Don't Even Go There

This is my impression of Virginia and walking. There's been some talk about Tysons Corner becoming an "urban center", but it's hard to imagine how this place could transform in that way. Sure, I think density could continue to increase, but (in my mind anyway) an "urban center" has a lot more to do with people having local mobility than this crazy car culture will allow.

I couldn't see a way to cross Route 7 legally without a vehicle. A few feet later, I found that the route to the bus terminal isn't completely sidewalked. It's been a long time since this area has been an idyllic rural setting; there should be legal ways for pedestrians to move about. I shouldn't need a car to travel 200 feet.

Of course, there are pretty flowers.

OK, so we now have (admittedly limited) data from three different means of travel between my house and my headquarters.

  • Bicycle: 4 hours (with a broken bicycle, don't forget)
  • Public Transportation (with some walking): 2 hours, 10 minutes
  • Automobile: 1 hour, 20 minutes

If Our Schools Were Run by Hollywood...

In case you were wondering, those pesky Musketeers really did use muskets.

"Take care, Athos!" cried d'Artagnan; "don't you see they are aiming?"

"Yes, yes," said Athos; "but they are only civilians--very bad marksmen, who will be sure not to hit me."

In fact, at the same instant four shots were fired, and the balls were flattened against the wall around Athos, but not one touched him.

Four shots replied to them almost instantaneously, but much better aimed than those of the aggressors; three soldiers fell dead, and one of the pioneers was wounded.

"Grimaud," said Athos, still on the breach, "another musket!"

Grimaud immediately obeyed. On their part, the three friends had reloaded their arms; a second discharge followed the first. The brigadier and two pioneers fell dead; the rest of the troop took to flight.

Keeps on Ticking

A Grocery Report

This really happened. Of course it really happened, the word "Report" gives that way, right?

Saturday, I'm looking over my bread options: Hmmm, low carb and tastes like cardboard or low fat and tastes like cardboard? I know! I'll take low carb/low fat and tastes like cardboard! I'm interrupted by this, um, older gentleman.

OLD DUDE: Excuse me, young man.

ME: (Thinking, "I've got grayer hair than you old man") Yes?

OLD DUDE: Did you know that stamps used to be quite violent?

ME: Oh?

OLD DUDE: Yes, once there were these two stamps broke out in fisticuffs. They went at it for hours, until one finally gave up.

ME: Oh?

OLD DUDE: Yep. He said, "I can't take it any more. I'm licked!" (laughs)

ME: Oookay, well, then.

The very first thing that I thought was, "It won't be long until nobody understands that joke any more, what with self-adhesive stamps and all."

The second thing I thought was, "Poor guy, hasn't quite figured out how this whole blog thing works yet."

Baby Wants to Barrelhouse

A Weird Structure Report

OK, now I will stop rattling on about biking and go back to rattling on about the upcoming Hugo Awards.

But before I do, here's a picture from Germantown. No idea what this building is supposed to be used for, but the paint job is recent.

I think this might be my last picture from Germantown for a bit. They've run out of things to ask me to do.

4 Hours

Sure, to you it looks like a nice flat bike trail. To me it looks like miles and miles and miles of no shade.

I think I've biked enough these last four days to hold me for the entire rest of the summer. Since my company moved its headquarters from Rosslyn to Tysons, I've not had a chance to bike to work. Most of my time is spent away at customer sites, but today I'm writing a class on Implementing Unified Change Management (UCM). Sounds exciting doesn't it?

Oh, admit it. You've always wanted to know about UCM, didn't ya?

At any rate, couple this with the Brunette's absence and I get a bit of a flexible schedule today. So I thought I'd pull out the ole bicycle and try trundling down to work.

Slap me if I ever try that again.

It took me the standard two hours to get to Rosslyn (see, I made some bad choices Sunday, too). Somewhere along New York Avenue, my handlebars started slipping, rolling forward and back. This probably demonstrates some lack of cycling skill on my part, but I do yank on those suckers and their rolling around makes braking pretty difficult. Just outside of Rosslyn, I happened upon a man fixing a woman's bicycle flat, and I borrowed his hex wrench to tighten my handle bars.

Within 15 minutes, my chain started skipping. This was terribly annoying for several reasons, not the least of which was because it seemed to happen whenever I put extra pressure on the pedals; to go up a hill or to gain speed. So I hobbled from Rosslyn to Tysons without ever getting above 3rd gear (on the second front ring).

And it was so hot, my hands started having trouble gripping the shifts enough to actually shift any way. I'm tired and I ache and I'm not completely sure how I'm going to get home.

But I did it. I rode from Greenbelt to Tysons Corner. And now I never have to do it again. That would've been 26 miles on the Beltway. I'm guessing under twenty for the route I took.

Sunday In The Park with George

Finally got a map of this Sunday's three-hour-tour up at gmaptrack. This time the interactive map has pictures, too! One thing you'll never see from me: a picture halfway up a hill.

Interesting thing about the DC area, at least from the Maryland side: If you head into town from the near suburbs, you're going generally downhill (just like all the water). If you decide to cut across country, you're going up and down across all the tributaries of the Potomac and Anacostia. It's a tough row to hoe.

So, you get to the point where you're coasting down Beach Drive (no cars on the weekend), listening to Rock Creek babble off to your right, and thinking, "Gosh, what a great city -- such an idyllic ride down to the monuments and the seat of power. I think I could believe that peace is possible." Then some idiot roller-blader jumps in front of you and then some dumb walking family wanders all over the path and then you're below Connecticut and the path is too skinny and there are too many people and you just wish they would DIE DIE DIE or at least leave you alone so you can return to your dreams of nature and peace.

Of course, when I say "you" I mean the general pronoun, not you specifically.

The Algebraist (Iain M. Banks)

A Hugo Nominee

One of the many advantages of leading an imaginary life is that you can do it anywhere. And so it was I found myself standing on the towpath beside the Forth and Clyde Canal watching Billy's Barge float along. And, wonder of wonders, that kid from down the street was there, too, halfway around the world in Falkirk, Scotland.

Of course, I still couldn't remember the lad's name.

"Hey, Jimmy!" I said. "Have you never seen such a sight in your life or what?"

"I've seen a canal boat before."

"The Wheel, Ian, the Wheel!" I flapped my arms for emphasis.

"Eh, what's that for?"

"What's it for? What's it for?" I walked in a tight circle. "I'll tell you what's it for. It's for transportating boats, George. Canal boats. That canal up there at the tippy top -- a hundred and fifteen feet high -- see, it goes to Edinburgh. While this canal down here -- the Forth and Clyde -- it goes on back to Glasgow."

"It looks like a big Ferris wheel." That kid sure does have a way with the obvious.

"Smart lad, my boy. It's just like a Ferris wheel, only for boats."

"Who built it?"

"Ah, weeell," I said while I tried to capture an idea. Sadly, they were all hiding back there behind the medulla. "Ron, I'd have to admit it were the Mercatoria who built that there structure. The Mercatoria put it there to keep us connected with other civilizations."

"The who?"

"It's also the main way," I went on, "for them to send through their war boats. 'Course they're skinny little things, but they have to be to float along the canal."

"Now, you just think you're being clever."

"Oh, no. We need their protection." At this time a little war craft floated by. I saluted. The boy just stared. "Without them, the Beyonders would take control."

"Wait a minute." He scrunched his forehead as he paused. "You just stole that right out of a book!"

"I did not!" I was offended.

"Did so! Those are the people in Iain M. Banks' book, The Algebraist. And the ships are thin because of the wormholes."

"Iain M. Banks? See, now you're thinking of Canal Dreams. That's a whole 'nother bloke than the guy that wrote The Algebraist. He's Iain Banks -- no 'M'."

Michael rolled his eyes. "They're the same guy! You know, like Superman and Clark Kent."

He wasn't going to get me on that one. No. "What are you going on about? They can't be the same guy. Clark Kent wears glasses."

The lad huffed, growled, and flung his arms out perpendicular to the canal. Then he started walking back to the parking lot. I followed as quickly as I could.

"Don't you want to talk about the floaty people, Norm?" I asked. "I liked the floaty people. And the wonder twins were kinda cool."

He kept up his pace. I think I heard him mumble, "irredeemable," but I'm not sure.

"Well, Malcolm, I wanted a curry any way. You think the pub has anything interesting? Maybe Auntie Katie has something brewing?"

Manifesto Destiny

OK, after watching all this SF manifesto haggling back and forth, I have decided it's time to make my very own.

I'm calling it Seance Fiction. From now on, I'm only writing what my Ouija Board tells me.

Now all my sentences have those annoying hyphens:

T-H-E S-K-Y W-A-S T-H-E C-O-L-O-R O-F T-E-L-E-V-I-S-I-O-N T-U-N-E-D T-O A R-A-D-I-O S-T-A-T-I-O-N...

Bike Map

A Map Report

Man, I could play with maps all night long. Here is this morning's bike trip on a Google Map using gmaptrack. Can't draw lines yet, but I think that's coming soon. I particularly like the satellite and zooming features.

Greenbelt Loop

Actually dragged myself out of bed this morning, packed a breakfast (bologna and cheese -- who is it that designates foods appropriate for morning meals?), and hopped on the bike for a slow, two-hour ride. When I stopped for breakfast at Greenbelt Park, this little cricket tried to hop a ride.

Unfortunately, I was too tired to drag along the extra weight, so he had to go.

  • Research Road It's not always clear which gates are for stopping motorized traffic and which are for denying all access. I chose to believe that the Agricultural Research Center is only worried about cars and trucks. (And I wasn't alone.)
  • Beaver Dam Road Didn't see any beaver dams, but it's nice to see farmland so close to the Beltway, even if it is big, bureaucratic farmland
  • Springfield Road This isn't anywhere near Springfield, as far as I can determine.
  • Good Luck Road What kind of a name is that for a road, any way? Maybe it's for the NASA test facilities. "Going out to test that solar sail, Frank? Good luck!"
  • Greenbelt Park access roads More gates of indeterminate nature. I ate in a picnic area whose parking lot was gated.
  • Greenbelt Road Not for the faint of heart. People fly down this road.
  • Southway Almost home and ready for my second shower of the day. Boy, I ride at a glacial pace. Folks with road bikes zoom past me on my upright hybrid. It's not about the speed; it's about the exercise. That's what I try to tell myself, anyway.

Oklahoma! Oklahoma! Oklahoma!

A Life Report

Only four hours since the Brunette flew off to Tulsa, and the following have already occurred:
  • The cat is chasing lightning bugs
  • I'm talking to myself
  • Blogger has started inserting weird clear tags into my text (div style="clear:both;")
I'm not saying that all of this is her fault, you understand.

Monster Pepper Plants Attack Greenbelt!

A Garden Report

A month after they escaped their wee cages, our Brazilian rainbow pepper plants continue to grow. They also continue to not bear fruit, but surely that will come some day.


What About Football Cleats?

Started off the day forgetting my mobile phone, so after a stop at a customer near Friendship Heights, I popped into the Chevy Chase Pavilion to give the Brunette a call on a public phone. Alas, the lower level pay phones are blocked due to cafe renovation and the upper level pay phone refused my quarters. (When did it start to cost 50 cents for a pay call?!?)

So I slipped across Wisconsin to the Mazza Gallerie where the phones work, but you're not allowed to wear tennis shoes on the escalators. I stood frozen at the top of the escalator until I remembered that I had dressed up and wasn't actually wearing tennis shoes. Whew, close call, there!

And don't even get me started on "childrens hand". Oi.

River of Gods (Ian McDonald)

A Hugo Nominee

"Well," said Great Uncle Leadbelly. "I have to say --"

"No, actually," I interrupted. "You don't have to say."

We sat in silence for a moment while he absorbed this. I could imagine what he wanted to say, and I needed no part of it. Sadly, I was frozen in place and could provide no other route for the conversation. So we sat at Great Uncle Leadbelly's dining room table in grumpy silence.

I was thinking of my twelfth summer, a time when everything embarrassed me. My body, my home, my family -- all were great pools of mortification. Even the cat embarrassed me, with his obviously sensuous behaviour and lack of concern about societal convention. I remembered that there were girls everywhere. And so I spent much of -- nay, all of -- my time attempting to find the perfect balance between completely suppressing my drooling, lustful nature on the one hand and denying any suggestion of social phobia on the other. Which would have been worse for my parents, that I was overly interested or not interested enough?

Tough times.

In the midst of the worst of summers, there were wells of even deeper embarrassment. My grandparents had gotten into the routine of watching soap operas. My sister and I spent many summer afternoons with my grandparents in their living room. I'd hide in a novel, my sister in a magazine, and my grandparents would stare at the tube.

And the tube was not a safe place for them to be looking, as far as I was concerned. The soaps were full of loose talk, and bedrooms, and adultery, and even kissing. Right there in front of my grandparents! Shouldn't old people spend their time knitting or doing puzzles or something? I would shrink into the sofa pillows and hope the grandparents wouldn't notice me noticing them watching all that trash, because they might be tempted to talk to me right then.

Gosh, I'm still embarrassed now, even just writing it.

At any rate, Great Uncle Leadbelly had finished reading River of Gods -- at my suggestion, because of the Hugos -- and I knew he would want to go over each and every salacious detail of this science fictional Kama Sutra. I was more than embarrassed, I was positively sick to my stomach. Honestly, I hadn't expected so many of the Hugo nominees to be stuck in some male adolescent wish-fulfillment mode. The number of women-initiated fantasy sex scenes in this pack of books is embarrassing even without a nonagenarian looking on. I never meant to offend him, no matter how imaginary he might be.

I didn't even want to think about him thinking about sex.


"It has to be said," he insisted. I closed my eyes and held my breath. "Authors these days are given too free a hand."

"Yes, Uncle."

"Look at this book! It is entirely too long."

I squeezed one eye open a smidgeon. "What was that, Great Uncle?"

"These authors are molly-coddled, that's what they are," he blustered. "They wouldn't know a decent edit if one bit them on the bum. All of these books are interesting , but too long. And then listen to this." He picked up the book and read from it.

The Muslim man goes down without even a cry, hands clutched to head. The man's cry becomes the crowd's...
Thomas Lull almost drops it in surprise. Lisa intercepts the thing on its way to moksha in the Ganga...
"Did he drop it or didn't he? If he almost drops it, how can she catch it? Dang, but a little editing would've gone a long way --"

I sat a little straighter. I smiled and relaxed. Oh, breathing felt so good. Then, a knock at the door was immediately followed by the entrance of Great Aunt Iva.

"Keep meaning to get that lock changed," grumbled Great Uncle Leadbelly.

"Hey, kiddoes," said Great Aunt Iva. "Oh, look at that! Did you read River of Gods?"

We nodded nervously.

"How about that acrobatic shower scene?" she asked, waggling her septuagenarian eyebrows up and down.

"I liked the airplane ride," Great Uncle leered.

I covered my ears and chanted: "I can't hear you. I'm not listening. La la la la la la."

Eventually, they ended their comparison of favorite scenes and went off to the cafeteria for lunch, but I just sat there with my hands over my ears.

"La la la la la la. I'm not listening!"

Did He Really Say That Out Loud?

Yep. We were meeting with a customer the other day. In a moment of metaphorical excess, my colleague turned to the CIO. (The CIO!) He said,

"A fish rots from the head."

I'm surprised that the head of our customer's IT efforts didn't throw us out right then and there.

Worship for Justice Week 2

This week, Rabbi David Saperstein exhorted us to "not stand idlely by" while millions of Sudanese are displaced, raped or killed. This week's focus was on the Congress, which last year took the unprecedented action of actually naming the actions in Darfur as genocide. Since then, there has been little action to do anything about it.

Next week's focus will be on the news media as we meet at Freedom Plaza. Next Sunday at 1 pm.

2nd Annual Greenbelt Blues Festival

Note To Self

Must remember to reserve tickets for the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Random Thought

What's the worst problem in corporate America? Is it financial fibbery? Maybe disregard for planetary well-being? Perhaps a little too much fraud and corruption?

Ha, no, it's intraoffice navigation, of course.

You're walking down some overgrown aisle in the cube farm, approaching your wee habitat. You can hear behind you the footfalls of some co-worker with more speed. They're going to pass you, but will they pass you before you turn into the cubicle? Or will you turn into the cubicle just as they reach you and you'll collide? Or maybe you'll just stop to let them pass before you turn, and there you go, they rear-end you.

Why isn't the government doing something about these crazy walkers?

I know, I know. I just thought I'd submit a sample of my writing for this paper.

Iron Sunrise (Charles Stross)

A Hugo Nominee

The blood pounds in my ears like the footfalls of a charging elephant. TUB TUB TUB. I dodge to my left and narrowly avoid a briefcase. TUB TUB. I glance up to see a hefty man coming at me. TUB. He has two white wires embedded in his ears, a determined expression on his face, and a full head of steam as he barrels toward me.


I jump to the right and he flies down the escalator. I notice him squint up his eyes and work his mouth angrily. Over the thudding in my ears, I can hear his voice:

"And you...Light up my life..."

It must be some kind of code.

What is that wheezing sound? I ask myself. I just about reach my goal when I realize: It's my own breathing. This is not an assignment for an old man like me. My mobile phone rings.

"You are not yet at the designated location," says a voice.

"Hazel," I say. "The escalators at Rosslyn are out of service."

"Never-the-less," the voice says. "Your target has now changed." I groan and stop running. Putting my hands on my knees, I lean over to try to catch my breath. A businessman running down trips over me and slides down the studded metal ramp between escalators. I'm only a few steps from the top of the longest escalator in the DC Metro system. At the top, the station's resident crazy woman mutters to herself. At the bottom, the large businessman picks himself up and shakes his fist at me. It's a long way down.

"You know that Wheaton has the longest escalator in the Western Hemisphere, don't you?" asks Hazel.


"Rosslyn is only fifth in DC." I hang up on Hazel and make my decision.

I'm taking the elevator down.

The Grosvenor Station is a terminal stop on the Red Line, though it is not at the end of anything. Potential passengers mill about aimlessly, waiting for a train to a real destination. I glance around to check out the environment.

The escalators are only half a story tall.

I sit down on one of the marble benches. Beside me is a woman reading Charles Stross's Iron Sunrise. She has nearly finished.

"So, uh, what do you think?" I ask.

"What?" she says, startled.

"You know, the, ah, book." I gesture at the book in her hands.

"Why are you talking like that?"

"I have to say," I have to say, "I find the written stutters, uh, tiresome. Don't you? We all know that people, uhm, punctuate real speech with these verbal, ah, ticks. But do we have to read it, too? Isn't that too high a price for, uhm, realism?"

"Well," she says. "You've made your point. You can stop now."

"Ah," I say. "I don't think I, ah, can."

She turns away from me and returns to her book. In the meantime, we have been joined by others. All of them hold the same bright orange book.

"Personally," says a man in a reflective vest and mirrored shades. "I liked this book. It's pure space opera all the way."

"Is that enough for it to win the Hugo?" I want to know. "I mean, why did this book have to be science fiction anyway? Take away the exploding sun and the crazy computer and it's just another Ludlum thriller. Right?"

"If you like Fforde, you'll like Stross!" shouts a kid with his hat on backward. We all nod in agreement with Positive-Spin-Review Boy.

"Not quite so funny," the woman on the bench demurs.

"In how many books will you read the line 'Bring me the head of Svengali the Clown!'?" I say.

"You forgot to stutter," she points out. I snap my fingers in self-flagellation.

Suddenly, all of our mobile phones ring. "What now, Hazel?" We ask in unison, then we reflect each other's surprise. Hazel tells us that "they" are coming and we must run.

"Who are you, anyway?" I ask, but I get no response. We are all running in different directions. I glide up the escalator. I hear Hazel's voice, but I don't have the mobile to my ear. I look around, but the only other person I see is the crazy woman. I double-take as I realize that it's the Rosslyn Station crazy woman.

She winks at me and cackles.

That's when I notice that on her ear is a hands-free device for her mobile phone. She hasn't been talking to herself after all.

"Go!" she shouts. "Fly, you fools!"


A protest on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The first of "5 Sundays to End Genocide in Darfur."

"Budgest are moral documents," said Rev. Brian McLaren. In pointing out the duty of religious folk to take care of their neighbors, he noted that "our division is distracting us." By spending too much time arguing about blue v. red/Democrat v. Republican/etc., Christians are overlooking the deaths of hundreds of thousands. "Consider the irony," he noted, "of us singing God Bless America. As if we need more blessings..."

Next week's meeting is at the Capitol Reflecting Pool at 1.

Do Ya Think?


Perhaps you've been reading a series of challenging newspaper articles about Metro over the past few days. We want to assure you that much of the information in these articles is outdated...

Not all of the information, of course. Just much of it. Oh, and yes, we do realize that having five Metro employees standing around at every station handing out flyers is not the best use of resources, which in normal circumstances would point to a management problem because the biggest part of our budget that we don't have enough funds for is labor.

But we don't have a management problem. You have a perception problem. This flyer will help.

Besides, you don't know that we paid five people to hand out these flyers at every station. You only know that we did that at Greenbelt, don't you?

You're A Blockhead, Charlie Brown

Peanuts On Metro Turnstiles I know that the Metro fuzz can be heavy-handed at times, but look at this. The peanuts are also all over the floor. What a mess.

We jump and shout at the Metro cops for being overly heavy-handed (arresting pregnant women and hand-cuffing small-fry), but none of us are willing to help out when we see people messing up our system. I know I've watched people with open cups of Starbucks coffee sloshing around during rush hour -- getting on the floor, barely missing other passengers -- without saying a word. I think Great Uncle Leadbelly will have more to say about this.

The anti-food rule is not a rule that infringes on anybody's civil rights.