31 December 2010

Last Post of the Year 2010

It is now 12 minutes or so into the new day of December 31, 2010.  If there is anything you wish you could do, or do more often, in the year 2010, now is the time.  Losing weight takes time so that won't count.  So is quitting smoking or changing job.  It has to be that can be done within the hour, I suppose.  For me, that would have to be making a blog post.  How circular, eh?  A blog post for the end of the year, just for the purpose of having something up.

Normally I post at night, at the end of the day.  As my exercise regiment requires, lately I do not stay up past midnight.  Need to have a good night's sleep to wake up early the next day for an 8-km run.  Or some form of exercise.  Today is an exception.  For the past many years, I always welcome the new year at home.  Some years I remember its arrival and watch the festivity in Times Square on TV, some minutes before the ball drop.  More often than not, I totally forgot about it and would realize it only when people on the street tooted some horns.  This year, it will be different.

I have signed up for the Midnight Run, organized by the New York Road Runners and sponsored by Emerald Nuts.  The runners theoretically will run from the old year into the new one.  Just something different to do.  It will be a short, 4-mile run with no official time.  I don't care too much about the pre-race party and don't look forward to the subway ride home, but much as I hate changes, I'll take a chance on this one.  Maybe I'll have some photos to share 24 hours from now when I arrive home safely...

30 December 2010

Blizzard of December 2010

Click on the collage to see the bigger picture.  Sorry for the delay, but I want to play around a bit with some software I have laying around.  Posterino 1.6 was used to make the 3x5 grid of photos then Comic Life Deluxe was used to add the snowflakes.  Using the Spray feature of Comic Life Deluxe, I was able to overlay the snowflakes of various sizes.  Alas, unlike real life, these flakes are not all unique.

24 December 2010

Merry Wordscraper Christmas


Check out the game at http://apps.facebook.com/wordscraper .
If you find waiting for your turn unbearable, play some "word games"in the forum.
My favorite forum games are "Sleepless in Seattle etc" and 
"Quite Witty Even Reasonable Typewriter Yack"

The Running Jokester

Some short time after the Queens Half-Marathon, I decided to run in the New York City Marathon.  It is one thing to want to run the Marathon and something else altogether to be accepted for it.  Some speedy people may get in automatically but for regular slowpokes like me the lottery is one of the few options available.  About 15 years ago when I ran the NYC Marathon, I don't recall of a 9+1 system, i.e. run 9 qualifier races and volunteer for one event and you are guaranteed a spot in the race.  I really dislike the lottery system, especially now that it cost $11 just to be in the lottery.  I am going for the 9+1 option, although I decided to run too late into the year and won't have enough time for the 2011 race.

The recent uproar over the NYRR's selection of runners for the NYC Half-Marathon didn't paint too nice a picture of it.  It appeared money-hungry, ready to grab as much as it can, without a second thought of serving the local runners community.  Still, to me, it's the volunteers that I come across the most during the races.  It seems a lonely and possibly unappreciated job, as people rush about aiming for their best times.  I try to greet them and thank them as I pass them during the runs.  I like to be funny and even quip jokes with them.  I hope they didn't mind but here are some of my "running jokes":

  1. Where are the Four Loko?  (Asked at a water station.  Four Loko is a caffeinated alcohol recently banned in NYC.  Supposedly it worked too much like a drug.  I got a few loud chuckles with this one, or at least I heard people behind me laugh, not sure if it was a coincidence...)
  2. Where's the shortcut?  (All the races I ran so far weaved through the streets or the park.  Surely there must be a shortcut, although you would be cheating yourself only if you take one.)
  3. What are they serving at the finish line anyway?  (It's a good way to encourage oneself to keep going, but I knew for sure it would be cold bagel, banana, or apple.  No toasted bagel with cream cheese, orange juice, or coffee.  I guess that's what the stores are for.)
  4. Should I keep going?  (Best asked a mile or half a mile from the finish line.  The answer, of course, should be "Yes!")
  5. Can I borrow that?  (Shouted to a bicyclist passing by.  I got some laugh along the Grand Concourse during the Bronx Half-Marathon.)

19 December 2010

Ted Corbitt 15K

This morning I ran in the New York Road Runners' Ted Corbitt 15K Race. It was a cold morning, somewhat like the morning I ran from my home to Manhattan's Chinatown, about 16K away. I did the 16K without stopping for water, not that I had any with me and most stores were not open yet at 5:30 in the morning on a Saturday anyway. I only paused here and there to not get in the way of the typical NYC drivers, who turn whenever they want and more often than not don't yield to pedestrians.  The experience prompted me to try a new strategy to improve my time in today's race.  I stopped for water only once, which was also the time when I slowed to a walk.  It would not help to get choked by water going down the wrong pipe because I run and drink.  I still had to sprint near the end, at the 9-mile marker.  (I know, it was a 15K race but all the markers are in miles.  I suppose the NYRR hasn't upgraded their signage to go with the metric system.)  My best time, up to today, was at the Bronx Half Marathon in August of this year - 11:54 minute/mile.  Today's time is 10:57, almost a whopping minute, which is a lot in racing circles.  Of course, the Bronx Half's distance was 13.1 miles while today's race was 9.3, so who knows, another 3 miles more and I may not have a better pace.  On the other hand, maybe because it was my first race in Central Park, there appeared to be too many hills on the course, so it may not be as long as a half-marathon but definitely more challenging.

Running without taking in fluid along the way is probably not the best way to run, but we all have different capabilities so find your limit and try to exceed it.

Oh, no photos this time either.  What would be the point of trying to shave a minute off your pace only to spend some time pausing and taking photos?  I will just have to wait for Bright Room to make their offerings.

What's the word for...

So "refudiate" and "vuvuzela" are the popular words of 2010, but there are words that I wish to know to describe certain popular scenarios or activities.

In these days of multitasking on the computer, with instant messaging a popular form of communication, a typical computer screen can have multiple chat windows up at any given time. Eventually, you end up typing a response intended for someone but sent to another. Hopefully it will not be something like "I really do not like Mr. So-and-So" and sent to Mr. So-and-So! The chance of having such a mistake increases greatly if you use Microsot's Office Communicator. A new chat someone initiates with you simply jumps to the front and commandeer whatever chat you may have going at that time. So, what do you call such a mistake, which involves sending an intant message to the wrong person? Instant mistake? Lame AIM? Mis-chat?

Another typical office faux pas involves conference calls. Leo Laporte wants everyone, or at least everyone who listens to his many podcasts, to use GoToMyPC or GoToMeeting, but I don't know anyone who does. I do spend a good percentage of my time on conference calls, the old-style one with everyone on a phone, voice-only conference, that is. Unless you use some old phones from the late 90s, your phone probably has a mute button. Maybe you have a sudden urge to eat potato chips during the conference call, or need to chat away on some obtrusive OCS window, that is, typing noisily. So you have the mute button pressed. Then suddenly your name is mentioned in vain on the conference call and you need to defend yourself, verbally, of course. You rant on and on about how much money you saved the company by whipping up some kick-ass KiXtart script blah blah blah for twenty-five minutes. Then you realized you were still on mute! What do you call that? Malk (short for mute-talk)? Tomute (talk-on-mute)? Mutestake?

As Foreigner once sang back in the 1980s, I want to know what that word is, I want you to show me.

11 November 2010

Friend Finder - Beyond Facebook

Facebook is a great place to find high school classmates but it should not be the only option.  Explore all the avenues.  One approach is to use the average search engines, be it Google or one of its contenders.  The trick is to enclose the full name in quotes.  Just typing "John" and "Smith" into Google's search box would give results like "John Wong" and "Peter Smith", among other   Things get better if you have the middle name or middle initial.  When searching with middle initial, be sure to use it with and without the period.  For example, search for "Joe M Wong" as well as "Joe M. Wong".  Always go for the more unique names although I did get lucky and found someone with a common first and last name thanks to his middle initial and a business photo.

There are many other social networks that you should explore.  One big hassle with the web is the need to open accounts as you come across new sites.  Luckily, some of the popular social networks, such as Plaxo, readily accepts accounts from the popular sites, like Google.  Even if you have to create a new account with a site, take the plunge.  Some sites have school networks so there may be someone you know from high school waiting to be found.  I must say my own venture into Friendster, Gather, etc got me only messages from scantily clad women and no new leads.

In this day and age, the ideal contact would have an email address but you don't always get that.  There are many web sites that cull info from the white pages etc to give you info on phone numbers and addresses.  I used ZabaSearch, WhitePages, SwitchBoard, etc. and actually found a few people through those phone directories.  Again, unique names help, although in general these phone directories also list the members of the household.  If you happen to know the names of someone's siblings, high school sweetheart, or a parent, the extra info can help narrow down the results.  With free weekends and weeknights, it may not be so bad, cost-wise, to call people in series until you are done with the results list, but it is better to go with the more likely names first.

With the philosophy of leaving no stones left unturned, find high school friends outside of Facebook means using search engines, coupled with using quotes to keep the first name and last name, or even middle initial, together. Join other social networks and look around.  Every person found can potentially lead to another person, or more. Lastly, while email is ideal phone contacts should not be overlooked.

21 October 2010

Find High School Friends On Facebook

I recently had a 25-year reunion with my high school classmates.  Some people liked the event so much they wanted to have another soon, like for the 27th or 30th anniversary.  A committee was quickly formed but it was decided that they will use a professional organizer for help with the locale, hotel, air travel, etc.  I don't know what they will do about finding more classmates.  We had about one hundred classmates for the recent reunion, with perhaps 200 to 300 on Facebook.  Like sending out resumes, the number of people actually going to a reunion will be a percent of the people located, so it helps to find as many people as possible.  Here's what I and other members of my reunion committee did to find people.

Recall that we already had a Google Doc with all the student names from the yearbook and the commencement roster.  The next thing we did was to search for people in Facebook, the definitive social network of the day.  I discovered that there are a few high schools named Newtown around the world.  There was one in Australia, another in Pennsylvania (albeit that one was Marple Newtown High School), one named exactly the same as mine, right nearby in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.  My Newtown was in Elmhurst, Queens, New York.  Facebook is smart enough to offer the choices but people still make mistakes so not everyone who indicated that they graduated from Newtown High in Elmhurst really belong there.

With about 300 people indicating they are Class of 1985 from Elmhurst's Newtown High, the search is almost over, right?  Even if you subtract 5% for those stumblers from the other Newtown, you still have about 280 people to put together a party with, yes?  Unfortunately, some of those people may be just placebooks, i.e. inactive people on Facebook, like those fake books that take up space on a shelf just to show what a full shelf looks like.  Take away another 5% or so.  It's time to tap into the general population on Facebook.

In these days and age, some people think it is easy to find people on the Internet.  Those Classmates.com ads make it sound easy, but it is far from it.  Especially if you don't want to spend any money.  Still, everyone is on Facebook, right?  All you need to do is type in the person's first name and last name then your old friend would be a Friend Request away.  In reality, many of the people we tried to locate had common names that when searched by names alone returned too many hits.  "John Smith" is understandably too common a name, but names in other ethnic groups that may sound uncommon to us turned out to be extremely popular for those cultures.

The clever idea my search partner, M.P., in the Reunion Committee came up with was to search for unique names.  Sure there are some names that we were mistaken about their uniqueness but there are some that are truly unique.  Remember that I mentioned before about the commencement roster listing middle initials?  Combined with the unique names, the middle initials can really help pinpoint a person.  There are many people to find and some people keep in touch with a small circle of friends years after graduation.  Always hope that those people with less common names are still friends with those with common names.  Sometimes we get lucky and the person has a photo that is recognizable.  One of the fun in locating high school classmates was seeing how people change yet certain traits remain.  Find 'em, Friend 'em, let's party!  M.P. was so good at it that she triggered FB's spam detector and got her account suspended.  The lesson here is to go easy with the friending on FB.  Spread the work out among the other board members.

Life is not always so rosy.  There were cases where we found the people, confirmed their identity, maybe even befriended them, only to have them, for whatever reason, drop off FB altogether.  Whenever possible, grab your friends' regular email address and keep it somewhere safe.  Someday FB may start charging money for its use and people may leave it en mass, like some of those groups that sometimes proclaim.

03 October 2010

High School Reunion - Friend Finder

In the old days, I imagine, looking for high school friends so many years after graduation means getting together physically to pore over the yearbook and call people one after another.  Perhaps two people would open their own yearbook and call each other then go over the names and assign them accordingly.  Depending on how long back you go, there may be no telephones to use and you would send out copies of a form letter to the last address known for a person.  Clacking away on typewriters, running the letter through photocopier, fill out the blank after "Dear", sign the letter then fold it, stuff it into the envelope, and address the envelope.  Finally, lick the stamp and affix it then lick the envelope to seal it.  What fun!

My recent search for high school friends didn't happen like that at all.  We were well into the Information Age, with the Information Superhighway running through our houses, at high speed no less.  We didn't have to get together physically.  One of us was on the west side of the U.S. and three were in New York City, although different parts of the city and rarely see each other, at least for me.  We got on CONFERENCE calls, not one-to-one calls like the days of yore, to discuss things to do and progresses.  We actually sent out a few paper letters and they didn't do much good.

One thing we had in common with the old-fashioned approach was the yearbook.  Regardless of how the process of finding friends is done, it has to start with the yearbook.  However, we had a "copy" of the yearbook in the form of a Google Doc, a spreadsheet, to be exact.  It took some time to type in all the names but it was worthwhile.  We could sort the list by last name or by first name, or later as we got more info about the students, by other columns, like whether they were on Facebook or indicated they were interested in the reunion.  Having all the student names in digital form allowed us to also use the search function to find the names.  After 25 years, some of us may remember only the first name of a classmate.  By searching for just that first name and coming across all the last names that go with the found first name, perhaps something in our mind would be jolted to come forward.

Besides the yearbook, we also had access to the commencement roster.  For some reason, the roster had few or no typos at all so it was a good source to fall back onto.  After typing in the names from the yearbook, I also added the names from the roster.  An additional bonus with the roster was many of the names had middle initials.  If you have to find someone whose first name and last name are common, the middle initial makes a big difference.  Yet one other usefulness with the commencement roster is that it may have names of people who somehow were not in the yearbook.  Maybe someone transferred into your school after the yearbook photos were taken.

Whether you plan to do the work of finding high school friends with your committee made up of classmates or use professional search service, the yearbook, in digital form (read: searchable), plus the commencement roster if possible, will get you to a great start.  It is good to have a pack rat on the committee who can type at decent speed.

30 September 2010

How To Run A Successful High School Reunion

Five hours, two years, a quarter of a century.  Amazing as it sounds, they all went by in a flash.  Just a few days, I had my high school reunion, a Silver (25 years) Reunion as a matter of fact.  It took about two years of planning and lasted five hours.  I was part of the Reunion Committee and based on the feedback it was a great success.  Partly for me to look back some day on the event and what led up to it, partly for anyone wishing to organize a high school reunion, here are the process on how to run a successful high school reunion.

You need a committee.  It is a lot of work for any one person.  We were lucky to have people who good at dealing with the various vendors (catering hall, photographer, DJ), taking notes during meetings and sending them out, finding old friends or at least reaching out strangers with the same last names and first names in hope they are your old friends, balancing the checkbook, make polls, keep lists of attendees, and taking care of many other tasks required of the committee.  Not only we put in the work, we also put some some money to get things going.  After all, vendors mostly require deposits.

You need a place to hold the event.  Not one who cares about dancing and drinking, I would have suggested some quiet place to reminisce the past, like a library of sort.  Luckily, we decided the event to be held in New York City so there were many choices to choose from.  We settled upon the Astoria World Manor and pricey as it may be, it was a great choice.  Great location, not too far from the two airports in Queens and near a major highway, roomy hall, great parking, good service, and fancy décor.  Of course, depending on the size of your party, you need to find something that fits.  Whatever, you cannot go wrong if you have dancing and drinking.

You need lots of participants!  According to my yearbook, there were over 800 students, a large population.  It was 2008 so naturally we went mostly with Facebook (FB) to locate those 800+ people.  One nice thing with FB is that when opening up an account, people get to indicate their high schools and such.  The info is then collected in one place, sorted by graduation year, ready for others to pore over.  We found many people this way but it helped also to have our own high school group.  We also had premium accounts with Classmates.com and MyLife.com and they helped somewhat.  Don't forget the personal connections.  Many people kept in touch with their own small circle of friends over the years.  If you are lucky enough to connect with an individual from these circles, you have a good chance of locating even more.  Don't be surprised or discouraged if someone responds coldly upon being found.  Twenty five years is a long period of time, people change, or maybe no longer care about certain aspect of their past.  Or maybe they are too tight with their privacy and freaked out when they somehow got found.  Just move on to the other grads.

I got pretty good at finding people, both through free services on the web or premium accounts so perhaps I can delve into that area in greater details.  The process may not be earth-shattering amazing and probably can be found out there in the library or on the web, but it's something that worked for me.

Happy Organizing!

24 August 2010

Thin Different

"You lost some weight, are you OK?"  "I did not recognize you at first."  Those two phrases were addressed to me in recent weeks by people I have not seen in months, maybe even a year or two.  I don't usually care enough about my look, but these observations made me happy.  All that running has paid off.  Even though my weight still hovers between 185 pounds and 210 pounds (83 kg and 95 kg), supposedly there is visible change in my appearance.  I unreasonably hope that my 95 kg really contains some muscle mass.  I do see the love handles getting smaller, so maybe I really lost some fat.

It all started almost a year ago, September 2009, that for some reason I decided to lose some weight.  My family went on vacation with a big group and perhaps there were other men in the group who were overweight.  Perhaps the men made a bet on who would shed some pounds.  Strange that I don't remember the details from last year's event.  I remember back in 2007 I was upset that my ring finger was so fat I almost couldn't remove the wedding band.  I was also on vacation and went through some exercise routine after coming back from the vacation.  It also involved jogging but I gave up after a while.  Maybe the cold weather set in and I got discouraged.  This time around my Facebook friends definitely helped with the good words of encouragement.  I started out running 6 times around the nearby park, totaling just 3K or a pitiful 1.8 miles.  Slowly I worked up to 9K or 5.5 miles.  Then my right foot started to hurt so I switched to cycling, around New Year's Day.  I am sure cycling has its benefits, but I was still operating a machine, so the energy I use in an hour on the bike is less than an hour running.  About four months of cycling and I switched back to jogging.  This time around I introduced longer distance on the weekends, 15K (10 miles) or more.  Warm or hot weather, I was out there putting in 8K to 15K each run.  The work culminates in the 2 half-marathons I ran recently.  Before running the half-marathons, I was not sure if I could even run them in less than 3 hours.  I eked by with the Queens Half, at 2:54, but with the Bronx Half, I completed the course in 2:35.  Now I am so gung-ho about the whole thing that I'm considering running the full marathons in the New York metro area, perhaps a bit further out as far as Philadelphia.

It takes time to exercise regularly.  In my case, I have to give up being a night owl so I can get up early in the morning, like 5:30 or 6.  Just do the run in the morning and carry on with normal activities during the day.  I get home late in the evening so this is the only solution for me.  It really helps that I don't have to cook or wash the stinky clothes, for I have mother and wife to thank for.  Still, I have to drag myself out of bed in the morning.  I no longer stay up past midnight playing Wordscraper Blitz or some other games I have installed locally.  No more random surfing of the web looking for a particular piece of software.  Or just checking out free Mac software just because they are free.  I already watch very little TV and DVD, now I do so even less.  I just have to make do with podcasts and paper books, something I can consume while commuting.

If you have the need to lose some weight, or take better care of your health, I hope my story inspires you to put wish into actions.  It may be hard to get started, but if so start small.  I started at 3K and worked up to 15K, over almost a period of one year.  Yes, you will have to sacrifice some time, but the outcome is worthwhile.  On days that I go jogging, I feel energetic and alert the whole day.  Food tastes better and sleep comes easily at night.  Let me know if you are inspired enough to do something about your health!

21 August 2010

Bronx Half-Marathon, Bonus Questions for Vietnamese

After the Bronx Half-Marathon, I attended a luncheon for my wife's grandmother.  To be easy for others, it was held in the much-hated, by me anyway, Manhattan Chinatown.  Will anything ever be done so it's easy on the drivers among us?  It was next to impossible to find parking in the area.  The sea and mountain of people in the area were just staggering.  I was a bit tired from the race and felt even worse upon arriving in Chinatown.  I ended up parking far away at some municipal parking lot.  At the end of the long walk from the parking lot, I met the paternal grandmother, plus others, for lunch.  What's the Vietnamese phrase to describe the situation?  Hint:  I was tired then I saw the paternal grandmother.

Only Vietnamese speakers need to try!

20 August 2010

Bronx Half-Marathon, Photos from My Cell Phone's Camera

I thought I would have some free time to snap photos of my old neighborhood. The Kingsbridge area of the Bronx was my first home in the U.S., albeit for just half a year. Unfortunately, I got to the race late, had a hard time finding parking, then after the race I had to attend a luncheon to celebrate the 90+ birthday for the in-laws' clan matriarch. I took some photos along the race though, mostly the mile markers.

19 August 2010

Bronx Half-Marathon, the Race Itself

The Bronx Half-Marathon officially started at 7 A.M. Sunday 15 August 2010.  Before that there was the national anthem followed by the horn, not unlike the much-hated vuvuzela of South Africa.  I think I was still on the queue to use the portable john.  No rush, really, I won't be running at 7 but my time will be counted only when I cross the Start line.  I walked slowly into the corral and stretched a little on the side.  Around 7:15 or so, I finally started my race.

Believe it or not, the first thing I thought when I finally ran was "Oh no, what did I get myself into?  Three hours, 13 miles, such long and big numbers!"  I thought back to my blog entry about lòng người ngại núi e sông (the human spirit fearing the mountain and the river) and pressed on.  Mile #1 came up pretty soon, where JHS 143 was located.  I took a photo of the store that I was sure used to be a different kind of deli, with a video arcade machine outside, where I lost a few quarters to Space Invaders.  Somehow I missed Mile #2 but even before I reached the Moshulu Parkway the leading man already ran back toward my group of runners.  The Moshulu Parkway was described as scenic but I was too busy running to really take it all in.  I only looked forward to where the course looped back, U-turn, on the Moshulu so we know we got another leg of the race covered.  At Mile #5, back at JHS 143, I feel a tingling pain on the right foot as I stepped down.  Luckily, it was nothing major and I continued back to the area of the start line.  For some reason, I got annoyed by a pair of power walkers in front of me.  It didn't look like real work to me, as they don't actually run but just walk very quickly.  Still, they managed to stay ahead of me - that's enough reason to be annoyed, right?  At some point I managed to run past them.  Rounding the corner to pass the start line and head for Mile #6, somehow I pulled a muscle in my left hip.  Past the portable johns and I was again on the Moshulu Parkway, but only until I reached the Grand Concourse.  Mile #7 was pretty much at the entrance to the Concourse, with Mile #8 around the dip that crossed Fordham Road.  Onward I pressed to around 183rd Street then a U-turn on the Concourse to reach Mile #9.  I noticed some woman using me as a goal to keep up with.  She alternately ran and walked and the tactic seemed to work.  I couldn't shake her off with my constant pace.  After Mile #11 we were back to the Moshulu for the last time.  I think around the U-turn on the Moshulu to get to Mile #12, I finally ran away from the woman.  Just before Mile #13, some man was trying to keep up with me and we were running shoulder to shoulder for a few minutes.  I offered to race him to the finish line and he accepted, but then I started to sprint and he could not keep up.  Pity my sprinting does not look that fast in the Brightroom video.  Sprint!  The page is actually for someone who finished a tad before me.  On my own page, the video does not include me at all.  I think there was a mistake. Jump!

Compared to the Queens Half-Marathon, the weather was great.  It was not hot and even the sun was not shining.  As a result, I did not have to stop at water stations as much, or get sprayed on.  My finish time was almost 20 minutes faster.  It really helped that I did not walk at all, only briefly through the water stations where I stopped for water.  I also paused to take photos.  Maybe I should skip the photos next time to improve the time even more.

17 August 2010

Bronx Half-Marathon, the Race to Get There

Ah, the best laid schemes of mice and men.  The Bronx Half-Marathon this past Sunday was my second race in a long time.  It was held not too far from my first home in the U.S., in the Kingsbridge area of the Bronx.  I thought by then I would be familiar with the format of the race and would arrive early to snap a few photos of the old neighborhood.  I got my bib number, tank top, and timing tag (D-tag) on the Thursday before the race.  That same night, I got the bib attached to the shirt, D-tag looped securely around my left sneaker's lace.  The night before the event, I packed a change of clothes in a small duffel bag.  With the Queens Half, I packed on the morning of the race and only realized I forgot the change of clothes when I parked at the event.  Nothing would go wrong this time, so I thought.

I got up early at 4:30 in the morning and out of the house by 5.  Less than half-way there, the car complained that gas was low.  (A subway stop is close to the race start line but traveling from Brooklyn to the Bronx on the subway really early on Sunday is probably not a safe thing to do.)  I knew that normal usage would allow the car to go another 15 miles or so even after the low-gas indicator came up.  However, I really don't like to take chances.  Who know, I might have enough gas to get to the race but maybe it won't be enough to go back.  I lived in the Bronx for only a few months and rarely visit the borough so I am not familiar with locations of gas stations.  Better get gas before arriving at the Bronx Half.

I figured it would be safest to get off the highway while in Manhattan.  The idea of getting off the Gowanus and visit some gas station on Brooklyn's Third Avenue or Fourth Avenue, at 5+ in the morning, was not very attractive.  I got off the FDR Drive at the Queensborough Bridge exit and went straight for the gas station at York and 65th Street (?).  Alas, the attendant was AWOL and all the pumps were unusable.  Only one prompted me to swipe the credit card but by the time I backed my car near that pump, it timed out on the prompt for zip code and it too was not usable.  In the end, I went somewhere I was familiar with, Washington Heights, where I occasionally go with the in-laws to visit the clan's matriarch.  The original plan was to cross University Bridge but in the end I went with the 155th Street Bridge instead.  Good thing I had a good sense of direction so even with all the bad turns I still made it to the Bronx before 6 AM.  One hour to race time!

The Queens Half-Marathon took place mostly in Flushing Meadows Park, with some free parking spaces on the park's inner perimeter.  With the Bronx Half, you only have a handful of paid parking lots and whatever little street parking you can find.  With all the delay in getting gas for the car, I got there too late to find parking.  I ended up parking two subway stations away, at University Avenue and Fordham Road, on the edge of Devoe Park and looking at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church.  It was a long walk to the race!

Thanks to the timing system, even though I was technically late to the race, my own race did not start until whenever I crossed the start line.  That was when the computer would detect my D-tag and start to log my time.  Of course at some point latecomers would not be allowed to run, but I was not that late.  I did a little stretching within the race corral, on the side, with others eager running past me.  I finally crossed the start line at around 7:15 A.M.

04 August 2010

Queens Half-Marathon Photos

My photo order from BrightRoom arrived yesterday.  At $15 or so a pop, I better milk the photos for all they got!  I wish someone I knew was there at the finish line or along the way to photograph me, but then again the race started at 7 A.M. and I finished around 10 A.M., on a Sunday.  Most people would just get up then.  Even if someone was there, chances are BrightRoom had exclusive rights for the event, at least at the finish line, but that's just my guess.

I already signed up for the Bronx Half-Marathon, August 15.  That's less than two weeks away and I haven't run since about two weeks ago because of all the clean-up around the house.  Ack!  Better turn in early for the night and try to do 8K tomorrow morning!!!

30 July 2010

Lòng Người Ngại Núi E Sông

Đường đi khó
Không khó vì ngăn sông cách núi
Mà khó vì lòng người ngại núi e sôn

From the Vietnamese heroic song Đường Chúng Ta Đi, the words roughly mean

The road we travel is not difficult because of the mountain or the river but because of our lack of spirit.

As I work toward my goal of getting into better shape through running, I often thought of the song.  Lots of time I lack the spirit to start the run.  I would make excuses - the weather is too hot, I did not get enough sleep, there is not enough time, etc.  Then once into the run I would feel discouraged just thinking about the distance to be covered.  My modest goal of 8 km (5 miles) or one hour seems too ambitious at times.

This past Sunday I took part in the Queens Half-Marathon.  It was the first time I ran in a race since seriously getting back into running.  Up to then I ran alone and afterward calculated the distance I covered.  In the Half-Marathon, there were official time, water stations, and of course, other runners.  I only expected myself to finish the 13.1 miles (21 km) but it was still good to be running with others.  I actually reached Mile #5 in the first hour, just like during my normal run.  I may even edged past two hours for Mile #10, but by then my spirit already broke.  Somehow the trip back from Meadow Lake over the L.I.E. seemed so long.  My legs were not that tired.  I could still pump air to the lung and not out of breath.  But I just did not have the will to run again.  Maybe it was the heat.  I ended up walking from Mile #10 to Mile #11.  A good helping of water spray helped revitalizing me into finishing the race, even though the spray was too much and my sneakers and socks were soaked.  I managed to sprint to the finish line just for the camera.

16 July 2010

Two Weeks With Padge

It has been two weeks since I bought the iPad. For a while, I was happy downloading apps from the Apps Store, free and paid. It is so easy to get apps! I went through a similar experience before when I got hooked on the iTunes Music Store. Ninety-cent a pop, almost every song I could think of. I had an iTouch before but the tiny screen did not entice me to buy apps and such right off of it. Instead, I bought everything for the iTouch via iTunes on the PowerBook.

Size really matters with the iPad. I bought a few apps even though most of them cost more than the typical 99-cent iPhone app. Of course I would buy from the Apps Store, directly from the iPad, only when it has a WiFi connection. (My iPad has 3G but I am not ready to spend more money on it.). The iPad is an Internet appliance, is it too much to ask that its Net connection is reliable? Apparently it was. I heard about the WiFi issue with the iPad before but decided to take a chance with it. And lost. While WiFi worked, it worked sporadically. Somehow it couldn't remember the long password and often asked for it. At some point I was confident that I got the long password memorized and entered it, but alas some character was wrong and the connection couldn't be made. I had to reset network settings to at least be prompted for the password again, otherwise nothing would work. I thought I figured it out by always making sure under Preferences to have WiFi connected first, but that didn't do it either. The list of suggestions as provided by Apple was pretty pathetic. I felt like I was dealing with a Windoze machine. I thought about returning the iPad. Best Buy has a decent 14-day period during which I could have exchanged the thing or return it, I thought.

Luckily, I didn't have to travel down that road. iPad OS 3.2.1 came out a day before Day 14 arrived. The installation was not smooth, as the iPad froze during the process. I had to reboot it then wait for the OS to be restored, then my various apps, music, and photo. Some two hours later the iPad was functional again and boy, does that WiFi fly! All is well in Apple Land again!

06 July 2010

A Few Hours With Padge

Today, I actually had a little more time to spend with my iPad. Before I went further, I just named it "Padge" so it will be referred as such going forward. How the name comes about I will explain in due time.

I took Padge to work but did not take it out of my briefcase at all. I am amazed by those people who play with their 'Pad on the subway. What would they do if someone try to rob them? Or just snatch it and run away? Perhaps at the last possible second as the subway doors close? I didn't even take it out at work, but transferred it to a stringed plastic bag to take it out at lunch time. I used it at a public atrium. Hmm, how safe is that free, public Internet service? I guess there's only so much caution one can have in life. I sent two email and one of them, interestingly enough, is about Padge itself.

There's nothing like actually having a device to find out more about it. Without reading the flimsy doc, I didn't know that there was a power button at the top of the 'Pad. Or that there are volume controls on the right edge. I knew about the lock to prevent screen orientation, but not these other buttons. All along I had Padge in the book-jacket case the wrong way, in a way. The right side of the Pad should be exposed for the orientation toggle and the volume controls exposed.

I continue to be pleasantly surprised how well Padge can handle web sites. How good is a web experience when there is no Flash? Very good, as far as my limited usage is concerned. Google Docs work fine, although I couldn't find the Search field/button. I'm sure it's out there. BillHighway.com, with its unattractive run-of-the-mill VBScript interface, worked fine. Facebook runs fine, too, but of course the Flash games don't load. Size really matters. I recall too well how painful it was to surf on the iPod touch.

I thought the onscreen keyboard would be hard to use but again that was just a bad vibe I carried over from my usage with the iPod touch. There's plenty of screen real estate so the keyboard does not take up most of the screen like on the touch or iPhone. Some day I may even try to write a blog post on Padge. I may not have to get a Bluetooth keyboard after all. I already spent a big chunk of money on Padge any saving would be good.

As I played around with Padge, I discovered that there was a Cellular Plan setting. It seems I can sign up with AT&T's data plan should I fork over my credit card number. Hmm, maybe it's just the software, i.e. WiFi and 3G models have the same software loaded. Or maybe I got a 3G Pad for the price of a WiFi model? Being a pack rat, I still have the original iPad box and the receipt from Best Buy. The box says WiFi + 3G and the receipt agrees. Rats, I didn't spend $820+ but a tad more than that. Oh, well, Padge is data-ready so perhaps some month I will splurge and sign up for a data plan.

So I have a 3G-ready iPad, not just WiFi. I was going to refer to the iPad as just "Pad" but now that it has 3G, I decided to sort of stick "3G" to the end of "Pad". "3" flipped vertically looks like the letter "E", so if I simply switch "3" and "G" before tacking it to the end of "Pad", we have... Padge. Does Madonna have an iPad 3G? Would it be referred to as Madge's Padge?

04 July 2010

Magical and Revolutionary Temptation

I gave in to temptation. I don't plan to buy any books to read on it, or movies to watch on it. The public library is doing a fine job of providing me books and movies, all free. Yet I'm now an iPad owner. Yup, 64-GB and WiFi only. I was considering the 3G model but I feared that with round-the-clock Internet access I won't get much else done in my life. The monthly fee does not help then the news of the security breach on AT&T's server killed the idea.

I actually went to my local Best Buy on Friday morning to try to buy it. There was only one iPad left in the whole store, ONE! Just a WiFi, 32-GB model. I took a few moments to mull it over, then some woman came to the salesman and eagerly bought it. I should have left the matter alone. Instead, in the evening I went to the Best Buy at Broadway and Houston Street to ask about their availability. They only had 64-GB models, for both 3G and WiFi. This time I acted fast and moments later walked out of the store an iPad owner, another lemming in Steve Job's Field of Distorted Reality...

Is it really magical and revolutionary? I cannot tell yet, having only synced the MacBook's old content from the dead iPod Touch to it. Old apps made for the smaller screens of iPhone and iTouch can be viewed at 2x magnification and are surprisingly not bad at all. No pixelation here! With more room both on the laptop (200+ vs. the old laptop's 75 or whatever) and the iPad (64 GB vs. the dead iTouch's 16), I plan to add more of my music CD and subscribe to more podcasts, maybe even some video-based ones.

I sure wish the background photo is something else though. Those nice streaking lines in the sky may look nice to some people, but one of the streaks briefly got me worried that it was a crack on the pristine screen. I simply rotated the thing to confirm that it was not a crack, whew!

With the Pad, I plan to do much web-surfing and emailing, perhaps more frequent blogging, once I get the Bluetooth keyboard. I don't plan to totally abandon the MacBook Pro with regards to Facebook. I know people who only interact with Facebook via their iDevice and totally miss out on a lot of what FB has to offer, warts and all. Besides, Wordscraper does not work on the Pad anyway. I wonder if there is some FB word games that has human interaction and does not require Flash... In a related note, I was pleasantly surprised that dailymile.com's route-creating routine worked fine on the Pad, albeit somewhat cumbersome as the screen is not big enough.

Here are some unboxing photos. When I can get the Pad from my son's cold, stubby fingers, I may make a short video with it.

07 June 2010

Governors Island These Days

I don't seem to lack ideas of new series of blog posts. The latest I come up with is XYZ These Days, where XYZ would be the name of some place I once visited but has now changed upon a recent visit. I don't travel much so most of the time it would be some place in the New York metro area. Hopefully I will keep up with the postings instead of letting things slide as I have of late...

Governors Island. Mere 800 yards (or about 730 meters for us metric fanatics) from the southern tip of Manhattan, but what a world of difference. For years I knew about it being opened to the public on weekends in the summer but only last year I finally made the trip. I liked it so much I went back a few weeks later. If I have my way, this summer I will visit Governors Island at least four times!

I just visited the island this past Sunday. As usual, the trip started out at the ferry station on Manhattan. There is a ferry route to the island from Brooklyn, actually closer to where I live, but not easily accessible by public transportation. I would have to drive there and perhaps park somewhere nearby. I hate driving so I don't mind taking the subway to the Governors Island ferry. Thanks to the frequent service disruption on the subway, we didn't board an N train when it arrived and waited for an R train instead, even though that day the N ran on the R's route. Pity the poor tourists on a weekend in the subway! We missed the 1 PM ferry by mere minutes so I had time to go to a nearby McDonald's to get some lunch. Around 1:20 we let the security staff look through our bags and minutes later we were aboard a ferry heading for Governors Island.

Unlike past visits, this time we conserve our energy by taking the tram to go from Fort Jay to Picnic Point, to have a, duh, picnic. If my memory serves me right, there were no picnic table at Picnic Point last year, as I recall we settled on a plastic spread. We had to wait a bit for someone to vacate a hammock. The kids enjoyed the hammock greatly but eventually got bored and ran off to the swings. I wanted to say the swings are new this year, but I saw pictures of them in the Governors Island FB group so I know they are not new. They simply got installed some time after my second visit to the island last year. Definitely new are the movable bench along the waterfront near Picnic Point. It was a windy day and the sea was stormy, with the waves frequently splashing the benches.

Done with Picnic Point, we got back near Fort Jay, again via tram. Note that there is no direct route from Fort Jay to Picnic Point, but rather you need to transfer at Historic District, which to me is the Mini-Golf Course and Sculpture Park. It was only the first week the island was open to the public, so both Golf Course and Sculpture Park were still being setup. We definitely need to re-visit this year to shoot a few holes of golf as well as enjoy what's in plan for the Sculpture Park.

We had to walk from near Fort Jay to Parade Ground to rent the Surrey bike. Last year, the bike rental place was right off the ferry station, with all kinds of bikes available in one place. This year, standard bikes can be rented near Fort Jay, while family bikes, such as Surrey, are available near Parade Ground. I was disappointed when the girl at Bike and Roll told me that the island was to be evacuated shortly due to the high wind. No more bike to be rented out, ack! Luckily, as we dejectedly walked away, someone announced that it was false alarm. Minutes later, we were on our 6-person Surrey pedaling wildly against the strong wind. I had to get off and help push the bike. When it finally picked up speed, perhaps because we rounded a corner and out of the wind's path, I decided to trot along and had a race with the bike. I missed my morning run that day so a little exercise was needed. We got back to Bike and Roll before the 60-minute was up so we made two small loops. Last year, bikes, Surrey and all, couldn't get into the area near Water Taxi Beach but this year the path was open up. Bikes can really go around the entire island's waterfront.

With perfect timing, by the time we were done with biking and got some ice cream from Mr. Softee, the rain started to come. We made a dash for the ferry and once safely inside the rain got heavy. Back on Manhattan, the weather was nice again, still windy, but no rain. Again, we saved energy by taking Downtown Alliance's Connect bus to get from New York Plaza to Lot Less and loaded up on some cheap stuff. Last but not least, we walked to Chinatown for a delicious early dinner at the Lobster House on Mott Street. A great time was had by all!

30 May 2010


It really is difficult to buy a compost bin in Brooklyn. My local Home Depot has just one model - not much of a selection. On the way home from setting up Time Machine for my sister's MacBook, I dropped by Lowe's. There were two models available. A 6-gallon rotating model that supposedly speeds up the decomposing process to weeks instead of months, but which will cost $100! Then there was a 115-gallon model that cost just $50 but you would have to rake the content to move things around. Alas, there was only one piece of merchandise left and it has a broken plastic piece floating inside the shrink-wrapped package. A handy person may be able to substitute that broken piece somehow but I am not a handyman, so I had to pass on it. Nearby, Home Depot supposedly has some bins but it was already almost 9 P.M. and the store already closed down its gardening section, located outside the store building. Rats!

In other composting news, today I swapped the garbage bin in use in the front yard with the newer garbage bin that I've been using as a compost bin. It was the first time I actually turned the compost pile upside down. The stuff at the bottom was too wet and smelled a bit. The SunChip bag that I put in from a month ago didn't look too different, i.e. still intact and not turned into soil. The ad for SunChip did say it would start to decompose in 9 weeks or so, so I'll wait some more before passing judgement.

The "new" bin is actually something a neighbor threw away, for whatever reason, only lightly used. It didn't come with a lid so I used a board or two to cover it. I already used it a few months so it won't be so wasteful when I drill many holes in its sides to give the compost heap more aeration.

26 May 2010


Technically, I have a compost bin. Earlier this month I decided to use a brand-new trash bin as my compost bin. I started filling the bin with an onion my wife kept in the bedroom to ward off bugs but has gone bad, a SunChips bag, some vines covering the fence in my backyard, then some weeds pulled from the cracks in the front yard, plus many leaves fallen from the huge tree on the street. I know, I know, some purist compost masters would say weeds in compost bin is a no-no but it's such a waste to throw them out. There seems to be a limitless supply of weeds around my house, and my house is not that big. Over time I added teabags from the tea I consumed at work. I save the bags in a plastic bag and brought them home. In the beginning, I threw the whole thing in but lately I rip off the top to prevent the tiny staples from entering the bin. This week I also added fruit peels and such from oranges, mangoes, and rambutans.

I used the word "technical" to describe my compost bin because it is not the ideal bin. I let rain water get into it once or twice then drain the excess water by tipping it over, careful not to spill the content, but otherwise it is not as damp as it should be. Today I sprinkled some water on the bin because it was a hot day. I tried to turn over the bin's content using a hoe and an icebreaker, unsuccessfully. I do plan to switch my current trash bin with this compost bin so that will give it a nice upside down flip, but until I get the proper tool, the bin will not be turning over as often as it needs to be.

Composting should be simple but it is not. Years ago when I did not think of composting the City of New York would sell them at cost, $20 or so, at Compost Give-Back Events. Too bad I did not buy any, even though I dropped off truckload of electronic equipments for recycling at the same location. For me it is not possible to walk into a store and buy a bin to take home. My local Home Depot did not carry any before but on a recent visit there was one model, a 6-gallon rotating drum that goes for $50 or so. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden has some other model that cost $60. $50 or $60 sounds like a lot to pay to hold things that decompose. If you go online to buy them, there are models that go up to $100s of dollars. These things are usually heavy, too, so shipping adds significantly to the total cost when you buy online. It just does not make economical sense. Too bad in these economic hard times the government no longer subsidize the sale of compost bins. Even leaf-collection for composting was suspended a few years ago.

I probably end up buying the one and only model available at my local Home Depot. The big tree in front of my house keep dropping leaves, barks, and branches, not just in autumn but year round. I might as well make the most of these "free" materials.

23 May 2010

The Long and Short of Cyclist Shorts

After two weeks of plunking down some hard-earned money for a pair of cyclist shorts, I finally put it on and went for a ride. My philosophy with working out is to get out of the house quickly, which means clothes shouldn't be a factor in getting ready. I've been wearing old pants but once or twice the pants got caught by the bicycle gears. With the warm weather mostly arrived, I can get by with wearing regular shorts. Still, I decided to splurge and got a pair of real cyclist shorts, something like $60+. Gel-cushioned, it's comfy on the standard bike seat, but I have to wonder how cyclists store the usual things like home keys and wallet. In my case, I used a fanny pack strapped around my chest but I suppose it still negated the cool factor introduced by the cyclist shorts. I never have to worry about having people telling my fly is open but I imagine if you need to go it is rather complicated while wearing cyclist shorts.

The first time I thought of putting on a pair of cyclist shorts, I recalled the poster for a particular classic movie. I haven't seen it but I have a general idea what it's about. I tried to re-create a scene in the movie. Can you tell what movie it is?

06 May 2010

A Ferry Too Far

The last portion of the New York Bike Tour occurs when the cyclists cross the Verrazano Bridge for Staten Island. A friend told me of the V Bridge's steep incline but I found out it was not so bad. It was a long climb for sure, but not too steep once the lower gear was in use. After the bridge, it was the Festival in Fort Wadsworth. Cyclists were congratulated for completing the tour, but then it's not really over. There's still another three miles to go, to get to the ferry for the trip back to Battery Park in Manhattan. Silly me, there is only one route for the Staten Island ferry but somehow I thought we would just board the ferry right there by some waterfront location right next to the Fort.

New York Bike Tour was the first event that I participated in with someone waiting for me at the finish line. It was a nice day so the wife and the in-laws decided to hang out in the Battery Park area to wait for me. We exchanged phone calls a few times to get an idea where I was. It got me a bit excited to get to the finish line sooner, which means I would have to cover that last three miles fast. Combined with the letdown that Fort Wadsworth was not the end of the tour and we had "haste make waste". Last but not least, whereas I am familiar with most of the route, Staten Island is the one of the boroughs that I rarely visit. It made the last 3 miles seem longer. All these unfavorable conditions culminated with the pothole incident. So there I was, speeding along to get to the ferry quickly, on a road that I was not familiar, pop came a pothole in the road. The cyclist a few feet in front of me on the left pointed out the pothole. Then my wife's call came in and I made the mistake of answering it, leaving only my left hand to control the speeding bike. I think if I had both hands on the handlebar, I could have made a hard stop just short of the pothole. But I only had one hand on the bike. I cannot remember what happened next, just that I found myself sitting on the road, the bike's neck twisted somewhat. I had a scrape here and there but when I got back on the bike I realized I also had a nasty bruise on the left hand, in the thumb area. I continued on with the tour and finally made it to the ferry, waited a long time for the next ferry, napped for part of the long ferry ride, and finally back to Manhattan. Moral of the story - just like driving a car, don't ride the bike and talk on the phone, unless you have one of those ugly bluetooth headset.

Can you tell it is a bruise? If not, you have contusion confusion... Talk to the hand!

04 May 2010

Brooklyn-Queens Bike Express

The Brooklyn-Queens Bike Express... NOT! Without actually being part of the New York Bike Tour, I thought the route would get on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Queens and enter Brooklyn that way. Just because I was stuck on the BQE before because of the Bike Tour does not necessarily mean the Tour went from Queens to Brooklyn via the BQE.

We left Manhattan for the last time via the Queensboro Bridge. It has been ages since I last used the QB. When I lived in Long Island City the QB would be the quickest way to get into Manhattan. It took me a few minutes to realize that we were on the upper level of the QB. The view was great! I had to pull over a few times to take picture of the surrounding. It is not everyday that one gets to be on the bridge, free of cars, to briefly mill about. Someone made the snide remark "Tourists!" while another said that he sees this, referring to the Manhattan skyline, from his office every day. How unappreciative of the City, these wise guys!

We got off the QB around 21st Street and traveled mostly along Vernon Boulevard and eventually reached the Pulaski Bridge, an entry point for Brooklyn. I again took some photos of the Manhattan skyline. I can almost swear that I once saw some sign informing drivers that they are leaving Brooklyn but I just couldn't find it. I only got the sign welcoming people to Brooklyn. I realize now the tour route is basically along the waterfront of Brooklyn and Queens. The northern waterfront part of Brooklyn is one area that I am not familiar with. Some kids and their mother had a lemonade stand out but if was on the far side of the road so I had to turn down the offer but the rest of the trip I had this urge for a nice cool cup of, what else, lemonade.

Eventually we reached DUMBO, the area Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. It was around 1 PM so some people pulled over for lunch, sitting outside under the beautiful sky. One woman had a sign advertising coffee and such for the restaurant nearby, which was within sight where she stood. I think she would have more business if she had the items ready-made, that people could just buy from her right near the bike route.

Finally, we entered the BQE after passing Atlantic Avenue, over the Gowanus Canal, and along the elevated portion of the BQE that is in constant need of repairs. Some plans call for that part of the BQE to be put underground. Maybe not being exposed to the elements will allow the expressway to last longer, who knows?

I thought we would go to the Verrazano Bridge via the BQE but instead we took the Belt Parkway. It was early in the evening and we were right off the waterfront along the Belt. Occasionally we would be greeted by a cold blast of wind, which was refreshing. Just what we needed to keep going for the last few miles.

Note that there are no photos taken on the BQE or the Belt Parkway. Living in Brooklyn for more than 10 years now, I travel those paths often and don't have any special connections to them. Not like parts of Queens, which I don't visit that regularly these days. Something about absence makes the heart grow fonder, I suppose.

Some interesting-looking apartment buildings north of the Queensboro Bridge.

Citi Corp building, the lone high-rise in the area.

The 7 train making its ear-splitting turn.

The Manhattan skyline viewed from the sharp turn toward the 21st Street exit.

Manhattan skyline viewed from the Pulaski Bridge.

Brooklyn, like no other places in the world.

03 May 2010

Let The Bike Tour Begin!

After what felt like hours, it was finally time for me and the mass of people and bikes to move. We traveled up Church Avenue, which then turned into Sixth Avenue, all the way up to Central Park. Maybe because there still were too many cyclists bunched together so that we had to watch out for the riders in front of us, instead of taking in the scenery. It was not until around 23rd Street (Chelsea) that I started to look around at the surrounding. I missed the Barnes & Noble in the area. Before there was MacHeist, with its amazing Mac software bundle, I would occasionally pick up a copy of Macworld UK or MacFormat just to get the software that came with the magazine, not necessarily from this particular B&N. The software was never the latest version but they worked fine. Further up north I saw for the first time the pedestrian mall at the intersection of 34th Street and Broadway. I used to have time after work to go around to see what changed but nowadays it's just commute to work then head back home.

In Central Park we had to dismount to walk our bike. Years ago I used to do volunteer work for the Central Park Conservancy and knew the park well. It has been so long I didn't recognize the area that we passed through, although I'm pretty we went along the western bank of the Harlem Meer. Like the NYC Marathon, to make the event 5-boro, a small part of the Bronx was included. A reversal of the Marathon, we crossed into the Bronx via Madison Bridge and re-entered Manhattan via the Third Avenue Bridge. At long last, the bike route entered a highway - the FDR Drive South. No vehicular traffic, just us cyclists. I took my first break to have some food and get my water bottle re-filled. It was great that instead of passing out water in paper cups, or worse yet, plastic cups, the volunteers poured water from 1-gallon jugs into our bottles. Just a bunch of big jugs to recycle afterward, less garbage to pick up.

Alas, the ride along the FDR was short as we soon hit the exit for the Queensboro Bridge (or 59th Street Bridge for those Manhattan-centric people, no thanks to Simon & Garfunkel). Again, it was time to dismount and walk the bikes slowly off the FDR, wait for traffic on York Avenue to clear before we can get onto the bridge. So long, Manhattan, the next time we were back in Manhattan it would be at the end of the Tour.

A short stay in the Bronx. Hurry up and wait for vehicular traffic to clear. The Third Avenue Bridge is in the distance.

FDR Drive South is clear of cars, from around 100ish Street down to 60-something Street.

Waiting to get off the FDR to traverse the Queensboro Bridge, seen here in the distance.

02 May 2010

This Is How I Roll

As the new year (2010) rolled in, I decided to adjust my workout schedule. The right foot was in frequent pain from the regular jogging so it was time to do something different. I could only think of cycling so cycling it was. Whether I came to know about the New York Bike Tour through one of those smart-aleck Google contextual ads I cannot remember, but today I found myself completing the 42-mile (67.7-km, I do have some fellow S.I. fans out there, do I?) tour. Note that it's called a tour, not a race, and that's what it really is. Not the entire route is closed to other traffics for the cyclists to really run at top speeds to see who finishes first.

The night before the event, just as I feared, I had some envelope-stuffing business to take care of that tied me up until almost 2 A.M. Someone I know rode in the tour before and told me that as long as I had the vest, via mail, that was all I needed. There won't be any registration on the day and there will be so many cyclists chances are the start time of 8 AM can be safely ignored. It was my first ride, so against better judgement I still got up at 6 AM and got to the start line, or actually, about half a mile from the starting line, around 7:30 AM. Sure enough, I wasted about an hour just milling about.

I don't know what motivating speech Cousin Brucie gave the cyclists but by the time I got to the stage on Church Avenue, a few blocks south of Canal Street, there was no one left on the stage. There was a handful of cheerleaders somewhere on Church Avenue. I spent a great deal of time in front of Syms - "An educated consumer is our best customer", that Syms - and there was nothing entertaining around me. Many group cyclists had cute or recognizable helmet accessories, like BMW hood ornaments, flowers, or tin-foil antennas. Someone tried a wave once and it didn't last too long. There was no one from the Tour around to make us stretch or chant silly songs, just something to while away the time.

The one entertainment we got was from a PoleRider. It is a combination of pole dancing and cycling, or pedicab cycling, to be exact. Say you are good at pole dancing but want to be known outside of your house. Have someone pedal the bicycle while you dance away on the pole, on whatever streets the bicycle goes. Kinda weird for my taste, but it was entertaining while we waited. At first, from far away, I thought it was just some girl bored with the long wait and decided to use one of the traffic poles on the street to show off her skill. When we started to inch forward, I noticed that the pole also moved slowly with the flow. Close-up, I learned that the pole was on a pedicab of sort. Definitely the right place to advertise the merchandise!

24 April 2010

Reuse This!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Not just on Earth Day, but every day. I do that. Drink coffee from a washable ceramic mug instead of a disposable cup. Wear clothes handed down by my nephews. Make origami out of street flyers. Much as I love to replace them with the latest and greatest, most of my computer equipments are five years old, or longer. Curbside recycling of paper and plastic is nice, but I don't only recycle the stuff used in the house. If I buy a bottle of drink while out, after consuming the content I would take it home, or recycle it at the nearest recycle bin.

I wish everything is easy to re-use, like clothes and paper. Case in point are these plastic pieces that come with the ink cartridges for my Hewlett-Packard Color LaserJet. They protect the cartridges' drums, supposedly, during transit at least, but once unpackaged, what to do with them? They are about 30 cm (11 inches) long, unbendable although a bit flexible along its length. I just cannot think of any way to re-use them other than perhaps melting them and pouring the resulting slush into the shape of a puddle, to make a fake spilled drink. I do know burnt plastic smells horrible though so melting is not such a great idea. Perhaps HP can replace it with cardboard someday, like how styrofoam is used less in packaging these days.

18 April 2010

Scene From A Jogging Trip 20100418

I don't seem to lack ideas to blog about, I just don't have the time. The latest recurring idea I want to capitalize on is "Scene From..." In this particular case, it is "Scene From A Jogging Trip," as I just resumed jogging and demoted cycling to the secondary form of exercise. "20100418" denotes the year, month, and day - I hope to write more posts from my jogging trips.

I usually do not stop to take pictures during my jogging trip because I am working on endurance. Even at traffic stops, I would be jogging in place, so for me stopping to take pictures is considered cheating myself of the endurance test.

The above photo was taken after I was done with the jogging session and was heading back home. Is drive-thru a necessary evil or what? It's convenient for sure. You don't get out of your car, just wait in line to place your order then drive to the next window to pay for your stuff and get them. All the while with the car engine running, the air unnecessarily polluted and more unrenewable energy burnt. I can see how in certain places street parking is simply next to impossible. Or at certain hours of the day the parking lot is full and drive-thru is the only choice left. Other than parking a block away and walking to the location, of course, but most people absolutely prefer not to walk.

In this case, it was early morning on a Sunday and the parking lot for Raymour and Flanagan was deserted. There were a few cars near the entrance of the furniture store but close to the Starbucks outpost there were plenty of parking space. Yet people just queued up to buy their espressos or whatever drinks they thirsted for. Granted I do not if the outpost even had a walk-up window, but for a business that likes to have a green image there should be one. It is possible too that Starbucks has no agreement with R&F to share the parking lot. There may be a fee to be paid, by Starbucks to R&F, so for a few bucks in saving, just let those engines idle in the queue.

15 April 2010

Back To Jogging, Simplified

After three months of cycling as exercise, I decided to resume jogging, at least as the main form of workout. My goal with exercising is to shed some kilograms and cycling has not helped. I started cycling on New Year's Day and three months later, I am still just a few kilos below 90 kilos. I weigh myself every week, perhaps I should not, like how a watched kettle does not boil.

The reason I started cycling was that after a few months of regular jogging my right foot started to hurt. There was the usual aches and sores elsewhere but the right foot had it worst. Just lightly jabbing the center of the right sole would produce a sharp pain. Maybe it was because I was using an old pair of sneakers. The bottoms of the shoes were not even, so some parts of the foot probably took a greater impact. Since quitting jogging late last year, I got a new pair of sneakers. I actually resumed jogging last week. Ran twice then and three times this week. So far the old right foot has no complaint. As long as my right foot can take it, I will continue to jog and use cycling as secondary. On days that I have time, I will put in a few KMs on foot then ride a few more KMs on the bike. The distance covered by each form of exercise does not justify it, but I still like to refer to the combined workout as a biathlon. Only if I have one of those endless pools, I can even do a triathlon.

Up to this week I always jog in a closed path, e.g. round and round a park. What's annoying with that was that I sometimes lose count of the laps. I play music on my cell phone while jogging, starting a new song or restarting one as needed, so that each lap is matched to a song. The Recently Played playlist would keep track of my progress. Alas, the playlist only knows the last ten songs so by lap number eleven or twelve I would be on my own. Worse yet sometimes the cell phone's battery would die midway through the session.

Starting this week I jog in a straight path. From my cycling trips, I know how far from my house is 3K. Go that far out and back then I will have 6K covered. I have to deal with cars on the road but it's not too bad at 5:30 A.M. Perhaps on the weekend I can go 4K out. Linear triumphs over circular, Keep It Simple, Sir!

07 April 2010

More Excuses To Have An iPad (and Sanity Checks)

Here I am trying hard not to run to the local Best Buy or the nearest Apple Store to scoop up an iPad and there are so many good reviews out there. My MacBook Pro still works, I still should spend less time online, the house still needs a major renovation, the list goes on and on. Here goes some more excuses, heck, maybe I can spin this off into a cartoon or two.
  • I can use it as a digital picture frame. (Digital picture frames are wasteful electricity-suckers. I cannot consider myself green and at the same time have something running 24/7 showing photos that definitely are not viewed all the time. Besides, all the months I had the iPod touch I showed its photos only a few times, ten times top. A stock iPad cannot stand by itself so that would be another x dollars to make the thing stand up like a photo frame.)
  • A man in black turtleneck and jean robbed me at gunpoint. When he ran away with the $500 I happened to have, he dropped behind this beautiful electronic gadget. (Yeah, right.)
  • It was on sale, 50% off, at the local electronic store. (Apple products are classy and are not carried everywhere. Sure you have the Chinese knock-off that may look like an iPod or a MacBook, even an iPad, but bona fide Apple devices don't come cheap.)
  • I can use it for videoconferencing at the Newtown High School (Elmhurst, Queens) reunion at the Astoria Manor in NYC on September 25, 2010. (Even with the 3G iPad coming out in late April 2010, there is no camera whatsoever with any of the iPad. Someone may come up with some add-ons, or maybe Apple will release a newer version, but the likelihood of a new iPad, complete with video camera, is highly remote. For video conferencing, a cheapo netbook is still the answer.)