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What happens in Vegas?

Fremont Street, 1979, originally uploaded by Roadsidepictures.

I just learned that I'll be traveling to Las Vegas next week on business. I didn't plan to blog much in November, but I have one request before I disappear. It's my first trip to Vegas, and I'm going to have some free time on Monday and Tuesday nights.

I have a room at the Tropicana, so I plan to entertain myself mostly by walking up the strip and people-watching, just taking it all in. I don't have a lot of money, but I do have a budget for some reimbursable expenses. Does anyone have advice on where to find the following things:

  1. A relatively quiet pub (not a club) where I could get a well-mixed drink
  2. A nice place to hear jazz (possibly the same bar as #1)
  3. A fancy restaurant with good vegetarian food and wine
Also, are there any cheap can't-miss attractions on the strip? Conversely, which over-hyped attractions should I plan to avoid? Thanks, everyone! I am psyched about this trip.

NaNoWriMo: your novel is bad

Ode to Jack Kerouac, originally uploaded by Olivander.

There are people who fuss about trying to make everything perfect. They delete. They edit. They agonize over the perfect turn of phrase. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking and guess what happens after all this work? They fail at NaNoWriMo and their first draft is still shit.

Don't be this person. Think of their example as the Goofus to yesterday's Gallant.

There is one essential thing you need to know about your novel if you want to get through this: it's going to suck. Make your peace with that. It's just a first draft. They all suck. The thing is, your first draft doesn't have to be perfect, it doesn't even have to be good. You just have to finish. The NaNoWriMo word counter doesn't care the writing is good or bad; if you managed to type 50,000 words, then you are a winner.

Good luck, writers! I'll see you on the other side.

NaNoWriMo: writing tips for new participants

Underwood 1, originally uploaded by Isayana.

As a 3-year veteran of the month-long writing marathon that is NaNoWriMo, I feel qualified to offer a little advice, on the off chance that anyone aspires to follow in my steps. First of all, it's less like footprints in the sand and more like a butt-print on my desk chair. To type a 50,000 word novel in 30 days requires a serious commitment to sitting. If that sounds like something you want to do then read on, and Godspeed, dear reader.

  • Make a schedule. Set aside some uninterruptable typing time, if possible. I do my writing in the evening, when I feel most creative.
  • Type 2,000 words per day. It's a good, clear, round number goal. There's a cushion of 333 words/day if you fall short later, and you'll finish with five days to spare if you maintain this schedule. Party time!
  • Don't delete. Ever! Pry the backspace off your keyboard. The words you have typed are words in the bank. No withdrawals allowed.
  • Don't edit. There's a whole other month for this. Don't proofread, analyze, or agonize over what you've already written; keep moving forward.
  • Fix it later. This is the corollary to the previous rule. Make it your mantra: "I'll fix it in the re-write."
  • Free your mind. The rest will follow. This type of writing is a Zen exercise. Don't think; just write!
Here's most of the same advice in longer form and 3 years older. Tomorrow, I'm going to keep talking about this stuff, so check back in December everyone!

Sibley Bike moves to University Depot

Dan Kueny inspects a pile of scrap metal with "Downtown" Dave Blessing

The Sibley Bike Depot is moving to new digs on University Avenue. After a summer of indecision, we secured a retail space on the block between Grotto and St. Albans Street. On Saturday I helped to disassemble bikes, load trailers, and most importantly take photos to document this historical event.

When I wasn't working, which was most of the time, I took "test rides" on children's bikes and low-riders. They're not so good for the road, but they're a lot of fun in the parking lot.

Minnesota women's rugby & flu vaccine PSA

Detroit's left winger scores a try against the Minneapolis Menagerie

I've long been curious about the game of rugby, so I was determined to attend a game when I found that it's played locally. On Saturday morning my wife and I watched the Women's D2 Play-offs in Eagan. The athletic fields around the pitch were wide open and exposed to a cold wind. We stuck around long enough to watch them score, then we left to get our annual flu shots at Cub Foods.

She wouldn't be able to run like that if she had influenza

Now it's time for influenza fun facts:
  • You can't get influenza from the vaccine, because the viruses are inactivated.
  • You are infectious before symptoms appear, so you can give influenza to others without realizing that you're sick.
  • Influenza-related illness kills 36,000 people a year.
Get immunized, seriously. I don't want to hang out with you otherwise.

Bonsai grape vines from Sonoma

Grape bonsai, originally uploaded by mai-ke.

The Sonoma County Winegrape Commission is selling 10-to-12-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon vines, in bonsai tree form (seen at Dr. Vino). I like bonsai and I love wine, so it's almost the perfect combination! Except that you won't get more than a thimbleful of juice from a vine this size, and wine grapes aren't all that good for eating.

If you're going to grow a fruit bearing plant, why not just use normal grapes instead? They won't be fancy, but neither will they set you back $49.95 plus $30 shipping. Plus, you can grow yourself a tasty little snack.

Citizen Police Academy: week 3

Whoop Whoop!, originally uploaded by mattdesmond.

A squad car races down University Avenue at 2 AM. What's going on behind the scenes? We found out in this week's CPA patrol segment. First off, the driver is probably a rookie cop, since new recruits tend to pull the midnight shift. If you look closely at the car, you'll probably see a 100 number since most of University Ave. falls into the Western Patrol District.* Also, when they pull someone over, it's not to reach a quota. They don't do that in St. Paul. Good to know!

Internal Affairs was up next. Everything I know about IA was learned from movies. It turns out that their primary goal is not to punish cops, but rather to establish innocence. They do mete out judgment when cops behave badly, but police departments get lots of complaints, and most of them don't result in disciplinary behavior. They use the following dispositions for classification:

  • Unfounded: Allegation is false or not factual.
  • Not Sustained: Insufficient evidence to prove or disprove the incident.
  • Exonerated: Incident occurred but it was lawful and proper.
  • Sustained: Allegation is supported by sufficient evidence to justify reasonable conclusion of guilt.
  • Policy Failure: Allegation is factual. The officer followed proper departmental procedures, which have been proven to be faulty.
The last third of class had to be cut short, which was a shame, because it had potential to be the most interesting part. We learned that half of the Crime Lab staff are civilians, and their job is not glamorous. They don't operate as shown on CSI, and forensic scientists don't all dress like Abby Sciuto.

*In fact, the district office is right up the street from us on 615 University Ave; the former site of the infamous Belmont Club.

My first handknit hat

I finished knitting the hat! It turned out so well that I'm making a new one for my wife. She has another ball of yarn that's a different color (pink) but the same gauge, so it's a piece of cake. Soon we will have matching winter hats. Aren't we adorable.

As shown, the brim is fashionably turned up to cap the tops of my ears. Fully unfurled, it's the perfect length to completely cover to the bottoms of my lobes when the air gets really cold. Stylish and functional!

New car

This is my new car, a metallic blue Saturn Ion, from the first year of production. It's pretty nice. It's taller than my old Saturn, and it feels more spacious without seeming significantly larger. There are some great features that were missing in my old Saturn, like a CD player and power windows. The remote keyless entry feature alone was worth the price of admission.

It was running perfectly until I decided to test its subaquatic capabilities. Our streets flash-flooded during a big thunderstorm and I drove my new car into a puddle that turned out to be the depth of my floorboards. Of course my engine died. My wife ran down the street in pouring rain and got in the car to steer while I pushed it out of the intersection. Two weeks and several hundred dollars later, it's in almost as good condition as when I bought it.

I put off this post for a while because I didn't have a lot to say about this car. Now that I've seen it through this disaster and the subsequent healing process, a bond has formed between us. I love my car!

You are too fat for this ride

focus group dialogue, originally uploaded by bijoubaby.

When I visited Disney World, lo these many years ago, we had a tragic/hilarious experience on the old Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Our boats suddenly stopped in their tracks, and we remained stuck for what felt like a very long time. While we waited, the audio track looped and the animatronic pirates went OCD on us, chasing girls in circles and taking swig after swig from bottles of rum.

Eventually, a Disney "Cast Member" came along and helped an obese person to disembark from a boat further up the line. Relieved of its excess weight, the boat buoyed up again and the ride continued. According to MiceAge ("its [sic] a larger world after all"--scroll down to the third article), the phenomenon is more common than I realized. Disney is doing renovations on the Small World ride for this very reason:

Quite simply, the boats weren't designed to handle multiple adults weighing more than 200 pounds, and they now routinely bottom out in the shallow flume and get stuck. The Imagineers who designed the unique flume ride system for the World's Fair assumed that adult men would average 175 pounds, and adult women would average 135 pounds. Needless to say, those 1960's statistics are hopelessly out of date in today's world.
Exactly how out-of-date are they? The CDC reports that average weight in 2002 was 191 pounds for men, and 164.3 pounds for women: "nearly 25 pounds heavier on average" than in 1960. Really, though, it's not the statistical average that's the problem; it's the hyper-obese outliers that break the system. Or it could be that the weight of a typical park goer in the fattest place on earth is slightly higher than the national average.

Happy autumn!

Best wishes for a pleasant autumn, from Lola to you! Next to spring, fall is my very favourite season. When the leaves start to turn, it's time to take out our warm clothes, and pack up our shorts and t-shirts. I start wearing slippers around the house. I drink apple cider and hot chocolate. I knit hats while the Cowboys beat the Vikings on Sunday afternoon football.

What are your most fun autumn day activities?

Minnesota RollerGirls home opener

IMG_5692, originally uploaded by Bitwise.

After a series of away games, the Minnesota RollerGirls returned to the legendary Roy Wilkins Auditorium last night for their 2007 season opener. I didn't plan on attending, until the Current came through with a pair of free tickets for me, again! They gave away limited-edition t-shirts to the first 200 people, so Jenna and I took the bus down early to wait in line. Unfortunately, hundreds of roller derby fans had already beat us there.

Two teams from our local RollerGirls league took on visiting contenders from out-of-state. In the first bout, the Hood Rats from Nebraska's No Coast Derby Girls got dominated by the lovely Dagger Dolls. When the first half was finished, they went backstage to rest, while we watched the Cincinnati Rollergirls All-Stars put a serious hurtin' to hometown heroes, the Garda Belts.

Jenna started to feel unwell about halfway through the second bout, and eating a plate of nachos supreme didn't help. We packed up at the half time break and got home by 9:30. She lay down on the couch while I enjoyed a cold PBR for less than $4.75. Roller derby plus (cheap) beer equals one great night!

Knitting is weird

It's very strange how using simple repetitive motions, with such basic tools and a single strand of fiber, can make anything from a potholder to a sweater. I haven't knit in a long while. Recently I picked up my needles again, and after a brief refresher course, my hands remembered everything they had to do.

I'm making a winter hat with some hand-dyed Merino wool yarn from Aisha Celia. I started out using the Center Square pattern from, but it wasn't working out and I had to rip it apart. After some re-calculation I picked up a new set of double-pointed needles at the Yarnery and started over.

Now I'm almost to the point where I had stopped before. Looks like this time, it's going to be the perfect size for a snug new hat!

Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together

Dude! Finally! The fourth volume in Bryan Lee O'Malley's rock-and-roll comic series will be published soon, and there are preview pages on his website! You should totally look at them! I hardly ever read comics anymore except for on the Internet, but I am in love with these books.

I'll be checking this out from the library as soon as it's released. Scott Pilgrim is so good that I would actually consider buying the books one day... if I ever get volume 9 of Bone and finish that series.

Citizen Police Academy: week 2

Hooker Tracks, originally uploaded by telethon.

Last time we learned--among other things--about St. Paul's historic bicycle patrol. This week we met a modern-day bike cop who told us stories about riding through the skyways of downtown St. Paul and hiding in plain sight on the streets. People don't see bikes. That extends to criminals and to bicycle police, who can ride up and apprehend bad guys before they can resolve the mental discrepancy of an officer who's not in a squad car.

Fun facts about the Ramsey County Emergency Communication Center (ECC):

  • A telecommunicator can take 400 calls in an 8-hour shift (that's 50 calls per hour!)
  • They can track a cell phone signal from the tower to within 50 meters of the calling phone.
  • Noise complaints are the lowest call priority. For example, if you report a barking dog, they will wait 75 minutes to dispatch. The dog's probably not going to be barking any more by then. Our presenter said that they don't get many of these complaints.
The highlight of my evening was an undercover Vice officer. Because some details had already appeared in the newspaper, he was able to talk about a recent case involving a prostitute named "Fancy." Myth busted: if you ask a cop if he's a cop, he CAN lie to you and say that he's not a cop. This is not entrapment. You will still be arrested if you sell him drugs or whatever. Stoners beware.

The most entertaining part of class was question and comment time. One of our classmates, apropos of nothing, told the bike cop that women don't like riding bikes. A woman tried to ask the ECC speaker something about squad cars connecting to satellites and calling other countries, except nobody could figure out what the question was.

The same lady also seemed to ask the Vice cop if he could remove prostitution from the Internet. He looked somewhat confused, but answered, "no, we can't do that."

"Well, you should," she said under her breath.

Fakeproject graffiti coloring book

Fakeproject Corporation of America has made a coloring book for graffiti writers. There's a free PDF so you can print out blank illustrations and decorate them with the colors and designs of your choice. Use them as practice for tagging, or a legal alternative to vandalism!

Letterboxing in Como Park (part 2)

With three fresh stamps in my logbook, I started following directions to my fourth and final box of the day. I saved 10,000 Lakes for last because it had the most cryptic clues. It took me into parts of the park that I had never seen before. First stop was the monument above. It was conveniently located next to a restroom building, which became my second stop.

I blew my nose on some two-ply, then back to the trail. I had to duck under an intimidating barricade to access the next location. The hole in this table is beautiful in an urban-decay kind of way. It's complemented by some charming graffiti.

This structure near the park bench looks like something you might find playing Oblivion, deep in an imaginary forest, although the chain link fence gives it away. This eroded architecture looks like it must have been part of a larger building at some point. I would like to find out more about it. Does anyone know its history?

Finding this letterbox was a fun little journey, but the best surprise was what I discovered next. Tucked inside the box was a tiny "hitch hiker." These mini-letterboxes are designed to travel from one box to another, carried to new locations whenever they're discovered. I stuck this one in my pocket to drop off when I go letterboxing again. I wonder where it will end up next?

Letterboxing in Como Park (part 1)

This weekend I went in search of four letterboxes in St. Paul's popular Como Park. More than one set of clues contained instructions to "rehide well," since it's usually such a busy area. But on this cool, damp Sunday afternoon, it was almost empty. A perfect day for letterboxing!

The damp air near the conservatory was filled with cheery carousel music. I moved away into silence, following directions for the Claddaghs past the Japanese garden and into a small patch of woods. After uncovering these two boxes, and carefully re-hiding them again under branches and leaves, I went straight for the next one.

Snot was dripping down my nose and into my mouth by the time I found Fall 2007: Harvest. It was hidden beside a path that must be impossibly busy during nice days. It's a limited-edition letterbox, due to be removed on the last day of autumn (December 21). There was a nice two-color stamp inside. Alas, I only brought one pad of ink.

In part two, I find the best letterbox ever.

NaNo Technology: speech recognition

In previous NaNoWriMo years, I had lots of free time to write at home (or at work, as the case may be). This year, I'm spending up to two hours in the car every day, driving to a job that actually challenges me and keeps me busy. That doesn't leave lots of time to write a 50,000-word novel.

What's the ideal solution? Writing in my car, of course! By dictating during my commute, I could reach my quota before I get home, and keep my evenings open for family time. Therefore, I started researching speech-to-text solutions.

This PC World article lays out the procedure for pairing a digital voice recorder with speech recognition software. The writer sounds satisfied with the results he got using a Sony ICD-SX57 and Nuance Software's Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9, but other reviews have been less favorable. I'm leaning towards an O'Reilly-recommended Olympus DS-2. It's less expensive but still more than I can afford right now. Does anyone out there have a recommendation for doing this on the cheap?

Citizen Police Academy: week 1

Saint Paul Police Bicycle Patrol outside T.C. Borg Cycle House (1897)

Starting this week, my wife and I are attending the St. Paul P.D. Citizen Police Academy. It's a free (taxpayer-funded), 11-week class, "to educate the citizens of Saint Paul with the operation of their police department."

Day one was introductions and the history of the department. We started with a speech by the chief. He is obviously passionate about his job, and proud of his department. I learned that the St. Paul police are the best in the world, but also, they are people like you and I.

Each week I'll be posting our experiences as we learn more about what these men and women do every day.

"American Vagabonds?"

A controversial photo set has surfaced on a Spanish-language website. Click to see a series of more images like the one above (via Kevin Kelly). The subjects are compelling and well-shot.

More interesting than the photos themselves, however, are the comments at the bottom of the page. There's a lot of anger there despite the fact that nobody seems to know who the photographer or the subjects really are. Whether or not they're actually homeless, jobless 'vagabundos,' all you have to do is bring up these topics and people just start freaking out.

Hate makes me sad. There's too much of it in the world and a disproportionate amount online. This is why I try to avoid reading comments... except in my own blog, of course, where all my commentators are intelligent and friendly!

Spoon! all-ages show at First Avenue

Spoon @ First Avenue 10/10/07, originally uploaded by jcbehm.

Spoon was in town this week for two nights of shows at the First Ave. The Current gave away tickets for weeks in advance. I called Mark Wheat and he added me to the guest list, plus one.

I was not very familiar with Spoon before the show, but hey, free tickets! So on Thursday night my brother and I went downtown to hear them play. Now I am a Spoon fan.

Have you been to any good shows lately?

Water ski champion

This summer I went water skiing for the second time. Or perhaps, I should say, that I attempted to water ski for the second time. The first attempt was when I was just a wee tot in my church's youth group, and I barely pulled my head above water before bailing out. This time I almost got it right.

In total, I think that I made four tries. On round one, I took a face dive and swallowed half a gallon of lake water through my nose holes. I coughed and sputtered a bit and then found the skis, which had been torn off, and got ready for round two. For my next attempts, I was able to pull my body up so that my butt skipped across the water, but I couldn't quite get onto my feet.

Afterwards, I held on to a tube-type thing called the Y-Not (so named because it is Y-shaped) while my sister-in-law's husband's step-grandfather pulled me behind his boat. I was dripping with blood when I climbed out of the water, and discovered that I had suffered some minor battle damage to my elbows and bashed the hell out of my bad knee. It looked worse than the photo shows, but it hurt less than it looks. So it goes.

Calecia Biker in Lowrider issue #1

page 22, originally uploaded by Iowahawk Blog.

Lowrider bicycles are making a comeback, but they don't build 'em like they used to. Here is an original model from the first ever print issue of Lowrider Magazine. I love how his saddle is practically scraping the whitewall tires, about one foot off the ground. Also, nice hat!

The IowaHawk blog has more scans, but sadly, this is the only bike-related photo.

Steampunk keyboard & monitor

This made the rounds a while back, but it's still awesome: Jake Von Slatt's steampunk keyboard. If you are so inclined, he provides instructions for modifying an IBM Model M into a beautiful, brass, typewriter-keyed computer keyboard. Next, he built an LCD monitor in the same style.

He hints that the desk is missing a mouse, but what will he build after that? One can only hope that it will be a steampunk case mod!

Custom Zelda DS Lite

This Nintendo DS Lite is the platform for a brilliant mod. The gold paint job is reminiscent of the original NES cartridge, and a 3-D Triforce medallion on the cover is backlit with blue LEDs. Additional photos at Joystiq and Softpedia.

There are many more complex case mods in the world (see e.g. the Metroid Wii), but I'm overwhelmed at the level of skill required to do something similar. This DS inspires me to try a simple repainting on my own. "How hard could it be?" I wondered.

After reading Linear's painting tutorial, my naïve enthusiasm has been dampened, though not extinguished. It might be a good winter activity. Or I could get a Dremel kit for Christmas, and start a wildly ambitious project.

Photos aquatic & microscopic

Image credit: Charles Krebs, water-scavenger beetle larva (Hydrophilidae sp.)

Today, links to a couple of recent photography galleries.

At Wired, winning photomicrograph images from Nikon's Small World competition.

The Smithsonian gallery shows photos of fantastic deep-sea animals. There is an amazing diversity of life on earth. I am getting some great ideas for my Spore creatures!

Dorodango no Tetsujin

Craftzine's feature on hikaru dorodango ('shiny mud balls') made it look so simple that I had to give it a try. If Japanese schoolchildren can do it, than it couldn't be too difficult. Plus I already had everything you need: water, and dirt. I made a sifter by poking holes in a paper cup. Then I got to work forming my dorodango.

Playing with mud is fun. I like the smell and feel of it. As children, we can play in the mud for the sake of play, but as adults we need an excuse. Hikaru dorodango is an opportunity to reclaim this childhood activity. You may be surprised by how much you enjoy it! There are online instructions if you would like to create your own hikaru dorodango.

Chicken Run Rescue

Mary Britton Clouse runs a chicken rescue out of her home on Lowry Ave. Some of the birds are abandoned, and others are saved from fighting rings or ceremonial slaughter. According to the Star Tribune article, it's the only chicken adoption organization in the nation. How wonderful that someone is finding homes for chickens right here in neighboring Minneapolis.

Custom action figures

Photo swiped & cropped from Wired

A while ago, Wired ran an article on action figure modding. It's an interesting concept but I wasn't blown away by any of the examples in their gallery (except the seriously awesome Skeletor shown above). Then I saw Jin Saotome's Master Chief on Kotaku. I was so impressed by the incredible level of detail on this 8-inch figure, I'd be proud to own it, even though I don't play Halo.

I would love to have a modder selling these at a Craftstravaganza, except the price would probably have to be somewhere on the scale of a customized Blythe doll. Master Chief is on eBay and bidding is already over $300 with four and a half days to go!

Back to nature

Nobody moved into my handmade bird house this year, but it's still providing a valuable function in our urban forest. See that big pile of morning glory vines at the corner of our backyard fence? The swallow house I built is buried underneath all that foliage!

I took this photo over a month ago, and the cluster has only grown thicker with time. This mighty bush grew from just five wimpy seedlings. It seems to be putting all its energy into bulking up the branches, producing only a handful of morning blooms. Meanwhile, all around our yard tiny morning glory plants are springing up, and burgeoning with dozens of flowers.

October Challenge: daily blogging for 1 month

April 18, originally uploaded by hesmywatermelon.

I'm participating in the Zen Habits "October Challenge." From their site:

The purpose of these monthly challenges is to form a new habit in 30 days by doing them daily [...] The only rules:

1. Choose only 1 habit. You might want to do more than 1, but it’s pretty difficult.
2. Make it easy — you want to be able to accomplish it. Don’t make it too challenging.
3. Report daily, or as often as you can. Accountability is what makes this work.

I was going to pick weightlifting, because it's a habit I would really like to get back into. However, I've tried to start up again several times before and it's hard, so that violates rule #2. Instead, I decided to do one new blog post every day throughout October. I enjoy writing (it's good practice for NaNoWriMo!) and I haven't been very consistent lately, so I've got lots of catching up to do anyway.

Best part is, the daily reporting (rule #3) is automatic. Now it's your job to hold me accountable. My reader(s?) have permission to rake me across the coals if you don't see a new blog post daily before midnight (Central Standard Time). OK? Let's go!

Bicycle-lawnmower hybrids

Look at the list of ingenious pedal-powered mowers on Some of these contraptions remind me of the mutant bikes made by chopper clubs like Black Label and the Rat Patrol. In fact the "Suburban Intruder" pictured above was put together by Cyclecide, whose crazy creations never fail to impress.

Sadly, our urban yard is far too small to justify a riding mower of any kind, whether manual or run on gasoline. I did consider buying a modern reel mower. If only our home's previous owner hadn't left behind a perfectly good Toro, that's probably what I'd be using now.