Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dear Dr. Wally...

Dear Dr. Wally,

I see these signs along the road in the mountains north of Broken Elbow. They look like a truck driving down a wedge of cheese with a percentage added. What do they mean? They always appear near the top of Donut Pass, which seems to be a very popular name for these mountain passes. They're everywhere!

Puzzled in Poteau

You must be a natural blond, Puzzled. The state highway department puts those 'truck on cheese' signs in places where mobile pizzerias will be located in the future, right after federal stimulus money reinvigorates the cheese mining business. As you're no doubt aware, many of our nation's mozarella mines were forced to shut down due to cheap imported cheese from China. But, as our balance of payments have shifted, so too the mozarella business has changed. Soon, American workers will be back on the job producing the very finest cheeses from those deep mines under the Gruyere Mountains in northern Wisconsin.

Also, I'm glad you've noticed the Donut Pass signs, because quite frankly the state DOT misspelled them and didn't notice until hundreds had been painted. As a cost-cutting measure, they kept the misspelled signs because as we all know, spelling is highly over-rated anyway. Just like the pizzaria signs, these ones indicate a good spot for a donut shop, and they too are another attempt to stimulate our economy by investing in the production of high-speed donut boring tools for making those nice, round holes, and the automated donut lathes used to produce wonderfully rounded donuts from crudely finished industrial billets.

So do your part, Puzzled, and eat more to make America strong again!

Dr. Wally

Next month: Gluttony and bicycle touring


Book review: Dr. Wally's Field Guide to Cyclists

This is the January edition of my monthly column in the Red Dirt Pedalers "Wheel Issues."

Book review: Dr. Wally's Field Guide to Cyclists
First Edition. University of Northeastern Oklahoma, Broken Elbow Extension Campus. 2009

I'm not fond of doing book reviews. Inevitably, someone takes me to task when the review disagrees with their own assessment. However, when you consider the 'publish or perish' philosophy of most universities, you may understand the pressure many academics are under.

And that brings us to Dr. Walter Crankset's field guide. Profusely illustrated by the author, this field guide attempts to identify cyclists as belonging to particular sub-sets, none of them immune from satire. Crankset pokes fun at us, urging that we step outside our narrowly defined bicycling preoccupations and get a few laughs at our own expense.

Here are some excerpts:

Curbus Stucktus Often called the common gutter bunny, a curbus is rarely found more than a foot or two from the curb. In club meetings and on message boards, they complain incessantly about all the flat tires they've had. Wiser, more experienced cyclists will adopt the muskrat strategy and gnaw off a limb to escape from them.

Ineducatus Publicus One of the louder species, the ineducatus publicus appears at public meetings demanding 'something be done.' That something is always impossible, outrageous, or both. For example, an ineducatus will say, "I'll ride my bike when there's an entirely separate trail system from my front door to the grocery store, without having to cross a street at grade level!" This would require a re-invention of our existing road network. The ineducatus is just barely smart enough to breed, but they do so in great numbers.

Whine-a-saurus Mobilus “You can't get there from here because there aren't any bike lanes,” they chant in unison. Stress forces their voices to a shrill, nasal pitch, and if any additional stress were added, only dogs could hear them. This would be a good thing. On club rides, the whine-a-saurus is best kept at the back of the group where his screams will go unnoticed in the event of a dog attack. This gives new meaning to "devil take the hindmost."

Automobilus Addendus. The automobilus invariably begins with, "I'm a bicyclist too, but..." and then goes on to give 'advice' regarding how or where cyclists should ride. The automobilus hasn't been on a bike since grade school, of course, yet he doesn't hesitate to recommend things that are illegal, impractical, or plainly stupid. He means well, but like the ineducatus, he doesn't allow lack of knowledge or genuine facts get in the way.

Dr. Wally's Field Guide to Cyclists is available at better booksellers everywhere. Dr. Crankset will be available for a book signing at the Sinclair station outside the West Neanderthal Mall on January 5th, 2010.

(Susan, Wally said that if we run this, he'll cover our bar tab down at Larry's Cafe for the next month! Yee haw! Party time!)


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Merry Post-Christmas!

The blizzard hit here Christmas Eve. At mid-day, the airports in Tulsa and Oklahoma City canceled all flights in and out. By late afternoon, some of the turnpikes were closed due to zero visibility.

Of course, my teenage son thought this would be a good time to go out and visit some friends. He was very put out when I told him to stay home.

That evening, one of the local ambulances got stuck in the driveway at the firehouse, effectively bottling the emergency services in the station until the ambulance was pulled out by a tow truck. Number One Son began to have an idea of how bad the roads were.

Christmas morning, I went out to begin shoveling the driveway before the rest of the family awoke. Since the blizzard started with sleet, there was a layer of frozen pellets firmly attached to the pavement. My puny snow shovel had no effect, so I was forced to leave that layer at the bottom of the driveway. The wind produced three drifts too, the deepest one about four feet. I shoveled a path so we could get in and out, and left the bulk of the work for later. The cars were buried, but we weren't going anywhere. I'd shoveled enough snow to make my back hurt, so I gratefully went inside to take a break.

Number One Son had other ideas. He desperately wanted to get his girlfriend to our house for Christmas dinner, so he went out to do some shoveling too. I went out to check on his progress only to discover that all the snow he'd removed from in front of his car was now piled in front of my car! He seemed genuinely puzzled when I objected, but removed all the snow with good grace. I should point out that he was out there shoveling snow while wearing shorts. Sometimes I wonder about that kid.

This morning I started chopping through the ice with a heavy scraper. I bought this tool to remove flooring and it does an equally effective job on thick ice. It's like a heavy spade handle with an 8 inch wide blade, and it's heavy enough to chop ice. I alternated between chopping and shoveling, taking breaks when my body ran out of oomph.

I was chopping the last, thickest section of ice when Number One Son appeared. "I could use some help," I said, so he went back inside for a pair of gloves and a hoodie. He shoveled for about 10 minutes, then rested with his forearms on the shovel handle, not exactly panting, but breathing a little harder than usual. "Who would imagine that shoveling snow could be so hard?" I asked. He gave me a withering look. I'd been out there working off and on for over 4 hours. In another 10 minutes, we were done.

Now, with all that shoveling snow and ice, I missed out on post-Christmas shopping. Imagine my disappointment. And that makes for a truly merry Christmas!


The Best of 2009

We get these lists of the 'best whatever' between Christmas and New Year's, and I'm not immune from doing one of them just to have an easy post. But I blundered across this bit of genuine wisdom from the late Charles Schultz, creator of the "Peanuts" comic strip, and I just had to share it.

Take a moment and read the whole thing. Don't get overly concerned about answering the questions at the top.


What others think is important often turns out to be little more than a illusion. The "Top Stories of 2009", including the Tiger Woods saga or Lance Armstrong's return to the pro peloton, are minor, and ultimately forgettable events compared to those that have a genuine impact on our lives. But I won't elaborate on this any further. Just go read Mr. Schultz.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Don't drink and drive

We've all had this drilled into us since we were teenagers. Don't drink and drive. Call a cab. Friends don't let friends drive drunk. Designated drivers. The lot.

But I'm not writing about alcohol. No, I'm writing about the horror resulting from drinking large quantities of coffee, tea, or even water while taking medication for high blood pressure. The meds I'm taking contain a mild diuretic, so staying hydrated is essential. If I don't 'top off the tank' I get dizzy, and all that hydration means my bladder is always full. Driving is a short-range activity, at best.

I told Number One Son that the family curse revolves around beautiful women throwing themselves at us with reckless abandon. I lied. The real family curse is that the simple act of riding in a car leads to uncomfortably full bladders in a matter of minutes. And that was before I started these meds! No matter how short the drive, when we park the car, we have to find a men's room.

Absent that men's room, there's always the possibility of taking a nature break along what seems to be a deserted road. I say 'seems to be deserted' because on too many occasions when I've sought al fresco relief, a car load of church ladies goes by, their eyes carefully averted. Worse are those guys who drive by realizing what's going on - probably because they've been in the same situation - and they insist on honking and waving.

Trust me - if you do that while I'm intently studying the roadside vegetation, I will not turn around and wave back.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Wally's weight loss system

I'm in a heap of trouble and I haven't even done anything. Wally just left. My house is in turmoil. And She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed is somewhat frosty. It'll be a cold night in Broken Elbow.

Wally breezed in about half an hour ago. He still hasn't replaced his bike because we haven't made a shopping trip to the various bike shops yet. I think he's working on disguises because he's well known at some of them. It's a long story for another time. He's been reduced to getting around on foot.

Like I said, he just walked in the door and announced the latest in a series of hare-brained schemes. As usual, he wanted my help, but this time I simply can't do it. Oh, I'd like to because the research would be fascinating, but it could lead to an early demise.

Put simply, Wally wants to open a weight loss clinic. Seriously, a weight loss clinic. He got the idea from a television commercial. I suppose we should be grateful that he doesn't watch late night infomercials like that Sham-Wow bilge, though to be honest, 'sham' does turn up in many of his schemes. No, this time he saw one of those lap band devices that encircles the stomach and causes the wearer to feel full sooner.

Wally's fertile imagination, however, made an intuitive leap. His idea is legal in most states, and since he's not a medical doctor, it's one that wouldn't require any medical experience, a license, or a shred of ethics. Wally wants to promote a lap dance weight loss system.

I know, I know, it's kind of creepy. He explained that it would involve "highly trained lap dance specialists" who would increase a client's respiration and heart rates, thereby promoting weight loss. I felt a chill run down my back. He wanted me to go with him to interview several prospective "clinicians" this evening. Suddenly, there were two chills on my back, both of them emanating from the laser-like focus of She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed. I didn't have to turn around to know that She stood in the hall doorway, her eyes boring icy holes in my back. I didn't dare to move for fear She would pounce and slice me to shreds.

I stammered some apologies to Wally. He left. She retreated down the hallway, but left a few of her familiars behind, cleverly disguised as domesticated cats. The furry little tattletales would report my every move. I settled back into my chair with a book, but my thoughts revolved around Wally's 'research.' I'll have to stay very close to home for the next week or two.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

...but is it funny?

OK, maybe this is a guy thing. I'll let you decide.

Last night, one of my co-workers set himself on fire when some solvent flashed in our paint booth. Right up front - he's going to be OK, though he has burns on his arms and face. He says it looks like sunburn, so it's likely a first degree burn. Painful, but no lasting damage. He may have lost part of his beard and his eyebrows.

We use solvent - formerly naptha - to degrease and clean parts. It's mixed with high pressure air in a spray nozzle. I said our solvent was formerly naptha because the company recently changed to another chemical, one with a lower flash point. You can see where this is going.

We think a static discharge ignited the stuff. In an instant, Rxxxxx was surrounded by flames. Fortunately, he was wearing some protective gear: a face shield, an apron, and elbow-length gloves. His arms were burned above the gloves but below his sleeves, and his face received some burns too. He did breathe in some hot gases, but after a visit to the hospital ER, he was sent home.

Now, given that we're a cold-hearted bunch, it's well-established that whenever someone gets hurt, we make fun of them. Like I said, it's a guy thing. My contribution, besides some wise cracks about making barbecue, was the following.

"When you get back to work, could you give us a little more warning before setting yourself on fire again? We'd like to make smores."


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

2009 MUTCD

The 2009 revison of the Manual of Uniform Traffic Devices is available on line at:

This is the standard reference book for signage, lane markings, and more. It's useful to cyclists when a local body wants to adapt non-standard devices, and can be instrumental in assisting cyclists involved in advocacy.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

A quick personal note

I walked quite a bit on Saturday as I went through the Tulsa Flea Market, a couple of shops, and the thieve's market. I walked with my cane, not because I needed it for support, but because it forces me to slow down and provides assistance with balance.

Here's the good news. The last time I went to the flea market, my knee and hip hurt so badly afterward that I couldn't walk much that evening. This weekend, however, I was pain free! Even better, there were no dizzy spells.

It's going to be a rough week ahead. I'm working early because my daughter had a schedule change and I get up with her for coffee before work. My alarm goes off at 4AM. Also, we're presently scheduled for overtime on Saturday, but I'm on vacation after that.

If all goes well and the extra stress doesn't make me hurt, I plan to try riding my bike this weekend. That may sound like a pitifully small step, but simply walking around the block was exhausting and very painful a few months ago. I'm hoping to start recovering all that lost fitness.

And yes, I still have to see the doctor, but that will be something to do while I'm taking vacation time.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Nice boondoggle

From the League of American Bicyclist's blog:

December 11. League President Andy Clarke heads off to Copenhagen next week as an official observer to reinforce the need for national, state and local governments to include cycling as an integral part of a sustainable transport strategy – which Copenhagen exemplifies so well.

Maybe he can help power their municipal Christmas tree while he’s there.

Is there some international bicycling advocacy education group that I'm not aware of yet? If we're to "think globally and act locally" why is LAB's Big Cheese in Copenhagen? The League is based in Washington and unless things have changed in the last day or two, that's still our seat of government. How many "state and local governments" will have representatives in Copenhagen? Gosh, you'd think that if you wanted to change cycling for the better in our country, it would be a simple matter to talk to legislators in the same freakin' city where LAB is based!

Who wants to bet we'll be subjected to another round of "Copenhagen-style" happy talk when he returns? The League has transparency issues since they've declined publishing a financial report on their website for some time. And in the present recession when most organizations are reporting declining membership, our own Big Cheese chooses a boondoggle trip over the genuine needs of American cyclists.

Hope you had a fun trip, Andy.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Yeehaw! I hit the motherlode!

Crappy cell-phone photo.

Saturday morning, I went to the Tulsa Flea Market, a couple of thrift stores, some pawn shops, and the local thieve's market. And in one of them, I found this jumble of cameras.  There's far more here than is apparent in the photo.  Cameras and accessories are tucked away under the shelves and in small boxes.  While I was tempted to buy, I resisted because Christmas is coming and I need to reserve cash for Mary and the kids.  Still, the temptation is there.

Also, at the Tulsa Flea Market, I came across two Kodak Retinas.  One was a IIA and the other a III.  These are German-made Kodaks and quite likely the very best 35mm cameras they ever sold.  My IIA was a nearly solid piece of stainless steel.  You could beat someone to death with that camera, and then take a picture of the body afterward.  But much as I like the Retina, I probably won't buy another one because there's too great a chance that the bellows is shot.

Finally, one last thing for Steve A - I still can't comment on your blog.  Dunno why.  And in all that pile of cameras, not one Praktica.  Most were junk, but I didn't take the time to look carefully.  Too tempting.


Monday, December 07, 2009

Shiny objects...

Steve A, over at DFW Point-to-Point, has come right out and said that I'm an agent of Satan. I've been called many things over the years, the usual litany of perceived insults that people hurl at cyclists. On one memorable occasion, a highly irate local redneck went to the vilest one he could think of at the moment. He called me (gasp!) a liberal! Now, normally I don't cover politics here on CycleDog, unless it has to do with my friend, fellow traveler, and accomplice in crime, Dr. Walter Crankset, and I won't go off on a tangent about politics now. Suffice it to say that I stand to the left of center, something that's not terribly difficult to accomplish here in Oklahoma, particularly if you have any sort of education and the combined abilities to reason and read.

But religion is another matter entirely. Oh sure, Wally treats it as a scam, just another way to fleece the flock, separating the gullible from their cash and allowing them to walk away happy. I take it much more seriously, however, and to be called one of Satan's agents is a personal affront. An agent is a management position. I'm firmly on the side of labor, so it would be impossible for me to be an agent. No, no, I'm a union steward in Hell.

Oh, you didn't know that Hell is unionized? Of course it is! What better way to torture Republicans for all eternity? I work in the Temptation Wing with all those shiny objects that people covet. There are six other wings. My local is the Amagamated Imps and Demons Local 514. We have embroidered hats with the logo. Seven wings, seven deadly sins. See how it works out?

Then again, you may be wondering about that number - 514. Yep, there are at least that many locals, one or more in every town, in fact.

My job is to dangle shiny objects in front of people, things they'll covet. That's the first step toward greed. For the last couple of months, it's been old cameras. But nearly any highly polished piece of metal will do. Some can't withstand the allure of gold or silver. Gems and jewelry attract them like a porch light attracts moths. Many of my co-workers fall for Snap-On tools, motorcycles, or powerful automobiles.

But the easiest ones to seduce with something shiny are those dumb cyclists! Honestly, they'll sell their own children for the latest titanium widget, and that's only to replace last year's titanium widget. They spend ever increasing amounts of money for something that weighs less and less. I think there's some mathematical formula calculating that if we could only reduce the weight of a bicycle to under five pounds, they'd give us an amount equivalent to the national debt.

The UCI opposes all this, of course, because they work for the Other Guy. Most people don't believe that, and it's been one of our better success stories. It's been a genuine help at recruiting time.

All those magazines and websites touting the latest unobtainium bike, well, we run them from my wing. And just to show that we're equal opportunity guys, we even have those anti-establishment 'bike culture' types on the payroll too. Oh, they sneer at the mainstream bike businesses, but in their hearts they lust after some shiny, tastefully color-coordinated fixed gear bike too.

And the racers, those mincing snobs who won't deign to talk to mere 'Freds'? They're a wholly owned subsidiary. When they finally arrive here in Hell, we put them to work assembling department store bikes. They still get to race, but they have to ride those machines too. It's a real win-win scenario as they get tortured for eternity, the bikes torture the people who buy them, and we profit from it all. What a deal!

So why am I telling you this? Won't it give away our plan to subjugate all those pathetic, weak-willed humans without the self-control to turn away from that oh-so-attractive candleflame? Ha! None of you will believe it anyway, so it will continue right under your noses and before your very eyes.

We gotcha!


Saturday, December 05, 2009

Yashica ME-1

Yashica ME-1

OK, I promise this will be the last old camera piece for awhile - that is - until I get my hands on the wide angle zoom I won at auction, and I get the Yashica Electro 35GT in working order.

This is a cheap yardsale item, a Yashica ME-1 that is strictly an automatic camera. It uses zone focusing rather than a coupled rangefinder. The body is plastic and, as is typical of old cameras like this, the light seals have deteriorated. In that large shot taken from a bridge, you can see the light leak in the lower left corner.

The shutter seems to be one speed, probably 1/60 or 1/125 of a second, and the lens includes f-stops ranging from 2.8 to 16 in order to accomodate flash photography. I could apply the 'sunny sixteen rule' and make this camera useable in daylight with the right film, but I haven't done so yet.

A word of explanation - the sunny sixteen rule is a handy way of checking exposure. In bright sunlight, your shutter speed should be the reciprocal of the film speed when the lens is stopped down to f16. My Canonet, for example, is currently loaded with ISO400 film, so I'd be shooting at 1/500th of a second at f16. I prefer to err on the side of over-exposure with print films, so I'd probably use 1/250th instead.

This detail is from the larger image above. The grain is starting to show and the contrast isn't remarkable.

This Yashica is meant to be used in auto mode. If the light is too strong or too weak, the shutter won't fire. Likewise, if the battery is dead or if some fool who looks remarkably like me forgets to remove the lens cover, the shutter won't fire. And if that fool forgets to replace the cover, the battery drains away. Actually, this one drains the battery even if the lens is covered, so I've entertained the thought of putting a switch into the circuit. It's not like this is a collectible camera, so how about a big-assed toggle switch? A momentary contact switch would be better, though. Hold it down to turn on the meter. Let go, and the meter turns off.

One friend called these things 'canoe cameras' because if it went over the side of the canoe, you wouldn't be too upset. That may have been my thinking when I bought it, but in all honesty, that was so long ago that I can't remember.

And since I'm never one to resist temptation, here's a shot of the Yashica Electro 35 GT that came in earlier this week. This is a better quality camera than the ME-1 and it shows. It's in far better shape than I expected, but that's a topic for another post.

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Friday, December 04, 2009

Just write

No, this is not about the Baby Bear's porridge. If you recall, Papa's was too hot. Mama's was too cold. And Baby Bear's was 'just right.' Goldilocks, being an arrogant, spoiled brat, simply took what she wanted and didn't care about the consequences. She received far less kicking around than she deserved. Her's was a blond-centric universe.

Just write.

To some extent, each of us live in an ego-centric world different from Goldilocks only in degree. And who else but a writer could be most accurately described as ego-centric? We live to inflict our world views on others and can only imagine the accolades our superior intellect will bring - once the world notices, that is.

Just write.

I'm exhausted. Physically and mentally I'm at low ebb. I'm loathe to leave my chair in the evening and I fall asleep easily. It's difficult to concentrate. Finding ideas for posts is likewise hard and finding comedy even harder.

Just write.

So I'm reading various writer's resource blogs and websites, trying to get past these doldrums and onto something more productive. Sure, I've been here before and I've written about it. And I'll likely be here again, becalmed on a sea of apparent futility, oppressed on all sides by depression, sleepiness, and a nagging fear that the ideas will never come.

Just write.

It feels like I'm hanging on by my fingernails, trying to get through the next two weeks in order to reach that blessed sanctuary of vacation through the holidays. Two weeks from now I'll be done for the year. I won't return to work until January 4th. In the meantime, however, my employer wants all our units off the shelves in order to minimize flight delays and cancellations over the holidays.

Just write.

One of the writer's blogs urges us to 'just write' everyday, regardless of how we feel or how the world is turning. "Just sit down, turn off the distractions, and write. Write something - anything - and the ideas will flow by themselves." Apparently, sitting here putting words to (virtual) paper is conducive to fighting one's way out of the doldrums. Maybe it works, maybe not, but expect to see some similar stream-of-consciousness stuff from time to time.

Just write.

Wally is lurking around here somewhere. He needs a new bike after Bill Howard ran over his old Peugeot outside Larry's Cafe one night. I suppose we'll have to go bike shopping - a prospect that fills me with dread.

Just write.

As John Houseman said in The Paper Chase, "You have a mind full of mush!" That's a good summary of how mine feels right now. The admonition to "just write" may be a useful tool in shoveling that mush out of the way. It's an exercise in self-discipline.

Just write.

For that matter, I can understand the appeal of trying shortcuts like alcohol or amphetamines. In my case, booze is not that enticing because a couple of shots would leave me snoring atop any convenient horizontal object, but uppers offer that illusory appeal of wakefulness and energy, at least in the short term. Don't worry. I'm not about to turn into a pill popping fiend. I've seen the results on some people who were close to me. Ain't gonna go there.

Just write.

Wally and I stood there looking at the wreckage of his bike when Fred and Ethel frog-marched Bill Howard out of the bar. Bill was wearing handcuffs. They put him in the back of the patrol car as we gawked. Then they came over to us. I thought they wanted to talk about the damages, but instead, they had us assume the position. We were quickly frisked and cuffed, joining Bill in the back of the car. Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it's off to jail we go....

They arrested me and threw me in jail,
I called my sweetie to go my bail...

Bill had never been arrested and he was terrified. Fear made him babble, and Wally quickly took note. As he was no stranger to jail cells, and in fact was a kind of connoisseur of most of the region's lockups, he began fueling Bill's terrors with lurid stories of mayhem, violence, rape, and sodomy, some of which I recognized from those low-budget 'women in prison' movies.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

OK, class, pay attention!

Who really cares about Tiger Woods' "transgressions"? Let's have a show of hands. Anybody?

OK, move along then. The news people will have another shiny object in a day or two.