31 January 2010

Five Boro Bike Tour

I have decided to sign up for the Five Boro Bike Tour (FBBT) this year. The event will take place on Sunday, May 2 and registration will be accepted 10 A.M. February 1. Blasted, I thought it would be 12 midnight so that, as a nighthawk, I can easily stay up another hour and be the first few to sign up as the new day rolls in. According to Bike New York's web site, it is a popular event and the 30,000+ spots get filled up quickly. I will just have to take my chance...

The ride is 40+ miles, which I think I can handle. The trip to Brooklyn Bridge, over the Bridge, then back home, that I did last weekend totaled about 24 miles. I suppose another 16 miles or so won't hurt. I don't recall being very tired, especially in the legs, after the Bridge trek, so the FBBT should not be a big deal.

I look forward to taking part in a traffic jam and enjoying it. My past two encounters with the FBBT were not pleasant at all. The first one, even if I am not that sure if it was the FBBT, was when I got stuck on the BQE around Flushing Avenue. I was near an entrance ramp and saw people backing off it, slowly, to get out of the jam. Some MTA van did the same so I thought it would be safe to imitate. No such luck, at the ramp entrance, a few NYPD patrol cars were waiting to direct us all to pull over to help them fill their quota for the day. Some Hasidic Jews on the sidewalk were trying to tell us not to come down, but I think by the time we saw them it was too late. Sure it was wrong to go backward into an On ramp, but when a whole bunch of people were already doing it, and the highway is packed with cars, I think the proper thing for the NYPD to do would be to be there to direct traffic to safely get out of the jam. Instead, they decided to shoot the fish in the barrel. What they did was akin to going to a disaster site to ticket damaged cars at the site. While they were at it, perhaps they could go onto the highway and ticket all the idle cars for having idle engine for more than x minutes. It disgusts me when the government treat its citizens as cash cows.

My second encounter with the FBBT was not as bad, but again it involved a traffic jam. It was Mother's Day and I was with a group of cars trying to get into Fort Hamilton to celebrate the occasion with a picnic. Big mistake! I knew that the NYC Marathon begins in Staten Island so that in the afternoon the Brooklyn side of the Verrazano Bridge would be back to normal. What I didn't know was that the FBBT ends in Staten Island, with the thousands of riders using the Verrazano to get there. It took me about two hours to finally get to the picnic.

I worried that this year's FBBT would coincide with Mother's Day, but luckily it will be a week before the event. Have bike, have good health, still can afford the $60 registration fee, I have no reason not to participate in the event!

27 January 2010

Whirlwind Wednesday

It turned out today is a big day. Around noon EST we will find out what magical gadget Apple will offer to the world. I personally do not care for a tablet because I believe I use my eyes too much already. I listen to podcasts and such, so a tablet won't do what I can already do with an iPod.

Around dinner time, President Obama will deliver his first State of the Union. Politics as it is, he probably will say that our nation is strong but there are challenges ahead. What bombshells can he possibly drop?

Last but not least, and closer to my heart, is the meeting, perhaps at Newtown High School itself, at which the school will be considered for closing. Supposedly students there are not doing well enough on standardized test or there are too many dropping out. I doubt closing the school will accomplish anything, but I heard these kinds of things before. If you are an alum of Newtown High School in Elmhurst, Queens, NY, and do not want the school closed, sign the petition here:


24 January 2010

Law-Abiding Cyclists?

Yesterday I made the trip from home to the Brooklyn Bridge, AND back. It was not the first time I rode to the Bridge, but it was a first to get there and back both by cycling. The trip took over four hours but it was not because I was a slacker. Along the Belt Parkway waterfront it was nice and free of traffic but beyond that I had to slow down to watch out for traffic. Even when part of the trip was along Second Avenue, which was quiet for a weekend day. Once I crossed the Gowanus Canal, it was all slow-going. Some streets still had bike lanes but the streets were narrower, too. Some street had no room at all for a bike and a car to share the road and I had to hurry up to get through it. Somewhere along the line I even had to ride on the sidewalk. That's the case with New York City. It is simply not possible to obey the law 100% of the time. You are on a bike lane then all of a sudden it ends and you are faced with a narrow street or a busy one with lots of traffic. You either ride on the sidewalk, go against traffic, or bite the bullet and go with the flow.

On the way back, I faced a similar scenario at the intersection of Third Avenue and Prospect Avenue. I could risk going with the car through the narrow passage below the Prospect Expressway, or go the wrong way on Third Avenue, on the sidewalk.

I hope whoever planning the roads for NYC take cyclists into considerations. On that note, it seems Bike New York is a good organization to promote cycling. I will start getting involved with it through its Bike New York Tour, a 42-mile trek through the five boroughs of New York City, then follow up later with other activities.

22 January 2010

Facebook Death

I recently found out a Facebook friend of mine died. I used to play Wordscraper with him. It was probably Scrabulous, which was the forerunner of Wordscraper before the Agarwalla brothers got sued by Hasbro. Not that it really matters to this story.

One reason I remember "Mr. B" well is that most Wordscraper players, in my own experience, are Canadian women. He was one of the few non-Canadian male players. Together we wasted some time playing the word games, chatted from time to time about the game at hand or other topics that happened to come up. I now recall that he had a pizzeria business and had an iBook. The last remark he made was when I played the word REBAR. He joked that he did not know that I was in the construction business.

Oddly enough, for some reason I thought he unfriended me, since he no longer appeared on my friends list. Maybe I forgot what his last name was and could not find him in my friends list. No harm, I myself unfriended people from time to time, whether for lack of activity or some offending status update by the person. Recently I decided to visit his profile and saw that someone had written "Rest in peace" on his Wall. Probably someone who knew him outside of Facebook. That explained the lack of activity. I think I started some games with him only to delete them because he would not play his turn. Re-visiting his profile, I found a few keywords that allowed me to Google for more info about him. It turned out he passed away a little more than a year ago. Time flies and Life is fragile. Rest in peace, indeed, Mr. B, though I hardly knew you.

21 January 2010

Places That I Have Never Visited

I admit that I am not much of a world traveler. Not much of a traveler, period. The places that I have never visited are really commercial buildings that I was physically near but never once, as far as I remember, stepped inside. The proverb "You can take a horse to the water but you cannot make it drink" would describe the stories well.

I went to JHS 73 (now IS 73) in Maspeth, Queens for two years but I do not recall of ever buying from a store near the school called Cowboy Pat. It is possible that I went in there before but the memory is lost on me some 25+ years later. I only learn of the store's former existence from recent postings on Facebook. Supposedly it was a popular hangout place for the students. That would explain why I never go there. I was the studious type who would go straight home after school, whether via the overcrowded B58 or by walking. "Popular hangout places" in my mind are trouble spots, where a scrawny and nerdy guy like me would be picked on. Kids are cruel sometimes, even those in the 8th and 9th grades. Another factor to consider, which may be shocking for some growing up in the U.S., is that I didn't have any money to spend during JHS, other than bus fare. Well, it was possible that I had some coins to make phone calls in case of emergency, but definitely not much money to spend on snacks. The school provides lunch, the bus money takes me home, so to my parents it was not necessary for me to carry money around.

After JHS 73 I spent three years in Newtown High School. The popular hangout place there was the pizzeria at the corner of 90th Street and 50th Avenue. High school kids are worse than JHS ones, so again I do not recall spending any time there. After school I would at most spend time with my study group at the Elmhurst Branch of the Queensborough Public Library. At most we would walk around Queens Center, which back then had only the one building on the same block with A&S (now Macy's). My money situation did not change much any way. I think I had a few summer jobs but the money was saved in some bank account. I probably had a few more dollars to buy things occasionally, but definitely not enough to hang out at the pizzeria everyday. While we are on the topic of kids with money, the idea of spending x dollars on tuxedo rental, limo ride, etc. on prom night was totally foreign to me. Where would the money come from? I guess children of the first generation of any ethnic groups in America would not have it easy. In a way, it is better to be somewhat deprived early in life and have more later on.

The last place I have in mind is the McSorley Pub near the Cooper Union. All the years I went to Cooper, I never stepped inside the place. Sure, Peter Cooper himself had a drink or two there and most of the guys, and gals, who went to Cooper probably patronized the place at least every week. It was/is the place to be after school, so I heard. Just not for me. I just do not drink, period. Not something that I enjoy doing, anyway. At major events or social functions I might have a beer, but one is enough to get me all red in the face, so best not to drink at all. I do not get what is all the fuss about. Drink to relax, some people say, but many mistakes in history were made by drunks, too. I can make mistakes while not drunk, why increase the chance by being drunk. Maybe some wine associations will send me hate letters, but that's just the fact, alcoholic drinks are just, uh, not my cup of tea.

17 January 2010

The Down Side of Cycling

It has been over 3 weeks since I last went jogging. The right foot still hurts even though I have been doing bicycling only. No impact there but then again it does not hurt as much as before. I probably have to go see a podiatrist.

Substituting jogging with bicycling allows me to go farther from the house and explore the destination's neighboring areas. On foot, I would never visit the Fuhgeddaboutit sign on the border of Brooklyn and Queens on the Belt Parkway. Sure I could drive there but then I would have to find some place to park and walk some distance to the site to take a picture of it. A waste of gasoline, fuhgeddaboutit!

The down side of cycling is that to get to the bike trail I have to go on the road, along side with motorists. In my mind, most motorists are jerks, to put it lightly. A perfectly nice person outside the car can easily turn into a monster behind the steering wheel. Motorists' general attitude is "get out of my way or I'll ram you." I drive a minivan mostly on weekends and the experience usually leaves me exhausted. Being on a bike only makes it worse. I have to be extra alerted about cars traveling parallel to me that are about to turn right into my path. Assuming people use turn signals, that is.

When I drive, I have the radio on or listen to podcasts on the iPod, but not loud enough to drown out the sounds from outside. I need to focus on the road and be aware of the surrounding. When cycling, I don't listen to anything at all while sharing the road with motorists. I cannot afford to. Even with the helmet mirror and the mirror in the handlebar, I still need to turn around when shifting lane or going through intersection. Cars mirrors have blind spots and those on the bike cannot be any better. Once I get to the bike trail, where there are only pedestrians and cyclists, then I can relax with the iPod, but before that, 100% alert!

I used to hate the "new" bike lanes in Manhattan, such as those along Grand Street in Chinatown. The older lanes run along the left side of the parking lane. The newer ones take place of the parking lane and usually reduce the street to just one lane as the parking lane is pushed further into the street. Tough luck for the motorists with the narrower streets but it is great for cyclists. With the old bike lanes, there is a good chance some careless driver, after parking, opening the driver-side door straight into the path of a cyclist. There is also the not-too-unfounded fear of being fatally squeezed between a car on the road and a parked car. Lastly, with the new lane it is impossible to double-park so cyclists do not have to put up with double-parkers. One moment a cyclist can be happily moving along an old bike lane, the next moment he would have to shift into traffic to go around a double-parking car. I love the new bike lanes and hope to someday make use of them if they come to my area.

15 January 2010

Let Us Accessorize!

Popcorn and soda to go with the movie. Case and headset to go with the cell phone. Flash drives and USB hub to go with the laptop. Accessories. You do not absolutely need them, but they enhance the experience many times. Since resuming bicycling a few weeks ago, I have rummaged around the house to find the various accessories I got for the bike but for one reason or another did not put them to use.

When I first took the bike out of mothballs, figuratively speaking, the one accessory I got to work was the bottle-holder. Adding an extra clamp made all the difference, I do not know how I lived with the twistie wire. Funny thing is the one time I needed a drink while bicycling the water inside had frozen. I am sure it will not be the same in the summer.

Mounted on the handle bar and is more useful is the simple bell. I do not go fast but it is still necessary sometimes to alert joggers or walkers when I need to pass them. Also on the handle bar is the headlight. I do not know why but the light assembly was not on the bar. Luckily I was able to find it in the mess in my room. Strange how the mind works. I just knew that the light was in a particular place. Good thing I was correct. Alas the battery drained some time ago. It seemed obvious to me that there was no way to replace the battery. Luckily this time I was wrong. A colleague pointed out a slot where a strategically placed coin would easily pry the assembly apart. Last hurdle was to find the replacement batteries. Up to today I did not know that N batteries exist - just plain N. Whatever happened to E though M?

The last accessory to be put on was a rearview mirror, a Third Eye bar end mirror. Again I had no trouble finding it but then I had plenty of troubles figuring out how to install it. Adding insult to injury, almost everybody on Amazon wrote that the thing was easy to install! There is already a small hole in the end of the handle bar, the screw goes into it but there is nothing to hold the screw in place. I gave up and took it my local bike shop. The person at the store proceeded to use a razor blade to cut away a portion of the rubber grip that covers the handle bar. In went the mirror end, now padded with two of the four rubber rolls that came with the mirror. So that's how it works, doh!

11 January 2010

A Vietnamese's Impression of America

Before settling down in America, my impression of it was whatever the adults told me from the TV shows. Television was a rare commodity that not everyone can afford, but we knew about Mission: Impossible, Bonanza, Star Trek, etc. I do not recall ever watching an entire episode or what language the shows were presented in. Probably in English and not translated into Vietnamese. We referred to the characters of the various show in our own way, such as "The Man With Silvery Hair" or "Donkey Ears". We believed that the cowboys were good guys and that the red-skinned savages were bad. We probably learned the "red" part from somewhere else because back then TVs were black-and-white only. We thought everyone in America was rich, probably from M:I. Everyone wore suits and other nice clothes. We knew that people didn't dress like cowboys and of course Star Trek was futuristic stuff. Possibly also from M:I we thought that there were only two kinds of people in America, black and white. When we moved to our apartment in the Bronx, we were surprised to meet Hispanic and Mexicans, even though there were not that many of them at the time. At John Peter Tertard JHS, I was surprised to meet Greeks, Koreans, Russians, and others. Of course, later on when I learned American history it all made sense. Without that knowledge, I even thought that American speak "American" language. From the TV shows, I also thought that people wore shoes into the house and left them on, even while sleeping, probably from some episode in which a character stayed at a hotel.

What was/is your impression of the United States of America?

10 January 2010

Thirty Years On American Soil

Thirty years ago today I stepped onto U.S. soil for the first time. To be exact, it was U.S. tarmac, but you get the idea. Before that I spent a few weeks in Singapore and prior to that a few months in Indonesia. It was a long way from Viet Nam. Some day I will drill into more details about my experience as a boat person, but today the story is what I remember of that first few days in a new land.

  • I don't recall ever having motion sickness before, not even on the indirect plane ride from Singapore to the U.S. However, when Uncle Ping drove our family from JFK airport to his home in Sheepshead Bay, sitting in the front passenger seat, I felt dizzy.
  • The first time ever taking a bath in a tub, I spent a long time in it. I filled the tub with water and played with Cousin E's toy ship, I think it was an aircraft carrier of sort. It was not until Auntie knocked on the door that I finished up. Eek, I was a bad guest!
  • The first pie of pizza was not very welcomed. We probably never had cheese before in our life.
  • I may be wrong but in offering soda to us Uncle Ping referred to the drink as "leung tsa" (凉茶) or "cooling tea". To me, that was the bitter or tasteless stuff that my father used to make us drink to negate the effect of fried food and other bad stuff. The whitish soda, probably a Sprite, was not bitter or tasteless at all.
  • Uncle Ping probably thought that we were going to stay in the area for a while. He took me to some school to register for class. I do not remember learning anything that one day. I think I did not even spend the whole day there.
Good grief, that is all I can remember of the momentous day. Not until high school that the idea of keeping a journal or diary came to me, so all I remember of the day is what little I myself can recall and whatever my siblings and parents, or maybe Uncle Ping's family, can recall.

08 January 2010

Coney Island Boardwalk

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The nice thing with bicycling, versus jogging, is that theoretically I can go farther to carry out the exercise. With jogging, I would walk from home to Caesar's Bay shopping area and start jogging from there. With bicycling, instead of slowly pushing the bicycle, I would ride it to the destination. Bicycling should be faster than walking, so the time saved can be put into covering a longer distance, say, to get to a destination further away. Today, that destination was Coney Island. I just found out that Coney Island is about 2.6K from where I live, whereas Caesar's Bay is 1.6K away. That translates to 2K for a round trip.

It was not the first time I visited Coney Island, but rather the first time I was there unaccompanied. I was free to snap photos here and there without being slowed down or slowing down any company I would be with. A big group may be fun to be with sometimes but most of the time I prefer to be on my own, to do what I please.

I started around the Wonder Wheel then went east to the very end of the boardwalk. I totally forgot what this end of the boardwalk looks like. I was there a few years back with two nephews. We did not stop there but went on to the street and all the way to Manhattan Beach before heading back. For me, the goal today was just to reach one end then the other end and back to the starting point. Just my luck, I did not bring a real camera and my cell phone's battery died by the time I reached the western end of the boardwalk, so no photo for that end.

The distance I traveled today was about 8K, again 1K less than the maximum distance I reached with jogging. Oh well, something to do to burn the fat while the right foot recovers...

07 January 2010

JHS 73 Class of 1985 Yearbook - Administrators

Page 8 of the JHS 73 Class of 1982 yearbook. The theme of Our Place really gets drilled into our heads in the descriptions of the School Administrators. I do not recall any of them, except Mr. Gotkin. For those who may have missed my mention of the two incidents I had with Mr. Gotkin, here goes.

The first incident was unpleasant. I rarely use curse words but it was just my luck that one day while going from one class to another, someone made fun of me or did something bad to me and I shouted some obscenity at him. Just my luck, Mr. Gotkin was nearby and took me to his office for that violation. I spent the whole period there with nothing to do and then was let go. I suppose I curse even less, or never again for a long time, after that. The man looked menacing to kids, I must admit.

The second, more pleasant, event was when I went to school one evening to attend some Junior Arista ceremony. I did not know what the event was for and did not come to school with a formal jacket. I did not have one anyway. When it was my turn to go on the stage to accept my Arista certificate, Mr. Gotkin let me wear his jacket. It was some sort of a tweed jacket, if my feeble memory is correct.

I referred to the events as first and second but they did not necessarily happen in that order. Of course, it would be better to be a bad kid then get accepted into Arista instead of the other way around.

Re the Guidance Counselors, I did not know they existed. In Newtown High School, I visited Ms. Touhy often for information on colleges and such, but in JHS, I think I just went to whatever school kids in my district were supposed to attend. I suppose if a kid excelled in school, he could have applied to some better school instead of the one in his district. I was relatively fresh off the boat, having arrived in the U.S. about two years earlier. It was good enough to break of ESL, so never mind better high school and extra curricular activities.

05 January 2010

JHS 73 Class of 1985 Yearbook - Intro

In Asian culture, teachers are held in high regards. With that in mind, coupled with the responses I got about my JHS 73 entry about a year ago ( http://www.qaptainqwerty.com/2009/03/william-cowper-jhs-73-maspeth-queens-ny.html ) I am going to post some more photos of the teachers of JHS 73. I already used the ones I have from my graduation, so these "new" ones will be from my 1982 yearbook. I am starting the series with Ms. Patricia M Ruddy, the Principal. This is the only photo of her in the whole yearbook, AFAIK. I do not recall having any personal interaction with her, although I was somewhere on the stage in that photo as she gave a speech at the Junior Arista ceremony. I even saw the program pamphlet for the event in my messy room recently.

04 January 2010

How To Wake Up at the Time You Want To Wake Up at

At one time or another, my web-surfing landed me at one of those how-to sites, like eHow.com. While some entries provide useful, step-by-step instruction for some complicated process, others are just outright comical. In the attempt to cover every possible scenarios, the entries would spell everything out, from the subtle to the ridiculously obvious that any sane person should already know. Here's my own concoction on the topic of How To Wake Up at the Time You Want to Wake Up at.

  • Use an alarm device. This can be a regular desk alarm clock, a clock-radio, or common these days are cell phones or smartphones.
  • The louder noise the device can make the better. I no longer have trouble getting my son out of bed for school ever since he started to use the train locomotive clock his aunt sent him. It can wake the dead, supposedly.
  • If you use a cell phone, be sure it is not set to Vibrate mode.
  • Make sure the alarm device is properly charged or has reliable batteries.
  • It helps that the alarm device is out of reach so that you have to get out of bed to shut it off.
  • Sometimes we just ignore the alarm and instead want to know what time it is. In this case, it helps to have a time device nearby.
  • If you are nearsighted like me, wear a watch to bed so just a flip of the hand and you know the time.
  • If you normally share the bed with a spouse/partner, if the thing you want to do in the morning is important enough, consider sleeping separately just that night. If not, it might happen that neither of you have a headache that night, one thing leads to another and you end up staying up late.
  • It definitely helps to go to sleep early if you want to get up early the next day.
  • Do not drink coffee, tea, or energy drink before going to bed.
  • Do not be On Call at work - you might be dragged out of bed any minute of the night.
  • Read a book, newspaper, or magazine. Traditional, wood-based kinds, that is.
  • At the time you are supposed to sleep, do not log into Facebook etc. One game, one email, one status update... they all can translate to many hours into the night.

There you have it! Now it's time for me to sleep...

02 January 2010

Misadventures in Bicycling

It was a cold and windy morning so I did not cover much grounds with the bicycle. Along the waterfront the wind was blowing against me and I had to strain my leg muscles with every cycle. I went along the waterfront for a short distance and took the first footbridge to get away from it. I made a big loop around a golf course and its adjacent public park then back to the waterfront, this time with the wind behind me, although I didn't feel any noticeable push, just that it was easier to pedal like normal. All together it was only 8.3K, even less than the 9K I normally would cover on foot.

Up to now, my use of the bicycle was for entertainment, something to do for fun on vacation, to be outside on a nice day. Not as an exercise device or as a mode of transportation. When my nephews, on the wife side, were younger I would take them, along with my son, first in a bucket seat then in a trailer, to go riding along the waterfront. One time I ran into a major pothole and got a flat tire. We were almost at the end of the 4-mile trail so we completed the trail and then headed back. Even with a flat tire, I was still able to pedal the bike although eventually it became impossible to pedal. I think it cost me something like $25 to replace whatever parts it was that needed replacing.

Another more recent misadventure was a few years ago when we went on vacation in the Poconos. We were told the trail was a gentle slope all downhill. There were two options - a 10-mile trail or a 25-mile trail. The shorter trail was really just part of the longer one - if you want the longer trail, you are driven further up the path. The trails end at the same place. I figured the 15-mile difference shouldn't matter that much, it's the same price, might as well get the most bang for my bucks. Bad choice! The key word was "gentle", not downhill. I had to exert force to get the bike moving, the bike would not roll on its own, as the slope was not that noticeable. It didn't help that I had my then 100-pound son in the trailer behind me. I was completely exhausted at the end of the trip. It was the first time I needed to spend time in a bathtub full of hot water to provide some relief for the aching muscles. Getting old + being a weekend warrior = bad.

Perhaps some day when I bike more regularly and don't get so tired easily I'll try a 25-mile trail somewhere. For the time being, putting in a few excursions on the weekends will have to do.

01 January 2010

Have Bike, Will Travel

I did it! Got up 7ish, took the bicycle to the local gas station, 75¢ at the air machine did wonder. My bicycle is wholesome again!

I went along the same route that I normally go jogging, Belt Parkway Green Way, only of course the distance is longer. Instead of 4.5K out and back, for a total of 9K, I went 7K out, all the way to Owl's Head Pollution Control Center and the Bay Ridge Pier, and back. The total distance is 14K.

I don't get the same sense of accomplishment as when I go jogging. With jogging, I would sweat profusely, with the innermost layer of clothes soaked. I would actually feel warm from the heat I generated. It was a windless morning and I didn't feel a single drop of sweat formed. The inner T-shirt got somewhat wet on the back, but that was it. My legs did feel wobbly when I first stopped pedaling and resumed walking. They feel tired now, so I guess I did get some exercise out of the whole thing.