Martin Strel, Swimming Psycho

When I got back into swimming for fitness, I ran across a marathon swimmer named Martin Strel. Forget swimming to Alcatraz, this guy is really nuts. He swam the Yangtze River. He swam the Danube. He swam the Mississippi.

He swam the Amazon!

I remember his Amazon swim pretty clearly. I was going through some rough stuff, and just the idea that someone was insane enough to attempt this was a real motivator for me to keep getting my butt in the pool for some needed laps as I was rehabbing knee surgery. Following along with his swim meant a lot to me, and was probably at least in part the inspiration for the crazy leap (and it was crazy, I assure you) of opening Figart Consulting.

He’s got a new project in the works. Starting in May, he’ll be swimming the Colorado River. No, he doesn’t have to worry about piranha, but this is a river people like for white water rafting. I’ve no idea how anyone is going to manage to swim it, but Strel intends to try.

I’ll be cheering him on.

Swimming, Hair Care and Hygiene

I have very long hair about which I am inordinately vain.

I am a swimmer.

I color my hair.

Now common wisdom would say my hair is so fried I’d have to cut it off. Or, that I must spend a million dollars on the special shampoos and conditioners. I don’t. That two dollar a bottle stuff works just fine.

Matter of fact, the one single thing I do to ensure that swimming doesn’t ruin my hair doesn’t really cost much in the way of money at all. You see, I do what they tell you and shower before I get into the pool, completely saturating my (rather porous) hair. This means that the water that has more of a chemical saturation can’t penetrate my hair as easily.

As a side note, I know a lot of people don’t shower before they get in the pool. It’s gross. They’re often the same people who complain about the “chlorine smell” or worse, think a swim can substitute for a bath. Well that smell isn’t actually chlorine. It’s a by-product of the filth the chlorine is breaking down, and it means you’re getting the pool nastier than the chemicals can keep up with. Yes, yes, the pool manager does test the water every hour or two and adjusts the chemicals going into the water to compensate for this. At least, they do in well-maintained pools. Even so, shower before you get in the damn pool. It helps reduce how much needs to be dumped into the water.

Part of the World Needs a Stage

I like Shakespeare. Okay, I know. Who doesn’t? That’s on up there with “Pain hurts” for non-controversial statements. I’ll see a performance whenever I get the chance. I do watch the movies, but I like it better when I can actually see a play.

Up until I was in my early twenties, though, I read the plays, and while I enjoyed them okay, it wasn’t that big a thing. Read ’em in school. Sure, sure, the teachers were competent. They got the students to read them aloud, at least.

I read Romeo and Juliet as a freshman in High School, same as about 90% of people educated in America.1 But when we read Romeo and Juliet; we read an expurgated version with the (mildly) dirty bits taken out. Nope, I’m serious, we did. Go Stafford School board… I didn’t learn Shakespeare was often rather saucy until much later. Yeah, I thought Romeo and Juliet was kind of a cool story. Wasn’t as cool as The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury, which we read after that, but it wasn’t as mind-bogglingly dull a Great
Expectations, either.2

I didn’t wind up touching Shakespeare again until I was a senior. We read Macbeth. I was in love. I even put aside some new Heinlein stuff I was reading to finish it, then re-read it. Loved, loved, loved it.3

But that was the sum total of any Shakespeare I experienced until I was in my early twenties. I got a volume of the Bard’s plays for my 20th birthday and read a few. But I admit I didn’t get much into them.

Then, when I was twenty-two or so, my in-laws invited my husband and me to a Shakespeare in the Park event in DC at the Folger outdoor theater to see The Merry Wives of Windsor. My husband and I wanted to see it at least in part because an actor who’d appeared in a Star Trek movie was playing Sir John Falstaff.

Now, the connection between Shakespeare and Star Trek has been discussed once or twice4, so I’m not going to get too heavily into it other than to speculate that it’s probable that many people my age got into The Bard at least in part due to its influence.

But going to see a live performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor gave me a much better perspective on Shakespeare in general. Reading the plays is okay, and the movies are often good. But to really enjoy it, you need to see a good live performance. Now, a Luddite, I’m not. Technology is awesome and all, but there’s something about Shakespeare plays that just needs a stage, and it’s the way I prefer to experience The Bard’s work.


1And like some 90% of them studied it side by side with West Side Story.

2 Other than being very fond of A Christmas Carol, I’m just not that into Dickens.

3 Yes, Throne of Blood is my favorite Kurosawa film, too.

4After all, you’ve never experienced Shakespeare until you’ve heard it in the original Klingon.

Exercising While Fat

A friend of mine got yelled at out of a car window recently. She’s the author of Living ~400lbs and discusses being at the sigma six of the weight curve, being active, and life at that weight.

Being active? Yeah, like me she believes in working out. Just because it doesn’t automagically make you skinny doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile. (We’re both technical people and by the nature of the work, that’s darn sedentary. We have to do something.)

I have a question for people: Do you deliberately put yourself in situations where you are likely to be mistreated on a regular basis? If not, why do you act surprised when a fat person doesn’t want to work out publicly? The very worst years of my life were high school, where I was yelled at, harassed and mistreated on a daily basis, and I could not get away from it. As an adult, I am not likely to choose to be in such a situation again. Not ever.

One of the lovely things about being in my forties and having developed a prickly hauteur is that being on the wrong end of this sort of rudeness is rare. But it’s not unknown. A gym patron made a wisecrack about my weight a few months ago. This individual and I do have a bit of a teasing relationship, but I did let him know that he was crossing a line. I did have to be professional about it as I work there, mind.

What is more common for me is a locker room comment about my “bravery” for appearing in a bathing suit. No, the women aren’t trying to be mean at all. They’re being genuine. They recognize that many women who would benefit from the joint-friendliness of water exercise don’t because they’re self-conscious in a bathing suit, and no wonder. People can sometimes be obnoxious. I had to work up the guts to go work out in the college pool with all the young athletes! One thing I did notice is that it wasn’t the athletes or the hard cores that were likely to be jerks. The one time I was messed with in a lane at the college was in the evening (On land I was on crutches from knee surgery and feeling vulnerable. I swear it can be like blood in a shark tank to a certain type of person) and it was a frat boy who thought he was funny. I don’t think he found being dunked by the fat lady quite so funny. But that kind of thing can get you down. I don’t get crap in the pool much these days. My skill makes it obvious I belong there and making a comment only makes you look like an ass. Thing is, as far as I am concerned, you don’t have to earn the right to work out by being really skilled at something. You have a right to go into a gym and be clumsy or slow or whatever. You have a right to walk down the sidewalk or ride a bike, or whatever you want to do.

Efficient Wood Stove Heat

A fan in a window with duct tapeI have a wood stove, and while I love it, it has some of the drawbacks of something that uses ambient heat to raise the temperature in the house. The heat tends to stay in a single room.

When I was a child, our wood stove was in the basement in the laundry room. Sure, sure, there was a straight line from the wood stove up the stairs to heat the house, but still, when it was 90 in the laundry room it might be 60 upstairs.

Daddy rigged up a fan system that was controlled by a temperature switch to help with this. I never did pay attention to the details, other than knowing it existed, but that was enough to help me solve my own problem in my house.

My wood stove is in the jungle room, a plant-filled entryway to my house that leads into my kitchen through a large open doorway. It also has an open window frame leading into the dining room and living area of my home. Without a fan, I can heat the jungle room to around 80 without significantly warming much more than the kitchen. I like hanging out in the jungle room, as it has comfy chairs and it’s nice to be in a room with lots of windows and plants, but I’d rather get more efficient heat in the rest of my house!

I have a fan with a temperature control, though I can’t just set it to, say 65F. It’s just a wheel with no actual gauge, but that’s okay. I can put a thermometer next to it and set it to come on when the temperature gets where I want it, manually. Then, if I put the fan in the window leading to the rest of the house it automatically will blow the warm air from the jungle room into the living and dining room, making the wood stove a much more efficient source of heat for a larger part of the house. It’s also nice because we don’t have to turn it off at night. When the fire goes out and the temperature drops, it’ll turn off all by itself.

Yes, this is rigged with duct tape. Possibly next summer I’ll build some sort of fancy frame to insert into the window for it, but hey… it has a light side, a dark side and it binds the Universe together.

A Single-Tasker I Love: Amazon Kindle

I got a Kindle for my birthday. I’ve been reading books electronically for years, so obviously as e-readers became more accessible, it was inevitable I’d want one.

I really, really like it. I’ve already read a couple of novels on it (I’m in the process of re-reading Snow Crash). I’ve also explored several of its features, but for me, it’s about the books.

All my Baen Free Library books, as well as several I’d bought from Baen are already loaded on it. Basically, if it was in a format Mobipocket could read and is not DRM protected, you’re golden. Yes, yes, you have to use the USB cable to do it, rather than download it directly to the device, but I don’t consider that a major problem.

And, of course, I’ve a plethora of books from the Gutenberg Project. They’re also happily nestled on my device.

That being said, yeah, yeah, I’m buying and downloading from Amazon, too. But it’s less than 15% of my electronic collection.

So, how’s the device versus the way I’d been reading on the netbook and my Android?

It’s superior the netbook and my phone for reading a book. The e-paper display does imitate a book better, and the fact that the screen is not backlit does make it much nicer to read in bright sunlight. It also means that there’s less of a battery drain. I read for hours at a time, so this is very significant. It’s lighter than my netbook, and has a larger screen than my phone – better imitating the positives of the paper book experience. It has 4GB of memory, but that’s effectively a little over 3GB for the user. To give some perspective? I have 197 novel-length books on my Kindle right now, and still have 2.8 GB free.

The Kindle also has a lot of “nifty features” that I probably won’t use much. Text to speech? I’m an audiobook addict and all, but it doesn’t replace a human performance. Oh yeah, audiobooks! I have an Audible account that I did wind up linking to my Amazon account. However, I’ll probably be pretty unlikely to use the device for listening to audiobooks. I still want a more portable device for that, as I tend to listen to audiobooks while I’m doing chores. Also, it doesn’t have a sleep timer, so it doesn’t serve my habit of listening to audiobooks as I fall asleep.

You can browse the web some from it. It’s okay, but my phone serves that purpose better for my on-the-go needs.

So, I don’t love the Kindle for the add-ons. I love it, but I love it because it’s very, very good at what it was designed for – to read books!

How Smart Phones Ruin Shopping

One of the delights of being Da Mama is to send a husband and child out on a shopping trip. Watching them screw up is fun. There is nothing more enjoyable than the anticipation of a soul-cleansing scream at the family for Doing It Wrong when being sent out shopping.

My parents understood this perfectly. Mom would write out a list on the back of an envelope and hand it to my father. Dad would take the envelope as importantly as a five year old sent to the corner store and go to the grocery store. The list would say:

  • Butter
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Cream
  • Chocolate chips[1]

Simple, yes?

Well, we usually ate margarine on our bread, but Dad realized vaguely that margarine and butter weren’t quite the same thing. He’d stand perplexed in front of the dairy aisle for at least 20 minutes, while time was dribbling away to get the damned Toll House cookies done so that we could have food to feed our ravening hoard of relatives come some sacred holiday.

Daddy, a Captain in the Overthink Army, would get some weird oil product we’d never bought in our lives. Never mind that for the past 20 years of marriage, his wife had always used butter and only butter to bake those confections of delicious goodness, chocolate chip cookies.

Eggs were another conundrum. Should how many should he get? And what size? Does the color of the shell matter? These things are a terrible dilemma. Getting it wrong meant that he was not being a Very Useful Engine and a fate not to be borne.

As far as chocolate chips? Look, there’s only one type of chocolate chip. We all know that if you’re making Toll House Cookies, you only use Nestlé’s semi-sweet chocolate chips, even if they are encouraging third world mothers to starve their babies using watered down formula. You gotta have standards, people.

Did Daddy understand this? He did not. As far as he was concerned Hershey’s was the final name in chocolate[2]. But Hershey’s chocolate chips do not have the piquant bite of Nestlé’s, and the cookies would be All Ruined in the eyes of his children. Really. There’d be tears, weeping and refusal to eat cookies. Honest.

So, all in all, that was a lot of pressure to put on a man who might be able to program a missile to follow an escaping Godless Commie spy out of honest American airspace, but was helpless when he was faced with the complications of kitchenry.

The eyerolling at home was wonderfully entertaining.

Do I get this pleasure? No, I do not. If my son (to pick a person at random) in a fit of forgetfulness while contemplating whether Sonic the Hedgehog could beat Starscream in a battle to the death forgets to bring his grocery list with him, I just get a text message and a request to email it. Worse? If the guys aren’t sure what they’re supposed to bring home, do they guess like any normal male so I can roll my eyes at how little they understand about how the home is run?


I get a phone call.

I am deprived of the little pleasures. Pity me and my sad existence.


[1]Mom only sent Dad out for small lists when she was in the middle of doing Serious Baking in anticipation of guests arriving the next day.

[2] Households with interfaith marriages do have their challenges, don’t they?

Yes, I Will Help Stop Bullying

I’m not wearing purple today.  No, not because I don’t care about ending bullying.  I care.  I just didn’t have anything purple clean.

So, here’s the deal.  My way of helping to end bullying is to call kids on it when I see them doing it, offering kids a safe place in my house that’s a no-bully zone, and if someone who has been bullying behaves him or her self, why there’s a place at my kitchen counter for cookies and help with homework for them, too.

Not hyperbole.  I’ve stopped kids from bullying (throwing rocks, actually), offered a safe place for kids who felt unsafe on the street, helped with homework, fed kids snacks and meals, and a former bully (the rock thrower) is a regular guest at my table with the understanding that he has to at least be non-destructive to the people around him to keep the privilege.

Purple is cool.  But that’s the first step.

Think about what you can do for Step Two, then go do that.

French Manicure

I’m probably only intermittently girly.  Yeah, skirts.  Wear ‘em most of the time if the weather isn’t extremely cold.  My hair is about waist length.  But high heels?  Not my thing.   Jewelry – mostly quite understated.  Makeup?  Same/same.  I wear it, but I go for understated.  My “look” tends to be best described as well-put-together.  However, it is a specifically-chosen look, so that pushes the image back over to “girly” a bit, doesn’t it?

My fingernails are fairly short, but I don’t bite them, so I do have a bit of a nail.  Other than keeping them clean and neat, I don’t often wear nail polish.  Rather, I’ll go through a six week period of doing so, then put away the manicure stuff for awhile.

I think, however, I may have found a look that I’d be content with as a constant thing – the French manicure.    This is the real thing, not the dramatically artificially-colored fingernail tips.  I think the look can be cute as hell, but it doesn’t match the way I dress.  No, I mean the subtle French Manicure with white tips, and a nail bed color that is close to your real nail bed color, maybe only better – rosier, deeper, less yellow, whatever.

I love this look because it’s neat and pulled-together without being too dramatically obvious.   It looks good with a broomstick skirt or a suit, and you don’t have to have really long nails to pull it off.  It also has the advantage of not showing wear at the tips very much[1] – unlike darker nail polish.  So I think this is something that’ll last a great deal longer for me.

Now this pic is of my hand, and yes, I did this myself.  It also took about ten tries to get the process down to the point where it wasn’t sloppy!  So this is something that takes practice and isn’t something I can free-hand[2] even with a pen, or would do at the spur of the moment.

[1] Chipped nail polish and discolored roots are a personal thing.  I never notice in other people, but feel like a slob when I can see it in myself.

[2] Scotch tape makes a fine polish guide, just sayin’.

Bye, Bye, iPod

I got an android phone a couple of months ago.  I was enjoying it and all, but it was after I downloaded the Audible App that I started moving to use it as my mobile media device.

I used my iPod as a sleep aid and productivity tool.  When I can’t sleep, I’ll put an audiobook on for a certain amount of time (usually 15 minutes will do it), and listen to a story until I fall asleep.  It keeps me from ruminating on useless crap and allows me to do the truly productive thing at night – SLEEP!

So, no music/audiobook player was going to make Noël-san happy unless it had a feature where it’d turn off after a few minutes.  Well, whatdoyaknow? The Audible app has exactly that!

However, not all of my audiobooks are from Audible.  I have the Harry Potter books, MP3s I’ve ripped from CDs from the library – you name it.  So, what’s an audio/bibliophile to do?

Well, there is the Sleep Timer, a free app developed by Patrick Boos.  This will integrate with your music player to turn off your music (and other functions on your android-based phone, if you want to)  after a specified length of time.

However, that didn’t solve another problem.  I have an extensive music collection that I’d organized into smart playlists on iTunes.  Now, for all that Apple gets under my fingernails from time to time, I do like the organization features of the iTunes media player.  Was I screwed for using those playlists on my phone?

Nope!  Now, iSyncr is not a free app, but at $2.99, I’m not going to sweat the price for one paid app.  This will load whatever playlists you select onto your phone.  They play just fine through the default music app preloaded in Android.  What it won’t do is play DRM protected music you bought from iTunes.  I know there’s a kludge for that, but I don’t know exactly what it is, and I don’t buy a lot of music through iTunes, anyway.

This means that my iPod is completely replaced, because I also use a music player with a sleep timer for another function.  It’s a serious productivity tool and procrastination avoider for me.  When faced with a large, overwhelming task, I often will put on a music player with a fifteen minute sleep timer, promising myself I can stop when the music stops.  By that time I’m usually into the task enough to finish it, but even if I’m not, do you know how much you can get done in several fifteen minute sessions of hyperfocus?

Speaking of which, got some writin’ that needs attending to…

Audible iSyncr Sleep Timer