Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Computer problems on my vacation

On Monday morning I went to check my Windows desktop PC which I'd left on overnight. I found that it appeared to be dead. Moving the mouse didn't wake up the monitor from sleep mode and when I power-cycled the computer the monitor insisted that it had no signal. I opened the case and poked around. Everything looked OK inside. The PC was getting power because the optical drives' lights flickered when I turned it on, the fans came on, and the hard drive light worked. But I never got any POST messages or beeps indicating that the PC was trying to boot up. So it looked like the motherboard had died overnight. It's a three-year-old Dell PC that's out of warranty, and I bought my MacBook Pro to replace it, so it's no great loss. But it is now trash.

I wasted little time in dismembering the PC. I took out the hard drive, installed it in a USB enclosure, and used SuperDuper to clone my MacBook Pro to it. Now I have a spare, bootable copy of my Mac that I can run on any other Mac, or use to restore my system in a hurry if I have a hardware failure. This backup is in addition to the Time Machine backup drive that I keep at work. (In case you haven't noticed, I'm a zealot when it comes to data backup.) I might cannibalize the DVD drives as well, though I don't really need them.

I have another backup drive that I used to keep for the Windows PC. It now holds the last good backup of the PC, from just before my move to Brooklyn in July. I can access it from my Mac, but because it's in NTFS format, I can't write data to it from the Mac, I can only read it. I tried writing data from my Windows Vista VM on the Mac, but that didn't work either. If I want to edit that data or reformat the disk, I'll need another Windows PC. I could always bring home my work laptop and use that. Or I could take this as a sign that it's finally time to give Boot Camp a try and install Vista on the "bare metal" of my MacBook Pro. While I'd be able to access Windows resources natively with the Mac hardware, I'd lose 20-30 GB of hard drive space to my Windows installation. I've resisted that temptation until now, but without a reliable PC at home, I think my hand has been forced. But that will be a task for after my vacation. In order to use Boot Camp, I need to print out the software manual. However, my home printer has been out of order for a few weeks with ink cartridge issues. I need to replace the ink cartridges to get the printer working. So I'll have to wait to install Boot Camp until I go back to work after Labor Day, print out the instructions, then have a free day at home to play around. I love tinkering with my computers, so that sounds like a fine way to kill an afternoon.

Monday, August 25, 2008

the quest for pizza 2: cycling boogaloo

Sunday was the marshal training ride for the 2008 NYC Century. I've gone on the training ride three of the past four years, so I know what to expect:

don't make any other plans for ride day, or at least no plans before 8 PM
no matter what the mileage on the cue sheet says, expect to ride about 10%-20% further than that
expect the unexpected in terms of unanticipated delays

We met under the Brooklyn Bridge at 8 AM. There were about 20 cyclists, a few who looked familiar to me from rides past but most of them strangers. We got cue sheets from the organizer and at 8:45 we set off on the bulk of the 75-mile route. Pizza would be waiting for us at the end of the ride in Astoria Park, and we expected to get there by 3 PM.

By now I could do about half of the TA's route on auto-pilot -- they tend to use the same bike paths each year -- so I was trying to think of what the route would look like to a cyclist unfamiliar with Brooklyn and Queens streets. It wasn't easy. I've become such a graybeard cyclist that I hardly remember what it was like when I first started riding in the city. One of the biggest problems with the Century is always the road markings. TA volunteers do an outstanding job marking the route, to the point where some years I haven't had to use the cue sheet at all. But when you ride the route two weeks early, and not all the markings are there yet, you're going to run into problems. And that's what happened to us.

We were OK for roughly the first 25 miles, which took us to Canarsie Pier. Somewhere on the Shore Parkway bike path between Canarsie Pier and the turnoff to head north to Queens, the bike path was covered with sharp-edged broken sea shells. My tires had been fully inflated that morning but sometime in the afternoon when we were in Queens I noticed I'd developed a slow leak. I stopped a few times to pump up the tube but based on the holes in the tire I didn't think the air was helping much. The back tire continued to be a problem, and it was really impacting my ride.

Then we got lost in Alley Pond Park. We missed a turn somewhere and wound up near some ballfields asking passersby for directions. No one out there knew how to get back to numbered streets. My GPS wasn't any help either. It didn't work most of the time, and the few seconds when it did work it couldn't tell me anything more than that I was in Alley Pond Park. Thanks, Garmin! While one of our company patched a hole in his tube, the rest of the crew rode ahead to find the exit. They came back, minus one member, so we waited for him. He appeared about 15 minutes later, wondering where we were. He'd found the next turn out of the park and had been waiting there for us to arrive. Back on course, we were filled with confidence that we would soon be at Astoria Park and that our afternoon and evening plans were still safe. Alas, we were wrong.

We'd already had a two scheduled and two or three unscheduled rest stops. We had one more when my back tire gave out completely as we were crossing the Northern Boulevard Bridge. We pulled off onto "Unnamed Service Road" (that's what the cue sheet always calls it) and another rider and I took 15 minutes to change the tube in my tire. I'd seen this guy patch a tube already, and I guess I could have patched mine, but I just wanted to get back on the road so I opted to swap the tube and try patching the old one later on my own. I felt bad because I'd already thought about changing the tube, and I could have done it at one of the previous rest stops, but I'd decided to try to get home on the leaky tire and fix it on Monday. I won't make that mistake again.

By now it was late afternoon and we had about 10 miles to go to Astoria. To our credit, we only had to stop once more to help another of our company with his own tire issues. We arrived at Astoria Park about 5:30 PM. We did get some pizza, and even though it was cold, it was delicious. We shared our harrowing tales of woe and were comforted with the knowledge that our suggestions and corrections to the route would be taken into consideration over the next two weeks.

Then a few of us rode home through Long Island City, Williamsburg, and Fort Greene. I got back to Park Slope and my apartment at 7:15, almost 12 hours after I left. I rode 82 miles for the day, and my aching muscles feel it. But I also feel better prepared for the full 100 miles in two weeks. With a few more weekday laps in Prospect Park, I'll be in great shape.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Getting in the mood for football season, musically

If you're a football fan, then you've seen the NFL Films archives from the 1970s and 1980s narrated by John Facenda (of the "frozen tundra of Lambeau Field" fame). So you'd probably recognize the soundtrack to those films if you heard it. When I bought Madden '08 for the XBox last summer I loved how the old NFL films music played while you watched instant replays. I was browsing on eMusic the other day and came across this collection of music from the NFL Films series. All the classics are there: "Round Up," "Up She Rises," "Ramblin' Man from Gramblin'," and my personal favorite, "The Lineman." Listening to this music, I can picture slow-motion shots of the Raiders, Cowboys, and Steelers moving the football, catching passes and crushing their opponents. Last night for our fantasy football draft, my newfound friend Sam Spence provided the soundtrack as we made our picks and poked fun at everyone else's blunders.

I am now ready for some football.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Checking the calendar

The weather over the past weekend was so beautiful that I wondered if I'd slept through the rest of August and woken up sometime in late September. I'm used to the late summer months being filled with swelteringly hot days so the recent spate of low-80s temperatures, clear skies and cool breezes had me confused. I'm not complaining, and looking at the upcoming forecast it looks like warmer days are ahead, but I'm enjoying the weather while we have it.

I went for a long bike ride on Saturday afternoon to Floyd Bennett Field in southwest Brooklyn. Floyd Bennett Field was New York's first municipal airport, built in 1930 and used until the 1950s for commercial aviation and air freight. I'd been there several times before on NYC Century rides, but I'd only ridden through the parking lot and along one of the taxiways before heading out to the Rockaways on the ride route. This time FBF was my destination, and I took the time to explore the abandoned runways and see what I'd missed. Both main runways are intact, and cyclists (and motorists and motorcyclists) can ride the lengths and get the sense of what it would be like to ride along a busy runway at JFK. There's a section reserved for model airplane enthusiasts, and some windsurfers were taking advantage of another section of unused pavement to cruise in the breezes. I'd forgotten that one of the few remaining Concordes was parked out there, and I took a few photos with my cell phone camera. (A quick note about the phone's camera: I've had my Samsung SYNC for 18 months, so you'd think I'd know how to hold the camera to get wide shots. You'd be wrong. The camera takes photos lengthwise when it's held upright, and takes tall, narrow shots when you hold it sideways. In other words, what you're framing on the screen is not what you'll get when you take the shot. That's why all the photos from my FBF ride are "sideways.") I spent about 90 minutes exploring the old airfield, and I look forward to going back. Maybe I'll bring a kite next time, attach it to my bike, and see if it will pull me down the runway.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Requiem for a coffee mug

I've been at my job for a little more than eight years. During orientation on my first day in July 2000 I received a white coffee mug with a torch and the words "One Liberty" on it (I work at One Liberty Plaza downtown). Everyone got one. I don't remember who else started that day, but I'm sure they don't have their mugs anymore. I've drunk more cups of bad Filterfresh coffee from that mug than I care to remember. I've had my mug through two or three office moves. It survived 9/11. But it didn't survive a fall onto the kitchenette floor a few minutes ago. I was cleaning out the gunky residue from yesterday's Filterfresh brew when the mug slipped from my hands, bounced off the recycling bin and shattered on the floor. The handle broke into a few pieces, some more bits chipped off the rim, and there were shards of ceramic all over the floor. I didn't even look at the mug that closely before I threw it in the trash. I suppose I could have tried to glue it back together, but it's dead to me now.

So this is weird. It's not the loss of a mug: I've got several other coffee mugs both at work and at home, so it's easily replaced. Right now I'm drinking coffee from a mug that commemorates the firm's 60th anniversary two years ago. (For the anniversary, everyone on the admin staff received a mug and we had a reception in a conference room with wine and beer, while the attorneys had a lavish prom-like party at the AMNH.) But it feels like I've lost something that represented me when I started here as a cheerful 26-year-old who was still new to the city. I wasn't the experienced network administrator that I am now. I also wasn't the jaded graybeard that I seem to have become over the years. My boss at my last job used to say of the people who'd worked at that firm for years that they "knew where all the bodies are buried." I've started to feel like I'm that guy here. I haven't figured out yet whether that's good or bad or a mix. I might be ready for a job change soon, but since I don't know what that change might entail, I'm staying put.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Cooking in the new apartment

I ate most of my meals last week in restaurants, so when I had Friday night free I decided to stay home and cook. I had my heart set on a steak seared in my cast-iron skillet with tater tots on the side. (Hey, they're sort of like hash browns.) I turned up the oven and got the skillet ready, and turned on the air conditioners in both the living room and the bedroom. When I got the steak in the pan, it wasn't more than a minute before my entire living room filled with smoke and grease from the oil. I flipped the steak after a few minutes and threw the skillet in the oven, but that just made the smoke pour out of the oven instead. I cracked my apartment door to vent with the outside air, which helped a little. That's when the smoke detector in the hallway went off. I ran back into my apartment and grabbed a magazine to fan it. It stopped shrieking after about 30 seconds but not before my neighbor poked her head out her door to see wha was going on. She complimented me on the smell coming from my apartment. The dog in the next apartment over from hers kept barking so I'm not sure if he liked the steak aroma too or didn't like the noise. By now the steak was done and the tater tots were close, so I turned the oven down and put the steak on a plate to cool. My apartment was still filled with smoke. I had the brilliant idea that if I opened the doors to the outside and opened my door with the windows open I would circulate the air. Opening my door set off the hallway smoke detector again. After another attempt to silence it with the magazine, I gave up on clearing the air that way and went inside to eat. The steak was perfectly medium and delicious.

When I finished eating I cleaned up the stove, sprayed some air freshener and spritzed my couch with Febreeze. The smell wasn't so bad after the cleanup but it was still there. Also, I'd realized that my own smoke detector hadn't gone off while I was cooking, so I got up on my stepladder to check it. As I suspected, it didn't have a battery. Luckily for me, I had a spare 9V battery that I installed so next time I cook I'll hear all about it. Just before I fell asleep I remembered that my mother lights scented candles to clear the smell of potato latkes from the house. I should have tried that long before bedtime. I could still smell cooked meat when I went to bed.

The apartment still smelled this morning but it wasn't as strong as I'd feared. I tink it will fade in a day or two. The lesson I learned was that I shouldn't plan to do much frying in oil in that kitchen, unless I want to smell it for a week. Maybe I should take up baking instead.