Thursday, February 28, 2013


Geek alert: It's hard for me to describe just how at peace with the world this sign makes me feel.

It's perfect

In case you didn't catch what makes it special, read this and then look again.  It's either extraordinarily lucky, or someone at Caltrans was thinkin' ahead when he or she chose the spot and landmarks for this sign.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Warm sunlight filters through gangly tree branches and cool mist, falling softly on damp moss.  Seconds later, an ear-splitting shriek rises until it reverberates through everything within a couple miles.  That shriek is the song of an 18,000 RPM Formula 1 V8 engine, and this is September 2nd, the morning of the Belgian Grand Prix.

While I've already written about this weekend, a side story has finally come full circle, and it's time to share.

Ed has brought a bottle of wine with him, minus any means to open it.  At about 11am, and after figuring that no one around us has a corkscrew, Ed wanders off into the woods while announcing that he is going to open the bottle of wine by beating it against the trunk of a tree.  He knows it is possible but has never done it himself.  A scant five minutes later, he returns, bottle intact, and admits that he couldn't get it to work, and that it was a little scary.

An hour goes by and we get thirsty.

I obtain Ed's consent to give 'er a rip, as the wine only cost about 4 Euros, and I traipse off with little more than Ed's description of the technique and my suitcase full of courage.  I find what I believe to be a perfect tree, with smooth and slightly spongy bark, angled just so from vertical, and give the base of the bottle a tentative TWHACK against the trunk.




After a few minutes of this, I notice the wine in the bottle is starting to bubble a bit.  Intrigued, I surmise that there's some cavitation going on, and that the intended water hammer effect is indeed happening.  Rather, I suppose that should be "wine hammer," and I also think that would make a great name for a band.


The cork has moved.  Maybe only half a millimeter, but it's moved.  Gotcha, bitch!


Another half millimeter.  The wine is practically foaming within the bottle.


A millimeter.  I will win.


With every bit of movement by the cork, there's less surface area keeping it in the bottle, so this battle is not an uphill one.  There's a full centimeter of cork showing.


The cork shoots about ten feet with a satisfying "thunk," and I hoot triumphantly while I turn the bottle back upright, perhaps losing one good swig of wine to the grass.  Gotta pour a little out for your homies, right?

I return to our spot, feeling like a war hero in a parade.  This is the greatest victory of my life.  I bask in admiration from Ed and Ethel (that's how I remember it, anyway) while we sip wine in the blistering Belgian heat.


Fast forward a couple of weeks.  We're back in Reno, and Phil invites over for dinner with a bunch of other people.  If you're one of my seven regular readers, you'll recognize Phil as one of our travelmates from the Europe trip, but he had flown back home before the F1 race.  I had, however, bragged to him about my wine triumph.

With 11 people over for dinner, it isn't long before it's time for another bottle of wine to be opened, and I'm bolstered by the prior success with my newfound party trick.  Summoning encouraging onlookers, I march into the backyard with a fresh bottle, select my tree, and get to work.

What YouTube has subsequently taught me is that it's not any one big THWACK that does the trick; it's the slow process of gradually building pressure in the bottle with little THWACKS and their associated cavitation.

When this trick goes wrong, it goes unspeakably wrong.


Since I'm all confident and shit, I start off with a big THWACK.

No cork movement.  Harder is obviously the answer.


Nothing.  Harder.  Audience is starting to doubt.


Nothing.  Harder.


When the mist clears, I find myself holding the neck of the bottle and nothing else.  The force of my swing, added to the pressure spike within the bottle, has proven to be monumentally greater than what the bottle can sustain, and it has quite literally exploded.  It's red wine, and it looks like I've been disemboweled, as the wine is coating me from nipples to knees.  Onlookers immediately find large chunks of glass about twenty feet away.  I realize that I'm bleeding from several places.  I then become eminently grateful that a very human reflex is to close one's eyes at moments of impact, as I'm dusted from head to toe with microscopic shards of Used to be a Wine Bottle.

Fortunately, Phil is a paramedic, and also in attendance is an ER doctor, so if things had been really ugly, I would have been in good hands.  Well, it's not really ugly, so we rinse my wounds out and bandage them up.  After I spend 15 minutes gingerly removing those shards from my eyelids, ears, hair, face, arms, legs, and clothes, I rejoin the party with heavily damaged dignity and clothes that make me smell like my hobbies include being unemployed.  And a well-bandaged pinkie finger.


Fully expecting the healing process to take awhile, as my pinkie had been cut deeply, I start working the scar tissue after a few weeks to help things along.  After several days of doing this, I start feeling something sharp in there.  Uh oh.  Perhaps we didn't get it cleaned out properly.  I ease off and hope that my body will reject whatever it is.

Maybe three weeks ago, I brush my finger along the edge of my desk, and it bursts open and immediately starts bleeding.  Believing that it's time for some little fleck of glass to come out, I go digging after it with tweezers to no avail.  I can feel something in there, but I can't get it.  I decide to let it heal again and to be patient.

A few days ago, the scab catches on the seam of my jeans pocket and starts bleeding again.  This time, I can see a little sparkle from the glass, so I know it's go time.  I get home, retrieve the tweezers, and have an easy go of it; the little bastard is right near the surface and I get a good grip on it immediately.  However, it keeps coming as I gingerly pull outwards; that sparkle is literally the tip of the iceberg.  It's in there the scary way, shark-fin style.  Yikes.

I name thee Pokey

Photographing it was an inevitability.  After five months in my body, it's part of the family.  I've done my best to make it look super scary by virtue of dragging out the ultra macro lens and lighting it properly, but for scale, it's about 5mm x 3mm x 1mm.

The wound is healing nicely now; it's acting like there's nothing foreign in there.  And as far as that party trick goes?  Hey, I'm still batting .500...


Monday, February 18, 2013


Well, this is it from Sweden.  I'm subjecting you to more in-transit photos, mostly because I can, and also because I think they're cool.

We ended up having about two and a half days to ourselves after our business was done, and I'm ridiculously glad that we had that opportunity.  Being able to explore on our own time was very much worth it, and I think we would have left unfulfilled otherwise.

Rory looks busy on the pre-dawn train to Arlanda

We did finally see the sun in Sweden; we were sitting on the tarmac at Arlanda at about 9:15am, and suddenly, the cabin of the plane was filled with an unfamiliar flood of radiation.  For the first time in 5 days, the sky was clear, and a quick look out the plane window confirmed that that flood was indeed the sun peeking over the horizon.  I basked in it for about 30 seconds and then we took off.  So thanks for the appearance, Mr. Sun!

Start of the longest sunset ever

When flying east, the transition from day to night is easy to miss; the plane is on a collision course with the oncoming veil of darkness, and sunset is a nonevent.  Flying west, however...

Several false sunsets later; still going strong

On this particular day, there was enough in the way of clouds and whatnot near our cruising altitude that I got treated to about two hours of discrete sunsets.  The light would turn spectacular for a couple of minutes and die out, and then it'd come back a few minutes later for another show.  At least four of them were extraordinary.  I was impressed, and I'm sure my sleeping rowmate was not.

Now that I've wrapped this set of serial installments up, I'll spend some time getting current.  For once, I feel like I've got a sufficient backlog of material to keep you vampires entertained.


Friday, February 8, 2013

Getaway in Stockholm

If you were on the internet before video content was embedded in every stinkin' thing out there, you may remember the Getaway in Stockholm videos; they glorified disregard for traffic laws as an anonymous driver blasted around the city at night.

Between the 20+ hours of travel to get to Stockholm and then the whirlwind 48 hours of work obligations after we got there, when I finally had the opportunity to escape for a run on the fourth day of our trip, I felt like a prison escapee as I channeled those old videos and gleefully braved the arctic conditions.

Looking across one of many waterways

I'll wait a few months to swim...

As a city of islands and water, it's easy to always be running along some shoreline.  And even though every road and trail was covered in snow and ice, runners and bike commuters were out in full force.  No sissies here!


I certainly wasn't setting any records on surfaces like that, but I think it makes for good technique practice.  Land soft and push off soft, or else you'll break your ass!

Royal Palace

The central area of Stockholm is pretty compact; within only a couple miles, one can see many landmarks and attractions, a welcome break from the sprawl back home.

Always a good time for a skate

Doing more with less

Well-refreshed and with brain chemistry tending away from homicidal, the obligations from earlier in the week started to melt away and I began to really enjoy being away from home.  Right up until it got dark at 3pm.


Past Detritus