Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Biker Blues

Well. The weather's warming up, and it's almost time to get my bike out of the storage shed. This winter I didn't get it put away in time before it snowed, but I juiced it up real good with WD-40 so it wouldn't rust too bad. As you can tell already I'm not a bike aficionado or a dedicated biker by any means, but still I used to bike around quite a lot.

Before this one I had an old ten-speed with knobby tires that I rescued after someone had thrown it out in the trash. It was the worst bike in the world. The front fork was bent so it didn't track right. The seat wouldn't tighten up, and the brakes didn't work even after I fixed them. In fact, the only redeeming feature of this two-wheeled wonder was the fact that it didn't have any, and I didn't have to worry about anybody stealing it.

I used to snicker at the chumps with their $600 mountain bikes at the bike racks, wrapping them up with yards and yards of tow chain and Fort Knox-like padlocks. "Look at this," I told them, "if you had a piece of junk like mine you wouldn't need all this security!" Wherever I went I would just hop off and lean the bike up against the closest wall. Talk about freedom. It was great. No messing around with bike racks and combination locks. Then one hot summer afternoon I came out of Barnes and Noble, and lo and behold, it was gone.

I was in shock. I couldn't believe that anyone would ever want such a thing. I walked down the sidewalk a ways and found the old vinyl bag that I had looped around the handlebars to tote a water bottle in. Then I looked up, and far off in the distance, way at the end of the parking lot, I spotted a kid pedaling away like crazy on my bike. I remember thinking, this either must be one desperate kid or one totally lacking in self-respect. If he ever shows off his new acquisition to his friends they'll laugh his butt off. Then I thought, geez, I hope he doesn't need to stop real quick.

I eventually replaced the stolen wreck with a 10-speed Walmart $35 on-sale special, or 15-speed, or whatever it is, but then I installed a pair of those old twin newspaper baskets that I got off another old bike in a dumpster. Now my new bike is so heavy it takes a couple hundred yards before I can get up enough speed to shift into third gear.

I know it's the green thing to be biking around. But think of this, the more you bike, the more calories you burn, the more you have to eat, the more food you consume, the more gas the tractors and combines have to burn to feed you, so it all evens out. Maybe I won't get it out of the shed this summer after all.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

More on Morning People

Since Blackbird has led off on a rant about Morning People, (http://black-bird-sings.blogspot.com/2009/01/morning-people.html) and Ray of Sunshine concurs, I feel it's incumbent to pile on...maybe together we can crush these "morning" tendencies once and for all. I'm a committed Night Person, too. Of course for me it all started out in my younger days hanging out with artists and musicians on the weekends, bull sessions that went on into the wee hours playing guitars and discussing life's ultimate meaning.

I came to love the backdrop of starry nights, the weirdos and drunks on Friday and Saturday nights in Denny's at 3 a.m., and the semis grinding through their gears as they started up from the truck stops. In the days before paid programming on antenna tv, the coolest shows were always on after midnight. And the coolest people never went to bed -- one night close to four a.m. my friends and I arrived home after a 150-mile drive to a rock concert to find that our neighbors had invaded the house and were playing pool on the pool table in the livingroom. (Yes, in those days it was quite normal to have a pool table in the living room.)

Needless to say, I loathe sunrises. The sight of that big old ugly red ball rising over the horizon makes me physically ill - I get nauseous just looking at it. On the days I'm forced to arise that early I always wear mirror sunglasses and chug Pepto-Bismol. These chirpy happy people that jump out of bed the first thing to greet the sun and the day should have their own continent. Leave us Night People alone!

...All joking and ribbing of Morning People aside, though, just recently there was an interesting article by Robert Boyd of McClatchy Newspapers you can read on Yahoo News at http://news.yahoo.com/s/mcclatchy/20090205/sc_mcclatchy/3161423/print, about the internal clocks that control all biological organisms, including trees and plants and even down to the simplest entities like blue-green algae.

And, as it turns out, it appears that there is actually a physical cause for a person's tendency to be either a "night" or a "morning" person: Boyd informs us that "People's clock genes may set their sleep patterns. Last summer, Sarah Forbes-Robertson , a British researcher at the Swansea University School of Medicine , reported that she can tell whether a person is an early riser or a night owl by inspecting a gene called REV-ERB in his or her DNA, taken from a swab on the cheek. A low level of gene activity is associated with sleep, a high level with wakefulness, she said."

"If your peak is earlier than 4 p.m. it would indicate that you are a natural early bird,'' she said. "If you peak later than 5 p.m. , then you are more of a night owl.''

I've got a funny feeling that I might not have any activity in my REV-ERB genes at all.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Gearing up for another semester

Another semester beckons, and is fast approaching! If I'm able to stick to my schedule, this is the next-to-the-last-one for me. To complete my philosophy minor, I'll be taking Will Cowling's PHI 425 History of Modern Philosophy. I just took PHI 301 Critical Thinking under Will in the fall, which served double duty as an LIS elective and a required philosophy minor course. Will supervises his classes from his home in Oregon. As an online instructor, it's not necessary that he be on the UIS campus anymore than the rest of us. When we speak of UIS's Global Campus, it is truly that - we even had a student in 301 living in Sweden, a 9-hour time difference between Scandinavia and the American west coast!

Under Will's direction, the Critical Thinking class took on a new dimension this fall. We applied the critical thinking skills we were learning to the recent presidential election debates through posts on our discussion board. It was surprising the extent to which we picked out the hyperbole and fallacies of the campaigns' rhetoric even after only a few weeks into the course.

I'm also going to be following up on CSC 321 Intermediate Web Design with CSC 319 Computer Programming. The class project for 321 involved creating a website. This was an opportunity to get going on a site I have been wanting to do for quite some time - a website for my late father's WWII artillery battalion. Although there was only time in the class to get the site set up in its preliminary stages, over the holidays I've gotten it uploaded onto its own webserver (http://203fabn.bravehost.com) instead of the UIS servers. It's now in its final phase ready to add content, scanning in photos and documents.