Running Update

My attempts to start running again after a 28-year recovery period has not gone as I expected. By now, I expected to be running 1-2 miles a day, maybe with a longer run on weekends.

Not happening.

Yet.

I’ve been working on intervals, starting with a six minute walk followed by a 1 minute run. Each week, I add a minute to the run and subtract a minute from the walk. I started this in April. Somewhere around Memorial Day, I got sidetracked after working up to my first four-minute run. I’d lost so much time I had to start over with one-minute intervals.

I’m back up to four minutes again. During the two- and three-minute intervals, I actually would get seriously winded and pray for the end of the run to come. My run is about 30 minutes, which means three intervals. After the end of the second run, I would dread the third.

Not the four-minute intervals. By the end of the first interval, I was falling into a rhythm. It would still be exhausting, but the recovery came faster, and my breathing would normalize during the run.

Of course, I’ve been cheating. During our recent heatwave, I didn’t run on days when the temperature topped 100 degrees. I suppose that’s not dedicated, but I am starting out again. I kind of wish I’d done something like this when I was fifteen and joining the cross country team. Completely clueless about running, but willing to learn, my first run ever was while wearing jeans and a pair of sneakers not designed for anything more than saving mom money when she bought me school clothes. I ran two miles in street clothes. My next run shocked my mother. After 15 years of refusing to wear shorts, I wore shorts.

Since I only run three times a week for now, I’m not to worried about dodging bad weather. Last week’s challenge was the late-day storms that pelted Cincinnati. In a few weeks, the challenge will be school. I start my bachelor’s degree at Wilmington College’s Cincinnati campuses. Unlike Cincinnati State, a technical college, Wilmington has no online classes. Once I adjust for that, I have to deal with the shortening days. I could run before work, but it’s dark then, too. And of course, cold weather. By then, I should be running about 2 miles a day, and the weather – unless it’s extremely cold or it’s a deep snow – is not going to be an excuse.

But I’m running again. And despite tightness in my hip the day after a run, it feels good.

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The Worst Song Ever?

This topic comes up in conversation quite often. Sometimes, you see it online or hear it on the radio. Someone wants to know what the worst song ever is.

Well, first, what defines awfulness? Many think that lyrical stupidity defines it. Folks of this mindset frequently point to Richard Harris’ incomprehensible psychedelic hit, “MacArthur Park,” which proved beyond a doubt that Harris saw it as the duty of every Irishman to drink only to excess. But based on that, the “Louie, Louie” is an awful song, despite its widespread acceptance as one of the coolest party songs ever.

Others, myself included, can’t stand trite repetition that guarantees the song will stick in your ear long after the artist shows up on VH-1’s latest incarnation of One Hit Wonders. To me, the worst offender is Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart.” I even have trouble with the Weird Al Yankovick parody, even though it voices most of my problems with the song.

Bad seems to be in the ear of the beholder. While I’ve never met anyone with fond memories of “The Macarena,” I have seen bar fights start over “The Pina Colada Song.” “Stairway to Heaven” inspires awe and agony (and often a yawn. There was a point where I had to change the station because Akron’s WONE played it every hour on the hour in the late 1980’s.)

So what is the worst song ever to violate your ears? I’ll start the list with a few of my own, aside from “Achy Breaky” and “MacArthur Park.” You carry on in the comments. In a week or two, I’ll put up a poll for everyone to decide the worst song ever.

  • “Don’t Kill the Whale” by Yes – Tormato is Yes’ worst album. This song is why. It’s Jon Anderson at his most intolerably new agey pretentious. Rick Wakeman manages to capture what sounds like a whale crying on the synthesizer. I’ve often imagined it was based on the weeping of an orca who had the misfortune of hearing a rough mix of this song.
  • “Soon Forgotten” by Deep Purple – This song is from Steve Morse’s debut with Purple, aptly titled Purpendicular. There are many brilliant moments on this album. “Soon Forgotten” is not one of them. It sounds like a bad cover of the theme from Star Trek VI.
  • “Lovin’ You” by Minnie Riperton – The forerunner of every Mariah Carey song you’ve ever heard.
  • Which reminds me, anything by Mariah Carey.
  • “Just a Friend” by Biz Markie – What the hell was he thinking? It sounds like a drunken Japanese businessman in a karaoke bar.
  • “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” by Wham! – I hate the song. I hate the video. George Michael looks and sounds like the smarmy tennis pro who seduces the girl you wanted to go out with. And you know damn well when he dumps her, she’s going to be too bitter and cynical to date forever after.
  • “Tonight I Celebrate My Love” by Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack – There are many slow, sexy songs that I have played on romantic evenings. The collected works of Teddy Pendergast, Luther Vandross, and Barry White come to mind. Nita and I are especially fond of “Jumping Jack Flash.” (OK, that’s a different mood.) This song makes me want to fall asleep. Only I can’t because it also makes me nauseous.

So what about you? What songs make you want to run screaming into the night? Share in the comments section. In a few weeks, I’ll take the best (worst?) of the lot and put up a poll for you to vote for the winner (loser?).

Share and enjoy.

Favorite Musicians: Frank Zappa

When I first heard Frank Zappa, it was like most people of my generation. “Like… Oh, my God!” His daughter Moon Unit (because only Zappa would name his kids Moon Unit and Dweezil.) And my reaction – along with that of my high school classmates – was “WTF?” That’s usually the reaction to Zappa by even die-hard fans of his.

Zappa, in some ways, was like Tom Waits. Never massively popular, but with a sizable fan base to make him just successful enough to do whatever he wanted. What he wanted was pretty bizarre. “Valley Girl,” one of his rare Top 40 hits, was one of the more conventional tunes he wrote.

Yes, that is probably the only time you’ll ever see Frank Zappa on something as mainstream as Solid Gold. Mainstream was something Zappa did not do. At all. Not long after daughter Moon introduced the world to Val Speak, he changed up once again with an instrumental album called Jazz From Hell, an album so bizarre, it listed Joe Satriani partner in crime Steve Vai as rhythm guitarist. Yeah, Steve played rhythm like Fripp and Belew took turns playing rhythm in King Crimson.

But Frank’s best talent was as a story teller. With the Mothers of Invention, Zappa’s best known band, he did a bizarre twenty minute comedy bit called “Billy the Mountain,” about a mountain that decided to dodge the draft. More pointed and cynical was the seminal concept album Joe’s Garage, a semi-autobiographical rock opera about a man who finds himself pitted against the Church, a cult, and an oppressive government. If you really want short, with the infamous Zappa tongue firmly planted in cheek, great googly moogly, check out “Montana” or “Yellow Snow.”

Zappa questioned the norm. He named his kids to be anything but conventional: Diva, Dweezil, Moon Unit, and Ahmet. That’s right, the only one with an actual first name got his from Turkey. He attacked the sexual norms of society, religion, big government, and the music industry. Nothing was sacred. Even race relations got a shellacking from Frank, all over a video where he also expressed his opinion of Ronald Reagan, a video that later provided one of the classic Beavis & Butthead moments.

What else can I say about Frank Zappa that the videos haven’t already?

Thursday Reviews: The Civil War: A Narrative Volume 3 by Shelby Foote; It’s Not About The Coffee by Howard Behar & Janet Goldstein; The Dark Tower II: The Drawing Of The Three by Stephen King

The Civil War: A Narrative, Volume 3

Shelby Foote

When last we left our intrepid Union Army, they’d just occupied Chattanooga and opened the Mississippi River. As we open, we find both sides are getting tired. Lincoln, sick of Napoleon wannabes getting timid on the eve of battle, calls Ulysses S. Grant east to take charge of the entire US Army.

Meanwhile, Robert E. Lee is fighting a war of attrition trying to hold Richmond, the Confederate capital. The new republic has been split in two by the opening of the Mississippi. Now Sherman is threatening Atlanta, tightening the noose. Food is running out. The Confederate dollar is worth only pennies compared to its Union counterpart. The only encouraging signs for the CSA are Nathaniel Banks’ failed incursion into Texas and Raphael Semmes’ high seas piracy aboard the CSS Alabama.

As Sherman closes in on Richmond after burning his way from Atlanta to the sea, then devastating South Carolina, Jefferson Davis goes into a state of denial. He believes the fight can be carried on, even with Grant patiently standing his ground at the gates of Richmond. It’s this rapidly deteriorating state of affairs that rejuvenates a demoralized Union Army and gets Lincoln re-elected. At the end, Lincoln is murdered just as Grant and Lee build a framework for Confederate troops to surrender with dignity. Davis, unrepentant and still considering Lincoln the enemy, is horrified, stating that Lincoln was not malicious toward the South, only defending an opposing cause. The slaying, and the resulting chaos that was Reconstruction, only proves that John Wilkes Boothe was a traitor not only to the United States, but the Confederate cause he claimed to cherish.

Foote’s narrative paints a portrait of a nation exhausted by war and ready to move on. In a long and detailed epilogue, focusing mainly on Jefferson Davis after his capture, Foote gives substance to what the struggle meant to the nation. Before Ft. Sumter, the name United States went from plural to singular, that, even in those first few months when the South was occupied territory, America was more a singular nation than a collection of competing states.

It’s Not About the Coffee: Life Lessons on Putting People First from a Life at Starbucks

Howard Behar & Janet Goldstein

Love them or hate them, Starbucks is a success story. Unlike many tech firms, where long hours and obsession with the product are considered virtue, Starbucks built its success on trying to be a great place to work. The attitude permeates the entire company. They do not have a corporate headquarters. They have a support center. Against retail convention, they pay more than minimum wage to their employees. Or rather partners. And ducking a scandal, a mistake, or a catastrophe is frowned upon. Behar points at Enron as an example of why a company should never do that.

Life at Starbucks is not perfect. But Behar illustrates how, if a company is much more than the bottom-line obsessed organization, those values will permeate the company and allow it to be more successful and more resilient.

The Drawing of the Three (Dark Tower 2)

Stephen King

The first volume of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, The Gunslinger, found Roland, the last gunslinger in a world that has “moved on,” wandering through a land that is part spaghetti Western, part Salvadore Dali painting. Picking up just hours after the end of that story, Roland is found asleep on the beach, attacked by vicious crablike things he dubs “lobstrosities.” In the first tome, the Man in Black (who is likely Randall Flagg of The Stand, as well as the magician from The Eyes of the Dragon) showed Roland that he will “draw” three people from another world. Wounded, injured, and sick, Roland finds a door to “our” world and “draws” Eddie Dean, a heroin addict who is in the process of delivering a shipment to his mobster boss. Roland emerges into our world after talking to Eddie’s mind (It’s a bit more complex than that) and winds up helping Eddie in a gunfight. His second draw is a legless black woman named Odetta Holmes. Or Detta Walker. She is the woman of shadows, and she is really two women. Odetta is the person born into that body, the daughter of a wealthy black dentist in 1960’s New York. Detta is her bat-shit insane alter-ego. Odetta is schizophrenic, and Roland soon discovers his third, The Pusher, is responsible the wounds to Odetta’s mind and her body.

While The Gunslinger was unfocused and a bit surreal, The Drawing of the Three, while episodic, is more straightforward. A self-contained story, albeit one with a clear sequel in mind, it is more of a true quest story, having much in common with The Fellowship of the Ring.

What’s Wrong With America: Campaign Ads

It’s that time again. That time when the guy who wants to run the country and the guy running the country accuse each other of the most egregious things: Like one guy’s a Mormon and the other guy’s black. Oh, wait. They save that for after the conventions.

But it’s not just the presidential campaigns. Every year, some of the states pick governors. Every two years, all of the House and one third of the Senate is up for grabs. There are primaries and general elections. Added to all this electoral goodness are municipal elections and various issues for school levies and casinos and what have you.

And in each and every case, there’s a campaign manager whose job is to lie, slander, and terrorize.

I’m of the firm belief that we should make room for immigrants by deporting these low-lifes. Unfortunately…

They’ve been with us since the dawn of the republic. And they’re an import from Europe. Go on. Ask any Brit who knows their history about “rotten boroughs.” It’s an early forerunner to the Chicago ballot system that polls the Chicagoland’s cemeteries.

Honestly, if you want an objective opinion of how Obama has done, or how Romney might perform, you’re going to have to do something the campaign managers don’t want you to do: Read the news.

I don’t mean those idiotic blogs that only massage your ideological leanings. Obama’s getting the worst of it, partly from pure racism (and don’t deny it. You know the cowards are out there.), but mainly because he’s the sitting president. Romney’s a newer flavor. It’ll be well into September when all the black helicopter chasing and frustrated Weatherman wannabe morons come up with rumors slightly more credible than Elvis sightings, UFO theories, and anything that comes out of a Kardashian’s mouth.

It frustrates me to no end to watch campaign ads that bear less resemblance to the person being slammed than they do to the work of James Callender. Who’s that?

This genius made a living telling the world that John Adams wanted to be the King of America, sell the US out to the British, and quite possibly eat your baby. James, however, ran afoul of the Alien & Sedition Acts. While unconstitutional and regretted by Adams, His Rotundity nevertheless decided that, before Congress corrected that mistake, to use them on Callender. When his patron, Thomas Jefferson, did not pardon him, Callender emerged from his prison sentence to spread rumors about the author of the Declaration of Independence. The story of Jefferson’s affair with Sally Hemings proved true – almost two hundred years later – the rest of Callender’s tripe bore about as much resemblance to reality as I do to Rita Hayworth.

Fast forward about 40 years, and we have the campaign staff of William Henry Harrison painting Martin Van Buren as a rich aristocrat while Harrison is a brawling frontier cabin dweller. Never mind that Van Buren clawed his way up from poverty while Harrison was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and lived on a sprawling Ohio River plantation.

The fact is every election cycle, we have to put up with this garbage. And they come in all stripes. You have the ones that skew statistics. You have the ones that manage to use footage of a candidate to misquote him. (Neat trick, but bullshit is bullshit.) Then there’s the series of commercials I refer to as “The Bitch.” You’ve heard her. The woman who comes on in a soft, but worried voice, who fears the end of civilization itself because this issue is done by people who only want to do you harm. I don’t fault the woman doing the ads. It’s a sweet gig if you can get it.

I fault the campaign managers. If I am said to be an unrepentant bigot toward any group, then I proudly call myself a campaign manager bigot. These are people who lie. They distort. And they destroy the democratic process. Worst of all, they use fear to get you to change your mind.

One such douchebag, Ken Blackwell’s manager for Ohio governor, suggested in one breath that maybe Ted Strickland is gay and in the next said his job was to win a campaign by any means necessary. Incidentally, Strickland won – by a landslide, and Blackwell’s party nominated current governor John Kasich, who generally does not sound like an idiot.

There are other stupid campaign tricks that bug the hell out of me. Not lowering taxes is a tax hike? (No, stupid! It’s not a tax hike. It’s not anything! I took math in high school.) The anti-casino ads talking about all the out-of-staters taking jobs and the economic drain casino towns. (The casino towns in Indiana found these hysterical as the only out-of-staters hired were from Ohio and Kentucky. You know. Locals. They also had a drop in crime and a rise in their economy. Don’t pitch statistics reality won’t backup.)

I’d like to say I have a solution, but I don’t. By November, gays, Muslims, corporate executives, and Christians will be pointed at as boogiemen that one guy or the other (or even both) is completely and totally behind. The only suggestion I have is to use campaign ads as your cue to hit the john, get a beer, or even change the channel.

100 Books

Last year, despite reading almost nothing the first six weeks of the year, I read 91 books. I tried for a hundred, but didn’t quite make it. This year, as of today, I’m up to 49. Currently, I’m reading The Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three. I quit reviewing in late 2010 and have, to my surprise, read more. I want to get to 100 by years end. Will I make it?

It depends. Except for interruptions for some special purpose or a large book I want to read, I follow a pattern. I start with a hard cover (almost always a novel), then a paperback novel. This is followed by an ebook, usually an ebook published specifically as an ebook. Then I read either a classic or a literary novel. When I finish that cycle, I move on to Stephen King – in any format. King is the author whose canon I’ve decided to go all the way through from beginning to end, excluding the early Bachman books. I may return to them. I finish the cycle with a presidential biography, my entree into American history. While I’m doing all this, I’ll listen to an audio book on my way to work or while I’m jogging.

Eventually, this is going to become difficult, if not impossible. Starting in late August, I begin work on my bachelor’s degree. Unlike the associates I’m about to complete, there are no online classes. I have to go to campus and sit there like a real college student. I’m 46. That’s unfair. (The ghost of my mother is standing behind me saying, “Quit whining and do your homework.”)

Seriously, though, the real interruptions this year came from detours. I just finished the last volume of Shelby Foote’s Civil War narrative, the last part taking nearly four weeks to get through. I also spent May reading two books on plotting. Those slowed me down because I didn’t take them to work with me. My coworkers at Medishack know little about my writing habit, and I like it like that. At BigHugeCo, I would sometimes write on my lunch break, which often invited interruptions. “Hey, what are you working on?” At Medischack, they neither know nor care. And one coworker would likely lecture me that I’m writing the wrong stuff. She gets upset when I bring in Stephen King.

One of the reasons for this pattern is that I want to get everything on my bookshelf read. I’ll probably finish all the hardcovers in the house by year’s end, with the paperbacks by the end of next year. The exceptions are books by Danielle Steele (not my cuppa), James Patterson (same), and some classical tomes I just can’t concentrate on anymore. In my twenties, I could have blown through The Iliad in three days. Now? Dickens is about as dense of prose as I can get through.

There is, of course, one book I was glad to disrupt the schedule for, The Autobiography of Mark Twain. They promised to have the whole thing out by 2015. I’m hoping that’s true.

The Dark Tower IX: The Return Of The Dark Tower

A while back, I ditched the HP tower for a beefed-up refurbished Dell I’d bought for a project. I didn’t like the HP much, despite replacing Windows 7 Home with Windows 7 Pro. The Dell had one very big attraction: Load Windows 7 onto most Dells, and you’re pretty much done once the updates install. That’s it. I also installed a 1 Terabyte drive (That’s 1 million Gigabytes for the technically uninitiated). I would never, ever run out of space.

But the HP has a dual core processor, 6 GB of RAM, and lacked only the 1 TB drive I put in the Dell. Despite the Dell taking up less space on my desk, it showed its weaknesses from the get-go. The wireless fob I plugged into it could barely pick up the router on the other side of the house. Its processor, while a dual core, was one of Intel’s early consumer versions of that processor. Fast, yes, but noticeably less so than the HP’s. I decided to switch back, taking my 1 TB drive with me.

I made the switch, loaded Windows 7 and…

Why does my video look like garbage? Why can’t I get a wireless signal? I can’t do anything with this until I get online.

I brought the laptop downstairs and downloaded several HP drivers to a thumb drive, hoping to make some headway. The machine ran faster when I loaded the chipset driver (the software that manages the motherboard.) The video looked better. The wireless…

Had a broken wire from when I put the video card back into it. Oops. Off to Walmart for the $30 cheapie. Works beautifully. Then again, I remember it hadn’t been that long ago when I bought a wireless card for another machine, and the clerk at Microcenter told me $50 was a bit pricey. Nita was with me. We almost burst out laughing, having both bought cards back when $70-90 was the norm for a low-end card that now is good for little more than picking up stray broadcasts of Radio Free Mordor on cloudless nights. If anything, this bargain bin unit does better than the original installed by HP.

If this had been a Windows XP install, I would still be tearing my hair out. XP, and Windows 7’s mutant predecessor, Vista, required hunting for drivers ahead of time. It also requires more updates. If you don’t go with Service Pack 3, an XP install can go from an evening project to three days before you can do a file transfer and start loading Office and other apps.

Windows 7 is Windows finally done right (and what should have been Windows Vista, which was an embarrassment.) Still, there are some flaws. Linux and OSX have root running the show. If you want to install anything on those systems, you have to do a little dance to tell the computer you are root. Windows has Administrator. Only anyone can be an Administrator. Microsoft’s solution is to throw popups at you to make malware ask permission to install itself. That’s not only annoying, but if you use your laptop for more than just email and balancing your checkbook, it renders the machine almost unusable. Microsoft needs to make Administrator run like root, where the user has to physically call it. Malware can’t do it. That’s why the only notable threat to a Mac comes from Java-based viruses and rootkits. (No one is safe from rootkits. Thanks a helluva lot, Sony!)

The other thing Microsoft needs to resolve is this constant need to reboot after an installation. It’s 2012, Mr. Ballmer. I don’t want Windows 8 with its Metro interface and lack of a Start button. (OK, I do, but only when the Surface tablet comes out, not on my PC.) I want Windows 7 to not reboot everytime something major reinstalls. Unix doesn’t do this, and it was written in 1968. Fix it.

That said, I’m pretty happy with the way things went. My main problem with the HP was bloatware. The original image on the HP had a clunky music player that crashed everytime you plugged in a thumb drive or unplugged the iPod (which didn’t talk to the player in the first place.) I had to uninstall all sorts of crapware from HP, AOL, and Yahoo. And HP never missed a chance to interrupt what you were doing to tell you that some application was sucking up resources, then suggest you kill Firefox to save on memory. It was the HP diags.

So I went for the clean install of Windows 7 Pro. No bloatware. No HP diags. Everything on that machine is what I installed.

Still not happy about the wireless, but whose fault was that?