Dept. of Cycling Milestones

When I bought my Surly — well, my SECOND Surly, after the first one was stolen — in August of 2012, I had them put a simple little bike computer on it to track speed, distance, time, etc.

It includes a “life of bike” mileage counter.

Today, as I finished my ride, that counter said this:

2014 07 24 20 48 40

About 1,500 of that is since I started using Strava right before the MS150 (it keeps track, too). (For that matter, I’m working on my 8th 100-mile week in a row…)

I like biking.

Alert: Heathen Birthdays

Today is the birthday of two important Heathen: one of my very oldest friends, and one of my very newest.

This is Agent R. He and I were geeky Boy Scouts together more than 30 years ago. He had the first modem I ever saw, not to mention — years later — the first CD player. He’s pictured here with someone who I trust will become a friend, but whom I have not yet met.


And this here is the tiniest niblet o’corn ever, Miss E. I. H., late of the Glenbrook Valley area and, as of a few weeks ago, our goddaughter. As Agent R completes his forty-fifth (!) trip around the sun, this little delight finishes her first lap.


Happy birthday to both.

“Mostly snakes”

As reasonable a description of Pentecostalism’s origins as you’re likely to find:

my favorite thing about Pentecostal snake handling is that at some point somebody read the whole Bible and his one takeaway was “SNAKES”

“what did you get out of the Bible, Jim”

“mostly that we should touch snakes”

“anything else”

“there was some guy but mostly snakes”

Seen on Maud Newton’s blog, but the author is apparently this dude.

Life in the Future

I got one of those “reminder” mails from LinkedIn today, telling me to congratulate a few folks on work anniversaries.

The first reminder in this email, though, was wrong on a scale not ordinarily seen.

  • First, I know that today is not MV’s sixth anniversary at $company, because he helped found that company in 1997.
  • Second, I know that today is not his anniversary there because he left that company over two years ago.
  • Third, I know that today is not his anniversary there because he’s been dead since September of 2012.

But good try, LinkedIn. Good try.

But was the 150 FUN?

Exhibit A: GoPro footage from a teammate edited down to 2:38; look for me at about 1:05, as we roll into Austin in a giant group.

“We ride bikes. We drink beer.”

Hey Chet! How was your weekend?

Glad you asked! I had a little adventure, as I think you are aware.

Day One

We started bright and early on Saturday morning, though a little less bright and a little less early than we intended. It worked out for the best, at least for me, in that I ended up riding alone with a faster teammate (who’d also been running late) until we got to Belleville, about 45-50 miles into the 100 mile first day (link’s to the Garmin site, and contains basically all the data captured on the ride). Riding with Adrian made me faster, partly because riding with someone is just better, and partly because I could draft him (thanks, man).

Consequently, I covered the first 40 miles at a generally unheard-of for me average speed of 17 MPH. That’s not fast by serious bike standards, but it’s absolutely a personal best for me. (It would be unsporting not to note the tailwind, of course.)

Adrian and I parted ways in Belleville, as I said; he took the official lunch stop, which remains criminally awful, apparently — you get a sandwich fit for a 3rd grader and crappy pasta salad with several thousand of your closest friends. It’s no wonder many of the bigger, richer teams opt for a private lunch stop. I took a page out of their books, though, and staged refreshments with my dear pals the Acostas, who also provided lunch and a special cheering section at the edge of their Belleville ranch:


That beat the pants off the circus that was “official” lunch. I paused there for 15 or 20 minutes before riding on, refreshed and at least somewhat rested and theoretically ready to tackle the hardest miles of the ride, in my opinion: Belleville to Fayetteville. If you click through to the Garmin site on the link above, the first graph below the map is my speed plotted over a Y-axis of either time or distance. You can easily see both the wreck-mandated stop about 15 miles into the ride, and the sudden yo-yo of my velocity as I hit the hills at about mile 44; sadly, I never sustained that kind of speed again on either day, but that’s what crosswinds and hills will do for you.

Screen Shot 2014 04 14 at 4 10 53 PM

(The graph never hits zero because the Garmin autopauses if you stop; however, the deep dips at mile 51 and mile 58 are (a) me stopping to call Edgar and verify his location and (b) the actual lunch stop; other, later deep dips are also rest stops.)

To be fair, the real killer for my speed after lunch was the rolling hills. As Garmin link shows, you end up doing about 3,000 vertical feet of climbing on the day one route, which isn’t exactly trivial, and doesn’t get erased by the fact that you’re basically climbing the same few hundred feet over and over (the actual elevation difference between Houston and La Grange is only about 300 feet).

The best I can say about the rest of the ride is that it wasn’t always windy and hilly. But when it wasn’t windy, it was hilly; and when it wasn’t hilly, it was windy. And the worst winds, sadly, came on the final stretch down 2145 to La Grange’s Jefferson Street, when we turned more or less INTO the wind down a stretch of road with very little protection. That you’re almost done (maybe 7 to go?) at that point doesn’t help much when the wind hits you.

Around this point I realized that the course was slightly short, at least according to the Garmin. If you zoom into the map closely, you can see how I handled it. Once I realized I was only going to log 99.2 miles, I turned around and backtracked for 0.4 miles before heading in. Think about it: would YOU spend 7 hours in the saddle and NOT have your GPS say you rode the full century?

Screen Shot 2014 04 14 at 4 14 18 PM

The other fun thing is something Strava calculates for you. Strava, if you don’t know, is sort of a cycling Facebook that’s gaining steam largely because of the way that make it simple to compare your performance to other cyclists. One of their metrics is the Suffer Score. I knew I was miserable towards the end, and it appears I now have the metrics to prove it!

Epic suffer score, brah!

“Epic suffer score, Brah!”

Day Two

I’m pretty sure that graphic is also the punchline for day two, because I didn’t (and couldn’t) hit it nearly as hard. I felt pretty low energy, and the storm clouds brewing certainly weren’t helping my mood. I couldn’t seem to make my legs work as hard as they had on Saturday (hello, fatigue — unsurprisingly this shows up in the stats as persistently lower heart rate).

Even though day two is much shorter — “only” about 68 miles — this time around I had real trouble, and I think it was both pushing so much harder on Saturday, and then not getting fueled enough early enough on Sunday.

Fortunately, I got to address both of those after lunch. The team started trying to ride together starting at the next-to-last stop — we actually rolled out of that one in a pace line 15 or more riders long, much to the chagrin of some uptight folks on other teams — and got serious about it in the last 10-12 miles.

Here’s the line; I’m not in this shot, which means I was either further up or further back, but it gives you an idea how it was going at that point:


This process took effort, because even with the fastest guys holding back, and middle-of-the-pack guys like me, it took time for the slowest folks to catch up with us. We took long breaks at the final rest stop, and then at two different appointed “rallying points” before we rolled into Austin proper — and then held up again, super close to the finish, to make sure three more could join who’d been delayed by a flat.

The result of all this was super worth it, though. For one thing, I’d recovered enough that I could ride the hills hard in downtown Austin, and for another it meant that about sixty of us crossed the finish line in a giant blur of red and blue, and let me tell you how awesome that felt!

So, what have we learned?

  • I will say, though, again and for the record, Austin needs to just give the fuck up on the pylon thing. They’ve tried both years to sequester the cyclists into a single lane (potentially workable, on a smaller event) or even into the bike lane (absolutely impossible). There are 15,000 bikers riding into Austin on the Sunday of the 150, and we travel in packs. It’s unsafe to try to compress them too much in the last stretch, and downright absurd to put actively hazardous items in their way. The cones get hit and shoved all over the place, and you can’t see them until the last second when you’re riding in a pack.

    Both years I’ve ridden outside the pylons for a good chunk of the Austin course because it’s SAFER to be where it’s less crowded. Seriously, Austin, get a clue.

  • Energy is key. I’m still not so great about eating enough on distance rides, and that hurt me later in the day on Saturday, and for much of the day on Sunday.

  • The Garmin LiveTrack is awesome — I’m shocked at how well it worked — but it needs juice, too. Even though it was only trickling data up to the web, the phone gave up the ghost about 75 miles in on Saturday, which certain people found alarming. I rode with a backup battery on Sunday, so the LiveTrack stayed up.

  • I gotta stay on the training treadmill all year. I’d have had much faster rides both days if I were stronger, and I’d be stronger (and lighter) if I hadn’t taken like 5 months off from riding entirely. Oops.

  • Being loudest has its advantages; this is my team winning best jersey, awarded based on fan noise (video to follow):


Will you be back next year?

Oh, indeed. Karbach uber alles!

From the “we don’t care if it’s 100% true, it’s still awesome” files

Suppose you’re underage in the early 1990s, and live in Austin. Suppose you really, really want to get into shows, and suppose further than a friend of yours comes by an actual Texas drivers’ license that at least vaguely resembles you — except it’s for a slightly older person. Old enough to get into the bars.

You’ve hit the underage jackpot, for sure; FAKE IDs are risky and rarely work, unless you spend big bucks forging (which is itself illegal). But a real DL that looks like you? FLAWLESS VICTORY.

Turns out, though, the story gets better, largely because of the circumstances under which, in 1994, the ID became utterly useless to our young hero.

Curious? You know you are..

Right, so…

…it’s my birthday. I’m 44, which is my first palindromic age since 2003.

Pretty sure this won’t happen again, as it did fourteen years ago when my attorney ran down Heights Boulevard with a shopping cart full of fire:

Edgar cart2

And I’m pretty sure there will be no need to subdue needlessly cheery meat-and-whiskey-filled piñatas, as we did four years ago:

IMG 5053

But some tomfoolery, either today or tomorrow, is more or less guaranteed.

In which we quote wisdom from, of all places, Tumblr

I think the most important thing that facebook is going to do for humanity in general and the United States in particular, as a society, is inform us which of our friends/relatives/acquaintances are fucking idiots that we really should not associate with at all.

From Will’s Tumblr.

This maps closely to another quote, the specifics and citation for which I’ve lost, to the effect of “Twitter makes me want to buy drinks for people I don’t know, and Facebook makes me want to punch my friends and family.”

Decrypting Wiggins

Some of you have met our cat, Wiggins. Wiggins is one of those cats with no unvoiced thoughts. She has lots to say, but it really hasn’t been clear what it was. Until now.

Using cutting-edge linguistic techniques, we have isolated her primary messages:

  • “I am in a room, but the people are in some other room, and I cannot find them.”
  • “I am in a room, and there are people in it, but it is the wrong room.”

Despite the breakthrough nature of this discovery, it’s not at all clear what actions we’ll take as a result.

Except, I guess, occasionally changing rooms.

Here I Go Again: the 2014 MS150

It’s springtime in Houston, and that means we’re all spooling up for another MS150.

Last year, I thought I’d be one-and-done with this, just proving to myself that I could do it. Well, I did it — and rode the century on day one, even — but I had so much fun that repeating with the Karbach Team was never in doubt. We’ve already started the training rides again.

Last year, you, my friends, helped make me the number one fundraiser for the Karbach team. I don’t mean to take anything away from that, but I don’t think it’s possible for me to repeat: someone is already out in front by a long, long margin (check it out). That said, though, I’d love to make my mark once again. And it’s up to y’all to help me out. Can I count on you?

Thanks, all of you, for the tremendous support you gave me last year. It was remarkably motivating, and you helped make a real difference for the NMSS. Let’s do it again.

Dept. of Doug Adams being Wise

This was all over the net a month or so ago, but it’s worth a review:

I suppose earlier generations had to sit through all this huffing and puffing with the invention of television, the phone, cinema, radio, the car, the bicycle, printing, the wheel and so on, but you would think we would learn the way these things work, which is this:

1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;

2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;

3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.

Apply this list to movies, rock music, word processors and mobile phones to work out how old you are.

Oh, AT&T. By what black magic have you managed to monetize customer annoyance?

So, imagine if you will that you have a question about your AT&T bill — a document of such unfathomably needless complexity that it seems obviously designed to allow those goatfuckers to slip extra charges in whenever they want.

First, of course, you do some mental math to determine of the possible value of the question makes it worth your while to call AT&T. Be honest with yourself: you know good and damn well that you’ll have to deal with a voice menu system that’s calculated to make you abandon your call, and then deal with a poorly trained offshore resource who cannot deviate from his menu — a menu that’s chock full of boilerplate phrases about how much they value your time and business (i.e., lies) but are instead designed to waste your time — and who cannot actually help you with anything, but (like the ARU) is doubtless in the mix to encourage even more callers to give up in despair before reaching the vanishingly few number of reps who might actually know something helpful.

But you persevere. You stay with it, even after they transfer you, even after re-entering your account number multiple times (and re-read it to operators), and and even after being hung up on during “transfers”.

Finally, you get to someone who might actually be able to help. You try to pose your billing question, but are interrupted by the poor sop in India who insists that you answer your security question.

Ok, fine.

Except, of course — you saw this coming, didn’t you? — the security question makes no sense at all. It’s something you never would have picked. You have no idea what the answer is. And because of this, they won’t help you.


Apparently, the Indian lets slip, this security question is sometimes set accidentally by AT&T. It happens. So you go back to the “My ATT” (if only!) site, keeping your Indian on the line all the while, and quickly navigate to the carefully hidden Security Options page so that you can reset your security question to something you actually know.

Here’s where it gets awesome: the security questions on MyATT? Totally unrelated to the one the Indian is asking you. There are two on MyATT. They make sense. You obviously picked them. But neither of them are the one the Indian on the phone demands you answer.

It will eventually be revealed that the question they ask when you call is a completely DIFFERENT question, unrelated to the ones you can set online. And, just to be safe, there is NO WAY to change the call-in security question except by calling in and answering it.

Somebody at AT&T seems to have mistaken a certain postwar novel for an instruction manual.

As for me, at this point? There was yelling. There was a language barrier, but I’m pretty sure yelling is universal. I did, eventually, succeed in getting it reset to something I know. It only took 90 minutes. And then they explained the bill. Finally.

Jesus fucking Christ on a pogo stick with a side of beans, these people suck. Will NO ONE create a telco that doesn’t seem completely invested in fucking us over? Where the fuck are the regulators? Bring these goatfuckers to heel, for the love of all that’s holy.

More on Zimmerman and Martin

Cord Jefferson over at Gawker has written a really solid piece about being young and black and male in the US that pretty much everybody ought to read.

Especially if you’re confused at all about why people are upset.

Here’s a bit:

It is a complicated thing to be young, black, and male in America. Not only are you well aware that many people are afraid of you—you can see them clutching their purses or stiffening in their subway seats when you sit across from them—you must also remain conscious of the fact that people expect you to be apologetic for their fear. It’s your job to be remorseful about the fact that your very nature makes them uncomfortable, like a pilot having to apologize to a fearful flyer for being in the sky.

I’m reminded of Kiese Laymon’s amazing piece as well, which ran in the wake of Martin’s murder last year. If you’re unfamiliar with “How To Slowly Kill Yourself And Others In America”, do yourself a favor and read it too.

How Right-Wing Fundies Embrace Religious Pluralism

This morning, at a Louisville Starbuck’s, I saw this bumper sticker:


In case it’s not clear, let me spell it out for you: It says “Contradict” in the same style as the now-ubiquitous “Coexist” stickers, with the tagline “They can’t all be true.” Threatened by an America where they’re no longer the overwhelmingly dominant demographic gropu, they’ve taken a message of tolerance and turned it into a means to run around telling people their faith is superior, which I’m certain will do WONDERS for tolerance and pluralism.

What goons.

Generation X is Tired of Your Bullshit

We’re old enough now that the “they’re lazy, they’re not like us, yadda yadda yadda” crap about the next generation is actually about somone other than us, and, frankly, most of it’s shit that was said first about us, and we don’t particularly want to put up with it:

Generation X is beyond all that bullshit now. It quit smoking and doing coke a long time ago. It has blood pressure issues and is heavier than it would like to be. It might still take some ecstasy, if it knew where to get some. But probably not. Generation X has to be up really early tomorrow morning.

Generation X is tired.

The best thing I have EVER seen on Facebook, bar none

In the “travel reports from far-flung Heathen cousins” category, we find this:

Screen Shot 2013 06 05 at 9 59 43 AM

Marijke is my mother’s first cousin’s daughter, which I believe makes her my second cousin (but you can check my work). I went to her parent’s wedding twenty-mumble years ago, but I think I’ve only ever met her as an infant.

Her father’s a Dutch banker who’s recently taken a job in Zambia, but it’s more fun without context, isn’t it?

Patrick Stewart is a goddamn hero.

Here is why. Mrs Heathen and I were there at Comicpalooza for this; it was an astonishing and honest and open moment, and I would be a liar if I told you my eyes were dry by the end.

I’m glad this was captured, and I’m glad people can see it.

How Felicity Came To Live With Us: A story about paintings, movies, Rob Norris, and ten-year quests

Ten years ago, almost to the week, Erin and I went over to Austin to see the joint AFI/Alamo Drafthouse Ten Year Reunion showing of Dazed and Confused. Most of the cast was going to go; they were showing it on a giant outdoor screen “at the moon tower,” complete with keg beer, etc. Tickets were reasonable! We had very little money at the time — I was working, but my client wasn’t paying me often or enough — but we squeezed this out by eating cheap and whatnot.

We made it a weekend, and had dinner at a nice little bistro down on the quiet end of Sixth Street, where we dined with Ol’ Mr Rob at his suggestion — which is its own story, since Rob was in the early stages of dating Mrs Norris at the time, and was sufficiently smitten in an adorably obvious way that he rushed off at meal’s end to visit her at her coffee shop job. (Erin and I ended up getting married not very long after Rob and Joanna, as it happens.)

After Rob made his exit, Erin and I walked around the little gallery-cluster near the restaurant before heading back to the hotel. They were all closed, which is a crucial bit of data, but we saw something amazing and wonderful that resonated immediately with both of us. It was a completely serious painting of a very Victorian and proper-looking otter, done in a very formal style, entitled (in our memories) “Eugenia Smelt, Spinster.”

We made a point of going back the next day, but the price was completely out of reach. I remember it being something close to $1,000, which we simply couldn’t do at all. We left without her, full of regret, and in so doing made a critical error: we did not capture the artist’s name.

Time passed. Money became less tight again, finally. Five or so years ago, I remembered Miss Smelt and hatched a plan to find the painting, or another one by the same artist, as a gift for Erin. And so I began to search online for this phantom artist. I called the gallery, which had (inevitably) changed hands, so they had only a vague idea of the artist I was trying to find. I’ve been told any manner of stories about who she was, or what happened to her in my years of searching, and none of the stories were encouraging. She quit painting. She moved to Ouagadougou. She had a nervous breakdown. No one knows where she is. Her name? Oh, no idea.

All of this sucked. It sucked more because I had a really hard time constructing Google queries that didn’t produce page after page of hits for people who paint portraits of your pets — we loved Bob, but no thanks.

At some point, finally, I figured out who the artist was: Sarah Higdon, and she was clearly still painting. Suddenly, she was on the Internet, and I even managed to find a photo of the Eugenia Smelt painting (which Higdon named “Eugenia Smelt, Unmarried” — I figure the gallery owner took liberties, because Erin and I both remember it the other way).

Here it is, for reference:

Sarah Higdon Eugenia Smelt

Well, with a web presence, contacting her must be easy, right?

You’d think that. Not so much. I hit a couple email addresses at various galleries, and even one or two that I thought would be the artist herself, but never hit pay dirt. I even wrote to people who had other of her works. They always either bounced, or garnered no response at all. I’d really almost given up, until this April when I thought to try one more time. Here’s what I said:

Ms Higdon,

Some time ago — I think in 2004, but I may be mistaken [I was a year off] — my wife and I were dining at Cafe Josie in Austin on a trip over to see the AFI “Dazed and Confused” anniversary viewing. We remember the trip well, not just because of the fun we had on Saturday, but also because we saw some paintings through a gallery window near Cafe Josie that we really, really liked.

We visited the gallery on Saturday, and admired the works some more, but could not at that time justify spending money on art — the tech downturn was hitting our house kind of hard at the time. Thankfully, that state of affairs didn’t last, but it did keep us from taking one of the works home with us at the time. Foolishly, though, we failed to note the name of the artist whose work we liked so much.

Since then, we’ve periodically tried to figure out the artist whose work we saw then, but only recently have we made a real quest of it. That’s why I’m writing to you today: I think it’s your work we saw, and that it’s your work we want to hang in our house.

The paintings we saw that weekend were decidedly and delightfully odd: they were paintings of anthropomorphized animals in odd or vintage clothing, in the style of late-19th/early-20th family portraits. The animals are mostly, but not completely, realistic — more than cartoony, but definitely not photorealistic.

I think, at long last, that you are that artist. I first found your web site at, but the clincher is that I think “Eugenia Smelt, Unmarried” (pictured on your Facebook page) was the painting we so fell in love with 9 years ago. Are prints available of that piece? I assume the original has long since sold, but do correct me if I’m wrong…


Chet Farmer

Sarah replied in less than two hours. When the first line of her mail was “Yay! Quests!”, I knew it was a good sign. Eugenia was of course long sold, and no prints exist, but she’d be happy to paint something similar for us on commission. Would I be interested?

YOU BET YOUR ASS I WOULD. Paypal ensued. The original plan was for this to be Erin’s birthday present — in July! — but when Sarah replied and delivered so quickly, I knew I couldn’t possibly wait.

The new painting arrived on Monday. I somehow managed to keep my mouth shut about it, and just left the box on the couch for Erin to discover when she came home from work.

Heathen Nation, please meet “Felicity Elkins, Alone with her Clam”. We are very pleased, as I think this photo makes obvious:

2013 05 20 18 13 21

Yay for Sarah Higdon, yay for cool paintings, and yay for QUESTS FULFILLED.

Life in the Future

It’s sort of weird the degree to which I no longer think it odd that I need to coordinate business activities in any given day across more than 3 or 4 time zones.

My personal high is eight: Singapore, all four in CONUS, the UK, Vienna, and Abu Dhabi. It would’ve been nine, but by that point we no longer had an Indian subsidiary.