Sunday, August 31, 2008

My Latest Guilty Pleasure - Burn Notice

Last fall I found myself in a hotel room in San Jose, CA on a Saturday morning with time to kill before I need to go to the Airport. I was originally planning on going down to the Hellyer Velodrome to take a beginners class but it did not workout because of a scheduling error.

In my free time I ended up channel surfing and I came across this show on USA Network called Burn Notice. I cannot say that I was hooked because I never watched another show until recently. I guess that was because I never knew when it was on (the website says that it is broadcast on Thursday evenings at 10 PM but when I check the USA Network master schedule there is something else on during this time). However, thanks to the internet I can watch all of the shows that I have previously missed. Since I have some free time I did just that last week.

Burn Notice centers around a spy by the name of Michael Weston who is fired (Burned) in the middle of an operation in Nigeria. He makes it back to his home town of Miami and reconnects with some of his old friends including an ex Girlfriend, a former partner, his brother and his mother. While trying to find out why he has been burned he spends his time helping out various people.

Since Mr. Weston is not allowed to leave Miami all the the action takes place in the South Beach area. This gives all of the scenes a great back drop. Miami is sort of a corrupt paradise that gives the show an edginess. The plots are not always believable and the situations can often be resolved much easier than they usually are. However, interaction between the main characters and the action scenes make up for any shortcomings in the plots. As I said in the title this is a guilty pleasure.

The screen on my computer is kind of small so I am looking forward to watch another episode on a real TV. However, I saved myself $39 by not buying the season 1 DVD set.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Tropic Thunder

My daughter and I went to see Ben Stiller's Tropic Thunder this week. This is the funniest movie that I have seen in a long time. Everything is completely over the top. Since it was a Ben Stiller movie I originally assumed that it was a PG rated movie but I quickly realized that it was an R rated movie.

I do not want to give away any of movie so I am not going to say more than if you are looking for a good laugh this is the movie to see.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Generation Kill - HBO Mini Series

Evan Wright was a Rolling Stone report that was embedded in the Marines 1st Recon Division in the early days of the Iraq Invasion II. He wrote several stories that were published in Rolling Stone Magazine and then wrote a book that was was a super set of the detail contained in the original articles.

HBO recently completed the showing of a mini-series based on the book. I was actually thinking of cancelling my HBO subscription but I was interested in watching this series. I have watched every episode but I may have to go back and watch them again because it is heard to tell who is who. All the characters look the same dressed in their battle gear and took me almost till episode 7 to determine who was who. The scenes in the Humvee are easy to watch since each character is always in the same seat. The characters that come in and out of the story can be confusing.

As is often the case I have been inspired to read the book. Since I am currently unemployed I also have some free time for reading as well. While I have not finished the book I have been impressed with how close the mini series is to the book. This is not usually the case. One of most notable examples is Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff.

Not every moment of the invasion is captured in the series. Scenes move forward faster than real-time and the highlights are capture with some character development sequences. Generation Kill is definitely not Band of Brothers. In the beginning the soldiers seem more like a heavily armed gang rather than a highly trained group of elite marines. With a few notable exceptions the Officers seem to be incompetent and even the ones that aren't have their moments.

As the show progresses things seem to change. The Marines start to show there training but the realities of fighting a war in a heavily populated area where the enemy has blended in with civilian population well illustrated.

Episode 7 ties everything together. The strategies and some of the thinking that went into the units actions are explained. I was left wanting to know more about the various characters and decided to buy the book.

The Marine concept of going with what you have rather than everything you need is a concept I have probably used for most of my career. This has been especially true in my role as a consultant project manager. Most projects are under scoped for several reasons. The right resources are often not available and the project budget dictates that the time available to complete the project is much shorter than necessary. While a hiring manager might wait until the perfect person materializes before making a final hiring decision a project manager seldom has that ability. The PM needs to get as close as possible and do what needs to be done in order to create the resource that is needed to successfully deliver a completed. My new mantra is "I am going with what I have."

Monday, August 25, 2008

General thoughts on the Olympics and life

I have not posted since last week when I rode with two different groups on the weekend. It is not there has not been much going on. In fact it has been just the opposite.

I found out on Monday that I need to find a new job. I actually knew it was coming on Friday afternoon so I got the whole weekend to worry about it. Not having a job should free up some time for riding but just the opposite has happened. Looking for work is even more time consuming that actually having a job.

The original goal was to have a job lined up by the end of the week. In reality I probably set my expectations a little to high. The right expectation should have been to have at least one interview by the end of the week. I actually ended up with three. So if I had set the right goal I would have surpassed expectations. It will be interesting to see if they translate in to actual offers.

I watched Michael Phelps get his 8 gold medals. I think I watched every final as well as many of the heats. I also watched many of the other races as well. I only get into swimming during the Olympics but I always come away impressed. I think that I can see how hard it is. The preparation and luck required to win 8 golds in swimming made it an amazing feat.

NBC sandwiched swimming in with Beach Volleyball so I ended up watching a lot of that. I only watched one basketball game which was USA vs. China. I was hoping that China would keep the game close and in the 1st half they did. USA pulled away in the second half and it was not much of a game.

I found myself watching the gymnastics with the same sense of awe that I get from watching the X Games. I am amazed that they can do the routines without killing themselves. I was thinking about how they went about learning to do the exercises. There must be a lot of pain involved. Probably why they all start when when they are young. Kids just seem to bounce. I did get tired of the age controversy. It does not matter 13 or 16 or 18. They still won and to get a gold metal on technicality would be a disappointment. Once the decision was made to let them compete it was a moot point.

As expected the coverage of cycling and weight lifting was minimal. I saw no weight lifting and very little cycling. I was really hoping to see some of the track racing especially the sprints. I did not get to watch a single race. Since US Cycling was not expected to medal I guess that NBC decided not to spend much time on it.

NBC's Olympic coverage was interesting. Other than the early morning events that were broadcast live in US during the evening most of the events were on tape replay. Even if I did not know who won I knew that the US competitors had to have medaled since it was being broadcast. This was the case of the Men's Volleyball final. It looked like Brazil was going to tie things up but I figured that the USA would come back because the closing ceremony was scheduled for the next hour and there would not be enough time to play another match. Sure enough the US came from behind and won.

I can kind of understand the reasoning behind the coverage decisions. In the sports I know I can watch the competitors from other countries. However, in the sports I do not really know such as rowing, boxing or even volleyball I only watch the events that the US teams are competing in. I imagine that most feel the same way.

I was going to watch the closing ceremony to see Jimmy Page play in London. However, the events leading up to Mr. Page bored me and I ended up watching the last episode of Generation Kill. Maybe I can find the video on the Internet.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Two Weekend Group Rides

I did not feel like riding by myself this weekend so on Friday evening I decided that I was going to get up in time to make the Saturday and Sunday group rides. On Saturday I rode the pickup ride out of Dorbrook Park in Colts Neck. On Sunday I rode the Allenwood School ride that is organized by the Atlantic Bicycle Club.

Both rides cover a lot of the same roads. The Dorbrook ride heads south and the Allenwood ride heads north so there was a lot of overlapping scenery between the two rides. I am not that familiar with the roads but I do occasionally recognise an road that I have drove my car along.

We had some nasty storms roll through on Thursday and Friday. It was worse in North Jersey but the end result was it made for some good riding weather over the weekend. I rode from my house to the start of the Dorbrook Park ride. The fog was heavy and the roads were damp. My brakes were kind of soggy for the start of the group ride. The fog stayed with us for the first hour of the ride but you could tell we were in for a treat once it burned off.

The pictures above contrast how the day went weatherwise.

The Dorbrook ride is usually about 50 to 60 miles. Since I ride to the start I usually end up with 7o plus miles. At the finish my computer said that I had completed 72 miles. It was a good ride and I am getting the sense of how to ride with a group. I think the real skill is in dealing with the multiple personalities that show up for the rides. I generally try to let the comments roll off me. I find it is better just to keep my mouth shut rather than respond negatively.

I have never rode with the Allenwood group although many of the riders also ride the Holmdel and Dorbrook Park rides. In fact I heard one of the other riders describe me as one of the Dorbrook folks. It is always nice to belong.

Before the start of the ride two of the riders who know me took me aside and give me the lay of the land. They told me not to go out too hard and to stay at the back of the pack so that I did not risk the rath of the other regulars. I kind of took it as a compliment since I do have the tendency to go out hard. However, I am learning my lesson and I have embraced the concept of conserving energy.

Both the Dorbrook and Allenwood rides stopped at the same store to fill water bottles. A couple of guys on Honda Sports Motorcyles pulled in and it turned out that everyone was all friends. The picture above shows the all the different bikers coming together.

At first I had a hard time with the concept of stopping in the middle of the ride. However, I am embracing this concept as well. I stayed with the A group (the A- riders turned off and got to the store quicker) and got involved with a group of riders that moved along at a good clip. I ended up dropping off during a series of technical turns that were a little too slipper for me to negotiate at 30 MPH. Another rider was back with me. We were going to make an attempt to catch up but then we ended up riding groupetto.

The Allenwood ride requires me to drive to the start. A concept that I am not that thrilled with but I definitely see the advantage of riding with a group. If I can get out of bed early enough next weekend I am going to try and make both rides. I may even have to join the Atlantic Bicycle Club

Total miles for the weekend was 72 on Saturday and 57 on Sunday. I think this is my upper limit. Monday is going to be a rest (gym) day.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Olympics

"The Olympics combine the two things Americans hate most. Foreigners and going to the gym." - Stephen Colbert - The Colbert Report

For some reason I find myself paying attention to competive swimming every four years. I turns out that 2008 is one of those years. I have not been able to watch too much of the cycling but I think I got my fill during the Tour de France so it is OK. I have been able to watch lots of gymnastics, beach volleyball and yes swimming. Usually I watch the games until I fall asleep on the couch. I usually wake up as Michael Phelps gets yet another gold.

I find it hard to watch gymnastics for a couple of reasons but mostly because the ESPN X Games were only last week and I saw the same things being done on motorcycles, skateboards and BMX bikes. The Beach Volley Ball has its moments but it does not seem like an Olympic Sport. The players seem to be having too much fun. No overbearing coaches on the side lines.

However, I do find myself drawn to the swimming. I think I just enjoy racing no matter what it is. The attractiviness is probably the simplicity. The first one to cross the finish line wins. No judges scores and minimal rules. I am also amazed at how fast the swimmers are. I am winded when I swim one length of my pool at my own pace. I cannot imagine multiple laps against the fastest in the world.

There has been so much coverage on the Speedo Swimsuits that are being used this year. I checked out the Speedo website and the general public can purchase these suits for $550 a piece. There is not much difference between the men's and women's suits. It is amazing that technology has improved but Janet Evans 800m Freestyle record is still standing.

As I was writing this post Michael Phelps won his 6th Gold Medal. They are debating on whether Mr. Phelps is the best athelete ever on the afternoon sports shows. I have voted for Tiger Woods but I guess the case could be made for the swimmer. It is probably a moot arguement.

Friday, August 1, 2008

2008 Specialized Tarmac Comp Review

I now have over 1000 miles on my Specialized Tarmac Comp that I purchased at the end of May. I have had the bike long enough now to develop an opinion. Just in time for the 2009 models to come out.

Unlike the 2007 Langster Single Speed that I purchased last year many of the miles on the Tarmac have been done in a group setting. I have been riding in A/A+ pace rides on Tuesday and Thursdays. I have caught a couple of A+ rides on the weekends as well. I only rode one group ride with the Langster last year and it was a B ride.

Switching from the Langster to the Tarmac was not as easy as I expected. With the Langster I only had one gear so any change in terrain or speed was accomplished by getting out of the saddle and pushing my legs. After 4000 miles on the Langster I developed a technique that just did not transfer over to the full road bike.

The first problem I encountered on the Tarmac was when I shifted up to climb a hill I was losing the group. I was kind of perplexed since I could usually stay with the group on the Langster. I eventually decided that the problem was the 11 - 28T SRAM cassette. I quickly installed an 11 - 23 T Shimano Ultegra Cassette and the problem is solved. Most of the other riders in the group have 25 or 27 T cogs in the back. The 23 requires a little bit of suffering on some of the steeper climbs but I was used to it from riding the Tarmac so no worries.

The ride on the Tarmac is a little rougher than I expected. I have rattled my teeth a couple of times. The carbon frame of the Tarmac Comp is an improvement over the aluminum framed Langster on rough roads. The next model up in the Tarmac line is the Expert and it is the same frame with an upgraded carbon material. It might be worth investing the extra $600 (the cost of the Langster in 2007) and go with the Expert. The real issue is that the bikes are hard to find in the configuration and sizes that you want. I got the Tarmac Comp because it was in stock at the Peddler in the frame size (52) that I wanted.

The Tarmac handles much better than the Langster. Especially at downhill at high speeds. The Langster was kind of shaky around 30 MPH. I have been close to 40 MPH on the Tarmac and while the speed was kind of unsettling the bike remained firm.

I have changed out the stock Specialized Mondo tires for some Continental Grand Prix 4000s. I was thinking of swapping the tires before I even picked the bike up but I wanted to give the Mondos a chance and make the most of my investment. However, I found the tires to be a little soft and after about 900 miles I decided it was time for them to go. The Grand Prix 4000s are a big improvement. The make the ride a little stiffer which could explain some of the recent teeth rattling.

I still do not have the shifting working to my satisfaction. In the beginning it took a couple of trips back to the Peddler to get it adjusted (expected but a little annoying). I still have some problems that I need to get worked out. Of the 20 gears I have on the bike I can only use 19 of them. I cannot use the 11 cog when I am on the small front ring. Also I cannot jump from the big front ring when I am on the 23 cog without popping the chain. I am learning to work around this. I have been told that this is common with carbon frame bikes. I think I need to learn how to do my own work on the bikes.

I have mixed feelings about the color. It is been pointed out to me that it is the colors of the NY Mets and Team Rabobank. At first I did not like the color but it started to grow on me. At this point I am going to have with it for the next couple of years. I am going to have to break the cycle of buying a new bike each year. I have been told that I need to replace the white bar tape with black tape. I am inclined to agree but I have had others tell me that they like the white tape. "Do these handlebars make me look fat?" I probably will replace the tape the next time I go to the bike shop.

Overall I am pleased with the bike. I spent a couple of days playing with the fit. I never really got it match the fit that I had on the Langster. Eventually I just decided to get it close and adjust my style. I am now comfortable on it but I do think a professional fitting might be in order.

About the only negative that I have is that I have not rode the Langster in sometime. I had a feeling that might happen. The big minus on the Langster is the lack of quick release hubs. Every time I think I about riding it see the wrench that I need to carry when riding the Langster and I change my mind and reach for the Tarmac. I have been thinking of selling it. I may set it up as a track bike by removing the brakes and flipping the hub over to fixie.