Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Random Thoughts UPDATED TUE 2:12 P.M.

In what is becoming something of a tradition, I am happy to offer you a Blog Grab Bag today. We'll try to touch on a little of everything here.

  • UPDATE: The Colleague's vision has changed in the last 2 years. In one eye. There is some debate about the value in getting new lenses. Stay tuned.
  • Please Don't Kill Me. It would be just my luck to finally get my life together and have some student shoot me in the back for wronging him...My first officially psycho student of the year graced the doorway of my office yesterday. This is the sort of greasy misunderstood almost fat kid who is very likely to have a list of people who have wronged him. I think I made that list when I declined his offer to read his 700 page fantasy novel that he wrote in high school. I'm making myself feel better by presuming he doesn't have access to actual weapons. If you find a murdered kitten on campus, it is probably for me.
  • Update: Math Dude Freeze Out. After three actual face to face encounters in the early days of the academic term, still not a word from Math Dude. I must have really done something wrong. Can't wait to find out what it is.
  • Poems are Cool. Yes They Are. Try this one.

    My Life
    Joe Wenderoth

    Somehow it got into my room.
    I found it, and it was, naturally, trapped.
    It was nothing more than a frightened animal.
    Since than I raised it up.
    I kept it for myself, kept it in my room,
    kept it for its own good.
    I named the animal, My Life.
    I found food for it and fed it with my bare hands.
    I let it into my bed, let it breathe in my sleep.
    And the animal, in my love, my constant care,
    grew up to be strong, and capable of many clever tricks.
    One day, quite recently,
    I was running my hand over the animal's side
    and I came to understand
    that it could very easily kill me.
    I realized, further, that it would kill me.
    This is why it exists, why I raised it.
    Since then I have not known what to do.
    I stopped feeding it,
    only to find that its growth
    has nothing to do with food.
    I stopped cleaning it
    and found that it cleans itself.
    I stopped singing it to sleep
    and found that it falls asleep faster without my song.
    I don't know what to do.
    I no longer make My Life do tricks.
    I leave the animal alone
    and, for now, it leaves me alone, too.
    I have nothing to say, nothing to do.
    Between My Life and me,
    a silence is coming.
    Together, we will not get through this.

  • Cankles. How does this happen? Just a question motivated by seeing my children's mother in capris. Speaking of capris.
  • Name That Factory Worker. Spotted on campus on an 80 degree fall day in black wool capris (Where on earth are these even sold? Wool is a winter fabric. Capris are a summer style. If this happened on Project Runway Micheal Kors would come unglued) AND a black sweater?
  • Pull the Trigger! Is it possible that RPD finally decided to purchase one of the 47 bikes he has tested over the last 2 weeks? Say it ain't so! I've got a wager on this one.
  • Get a Spine. Word on the street is that Al B is recovering nicely from having his spine removed.
  • Fall Cleaning. No confirmation of the rumor that Cap'n Ron might be down to fewer than 5 motorcycles in his garage. Of course, Cap'n was last spotted in Spokane purchasing a new 2-wheeler, so who knows what is really happening.
  • Etiquette Question. Is it ok to be a little entertained when your ex gets dumped? Just a little? I know it's ok to be entertained when your partner's ex gets dumped, but this is some gray area I could use some help with.
  • Fuji-me. After a nice 40 mile day on Sunday with AW and Factory Worker C, I'm feelin' the Fuji again. Going fast on skinny tires kicks ass.
  • Raise Your Hand. If you think Tina Fey makes a better Sarah Palin than Sarah Palin does.
  • I'm a Partisan Hack. Of course I would likely be voting for any reasonable candidate the donkeys put forward this time around, but I think I still get to be critical of people who are blindly voting for McCain/Palin because they are the elephant ticket. I mean, seriously? Those two are a disaster. Also, I have to stop reading the "Sound Off" political blogs. It makes me weep.
  • Twenty Six Point Two. I don't particularly want to run the Seattle Marathon. So that's awesome.
Well, that's about all I really have for now. I know, exciting stuff. Shut up.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Adventures in Corporate Phone Trees. Or, Why I Hate Maytag

"Thank you for calling the Maytag Customer Experience..."

This is how you are greeted when you dial 1-800-688-9900, the toll-free number printed on all of our new Maytag appliances. And since pushing buttons is so 1998, this computerized experience asks that you speak your preferences at each prompt.

"Are you calling about a Maytag air conditioner or dehumidifier? Please say 'yes' or 'no'."

I've called this number 6 times this week trying to get our dishwasher repaired. The last time I called I timed how long it took to get through the prompts to the inevitable result (it turns out my request requires an actual person to talk to me.) 4 minute 35 seconds. And this is without any mis-understood responses.

"I'm sorry, I didn't get that. Could you repeat your answer?"


"I'm sorry, I didn't get that. Could you repeat your answer?"

Backstory: The Shack had perfectly functional appliances, but they were ugly. So, being good suburban consumers, the Colleague and I bought a whole new set of appliances. We even bought them a month in advance of needing them and scheduled our delivery for the move-in day at The Shack. Smart! Thoughtful!

Problem #1: At the tail end of the Southwest road trip, as we were driving away from Hood River, OR I get a phone call from the Maytag delivery guy informing us that our new gas range was backordered, so our new deliver date was 2 weeks later. Ummm. What? One of the six pieces we ordered was oversold, so we get none of them? Wrong.

Solution #1: The Colleague spends the better part of an hour on the phone yelling at various people who don't seem to care that we have four kids and no appliances in our house. Finally, sympathetic salesman manages to upgrade the range to one that is in stock. Still, our new delivery date is a week late. Nice. Such questions as "Who can I talk to about this mixup?" and "Whose fault is this?" are answered with silence.

Problem #2: When the Mexicans bring the appliances they refuse to hook up the range because it is a "slide in" versus a freestanding unit.

Solution #2: Whatever. Fine. I can do it.

Problem #3: "Um. We no can install the dishwasher because something is not work."

Solution #3: Order a NEW dishwasher with a new delivery date a week later. I suggest that perhaps the store who sold this stuff to me over a month prior might see it as reasonable to replace the dishwasher that day. No. No. The dishwashers aren't here. They're in another state and have to be shipped here when they are ordered. Right. That makes perfect sense. The delivery service claims helplessness. There is nothing they can do. It's the system.

Problem #4: New dishwasher is delivered, but the Mexicans don't know how to work it so when they are testing it, it floods my kitchen. Awesome.

Solution #4: I point out that they have overwhelmed the drain pump by starting and stopping a wash cycle without letting the unit reset. Ahhhhh. Now it works.

Which brings us to Problem #5: While The Colleague is finishing up her 3-Day Save the Boobs walk, I make one last effort at cleaning up the shack before heading out to meet her at the finish. Load dishwasher. Push start. Leave house. The Colleague comes home, eats something, checks the dishwasher to see if it is clean or dirty, adds her plate, and pushes start. Um. Those are clean, I say. No they aren't, she says. Ummm. The damn thing is running dry. Awesome.

Solution #5: Warranty repair to the rescue!

I bravely navigate the phone tree, from "Welcome to the Maytag Customer Experience" to "Please hold while I connect you to an agent who can further assist you" and am introduced to James, a helpful lad who steals a prime next-day service appointment for me. I block out the hours of 8-12 and am assured the service provider will call 30 minutes prior to arrival.

At 11:45 I start to think maybe they aren't coming. So I dive into the phone tree again. There is no obvious way to jump the tree, by the way, and if you try to answer a question before the disembodied voice finishes asking it, you get kicked out to the front of the list. Awesome system.

I am informed by Jennifer (Operator #38692, in case you want to talk to her) that my appointment is schedule not for THIS Tuesday, but 2 weeks out. No, I say, James scheduled me for today. Well, if so, it's been changed, because you are all set up for 2 weeks from now, she says. The next thread of words from my mouth weren't received well by Operator #38692 and the call ended with a new appointment for Saturday. Not ideal. There is a kid's soccer game that day and I have other plans, but let's get this thing fixed. 8-12 it is. Saturday.

At 11:30 on Saturday I have missed a soccer game and still have to wash Cheerio bowls by hand. I call the Maytag Customer Experience one more time.

"Well Mr. GVB we show that there are three appointments still ahead of you."

"So, 8-12 means what again? Are you in a different time zone than me? Is Maytag based in Hawaii?"

"He'll call when he's 30 minutes away. Thank you for calling the Maytag Customer Experience."

At 1:45 I have to leave the house to deliver kids to their Beading Customer Experience so I call to make sure I won't miss my mystery date.

"Well, you're scheduled from 1-5, so it could be anytime between now and then."

"Noooo. I was scheduled for 8-12."

"Well then someone changed it, because I only show the one appointment."

"You have to be fucking kidding me with this shit."

"Is there anything else I can do for you today sir?"

"The phrase 'anything ELSE' implies that you have done anything at all for me. Which you haven't."

"Thank you for calling the Maytag Customer Experience."

So here is what I have learned about buying appliances. You don't buy them from a store. We chose Big Box Store A because they had a good rebate deal going and the guy we talked to was nice. But we could have bought them from anywhere. The store doesn't stock anything, deliver anything, fix anything, or take responsibility for anything. Nor does Maytag deliver anything or stock anything. They sure as hell don't fix anything. The people they sent out to repair the dishwasher could be sent by any of the local Big Box stores. So when Super Nice Guy Repairman is in my kitchen, I can't really take my anger out on him, can I?

So I suck it up, turn on a football game, open the last summer ale in the fridge and sigh. I really just want a functional dishwasher.

Notre Dame lost to Michigan State, by the way. So there's that upside to the day.

Oh, I almost forgot. Super Nice Guy Repairman couldn't fix the dishwasher. The new float switch is being sent to The Shack overnight express and I have an appointment on Thursday from 1-5 to have it installed. I'm not optimistic that this will happen.

I have dishpan hands, and no Palmolive in sight.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Factory Preview 2008-2009, Now With More Rumors!

Here is your long awaited preview of the 2008-2009 season at the Learning Factory, complete with odds. As always, these predictions are for entertainment purposes only. Please, no wagering.

The Sure Things:
  • The Pear-Shaped Meltdown. Now I realize that in the pre-season, the Pear Shaped Woman has been running a new offense that looks pretty good, but the smart money is on the same old results this season as last. The happy, cooperative demeanor of Week One will quickly turn sour in a Week Seven matchup with The Colleague at a department meeting. The smart play here is to avoid this wager entirely. That said, if you want to score big on one bet this year, I'm pretty sure you can find someone to give you 10-1 odds or better on the Pear Shaped Woman finishing the season with a positive record.
  • Size XL Sweaters. We've already seen some bulking up for the new season, and all reports indicate that we will see a move from the Large mock neck sweaters to X-Large. This is a safe money bet and might make a good parlay with one of the following wagers...
  • Math Dude Freeze Out. Place your money on complete radio silence and eye-contact avoidance between Math Dude and GVB for the duration of fall quarter. Pre-season observations indicate a complete avoidance strategy on the part of the Math Dude.
  • Part Time Faculty Relapse. In some books this wager is tied to the Pear Shaped Meltdown, which makes it a strong parlay option. Despite a very positive response to the pre-season, the inevitable downturn of winter and spring will leave many part timers disgruntled and angry, and at least one will become verbally abusive over his schedule. Too verbally abusive.
  • The Hyperbole Season. Remember last year's classic hyperbole season? The hits just kept on coming. "There are literally dozens of faculty who could teach that literature class" and "The Accreditation Team will look at our department and see how dysfunctional we are!" Well, this year promises to be even more exciting in the overstatement department. Expect several references to the "way it used to be" and dire predictions about the future of education (linked most often to the evils of online education). The smart money is on even more hyperbole this year than last, if you can believe it.
The Long Shots
  • The Replacements. Over-Caffeinated Vice President fired and replaced with internal candidate: 10-1
  • The Break Up. The rumors of the demise of the Factory's most scandalous relationship will lead to the actual breakup. 1000-1.
  • The Miracle of Life. Will the Colleague and GVB bring new life into the world this year? Insider information could help you on this wager, but the long odds should be enough to stay away from this bet (but just think about what a $10 bet could bring in on this one!) 1,000,000-1.
  • Kansas Rocks! President actually takes his stash of petty cash from under his mattress and moves his increasingly ineffective management style to Kansas. 10-1
Thanks for playing. It should prove to be a very exciting year at the Factory...don't make me come collect my money in person from last year's wagers. You know who you are, and it's hard to use that nice new iPod touch with broken fingers. Just sayin'

Friday, September 12, 2008

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

My Neighborhood Wants Me Dead

Either living on top of this hill will kill me or I'll finally learn how to run hills.

The map above is an example of the sort of route I have to run to keep from climbing any of the truly big hills in the new 'hood, Even with this I only got 4.5 miles in AND I climbed 1300 feet.

Still there are perks, such as this view from the end of our street:

Other potential murderous factors:
  • Neighbor X. Timed incorrectly, and the run up the hill is a hit and run situation just waiting to happen.
  • Narrow shoulders. No, not mine...but many of the roads I need to get off this peak and onto the more reasonable routes around us are basically two lanes for traffic, a fog line, and a 10 foot deep drainage ditch.
  • Bothell Way, shown below on its best day:

  • Republicans. You have to go one block over, but once the houses get a little more expensive, the Obama signs disappear and the McCain signs go up.
  • The Burke-Gilman Trail, which is an amazing use of a rail corridor that I really wish we actually still had for rail (I know, I know, public transportation is for losers). I have seen enough bad collisions on the BG over the last 3 years that I don't even let the kids ride their bikes on it. It's safer to ride on Bothell Way (see above). Seriously people...slow the f down.
  • This is future tense since I've never lived on this mountain in the winter, but I am sure the snow and ice will be a wonderful addition.
Still I'm optimistic. So far the legs and lungs have held out, and we'll get to see how the hills pay off in the next race: The Dawg Dash 10k on October 12th. Speaking of which, this is the cover photo on all of the promotional materials for the race:

Ummmm. Who picked this? Let's start with #3250. He looks like a runner at least, but what's with that face? We all make stupid faces when we run, and the camera is good at capturing them, but don't you see that right away and keep sorting through the stack to get a better shot? And what about the frontrunner? He looks like he is stalking his next slashing victim. Yikes. I'm not sure I want to follow that guy on Twitter...but you can follow me now. Yes you can...

Monday, September 08, 2008

Squirrel on a Bass Drum and other Tales

I'm Sure this Happens to Every Band Director
During The Colleague's birthday throwdown at the Casa de Playa, the Youngest Colleague Brother regaled us with what has to be the best "first day of school" story any teacher has ever witnessed and told. Now there is no way to capture the storytelling abilities of said Youngest Brother, so I will just tell you the following details and allow you to write your own tale. Note: details are in random order:
  • Youngest Colleague Brother is band director at local (elite) high school
  • Over the summer, a family of squirrels made a home in the ceiling of the band room
  • Young special needs student takes giant poop on hallway floor
  • Squirrel falls from ceiling onto bass drum
  • Vietnamese custodian vomits ONTO pile of poop on hallway floor
  • Crafty students use sousophones to build squirrel maze
  • Band director decides this is the best day of school ever

The Beach Report
The above-mentioned birthday bash for The Colleague has come and gone. Friends and family gathered at the beach for a last little taste of summer. There was no pomp. Little circumstance. There was quite a bit of snoring and a few skinned knees. When it was all said and done, The Colleague was officially 40 years of age and Supervan was loaded up with 15 bags of empty bottles. I hope you feel welcomed into your second 40 years, Colleague. There was a lot of love on that beach.

The Swarm
I love the warm weather and all, but the sooner we can get a nice hard freeze overnight to kill whatever damn bugs have hatched along the Burke Gilman trail, the better. There I am, cruising along the trail at a nice 8:30 pace when the swarm descended upon me. Little tiny fuckers that flew up my nose, into my mouth, into my ears, behind my Oakleys. It was heinous.

I found that when running west, into the sun, I could see the little swarms coming and sort of dodge them (when the trail wasn't blocked by teams of Super Lycra Dudes power commuting from Redmond to Seattle on their $3,000 bikes). But running east I only knew they were there because they were getting in my teeth.

The protein packed bugs in question are tiny, like little gnats or miniature mosquitoes, and the swarms of them are huge, maybe 20 feet across.

Anyone know the story with these things? I don't remember them from last fall but surely they are a regular phenomena on the old BG Trail. Whatever they are, they turned what was going to be a 9-10 miler on the trail (read: easy on the calves and feet) into a 6 mile loop back up into the Kenmore Summit, where the hills are steep and at least one neighbor wants me dead. Good times.

Coming Soon...
I have been back to the Learnin' Factory a few times in preparation for the start of the school year and it seems like I'm going to have to write my annual Learnin' Factory Prediction Post soon. It shouldn't be hard...not much has changed.

People really think these things matter, don't they? Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

On Training and Planning

I snuck out for a quick 5 mile run last night to loosen the legs up after the SJJ Half Marathon and found myself thinking along the way about training plans and theories.

I have read a lot of articles blog entries about mileage, pace, nutrition, rest, recovery...it never ends. To follow any of the plans that are out there, one pretty much has to forget about any other elements of life. And when you read the fine print on these plans, you quickly learn that no one really knows anything. I mean, sure we know more about heart rate, muscle recovery, and the other scientific elements of how the body works under certain conditions, but let me ask you these questions:
  1. How many long runs should one do in the lead up to a marathon?
  2. How long should the longest run before a marathon be?
  3. At what pace should one run his or her long runs?
  4. How much speedwork should a runner do in preparation for a marathon?
Everyone has an opinion on these things, but no one agrees. And all of the expert coaches seem to concede that their plans work for some people and not others. AND all of the expert coaches seem to agree that some people are just plain better suited to marathon running than others.

(It is probably no accident that everyone I ever climbed with has also run marathons, and having given up vertical climbing at altitude, many are now ultra runners...)

Not to discount the training programs and coaches - if I could afford one and had the sort of lifestyle that allowed me a strict schedule, I'd probably opt to have a training coach myself - but I have decided that training really just boils down to one thing:


Run short. Run long. Run fast. Run slow. Run on trails. Run on streets. Run with friends. Run to the store. Run home from work. Run from the cops. Run on the track. Run around the house with the kids.

I only put this out there because I tried yesterday to add some training plans to the Family Calendar and couldn't. My official training plan for the Seattle Marathon is as follows (comments welcome):
  • Average at least 40 miles per week between now and November 20th
  • Complete at least 4 runs of 20+ miles
  • Complete one run of 22 miles
  • Throw in some speedwork at the track when possible
  • Use the bike/trainer to keep lose on rest days
  • Get down to my goal race weight (165 pounds) by November 15th
  • No run longer than 3 miles during my 1 week taper
  • Change the playlist on my iPod. Good lord...
  • Use the word "fartlek" whenever possible
  • Show up on November 30th and run like hell for 26.2 miles
No calendar. No strict plan. Run when I can. If I get to the end of a week and I need 4 miles to get to 40, I'll run 4. If I need 14, I'll run 14.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


I think the thing I enjoy most about visiting my kids' school is that it exposes me to the best and brightest adults around. Everyone in the town their mother chooses to live in is in shape, articulate, well-read, open-minded, educated, and progressive.

Wait. It's the opposite of that.

Today was my son's first day of kindergarten, and I got the pleasure of accompanying him. So we went to the classroom and found his little seat. We filled out a questionnaire together (his favorite food is hot dogs, in case you were wondering, and he is no longer afraid of the Mariner Moose). We introduced ourselves to the other kids and their moms (I was the only dad to be found in the building, of course). Then the kids went to recess and the moms and I went to the cafeteria to learn all about the wonderful world of Kindergarten. The Principal gave the same speech he gave when my daughter started Kindergarten 3 years ago, with the same jokes. He explained the bus schedule and how to pick kids up after school. He introduced the lunch ladies and the PE teacher.

SIDE NOTE: I have been wondering of late about Boy Kid's readiness for Kindergarten. He doesn't really trend toward the academic side of things (he is more into cross-dressing and playing with dolls). Any worries I had about his placement in the class and his standing among his peers is now gone. Don't worry about that.

Meanwhile, out of control toddlers and preschoolers who had been brought along by their mommies for big brother or sister's first day of Kindergarten, swarmed the room and generally tore the shit out of the place. The juice table the PTA had set up in the back was toppled, the Rice Krispy treats were ravaged, metal folding chairs were knocked over. And the screaming. My god the screaming! I looked up from my text-messaging (very polite, I know) expecting to see dozens of parents scrambling to calm their children down or maybe remove them from the room until they shut up. At the very least I expected to see their fat white faces flush with embarrassment at their kids' behavior.

Nope. It wasn't until one kid flat out decked another in the nose that any of the parents even flinched. And even then it went like this:

Mother of Puncher: "Dylan! You get over here right now or I'm going to swat you!"
Mother of Punchee: "Jonathan! Stop crying right now!"

And then the question and answer period began. Holy Shi-

Are these the dumbest people ever? How do they dress themselves? How did they manage to raise kids to Kindergarten age without killing them?

Anyway, congratulations Boy Kid. Good job getting older. Don't shoot up the school with your mom's boyfriend's guns.

Monday, September 01, 2008


Today was the Super Jock and Jill Half Marathon in Woodinville. I happened on this race last summer and raved about it on this very blog. It is a well-run event that attracts good runners. And it starts and ends at Red Hook. Not hard to take.

Last year I ran the 13.1 miles in 1:38 and change.

This year I came into the race with about 3 miles of training under my belt and no delusions of any sort of real performance. BUT, I also came into the race with my usual attitude of "go fast and see what happens." This attitude has not served me well in full marathons, but I can't help myself. Hell, even in training runs I have a bad habit of going too fast for too many miles. It's an illness. I have a team of professionals working on it.

Also new this year: The Colleague and offspring were not just spectators. Nope. They suited up for the 4 mile run-walk that went off at the same time as the 13.1. Go ladies go!

(For those who are paying attention, the 3-Day Save the Boobs walk is 2 weeks away, which at least partly explains The Colleague's participation in a walking event.)

The pre-race situation involved a long port-o-john line (duh) and some milling about in the prematurely cold late summer weather. Once I wandered into the starting area I saw something that looked a lot like this:

This isn't the exact artwork, but the style is unmistakably that of Mr. Owen Connell of Parlor F fame. Owen is responsible for all of GVB's ink and one of The Colleague's stylish tattoos as well.

GVB: "Excuse me, who did your tattoo?"
Runner Girl: "Owen Connell. Why?"
GVB: "He did mine too. I knew that was one of his designs!"

As we wait for the start I learn that Owen just completed the Cascade Crest 100 Ultra Marathon in 30 hours. I can't even begin to imagine the pain and suffering involved. The bitch of it all is that Owen doesn't really even train. He just goes out and runs. Fucker...

Back to the race: this is a gun time race, which I loath. I lose 50 seconds because every dickhead in a compression top thinks he is going to run a 6 minute pace? Grrrr. I managed to sneak ahead pretty quickly and posted a 7:10 first mile (though with all the weaving I probably ran 1.2).

Mile two clicked by and all was well. A small downhill section let me cruise in at 7:00 on the nose.

I really wasn't going for a time on this race. If I had felt tight or tired at mile three I was completely ready to throttle back and do an even 8:00/mile for the whole race. But I still felt strong, so I kept going. Nothing at stake here. Even a massive bonk didn't matter. At the water station in mile three I decided to see what I could do.

From mile 4 through the finish, the course is on roads and trails I have logged hundreds of miles on. I know every turn and hill, and I know distance instinctively from hours of training runs. I can't tell you how much this helped. I stopped looking at my watch and I just started running.

Blah blah blah I made it through the hilly portion on the UW Bothell campus and hit the trail again at mile 9. A quick glance at my watch and I knew I had it. If I didn't crash I had my PR for a half marathon. No way I was letting that one go.

I kept myself pushing by imagining the finishing clock and seeing something in the low 1:30s. When I hit the grounds of the Red Hook Brewery for the last .1 miles, started kicking:



I couldn't help pumping a fist and yelling a little. Shaving almost 5 minutes off my previous time? Awesome...Still, I hope there isn't any video. I'm sure I looked like a dick acting like I had just won the race.

And after I had calmed down I found Cap'n Ron and RPD arriving to share in the finish festivities. A nice IPA with The Colleague, the Offspring, and my friends? Awesome. Thanks for coming out, boys!

Thanks to The Colleague for knowing why I was so excited with my time. Sorry about the sweaty hug.

Now we turn our attention to the Seattle Marathon. I'm not trying to BQ at this one, but it will be a good stepping stone to Vancouver, where I hope to run the 3:15:00 I need to get my fat ass to Boston in 2010.

We'll see.