Thursday, December 31, 2009


I mixed together Guinness and Fosters. I don't know what you'd call it.

Anyway, Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Live Blogging Midnight Mass

(No, they didn't show him getting knocked down. It wasn't until the end of the mass that they even mentioned it. I myself didn't even know it happened until the end. So, don't expect this post to be about that.)

I'm not Catholic, but I still like to watch the midnight mass from St. Peter's every Christmas. It's really something else. However, I don't think they've started filming it in high-def yet. Oh, well.

I wonder how one gets into the choir for this? It must be a serious audition.

Is the basilica used every week? For that matter, are any of the great cathedrals still used? I did visit Notre Dame de Paris once, and there did seem to be people praying there. However, I would think you'd need a huge congregation to keep something like that open. Although I presume the Catholic Church would supply the money to keep them in good repair, one would feel ridiculous worshiping in a warehouse-sized church unless the congregation was similarly impressive. (I seem to remember that Chartres Cathedral seats 10,000.)

I'm guessing the Pope knows three languages. I know he's German, so he obviously knows that, and he did the mass in Italian (I think). However, the Bible he read from looked to be one of those handwritten ones done by the monks. So, I'm guessing he has to know Latin as well.

Also, the ATM's in the Vatican are in Latin. Yeah, I'm sure they have other languages available, but not knowing Latin would obviously be a handicap for anyone at a high level in the Catholic Church.

Perhaps Latin serves as a universal language for the church? As always, they did have a lot of different countries represented at the mass.

He said some interesting things, about the shepherds vs. the three wise men. First, that the shepherds were sort of on-watch for something like the birth of Jesus--while most people aren't. Also, they arrived much earlier than the three wise men. Though this was due to physical proximity, the pope mentioned that the closeness of the shepherds was more than physical, that their closeness was also a metaphor for their being closer to God.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mike Royko Veteran's Column

This is my favorite Veteran's Day column. The columnist Mike Royko wrote it in 1993.
I agree with it wholeheartedly.

I just phoned six friends and asked them what they will be doing on Monday.

They all said the same thing: working.

Me, too.

There is something else we share. We are all military veterans.

And there is a third thing we have in common. We are not employees of the federal government, state government, county government, municipal government, the Postal Service, the courts, banks, or S & Ls, and we dont teach school.

If we did, we would be among the many millions of people who will spend Monday goofing off.

Which is why it is about time Congress revised the ridiculous terms of Veterans Day as a national holiday.

The purpose of Veterans Day is to honor all veterans.

So how does this country honor them?

By letting the veterans, the majority of whom work in the private sector, spend the day at their jobs so they can pay taxes that permit millions of non-veterans to get paid for doing nothing.

As my friend Harry put it:

"First I went through basic training. Then infantry school. Then I got on a crowded, stinking troop ship that took 23 days to get from San Francisco to Japan. We went through a storm that had 90 percent of the guys on the ship throwing up for a week.

"Then I rode a beat-up transport plane from Japan to Korea, and it almost went down in the drink. I think the pilot was drunk.

"When I got to Korea, I was lucky. The war ended seven months after I got there, and I didnt kill anybody and nobody killed me.

"But it was still a miserable experience. Then when my tour was over, I got on another troop ship and it took 21 stinking days to cross the Pacific.
"When I got home on leave, one of the older guys at the neighborhood bar he was a World War II vet told me I was a ----head because we didnt win, we only got a tie.

"So now on Veterans Day I get up in the morning and go down to the office and work.

"You know what my nephew does? He sleeps in. Thats because he works for the state.

"And do you know what he did during the Vietnam War? He ducked the draft by getting a job teaching at an inner-city school.

"Now, is that a raw deal or what?"

Of course thats a raw deal. So I propose that the members of Congress revise Veterans Day to provide the following:

- All veterans and only veterans should have the day off from work. It doesnt matter if they were combat heroes or stateside clerk-typists.
Anybody who went through basic training and was awakened before dawn by a red-neck drill sergeant who bellowed: "Drop your whatsis and grab your socks and fall out on the road," is entitled.

- Those veterans who wish to march in parades, make speeches or listen to speeches can do so. But for those who dont, all local gambling laws should be suspended for the day to permit vets to gather in taverns, pull a couple of tables together and spend the day playing poker, blackjack, craps, drinking and telling lewd lies about lewd experiences with lewd women. All bar prices should be rolled back to enlisted mens club prices, Officers can pay the going rate, the stiffs.

- All anti-smoking laws will be suspended for Veterans Day. The same hold for all misdemeanor laws pertaining to disorderly conduct, non-felonious brawling, leering, gawking and any other gross and disgusting public behavior that does not harm another individual.

- It will be a treasonable offense for any spouse or live-in girlfriend (or boyfriend, if it applies) to utter the dreaded words: "What time will you be home tonight?"

- Anyone caught posing as a veteran will be required to eat a triple portion of chipped beef on toast, with Spam on the side, and spend the day watching a chaplain present a color-slide presentation on the horrors of VD.

- Regardless of how high his office, no politician who had the opportunity to serve in the military, but didnt, will be allowed to make a patriotic speech, appear on TV, or poke his nose out of his office for the entire day.

Any politician who defies this ban will be required to spend 12 hours wearing headphones and listening to tapes of President Clinton explaining his deferments.

Now, deal the cards and pass the tequila.

- Mike Royko

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Least Interesting Man in the World


Lately, I've started feeling like I'm the above guy. I guess that's what I get for doing nothing more on the weekends than watching football and drinking beer. (Though I am proud that I managed to look up how to do the (img) tag to get the above comic to materialize.)

Regardless, my fear of doing nothing with my weekend motivated me to finish up some reloading I'd been meaning to do.

My reloading bench. Yeah, I got one, even though I live in an apartment. (Being single isn't always a bad thing.)

The thing on the left with the crank is my case-cutter. I put a paper towel under it to catch brass cuttings. (The brass is from a few weeks ago, when I resized and cut-to-length some 30-'06 cases.)

I took this pic when I had just started charging some .38 Special cases. You can see them arrayed in the green "reloading block". I also have some .357 Magnum cases prepped and ready to be charged, but I didn't get to them today.

My press is an RCBS "rock chucker". It's a "D-type" press, meaning it's closed on the front. (The frame looks like a "D".) This is opposed to a "C-type" press, which would be open on the near side to facilitate loading.

It's not particularly difficult to slide in the ammo from the side, so I'm not sure why anyone would get a "C-type" press. D-types like mine are much stronger; mine can handle everything up through .50 BMG. (That's the ammo that goes into one of those 50caliber machine guns that the military uses. You see them on the top of humvees and such.) So, it has no problem reloading my comparatively-dinky 38 Special cases.

This is a close-up of my Lee Auto Disk Powder Measure. It's screwed into the top of my charging-die. The charging-die has a small, moving cylinder inside it. On the upstroke, that cylinder engages and gently bells-out the case mouth, allowing a bullet to be seated on the next operation. On this operation though, the cylinder also accomplishes a second task: moving that black disk from the left over to the right. When that happenes, one of the measuring chambers on that disk will align over the drop-tube on the right, dropping a measured amount of powder.

On the downstroke, the disk moves to the left again, allowing powder from the hopper to refill the chosen chamber. This time, I used the .57cc chamber. This is one step up from the .53cc chamber I usually use. I did this because my .38 Special ammo has always been a little weak.

This is my Lee Safety Powder Scale. The amount of pressure generated by gunpowder is determined by its weight, not by its volume. That's why it's important to check the weight of any powder charge. I usually check just five out of every fifty rounds; as this is a new load I checked fifteen rounds. The heaviest measured 4.7 grains, the lightest, 4.4. This is only a slight increase from my last loading of this round, which had powder weights ranging from 4.5 - 4.0. Also, this loading seems more consistant; I'm thinking a larger cavity just fills better.

(Fun facts: a "grain" is a measurement of weight. It is 1/7,000th of a pound. So, a tenth of a grain is 1/70,000 of a pound. Very tiny weights, indeed.)

As usual, I'm using Hercules Unique gunpowder for this load. I'm just using slightly more of it (approx. .3 grains). According to the load data, 4.9 grains is a good load, so even now I should be a little light. (The max is 5.3 grains.)

Before putting on the bullets, it's a good practice to always check for double-loads....

Next, is putting on the bullets. Here you see my press with the bullet-seating die screwed in. (The dies come in sets, according to caliber.)

The bullet is just sitting on top. Notice the case's slightly belled mouth. This is from the previous operation, and is necessary to allow the bullet to be pressed in.

As I pushed up, the die not only pushed in the bullet, but folded over the case into the bullet's "cannelure" (groove). This is known as "crimping". It's necessary, to keep the bullet from simply falling out again. Here, the round is down, and complete.

I like to check each and every crimp. This gives me one final opportunity to spot a split case.

I used 158 grain cast-lead bullets. Here, you can see how far into the case they go. The blue stuff is lubricant.

These cost about one-fifth as much as jacketed bullets. I always use them for low-velocity rounds, such as .38 Special.

So, that's about it, for now.

Friday, October 16, 2009


My apartment now resembles a doctor's office.

Football, etc.

Well, I was going to post on USF's win over Cincinnati...but they lost. (Oh, well. I don't think they've ever won against the Bearcats. Those guys looked huge.)

I have to say though, when I was watching that overhyped game, I discovered that I'm not totally on-board with all the attention paid to college football. Is it really right that the majority of college athletes are ignored, while all the attention focuses on football (and sometimes basketball)?

What does it do to the athletes, when they are either watched not at all...or watched by over 60,000 fans? And what does it do to a college freshman, when he is on ESPN?

Several times during last night's game, the ESPN announcers talked about the "pressure" facing B.J. Daniels, USF's freshman quarterback. They seemed to not realize it's just a football game.

As a reaction to how his work was regarded, Alfred Hitchock supposedly once said, "It's only a movie." There seems to be no such sense of proportion facing football.

It's only a football game.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

USF 17/FSU 7

Leavitt getting iced-down.

My alma-mater rules....

USF/FSU halftime

So far, so good. USF is winning 14-0.

I have my fingers crossed.

As for the commercials, ESPNU has ads for wallet organizers, closet organizers, snuggies, and specialize "brownie" pans. Evidently, there's not much money in broadcasting these games.

Still though, I'm hooting, hollering, wearing my USF shirt, and drinking beer.

Still though, I have my fingers crossed. My commuter school playing against the Seminoles? That's insane....

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Kami in Kamikaze

Amaterasu Omikami

Although my headline might overstate the connectedness between the kami (god) Amaterasu, and the kamikaze, this article in the Japan Times does make something of a connection between them. It also ties together their flag, the Hinomaru, with sun-worship and heliocentricity.

Sixteen-rayed naval variant of the Hinomaru. The original flag dates back to 1274.

I've been reading up on this stuff, as I'm trying to write a science-fiction story with Japanese characters. And yes, one of them is named Amaterasu Omikami.

Regardless, this is an interesting read....

Japan Times article on sun goddess

USF 40, Wofford 7

Last night, I went to my first USF game as an alumnus. I sat way up in the cheap seats, as they were really cheap. My ticket cost $11, compared to $39 for second tier, or $33 for first tier. (No, I'm not sure why first tier is cheaper than second. Perhaps a little elevation is necessary for best viewing of football?)

Regardless, I noticed that it was the student section where all the action was. It was the only section that was packed. And even though I was far up and on the other side of th stadium from them, I could still hear their fight songs and such.

If you look back far enough in this blog, you can find my videos from when I sat in that section. Going to games was a lot more fun then. Yes, I feel there's a lot more cachet in being a 42 year-old alumnus rather than a 41 year-old undergrad. (If someone doesn't ask when I graduated, I can let them believe it was twenty years ago.) However, I found myself growing nostalgic for last year.

For those who did graduate twenty years ago, from a school that had football back then, it must be really tough to go to a home game. Last night made me wonder how I'm going to feel at games in 2019 or 2029.

Of course if I went for a master's degree, I could probably sit in the student section again. Hmmm....

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

new link: diesel duck

I've been visiting this merchant-marine site for a few years now. I figure'd I'd post the link. Make sure to check out his videos: my favorites are the weather-related ones (some of which may make you rethink ever taking a cruise), and the engine-room ones, which have a certain esoteric beauty in them.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Stage 21: Montereau-Fault-Yonne > Paris Champs-Elysees

An American in Paris

Well, I finally got around to re-watching this stage. It was interesting, in that the first part, in which the riders rode to the outskirts of Paris, was not really a bike race at all. It was more or less a time of easy-riding camaraderie amongst all the participants, with the riders just going along at a pace that was comfortable for them. (Not that many of us could have kept up with them even at that speed.)

Interesting, how many American flags I saw. Though the Return of Lance increased this year's t.v. ratings by fifty to sixty percent, there are other well-known American riders, such as George Hincapie (HTC-Columbia) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Slipstream). One can only wonder who the riders in the jeep were showing their support for. Perhaps they just like America in general?

Though Japanese riders have participated in previous Tour de France's, none have ever managed to finish. Here, Yukiya Arashiro (Bouygues Telecom) and Fumiyuki Beppu (Skil-Shimano) have a quick discussion. Though many riders are multi-lingual, I'm betting they're the only two to know Japanese!

Some teams even drank a little champagne while riding. They didn't have much though, as the competition would really start upon entering the outskirts of Paris.

Team Astana, having a toast.

One human touch to this stage's filming: the camera crews filmed each other waving back and forth. This is the first time I've ever seen them doing this. I'm guessing that like the riders they've all been "in the saddle" for the past three weeks.

Camera dudes

However, the character of the race would change upon entering Paris. With only eight laps around the Champs-Elysees standing between the riders and the end of this 2,100 mile race, a small group decided to get the jump on everyone.

One member of the group was Beppu, one of the two Japanese dudes!

Fumiyuki Beppu(!) Go Beppu! Go!!!

Interesting note: as with many stages, those attempting to win it have no possibility of winning the tour itself. Like Beppu (who was at +2:54:54) the other riders in the leading pack were all hours behind Alberto Contador. You really have to admire someone going all-out just to win a stage.

Hours behind..., but in the lead.

For nearly eight entire laps around the Champs-Elysees, this group was in the lead. At one point they were ahead by thirty-seven seconds, a gap that made the announcers question whether the favorites (HTC-Columbia) would be able to catch up.

Here, it's tough for me to explain all the scenery they raced around, as I don't understand the importance of all the landmarks of Paris. I will say that placing a camera next to the obelisk of Luxor, and another behind Joan de Arc, was an inspired bit of sportscasting cinematography.

Joan de Arc

Obelisk of Luxor. (A guillotine used to stand here.)

Of course, some shots just lend themselves to grandiosity...

Grande Palais (in background,with glass roof.)

Arc de Triomphe.

As much as I was rooting for that ragtag group of leaders, HTC-Columbia just kept hammering away at their lead. It's important to remember that with all the riders going roughly 30 m.p.h., being the out-front rider for any longer than ten or fifteen seconds would really wear one out. That's why being a well-drilled team, like HTC-Columbia, was so important.


Just a half-lap from the end, those obscure leaders would get caught and swallowed-up by the rest of the riders. And HTC-Columbia would propel Mark Cavendish to his sixth stage win this tour, which is pretty much a record for the British.

HTC's lead-out man Mark Renshaw (AUS) pacing and drafting for Cavendish, just a few hundred feet from the finish.

The stage was a pretty good example of how important teamwork and strategy are to winning a bike race. The group that lead early wasn't an entire team, so they weren't used to working together. As a result, they couldn't draft properly, or maintain a pace that was fast enough to keep them in the lead. However, HTC-Columbia knew exactly what they were doing, partly due to George Hincapie's experience. (This was his 14th Tour de France.) They even knew exactly what kind of pace to maintain to pass those leaders at the last moment. (If they had passed them too early, it would have just inspired a new group of leaders to break away, and HTC-Columbia would have had to then chase them down.)

The fact that teams are so important in this sport makes the adoration of the few (Lance, Contador, etc.) seem like the province of the ill-informed. Nobody can win even a stage without help, let alone a tour.

Anyway, Lance will be riding in the Tour de Ireland, which will be on the Versus network August 21-23. And next year, Lance will be riding on the newly-formed Radio Shack team.

So stay tuned!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Stage 20: Ultimate Penultimate

Garate (ESP, Rabobank) and Martin (GER, HTC-Columbia) nearing the 1km mark.

First off, let me cheer the widespread use of the word "penultimate" in the telecast. The announcers and even some of the riders used it freely, and they knew what it meant.

That said, as exciting at this stage was (and a big thanks to Chrysler, for making the last hour commercial-free), it didn't change the overall standings of the Tour de France. Andy Schleck couldn't shake Contador, and Frank Schleck couldn't gain on Lance. So, the podium in Paris remained the same.

However, Andy made in interesting, blasting ahead at unpredictable intervals...

Andy, trying to drag Frank up to third place.

Also, the two British announcers couldn't help cheering for one of their own, Bradley Wiggins. With regards to Wiggins, I heard them say: "[he's]riding with sheer courage", "Stay there!","Come on, Bradley!"

Come on, Bradley!

I guess it was nice, that he managed to keep his fourth place position. All in all though, kudos really have to go to Tony Martin and Manuel Garate. Even though Martin was 55 minutes behind the lead, and Garate was 97 minutes behind, they still competed against each other for the stage win.

In the end, Garate had the legs. Martin's young though; he has many tours left ahead of him.

Maybe Rabobank will continue their sponsorship now?

Anyway, now I can watch the Paris!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Stage 19: Bourgoin-Jallieu > Aubenas


Well, I've done it now. I was all excited to watch Stage 20 today, as it culminates in the climb up the notorious Mont Ventoux. And I even started watching it. However, I kept finding myself wanting to write a post about yesterday's stage, Stage 19.

Apparently, I can't enjoy watching a stage until I've posted about the previous one. If this desire recurs next year, I may have to take my entire vacation during the Tour de France, just to give me time to write!

Though this stage was flat, the flatness helped a little to see all the riders. For the first time, I could see pretty much all of them, including the peloton. (The peloton is the biggest group of riders. Smaller groups behind the lead are called chases, like chase 1 and chase 2.)

Pretty much everybody, including the peloton.

They had a little segment called "rules of the peloton." It's considered bad form to attack while everyone is having a meal break (they eat while riding), or when the leaders are taking a leak (which they don't do while riding).

They normally don't show this. I always wondered how they could ride five hours straight.

Also, this area has a lot of scenery. Though the tour is no longer riding through the Alps, there was still a lot to see.

An abbey, built in 1984. It houses only fourteen monks. It looks a little too big for just fourteen guys; I'm guessing being a monk isn't as popular as it used to be. I wonder how they keep it running.

Barge on the Rhone. The tour has crossed this river many times.

Peloton crossing a dam

Anyway, the average speed at some points of this stage was almost thirty miles an hour. I was glad to see Team Rabobank out front for a good portion of the stage. They haven't achieved much over the tour. According to the announcers, it was largely due to bad luck. Regardless, there was talk of Rabobank dropping their sponsorship next year. Though they didn't win this stage, they were out front for much of it, and were part of what drove the fast pace. Perhaps this will keep their sponsor happy enough to roll the dice next year.

Rabobank's Denis Menchov (who has crashed three times), tempo-making for their sprinter, Oscar Freire. He's followed by the four overall frontrunners: Lance Armstrong(w/black helmet), Contador (in yellow), Andy Scheck, and Bradley Wiggins.

The guy wearing the winged helmet, and carrying the American flag: I swear I saw him at one of the Alpine stages. He must be travelling all over the country to follow this race.

Most of the end of the race, saw Allesandro Ballan, ITA, and Laurent Lefevre, FRA, out in front. However, the peloton was catching up quickly...

Peloton, with Rabobank's Oscar Freire, SPN, taking a shortcut through the grass. Apparently this is okay, as it's so risky: riders typically fall of their bikes when trying this..

However, it would be Mark Cavendish, (GBR, Columbia-HTC) who would pull off the stage win. It was his ninth stage victory, a new record for Great Britain.

Mark Cavendish. The first twelve riders, including Lance Armstrong, all had his time, as when bikes overlap one after another, they all get the same time. Oscar Friere was fifth, while one of only two Japanese riders in the race, Fumiyuki Neppu (Skil-Shimano), was seventh.

Interestingly enough, it was "shrewd" for Lance to be in the front group, as he lost no time to the other top riders. The others lost four seconds to him, as they were in the second group. Things like this make the difference between being on the podium in Paris, or not.

Lance is now third overall. With this finish, he is now 15 seconds ahead of 4th-place Bradley Wiggins.

Now, I can finally watch stage 20!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Stage 18: Time Trial

Annecy, the Venice of the Alps. They actually raced around a lake, but I found this to be an interesting picture.

At first I didn't find this stage this interesting, as the riders are just racing against the clock rather than each other. (Each rider starts three minutes later than the previous one.) However, it got more interesting as it went on, as the riders higher up in the standings finally went.

Something new I learned: time-trials are something of a specialty. It's why the riders have different bikes, helmets, and clothing in this stage. Riders like Bradley Wiggins (GBR, team Garmin Slipstream) are so good at it that this stage should have moved him up in the overall standings. Meanwhile, the Schleck brothers (LUX, team Saxo Bank), though being good in the Alps, were supposed to lose quite a bit of time.

However, not much really changed. Perhaps at this level, there are no slouches in any event? Andy Schleck in particular lost just a little time to the overall leaders, just 1:45 to Alberto Contador (SPN, team Astrana). Quite incredibly (to me anyway) Contador won this stage. He didn't really have to win it, as the people ahead of him on this day were well-behind him in the overall standings, but evidently it's a manner of pride for the guy wearing the yellow jersey to win this stage. (Lance did it several times.)

I took a vacation day today, pretty much just to watch this. (That, and I just didn't feel like going into work.) I'm kicking myself for not picking up on the event during its earlier stages. The Tour de France happens just once a year, so I'll definitely have to watch is from start-to-finish next year.

Interestingly enough, Lance is racing for Team Astana. It's a group of state-owned companies in Kazakhstan! (Astana is the capital of that country.) The leader, Alberto Contador, is on the same team. I'm guessing that country got tired of all the Borat jokes....

Lance's brakes. They're placed to reduce wind resistance. I'm wondering what the downsides to such a placement are. And if there aren't any, then why don't all bikes have their brakes here?

Christophe Moreau, FRA, Agritubel. Despite being 38 years old, he finished 8th in this stage, just 45 seconds behind Contador.

George Hincapie's bootie. (And if I can mention it without sounding too gay, that dude has some solid legs!) He wrecked a few days ago, and may have broken his collarbone. However, he's not going to the doctor until after the race, because he doesn't want to be disqualified at this point.

Best pic I could get of the strange elliptical gear of Bradley Wiggins. I think he was the only rider with such a gear. It's supposed to provide a rider with more power.

In the future, we'll all wear helmets like Andy's.