Sunday, October 14, 2007

Web 2.0 - Not Your Big Brother's World Wide Web

These days, it seems that everyone's talking about Web 2.0, the new release of the Internet that’s due out from Microsoft some time in 2010, right after they ship Windows 2005.

Just kidding: everyone knows that Microsoft sold the Internet to Apple and Google a few years ago in a super-secret deal that gave Apple ownership over all digital media while Google got everything else. Every time someone downloads a video of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton at the MTV Awards, Steve Jobs buys another jet. But that’s not what Web 2.0 is about. Web 2.0 is fresh! It’s new! And it is nothing, repeat, nothing like Web 1.0, which was full of dirty pictures, popup ads, and e-commerce sites that wanted to sell you appliances over the Internet. This is a meaningful paradigm shift, not some technology fad. You just wait and see.

You know, I still remember Web 0.8, which we called "AOL" (for you young kids, this was before everything had ".com" at the end of its name). Back then, we didn’t have all of these fancy "web apps" and "mashups," with their onscreen functionality and resizable windows. We had text, and we liked it! Sure, there were graphics, but they took so darn long to download on your 2400 baud modem that you turned them off as soon as you could find the settings menu. Placeholders were good enough for us, thank you. Besides, all those smiley faces and flashing dots got in the way of the real purpose of the Web back then, which was to allow random strangers to "chat."

You see, since we didn’t have graphics and dynamic road maps to keep us company, we were very, very lonely. So we turned to each other, forming little communities called "chat rooms" where people who had never met face to face – and, in many cases, hadn’t willingly spoken to a non-relative in well over a year – would gather to pretend that they were handsome, witty, and athletically inclined. A chat room was a singles bar, a masquerade ball, and a typing class all rolled up into one nerdy little package. I still remember the little chill that I got on the day that I learned how to change the font on my chat room window from Courier to Times New Roman. Even today, the siren song of a squealing modem handshake calls to me, quickening my blood and reminding me of late nights spent trading good-humored barbs with HobbitLuvr001 and RandAlThor22157 over the relative merits of J.R.R. Tolkien and Robert Jordan’s fantasy series.

Yes, it was a heady time for technology.

Don’t get me wrong: nostalgia aside, Web 2.0 has a lot going for it. For those who are still confused, here’s a quick reference of some of the major differences between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0:

Web 1.0: Static pages with links
Web 2.0: Dynamic web applications with back-end integration to multiple data sources

Web 1.0: Centralized development with long release cycles
Web 2.0: Decentralized, continuous user-driven development (the constant beta)

Web 1.0: Annoying pop-up ads
Web 2.0: Annoying expandable ads showing people and/or silhouettes dancing like idiots

Web 1.0: and their annoying dog hand-puppet spokesperson
Web 2.0: YouTube and its annoying users (and here, of course, I’m thinking specifically of those 5000 Star Wars parodies and the "Things I Ate on Vacation That Made Me Sick" videoblog)

I think that you get the point. It’s a brave new world out there, and Google's ready to give you a guided tour.

What do you think? Is Web 2.0 all it's cracked up to be, or are you, like me, secretly jonesing for a CompuServe fix? Free 2400 baud modem to the first five commenters.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Yankee Fans Eat Their Young (or old, in this case)

The only thing more fun than watching the Red Sox sit atop the AL East is watching the New York papers turn on the Yankees.

I don't think that Newsday holds out much hope for the postseason...

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Dangers of Google Street View

Sometimes, Google Street View shows you more than you want to know about the local street life.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Best Buddies Hyannisport Challenge 2007: Rain, Speed, and Rick Springfield

Note: to get the most enjoyment out of this report, you need a little history. Stop reading right now and go look at the 2005 and 2006 ride reports. OK, now you can keep reading.

If you ever find yourself in the position where you have to ride 96 miles on a bicycle through the pouring rain, then I have a word of advice for you: don't. What are you, nuts? It's cold and wet out there, the road grit sprays up and gets in your eyes, and that "Singin' in the rain" feeling doesn't kick in until well after the hypothermia has set in.

If, on the other hand, you find yourself with no choice but to ride in the rain for 96 miles because many of your wonderful friends and family members have paid for the privilege of hearing about it later, then I have another word for you:


If you have to do this and you want to leave your closest biking buddies sucking damp wind in your wake -- just like they've done to you for the past two years -- then I have two more words for you:

New bike.

Two years ago, I rode in my first Best Buddies Hyannisport Challenge (technically, it's the "Volvo Hyannisport Challenge," but they're not sponsoring me, so I'll call it what I want). That year, the temperature hovered in the mid-40s, with steady rain and 30-40 mph winds for most of the ride. The theme that year was survival. Last year, against all common sense but inspired by a good cause and that certain prideful masochism endemic to all serious riders, I came back and did it again. We had clear skies, warm temperatures, and a larger team that coasted in my wake through the early miles before discarding me like a used tissue when the terrain turned hilly. So, depending upon your point of view, the theme for last year's ride was either "prudent use of aerodynamics" or "a cheap way to get an easy ride for 75 miles."

This year's theme was… payback.

Don't get me wrong: I love the guys I ride with. We have a great time together, and there's no one else with whom I would rather share a sunny spring day, smelling the lilacs as we roll over the hills of New England. I would give any of them my last inner tube even if it meant I had to walk home, and I trust that they'd do the same for me (OK, I wouldn't really walk home: I'd call my wife for a pickup. Still, the point's valid. Don't nitpick.). They're my buddies, and we consider our biking time together to be a sacred thing. Still, there's one thing I grew really tired of seeing over the past couple of years, and that's the sight of their butts receding in the distance over a hill. Sure, they were very supportive when I caught up somewhere on the other side. There they'd be, circling a rotary and waving or sitting nonchalantly on the side of the road eating a Power Bar as though they thought, "Hey, he's gonna be a while; let's have a picnic while we wait!" But it was the kind of support that you give the fat guy in the jogging suit at the high school track. "It's nice that he tries. He's very brave to be out here with the real athletes. Let's encourage him before he has a heart attack."

No more. For her birthday this spring, my wonderful wife -- who has my undying admiration and love, and not just because of this (but maybe a little) -- asked for one present for her birthday. She wanted me to buy a new bike for myself, a fast one. After the appropriate amount of hemming and hawing, I complied and bought a Cannondale SIX13, the fastest, stiffest bike you can get on a normal person's salary. It rides like a dream and, even better, it climbs like a monster. When I jump on the pedals, it takes off and I have to hang on to make sure I don't get left behind. See, all this time I thought that I was just a slow rider. It turns out that it wasn't me, it was my bike. Well, maybe it was me a little, too, but the bike definitely had something to do with it.

So this year, I came ready to ride. The Blue Streak and I -- I named the bike after my wife -- were going to show people what real climbing looked like. We were going to glow in the morning sun as we streaked by people on the flats, gleaming like a jewel as the sun sparkled off the waves of Nantucket Sound…

Huh? Oh, right: the weather.

Funny thing about spring in New England: the only thing you can guarantee is that it won't be what you expect. 85 degrees in mid-February? A distinct possibility. Snow in April? Happens all the time. Good weather for an annual event that someone who lives in Florida set for the third Saturday in May? About one year in seven, and we already had ours.

So Saturday, May 19 broke with a soggy thunderclap. Rain overflowed the gutters as I loaded my pristine bike onto the back of my car. Before I pulled out of the driveway, she was already dirtier than she had ever been and I could only pray that things got better. I had been praying, in fact, all week, and had encouraged my team to do the same. I looked on the Internet for prayers for good weather and found one that General Patton had used during the Battle of the Bulge. Granted, we weren't killing Germans, but it still seemed like a good cause. I was sure that God would grant us the weather we wanted.

The Lord works in mysterious ways. In this case, he worked through an intermittent soaking drizzle. The sun was in our hearts though, if not yet in the sky, as we met at Danny's house at 5:15 to drive to the John F. Kennedy Library for the start of our odyssey.

Enough prologue: on with the ride.

6:30 AM, Mile 0: Registration is a snap, but everyone seems to be loitering inside until the last possible moment before going out into the rain to start the ride. I'm wearing a thermal undershirt, my Best Buddies jersey, and my rain jacket on top, along with my helmet and a helmet cover. That helmet cover will turn out to be the best $20 I have ever spent, since it keeps my head warm and the rain from running down my neck all day long. On the bottom, I'm wearing tights over my bike shorts and some uncomfortably tight rain pants. I thought I'd worn these pants before, but apparently not. I look like a neon Ricky Martin, and I'm fairly unsure that I'll be able to get on my bike, much less pedal. The rain pants go back in the duffel bag. I'll have to trust that my tights can hold in my body heat even if they get wet.

I have my eyes peeled for celebrities and spot two: Greg German, who played "Fish" on Ally McBeal, and Maureen McCormick, a.k.a. Marcia Brady. I'll take 'em. We're entertained by a "Buddies Band" made up of some of the special needs kids from a local school. They play pretty well and their enthusiasm carries any sour notes. This is why we ride, so let's get to it.

7:30 AM, Mile 0: We line up at the starting line, more than 500 strong. Over 600 people registered, but it looks like some have chosen to write their checks and run. Wimps. I hope none of the riders from the big law firms had their friends pledge a dollar a mile, or else they'll be liable for fraud. I line up near the front, having learned from last year's experience that the "cattle in the chute" feeling only gets worse the farther back you are. I had hoped that some of my team would join me, but they seem to be near the back. Oh, look: Danny's talking to someone. What a surprise. They'll just have to catch up, because I can't get back there now.

Senator John Kerry is riding with us again. He also did the ride two years ago, when Anthony Shriver joked that the 2009 Best Buddies ride would start at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Oops. This year, Kerry gives a quick wave after he's introduced and gets on his bike, flanked by two burly fellows who apparently drew the short straw for guard detail today.

Finally, at ten minutes to eight, we're off. 96 miles to go.

7:50-9:05 AM, Miles 0-16: The first ten miles seem slower than usual this year. They said that we'd maintain an easy 10 mph with our police escort, but my speedometer rarely tops 8. It's not quite slow enough so that you're in danger of falling over, but it's pretty darn close. I stay near the front, assuming that my teammates will be able to find my broad yellow back whenever they're ready. Soon, I come across a couple of them: Morris, a three-year veteran like myself, and David, who's doing it for the first time. David's riding a hybrid, and for some reason I can't get it through my waterlogged brain that he's with us. I keep zipping past him and then trying to figure out who's calling my name. It must be something about the upright profile; I'm too used to locking in on a hunched figure who looks like he's trying to convince himself that this is fun. David's just riding too easy.

Morris and I stick together for the most part, weaving through some of the slower riders as we go. Senator Kerry zips by about five miles into the ride and we follow him for a while. He has a really nice bike, but so do his escorts, so we give them a healthy cushion. Still, it's fun to think that I can now claim to have ridden with Senator Kerry, even if we never spoke.

Maureen McCormick rides next to the crowd for a while, hanging out of the window of a red Volvo and chatting with the riders. She pulls up next to us just as we ride by a group of about a dozen guys pulled off to the side of the road and peeing on a fence, still seated on their bikes.

"Aren't you glad you got here in time to see that?" I call.

"Yes, I'm a lucky girl."

It is at this point that I decide that I'm going to wait until the first rest stop before I relieve the growing pressure in my own bladder. No sense making a spectacle of myself. I'm pretty sure I'd fall off the bike if I tried that, anyway.

Finally, the escort ends and we're free to open it up a little. The racers have all gathered at the front of the pack by now and they accelerate as soon as the police cars peel off. I'm not far behind, so I latch onto a small breakaway group as they pick up speed. Look at me! I'm riding with the fast kids! I'm pushing a bit to keep up, but it still feels good to stretch my muscles and burn off the energy pent up during the slow riding. Plus, those two cups of coffee and the bottle of Gatorade have all passed through my body now and I really need to get to the rest stop before the lines for the port-a-potties grow too long.

The group I've been riding with whooshes past the first rest stop, so I give them a mental wave goodbye as I pull in. I doubt that I'll see them again, but it was fun to be a part of the race for a few miles and now I know that I can keep up.

9:05-9:25 AM, Mile 16, Rest Stop #1: At the first stop, we establish a pattern that will continue throughout the rest of the ride: I arrive first and wait for the rest of my team. Morris gets in next, only a minute or two behind me, and Danny and Bob pull in soon after. By then, I've already made use of the facilities and am helping myself to some of the fine pastries in the food tent. The rain has slacked off and the celebrities are all waiting for us as we arrive. I see that this year we have not one but three Miss Teen USA contestants: the Misses Vermont, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. None of them appear to be riding anywhere, though, so I still have to give credit to last year's Miss Teen USA for actually getting on a hybrid and riding at least some portion of the route.

On each food table, a large sign reads, "Food is for Riders," and I am left to wonder: do they have a problem with snack thieves around here? Are there bands of senior citizens roaming the South Shore in search of free cookies? Perhaps the volunteers ate too much last year, greeting the late riders with nothing but crumbs and guilty looks. Or maybe the key word is "Riders," and they want to make sure that any walkers who roam off of the Avon Breast Walk course don't slip into our rest stops and eat our food. I will have to ponder this for the next 80 miles.

Morris is antsy to get going, so he leaves while we wait for more of our team to arrive. For a guy who barely trained for this ride, he's sure in a hurry. We greet a few more people before we saddle up for the second leg.

9:25-10:40 AM, Miles 16-36: Danny, Bob, David and I leave together, calling encouragement to our other teammates as we go. We won't see most of them again until the end of the day. David can't keep our pace on his hybrid, so he waves us on after a mile or two, ready to settle into his own pace. Danny, Bob, and I try to establish some kind of a paceline despite the gritty spray coming off of our wheels. I find that if I position myself just right, I can catch the spray on my shoulder while still getting some kind of draft off the guy in front of me. It's easier to do this behind Bob than Danny, because Danny's can't keep a straight line to save his life. I can't tell if this is because he's trying to dodge the spray off of Bob's wheel, he's lost his sense of equilibrium, or he's seeing tiny leprechauns in the road and trying to hit every one.

"Danny, could you try to avoid the puddles please?" I call, only half joking.

"Sure. Which ones would you like me to dodge: the deep ones or the muddy ones?"

Sigh. It's going to be a long, wet ride.

The rain has picked up again. On the bright side, the sheeting rain masks the feel of the road spray hitting my face. On the down side, my glasses are starting to fog up. I have two choices: if I push the glasses close to my face, they keep the spray out of my eyes but they fog up; if I pull them down and let the air come through, the fogging clears up but the rain hits me in the eyes. I alternate between the two for a while, unwilling to give up the eye protection altogether.

We hit the Marshfield hills and start to spread out. I find that everyone is going too slowly for me on the climbs, so I step up to the front again. We steadily pass group after group, including one led by a number 12. His number marks him as one of the ride's charter members, but I don't know who he is. He has quite a crowd around him and he seems to be setting the pace. Not fast enough, though: we pass them on a downhill and move ahead.

I try to set an easy pace for my team without sacrificing too much of my own momentum on each climb, but it's not long before I'm pulling away. We're still close enough together when we pass a disabled rider -- a reddish blur by the side of the road through my foggy lenses -- that I can hear Danny call, "Morris!" Morris has a flat. I pull off the road at the bottom of the hill and wait for Danny and Bob, who stopped to check on him. He has already called the support truck, so help is on the way. Not only will they fix his tire, but they'll also drive him ahead a few miles so he doesn't lose too much time on the rest of the team. Talk about full service. Depending upon how I feel, I may consider getting a flat myself around mile 85.

We continue onward, with me leading. Number 12 and his crew passed us again while we were checking on Morris, and I swear that they looked a little smug. I pick up the pace in an effort to catch them again. It's treacherous, heads-down riding, so I don't have much attention to spare for those behind me. I know that they're there, though, because I can hear their tire splashing. At least, I think they're there. After a few more hilly miles, Danny looks back and calls out, "Hey, we lost Bob!"

"Really? I didn't think he looked that tired. All right, let's just slow down and let him catch up. It would hurt more to stop right now than to just coast." We take a couple of easy miles, but Bob still hasn't caught us before we hit the next rest stop, so we pull in there to wait.

A few minutes later, Bob wheels in. He looks a little peeved. "I dropped my chain back there on the hill. You guys didn't even wait for me?"

"We slowed down," I reply. "Look, I didn't even stop for Morris, so consider yourself lucky."

"Good point."

10:40-10:55 AM, Mile 36, Rest Stop #2: I'm still feeling strong, so we eat quickly and are soon ready to go. I grab a banana, a cookie, and, after a moment's hesitation, a ham rollup sandwich. Bad move. I'll taste that ham for the next 15 miles. Morris catches up to us just as we're ready to leave, and after a quick bite he's ready to go again. Now we are four.

10:55 AM - 12:30 PM, Miles 36-61: This is my favorite part of this ride. We cruise through scenic Duxbury with its little brick post office and then southwest into Plymouth before riding through Miles Standish State Forest. On a sunny day, it's beautiful country. Today, I can only assume that the scenery is still there, somewhere beyond the foggy horizon of my sunglasses. Nonetheless, it's a pleasant ride. The rain even begins to slack off, so now we can lift up our heads as we ride.

Morris, who caught up with us again at the rest stop, rides like he's attached to the group with a rubber band: lagging behind as we travel along the flats and then sprinting ahead on the hills, only to lag behind again. It's exhausting just to watch him, and I worry that he's not going to make it the entire way. Bob and Danny are looking OK, but as the hills begin again they start to lose speed. I'm feeling strong, so I decide that it's time to strike out on my own. I stand up and attack the hill, leaving them behind.

The next 20 miles pass in a joyful blur. The sky is still gray, but the rain has stopped falling. I finally ditch the sunglasses to that I can enjoy the scenery as I ride into the forest, and I rejoice that I can spend a day doing this. My legs are strong, the pine trees smell fresh and resiny, and I am passing people one after another. The rolling hills flow past, and at the top of each one I choose my next target. That woman in the blue windbreaker, laboring up the next hill: gone in a flash. The three riders chatting as they spin along: whoosh. There's number 12 again, with his entourage of five riders. I slide in behind them on a flat section and then slingshot by on the next climb. The best part of all of this? I'm passing them on the way up the hills. That has never happened before. Not once. The Blue Streak and I are on a roll.

The euphoria runs out before the trees do, and it starts to get a little harder to climb. I look at my odometer. I have now ridden further than any of my training rides, so it's no wonder that I'm a little tired. I'm not done yet, though: I just need to switch tactics. A little less attacking and a little more spinning, if you please. Rather than seeing how quickly I can reel in the next rider, I let them come to me. I try to find that easy pace where it feels like the weight of my own feet -- a noticeable weight now, with an extra two or three pounds of water filling my tights and shoe covers -- is pushing the pedals down and I'm just keeping them moving. I settle on the saddle as comfortably as wet spandex and the bumpy road will allow and just try to enjoy the ride. Before long I spot the pond that sits in the middle of the forest and I know that I'm only a mile from the rest stop. I pour on a little bit more speed and zip by the well-wishers who have come out to cheer us into the next stop. Suspecting that I'll have some time to rest before my buddies join me, I park my bike and slip into the food tent for some well-deserved hot cider.

12:35-1:00 PM, Mile 61, Rest Stop #3: I have moved on from cider to Gatorade by the time Danny pulls in, and I'm done eating when Bob arrives with Morris. David arrived seemingly out of nowhere while I was waiting for everyone else. He's still smiling, and I'm starting to suspect that he's hitchhiking between rest stops. Bob, on the other hand, is gray, but I can't tell whether it's from the road grime or that's his actual skin color. Either way, he doesn't look good.

"I just hit the wall back there," he mutters. "This is really starting to hurt." There are some Clif Shot gel packs on the food table and I urge him to eat one or two, along with a cup of coffee. After a few minutes, the color returns to his face.

Morris has been at the rest stop all of three minutes before he's itching to leave again. I learn the reason for his rush when he asks to borrow Danny's phone: he's meeting his son around mile 65 so that they can ride the last thirty miles together, and his daughter's planning to join both of them for the last ten. His soon-to-be-ex-wife drove them down, and it appears that Morris underestimated how long it would take to do the ride. The family does not seem to be enjoying the wait. Morris makes one phone call, punctuated by the repeated phrase, "I'll get there as soon as I can," and jumps on his bike again.

I'm ready to go, too, and number 12 and his posse arrived a few minutes after Bob. I don't really feel like passing them again, so as soon as I can herd everyone back onto their bikes, we're off.

1:00-2:00, Miles 61-76: Danny, Bob, and I pull out together for the fourth leg of the trip. Not far along the road, we pass David, who left before us. He's looking comfortable, grooving along to the tunes on his headphones. He gives a friendly wave as we pass by. This is the shortest leg of the ride, with a long walk across the Sagamore Bridge at the end. I'm raring to go, so I set a hard pace coming out of the State Forest. Bob, invigorated by the combination of maltodextrose and caffeine, is a new man. He and I take turns pulling as we zoom along beside Route 3, the water on our left. A few miles farther on, we spot Morris in the distance, walking his bike up a hill. He's still going as fast as he can. I hope his family appreciates his effort when he arrives.

There's a long, very steep hill around mile 69 that has all of us panting for breath by the time we reach the top. We lose Danny about halfway up, and as we pass the aptly named White Cliffs Country Club we wave to Morris' family, waiting by the side of the road. "He's coming!" we gasp. Bob and I carry on through the remaining miles until we gratefully dismount for the walk across the bridge. After that, it's a short sprint to the final rest stop.

2:00-2:15, Mile 76, Rest Stop #4: Our last stop of the day is catered by Dunkin' Donuts, so I am greeted by the welcome sight of dozens of donuts laid out on the food table, and the coffee is actually hot. Oh, blessed warmth! I grab another banana for good measure, but I hold off on any cookies. I'm feeling pretty good, so I don't want to weigh my gut down with too much food over the home stretch.

Two Dunkin' Donuts workers are standing next to their big event truck holding free Coolatas, and they're about as popular as a Yankees fan at Fenway. I guess someone in the corporate office misread the weather report.

Danny and David come in five minutes after me and Bob. Everyone's starting to look tired, but we're all in good spirits. David is nervous about "the access road." Apparently, some of the veteran riders have been telling stories about this road, the Heartbreak Hill of the Best Buddies ride, and how it breaks your spirit with only 18 miles to go. I flash back to previous years, and quotes from my other ride reports come back to me:

"We stick together for a couple of miles, but on the first long hill I fade
and watch the rest of the team slowly pull away. The cold has sapped too
much of my energy for me to keep the pace.... As I chug onward, I pass
several other riders who all look the way I feel: dead tired and

"That's it, I'm cooked.... 11 mph... 9.5 mph... 9
mph.... My team passes me, the woman we passed on the last climb passes
me, an old woman with a walker passes me ringing her little bell on the way
by. All I ask is that I maintain enough speed to keep from falling
"Nah, it's not that bad," I reassure him. "Just keep pedaling."

I give Danny a minute to go to the bathroom before I drag him back on the bike. It's time to finish this thing!

2:15-3:15, Miles 76-96: Amazingly, I still have energy to spare. My legs are tired, but nothing's cramping… yet. The adrenaline seems to be keeping the regular aches and pains at bay, as well, and as I set a comfortable pace for the three of us I am surprised to discover that I'm actually looking forward to the last twenty miles of this ride. As the climbs begin again, I stand on the pedals and charge ahead, mentally wishing my teammates farewell and a good ride. I try not to push too hard, because common sense and experience remind me that these aren't easy miles. Still, by the time I hit the access road it's all ahead full speed.

The entrance to the service road off of Route 6, 77 miles into the ride, is my personal Alpe d'Huez. This hill has broken me twice, but this year I'm ready for it. I grunt out a thank you to the policeman holding traffic for me and stand up to attack the hill. It pushes back, but now I am the stronger combatant. As I climb, I am intensely grateful for those miles I spent climbing up and down the hills in Weston, for the regular charges up Strawberry Hill in Concord, and especially for Great Brook Farm in Carlisle, with the steep climbs 35 miles into my training loop. All of those miles have prepared me for this one, and this year it belongs to me.

Which isn't to say it doesn't hurt. My legs are on fire, as are my lungs, as I reach the top of the first climb and turn the corner to see… another climb. Right, this was the part that I hated. I settle into the saddle for a few moments and click down to an easier gear, spinning while I wait for the burning in my calves to ease. OK, that's better. Back up on pedals, and over the hill we go.

After that, it's all a steady stream of rolling hills and rapid descents. I attack each climb with all of the energy that I have and then gather my strength on the back side. Soon I am pedaling even on the downhill stretches to build up more momentum for the next climb. The riders are scattered now, as each person settles into whatever pace he can maintain and just tries to get to the finish. The Blue Streak and I reel in every rider we see until there are no more people in front of us.

I am in Hyannisport now, and I can taste the finish line. The signs have pulled me onward: "15 miles to go!" "10 miles to go!" "5 miles to go!" The countdown has begun as I follow the signs to Craigville beach. In the distance I see a white arch. The finish line! I pour on what speed I have left and unzip my jacket, just like the riders on the Tour de France, prepared to show my colors as I zoom across the finish. I imagine my family cheering for me as I come in. Funny that I can't hear them yet…. No matter: only a half a mile to go now. I push harder. The arch draws nearer. Around its edges I can now make out some words, but none of them is "Finish." It reads:

"Welcome to the Kennedy Compound. Only two more miles to go!"

What a dirty trick.

Suddenly, everything hurts. My knees ache, my thighs feel like someone has been punching them for hours, and my shoulders are knotted with strain. The adrenaline that has carried me is gone, spent in a false finish. After a few minutes I zip up my jacket again, uncomfortable with the amount of drag it is producing. Grimly, I settle back to my task and concentrate on finishing, this time for real.

The last two miles are hard, with several climbs into the teeth of the wind, but I manage to regain some of my bounce before the end. I see what looks like a finish line ahead. Just to be sure, I sneak a glance at my odometer before I stand up for a final sprint. OK, this looks like the real thing. I surge in, settling back to raise my hands in the air as I see my family cheering at the finish line. I did it, and this time it felt good.

My official time by the clock is 7:25. My cycling computer registered 6:05:45 for actual time in the saddle and moving. My legs are ready for a rest and my back for a complimentary massage. As I hug my wife and kids and cheer the arrival of the rest of my team, I am proud, once again, to have completed this ride. It was a great day, and it served a fabulous cause. Later, when we go to the party, I watch several of the "buddies," including Danny's son Aaron, dancing by the stage and singing with Rick Springfield, and I think:

What a great way to spend a day.

Loved this report? Wish you'd been there? It's too late to ride, but not too late to support mentally challenged kids across the world. Go to my rider page and make a pledge!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Count the cost

I have a friend -- let's call him "Mark" -- who is the cheapest guy that I know. This guy pinches pennies so hard that he has a permanent imprint of Abraham Lincoln on each thumb. He's the kind of guy you want at a party, though, so you can make sure that the caterer didn't overcharge you. I've never known anyone else who could calculate the difference between the charge per guest and the estimated cost of food, drinks, and wait staff, to the penny. Truly, it's a sight to behold. And he loves to tell the story about the time that he crawled inside his trunk in a New Hampshire blizzard to try to fix a tail light on his Passat, because he was darned if he was going to pay some dealer $50 to change a $2.30 part.

But we're not here to talk about Mark's legendary frugality (he buys his poker cards used, you know, and dips them in Fantastik to make them look new). We're here to talk about cost baselines. A cost baseline can be an extraordinarily useful tool, and should be used in the management of every project. Some ways that a project baseline can be useful include:

  • Developing a Statement of Work for a new project
  • Helping a department through a major budgeting effort
  • Setting reasonable expectations with your business counterparts
  • Tracking project management performance on a project or portfolio of projects (best applied when your projects are under budget and on schedule)
  • Managing an annual planning or project portfolio management effort
You can even use these tools, as Mark does, to manage your family finances. Rounding to the nearest hundredth of a penny may be excessive, though.

As useful as a cost baseline is, it is not a panacea (that means "a remedy for all problems," for my slower readers), especially in the personal sphere. Here are some situations where it might not be useful, and could even be hazardous to your health:
  • Deciding whether or not to visit your in-laws for the holidays
  • Creating a cost/benefit analysis for getting braces for your child ("Well, sweetie, if you learn to smile with your lips closed, then we can probably get through junior high, and then your basketball skills should distract everyone from your looks anyway. If not, we can revisit the issue at that time.")
  • Monitoring your wedding plans, especially if you are the non-planning partner. I knew a fellow who tried that once, and his last words were, "Honey, according to the plan, we agreed that you were going to spend no more than $350 dollars on your wedding dress. Now, I know that you said that all of the others made you look like a giant cream puff and that this was the dress of your dreams, but if we run overbudget here then we're going to have to either change the honeymoon plans or invite fewer of your parents' friends to the wedding. Honey, what are you doing with that letter opener? That was a gift from Mother! Honey?!! What are you-- Erk!!!"
So don't go crazy here. Sure, it's a useful tool, but is it worth your life?

Here are some links to get you started:


Other sources:

Monday, May 21, 2007

Intellectual Property Tax?

I recently attended an in-house seminar about intellectual property for consultants. When I first saw this topic, I thought they had a typo in the title. I thought that they meant to say, "Intellectual Property *is* Consultants," which, while grammatically awkward, seemed accurate enough. I mean, I always hear the sales guys saying, "Our people are our product." They say other things, too, but they're not really relevant and certainly aren't for polite company. The point, though, is that I had always thought that if our people were our product, then intellectual property, like Soylent Green, was people. It turns out that I was incorrect, and I wish that someone had straightened me out before I tried to check my technical analyst's brain into the corporate knowledge base.

So what is it, then? This phrase, "intellectual property" -- IP for short, Int Prop for not-quite-as-short -- is thrown around our office like a free Nerf frisbee from an insurance convention, and with about as much impact. I mean, sure, it sounds cool: intellectual property, who wouldn't want to buy some of that? But what is it? Can it be developed? Can you subdivide it and build intellectual high-rises? Can you sell an intellectual condominium, and would it have a higher appreciation rate than, say, an athletic condominium or a party house? If you have intellectual property, does it fade from existence when you stop thinking about it? Or is it something else? Is intellectual property just a more polite term for that guy you hired to write all of your term papers in college? (And yes, Boston Globe columnists, I'm looking at you).

The answer, as you've already guessed, is a resounding, "No, you idiot!" to all of the above. Clearly, my own intellectual property investments have devalued far below their purchase price. Intellectual property is not people: it is produced by people, and those people seem to feel pretty strongly that you should not try to take credit for their work. And that, as always, is where the lawyers come in. Our seminar leader, with his own lawyerly background, helped us to understand all of the different forms that intellectual property can take, and how you can legally sneak it out of your client's offices by hiding it under your coat when you leave for the night.

No, wait, that's not right either. He showed us how to avoid accidentally "borrowing" a client's intellectual property and thus getting your company in trouble with the client's lawyers, who aren't nearly as nice as ours. Some questions that were answered in this seminar included:

  • What are the various forms that intellectual property can take?
  • What is the difference between (c), (sm), and (tm)?
  • Is intellectual property taxable, and can you write off the depreciation costs as you get older? Can the depreciation be accelerated if you get Alzheimer's?
  • If an infinite number of monkeys typing on an infinite number of word processors did manage to create the complete works of Shakespeare, would they have to apply for a copyright or a patent to protect their work? And who would be more likely to hire them as spokesmonkeys: Microsoft or Apple?
Actually, we didn't get to that last one, which was too bad: like that little monkey George, I was really curious. I suspect that it might have been a trick question, and our speaker, clever law mind that he is, saw through it and refused to be dragged into its moral and legal complexities.

Another question that he didn't answer is why that strange-looking engineer in the corner cube keeps asking me to come over to his apartment in his mom's basement to look at his patents. Actually, now that I think about it, that probably falls more appropriately under our recent sexual harassment training....

Anyway, if you're interested in this topic, then you can watch for my forthcoming book, Intellectual Property for Dummies. Genuine dummies receive a prorated price based upon the diminished amount of property they have to work with.

(PS - turns out that another Dummy beat me to the punch, so you can go buy his book instead. I don't know if Amazon honors the Dummy Discount policy, but it can't hurt to ask. Make sure not to spellcheck your email: it just helps to make your case.)

96 miles? No problem!

I did the Best Buddies Ride again this weekend, riding through rain and wind for 96 miles. Believe it or not, it felt pretty good!

The full ride report will be coming soon. In the meantime, why don't you go for a nice leisurely ride?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

I'm still winnning

I just thought that it was worth mentioning that I'm still beating 94% of the other players on Motley Fool CAPS, even after a disastrous short on Blockbuster, Inc.

That is all.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Best Buddies route map

Check out the route map for this year's Best Buddies ride. This will be my third year doing the ride, and the first two ride reports are posted here and here.

Read this year's ride report!

I'd just like to note a few things about this map:

  1. I finally have proof that this is more than a 90-mile ride. In fact, it's 96 miles! You can't even round down to 90 miles from there. I'm just sayin'...
  2. If you click on the link to show elevation, you can also see the hills that have killed me in past years. Specifically, what looks like a climb up a cliff (conveniently located by the White Cliffs Country Club) and the long series of hills between miles 76 and 88.
  3. Finally, it's a beautiful ride. Look at all that time we spend near the water! If it weren't so darn long, I'd do it every weekend.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Keep the Change (Clean)

We recently went through Anti Money Laundering training at my office (again). The training included ways to identify potential money-laundering behavior, some red flags to watch for, and some tips for avoiding potentially risky activities (for example, never float a loan to a guy named Osama, especially if he lists his address as "unknown cave in Pakistan" on the application).

Personally, I've never seen all of the fuss about money laundering. I mean, I've sent my wallet through the washer several times, and the money seems to come out just fine. In fact, it did a lot better than my receipts, which melded into a solid white brick that looked like it would have fit in perfectly at those adobe homes that New Mexico is always bragging about. Our bookkeeper complained a little bit when I tried to submit them like that, but she relented when I told her that this was just part of the new "consolidated entry system" that we're enabling. I just had my boss sign the brick to show that he approved it. So now I'm thinking that laundering seems like a pretty efficient way to handle expenses, too.

There are some things that definitely should not be laundered. Kleenex, for example, unless you're going for that "fresh out of the lint trap" look that's all the rage on college campuses these days. Rocks also should not be laundered, nor should your daughter's collection of seashell fragments that have apparently been in her coat pocket since your trip to the beach last summer. Which implies that perhaps children's coats should be added to the "do not launder" list. They're just going to rub up against the car the minute they get into the garage anyway, and then they'll outgrow the darn things before you wash them again. And in my son's case, the dirt may be all that's holding the coat together, given his penchant for leaping into impromptu full-contact football games with friends, relatives, and the occasional shrubbery.

Money, though, seems to be a prime candidate for laundering. I saw a "Dateline" investigation that showed that the average twenty dollar bill actually contains up to 5% human fecal matter, 4% cocaine or heroin, and 20% hemp. Five dollar bills have approximately the same makeup, but with an additional 11.5% old lady smell from all of the grandmas putting them into birthday cards, even when the recipients are fully grown and probably deserve some sort of inflation adjustment in their birthday presents after 35 years, for crying out loud! Not that I'm ungrateful or anything.

Having done a little work in New York, I've seen my share of dirty money. For starters, have you seen the grimy bills that people drop into the guitar cases of those hairy guys playing in the subway and on the streets? I wouldn't touch those things without a full bottle of hand sanitizer close by. Not to mention the pennies thrown from the top of the Empire State building, the nickels thrown at the guys preaching in the middle of Times Square, and the dollar bill taped to the inside of the tip jar at every Starbucks. And who are they kidding, anyway? I just paid $4.39 for a drink and they expect me to finance their next eyelid piercing? I'll keep my 61 cents in change, thank you very much, no matter where it's been.

Besides, I can always run it through the washer when I get home.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

It's all in the family

From the Personnel Changes section of today's Publisher's Lunch:

Personnel NewsAt Llewellyn, Bill Krause has been promoted to publisher and
acquisitions manager. Former president and publisher Carl Llewellyn Weschcke now
serves as chairman while his wife Sandra Weschcke, formerly secretary treasurer,
is now president and treasurer. Gabe Weschcke moves up to executive vice
president and his wife, Michele Weschcke, has been promoted to an officer of the
company as corporate secretary.

And who says that nepotism is rampant in the publishing industry?

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Go with the flow

Today we're talking about process flows. And really, I think it's about time that someone thought about this for a while, don't you?

Who doesn't enjoy thinking about process flows? I know that I do. When I'm standing in line at Starbucks waiting for my third Venti Bold Roast Selection of the Day, I think, "Isn't there a faster way to get this coffee into my system? Why can't they just set up a series of feeder tubes and credit card machines right by the entrance? Better yet, why can't they just pipe it into the office? We already have that special spout for 'filtered' water, so why not another for Starbucks Bold Roast, and another for the Light Notes? And who drinks the Light Roast, anyway? What's the point? I mean, you might as well go to McDonalds and order the Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese, large fries, and a Diet Coke and tell the cashier, 'I'm trying to lose weight.' You know, I could really use some coffee about now. WHY IS THIS TAKING SO LONG?!?!?"

My point here is that, if Starbucks had used a better approach to process flow modeling instead of their patented Barista Flow (TM) modeling technology, I might have received my coffee before I punched the stockbroker in front of me, thus starting a rumble that drove half of the customers out of the store and sent a caffeine-deprived mob into the Au Bon Pain across the street, where they rioted over the weak brown water that is sold under the label of "coffee" in that establishment, thus causing a whole rack of sticky buns to be flung into the street, interrupting the Patriots Day parade and leaving a whole battalion of kilted bagpipers covered from the thigh down in sticky cinnamon and pecans.

All for lack of a good process flow.

I'm not saying that this kind of chain reaction could happen at your workplace, but why take the chance? Do some research, ask questions, and save yourself from potential catastrophe.

Wikipedia: Business Process Modeling Notation
BPM Institute: BPM: Where do we Start?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Evil Mutant Attack Squirrel of Death

The Rodent's Burrow: Evil Mutant Attack Squirrel of Death

How can you not be entertained by something with that title? We have a LOT of squirrels around our house, living on a wooded lot and all, but I've never managed to tick one off quite like this. There was that time at Penn when a squirrel decided that I wasn't sharing enough of my muffin and tried to take it out of my hand, and then he fastened onto my thumb until I threw him across the courtyard, but at least he had the sense to run off after he landed.

The best part of this story: "And now he has a patrol car...."

(Thanks to Miss Snark for the link)

Monday, January 29, 2007

Think you're smart? Prove it on Motley Fool CAPS

Think you invest better than anyone else? Prove it on the Motley Fool's new tool, Motley Fool CAPS. If you want to take me on, then you can start at my CAPS page (login required). I'm not in the top 100 yet, primarily because I only rate companies that I have an informed opinion on (as opposed to that Eldrehad guy), but I'm beating the market rather respectably. So bring it on, smarty-pants!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Death by PowerPoint

There are two groups of people who need to review the following links: those who think they need help, and those who don't. For those who don't think they need help (you know, the PowerPoint junkies huddled out by the dumpsters swapping illegal clipart), I'll make sure you understand me by speaking in your own dialect, Bulletese:

You need to read this information if:

  • The thought of putting together a presentation and then standing up in front of a group of people to deliver it makes you physically ill, or at least a little woozy
  • You hate Microsoft with a towering purple passion, not because they stole the desktop platform from IBM and Apple, not because they're an evil empire, but merely because they foisted PowerPoint upon the world
  • On those rare occasions when you are forced to speak in front of a group, you never see them because you spend the entire time facing the screen and reading your slides

You also need to review this information if:

  • You feel naked if you leave your desk without a slide deck
  • You have forgotten what a conjunction is
  • You wish that PowerPoint had more animations and slide transitions, because your signature Boomerang and Exit/Newsflash combination doesn't wow them like it used to, even with the monkey sound effects
  • You actually believe that "Actionable roadmap/Go-forward plan" constitutes a coherent thought
  • You respond to everyday queries like, "How's it going?" in Bulletese: "Doing good. Family fine. Kids were sick - better now."
Whether you're a PowerPoint junky or a public speaking neophyte, this information can help. One of these authors - this is a little-known fact - was one of the finalists on the short-lived FX reality series Toastmasters: Survival of the Glibbest. And while that competition was cancelled after a freak formatting accident left one of his competitors with only seven fingers, the fact remains that the man knows how to talk (and how to sharpen the edge of a serif font so that it cuts like a scalpel, though nothing was ever proven and he was acquitted on all charges).

Come and learn at their feet and go away a more articulate and enlightened speaker, or face the wrath of their Baskerville 40-point.

Presentation Pointers
Death by PowerPoint
Avoiding Death by PowerPoint

Some entertaining presentations:
Very Bad Hotel
Imagine 2.0
Gettysburg Address in PowerPoint

And of course, the best option is probably not to use PowerPoint at all.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Crack the (use) case

Today, boys and girls, we're going to talk about use case modeling. Now, I don't want you to make the same painful mistakes that I did when learning about this topic a few years ago, so let me just set a few things straight right now:

  1. There is nothing funny about Use Case Modeling. Even if you think that "RUP" sounds like somewhere Scooby Doo might tell Shaggy to look if there were a ghost above his head, please keep your levity to yourself. This is serious business, people.
  2. UML does not, apparently, stand for the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. Nor is it an acronym for Unsafe Military Landing, even though that *would* be a cool name for a band.
  3. Even though we spend a lot of time talking about "actors," no real actors will be present at the session. Not even Ben Affleck, though he's probably available.
  4. Use cases are not a special kind of suitcase for carrying only useful clothes, and no one will actually be modeling any clothing. Therefore, bringing an expensive camera to a use case modeling training session in the hopes of getting your picture taken with Heidi Klum is a complete waste of time.
  5. Finally, while it is an effective tool for modeling and improving business processes, use case modeling should not be used in the home. It is especially unsafe as a tool for explaining to your wife why all of the crap your mother-in-law brings from her house should be shipped off directly to the Salvation Army. Unapproved uses of use case modeling such as this may result in serious personal injury. Trust me on this one.

I don't actually have any useful suggestions about use case modeling. I just wanted to share these thoughts. The smart people at Wikipedia, however, can get you started if, despite my warnings, you still want to pursue this challenging topic.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Thoughts on Lean Six Sigma

Here are some random thoughts that plague me about this whole Lean Six Sigma thing. I think that these are the burning questions that I think keep all of us up at night, especially if we have eaten a double dark chocolate espresso sundae while reading a Six Sigma textbook right before going to bed.

  • Why do we need so many sigmas? Wouldn't two or three do the job? Is it just because it makes the name so nicely alliterative?
  • What's a KPI (pronounced "Kippy"), and why is everyone so excited about them? Is it any relation to Skippy, Alex P. Keaton's nerdy friend on the 80s sitcom Family Ties?
  • What is the difference between Lean Six Sigma and regular Six Sigma? Does it involve Splenda?
  • Is it possible to discuss Six Sigma while eating without spraying food on your neighbors? (Go ahead: try it.)
  • If you were to use Lean Six Sigma for BPR to create a TQM SDLC and become ISO 9000-compliant while raising your CMM level, would your head explode?
All very important questions, I think you'll agree, and all critical to success whatever your chosen field of endeavor. If you have ever thought about, heard about, or known someone affected by Lean Six Sigma, I urge you to think long and hard about these issues before you return to work. It might just save your life.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Meeting Addiction

Do you have a Meeting Dependency? To find out, take this little test (which, out of sensitivity to our more heavily afflicted readers, avoids the use of the trigger word, "meeting")...

  • Do you frequently find yourself in a small room with a bunch of other people during work hours and wondering why you're there, especially since there is no food anywhere in sight?
  • Have you ever sat for an entire hour with a group of semi-strangers who all seemed to care passionately about something you didn't understand and never said a word?
  • Do you ever come out of a mandatory non-social work gathering and realize that, despite an hour of intense talking -- to the point that the temperature of the room has actually been raised by several degrees purely due to the amount of hot air expelled -- nothing was decided?
  • Do you find yourself ending even your social gatherings with, "I'll schedule a follow-up so that we can continue this discussion, and hopefully come to a resolution by next week"?
  • Have you come to the realization that your desk is just the place you go to look at your schedule and find out where you're supposed to be now?
  • Have you memorized the exact position, attractiveness, and seating capacity of every conference room in your building, even though it's 24 stories tall?
  • Are you unable to communicate with people unless they gather into groups of four or more and carry notepads?
If you answered, "Yes," "Sometimes," or "I have a friend like that, and he needs help" to any of the above questions, then please, STOP!

Turn off that Outlook Calendar reminder.

Stop asking people to meet you "for a quick brain dump."

Immediately cancel all recurring weekly meetings for projects that ended months ago.

Start asking, "Why do you need me at that meeting?"

Above all, learn to say NO to the urge to schedule one more "quick check-in" that lasts an hour.

I'm not going to try to bribe you with ice cream or free bagels (though I think we still have some in the freezer from the last meeting). This isn't an intervention, where you need to be tricked into paying attention. You need to admit you need help and seek it out. It's the only way to achieve true healing. Trust me, your life will be better for it.