client requirements and the state of their existing network.  After learning that the existing network at this location was the technological equivalent of a gerbil spinning an exercise wheel connected to an abacus, my recommendation to the sales guy pushing the deal was to send them to Fry’s or Best Buy.  I pretty much blew it off then, figuring the worst that could happen was a few trips to Ohio where the temperatures are pretty mild during the summer.  The client acted in a manner which was as timely as their network was modern and I found myself in Ohio in the not-so-mild winter months of December and January.

My role here is that of an objective third party consultant observing the performance of two wireless LAN equipment manufacturers’ gear in the mill. I get to wear my consultant hat, my architect hat, and my engineer hat. I left my sales hat at home.

Some of the equipment here was manufactured in the 1930's, but its control mechanisms have been updated over the years. There are wireless control options available now that just a few years ago were never dreamed of.  Someone here got the nutty idea that a competitive bake-off between two vendors would yield the most promising wireless solution at the most competitive price.  Even nuttier is the fact that two vendors actually signed up to the challenge.

The implementation phase commenced the first week with one vendor arriving in the morning and selecting the most suitable locations for their radios based on anticipated performance and client requirements. Also considered were radio mounting restrictions due to overhead cranes and areas of intense heat.  When the second vendor arrived that afternoon and saw the first vendor’s placement markings, they miraculously selected the same locations. It was a classic case of “let’s do that they do in case they thought of something we didn’t.”  I must have thought of things neither of them did because I wouldn’t have picked any of the locations they did.  Nevertheless, after a few weeks, the gear was installed by the client with each of the vendors’ radios in very close proximity to the other.  It’s like going to The Home Depot.  Stand in the parking lot and look around and you will most likely see a Lowes within walking distance.

These are the most safety conscious (if not safety obsessed) people I've ever seen.  Granted, this is a potentially hazardous environment, but the company goes way overboard. If there's a hand rail, you must have one hand on it - even if there are no stairs. If there is a crack in the cement, you must stop, look at it, and then point at it for anyone following you before crossing it. Those following you repeat the same exercise.  I suppose with the litigious nature of employees these days and labor union influence, these steps are necessary.

Yum! Kevlar Sleeves!!
I would love to be the sales guy who has the safety equipment account for this place.  They buy everything and then force their employees to wear it while trying to do their jobs. They even have vending machines in the break rooms with reflective vests, safety goggles, ear plugs, and a plethora of other gadgets. To enter the plant, you have to wear a pair of ultra-thick coveralls, safety goggles, a construction helmet complete with a flashing red light, a breathing mask, articulating steel toe and heel boots, ear plugs, and these ridiculous Kevlar-infused cloth sleeves that clip to the coverall shoulders and completely cover the arms and hands. The reason behind the sleeves was to prevent cuts to the fingers and thumbs.  Ironically, the sleeves cover neither the fingers nor the thumbs.  The outfit reminds me of brand new motorcycle riders who buy a Gold Wing and wear the brightest day glow yellow/green coveralls available with reflective stripes sewn into every seam. I was that way with my Honda XL-100 that I rode when I was 15 years old. Despite the nuclear day glow outfit, I still got plowed by a clueless cager one day on my way home from high school - and there were no cell phones or texting to distract the driver. The most high tech equipment in a car back then was a cassette deck.  So much for being ultra visible.  This driver, a woman, was cited for DWA - Driving While Asian.  But I digress.

Monkey Suit Mirror Man
So we dress up in gear that rivals an astronaut's extravehicular activity space suit and attempt to perform work that requires a significant amount of dexterity in an extremely noisy environment with particulate matter so thick that the breathing mask turns black within minutes. If all this wasn't enough, the temperature inside the mill can swing from 20 to 120 degrees in a matter of seconds.  It's freezing cold between steel processing runs and then when the steel flows, you're sweating profusely.  I almost felt sorry for myself for having to be here until I realized some of these workers have been here over 30 years.  It makes my three weeks here seem like a vacation in purgatory by comparison.

This is my third week here wrapping up the competitive performance tests.  Next week, I will chew on the data and score each vendor’s performance using a predetermined set of criteria. Then, I’ll write up a fabulous report complete with RF coverage maps, data throughput readings, and some really cool photos and diagrams that make me look like a genius. I will be careful to be objective and in my best Officer Bill Gannon persona, will report just the facts, ma’am as I present the findings to my client’s executive team. Afterward, said client will likely ignore all of the technical data and the efforts exhausted to collect and report it, fold the report into paper airplanes,  and just select the vendor with the lowest price.

As frustrating as this process has been, the reality is that working among the people here reminds me of just how fortunate I am to have the job I do.  My sentence in Purgatory was only for three weeks.  These people are here for eternity.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Another Video Test

I took advantage of this last Saturday's clear weather to make another run with the new helmet cam.  This time, I set it at 1080p resolution.  The difference between 1080 and 720 is dramatic.  I also tried an external microphone, which makes the sound much clearer.  The stereo is very clear on this one; well, as clear as a live AC/DC concert could be.

Unfortunately, I failed to properly adjust the rotating camera lens for the camera's position on the side of my helmet, so the video is slanted slightly. Lesson learned!

Here's the YouTube link in case blogspot screws it up.
Helmet Video Cam 1080p Test

Saturday, January 8, 2011

More Trip Supplies

Zeus - 3 Years Old
Ebay and must love me. For that matter, so must UPS.  I'm pretty sure DHL doesn't though.  I often leave the front door of my house open with the glass storm door closed.  On one occasion a niece was visiting and my boxer Zeus was on patrol. Boxers are great family dogs. They look frightening to the right people.  They instinctively seek out someone in the house who "needs" their protection and then assign themselves as that person's guardian.  In Zeus' case, protection of the youngest in the house at any given time is his life's mission.  He is every bit as fiercely loyal as he is sweet and gentle.

For all his gentile nature and sweetness, Zeus tends to also be very territorial. He used to run around looking up at the sky and barking at birds for having the nerve to fly over our, or I should say his yard.  Recognizing the above description as fact, it should not have been any surprise that when the DHL delivery guy arrived, Zeus was there to greet him. The driver was unknowingly safe in Zeus' watchful eye as he walked up to the porch. That measure of safety ceased to exist when said driver reached out and committed the Cardinal sin of touching the glass door. With Matrix movie-like precision and speed, Zeus was at the door before the driver saw him coming. Knowing Zeus, speed was of the essence and a warning bark was the last thing on his mind.  So before the DHL driver knew what was happening, Zeus was not only at the foyer, but had managed to hit the latch, opening the glass door. Before the driver was aware of the situation and could react by turning to run, Zeus had bit him in the ass. Zeus stopped the chase as soon as the driver was off our porch. This was irrelevant to the driver who tossed everything into the air, fled across our circular front driveway, and leaped over the boxwood shrubs barely touching the ground before landing in his van and slamming the sliding door shut. I waited for DHL's lawyers to call, although they never did. But to this day, DHL drivers will call and have us meet him at the end of the street to accept a delivery.

What has this to do with Amazon and Ebay? Nothing really. But I've ordered lots of goodies I need for the Alaskapade and most of it has been delivered by UPS.

I wrote in a previous entry about finding the Alpine Catalyst tent at REI. I set it up a few days ago and it took me less than ten minutes sight unseen and without instructions. I originally wanted a single person tent, but Zach at REI talked me into a two-man tent explaining that I would probably want to offload gear from my bike when I camp. A single man tent has barely enough room for one guy.  The tent I scored is labeled as a three man tent.  I gotta tell you, after setting it up and crawling inside, if this is a three man tent, let's just say the three men would have to sleep in an arrangement that would make me question their manhood. Since buying the tent, UPS has delivered a Recon 3 lightweight/cold weather sleeping bag, and an insulated inflatable sleeping pad, and pillow from Big Agnes. All of these are ruggedized and suitable for cold weather.  The best feature of all of them is that they are made for backpackers, so they compress really tightly.  This is absolutely necessary for motorcycle transport. I'm trying to avoid looking like the Beverly Hillbillies riding with all my gear on the trip. I figure that with the inside of my King Tour Pak and the luggage rack atop it, the saddle bags, and the back pack and its top roll that will sit on the passenger seat behind me (giving me lumbar support and storage), I'll have plenty of space for the necessities. I might even find room for Granny's rocking chair.

Alaskapade Camping Gear

Zeus - 11 Years Old
 Zeus hasn't bothered any of the recent delivery drivers that have been bringing my Alaskapade supplies. In fact, I think he's barely noticed them. Maybe he likes the brown UPS truck better than the highly-contrasted bright yellow and red DHL vans. Maybe it's because he's eleven years old now and has slowed down considerably.  He's since retired his black leather spiked collar and his new mission in life is shadowing my thirteen month-old granddaughter, Brooke.  Zeus and Brooke are great pals. These days, Zeus can be found sitting patiently underneath Brooke's high chair waiting for the fallout.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Another New Toy

This one wasn't a Christmas present.  I bought it for myself.  I needed a new GPS after my mom's trip. The TomTom Rider2 I had used since 2006 still has a 2006 map in it and as detailed in a previous post, I can't upgrade it because the TomTom corporation is woefully technically inept.  I picked the new model I wanted back in October, but waited for a deal  to present itself during the end of year holiday rush.  Let's face it; consumer electronics only get cheaper and with Christmas approaching, I found a killer deal.

I hear from riders all the time how they don't want a GPS; they don't need a GPS.  The reality is many of them probably can't figure out how to use a GPS.  One such rider wearing a Harley do rag, Harley leather jacket, Harley chaps, Harley boots, and a Harley t-shirt reminded me that he wasn't a poser and that real riders don't need a GPS.  He added that he'd rather get lost and run out of gas than be seen with a "babysitter" on his scooter. His ride was a 2003 100th anniversary edition Harley Heritage Softail; a great looking bike with a whopping 5,000 miles on it. I didn't bother to point out to him that Hester has over 12,000 miles on her and that her 1st birthday was December 30th.  Granted, 6,000 of those miles were earned on a two-week trip last summer.  But I've managed to ride another 6,000 miles having been out of town on business for 45 weeks last year.

Poser or not, I don't use a GPS on the bike around town.  It came with an automobile windshield suction cup mount and a cigarette lighter power adapter, which will come in handy for finding my way in any of the cities in which I find myself during my work travel.  As for the Alaskapade, many of the routes I'm considering are very rural. I've received suggestions from riders who have made this trek or who live along the route in Canada and Alaska.  Their routes are way out there and I plan to try to ride every one of them.; specifically the route through the Canadian Rockies, Banff National park, and the Columbia Ice Fields.
Lake Louise - Banff National Park

Driver View of the GPS
Back to my new toy.  I picked up a Garmin Zumo 660 GPS.  It's purpose built for motorcycles and it has an integrated mp3 player with 16GB of storage for tunes, audio books, images, and special route functions. It sports a large touch screen that works with riding gloves. I installed a new fuel door on Hester that has a special mount for the GPS. With this mount the GPS sits securely, right in front of me with its wiring neatly tucked under the gas tank console. It detaches easily, so I can take it when I'm off the bike. Not only can I clearly see the large screen without taking my eyes too far off the road, I can also play the music through Hester's stereo speakers, into wired headphones, or via bluetooth to my helmet intercom stereo speakers.  The tank mount is especially nice because there will be two less devices with dangling wires on the handlebars when I leave in June, leaving room for important accessories like my 12vdc Margarita Masters machine.
Atop the Fuel Door

Gas & Go
I only have one other techie piece to acquire for the trip.  The Find Me Spot GPS Tracker is a must have for a trip like this.  Details on that when I pick it up.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Gotta Drop Some Weight

Holy $hit!  I stepped on the scale and realized that I weigh 240 pounds.  That's fine for a linebacker, but I'm only 5'-10". People who know me didn't believe it when I told them (or maybe they were just being polite) and quite frankly, I'm having a hard time accepting it myself.  Who knew longer hair weighed so much? Seriously, I have no excuse.  Yes, I travel excessively, but I'm fortunate to work for a company who puts me up in decent hotels with gyms. I also have a LA Fitness membership that's been idle for over a year. The reason is a lack of discipline.  That may be a reason, but it's no excuse.

So along with the Alaskapade preparation goal, I have a concurrent goal of dropping forty pounds by my June 18th departure date.   I'm not the weight loss pill, cream, or juice fad type and this isn't so new year resolution whim. Both of my parents died way to young because they failed to take care of their bodies.  I'll do this the old fashioned way by hitting the gym, cutting the crap out of my diet, and just flat eating less.

The photo here is me at 240 on January 1st, 2011. I'll post pics as I reach significant milestones.  I posted this here as a measure of accountability more than any sense of vanity. Believe me; I'm not proud of how I look.