Sunday, December 29, 2013

Football, Football, Football!

Doesn't anybody ever argue about the philosophical conflict posed by the concepts of predeterminism vs. free will anymore?

On Facebook, I mean.

The Dallas Cowboys are currently, or have until quite recently been, playing a football game. Their fate is uncertain as I type this, so for the moment, like Schroedinger's cat, they exist in a simultaneous state of victory and defeat. Until I open up Facebook and see what actually went down.

But that might not happen until morning.

Since there are some people, somewhere in the world, who care about the game enough actually to watch it, I realize it's a little self-centered to take this approach. Still, it's only fair. If they're going to clutter my newsfeed with stupid sports-related ephemera that no rational person could possibly be remotely interested in, I get to reduce them to hypothetical constructs. Fair's fair.

Meanwhile, here on Earth, I've been streaming "Portlandia" on Netflix.* This is becoming one of my favorite shows, though I've never been to Portland. I have a handful of important reasons for enjoying the show:

1. Carrie Brownstein bears a striking resemblance to my sister Jessie.
2. Bikes! Bikes bikes bikes bikes bikes.
3. We watched Dune the other night with the "No Olympics" episode of Portlandia as a chaser, which leaves you with an interesting mental image of Paul-Muad'Dib leading his people to enlightenment and world domination astride an exercise ball.
- 3a. And you could use that little plastic spike stopper in the exercise ball to make a crysknife. They don't seem to have mentioned crysknives in the movie.
4. Even though I've never been to Portland, I've been to both Seattle and Brooklyn. Seattle seems a bit more bike-friendly, but Brooklyn isn't set at a 45-degree angle.

There are some difficulties inherent in conducting a relationship with a member of the football cult. My boyfriend likes football quite a lot. He isn't fond of cats. God only knows what he sees in me.

Probably my philosophical leanings.

*Did I mention that I'm an unusually deep thinker?

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Saturday, December 28, 2013

The One Less Traveled By

The new South Walnut Creek Trail does not start at Govalle Park.

I mean, the city website says it does. But you won't find a trailhead at the park. What you will find, if you ride around aimlessly in circles, are a couple of footbridges, a basketball court, a playground with small children (you must make a sincere effort not to run over these), and a worn track in the dirt that leads out to a neighboring street.

Go north on this street to the next main cross-street, Jain. Jog just a scoche to the right and you'll see the trailhead on your left. I think they'll eventually continue it southward into the park proper, and even connect it to the Town Lake Hike-and-Bike. But for now, it ain't there.

Seriously, I spent much too long Googling "South Walnut Creek Trail" and squinting at project maps on the screen of my phone with a Cannondale awkwardly propped between my thighs not to understand the value of what I am doing here. This has been a public service announcement.

Once you find the trail, it's a dream. Some of it is so new that the forms haven't been removed yet. But it's completely road-bike suitable. It's supposedly about seven miles (or will be, once it's complete - it ends just after Loyola) and will eventually hook up to the Manor trail and the North Walnut Creek Trail, and open up some serious possibilities for a bike commuter interested in helping to gentrify the East side.

Gentrification is a ravenous monster, but we're all on the food chain. I'm not sure who overran California, forcing its inhabitants to sell out, move to Austin, and render housing here completely beyond the reach of a normal middle-class worker, unless you want to live in Georgetown or Elgin or Buda (and if you are here because you love Austin, you do not want to live in those places). They are probably aliens from a planet where a broom closet goes for $75,000 a month and you have to haul your own recycling to the processing facility with a pair of magnetized chopsticks.

I'm thinking of moving to Seattle. Seattle seems cool, and there are not nearly as many Starbuckses there as you might expect. But I digress.

The new trail is paved in cement for its entirety and has a yellow stripe down the center, which I love because it sends a clear message to joggers that, while welcome, they might want to consider keeping to the right. So much pedestrian-cyclist animosity on the Town Lake hike-and-bike trail could be avoided if people would just bear in mind that someone faster will eventually come up behind them, and that you can't hear "On your left!" if you have your earbuds cranked to full volume.

But as new as the trail is, it apparently isn't immune from the greatest threat of all. On our briskly cool ride today, we saw four other cyclists, three joggers, and A FUCKING SUV PARKED IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TRAIL.

I am not even kidding. I wanted to get a picture, but since my boyfriend had just confronted the owner, I didn't want to stop for fear of getting shot (this is Texas, so shooting a person who wilfully and maliciously criticizes your parking technique is considered self-defense); but a white SUV had apparently driven down the trail from a construction entrance nearby, and its driver was taking pictures of his small child and medium-sized dog in front of an adjacent field.

The body of the SUV being slightly less wide than the trail, the driver had thoughtfully left all four doors open.

My boyfriend didn't raise his voice very much, just said something along the lines of "Hey man, you need to move this - you really shouldn't be here. This is supposed to be for bikes!" And, because this is Austin, the guy actually seemed embarrassed and said, "Yes, okay, I'll move it, I'll move it."

He wasn't entirely unjustified in not expecting to encounter anyone at all. I only know about the trail because Bicycle Sport Shop posted some photos on Facebook of a ride there last week. It's possible the other cyclists we encountered found out the same way.

I'm not sure if the full 7.2 miles are open yet. It certainly didn't seem that far in either direction. But on fairly level ground, with pavement, and no traffic, it's possible. It did seem more like four or five, tops. But what the hell, we'll say 7.2. My boyfriend needs the encouragement.

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Santa, Baby...

My stepfather used to tell a story about his ex-wife, who didn't care for grapes.

This made two of them.

His ex-wife one day, he said, came home with a big bag of grapes from the grocery store. He was perplexed. "Why did you buy these?" he asked. "You don't like grapes. I don't like grapes. We don't like grapes. So why did you buy so many grapes?"

"They were on sale!" he says she said. "25 cents a pound. What a bargain!"

Sales are like that. They represent huge savings over what you would have paid if you needed the thing you bought, which you didn't, so you get this tremendous sense of value for the money you've just wasted.

I became pinko commie scum so gradually, I never even noticed it happening.

But what is it with this? I really want (do not need) a few things: a new TV, because mine goes all wibbly-wobbly when I put on the new "Jeeves and Wooster" DVDs that my daughter gave me for Christmas. So this 13-year-old piece of crap (the TV, not my daughter) is giving out already, which is aggravating, because I don't think those newfangled wide-angle flat ones will fit inside the TV alcove of my entertainment center, which means I also need new furniture.

Not to mention that HDTV makes everything look like a 1987 episode of "All My Children."

The battery adaptor on this laptop only works if it's plugged in at a very specific angle; otherwise, it's running on battery power alone, which lasts approximately one minute and forty-seven seconds. So I may be needing a new adaptor, or something.

It's better than my desktop computer, a 2001 PowerMac G4. Don't get me wrong, the computer is going strong. It just can't handle video, GIFs, flash, Java, or any kind of animation, which wouldn't be a problem, except that these things seem to be prerequisites for using the internet lately. Fine. Characters typed on your keyboard will show up soon enough on your screen. Be patient. Go play a couple of games of solitaire while you're waiting. You like spinning rainbows, don't you? Well, there you go.

My iPhone 4 is getting a little slow and will no longer sync with the abovementioned laptop because there isn't enough free space unless I delete my entire music library and reinstall it every time. It won't sync with the desktop at all, because plugging anything new into a USB port causes the mouse and keyboard to stop responding.

My wi-fi off my DSL modem is too slow to stream video content and I have to turn off wi-fi on my phone in order to get Pandora to play or my Facebook app to work, which it sometimes does, but not always, because reliable cell service in Travis Heights can't be had for love or money, no matter who your provider is.

And the motor on my coffee grinder won't activate unless you line up the base just exactly so and whisper prayers of devotion to whoever the god of coffee is, probably Vulcan or Mercury or somebody like that.

And I'd like a new mattress. Mine was bought when I was pregnant with Anna and has pretty noticeable butt impressions.

So there you go: a wish list of things that I probably really will purchase at some point in the not-too-distant future, but just those things. Then we're done... right?

Mind you, I am pretty fond of grapes.

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Shame for the Holidays

There's a lot to be said for starting the festivities on Christmas Eve, keeping your decorations up through Twelfthnight, and wrapping up the whole shebang (so to speak) on January 6th.

You get to take advantage of after-Christmas sales to do some of your Christmas shopping, for one. And you get to act all snotty to anyone who asks why you haven't taken your lights down yet. "Oh," you can say, with just the faintest superior curl to your upper lip. "Well, naturally, I wouldn't dream of taking down my Christmas things until Epiphany. Are there people who actually take them down before Christmas is over?!"

The more your neighbor professes Christianity while you yourself do not, the more supercilious you get to be about celebrating Christmas properly. Pedantry over piety, that's what I always say.

Happy Solstice! Now we enter the longest night of the year, unless that was last night. I can't be bothered to look it up. I just know that today was the shortest day. It will be a long night in any case. Tonight is a night for fighting off cats who think my hair might have milk in it and contemplating my innumerable failings with regards to my family.

Do you have a family of some kind? If the answer is yes, chances are you're harboring a vague and indefinable sense of guilt, unless you're lucky enough to suffer specific pangs about your particular wrongdoings, in which case you might try Catholicism.

Religion has an important purpose. That is, one assumes it must, because otherwise it wouldn't be so widespread, would it? Aside even from the fairly selfish need to believe that those we love, and we, won't cease to exist forever when we die (and I'm sorry, but being reabsorbed into the everythingness of the universe and dissipated throughout existence in the form of cultural consciousness, cosmic dust, and plant life isn't really what I had in mind), it's important to feel that your role on the great stage is not merely a walk-on with no lines, just as easily filled by anyone else who can get into the costume with two hours' alterations. You, and the things you think, say, and do, must make a difference. Otherwise why bother?

The flip side is that it leaves the non-religious out in the cold every now and then. Existentialism plagues us all. Not being religious, I don't have many easy answers to toss back against the cold unimportance of my efforts towards a meaningful existence. Everything has to be framed within a context, which is of necessity pretty limited.

That's why, if you aren't plagued by existential questions, and you take down your Christmas lights on December 26th with a peaceful sense of another Christmas well-celebrated, well! Shame on you.

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Looks Like We're Gonna Need a Stronger Constitution

Wait a minute, it just hit me right this second as I was firing up the laptop - Duck Dynasty airs on A&E?

Didn't A&E use to stand for some phrase or other that had the word "arts" in it?

Guess I haven't watched TV in a while.

Not long ago, if you'll recall, many people honestly believed it was unconstitutional to refuse to buy sandwiches from Chick Fil-A. This puzzled me. I mean, presumably it was okay for me not to buy their product simply on the grounds that I thought it tasted like ineptly-reconstituted Naugahyde. But throw a political agenda into the mix and suddenly you have a civic obligation to support a business in which you previously had no particular interest, just because now you disagree with their officially stated opinions.

By extension, I assume the First Amendment also requires you to vote for candidates whose platforms you oppose, because otherwise you're suppressing their freedom of expression.

There's not much use going into the finer points of the First Amendment here. You already understand it. You can try explaining it to Duck Dynasty and Chick Fil-A fans, but I don't think modern technology has come up with words of fewer than one syllable yet.

Better just to take some Tums and go to bed.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

As if a Million People Were Silent, Then Suddenly Cried Out in Terror

So I took a couple of years' break from my blog. You might have noticed, except that assuming you were one of my three regular readers, you stopped checking for updates by early spring of 2012.

This was all part of my master plan.

Writing is a wonderful thing, very therapeutic, not to mention that organizing one's thoughts (or attempting to, anyway) to the point where they are not only comprehensible, but maybe even interesting, to complete strangers, is excellent mental exercise. And God only knows I need it. I've been watching too much TV.

But having an audience adds pressure. That being said, I guess it isn't clear why I don't just keep a paper diary or take advantage of one of many available software programs which process words, which are what I produce by typing, assuming I lay off the wine.

Yeah right!

The topics on my mind seem off-limits tonight. A man I never met, but consider a kindred spirit because he was a fellow bicycle commuter, blogger, parent, and 44-year-old, was killed yesterday on the frontage road of I-35 in Round Rock on his way to the office.

His poor family. Those poor kids. I am so terribly sorry. God bless and keep you.

To spare a little pity for the driver who hit him, as well: We live in a society deeply entrenched in the premise that driving is safe - that, if you slip up a little, the worst anybody is likely to suffer is a little property damage and maybe a stiff neck. This mindset is in the process of changing, but there's a sense that, behind the wheel, drivers are almost entitled not to have to worry about these things. Well, I never did when I was driving, not until I really got out there and felt the vulnerability of knowing that a momentary lapse of attention on someone else's part might kill me. They'd feel shitty about it, and I'd actually feel really sorry for them having to go through that, except I'd be dead.

My daily danger zone is my daughter's middle school. I walk with her there each morning, through our quiet residential neighborhood, walking the bike I ride to work after dropping her off. She's in seventh grade now, so at some point fairly recently, she stopped holding my hand (though when I occasionally take hers, she doesn't yet pull away).

Everything is fine until we get to the school itself, where we walk across the narrow neighborhood street where the cars pull out of the school driveway after dropping off kids. That place is a hellish free-for-all slice of mayhem.

The people waiting to turn out of the driveway rarely signal, so you have to guess if it's safe to cross in front of where they'll be pulling out if they're turning left. Meanwhile, cars are approaching from both directions in the street, sometimes to pass through, sometimes to pull up to the curb and drop off a kid, again not often signaling. Many of the cars departing the school are trying to get the hell out of Dodge via the cross street on which my daughter and I are approaching. Signaling? Whatever. It's like fucking Frogger.

The school, neighborhood, and surrounding streets largely predate cars. Traffic control at the school consists of one extremely nice and patient lady trying to keep kids (and the occasional irresponsible bike-walking parent) from getting run over. And the car horns? It sounds like Manhattan up in there. Everybody is PISSED.

I think I've seen one other family that walks their child to school there. It's sad, because our walk is about 1/2 mile across the park and up a steep hill (by Austin standards) and is a pretty nice start to the day, up until we get to the street bordering the school and it gets fugly. And it's a neighborhood school, you know, so not many of the students live more than a few blocks away.

These are things we've lost sight of, as a society. It's not anyone's fault, it just naturally happens when you get in the habit, as pretty much all of us do, of never traveling further on foot than from your front door to your car, your car to your office, your car - in the parking space you've found, after circling the parking lot for 10 minutes looking for a close-in spot, near your grocery store or shopping mall or gym. We all admit this, and it's not your fault or my fault or anybody's individual fault, but maybe we can make a little change and all our little changes together can make something better. We all crave the invincibility and anonymity that cars, or online comment forums, give us. Who wouldn't? It's safe, you can do what you want, and nobody has to know who you are.

I don't have a master plan. I just want us all to be well and happy and not get run over.

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Monday, December 16, 2013

Keeping the ASS in ChristmASS

Well - half of it, anyway.

It's worth repeating: Cats are not good helpers when it comes to wrapping Christmas presents.

Okay, so it isn't really worth repeating. It wasn't even worth mentioning in the first place, since pretty much anyone who gives half a rat's ass about cats is already fully aware of this fact. But what the hell. For those of you who don't know it, even the most weary, elderly, sedentary cat gets a little sparkle in his eye when the wrapping paper comes out. The crisp rustle of it, the intoxicating aroma of fresh-printed ink sliding out from a cellophane sheath; the glossy snap of Scotch tape being pulled from the reel; the wriggling twirl of the foiled ribbons; the hissing snip of scissors slicing through shiny paper - well, you can hardly expect a cat to contain itself.

Cats neither own horses nor wear pants, which makes it especially tricky for them to hold the one or keep the other on.

But despite the helpful efforts of two furry, diminutive, pointy-ended housemates, I did manage to wrap what I've accumulated so far of Christmas presents.

Katie moved out just a few months ago. She's 21 now, setting off on her first flight of adulthood (sort of). Eric is 23, living with a girl I adore somewhat apprehensively. It's scary, getting attached to your offspring's potential better halves. You don't know where it's going to end up - I mean, sure, she's awesome, and they're happy, and the two of them are so good together.

I've been in that relationship. Many times. Many.

Or not; actually, those two seem stable and calm in a way that I never quite managed, and have been so for a couple of years now. There's a certain unobtrusive purring of the kind of relationship-supporting machinery that keeps running as long as you aren't one to get all excitable and start flinging wrenches in the form of hopeful future partners, unsupportable financial cravings, or just one more kitten.

Anyway, in the wake of Katie's moving-out, I did some empty-nesting, which is to say I went through the toy chest and the depths of the storage areas and the piles of everything in the closets that's never been cleaned out, ever. There were hundreds of stuffed toys, a few of them important and worth hanging onto, most others not. There were children's books that got read once or twice and stuffed into the back of an overcrowded shelf. There were blocks, puzzles, Barbies, beads, teasets and action figures. There were kids' meal toys from pretty much every fast-food place you can think of, and possibly some you'd rather you hadn't.

So all these extraneous things went out - in bags of trash or recyclables, in boxes of items donated to Goodwill. Katie's whole high-school subscription to Vogue got trashed. Now if I could just eradicate the smell of the perfume samples.

All in all there were so many boxes and bags, it's kind of hard to go and buy a bunch of Christmas crap that I know will be fully appreciated for all of two weeks before being relegated to the back of the closets I've just spent so much effort digging out from under years of needless excess.

Keeping to a minimum of what we need and really want is more of a Quixotic struggle than I'd anticipated.

Bingo, overexcited by the myriad sensory excitements of Christmas wrapping, got carried away and tilted at a brown paper shopping bag tonight, and I'm sorry to say that he was very soundly defeated. He jumped into the bag, tipped it over, jumped out, jumped back in, spun around, and got his upper body stuck through one of the string handles. The ensuing ruckus was so noisy and violent that his younger, fatter cohort, Baby Kitty, promptly slunk off to hide behind the encyclopedias in the bookcase.

This is also where she hid from the Christmas tree when I put it up, because apparently in Soviet Russia, CHRISTMAS TREE TERRORIZES CAT.

We put the ass-backwards in Christmas.

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Drink the Kool-Aid and Nobody Gets Hurt

Each workgroup is to decorate a door in its area in the holiday spirit. Only one will win, and the winner shall feast upon the bloody flesh of the losers.

Whoops! Sorry, got a little carried away there. They'll get a box of peanut brittle.

I'm not participating, because I'll be off for the day (having worked the weekend - thus escaping, I might add, a lot more lightly than many of my coworkers who had significantly less pleasant duties during the winter storm, such as actually talking to people), but some have suggested that the recent extreme and difficult weather ought to tie into our office holiday observances.

For instance, Santa's sleigh could be locked in ice-bound traffic. Reindeer would be eaten by stranded, desperate travelers. (I think Norway already has a national dish based on this concept, so it's not without precedent.)

Better yet, the Kool-Aid guy could break through the ice walls with his refined-sugar-processed-flavor-product powers and bring peace and harmony back to a teetering civilization (which, I'm sorry, should really not be so wobbly after just two and a half days without unrestricted access to Wal-Mart) - but at what price? What would he tell us today? Is the inorganic, processed-food apocalypse foretold by his wanton destruction of our flimsy man-made structures? Isn't his jolly demeanor in the face of utter ruin the very embodiment of what commercial marketing is all about?

On a similar note, I began my holiday shopping today (it's Christmas shopping, actually, but I like to call it holiday shopping in order to offend the type of people who insist on spelling Christmas CHRISTmas, then spend obscene amounts of money on stuff nobody really needs and take down all their decorations on December 26) with an earnest endeavour to "shop local," as they say.

Have you spent much time in local shops? It strikes me that these shops largely exist to cater to tourists - which is fine - but does make them less than ideal in terms of a place for a local to buy presents for other locals. I mean, I want to support local business as much as anyone, but my boyfriend wants an enamel-coated 12-piece cookware set, and the closest I can find to that locally is a novelty shot glass that reads "Keep Austin Weird."

So shop local, spruce up your office, drive safely, and look out for the Kool-Aid Man. That guy is bad news.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What Will They Think of Next?

Sometimes I'm struck by the fact that, though I am not old by any stretch of the imagination - I SAID ANY STRETCH DAMMIT - I clearly remember being around for the introduction of every modern amenity that separates us from savages.

Remember your family's first microwave? Remember how crazy it was to be able to heat up food in a matter of seconds??

Remember when there were three TV stations (well, four, counting PBS, but that one never came in as well and was on the weird little auxiliary dial) and they went off the air after the National Anthem and sat there happily broadcasting static until morning, content in the knowledge that everything anyone could possibly want to see had been seen?

Remember when you got cable? Cable was awesome. Not only did you suddenly have a lot more channels, but because you paid a monthly fee for it, there weren't any commercials.

Around the same time you began to be able to record TV shows on a Betamax cassette (some less visionary people preferred the big clunky VHS tapes) and squiggle right on forward through commercials, too. It became clear that advertising on television was a thing of the past.

Then there were laser discs, big shiny silver phonograph records with movies on them, and then CDs, and then my dad's computer could talk to his coworker's computer across town, and then all hell broke loose.

Today I could ride my bike almost all the way to work in freezing drizzle, miserably cold, teeth chattering, soaked right down to the base layers, realize I'd forgotten my phone at home, and I would turn right around and go back and get it.

Not that it would do me much good. One of the hazards of biking to work in arctic temperatures is that, by the time you get there, you are unable to operate your smartphone because the touchscreen thinks your icy finger is an inanimate object.

All these innovations, though, pale by comparison to the greatest invention ever known to man. They've gone and invented - get this - a cat pill that tastes like a kitty treat.

I mean, I'm assuming it tastes like a kitty treat. I just know I have to be careful the fat young one doesn't steal the skinny old one's medicine. This invention alone, unsung though it is (I mean, I just stumbled across the bottle of brewer's yeast pills at the grocery store, read the description, snorted "Yeah, right" and then bought them anyway, because I don't always make smart buying decisions) must have saved countless human lives already.

And really I should go back and spend some more time in the pet aisle at the store. It's entirely possible they've come up with a cat shampoo that makes your cat think it's sprawled out on a sunny patio peaceably licking what's left of its harbles.

So forget flying cars, which were a terrible idea anyway, when you consider how incompetent most people are to handle earthbound ones. Your grandchildren won't even remember a day when you unquestionably paid a blood tribute for the privilege of caring for your furry friends. The future is now.

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Thursday, December 05, 2013

Whipping Boy

Popular culture doesn't always appreciate the virtues of pragmatism.

All the glory goes to the guy with the crazy ideas who refused to listen to naysayers and nervous Nancys and ended up miraculously saving the day. You see? You thought that visionary was a lunatic! But now look, he's up and invented time travel! That'll teach your grandmother to suck eggs.

How much oftener are the naysayers right, though? Nervous Nancys get little glory for rescuing us all from visionary wackos. In movies, someone always stammers, "That's... that's so crazy it just might work!" And it always does. In reality, it's much more likely that gruesome, untimely death is in store for everyone involved.

The Voice of Reason has saved incalculable numbers of lives, but the Reckless Visionary (if he survives) gets all the (surviving) girls.

Such is life, I suppose. Anyway, our fancy website redesign, timed to launch immediately prior to the time it's needed most, isn't working. There was a naysayer in my office insisting that it was a terrible idea to launch during a high-stress period without extensive prior testing. We'll probably make him field all the complaints.

That's what you get for being such a Nervous Nancy.


Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Complaints, Navigational Aids, and How to be Happy

Things I love about my job, in no particular order:

I do things. You know, things. I mean, I get in at 8-ish and I've got a list, a long one. And I know I'll be lucky if I knock half the things off before I leave at 5-ish or 6-ish. Sometimes I stress about these things and the knock-off-ability of them. The things matter, and if I don't knock them off, who will?

Today I left the office and thought, completely without irony, "Oh shit! I forgot to send all the tweets!"

"All the tweets" are to announce a website redesign. We do a website providing an interactive map of currently reported highway conditions on state highways in the state where I live. It is imperfect, gradually becoming less and less so. It is an unspeakable improvement over what we used to have. I am deeply involved, both culpable and creditable for what is wrong and right with the current site. I have never been so proud of anything in my life, even my children, who are great and all but seriously, for roadway information they are not much good. They seem to have difficulty sometimes finding the way to the kitchen from the bathroom. Kids these days!

I get to read all the complaints filed by the general public against the organization to which I belong. Some are valid. Some are not. Some are so screamingly hilarious that I might need adult diapers (not right now, but I could see this becoming a problem in the next several years).

Some complain about our website, and those are the ones I get to answer. There aren't many. I am not here to solicit more, but I do always get a big kick out of answering emails that say things like "Your website sucks and nothing works and you should all be shot!" Often, these are time-stamped 2:37 A.M. and in one case, a call to the complainant to discuss his problems was met with a complete lack of recollection. ("Wait, I said what?!") We call these "three-scotchers."

Other times, they have pretty informative feedback we've been able to incorporate into later redesigns. Or they may just be blowing off steam and frustration, understandably enough, and respond kindly to a good-natured email with an offer for future help (people can really be pretty awesome, by the way).

I could base a whole blog, if I weren't particular about keeping my job, on the kind of complaints that come in. Did you know that people complain that rumble strips along the edges of highways cause stress fatigue on their hands when they drive atop them for extended distances? Well, they do.

Poor me, I have a fulfilling job I really love and make a decent living at. Can't openly blog about the ridiculous things that sometimes happen there anymore. Is there a tiny violin in the house?

I ought to file a complaint.

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Sunday, December 01, 2013

On Your Left, Thank You, Have a Nice Day

Yoga is good for your spiritual well-being. There's a lot of talk about why this is, but what it boils down to is that yoga makes it much easier to reach your toenails. One cannot achieve inner peace with a sloppy pedicure.

Fortunately, I've always been flexible, so I'm really more into cycling.

Bicycles are, alas, the red-headed stepchild of modes of transportation. Drivers, who are naturally entitled to get wherever they are going as quickly as possible, get very frustrated at the presence of cyclists. (Less so, oddly, at the presence of thousands of other drivers, who are slowing them down a heck of a lot more; but there you go.)

Pedestrians don't like cyclists either. On shared-use facilities, you're supposed to yield to pedestrians, which is theoretically no problem. But it would be nice if pedestrians on a hike-and-bike trail had more sense that maybe they ought to be prepared to encounter different types of trail users, to keep to the right and try to refrain from taking up the entire width of the trail whilst too engrossed in their dogs/children/conversation partners/phones/navels to notice repeated calls of "On your left!... Excuse me!... Behind you!... On your left, folks!" to the point where you just want to say fuck it and get an air horn for your bike and if they don't like it they can maybe, I don't know, STAY OUT OF THE GODDAMN WAY.

But that's the path to the Dark Side. It's important to be nice. And it's even more important to be nice to the people who piss you off than the people who don't, because, you know, it's easy to be nice to the people who don't. And where's the sport in that?

Today was a nice day, a brief respite from the bipolar swing of "SUMMER! NO, WINTER! NO, NOW IT'S SUMMER! Ooh, spring. PSYCH! WINTER, BEEYOTCHES!" that Texans typically endure from November through February. It's also a Sunday. It's the Sunday after Thanksgiving, which for some people involves second helpings, pie, and - God help us - Cool Whip.* So the beautiful hike-and-bike trail around Town Lake, for which we have Lady Bird Johnson to thank, to the point where you'd think they'd name the lake after her or something, but no, it's called Town Lake, was pretty crowded.

I like the part east of I-35. This picture was taken behind the softball fields at the Holly Street Power Plant, where a giant live oak shades the park bench overlooking the grass sloping down to the water. It's a beautiful spot, the turnaround point of my lunch hour rides, though of course today we didn't have to hurry back. You can also see, across the water, the new boardwalk under construction that will complete the hike-and-bike trail loop around the lake. It's well elevated on pylons above the water, since we do get flooding now and then, and plenty wide enough for three suburban moms with double baby joggers to spread out comfortably and ignore your attempts to alert them to your presence.

But you can't see it in my picture, so someday when it's open I'll have to brave the crowds and go out and get some pictures of it.

Meanwhile, have a nice day, and maybe get out and ride your bike. Don't forget to yield to pedestrians.

*I'm sorry, but there is just no excuse for Cool Whip, especially not in this day and age.

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Of Blips and Blobs

You're doing your makeup wrong.

You might think this is not a particularly big deal, but it is. There are so many online articles about the myriad mistakes you are making: your black eyeliner makes you look older, your blush is too dark, your foundation isn't blended properly, your lipstick makes your teeth look yellow, your concealer is caking into the fine lines under your eyes, your mascara is blobby, you're overplucking your eyebrows and OH MY GOD WHAT IS THE WORLD COMING TO.

These articles are penned by actual Makeup Artists (because makeup is an Art, and without Art, Life is Meaningless) and they should know.

Oh, also, the solutions for these problems only cost $89.50 and are available by clicking on the link in the article.

I guess it's important to believe in your work. Certainly I like to feel that what I do matters, although of course it's all a matter of context. When you consider that the total sum of human endeavors is an imperceptible blip adrift in an infinite void thinly strewn with cosmic dust, even the noble cause of stimulating travel and tourism in Texas seems a little insignificant.

My junk-food reading habit, though, is to scroll down to the comments threads. If only there were some way to harness the incendiary force of online comments! I mean, talk about your sustainable energy source. Figuring that out is an innovation that will make me rich and powerful someday, along with the invention of the toaster you don't have to tip over on its side to get your bagel out.

People get angry about makeup. So very angry. As angry as they get about the George Zimmermann verdict or Obamacare or food stamps or light rail or Wall Street or Wal-Mart or Syria or Auburn's rather spectacular final touchdown yesterday.* And it just seems like such a vast expenditure of energy. Couldn't something useful be done with it?

Not that people shouldn't be angry about injustice or speak out against wrongs, but I'm not sure that yelling at strangers on the internet about lipstick is terribly productive. Certainly not as much so as a good cleansing regimen.

*I might not know a football from a rhinoceros suppository - and, unlike the rhinoceros, I don't really care - but that was impressive.

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