Race #23 : Scenic City 5K

A Major Award!A few weeks before the Scenic City 5K, my mother taunted me, sending me info about the race and asking if I was gonna come to Chattanooga for it.

How could I turn that down?

So, yesterday, I ran my first race on the streets of the city in which I was raised.  And frankly, it was a great experience, aside from the weather.  It was a very, very cold 27 degrees at racetime.

The race was “out and back”, with Finley Stadium (home of the Mocs) serving as the home base.  The race both started and ended on the 50-yard line, which probably made this the first time I’ve ever been on a football field.

Frankly, the size of the field surprised me.  At one time, it both felt immense and tiny.  Football fields look so incredibly large on TV, but your brain says it’s just an optical illusion.  And your brain is right, but it’s still really, really large.

The course itself was pretty unremarkable, except that it was really flat, which is something that surprised me about a course in The ‘Noog.  With all the hills in Chattanooga, I fully expected the course should be hillier.  It wasn’t, and I was thankful.  I do wish it had been more picturesque.  Chattanooga has so much beauty to it, and having this race run through essentially an industrial area didn’t do it much justice.

However, every race should start and end on grass.  The feel of that field beneath my shoes was amazing, and so much easier on my feet and knees.  I could certainly get behind a full course run on close cropped grass!  Might be a good use for golf courses.

After the awards ceremony, I wandered around the site, and found someone handing out drinks.  I guzzled one while I walked, and heard someone say, “Hey, want a beer?”

The answer to that question is almost always “yes”.

I didn’t recognize (nor retain!) the name of the beer, but it was cold, dark and delicious.  I started to drink it, when another runner facetiously asked after getting his cup of beer, “Where’s the pizza?”

And that’s when the beer guy said, “It’s right over there.”

Yes, there was a table with about 40 Little Caesar’s pizzas!  Slices and beer.  Every race should end like that.

And that was really that.  It was a great race, I had a good finish, and I had pizza and beer.  What’s not to like?


A Problem with Running

I think I have a problem.

This weekend, I’m running in the Scenic City 5K, held in the city in which I was raised, Chattanooga TN.  I’ve planned out the gastrotourism places I wanna visit (Krystal, Ankar’s, Sofa King Juicy Burger), along with some time with my family, and you’d think that’d be enough planning for a quick trip to The Noog.

But, I think I have a problem.

See, I started poking around, looking for another 5K (with a medal — a kid’s gotta get paid!) in SE Tennessee or north Georgia, thinking I could run another 5K as long as I’m in the neighborhood, and then drive 450 miles home.  (Bupkis, btw.  There was nothing.)

Inspired, I did the same investigation for my Pi Day 5K race weekend in Columbus OH in two weeks.  Again, thinking I could catch another 5K while there, and drive 450 miles home.  (Nothing, btw.)

Not wanting to pass up an opportunity, I did the same thing again for our vacation getaway weekend in New Orleans LA, from where we leave for a cruise in six weeks.  After all, we’d be there a day early.  Surely, I could find a 5K on the Saturday morning we’re supposed to board the ship.  (Nothing.)

I also checked each of the islands we’ll visit along the way, to see if there was some kind of race I could hook into.  (Nothing.)

Yes, I think I have a problem.  I’d look for a seven-step program to help manage this, but I think I’d turn it into a race, and expect to have a medal at the end of the route.  :-)

Race #22 : SpeRUNking Sandmine Challenge

SpeRUNking Sandmine Challenge
SpeRUNking Sandmine Challenge

I’ve never raced in a novelty race.  No paint.  No glowing.  And no obstacles.

Until yesterday.

Somewhere recently, I’d heard about this race.  An old mine with temperate conditions in the dead of winter.  I looked at some of the race coverage out there, and found the CNN had called it one of the ten ultimate US adventures, right up there with the Iditarod, climbing El Capitan, riding the “vomit comet”  or accomplishing the Triple Crown of Hiking.  That certainly had some appeal.

But… the obstacles!

I exchanged Facebook messages with someone close to race, trying to understand if it was friendly to walkers (it was), and what the time to complete the course would be for a walker (two hours or less).  I was sold, and signed up.

But… the obstacles!

I’d been both excited and apprehensive as the race approached.  We had awful weather the night before the race, and I thought that might keep me away from the site (about an hour away).  But, the weather held out, and I made the trek to Crystal City MO, and Crystal City Underground.

After a really icy approach to the mine, I walked into the maw of this enormous abandoned sand mine, and was struck by the size of the place.  The ceilings were dozens of feet tall, with a great room that is used for parties and events… when there’s not a race going on.

With the weather, I’d left the site really early, but with the decent roads, I arrived about two hours ahead of my starting wave.  So I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  And soon enough, it was time to swallow my fear, turn on my headlamp, and head into the mine.

I’m glad I had the headlamp (which was highly recommended by the organizers).  Almost as soon as we left the start line, the lighting was gone, and the only illumination was what I was carrying with me.

And after the darkness, came the water.

I hit the water, taking big, careful steps, and little by little, the water was deeper and deeper, eventually gaining about three feet of depth.  And even with my headlamp, I couldn’t see the end of it.  I waded and waded, and eventually started climbing up and out of the underground lake.  Little did I know that I’d just begun to climb.

The next obstacle was a dark hill of solid sand.  This hill was almost six feet tall, nearly vertical, and with no steps or hand holds.  You had to run … fast … and let your momentum carry you up the hill.  My first attempt had me landing right on my knees.  My second attempt had me almost get up the hill.  After that, I heard someone behind me tell me that they’d cup my feet in their hands to help me up.

And that was really the way the race went.  At every obstacle, and all throughout the course, the course stewards and participants were encouraging everyone, cheering them on.  And occasionally, someone would lend a hand to help you through something.

Two more significant water crossings, an ascent and descent on an A-frame about ten feet tall built from 2×4’s, balance beams, a tire course, another six foot leap atop a stage platform and a floor made entirely of loose sand… that’s what this race entailed.  If I’d heard about all that, I likely wouldn’t have signed up.

But I did, and I finished.

In fact, I finished with a time right in line with a “regular” 5K.  Given the delays on the obstacles, and the challenging landscape, I fully expected to finish somewhere between ninety minutes and two hours.  To finish under an hour was truly stunning.

So I’ve added another race completion, another medal, and the first of six back-to-back races taking me to the end of March, with travels to both Chattanooga TN and Columbus OH to come.  It’s a good start to this year’s races, and a real boost to my running confidence.

The Aperture Is Closing

TrashingApertureMacRumors updated their sub-site for OS X Yosemite to include info about the new Photos app, which appears destined to launch with the next drop of Yosemite.  I’d guess that’ll be in March or April.

Frankly, it’s the time I dreaded.

The news about Photos isn’t good, at least not for me.  Aperture has essentially been deprecated (although it still runs, and likely will for a while), but the ecosystem that keeps it functional will no longer be developed.  No more versions of Aperture are to come, which is very sad.

Several years ago, I was a Lightroom junkie, and loved the product.  However, it didn’t handle geodata very well.  While that’s not the most important thing in the world, it’s pretty dang nice.  And for files that couldn’t take metadata natively (like RAW files), it was necessary to generate sidecar files to carry that info so you could see it from the OS.  That’s all well and good inside the application, but from the OS, it was awful.  When I’d do a Spotlight search for some piece of metadata in my images, I’d get a ton of sidecar files as search results, rather than the actual images.  This meant that I couldn’t see thumbnails for these images in Finder’s display of the results, so I had no idea if the images pointed to by the sidecar files were of Elvis, space aliens or Santa Claus.

And that’s when I made the switch to Aperture.

It wasn’t easy, but I was careful about my exports from Lightroom,  preserving my directory structure that I’d been carrying since 2002, and I got everything into Aperture.  I’ve been way happy with it, and its integration into the Mac OS.  However, with Yosemite, the announcement was made that Apple would have a new application called Photos, and with that, the speculation about what that meant for Aperture (and iPhoto) began.

When that writing hit the wall,  it was obvious that Aperture was going to be shuttered, and with that, there was a huge clatter of noise from pro photographers about moving to Lightroom.  Even Apple said that was the right destination for professional photographers.  And based on what I read on MacRumors today, I’d have to agree.

Photos will not allow plugins, which is a cornerstone for photo editing in most photography applications.  I use Nik, OnOne and other filters in editing my images, and giving up that kind of control and capability within the application is a pretty tough pill to swallow.

And based on what I gather, Photos wants to own the location of my images, meaning that my carefully manicured old-fashioned file folder-based system of filing my images would no longer be supported.  Aperture was happy to deal with that via referenced images, and that was perfect for me.  Call me a control freak, but knowing where things are lets me sleep better at night.

I suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg, however.  I’m betting that if you like iPhoto, this’ll feel like a big ol’ improvement.  For those of us that loved Aperture, this is a big step backward.

So, Lightroom, here I come.  Have the things that drove me to Aperture been fixed?  Can I get all the nuggets of metadata out of Aperture, and into Lightroom?  Well, that remains to be seen.  Adobe has some basic instructions for how to make that migration, and is promising a tool that will make that much more automated.  While I’ve got Lightroom 5 installed, I’m waiting for the tools to catch up to the reality of actually cutting over to Lightroom from Aperture.

For now, I’ll just hide and watch, eagerly awaiting the time to actually make the cutover to Adobe’s Lightroom, and turn out the lights on Aperture for a final time.



Clickety-Clack Goes the Keyboard

Some of the best keyboards I ever used were the old IBM Model M keyboards.  I used ‘em on old IBM PC’s, PC clones and IBM terminals.  They were great, mechanical beasts, weighing a few pounds, and having a very distinct “clicky” sound and feel when you typed.  And they have a huge fanbase, despite it being so long since they were last produced by IBM.  (Take a look at ClickyKeyboards for some real cool “keyboard porn” about this keyboard from the 1980’s.)

When I moved over to the Mac about a dozen years ago, I found the keyboards to be a little squishy, but they were the “right” keyboards for my new Apple existence.  I’ve lived with those for a long time.

Until today.

I got an email from Other World Computing (OWC).  These guys are just about the best Mac aftermarket dealers out there, with all kinds of things to enhance the Mac life.  I get their emails frequently, usually full of hard drive and memory deals.  This week, however, they mentioned the Matias Tactile Pro 4.0 keyboard.

Intrigued by their advert, I started looking into this keyboard, and found a boatload of other folks who lamented losing the clicky, mechanical feel of the old IBM Model M keyboards and had switched to the Matias Tactile Pro.  Folks talked about the sound, feel and speed of these keyboards, especially for folks that have a “heavy” typing style like I do.

I was so intrigued that I ordered one yesterday, and found it on the doorstep today.

This thing is awesome.  It’s heavy — about three pounds, I’d guess — and utilizes ALPS keyboard switches for every key.  They sound and feel so much like the old IBM keyboard, and man, can I fly on the keys.  This is a keyboard I can fall in love with.

Now, there’s probably some downsides for some folks:

  • It’s a cabled keyboard — not wireless — but the cable is a six-footer, which is crazy long, and harkens back to the old IBM keyboards.
  • It is noisy — I like that, but it may not be for everyone.
  • To me, the keys seem visually off-center as compared to the footprint of the keyboard.  I’m slowly getting used to that, but it’s just a little weird.
  • It’s a little spendy.  Through OWC, it was about $130.

There’s also a some plusses:

  • Each key has extra notation for some of the other characters that can be generated.  For example. the “2” key has the “2” and “@” as expected, but also shows the “™” and “€” symbols, which are created by using the Option key.  Pretty dang cool!
  • Of course, one of the things you’d be concerned about is all that notation going away over time.  I think this is less likely to happen than with a printed keyboard, because Matias laser etches the keycaps, which oughta give them a ton of life.
  • There are three USB 2.0 ports, well-distributed around the keyboard — one on each side, and on on the back of the keyboard. You can’t charge an iPad with those, but an iPhone, memory stick or Garmin USB ANT stick should work just fine.

So, why a new keyboard?  You buy a Mac, you get a keyboard, so what’s all the fuss?

Well, when you sit in front of a screen all day like I do, having a comfortable workspace is key.  You want the chair to be comfy, the desk to be spacious and useful, and the lighting to be good.  Why wouldn’t you want your fingers to have the same level of comfort and functionality as the rest of your home office experience?  For me, it was an easy spend to give me a even better experience with my Mac, and so far, it’s been well worth it.

Well done, Matias!

Shared History

Challenger Memorial at Arlington
Challenger Memorial at Arlington

Twenty-nine years ago today, the space shuttle Challenger was destroyed in a horrific explosion just a minute into their mission.  And I have almost no knowledge or memory of what happened after that.

You see, that was the day I joined the US Air Force.

I was in Knoxville TN, at the MEPS station, awaiting time to ship out to San Antonio TX and six weeks of basic military training.  I watched the launch, and stepped away to the restroom, returning to the news that Challenger had been destroyed.

A few hours later, I was on a plane to Lackland AFB, and for six weeks, I heard no news about Challenger.

During my basic training, there was flow of news, and that was by design.  We were supposed to focus on becoming members of America’s fighting machine.  And we did.

In those weeks of isolation, rumors ran rampant among those of us learning to march, shoot and obey orders.  The story we heard the most:  The Russians.  They destroyed Challenger.

I can remember one afternoon when we were in the dorms, and heard the base air raid sirens go off.  We began putting mattresses in the windows (as we were instructed to do), until the all clear was sounded.  With the heightened rumors about the potential Russian influence, we definitely took the sirens seriously.

Every now and then, we’d find an instructor who would tell us some news of the investigation, which helped squelch the rumors for a while, before they spun up again.  It seemed the lack of information was a breeding ground for misinformation.

And now, almost three decades later, I still hear things about the mission and investigation that I’ve never heard before.  It’s as though I was in a coma during much of the first quarter of 1986, and occasionally, it’s all new to me.

Today, I won’t get on my soapbox about our country’s seeming lack of dedication to space exploration, and the benefits we’ve garnered from that.  I won’t pontificate on my view that we may need a way to escape this planet someday, and might find ourselves with no way out due to shortsightedness.

It’s all about the Challenger astronauts today, and the memory of those souls taken home far too early.

More Racing

Pi Day 5K Medal
Pi Day 5K Medal

It’s been said that I can be a little obsessive.  I think there’s a body of evidence to support that view, and I’d be pretty silly to try to refute it.  :-)

I’ve spent some time over the last few months looking for medal-bearing 5k races to fill out my running calendar for this year.  I’d already registered for a few races here and there, generally some of the ones I ran last year.  However, I wanted to find some other races this year, maybe even in different places.

So over the weekend, I signed up for two fun-sounding races.

The first is the Pi Day 5K in Columbus OH.  This one takes place on March 14th, and the race begins at 9:26:53 AM … 3.141592653.  Get it?  Add to that a pretty cool medal, and I’m in!  I’ve never been to Columbus, so it’ll be interesting to see what’s there.

The other race is in December, and I simply had to sign up for this one.  For the third year, Cleveland OH is hosting the Christmas Story Run 5K.  The cool thing about this one is the leg lamp themed medal.  And, of course, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is there, so I’ll definitely be spending some extra time wandering around there.

The last race I’m watching for is on/around October 21.  You see, Marty McFly visited the future on October 21, 2015, and I’ve gotta figure someone will have a race to commemorate that!

Return to the Streets

Today, I returned to the streets.  I took a long walk for the first time since my injury around New Year’s Day.  The good news is that I had no issues with pain in my foot.  The downside… a little bit of swelling in my foot, and some shin splints on the right side.  Not a biggie, and nothing that hasn’t happened before.  On balance, I’d say this was successful!

I also used my Under Armour “sport” underwear for the first time. I’ve had some real problems with chafing and heat rashes in a “cheeky” location during longer walks/runs. Supposedly, these things could help that with some wicking technology to pull the moisture away from my backside. My walk today bore that out. I was way overdressed for the 50 degree day, so I was sweating like crazy. If that’s not gonna set off a bunch of pain in the backside, I don’t know what will.

So, hooray! It looks like I’m back on the road/trail again. We’ll see where it leads me!

Drink Your Edible Bourbon

Coffee from Jamaica and sugar from Kentucky
Coffee from Jamaica and sugar from Kentucky

I’m a fan of coffee.  I can remember watching my grandmother doctor her coffee when I was a tyke — loads of sugar and cream added until it turned a nice shade of tan.  Likewise, my father would float an ice cube in a spoon so he wouldn’t have to wait for his steaming cup to cool for drinking.  Coffee runs in my blood.

A few years ago, I started favoring raw sugar over white refined sugar for my hot drinks.  I don’t know that I could ever get raw sugar to dissolve in milk, but in coffee and tea, it’s a thing of wonderful bliss.  Raw sugar adds a little hint of molasses to the brew, and incrementally improves my coffee experience just a bit.

About two weeks ago, Becky and I were playing hooky from work, and were wandering around in Maplewood.  This area has really gone through a revival, and is now full of eclectic little shops and eateries. We wandered into one little shop, and I saw something I’d never heard of … bourbon smoked sugar.

Bourbon Barrel Foods in Louisville KY (whose catchphrase, Eat Your Bourbon, is awesome!) produces this magical sugar (along with many other bourbon-related items; more on that later).   From what I gather, they take raw sugar, and smoke it with bourbon barrel staves, which produces a really complex set of flavors.  When you open the container, you really smell the smoke, and I wondered if it was just gonna smoke up my coffee.

At that first sniff, I was reminded of a batch of chocolate chip cookies Darla made on the Big Green Egg once.  She makes just about the best chocolate chip cookies around, and I thought doing them on the Egg would be a great enhancement.  Yes, they were edible, but the smoke really overwhelmed the flavors.  Would this happen to my coffee?

I dropped a small spoonful of this sugar in my cup, poured my Jamaican coffee overtop, stirred, and raised it to my lips…

It was poetry!

Something about the combination of the strong, almost harsh flavor of the Jamaican beans ground in my favorite Cuisinart coffee maker (six years old now!) and the smoky bourbon flavor of this sugar makes for a great combination.  I’ve done this a few times, and have been able to repeat my results … no cream needed!

I decided to try it with my favorite tea — Bigelow Decaf Constant Comment — and didn’t have quite the same magical results.  To me, the bourbon sugar wasn’t quite as sweet as regular ol’ Sugar in the Raw in my tea.  It wasn’t bad, it just didn’t have the same magic that I found in my coffee.

I also tried this with K-cups in my Keurig.  Again, the magic just wasn’t there.  Now, I know there are loads of K-cups out there — even Jamaican coffee — so there could be some trial and error to get the right combination of flavors to make this work well.  Straight up Jamaican coffee beans really seemed to pair well with this smoky pixie dust, and so far is the best thing I’ve found to go with it.

The only downside that I’ve found is that this stuff is pricey.  A ten ounce tin ran me $15 locally (it’s $11/tin directly from Bourbon Barrel Foods), so I’m using it kinda sparingly to make it last.  As a comparison, that’s about $18/pound direct from the source, while Sugar in the Raw is about $4 for a two pound box.

Bourbon Barrel Foods make other bourbon smoked products:  sea salt, vanilla sugar, pepper, paprika… they even sport soy sauce that shares a bourbon-influenced lineage.  These are really unique items, but none of ‘em are cheap.  I’m kinda hoping the prices drop on their product line, as I could really see getting into using them with some regularity were it not for the cost.

In short, two sugary, smoky thumbs up — this stuff is very tasty in my coffee!


A Byte of the AAPL

It’s no secret that I’m a big ol’ Apple nerd, and have been for almost ten years,  Becky knows that, too.

The day before my birthday, I was upstairs having lunch when the phone rang.  The caller ID showed it was from Charles Schwab.  Now, us and Chuckie have no relationship, and I love playing with scammers on the phone, so I picked it up.

A very articulate American-sounding gentlemen identified himself, and asked for “Rebecca.”  She was at work, and I offered to take a message.  He indicated he was calling about setting up her new account.  New account?  I took his info, and called Beck.

She thought it could be a scammer, or a friend of ours turning us in for a cold sales call.  She was gonna check it out, and call me back.  While she was doing that, I started looking up the number from the caller ID on the ‘Net.  Sure enough, the displayed number was the real customer service number for Schwab.  Hmmm…

Not long after that, I got a call from Becky.  She was standing in the Schwab office in the Valley, and thought she should call.  As it ends up, she had indeed opened an account, and was concerned that I was gonna be all freaked out that we’d been hacked.  She opened the account (and funded it) so I could buy a share of Apple for my birthday.

So now, I’m not just a fanboy, I’m a shareholder.

can·a·peel (noun) ˈkan-ə-pēl – A meal with a lot of variety, where each participant finds and cooks their own food.