The P.G. Wodehouse Method of Code Refactoring

I am a long-time fan of P.G. Wodehouse (author of, among many other things, the Jeeves and Wooster stories and novels), for which I have to thank my old friend, Industry Figure Larry Helmerich: I own, I believe, about 50 of his novels or collections of short stories.

I am also a long-time Douglas Adams fan (The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency), and again, an Industry Figure (Andy Bennett) is to blame, as it was his subscription to a literary newsletter that first alerted me to Mr. Adams’s work, in 1979.

And I was familiar with Wodehouse’s technique, used in the Jeeves novels, and described in Adams’s The Salmon of Doubt, of pinning up each page around the room, higher if he thought it was good, lower if he thought it needed work, with the goal of getting every page up to the picture rail.

But I had never thought to use it when refactoring a computer program. That’s brilliant!

The P.G. Wodehouse Method of Refactoring


So the question to be answered was: can a WordPress blog (my blog, in fact), be updated from an iPhone?

And the answer is…yes, and no. I could edit text, and take photos, but I couldn’t upload photos — I had to e-mail the photos from the iPhone to an actual computer, and then post the photos from the computer. Of course, I haven’t updated WordPress to the latest version, so perhaps those later versions can do it, but it might just be a browser limitation in the iPhone, too.

(I had tried this last night, and seen a couple of weird problems, but then I saw those same problems on my desktop this morning, all of them related to using WordPress’s “Save and Continue Editing” button, which I never use, and had just accidentally pressed on the iPhone.)

At any rate, here’s a picture of Maya Cat, a.k.a. “Bitey” (who has to have two different medicines every day to avoid liver failure), which I was able to take, but not upload, with my iPhone:

Maya Cat, a long-haired calico, is resting its head against the base of a lamp

She’s just sleepy, here, not unwell. She’s actually quite a playful, active cat. She has a trick of staring at you like a daemon until you relent and tease her with a feather on a stick.

Holy Crap

From The New York Times:

JP Morgan Pays $2 a Share for Bear Stearns

In a shocking deal reached on Sunday to save Bear Stearns, JPMorgan Chase agreed to pay a mere $2 a share to buy all of Bear — less than one-tenth the firm’s market price on Friday.

As part of the watershed deal, JPMorgan and the Federal Reserve will guarantee the huge trading obligations of the troubled firm, which was driven to the brink of bankruptcy by what amounted to a run on the bank.

Reflecting Bear’s dire straits, JPMorgan agreed to pay only about $270 million in stock for the firm, which had run up big losses on investments linked to mortgages.

JPMorgan is buying Bear, which has 14,000 employees, for a third the price at which the smaller firm went public in 1985. Only a year ago, Bear’s shares sold for $170. The sale price includes Bear Stearns’s soaring Madison Avenue headquarters.

The agreement ended a day in which bankers and policy makers were racing to complete the takeover agreement before financial markets in Asia opened on Monday, fearing that the financial panic could spread if the 85-year-old investment bank failed to find a buyer…

And, in a separate, related story in the same paper:

Fed Acts to Rescue Financial Markets

Hoping to avoid a systemic meltdown in financial markets, the Federal Reserve on Sunday approved a $30 billion credit line to engineer the takeover of Bear Stearns and announced an open-ended lending program for the biggest investment firms on Wall Street.

In a third move aimed at helping banks and thrifts, the Fed also lowered the rate for borrowing from its so-called discount window by a quarter of a percentage point, to 3.25 percent.

The moves amounted to a sweeping and apparently unprecedented attempt by the Federal Reserve to rescue the nation’s financial markets from what officials feared could be a chain reaction of defaults.

After a weekend of intense negotiations, the Federal Reserve approved a $30 billion credit line to help JPMorgan Chase acquire Bear Stearns, one of the biggest firms on Wall Street, which had been teetering near collapse because of its deepening losses in the mortgage market.

In a highly unusual maneuver, Fed officials said they would secure the loan by effectively taking over the huge Bear Stearns portfolio and exercising control over all major decisions in order to minimize the central bank’s own risk…

Note the word ‘unprecedented’ — as of Friday, we could say that the Fed was doing some things in the current credit crisis that it hadn’t done since the Great Depression. As of today, it’s doing things that it’s never done. And since the Fed’s job is to keep our money from becoming worthless pieces of scrap paper and to keep the economy from detonating, it’s bad (in the Ghostbusters sense of the word) when they resort to extraordinary measures.

Read the full stories in The New York Times:

JP Morgan Pays $2 a Share for Bear Stearns
March 17, 2008

Fed Acts to Rescue Financial Markets
March 17, 2008

In Princeton economist Paul Krugman’s (always excellent) column this morning, he writes:

According to late reports on Sunday, JPMorgan Chase will buy Bear for a pittance. That’s an O.K. resolution for this case — but not a model for the much bigger bailout to come. Looking ahead, we probably need something similar to the Resolution Trust Corporation, which took over bankrupt savings and loan institutions and sold off their assets to reimburse taxpayers. And we need it quickly: things are falling apart as you read this.

Read the full column in The New York Times:
The B Word
March 17, 2008

Economic Forecasting Geniuses!

The Los Angeles Times continues to amaze with its selection of experts chosen to be quoted on their economic forecasts.

On the other hand, they do still have a killer graphics department. Let’s go to the graph!

Two 19% Drops - Then and Now

During 53 months between 1991-1996, Southern California home prices fell 19%, a huge drop, and one that many homeowners here still remember with…dismay, let’s say.

But see, in the current mess, home prices have already fallen 19%, and in a mere 7 months.

And that median price line is still going down pretty darn fast — not, perhaps, as quickly as the first few terrible months, but not slowly, either. But what do the Los Angeles Times’s experts have to say? What are their experts’ insightful, expert opinions, just brimming over with knowledge? Incredibly, the first one quoted, who had originally predicted a 15% slide, now says that “20% to 25% looks more likely, and that’s not to say we won’t see 30%.”

But wait, that’s not the only expert quoted in the article, no way! No, there’s another one, who had originally predicted a total drop of at least 15%. What does he say now? “Now, it’s going to be more than 20%.”

And a third, not quoted directly, is reported to be predicting that “home prices will fall 20% to 25% from peak levels.”

That’s right: faced with a 19% drop over the last seven months, their low-end estimate, the smallest additional drop that they’re predicting, is…just 1% further, for a total of 20%. I mean, look at the graph! Yeah, that’s going to happen — the prices are just going to fall one more percent, and then people are going to wake up, and say, “Wow, what a bargain!”, and start wanting to buy houses again. And the interest rates are going to be low enough so that they can. And the credit crisis is going to disappear, so that the banks will be willing to lend to those qualified, motivated buyers. And the economy’s not going to implode, so they’ll have a job and will be able to make their home payments.

I mean, are you kidding me? A third of the houses sold here in February were foreclosures. This week, for the first time ever, Americans collectively owe more on their houses than they have equity. The Fed Chairman predicted recently that if banks don’t face reality and lower the mortgage due amounts, that 1 in 10 American homeowners are going to be under water on their mortgages (owing more than their homes can be sold for). And that’s if things don’t get much worse than they already are.

Now, to be fair, the paper also notes, but does not directly quote, an expert, Christopher Thornberg, who predicts that “home values will sink 40% from their peaks reached last year, double his previous estimate.”

That would mean that the median price on the above graph will have fallen from $505K to $303K by the time this thing bottoms out. Yeah, that sounds like a bottom I can believe in.

Read the Full Story at the Los Angeles Times
“Southland home prices tumble fast”
April 14, 2008

Oh, man, watch out, the sky is falling.” –me, August, 2005.

Study: SSRI’s Not Much Better Than Placebos

I don’t have a horse in this race, but this study is just especially delicious, for one facet of the result.

First, the main result: after a meta-analysis of data from several past studies, the authors found that Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI‘s), such as Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft, are really not much better than placebos, except for the most severely-depressed patients.

The delicious part is why severely-depressed patients fared better than the less-depressed: it wasn’t because the drug worked better (on the severely-depressed, than on the not-as-severely-depressed), but that the placebo worked less well (on the severely-depressed, than on the not-as-severely-depressed).

I don’t know why, but there’s something about that that just makes me smile — grin, even.

This may have something to do with why Industry Figure Ray Norberte once told me,
    “Tom, you’re almost a nice guy!”

Read the Full Study at the Public Library of Science – Medicine.
“Initial Severity and Antidepressant Benefits: A Meta-Analysis of Data Submitted to the Food and Drug Administration”
February, 2008

Solvang Century 2008 – Official Photos

Here are some professional photos of the event, featuring some of the key players.

Yes, the pictures are large, but these men are larger-than-life.

Note also that I do not have copyright to these photos, even though I have purchased them. I’m free to use them for my personal use, though, whatever that means.

In any event, I’d certainly advise you not to attempt to use these photos for profit. No wagering, for example.

(Click on the photos to make them even larger)

(Me, #44: It’s still incredibly cold and foggy, even though I have already, at this point, spent 10 minutes with my fingers in my armpits. Also, note the wilyness: I’ve got the bike number wrapped tightly around the headset, for decreased wind resistance)



(Ron, #161: Colder and foggier, since he was way ahead of me at this point. He didn’t try the wrapped-tight trick with his number, which was probably the crucial competitive error)



(#861, my nemesis. Finally left me in the dust on Foxen Canyon Road. Look, he left his number off his bike entirely! There’s a lesson for next time!)

Solvang Century 2008

The weekend started well. We avoided sliding into a ravine at the Gaviota pass, where half of the road was washed out, and had a delicious night-before dinner at Mattei’s Tavern. Wined and dined, sleek and satisfied, we were ready to ride 100 miles on our trusty bicycles.

The next morning, Ron and I both got up early without trouble, and were ready to go almost on time. This time, it was Ron who made us slightly late! Oh, I was happy. Not that being slightly late was bad — it was foggy, and cold, and I hadn’t successfully purchased riding gloves with fingertips. Neither had Ron, for that matter, but it didn’t seem to bother him:

(Click on the photos to make them larger)

(Note how poor the visibility is: Ron is in focus, but I’m a shadowy, mysterious figure)

And actually, I lied just now about Ron making us late. He would have made us late, but then I had forgotten my little paper wristband, which might have been (but which was not, in fact) important, perhaps for being fed, for example, and so we went back to get it, and then there was a brief, terrible search, until it was found in the motel room’s second trash can. Ron had his, but wouldn’t wear it until he found out whether or not it was required.

Hoo, boy, it was cold! The first 25 miles of the Solvang Century is just a big downhill, interspersed with a few uphills to wake you up, and I couldn’t warm up to save my life, or my fingers. Eventually I had to stop and just stand there with my hands in my armpits, trying to keep my fingertips from falling off. They still felt a bit frostbitey this morning, actually. Later, hearing this, John Blackburn commented, “What is it with you and gloves?”

Cyclists glided by while I stood there, helpless to avoid their concern and/or scorn:
There they go, thinking, “Wow, that guy’s already having trouble? I mean, what does he want?”

After a solid ten minutes of armpit-warming, my fingers felt brave enough to carry on, and shortly thereafter, Mr. Sun made some brief forays into our sphere. At one point, I came upon an entire fog-shrouded valley, seen from above:

Sunny riders, about to descend into a Foggy Doom.

Panning right, showing the extent of the foggy wasteland.

Those peaks peeking out of the fog are far, far away. Everyone down below is in foggy despair.

But as we continue to pan right, we see that Change is Coming. The fog practically lifted as I panned.

Valley’s end. Someone should stitch these photos together for a panorama! Not me, of course.

Right after I took the last of these pictures, my camera sadly complained about a low battery, and refused to take any more. I had just charged it the day before! I looked at it in disgust, but also in commiseration: “I know what your real problem is, darn you — it’s just so cold! Well, just see if I try to take any more pictures until it warms up.”

I made it to the first SAG (Support And Gear) stop in Lompoc. The nice thing about going on a “supported” ride like this is that they have regular stops such as these, stocked with food, water, toilets, and repair staff.

Ron was really wondering what the heck had happened to me, and even just in pure seat time (not counting armpit-warming stops), he was ahead by five minutes. But apart from that, the ride was going great. We had both noticed that, although this leg of the ride had not changed since the first time I had ridden it in 1995, its few uphills, once notable, were now inconsequential.

This particular SAG stop was at a huge barn with a pretty mural on the side.

All the SAG Stops were as jammed as this, a tribute to the way Ron and I infested the middle of the bell curve.

The views were idyllic, and I really mean it. Solvang is in the middle of central California wine country
(perfect for Pinot Noir, but about 125 miles too far south for delicious red Zinfandel):

A totally-typical view. There were many better than this, but I mostly felt like cycling.

Our co-workers Carlos and Vincent had found us at the first SAG stop, and Vincent and I ended up sailing in to SAG stop #2 together. I should make clear that Carlos and Vincent are much faster than we are, but they had driven up from Los Angeles on the day, starting later than we had. And plus, they were bedeviled by some equipment problems:

A helpful fix-it guy gets ready to examine Vicent’s crank, while Vincent looks on.

Ron had picked up another few minutes on me by SAG stop #2. He might have been 6.5 minutes ahead at this point, in seat time.

But I was feeling pretty great, actually, and this next section was supposed to have quite a bad headwind, which Ron doesn’t care for (yeah, I know — who does?). I got in line behind Ron, and another fellow, in red and yellow, but no number, got behind me, and our little train headed out into the wind. Whoa, it was kind of awful. Ron later said that it had been much worse in 2007, but it was bad enough, believe me. Nothing like mixing a headwind and a climb. But I had my little altimeter watch, and it was reassuring me that we weren’t that many hundred feet below our starting point. We hadn’t gotten too much of a free ride.

Oh, the wind. Ron was pulling away from me, and the guy behind me pulled ahead so as not to lose Ron, because you really have to follow the guy in front of you rather closely to get the benefit of drafting. There they went, choo-choo, the train had left the station, and I wasn’t on board.

And I might have trouble catching them: somewhere around mile 35 or so, I had already started noticing a bit of saddle-soreness, and right-knee pain. Great, no problem there, only 66 miles to go.

But here’s the funny thing. In my other rides in the last six months or so, I had either tried ignoring the pain, and it hadn’t worked (“Oh yeah? OK, how about this then?”) or else I had been careful, not wanting to put my training schedule in jeopardy, kind of like someone preparing for the Olympics: if you screw yourself up, you’ll miss it, and then it’ll be another 4 years. An exaggeration in my case, but a good analogy nevertheless. But here I was, at the Olympics, figuratively speaking, and I didn’t care if my knees were going to be sore for the next month or not, and it just didn’t feel like I was putting them at risk for anything longer term.

So I went for it, ignoring my knee pain, and catching up with the drafting train. And my knees never said anything more for the whole rest of the ride. They just continued their low-level soreness, muttering to themselves, bitterly. But here I was, keeping up.

After a while, I felt that Ron had had his share of being in front. The headwind was only supposed to last for 10 miles or so, and he’d been in front for a mile or two at least. So I pulled in front to take my turn. Wow, it was staggering, no fun at all, but I soldiered on.

And here’s one of the great things about riding in an event like Solvang, in about the middle of the pack. There are always people who are passing you, and people who you’re passing. If you look carefully, you should be able to find a pack of riders who fit you perfectly, and you shouldn’t have to wait too long, either. The train behind me was growing, but another pack of riders was pulling ahead of me, and it seemed to me that keeping up with them wouldn’t be any harder than leading my own train. And hey, they had a guy, about my age, about my weight (and consequently an excellent wind break!), and who seemed to be pretty aggressive and just slightly better than I. Let’s try to keep up with that guy!

So I latched on to the passing train, behind rider #861, and off we went. I could feel my own train fracture behind me, as some riders moved to join the faster pack with me, and some hung back.

I liked this train of riders. There were about 10 of them, and they were all very followable. I had led my own train for a few miles, and didn’t mind hanging in the back of the pack for a while. Man, this was great, we were really hauling!

This whole riding-with-a-pack thing is kind of tricky. When it works, it’s the greatest thing there is. If it’s a little too fast, you can totally burn out trying to keep up with the too-fast pack. Whoops, #861 had lost the thread, we had been jettisoned. I pulled alongside him, announced that according to the technology, we were +10 feet above Solvang, and shortly afterwards said, “Let’s go catch those guys again.”

I pulled ahead, and felt #861 pull in behind me, just us two. We charged along, and…eventually…here’s our old friends, the previous pack, we’re slotted in, it’s great. And so we went. Occasionally I would see #861 pull ahead, and I’d tag along, and at one point the red and yellow guy who was my original follower caught up as part of another train, laughed, and said, “You’re still hanging in there, eh?”

He went ahead, and I latched on after him, vowing to enter SAG stop #3, the Santa Maria airport, mile 58 or so, alongside him.

Which I did.

Ok, that was an outstanding segment, and I knew I had caught up with Ron quite a bit on that one.

But I haven’t mentioned the onlookers, and that’s one lovely thing about Solvang: there are well-wishers scattered all along the course, ringing cowbells, shouting encouragement:

A gaggle of bell-wishers at the Santa Maria airport. Note the small dog being held by the lady in yellow. I tried to get a picture of them cheering and ringing their bells, but was thwarted by my smaller camera’s horrible shutter lag and the near constant intrusion of some cyclist passing by.

Wow, we had covered over half the distance, and I had a 15.1 mph average, seat time — not bad! I was waiting around for Ron to be ready to go, but he had disappeared into the mob, and…my knees, oh, my knees were seizing up, I could feel them. I had really started to notice, on our training rides, that the breaks didn’t seem to help me at all; towards the second half of the ride, I was always better if I could just continue pedaling than if I was stuck standing somewhere.

Man, where was Ron? Hey, he’s got an iPhone! I tried calling him a few times, and finally left a message, saying that I just had to take off, the knees had spoken. And off I went, pedaling not so very fast, waiting for everything to smooth out again. Ah, and here’s Ron, excellent!

We chugged along, and almost immediately found ourselves at Clark St., a long, terrible uphill where I had seriously bonked in 1996, and where I first discovered the healing power of Skittles. (It was like magic: I had been completely drained, and after downing a bag of Skittles, just went charging up 500′ of Clark St. like nothing had ever been wrong). I didn’t need them yet, though. This year, I had been sipping on Hammer’s Sustained Energy throughout, with a 1/2 peanut butter and jelly sandwich and 2 or 3 cookies at each SAG stop as a supplement.

Ron left me in the dust, though now that I think about it, I had stopped to wash the salt off my face. Man, I have to remember to do that at the SAG stops, where it won’t slow me down. But Clark St., and the 250′ or so hill following, held no terrors for me — couldn’t have been easier.

And so I arrived at the Sisquoc SAG stop, the SAG stop immediately before Foxen Canyon Rd., which features a relentless 10-15 mile uphill of 1,100 feet or so. Oh yes, I’ve bonked there, as well. I refilled my CamelBak with two bottles worth of water and Sustained Energy, thanked the small local boys who were helping out with the water, gave them each a small Halloween bag of Skittles, and took a dose of Skittles to fortify myself for the climb to come.

Off we went. And I’ve got to say, I just love having an altimeter watch. Because what you really need in this world, what you need more than anything, is a progress meter: “You are 74% done climbing this horrible hill.” I just pedaled along, and every so often I’d check and see that, ah, yes, a little more progress, excellent.

This was so great! I wasn’t running out of energy at all! I jammed along, hitting the big gears on the occasional slight downhill, riding the higher gears on the following uphill, climbing, climbing, just excellent. Half-way up I stopped to wash the salt off my face. Man, when am I going to remember to do that at the SAG stops? Ron pulled in a few minutes afterward, and we chatted briefly, agreeing to meet again right before the much-steeper 200-300 foot climb approaching the Foxen Canyon summit.

I took off again, still feeling great. About half-way to the meeting point, #861 passed me. I cried out, “#861! You’re an animal!” He laughed, and allowed as how he’d noticed that we’d been trading off for the last 40-odd miles. Nice guy. Never saw him again.

At the meeting point, I stopped and awaited Ron, who arrived within a minute. Hey, I was surely getting closer to Ron’s time! Ach, no, he’s still 1.5 minutes faster, and there’s less than 1,000 feet of climbing left to go — bah. And there goes Vincent; his crank’s either all better, or better enough that he can pass the likes of us. Carlos stopped to chat for a minute, but quickly pulled ahead of me on the steep part of the Foxen Canyon summit climb.

And it slowed us down, of course, but we were still passing people, just as we were being passed. I was standing up a lot more often on the steep hills, which allowed me to use an entirely different set of muscles, and by the time they were wasted, which wasn’t very long, maybe a minute, the regular muscles used by the regular position felt as if they had gotten a wonderful vacation. Long enough, but not too long. Up I went. The gears were super quick and sure, after being fixed just a week earlier at the terrific Win’s Wheels (360941 W. Agoura Rd., Suite #302, Westlake Village, CA 91361).

Oh, the top. That wacky, wacky Foxen Canyon Road. Abruptly down, and down. I lost 180 feet in two minutes. That’s fast.

I pulled in to the final SAG stop, just short of mile 90. Hey, there are Vincent and Carlos! And…about 1.5 minutes later, here was Ron! Could it be???

“Ron, my seat time is 6:02:02 — what’s yours?”

“Let’s see, mine is…6:02:05.”

“Yes! I’m beating you! Three seconds!” I literally pumped both fists in the air.

A girl sitting at the side of the road was quite amused at my joy: “That’s brutal!” Yeah, but it’s 3 seconds.

Still, despite the fact that I carried my bike around the SAG stop with its front wheel in the air for most of the time, I’d picked up another 23 seconds on the meter by the time we left again.

Down we dropped, and I really didn’t like this road. I dropped 280 feet in two minutes, that’s more than two vertical feet every second for two minutes straight! Bumpy, with some blind turns, nice. Well, here’s the 154 coming up, and there goes Ron, passing me, gleefully: “Ha! Three seconds!”

There was one steep, but short, hill left, about 200′, and then a last hill shortly before Solvang. I took off, passing Ron. The police, who had been at many major intersections along the route, waved us through the stop sign, while holding back the highway traffic. Never mind, that stop sign doesn’t apply to you today.

I zipped up the steep hill, never ran out of steam, and just tore through the rest of the course. What was my average speed? Oooh, 14.9 miles per hour, not bad at all considering that it had been at 15.1 at the 58-mile mark, and considering how back-loaded the climbing is on this ride. Oh, surely I can get it up to 15.0 before the end!

And I did, and sailed through the stop light (thank you officer) on Mission Road, and was now just a few fairly level surface streets from the end. And it was at this point that I hit the dark side of traveling in the middle of the bell curve, which was…the incredible bicycle congestion. There are 5,000 cyclists at Solvang, and they were all coming back now, it seemed like. I fought my ride through the finish line, picked up my finisher’s bag of goodies, and locked my wheel down. Rats, 14.9 mph! Darn congestion. But wait…I’ve noticed before that, incredibly, my dopey cycling computer doesn’t report average speed accurately. It tends to read very-slightly-low. Do the math yourself, in your head. Oh, it really seems like it’s going to be at least 15mph! Ooh, here comes Ron, get a picture:

Ron sails in. 3:21pm.

So, how did we do? We totally crushed our six-years-ago selves! New personal bests all around!

Ron beat his six-years-ago self by 18 minutes. That’s good crushing!

And me? I was almost 35 minutes faster than 2002 Tom, which was only fitting, since 2002 Tom was 30 minutes faster than his six-years-ago self, 1996 Tom. That’ll show him. As John Blackburn said, when I told him, “Good for the goose, chump! Maybe you’ll beat me next time…oh wait, YOU CAN’T because you’re in the past! Second-best forever. Eat it, boy.” Wow, that John Blackburn really has no trouble at all pretending to be as competitive as I am.

And I finally beat Ron, in a long ride:

Oh, and the knees seem fine — not actually happy, mind you, but definitely fully functional.

Tom's Cycle Computer and Altimeter Watch:
      distance:  101.25 miles
        ascent:   4,440 ft.
   saddle time: 6:44:57       (not counting stops. 35 minutes faster than 2002!)
 average speed:    15.0 mph   (not counting stops)

Ron's Cycle Computer:
  saddle time:  6:47:50       (not counting stops. 18 minutes faster than 2002!)
average speed:     14.9 mph   (not counting stops)

From Start to Finish:
 elapsed time:  8:50:00       (counting everything: 06:27:00 - 15:17:00)
average speed:     11.5 mph   (counting everything)  

“Hey, Ron, there’s a Solvang Double Century! Ron?”

Solvang Century 2008 Countdown

A 104-mile route from Solvang to Santa Maria and back, featuring 5,000 feet of accumulated climbing.

T-minus 6 days:
Egad, look at that thing. Especially that Wacky, Wacky Foxen Canyon Road — that’s the 1,100-foot climb from mile 75 to mile 85. It just keeps getting steeper the higher you climb! It took me 75 minutes to climb it in 2002, my best performance ever: I was fatter, but younger. Industry Figure Stephen Newell says that I’m Younger This Year, but I’m pretty sure that that was supposed to be Next Year.

“I’m doomed as doomed can be, you know.”

T-minus 5 days:
I took a break from my current pastime of staring at the Foxen Canyon Road segment like Ed Grimley staring into the gaze of a cobra, to wonder about my past times at Solvang.

Because they seem strangely, even weirdly, fast.

In 1995, I did the old 102-mile course in about 8 hours of seat time, that’s 12.75 mph.
In 1996, I shaved off 10 minutes, completing it in 7:50:00 seat time, 13.0 mph.
I don’t have a record of the Y2K time; I was probably happy just to finish it.
And in 2002, I was a full half-hour faster, for 7:19:50 seat time, 13.9 mph.

Compare and contrast to last Saturday’s pre-Solvang ride: though only 92 miles, it was only 12.7 mph.

That has really been gnawing at me; it feels like I’m much slower again.

But maybe Solvang is different, somehow. At Solvang, I’m often riding in a pack, and you get quite a break from any headwind by doing that. Or perhaps it’s something about the design of the course: the whole last 15 miles is essentially a big ferocious downhill, with a few notable uphills (e.g. ‘The Wall’), but mostly you’re just sailing home.

“Maybe it’s the windmills, or the kringle? Or even the aebleskiver?”

T-minus 4 days:
But that’s not even the Important Thing! Of course I’ll finish the darn course — I’ve always finished it! The Important Thing is: can I get a reservation at Mattei’s Tavern? Or if they’re full, should we haul ourselves all the way to the Cold Spring Tavern? Where, in short, shall we eat?

“I’ll have the center-cut pork chops, please! And the tomato bisque!”

T-minus 3 days:
Industry Figure Stephen Newell contributed the following. Mind you, I read the book myself, and have quite often recalled this exact same excellent advice, but only when walking up mountains. Funny.

Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible, and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you’re no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end, but a unique event itself.

–Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

T-minus 2 days:
Our dinner reservations at Mattei’s Tavern are locked down with a credit card, and better yet, were made online!

The fabulous lunch on the way home at Cold Spring Tavern will be a less-structured affair, as they don’t take reservations for parties of fewer than six diners.

“Hm, no tomato bisque tonight? But you are serving a Puree of Broccoli Soup? Sounds delicious!”

T-minus 1 day:
Industry Figure Leah Newell says that I’d be crazy to let my insane competitiveness (vs. my six-year-ago self, or vs. Industry Figure Ron Traver) ruin Solvang for me this year.

And she has a point.

But the thing is: (a) It’s me, (b) I’m willing to just enjoy the ride, and let it happen, and not bring my desires to the mountains and all. And I’m sure that Ron won’t lord it over me when he (inevitably) crushes me.

But that six-years-ago Tom Chappell, if he beats me, there will be no end to the gloating — I know that guy, and he’s an absolute bastard that way; just ask anybody.

“Wait, wait, you’re telling me that you’re 30 pounds lighter than I was, and I still beat you? That’s just…so awesome! No no, don’t feel bad; you know, you’re old! (Oh man, wait’ll I tell the Internet!)”

Urgent Care for Craig

E-mail from my sister Jan about her son Craig, last seen chasing a Fed-Ex plane:

I got a call from Craig Saturday night. It began, “The good news is that the ring is off and I get to keep my finger.” He broke his finger playing basketball on Thursday night and didn’t take off his wedding ring.

By Friday he was at the Urgent Care using all ten of their saw blades to saw through his titanium band. They got it cut through one side and relieved some pressure, but he still couldn’t get it off. He hit jewelry stores the following morning and found someone able to saw and pry off the other side (only ruining 2 saw blades this time).

He plans to purchase his replacement band (gold, this time) from the helpful jeweler.

The moral, too important to leave unsaid:

“Never use titanium for something designed to be skin-tight.”

Ready or Not

With one week to go before the Solvang Century, we wanted to get one last big training ride under our belts before entering the week-before training-embargo period (and even so, we were encroaching it, since we rode on a Saturday, and Solvang is the next Saturday).

Click on the picture to see a larger image:
A 92-mile looping ride around the Conejo Valley.
(A 92-mile looping ride around the Conejo Valley)

The more-ambitious goal was to do a pre-Solvang century of our own devising, minus most of Solvang’s climbs, but with a few big ones thrown in throughout, to better simulate the evil. The less-ambitious goal was just to do 91 miles, so that we’d be within 10% of Solvang, on our last-week training ride. (Except that we wouldn’t, because it turns out that Solvang is 102 miles. Plus, the climbing: here’s a route map, look at the elevation profile: the thing’s a nightmare, the climbing’s all back-loaded.)

As it was, we knew that our training, even though it had started so well last summer and fall, was inadequate to expect great things next week. Ron had been temporarily out of action for a few months late last year, and I only went on one big ride during that time, and then the holidays and the incessant weekend rains had kept us off the bikes for weeks. In years past, we had done the Tour de Palm Springs, which is held about a month before, just as part of our training. So, we should already have done a century a month ago.

And even today, it was thinking about raining on us again. We started at 7:40am, and the whole first hour and half, we were getting covered in drizzle (really almost more of a mist, except there was no fog); the roads had a thin layer of water on them, enough that we had to be careful.

But by 9:45, certainly, the roads were dry again, and we never had any trouble with the weather after that, though the sun never came out.

One problem surfaced fairly early on: my bike didn’t want to stay in its lowest gear. It didn’t just seem to be an adjustment, either — I could feel the difference in the shifter when it decided to work — something wrong, there. Man, I’m glad that didn’t wait to manifest at Solvang, because the difference between my lowest gear and my second-lowest gear is…substantial. It’s the difference between an endurance effort and a strength-training effort.

After a few laps around Westlake, we stopped at beloved Win’s Wheels, where Win himself looked at the gearing system and immediately latched on the shifter mechanism up in the handlebars: “There’s a little spring in there, and it’s worn out. You can see how the cable goes slack when I move the handle this way.” (That’s good debugging!)

This was going to be too involved a repair to be done while we waited, so we soldiered on to De Anza Park, and from there, down Cornell Rd., hitting the 50-mile mark near Paramount Ranch and Malibu Lake just after noon. 50 miles in 4.33 hours, elapsed — a promising start.

But we had some big climbs ahead of us, and my worn-out gearing was interfering with about half of them. Sometimes I could get into the desired gear, and sometimes I just had to make the best of it.

For once, I was ahead of Ron, in the competition for fastest time while pedaling (not counting breaks). Around the 52-mile mark, we stopped to compare notes, and I was a minute ahead, yes! But no: Ron has this unbelievable stamina, and somewhere on the long climb up Kanan and Westlake, he pulled away from me and never looked back. For the rest of the ride I was just lamely trying to keep up.

‘Lame’ is certainly the mot juste, here, because after mile 75, when we stopped at another bicycle shop for them to look at Ron’s gearing (it was gearing day!), my knees started to complain.

And here, because we’re older and wiser, we just bailed on the 100-mile more-ambitious goal: there was no sense in putting Solvang at risk just to hit a number this week.

But (perhaps we’re not quite old and wise enough, yet, after all), we did have one more milestone that we wanted to hit, which was to climb up Borchard Ave. and do a loop around the Dos Vientos real estate development. And this may have been a mistake, at least for me: Borchard has a truly evil little climb that makes you gasp when you first see it, and my gear just wouldn’t stick in low. I had to climb the thing in the wrong gear, and my knees were (and are) not happy.

Ron ended up being almost 2% faster overall:

      distance:   91.75 miles
  total ascent:   1,675 ft

Tom's Cycle Computer:
      distance:    92.2 miles
   saddle time: 7:14:00       (not counting stops)
 average speed:    12.7 mph   (not counting stops)

Ron's Cycle Computer:
  saddle time:  7:07:00       (not counting stops)
average speed:     12.8 mph   (not counting stops)

From Start To Finish:
 elapsed time:  8:55:00       (counting everything)
average speed:     10.3 mph   (counting everything)  

Ha, we were faster than last week, even though we had more distance and more climbing.

“Okay, just like that again next week, except with 102 miles, and triple the climbing.”