Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween Pumpkins 2010

It's that time again! The 2010 pumpkins have been carved and the awards have been awarded.

Molly chose to go with the puking pumpkin... classic!

Molly's boyfriend "Dr. Dave" went with a Coyote.
Dave gets a point for "free-handing" his pumpkin.
He gets an additional point for carving his "power animal".
Unfortunately Dave lost a few points for attempting to carve out the Coyote before cutting open the pumpkin and scooping out the insides (can you say pumpkin malpractice?)

Meghan is really hitting her stride after the original pumpkin incident of 2007. Here's her Bat.

Matt went with a Twilight theme...

And last but not least - after all the votes were tallied - I was honored to win the 2010 Pumpkin Challenge. While some were a bit groggy as they had to wait almost 3 hours for my pumpkin creation to be compete - taking home the blue ribbon and cash prize made it all worth it. Here it is before and after lighting.

I don't do it for the accolades - but when you're good you're good. Afterward Matt came up to me and said while he has done some pretty good pumpkins in the past - he had to admit that my pumpkin dominated the competition this year. Thanks Matt!

You can review previous years Pumpkins here:
2009 edition
2008 edition
2007 edition

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Musical Memories - The Opera

Just because even after 12 years I think my own writing is funny - and I am the author and editor of this blog - I am posting my Sophomore year report on the New York City Opera's performance of Daughter of the Regiment. This was inspired by my last blog on Hilary Hahn.

Now before you read this - you must know that in real life I had seen an Opera before this 1998 paper (we saw Phantom in Toronto), however since classes outside of my Chemical Engineering Major often didn't get too much of my attention - I developed techniques for these "Gen-Eds". If you are taking a class about performance art - pretend you have never seen such a thing before and that the teacher has just opened up a new world for you (then they feel like they are doing their job). That's how you get an "A" in a class you spend almost no time on.

Without further adieu...
New York City Opera: The Daughter of the Regiment

For lively arts this semester I have seen the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and the play Marisol. So after a concert and a play I knew the next thing I would have to see would be an opera. Why not, after a little music, a stage show its about time I saw a singing production. Of course it was to my complete surprise that the New York City Opera was more than just singing, it was practically a concert, a play and tremendous singing all rolled up into one with a little comedy on the side.

The opera began with a sunrise over a small village. There was nobody on stage and only the orchestra to entertain us. It would be difficult not to notice the orchestra because they played for what seemed like an hour but was probably only 10 minutes without anyone taking the stage. My first thought was, “Where’s the Opera?” but the orchestra was actually very good and made the time quite pleasant. Unlike the symphony orchestra though, this orchestra was not the center of attention, and in fact I couldn’t even tell you how large it was for I could not see them. Regardless I was impressed not only with their music but with the way it enhanced the action on stage. I imagined them playing music like you would hear for Tom and Jerry or Mickey Mouse cartoons, it was music for theater not music for listening. The orchestra did a great job and made the opera much more enjoyable than I thought an opera would be.

The opera involved a lot more acting then I imagined an opera would. I mean it was by no means a play, but I guess I thought an opera was a couple of people standing around singing to one another. Of course this was not true. There were often times a huge cast of stage at once acting, running around and singing together. Some of the best scenes involved the entire regiment singing together acting out either a dinner scene or the like. I also had the stereotype that the performers would be in outlandish costumes with spears and helmets with horns. This stereotype, of course, was also not true. The costumes were actually quite normal for a play. I didn’t find them distracting in the least unlike the Viking outfits I had imagined would be used. The opera also had a plot or story and was easy to follow. I imagined people standing around telling a story about what had happened to one another in series after series of monologues. In the daughter of the regiment, the performers interacted and we saw the story take place right before us. My eyes were definitely opened to what an opera really is and how similar it is to a play.

An opera wouldn’t be an opera without singing, and the singing was great. It took some time to get used to how they sang. The entire thing was in French, but I know a little French and that wasn’t the problem. Often times in the beginning I thought maybe they were just singing nonsense words at times. Later when I got used to how they sang I could understand more of the French and follow it a lot better. I was interested to see that for those not fluent in French, and I by no means am one of those people, there was screen above the stage translating the basic idea of what they were saying. When I heard about this I thought it would be distracting, because I hate movies with subtitles. But because the opera involves so much singing I guess, not a lot is said at one time and I found it easy to follow along with the translation but not be distracted. I was still able to enjoy the stage performances and know what was going on.

Finally, the real shock, even more surprising than the fact that I enjoyed the opera, was the fact that it was funny. I never even put the words humor and opera in the same sentence before. This opera was really funny. From the dialogue to the stage jokes, like the sheets of music being thrown around, right down to the silly little houses that made everyone look like giants, the opera was laugh after laugh. I don’t know if this is typical in operas, but it definitely gave me a new vision of what an opera could be. It really is more entertainment than just some people standing around singing. The singing was great and the performers had impressive voices and dynamics, but the opera was a much more complete package of music, theater and humor.

I enjoyed the opera, and although I may still be reluctant to attend one over a baseball game, I now know that it is not only bearable to sit through, but very much enjoyable. There were so many different aspects to performance art that went into the opera that I had never thought of before until I saw the Daughter of the Regiment by the New York City Opera Company.

Re-reading this after ~12 years my favorite quote is "Where's the Opera?"

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Musical Memories - Hilary Hahn

In honor of Dale's concert this weekend - a violin story!

During my Sophomore year at UMass I took a "Gen-Ed" class to fulfill some of the breadth of learning requirements. The class this specific semester was called "The Lively Arts" which required the students to talk about all sorts of performing arts and their backgrounds as well as to attend many of the performances on campus and write some detailed report about the "Arts".

For class I attended (on campus for $5 each):
  • The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra
  • Gary Louie (Saxophonist)
  • Art Farmer (Trumpet)
  • The UMass Jazz band
  • The New York City Opera: The Daughter of the Regiment
  • Stomp
  • Tap Dogs
  • Twyla Tharp Dance Troupe
  • The Play: Marisol by a campus group
  • Cynthia Elbaum Art Exhibit (on War)
Why any of this popped to my mind was because I was browsing iTunes for some violin pieces when Hilary Hahn kept popping up. I recalled seeing her perform with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchesta at UMass when she was 17. She had been performing with major Orchestras since she was 12. I also remember attending the concert with my girlfriend at the time Katharine who was also in the class. I remember that she was surprisingly jealous when she read my paper on the Orchestra (but that is another story altogether). I don't think there is anything "juicy" in here - but it is fun to see what my honest opinion was when I first saw Hilary Hahn. It would be funny if I went and saw some art work by a now famous artist and wrote about how awful it was.

Here it is today the section of my paper on Hilary Hahn unedited from 12 years ago - any grammatical errors are likely due to the fact that it was a Gen-Ed and didn't command much attention - and the fact that I often don't care about such things.

A Night at the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra (2/11/98)
I was trying to find my seat in the concert hall, and if it wasn’t bad enough that I was on the even side with an odd numbered seat, the orchestra was tuning and warming up so their chaotic bedlam of sounds was adding to my frustration. But when I was finally settled I noticed the well dressed men in tuxedos and how uniform they looked. The women too were dressed well individually, but there seemed to be no uniform for women, so they were all wearing various black outfits. Two women had their purses hanging over their chairs, while several others sat on cushions and one man had a back rest strapped to his chair. But by the time the warming up was completed, these distractions were forgotten...
...The second piece, Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op. 19 was in great contrast to the symphonies. First of all, a young, gorgeous violin soloist in a well shaped dress and sparkly blouse came out on stage. She stood out not only in her beauty but in her contrasting age to everyone else in the orchestra. She was "only" 17, but her age has little meaning at this point because she has done and seen more as a musician in her 17 years than I can imagine. She stood in front of the orchestra, a sharp figure in the sea of sitting, motionless adults. She was amazing to watch. She swayed with the music, seemingly oblivious to anyone or anything around her, except for the occasional glance at the conductor. My mind was unable to wander like it had for the symphony, young violin soloist Hilary Hahn demanded my complete attention. She played at a feverish pace, passing melodies back and forth with the orchestra. She displayed her proficiency on the violin very well, utilizing plucking techniques as well as playing two notes at the same time. She stole the show and she knew it. After three or four ovations, she played an encore solo. As she announced the piece, her delicate little voice did not fit her masterful musical performance. She is the type of prodigy you almost feel sorry for because you know she is hated by all the competitive violinists in the orchestra who have dedicated years of their lives to the violin - only to sit there quietly behind the young star.
What can I say I call them as I see them. I'd pretty much forgotten about her since - it would be neat to think I saw Hilary Hahn before she became famous but I am pretty sure she was already a recording artist by then. The next year she was nominated for a Grammy: Best Instrumental Soloist Performance with Orchestra. It is funny now seeing her name all over the place on iTunes to say I saw her when...

Besides this is a little better story than my brush with Bud Bundy from Married with Children in an elevator in Vegas. (Side note I also rode in an elevator in the Vernon Manor with Nick Lachey when he was with the band 98 Degrees - "it's not that hot in here" was the joke of the evening).

Monday, October 18, 2010

Old Spice Ad Goes Political

Alaska senate candidate Joe Miller takes inspiration from the Old Spice guy in this ad. Pretty funny!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Fall Triathlon 2010 - The Results

The FALL 2010 Little Miami Triathlon on Sunday was a blast! And the conditions for the biking were the most challenging yet! While I didn't beat my fastest time from the spring - I had my highest percentile finish yet - which I wasn't that surprised by because I felt good the whole time and was able to work and push on the bike the whole time unlike previous triathlons. But more on the biking conditions later. You also may notice that this race won't have as many pictures as the others - and that's because at the end of the race it was just too darn cold!

This year we had 3 teams participate:
Casey (Cousin-in-law) and John (cousin-in-law's boyfriend) and were J.C. MCLOVEBOAT
Dave (brother) kayaked
Molly (Sister-in-law) and I were the HOT TOMOLLYS

Meanwhile Meghan (spouse), Karen (Dave's girlfriend) and Annie (mother-in-law) were there as the ATHLETIC SUPPORTERS.

Canoeing ~6mi [59 min, +5 min from last SPRING]
It was a bit cool the morning of race day. It was about 47 degrees and overcast with a high of ~53 degrees during the triathlon. Molly and I started out fast as usual but ran into a little bit of a traffic jam. In fact this year more than any others rogue canoe teams were up in our business more than before and we were slowed a bit because of that.

Also this year we came the closest ever to dumping our canoe in the river. We hit a huge log head on and I basically thought we were going in so I just tried to steady myself, but Molly smartly jumped to the bottom of the canoe and lowered our center of gravity and we surprisingly survived. We didn't see too many teams in the river early on but the end of the course this year was pretty technical and we saw a bunch of teams dump towards the end.

All in all I was very happy with this canoe trip. In the Fall the river runs slower (and lower) and that hurts our time a bit - but we were faster from the last fall and 1 minute faster than my guesstimate before the race. We also enjoyed canoeing with J.C. McLoveBoat most of the way down so we had a good time! I brought a drink in the canoe and it helped versus last year where I forgot one.


1st Transition [2 min, +2 min from last SPRING]
Because it was so cool in the morning, we wore wind pants in the canoe which required us to bring a bag to leave on shore after the canoeing. Therefore I had a brief transition here. It was actually a bit confusing because a large group was racing the triathlon for a cause and somehow had a camp fire on shore and caused some confusion after canoeing. They were leaving their stuff in a pile as usual - but triathletes who were NOT part of their group had to find a different pile to leave bags of shoes or clothes so some time was lost tracking down the right pile for them to bring our stuff back to us at the end. Also my shoes got wet while getting out of the canoe but it didn't impact my race - thanks sports socks!

Speaking of... I introduce the HOT TOMOLLY sports socks that Molly and I wore:

6 mi Running [61 min to killer hill, -3 min from last SPRING]
I felt pretty good about the run, I usually do a combo run/walk and with the cool weather my heart rate stayed below 195 most of the time (I's high) so I was able to run more than last time - which is why I was a little faster. I think I could have finished this section in under an hour except my left knee began to hurt for the last ~1.5 miles so I walked more than I wanted for that part. But overall I felt good about the run.

Killer Hill + 2nd Transition [11 min, -1 versus last SPRING]
Doesn't This Look Like Fun?
The good news is I know what I am in for with the hill. I took it easy and walked up. It was funny to be walking next to someone else who's heart rate monitor was blowing up at them (mine actually wasn't) but as most have pointed out their alarm was likely set in the 150 bpm range NOT 195. I also know I was not going to feel great at the top of the hill so I ate my energy bar at the bottom of the hill before trying to eat it while out of breath. I also stopped to catch my breath 2 times on the hill BEFORE running out of breath and I think that helped. It's still a tough 7 minutes up a steep hill trail.

At the top of the hill I felt the best I ever had in previous triathlons and Meghan said I looked better so she wasn't worried about me as much. It also worked out well that even though I drank a LOT more this Fall than the spring on the canoe and run - I still only had to make one bathroom break and it was at the top of the hill before the bike which is ideal!


Biking 18mi [1:17, equal to last SPRING]
While the cool weather was welcomed for the canoeing and biking, it made for a rough bike ride. I drank a TON of fluids this time and still got a little bit of leg cramps. I also took potassium pills beforehand - and while my leg cramps were not as severe as the spring - it is still a pain. I either have to drink way more than I am anticipating OR i am developing a theory that cold weather with 20+ mph winds on sweaty legs has some cooling effect that can cause cramps. Who knows...

Speaking of windy - it was the perfect storm of being very windy and the direction was really bad - just like last fall. It was a little bit windy in the spring but the direction didn't make for the long stretches directly into the wind like we seem to have in the fall.

Because I was feeling really good still from a fatigue / energy standpoint - I knew I was making up time on the bike even if it wasn't my fastest ride by time. I saw a number of people walking their bike up hills because they were too tired fighting the wind, and I just put my head down - got low (thanks to my bike fit!) and kept pedaling. I think they key to the "wind tunnel" scenarios we experienced a few times this ride is tight clothing, get low (use the drops or aerobars), and find a comfortable cadence and don't worry about how slow you are going. I read in these scenarios 8 to 9 out of 10 pedal strokes is just to overcome the wind and the remaining 1-2 pedals is to move forward. You can't keep your speed into the wind without exponentially increasing your power output.

As if these conditions weren't bad enough... there was a ~2-3 mile stretch on loose gravel that was a change from a paved road last spring that we affectionately referred to as the "cobbles" (ala the Tour de France). While someone told me it is referred to as "tar and chip" it is safe to say these road and triathlon bikes are a rough ride on this stuff. My bike has NO shocks - you feel everything, the only "shocks" I have are my carbon fiber fork / seat post and my tired arms! Since I spent easily >20 minutes on this stupid surface I have a lot to say about it. It is surprising how much it slows you down. You have to work much harder to keep your speed - any attempt to coast and you'd be surprised how quickly you slow down.

Also the turn onto this surface provided no warning - so it was pretty dangerous. I thought someone could easily wipeout on that turn - and in fact Molly saw someone go down and have a nice bloody face and leg (we eventually saw him finish so he was OK). It is also a riot that those who have hybrid bikes like John didn't really notice the change in surface. The shocks and large, cushy, and treaded tires handles this surface like a champ - and probably the only time these bikes would be faster than a road or tri bike.

So NET - keeping my bike time equal to last Spring was a big improvement I think. Even where we bike around Meghan's parents house we are seeing paved roads turned into these tar and chip surfaces as I guess they are easier to maintain. But what a bummer - it is ruining good biking roads - and I hope the triathlon in the spring re-routes the bike portion to avoid this road - otherwise I'll have to get one of those Roubaix bikes which are road bikes but designed for the cobblestone stages.


After Party
Meghan's parents are always gracious and had us over to their house for dinner and a bon-fire (with smores).

I felt pretty good about my race - it was my best triathlon yet. I am really looking forward to next Spring to do it all again. It seems too far away - and I know that it will mean a lot of indoor miles on the bike and treadmill which I don't enjoy as much. I am planning to take some swimming lessons over the winter and focus a little more on weight training for my arms and legs. A small portion of me is glad to have my "A" priority races completed and take some time off now. I will probably do a 10K here and there (like the Turkey Trot).

Also next year I hope we enter Loveland's Amazing Race - it sells out fast because it looks AMAZING!

Friday, October 01, 2010

Fall Triathlon - Before the Race!

Sunday will be the Fall Little Miami Triathlon and one year from my first triathlon. In that year I have logged over 1,000 miles of exercising which is a lot for someone who didn't regularly exercise before doing any of these crazy triathlons. I like having something to train for and a regular measuring stick for my progress.

Last winter I made a training program for this year based around some major events, and when I looked at the list I thought I was crazy because I had only participated in one event previously (last falls triathlon). However I have met the number of events I had outlines this year and even missed a few opportunities to do more. Here's a run down:

Of course there is the risk that I have peaked too early in my Triathlon career with my 1st Place - Elite Male finish in the Mason Triathlon!

So now onto the predictions for this weekend's triathlon. In the Spring Molly and I dominated the canoe portion. I'd like to think we'll improve on that but I think we benefited some by the high water, so I am predicting giving back a few minutes on the canoe and to make it up on the bike - though with a repeat performance it is possible we could make an even faster canoe time this fall. Overall My goal will be to take 5 minutes off my time from the Spring and 20 minutes off of my time last fall.

Hopefully I'll finish under 3:20 but you never know, I guess just beating last Fall's time will be progress but I'd like to beat my Spring time as well.

For those interested - here's my "How to run the Little Miami Triathlon" Tips:

Night Before the Race
·         Charge iPhone and external battery (for GPS)
·         Take Singulair / Claritin D (Allergies)
·         Put race clothes out
·         I wear triathlon bike shorts and a cycling jersey but I think most people wear running shorts and a running shirt

Morning Before the Race (At Home)
·         Wear sports socks (not cotton!)
·         Put lubricant on thighs
·         Bring CLIFs Shot Bloks or GU
·         Bring Race number and packet!!
·         Bring heart rate monitor (polar HRM)
·         Take Advil and Potassium
·         Fill up bike water bottle(s)
·         Bring bike helmet and bike pump and filled water bottle for bike

Arriving at Fort Ancient in the Morning
·         Be sure to arrive at least 90 minutes before your start time
·         You will have to park at Fort Ancient which is a 5-10 min walk from the start of the triathlon
·         Fort Ancient is where you will leave your bike
·         Be sure to pump up your bike tires to the recommended pressure (should be listed on your tire)
§  Roughly 120 psi for Road Bike, 50-75 psi for Hybrid tires
·         Put 3 - 4 CLIFs Shot Bloks in Jersey + a granola bar
·         You will then have to walk your bike from the parking area down towards the back of Fort Ancient towards killer hill (don’t forget your bike helmet and bike water bottle)
·         Park your bike in an area you will remember (near the road by a tree, etc)
·         If it looks like rain cover your bike seat / rear gears with a towel
·         Bring everything else you need for the triathlon with you and head down killer hill to Morgan’s Canoe (go down the hill and take a right on the trail to Morgan’s)

Walking to Morgan’s Canoe Livery
·         Be sure to arrive at least 50-60 minutes before your start time
·         Tank up on free water bottles, bananas and granola bars
·         This is usually a good place to hit the restroom (porta-potties out front)
·         Go to the canoe house and get a life preserver and a canoe paddle
·         Your paddle should be long enough to reach your chin when standing up
·         Get your canoe with ~ 30 minutes before your start time
·         Female / Female teams have the option to use fiberglass canoes which are typically viewed to be lighter / faster
·         If you decide to go with the aluminum (metal) canoes be sure the bottom isn’t dented or your canoe will lean to one side
·         With ~ 20 minutes before your start time - Carry your canoe to the start and begin to line up by start time
·         If you can get as far LEFT as you can in line – you will be further downstream
·         While waiting to start this is a good time to eat your first Shot Blok or GU or granola bar
·         Bring a water bottle into the canoe – the next water station is on the run and 60 minutes of canoeing is a lot
A Discussion on Backup Shoes
·         Some people will tip over their canoe, and are concerned about getting their shoes wet
·         You can try the plastic bag over the shoes technique pictured (though I don’t think it would work too well)
·         Or you could wear a crappy pair of shoes in the canoe and put your “good shoes” and socks in a plastic bag that would keep your shoes dry if you tip over
·         After running the half-marathon in the rain I no longer bring a change of shoes for the canoe – we haven’t tipped yet and if my shoes do get wet I know I’ll be fine to run as long as I don’t wear cotton socks (cotton causes blisters when wet)
·         Also the transition time to change shoes is a few minutes

START of the race – Canoeing (6 miles)
·         Bring WATER in canoe!
·         Canoeing is a little bit tricky, you could end up zig-zagging all the way down stream (this will take some practice)
·         The person in the BACK is the key person to steer the canoe, it is their job to make sure you are going straight
·         The person in the FRONT is the power - their job is to just paddle straight forward and alternate sides of the canoe strokes to make sure you don’t try to turn the canoe from the front (we do 3 paddles on each side in the front and repeat)
·         The person in the back should steer the canoe left or right without dragging the paddle (so just by paddling to either side) – try to keep the canoe in “fast water” and if you hit tiny rapids put yourself in the middle of the “V” formed by the water, do not paddle into “stagnant” water that isn’t moving, the current is your friend!
·         In general for both team members - Take long easy strokes out away from canoe, don’t rush the paddle stroke while the paddle is in the water
·         Watch out for rocks or branches, if you hit one you are likely to tip over!

End of canoeing - 1st Transition
·         Someone will help you pull your canoe to shore, leave the life vest and paddle in the canoe
·         Stop at the bathroom if needed
·         If you brought a change of shoes, change here and then put your “old” shoes in your bag and put it in the wagon – they will take all of the shoes to the finish for you. The more distinctive your shoe bag (like pink) the better you will be able to find it at the finish in the HUGE pile (could save you 10 minutes of looking)

The Run (5 miles mostly uphill)
·         The run starts on a tiny trail to the right which takes you through 100 feet of woods onto the road
·         A cop should be there to help you cross the street, then it is mostly uphill for the first 2 miles or so
·         The first water break area is at mile 1 – which seems like forever if you didn’t drink in the canoe
·         This is a good area for a GU or Shot Blok or granola bar
·         After 2 miles there is a short down hill part, then another mile or so uphill
·         The last mile is on the trail and it is flat – but it is longer than you think (1.25 miles or so)

Killer Hill (0.5 miles up a stupid trail)
·         WALK up the hill. I can’t think of a better strategy, I tried to run the hill the first year and LOST! It’s about 5 minutes of walking up hill and you’d rather be feeling good at the top for the biking than kill yourself on the hill
·         Eat a CLIF Shot Blok or GU near the top of the hill (so you can get water at the bike)

2nd Transition
·         Once you reach the top of killer hill, you are at the bike area in Fort Ancient again
·         May be a good bathroom stop
·         Be sure to put your helmet on before biking

Biking (18 miles)
·         RESET bike computer
·         The bike ride is mostly flat with a few turns that cops help you navigate. WATCH OUT FOR CARS at intersections.
·         There is always a long leg or two into the wind that is a pain, only thing you can do is crouch low and keep a steady pedal going
·         Not much else to note on the bike ride – it is pretty flat, if there are smalls hills they are early in the biking

·         When you pull back into Fort Ancient you will have to get off your bike and walk / run it across the finish line

·         There is usually a free gift at the picnic, so even if you don’t want to eat, go there and get your gift!
·         The food at the picnic is usually pretty good, and the live band has been good too!