Friday, January 27, 2006

I'm a fraud

Yes, I am. When told people that I completed my CS degree (those people being friends, family, and my current employer!) in the fall of 2005 I was lying through my teeth.

When I turned in my completed paperwork and copy of my project report to UIC's CS department last September I jokingly asked ,"So am I really done now?" "Yes, you are," she replied. "Really?," I sarcastically asked, "I still don't believe it to be true." Yes, you are. Congratulations," she said as she smiled. I left the office floating on a cloud. All these years and it was finally done. Aside from being relieved I was immensely proud. I wrote December 2005 on my resume as the date I received my degree. I moved to Madison, interviewed, and found a job.

I know in the past the College of Engineering has had a smaller ceremony where your name is actually called in December for fall graduates so I emailed the department in early November to determine if it was taking place and if I could participate. They said no, it didn't take place anymore -- only in the spring. Fine.

This past Wednesday I received an email from the same woman I spoke with in September at the CS office -- "Do you plan on graduating this Spring? Your project is done but you didn't declare your intent to graduate last Fall and the deadline for Spring is this Friday."

Well, this was very upsetting to say the least. I wanted to call this woman and scream my head off at her, but the reality is that will only hurt the entire process. I composed myself and emailed her back trying to be polite with the following facts: I was told by the "CS office" (not her) that I was done and I NOW LIVE IN ANOTHER STATE! In all my years ay UIC each and every form I had to fill out needed 12 signatures and had to be walked to Dean Jerk's office before heading to Department Head Lazy's office. I figured there was no way this would be any different. Thankfully, that is incorrect.

I logged into the website, clicked 2 buttons, and had declared my intent to graduate. I made the deadline, and will now be a Spring 2006 graduate. I forwarded all of this to my friend in the CS office and was given the thumbs up. Only time will tell if it worked this time -- I'll believe it when I see the degree in my mailbox. UIC is way hardcore and takes no pity on its subjects.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Hell House

It might be a completely ridiculous way to look at life, but everytime I ride some miles, lift a little more weight than before, write, or finish a book -- I feel that I am stronger, even if in a completely miniscule way. It might be all a little much in terms of a worldview, but if it keeps me motivated, then good enough. Its certainly not hurting anybody.

I just finished a reall terrific novel entitled Hell House by Richard Matheson. I came to know of him through the original Twilight Zone episodes and the writing community that generated them (of which he obviously was a member). Its not quite Paris in the 20's with Hemingway and Fitzgerald, but its an exceptional example of what happens when writers get together under the right circumstances and conditions. This all lead me to want to read his major works, which lead me to easily one of the greatest haunted house stories of all time -- Hell House. I don't want to spoil the plot at all, but its about a haunted house and you can pretty much guess the rest. Its straightforward and very much a genre piece, but that is selling it far too short. Aside from being one of the better horror stories I've ever read, it ended up striking me as a fairly direct commentary on the 60's generation. It was published in 1971 and contains a great deal of promiscuity and rampant sexual deviance -- a pretty clear reference to the decade that had to be in Matheson's mind. Considering that the sexual content in the novel is treated in the most negative terms and is framed as the core of the problems/hauntings in the house, one could guess that Matheson was not too fond of the social changes the previous decade brought forth. Maybe, and maybe not. It could just be part of the adult, gore factor that Clive Barker later would put on steroids, or maybe like all truly great horror stories (zombie stories in particular), it tells us something specific about the wages of a given sin or a specific behavior via a spooky tale. John Carpenter asserts that Halloween was not supposed to be a conservative film, but its hard to buy that denial when the only person that survives Michael Myers is the virgin. I googled around and I can't find a person out there that has written on this aspect of the novel, so maybe I'm completely off base. In the end I don't care too much because I wanted to read a scary book and thats exactly what I got. The most important thing to take away: Its a great read and people should check it out.

The novel did get me thinking about another favorite book that crystalized so many of my thoughts on the society of the 50's and 60's -- The Lost City. I can't explain how much the book taght me and showed me. It easily is one of the most informative books I've ever read. I checked it out initially because it has a focus on the sociological history of the neighborhood I grew up in, but soon learned so much more from it. I cannot recommend this book enough. It changed the entire lens in which I view this century.

I fought the clock and the clock won

Stage 2 of the Tour Da Chicago was this past weekend and it was a time trial -- exactly the kind of stage that I enjoy, though not necessarily the type that miraculuously catapults me to the podium. I pretty much placed in the same rankings as last race but did pass a few people on the way, so I was happy. Also, since nobody went to the hospital or crashed it was a lot better than the first stage. The race consisted of 3 sprints -- yojimbo's to buckingham fountain, the fountain to 5457 S. Blackstone in hyde park, and then back to yojimbo's. You got a 10 minute rest at each stop and then were sent off again in 20 second increments. It was run smoothly and there even were bananas and orange juice/coffee at the hyde park stop. The tour is really being run well this year (not that it was ever run poorly). It still starts on punk rock time but aside from that its about as slick as one could hope. Aside from personally riding well and a little stronger than before I didn't realize I caught a flat until i got back to Madison 3 hours later, when the front tire was completely flat. It must have happened in the last leg but thankfully I didn't have to fix that one on the road. With the clock ticking that would have really sucked. If you look at the picture of me finishing alongside Lucy it might seem that I only have one set of clothing. Aside from a different pair of pants that seems to be true. Times are tough here in Madison...


I thought about some mischief while sprinting down Blackstone for my Soybean peeps, but decided to just make the clock my enemy that day. I feel that was a wise choice, even if it was not immediately as satisying as property damage would have been.


Picture is by Arielle again.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Gym of the Stars

My gym here in Madison is apparently more interesting than I had first thought. I know its a good gym, with great equipment and affordable rates, but I didn't know it attracted the stars it apparently has.

The owner, Ford, told these two stories the other day.

A representative of some sort called early in a day and asked if it was ok if Kenny Chesney came to work out. "Sure, come on down." So a few hours later Kenny's rep came in and told Ford he could give hime a few tickets for the usage of the gym. Now, Ford doesn't know Kenny from Adam so he said, "Tickets don't pay the bills. The daily fee will be fine." So that's what Ford received, along with an earful from some of the regulars that night when he relayed the story.

Apparently when in town for gigs (mostly spoken word) Henry Rollins always works out at Ford's. He's pretty lowkey and just wants to get his workout in.

The Kenny Chesney connection is funny but not as cool as the Rollins one. I figure that Kenny works out at my gym, while I work out at Henry's.
One of the things in life that has always interested me is the topic of local accents, how they show themselves, and just how hard they are to break. Since I've always had Wisconsin relatives in my family I've long been able to enjoy and attempt to deconstruct that accent. Its softness and flowing quality usually makes me smile and laugh. Its such a stark contrast to the sharp and hammer like nature of the Chicago accent that I own to a degree much higher than I'd like to admit. All this having been said, I'm starting to drink the Kool-aid. As much as it is near impossible to ever shake an accent you've had from youth through early adulthood, you can pick up things here and there. Case in point -- "Stoughton." Its a town just south of Madison and also the name of a road (highway 51) that cuts through the Madison area, so you do need to say it out loud quite often to get by. When I moved here I said STOW-TUN, and was always corrected with the softer STOOOHHH- TUN. I figured that since my accent comes from a violent city with lots of guns and murders that I should get my way, but alas it is not true. I have relented, if only to reduce the amount of run around in conversations just to tell people what I'm talking about. +1 Wisconsin. My friend Amy had a similar problem with Eldorado street in Decatur, IL. I don't know if she ever gave in. She's a much better linguist than I am so she probably is still holding strong to that one.

People in Chicago complain about it being too cold -- people in Wisconsin are happy that "we're making ice today."


If you're not reading Infinite Crisis, please start. It is so much better than I expected it to be and this past issue had an excellent recap on the what/where/why so there is no excuse not get on board. The Royal Flush gang (one of my favorites) died a few issues ago and in #4 Superboy-Earth Prime went on a killing spree. So far the series is really paying off.

Oh, and please buy Jonah Hex not only because its truly wonderful, but because it would be terrible to see it canceled.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

One of the funny things about Madison is the way the omnipresent political activism manifests itself. There are certainly many different ways of showing your stripes, but bumper stickers are my current favorite. Its really ridiculous how out of control this is. Other people have written about this as well. I wanted to say a few words about this topic so I did some googling in hopes of finding a picture to include and ended up with a good link saying those things for me. I will contribute my concluding observation that I wish I would have photographed -- a bumper sticker stating "Actions speak louder than bumper stickers." Since that was the only bumper sticker on the car I have to assume that the irony was not intended.


Why do obscure song lyrics that drifted aimlessly past my ears for years all of sudden come rushing into the forefront of my brain for seemingly no reason? I've listened to the Judge full length hundreds of times but random lyrics that are not my favorites nor lyrics I immediately recognize will suddenly become the most profound things I've ever heard for a month or so("...I can still remember, the last time I cried"). Maybe its because its a seemingly (to me at least) neglected piece of information in a whole that I respect, so the natural conclusion must be that the individual part is of some hidden value since it didn't reveal itself so readily. Maybe, or maybe its a justification for my poor absorption of the lyrics. This past little while some really obscure Sheer Terror lyrics have slipped in ("...once I bore the thorns of guilt, now I drive the nails of spite...").

In a literary sense one of my favorite Hemingway quotes is this sort of thing -- a buried little sentence that no one talks about throughout any of the criticism I've read. Its from "A Very Short Story"

"...and to make it so they could not lose it. "

The implied sense for me, when the whole of the short story is considered, is that it will eventually be lost but that there is honor and purpose in trying to keep it. For me it was the key to seeing the whole of his work and it rings like a bell through me everytime my eyes drift over it on the page. Random Nick Adams lines will flood my mind the moment I have a fish on the line that I never made any effort to remember or analyze before. I feel lucky to be haunted by short little Hemingway sentences and lyrics from Mike Judge and Paul Bearer. Maybe I just love to cheer for the obscure reference and the underdog in a whole that is known to be of great value, or maybe (probably) my brain works like an erratic hard drive. I guess I root for the underdog in most things. That having been said, I still hope the Cubs never win another game.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Yesterday here in Madison was the Cronometro Bike Swap at the Alliant Energy Center, which is conveniently a straight shot down the bike path (which starts right in front of my building). The weather was very nice for January in Madison (30 F and dry, with some sun) so I opted to ride my bike there, seeing as it was a bike swap and all. Of the amount of bikes locked up outside an enormous majority were fixed gear or track bikes -- I also witnessed something that wouldn't last more than 2 seconds in Chicago : A trek 5200 locked to a pole in the parking lot with a small cable around its top tube. I chuckled a said a small prayer for the person that is either a complete fool (with extra money apparently) or a foolish opimist. I know its Wisconsin, but geez.

The show was completely full because everybody apprently had the idea I had -- get there when it opens for the best deals. If you wanted to get some vintage campy parts to finish that restoration, you came to the right place. Cheap clothing, you bet. Lots of stuff discounted 10% below its store price, unfortunately plenty of that as well. I bought a nice cap from Jonny Cycles which was excellent mainly because it fits my big head, but also because its cool to support a local frame builder. My score of the day was almost too good to believe. I'm not that cute so it must have been the smalltalk that got me the big deal of the day. A dealer/team was getting rid of some old shorts for $10 and team jerseys for $20 -- I'm guessing because certain sponsors are no longer on the team. I was hemming and hawing because its tough to guess your size in European numbers at times so the girl at the table just told me that she'd give me a deal. I think she knew I would clean her out and it would essentially amount to less product to drive home. Ergo, 4 pair of shorts and 1 pair of bibs for $5 a piece, and the jersey went for $15 on its own. The quality of the clothing is much better than Performance's, and I don't mind dropping $20 on their shorts, so I pretty much made out like a bandit.

I stopped on the way home with my bag of swag at the comic shop and aside from picking up my weekly books, I grabbed the A History of Violence graphic novel. I have not seen the movie but I've heard its excellent, although drastically different in the 2nd and 3rd acts. I absolutely loved The Road to Perdition in written form as well as its cinematic offspring, though I felt they took out an important level of depth when they removed the Catholicism from the film. Dennis Lehane said something to the effect of approving a film adaptation of his work (or an abridged version of his novel for an audio version) : whatever they want to send me to approve I say yes to without listening to it or reading it -- since my work is not complete the damage is all ready done. Anyway, I found The History of Violence very interesting and as crisp of a noir as one could hope for, but found the ending not hard boiled enough for my taste. Assuming hollywood generally tones down most nihilistic endings, I wonder how the flick ended. I would very much recommend the book, and my interest is now even higher in seeing the movie. Towards the end of the book I was pretty convinced that while the writing was excellent it would have been wiser to have a crisper penciler. (Wow, I used 'crisp' twice).

As Madison warmed to a balmy 35 in the afternoon I dusted (literally) off the Orbea for an 18 mile loop through town via the Capital City Trail. I wasn't sucking air, but then again I wasn't pushing too hard. The Orbea, as always, makes riding a true joy. I went out today for a 20 miler before giving up on a second loop due to the wind -- it was brutal today, and thats coming from a Chicago boy.


Ahh, the Bears. Give em some confidence and they'll break you're heart. They were in the game, which is the kind of thing you build on as playoff experience for next year. Thats the thing to take away. I'm not too destroyed because the White Sox won the world series, proving that the Cubs still suck. For years I dreaded the possibility that the Cubs would end their drought before the Sox, but thankfully life is kind at times. Piss on the Cubs and their yuppy beer garden.


The picture at the top is me coming up to the finish line (not last!) at the Tour Da Chicago last weekend (taken by Arielle Bielak)

This coming weekend's stage is a time trial so I think I may race the Orbea to have the benefit of gears against the clock.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


Here in Madison there has been a serial bomber in the news over the past few weeks and I can't say that it has occupied too much of my thoughts -- I suspect this is my Chicago tolerance, and even comfort to a degree, of the fact that many people live in cities, and some of those people want to hurt other people. Its reality when many people decide to live in an area and call it a city. Regardless, walking home from work yesterday I ran into the latest stage in the serial bomber saga, though whether it is connected to the same bomber is up for grabs, but mentally it contributes to the same ideological cloud of ideas and fears. The surrounding few blocks around my building were taped off by police and no traffic was allowed through. Bomb, I thought. I took a long walk around the perimeter and was able to enter my building, after which I turned on the news, seeing my neighborhood and a man taking what looked like a pipe of some sort carefully out of a sewer. So far, it seems to have been a false alarm, but it made my evening a little more interesting (that along with whupping some empire troops in warhammer).


Very pretentious paragraph coming.

The challenge for me these days, as I see it, is to remain intellectually stimulated and essentially make good on all of the promises I have made to myself over the course of college. I am now working full time and making decent money, so the temptation to relax and call it a day is omnipresent. I will undeniably still catch good flicks and get my riding in, but I feel that my reading time will be the best barometer to gauge the laziness of my life. I'm currently heading into some Hardy Boys books so perhaps the war has been lost before it even began. The other goals for "when I have a job and make better money" include more tattoos and more interesting vacations -- two things that will easily happen in the coming year.


Sheer Terror and Bad Brains, for reasons beyond me, have rocketed to the top of my play list. Maybe its the bike racing and warming weather.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Tour da Crashes

As for the Tour Da Chicago this past Sunday, I had a good ride. Considering I did not wreck or find myself thrown into a windshield – like 2 riders did – I would say I did very well, even a winner one might say. There were over 90 riders, which is a ridiculously large number of riders for an alleycat in January (that is the kind of number you get for a summer supercat). That was excellent, but the crashes were not. Barreling down Milwaukee into a red light the peloton was able to freeze a SUV in the left turn lane initially, but he then lurched forward a few feet, thus forcing the pack to split around him like water around a rock in a stream. I was the first to have to book right and barely made it. The rider behind me was overlapping my rear wheel and went down hard, but didn’t run into any cars, which is a plus. She was shaken up but walked away – lucky. At the turnaround of the stage apparently a rider was thrown onto a car’s hood, ultimately shattering the windshield. Keeping in mind that I stopped for 5 minutes on Milwaukee for the first crash and also stopped for some time to watch the cleanup and paramedics at the second crash, I was happy to finish the race safely and with 26 points (I think that means I finished ahead of 20 something people, including the DNF’s). I never expect to win these deals, but it is nice to not be dead last; and since I didn’t get hurt, I won.

Madison’s current weather is almost good biking weather (with the exception of seeing the sun rise and set from my office building’s windows), yet remains terrible hockey weather. I expected to exorcise the up and down weather of Chicago by moving a little closer to the great white north, but I find myself stymied again. Maybe I should move to Alaska like I’ve always dreamt of so I can play hockey everyday and complain incessantly about not being able to bike. Maybe there will be some freak snow and cold temps here in march so I can complain about not being able to fly fish the early season on the Black Earth River. Complaining is an undesirable quality, but if you turn it into a concept of having an intense hunger towards activity, knowledge, and movement it becomes positive – or at least that is the justification I try to sell. I’m not cranky, I’m just so wide awake in this world and cannot settle for mediocrity. Sure…

David Letterman read the lyrics plainly to Love Train a few times last night. Extremely odd, and very funny. I completely embrace the strangeness the show journeys towards these days, more so as his age and crankiness increases.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Hidden Tour da Chicago Clue

Now that the holidays have officially died down I’ve got a chance to get back into the swing of a regular schedule. I cannot explain how wonderful it is to be able to lift weights and ride my bike again after essentially having a gimp left hand since smashing it when captain intelligence went for a ride at dusk while the streets were wet and the temp was falling below 32 – glare ice is something to have a healthy respect for. Yes, it is true I graduated from college. I promise to try to never again do something that so easily creates the chance for injury – both to me and my bike (thankfully it wasn’t the Orbea). That having been said, I’m racing in an alleycat in Chicago on Sunday. I expect to not do too well considering I’ll be riding my track bike, but being able to actually grip the handlebars will be excellent and I’m a winner for just competing. Sounds like loser talk to me and Mike Ditka would certainly yell at me over it.

Sometime during this past summer I noticed a friend had a Hardy Boys book on their shelf – The Clue of the Screeching Owl. He loved the books as a child, that was his favorite, so he bought it at a library sale for kicks and old times’ sake. Embarrassed, I confessed that I had never read a Hardy Boys mystery – I was an Encyclopedia Brown fan. Fast forward to hitting the big 3-0 this past fall. I found myself in the thrift store here in Madison browsing books and there was a nice little stack of Hardy Boys books. The blue binding, matted finish and $1 price tag were all I needed to see. A struggle for a lost or unrealized past ? – perhaps. I read The Secret of the Caves in one sitting and completely enjoyed it. I am now hooked. So my new goal is to burn through all 58 this year and make Fenton proud (I bought a lot of all 58 on ebay for a song so I’m fully stocked at this point). As an epilogue I did also pick up a few Encyclopedia Brown books at the thrift store and found to my sadness that I still cannot solve each mystery without flipping to the rear – most yes, but not all. My success rate is higher than it was 20 years ago though, so its progress. Yes, the English degree is certainly being put to good use. My thesis advisor would be proud.

Here in Madison its too warm for hockey, but that only means cycling is easier to do – hopefully without injury.

We’ll see if Chicago treats me well on Sunday.