31 Aug


This past Sunday, we invited some friends over for dinner. Among the company were a couple kids — two boys — who were a little bored at times with our childless home.

I snuck downstairs at one point and looked through our puzzles and games, which we keep in a big wooden cabinet shaped and painted like a cat. I was trying to move quickly. I grabbed something called the “Log Stacker,” which claims to be the “World’s Most Difficult Puzzle Box,” and a Rubik’s Cube.

I figured the puzzle box would be a little more captivating, so I introduced the poor kids to it and left to go socialize with the adults.

Turns out the Log Stacker really is the world’s most difficult puzzle box. The kids couldn’t solve it, and I spent about 30 minutes trying to figure it out once everyone left.

Eileen kept saying, “Time for bed,” but I had to solve the damn thing. I’m just like that.

When I did finally get it, I pumped a fist in the air and yelled, “yessss!” But before I headed off to bed, I picked up the Rubik’s Cube.

I didn’t do much with it. I just looked at it.

And I had an epiphany: the middle piece on each face of the cube cannot move from the middle! It only has one exposed side, so it will always stay in the middle of a face. And the corner pieces can only fit in the corners. They have three exposed sides. And the pieces on the edge have two exposed sides. They can’t be middle pieces or corner pieces!

Okay, granted, this “epiphany” was a pretty obvious one, but I haven’t looked at a Rubik’s Cube since I was 12.

The next day, I began casually searching “rubik’s cube” on google. I perused a few sites, which were all overly complicated with their explanations. Most of them start by saying something like, “First we need to get some terminology straight. The cube has six sides. In this article I’ll be referring to the sides as front, back, up, down, left, right. A clockwise turn on the front side, will be notated as F. A counter-clockwise turn will be F’ (F prime). And a 180-degree turn will be F2.”

“Screw this,” I thought, and I closed the web pages and started turning the faces of the cube.

I got nowhere.

So I set it down and left.

Hours would pass, and then I’d suddenly get an idea about how the math of the cube works, so I’d pick it up again and try.

I’d fail again and leave.

I went through this process a few times; then I finally broke down and searched “rubik’s cube” again. This time, I understood a little more. I decided to give the notation a try. I struggled with formulas like this one: D L D’ L’ D’ F’ D F. I couldn’t get it to work.

But last night, I couldn’t get to sleep. I kept picturing various permutations of turning sides and having corners line up with middle pieces. It had invaded my head, like Tetris.

So I got up and went back to the computer. I tried just holding the cube and following the formula without even looking at the cube. After meticulously executing each step, I looked down at the cube. It worked!

I followed the other formulas. The final one is a killer. It reads like this: R2 U F B’ R2 F’ B U R2. It took about three tries, but I did it. I solved the Rubik’s Cube.

I could sleep easy now.

22 Jun

Tri Panic Part 2

In our last episode, Tim had just begun his first triathlon ever, grossly under-equipped for the swim portion. Two minutes into the race, gasping for air, he felt like he was near drowning. Let’s see what happened next. . .

More than any other sport, swimming requires you to be aware of two very distinct visual worlds. Your face is either in the water, looking not only at the threatening depths below but also at the frantic bodies of your fellow competitors swimming alongside you; or your face is out of the water, noting the spectators on the shore, the bouys lining the course, or the pier you might start swimming towards if you have a nervous breakdown. The problem is that in the frantic first minutes of the race, when the rhythm of your strokes is a bit quick, you sustain neither view long enough. That is, you are constantly switching between these distinct visual worlds. It’s disorienting. You know how in the movies if a character is lost or overwhelmed or drugged, there’s often a crazy point of view shot where the camera looks all around? Like say the character is a little boy lost at a carnival or something. You’d get one second of the bearded lady laughing maliciously, and then another second of some large man yelling, “step right up,” and then one second of a little girl crying cuz she dropped her cotton candy, and then one second of of some other carny yelling, “the most dizzying ride ever!” and then one second of a bunch of twirling lights. You know what I mean?

This is what it was like two minutes into the race, at which point I decided that I needed to slow down a little if I was going to survive three 10-minute laps of this thing. It took another minute to calm down, however, what with the occasional hand brushing my foot or the occasional pair of kicking legs appearing in front of my face.

But a few minutes later, when I got to the final turn in the course (marked by the only yellow bouy on the water), I thought, “well that came fast,” and the whole thing felt achievable. And in fact, as we neared the shore to get out for our first beach turn-around, my feet found the bottom of the quarry sooner than most (due to my above-average height), and I found myself running through the water way faster than all the chumps around me.

Nevermind that the “chumps” around me were the 50-54 wave of men who had started two minutes behind me, I was kickin their asses!

The next two laps went literally swimmingly, though not all that fast. My wave of men were wearing gold caps. By the time I got out of the water, after approximately 31 minutes, there were no gold caps in sight.

But I felt good since I had survived, and now I had a chance to get on my bike. I’ve been biking a lot this spring/summer. And when I go out for solo rides, I beat everyone else on the road. They don’t know they’re competing with me, but I always win. And unlike the swim course, the bike course was familiar to me. I rode it once last week. Since I didn’t know how fast I’d be on the run, I decided to go pretty hard on the bike. It was fun.

Before the race, they write your race number on your biceps in permanent marker and they write your age on your calf. So as you’re biking, you can see how old everyone is as you catch up to them. I tell you, I passed so many of those 50 year-old bastards. A few times, I shouted, “How did it feel to pass me on the swim, huh? Did you like that?” And then sometimes I’d add, “Bitch.” Unless the 50 year old was a woman, then I didn’t say “bitch” (except maybe once or twice).

I passed more people than I can count. I did nothing but pass people. Two times, the guy I passed tried to fight back and pass me again, but I shouted “turbo!” and passed him.

The transition to the run was pretty uneventful. One of the officials watched me change into my running shoes. “You don’t have one of those tabs in back to just pull it on and go, huh?” I was still a little cocky from the bike portion so I replied, “Yeah, you watch me go.” A minute later, after I had my shoes on, I added, “bitch.”

I was a little sluggish at first on the run. I felt detached. I was just kind of moving forward, unaware really of how fast I was running. The first quarter mile culminates in a pretty steep uphill climb, but at the top, you actually turn around and come back down the same hill. It was then, as I was running downhill, allowing gravity to propel me forward, that I began to feel better. And then, like the idiot I am, I thought, “well, might as well run this as fast as possible.”

After the first of three laps, as I was running up the initial hill again, I approached a small man who was walking. I looked the back of his calf and saw a menacing “50.” I leaned into the hill to pass him and shouted, “on your left,” but he started running. And actually, he was a bit faster than I was. He gained about 20 yards on me, and for the next lap and a half, he gave me something to chase.

I was catching him by inches, but then on the final lap, he stopped to drink some water. I was pretty tired at this point, so I only whispered “turbo!” before I flew right by him. He gave chase, and for the final half a lap, I could hear the beeping of his heart rate monitor. I didn’t dare look back, but I could hear the beeping. I wasn’t losing him as fast as I wanted. The beeping remained loud and clear behind me. It wouldn’t go away. It was like the tell-tale heart; it was driving me insane. When I rounded the final corner, though, I could see the finish line, so I sprinted toward it with everything I had left.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the results. It was a tiring feat, lasting two and a half hours. I was exhausted for the rest of the day. But the good news is I beat everyone over 50.

21 Jun

Tri Panic Part 1

So last week, I decided I better sign up for some triathlons. I figured it would be a really bad idea to have the Ironman be my first ever. So I perused the “events in my area” on the active.com website and came across three nearby, upcoming events. I signed up for all of them.

This was on Tuesday. After signing up, I realized I hadn’t really been swimming for a few months. I also figured out that the first triathlon was five days away.

Eileen had helped convince me to throw myself right into the fire. “You don’t have to win the things; you just need to get used to how they work and get some confidence.” She was right.

Still, the prospect was a bit intimidating. Thursday morning, I went to the new public pool to swim laps for an hour; and then on Friday, I put on the wetsuit and swam in my mom’s 65-degree pool for 25 minutes. The swims gave me enough confidence to know I’d at least survive the swim portion.

Come race day, however, that confidence momentarily left me soon after starting my first triathlon ever. The triathlon in question was in Verona, Wisconsin. Thirty minutes before my “wave” of the race took off, I saw the swim course for the first time. It was a little longer than I had envisioned.

The race director informed us that we’d be swimming three counter-clockwise, triangular laps. After each lap, we had to get out of the water, run around a tree on the beach, and enter the water again. As I stood around, awkwardly awaiting the start, I nervously asked the only guy I knew at the race, “so, we have to keep all the bouys to our left?”

When it finally came time to start, I felt pretty good. I took off strong, but a minute later, I was breathing once every stroke and not quite getting enough oxygen. I slowed down a little, but every time I put my face underwater and breathed out through my nose, I saw the murky water fiendishly concealing the bottom of the lake, and for a couple strokes, I was dizzy with the probability that I would drown soon.

27 May

Merry Tim-mas

On the first day of Tim-mas, my true love gave to me a memory foam pillow! She had ordered it online and it came yesterday. She couldn’t save her excitement for the next 11 days, so she revealed it yesterday, allowing me my first night of sleep on the glorious creation last night.

On the second day of Tim-mas, my true love gave to me a wetsuit! She poured lots of energy into a very effective search for an ebay wetsuit. She researched different brands, sizes, price ranges, etc. It just so happened that one of the best deals came through a few days ago, so we bought it, and it arrived today. I even got to christen it this afternoon in Lake Wingra. Open-water swimming is freaky. I kept thinking about how scary it would be to see a dead body or a huge shark-like fish in the murky green water underneath me, and then those thoughts would throw off my breathing and I’d take in a mouthful of water and I’d start to panic a little, so I’d stop and just float there (cuz you can do that in a wetsuit), and then I’d realize that I was 90 degrees off my original trajectory, so I finally gave up. But the wet suit is great, and hell, I’ve got to figure out how to swim 2.4 miles in open water come September.

But there are still 9 more days of Tim-mas (which culminates on June 5th), so I’m excited to see what the next week and a half brings.

24 Oct


This past Saturday, the third Saturday of October, is always the date of the Head of the Charles, a rowing race in Boston. I’ve gone to the Head of the Charles every year since 1992, with the exceptions of 1998, when I went out to Seattle, and last year, when I lived in Ecuador. Here’s the catalog:
1992: spare for Cornell
1993-1995: champ 8 in Wisco boats
1996: coach for Mendota
1997: coach and rower in champ 4 for Camp Randall
1999-2000: Camp Randall’s champ 4
2001-2003: champ single

I’ve determined that this past Saturday was the first time that I’ve ever been in Madison during the third Saturday of October. IN MY LIFE! This information is probably not very interesting to anyone but me, but I haven’t been posting consistently, and something is better than nothing.