Shift Up to Frustration

My company recently upgraded me to a new laptop, and it almost didn’t survive the first hour in my safekeeping.

The old Dell was was working fine … except that it was no longer on speaking terms with its fancy-schmancy docking station. I use two external monitors when I’m at my desk, and while the computer was in its cradle, the monitors would flash and sputter like they were auditioning for a Pink Floyd laser show. As it turned out, it was the port on the underside of the laptop and not the docking station that had decided to fail. So it was time for a new laptop.

The new one is a Lenovo Yoga 710. It’s the kind that kind of converts into almost a tablet. It has a touch screen, because apparently that’s what laptops have nowadays. Whatever … I doubt the laptop will be doing much downward-facing dog, but it’s super light and pretty sexy for a laptop without an Apple logo on it.

It also has the stupidest bloody keyboard ever designed by humankind.

Seriously, I don’t know what the geniuses at Lenovo were thinking when they designed this thing. Did they do any user testing at all?

Here’s the deal. Every other keyboard in the history of keyboards has a Left Shift key to the left of the Z key and a Right Shift key to the right of the / key. (I should point out that intelligent people call it the “Slash Key,” while everybody else calls it the “Forward-Slash Key.” Nobody knows why.)

This, in case you are currently unaffiliated, is the way God intended keyboards to be. If you want to capitalize any of the letters on the right side of the keyboard, you use your left pinkie to hold down the button right beside the Z. And if you want to capitalize any of the letters on the left side of the keyboard, you use your right pinkie to hold down the button right beside the /. Glory, hallelujah.

lenovo-keyboard

But not in Yogaland. When you’re in Yogaland, the world is now tilted on its side. Sure, you still capitalize right-side letters with the button next to the Z. But if you want to capitalize a letter on the left side of the keyboard, you hold down the Up Arrow key, which happens to be the button directly beside the / (“Slash”) key, and then you type a lower-case letter (because you missed the Right Shift key altogether, as it’s in the absolute wrong effing place) and you type this lower-case letter in the middle of the word that’s directly above the place you wanted to type it, because you already hit the effing Up Arrow key to get there. So you backspace and try it again, but do the exact same effing thing because you’ve been typing on regular effing keyboards since you were in junior effing high and they’ve all had essentially the same effing layout until the stupid effing geniuses at Lenovo decided that the effing Page Up key should actually go where the effing Right Shift key should be and you do it again and again until you want to chuck the shiny effing new laptop out the front effing door and then run it over and over again with your effing car.

And you cuss and you cuss and you cuss.

Thank the Lord above for KeyTweak, some free keyboard remapping software that allowed me to save my sanity, my laptop, and my capital letters. Thanks to this Godsend tool, I was able to reassign the Up Arrow functionality to the Right Shift key, and make the actual Up Arrow do what God intended it to do, which is obviously to make capital letters with wild abandon.

I’m still debating whether to grab a screwdriver and pry off the actual buttons and put them in the places where every deity in every known religious pantheon intended them to be. Somehow, I suspect that would void the effing warranty. But I also suspect it would be monumentally satisfying.

For now, at least I’m reasonably sure I won’t throw this thing into the street and run it over with my car. And that’s a blessing.

Glory, hallelujah.

Posted in Funny, Personal, Writing

My First Half Marathon

bryce-canyon-half-finish

I’ve always enjoyed running, though I haven’t always run. Lately, though, I have.

Roxy-smileEarly this year, we adopted Roxy from a shelter. Roxy is, we think, mostly Manchester terrier. We discovered pretty quickly that she really liked to run. I took this as an sign that I should probably get my running legs back into shape. Roxy isn’t a big dog, but she has long legs and (apparently) infinite stamina.

A good friend of mine, Doran, has been doing half marathons for a while. I’ve been watching him from afar as he’s trained for and completed a bunch of them. In February I made the decision that I would use my time running with Roxy to prepare to run my very first half. Roxy and I had some interesting times along the way.

Initially, I was running every single day, literally rain or shine. When this started to take a toll on my body, I went to see a physical therapist. He assured me that the constant aches and pains in my hip and legs were muscular and not in my actual joints. He planned out a daily regimen of stretching for me, and recommended that I use a foam roller on my leg muscles to help condition them. Also, he encouraged me to give myself two “no run” days a week. His advice was instrumental in allowing me to keep training.

My plan was pretty straightforward. Five runs a week, with one of them being a long run (nine or ten miles). Roxy and I both prefer to run on the snakeinfested trails north of our home if the weather is good and I can get out before dark. When that wasn’t possible, we ran on the streets of my neighborhood. Here’s a summary of how my training went:

mileage-and-time

Doran and I registered for the first race that made sense: The Bryce Canyon Half. It begins at Ruby’s Inn on Highway 63 (elevation 7,652 ft.), turning onto National Scenic Byway 12 and descending through Bryce Canyon National Park, passing through Tropic and ending in Cannonville (elevation 5,800 ft.) My original goal was just to finish the race, with no expectation regarding my time. But as the race approached, I decided I wanted to try to finish in under two hours, if possible.

The morning of the race I was feeling apprehensive. My longest training run had been 10.5 miles, though that had been a trail run with lots of uphills. Doran and I had stayed overnight in Panguitch, and didn’t get much sleep that night (though to be honest, I got a lot more than he did). We got up at 4:30 to catch the bus to the staging area. The sky was just beginning to lighten a bit as we took off our jackets and got ready to run.

Here are two things I learned that I hadn’t known before:

  1. Your race bib tracks your start and finish. I’d been worried about whether I should try to get up to the front to start closer to the head of the pack, but I discovered that wasn’t even necessary. The bibs they gave us had an RFID chip in them that recprded the exact time we crossed the starting and finish lines. Knowing that now, it would probably make sense to actually begin toward the back, to let the pack thin out before actually beginning my own race.
  2. “Pace runners” are a thing. As we were lining up, I noticed these people holding sticks with signs on them that said “1:55,” “2:00,” “2:05” and so on. Apparently this is pretty common. These people run the race to strict times that allow other runners to pace against them, so they can finish in the time on the signs. Pretty cool idea, though obviously the staggered starts caused by the RFID chips make that a bit less than 100-percent accurate.

The gun went off and we all started running.

The first two miles were flat as we chugged down Highway 63 and onto the 12. Right at about the two-mile mark, the road went over a little hump and dove down at a pretty steep grade. I was feeling great, not even winded, but began to feel the pull of gravity. Not liking the pace dictated by the downhill course, I kept switching between leaning back and just giving in to it. Miles three and four were the steepest, and then the grade got a little easier to manage. A lot of people blew by me as I caught up to the 1:55 pace runner. I had my music cranking and just kept putting one foot in front of the other, enjoying the scenery.

At the end of mile four I dosed my first gel pack. This is something I’d read about, and experimented a little with in my training runs. They’re basically an ounce of gooey sweet stuff that you squeeze into your mouth, providing calories and electrolytes that get into your system quick. I carried a water belt pack (though the race had plenty of water/Gatorade stations) because I wanted to be able to hydrate when I needed it. Washed down the sugar. Still feeling great.

At the six-and-a-half point I shouted out, “Halfway there!” I don’t know what kind of reaction I expected, but nobody responded. Too busy running, I guess.

Somewhere along mile eight I began feeling the burn. I’d been sneaker-stalking Miss 1:55, but she ducked out at some point, probably because she was ahead of schedule. I found myself gaining on the 1:50 pace runner, and then I lost her. I also started seeing a few runners limping and stretching on the side of the road—either they had cramped up or they were in some kind of distress. Luckily, I didn’t feel any of that … just the burning legs. We hit a few short uphill sections and I shortened my stride but upped my pace. Passed several people going up, which felt pretty good. A lot of my training trails are uphill.

Something happened around mile ten that bothered me. I thought I’d been paying attention to the mile-marker signs, and the voice on my phone kept on counting off the half-miles. Somehow, though, I got it into my head that I’d passed the ten-mile mark, so I was expecting eleven to come pretty quickly. Just two miles after that. Piece of cake. Then, when I approached the next orange sign, it said 10 and not 11. That kind of set me back. Three more miles … not two. My head must have been getting foggy. We hit another up-grade and I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. Again and again. Again and again.

Once I actually passed mile eleven, the last two miles were sheer willpower. Another rise, then a flat section, then eventually the long, gentle slope into Cannonville. I saw a crudely written marriage proposal on a flattened cardboard box. (“Will you marrie me?“) I saw some other signs, and passed a family parked on the side of the road holding a banner. I can’t remember who they were rooting for. Too busy running.

I tried to pick up my pace as we made the final turn leading toward the finish, but honestly, I think I simply kept going. I had no idea where I was in term of time, because I wasn’t paying attention. Didn’t want to fumble for my phone. Just kept running. Turned into the parking lot and crossed the pad. Someone put a medal around my neck. My legs were burning pretty good and I walked around on jelly knees. It took a moment or two to realize my phone was still ticking away. I took it out and stopped the clock. The time said 1:52:29. I couldn’t believe it. The number seemed impossible.

I made my way back to the corner to wait for Doran. As I stood there, a teenaged girl (probably around 16 or so, wearing her school’s cross country team shirt) looked at me and said, “Oh, it’s you. I was pacing against you.” Wow—I’m three times her age. That felt good.

Doran came in after a little while, and we grabbed our refreshments. The chocolate milk was already gone, but they had bananas and ice cream sandwiches. Yum.

bryce-canyon-half-recovery

Just before we left, I walked over and checked the posted times. I turned out that I had done even better than I thought. My final “chip time” was 1:50:05. That means I averaged 8.4-minute miles over 13 miles. Unbelievable. I came in 17th in the “male, 45-49” category, and 253rd overall. I still don’t know how I did that.

You only ever get one first half-marathon, and this one was a great experience. Now that I know I can do it, I’m going to begin experimenting with different training regimens, different courses, different music, different paces—anything I can do to maximize my results. Yesterday I registered for my second half … coming up in three weeks. I’m planning on a third race in September and another one in November. After I have four halves under my belt, I just might start thinking about considering the possibility of maybe deciding whether I might want to attempt a full marathon.

… Maybe.
bryce-canyon-half-finish

Incidentally, this whole run-up to the half also coincided with a “step challenge” going on with my wellness program at work. I got my fitness tracker a week into the challenge, at which point I was #3 on my team (based solely on the runs I was tracking via MapMyRun). The person on my team in first place was averaging in the neighborhood of 9,500 steps per day. With all my training—my short and long runs, and the other stuff I’ve been doing—I ended up with an average of 17,699 steps per day.

At the end of race day (last Saturday), I had 33,899 total steps. (That happened after I took the photo below.)

step-challenge

step-challenge

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Posted in Personal

My Truck Stop Writing Haven

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In one of my early posts on this blog, I talked about how I love to write in restaurants. It basically comes down to this: I’m more productive when I write just about anywhere but at home or my regular work environment. I’ve tried many times to actually figure out why this is the case, but in the end I just learned to accept it. I write best when I “go to work”—as long as it’s not the place where I do my regular job.

My requirements for an away-from-home “writing office” are as follows (and in this order):

  • I need to be isolated in the middle of other people.
  • I often stay late into the night—so the place should be open past midnight, if possible.
  • A little background noise/movement is great. People-watching opportunities are welcome. Too much of either … not so good.
  • Caffeine, caffeine, caffeine.
  • Wi-Fi access is a definite plus.
  • Power outlets are my friend.

I’m not a morning person. I write best at night. When I lived in Phoenix and then later in Salt Lake City, there were plenty of places around where I could take my laptop and park myself for a two- to four-hour writing session. As I’ve mentioned before, more often than not I would end up in a late-night McDonald’s restaurant. They all have Diet Coke on tap. They all have Wi-Fi. Many of them have almost a one-to-one table-to-outlet ratio. With a large drink costing just a dollar, that’s a bargain in every sense of the word.

DraperMcDonalds

Image courtesy Google Street View

I wrote almost all of my first NaNoWriMo novel (the one I’m currently shopping around to agents) in the McDonald’s at the intersection of Bangerter Highway and I-15 in Draper, Utah. Technically, the dining room was only open until midnight, but the lady who ran the joint allowed me to stay as late as I wanted. (Their drive-through stayed open 24 hours, so it wasn’t like they were sticking around just to let me pound out words on my keyboard.) They cleaned around me. I bought a drink (and sometimes an apple pie) and I was grateful. Often they gave me free food.

Now I live in Cedar City. Our family loves it here. It’s a small town in southern Utah about three-and-a-half hours south of Salt Lake City and two-and-a-half hours north of Las Vegas. We have a large state university (Southern Utah University) and world-class theater (The Utah Shakespeare Festival and the Neil Simon Festival) and we’re not far from even more amazing entertainment down at the Tuacahn Amphitheater. We also have clean air and amazing scenery and beautiful sunsets and phenomenal hiking trails.

What we don’t have a lot of is restaurants that stay open late. We have two McDonald’s-es in town. One closes at 10:00 p.m. (11:00 p.m. on weekends) and the other is in a Walmart Supercenter. That one has a metal gate that rolls down every night at 9:00 or 10:00.

So what’s a guy to do?

My 24-Hour Options

I have two:

Subway/Love’s: My go-to “writing office,” Subway is open 24/7 and I can buy a bottomless drink for $1.50. It’s less than a mile from home and provides almost everything on my list above. When I say “almost,” I’m talking about the Wi-Fi. There are six networks in the building, but not one of them is for public use. The Carl’s Jr. next door supposedly has Wi-Fi, but it hasn’t worked in several months. Power outlets galore. Friendly workers.

Valerie’s: A 24-hour taco shop on 200 North just off I-15. This is a three- or four-mile drive for me. Valerie’s used to be a Sonic Drive-in, but they now only do drive-through and eat-in. There’s a room in the back that is rarely used—except during their lunch rush and by me. The place has strong Wi-Fi and all-you-can-drink Diet Pepsi, but no available outlets.

That’s it. If I only want to work until midnight, there are a few more options: both taco joints. If I don’t mind driving, I can go to the 24-hour KB gas station in Parowan, 15 miles away. They have a grill that serves pretty good food and a huge assortment of fountain drink options. I can get caffeine, but no Wi-Fi. But sometimes the trek is worth it just for a change of scenery. Also, there’s an adorable cat that digs in the garbage outside, and I sometimes watch him/her when I get stuck on something.

“Close to His Office”

Image courtesy Google Street View

You know how sometimes it’s hard to recognize people when you see them out of context? Last year, I was trying to place this guy I’d seen several times at church. I finally figured it out—he worked at my Subway. Daniel and I got pretty friendly. We’d sometimes talk when he was on a break. Sure, it cut into my writing time, but he was a good guy and I didn’t really mind.

A few months later we were at a church function and someone asked Daniel where he worked. His response:

“I work right by David’s office.”

My actual office (in downtown Cedar City) is about three miles away from the Subway out at the junction of I-15 and North Main. But I got it. He worked at the Subway counter, making sandwiches while I toiled away at my laptop a few yards away. Daniel and I shared a good laugh about that.

I was working at the Subway/Love’s last night and took a photo of my “writing office.” So here you go, folks. Here’s where the magic happens:

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#AmWriting

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Posted in Personal, Writing

Avengers Sneakers for Megan

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Anyone who knows me knows about my weird hobby of painting shoes. I’ve been doing it since high school. The idea is just so obvious:

  • Some artists paint on canvas.
  • Some shoes are made of canvas.
  • Why not paint on shoes?

After I recently painted a new pair of Converse All-Stars for myself, I told my kids it was time for them to have their own painted shoes. Since she was having a birthday, Megan got dibs. She’s turned into a major Marvel fan lately (the movies and TV shows—not the comic books) and has been looking forward to the movie Captain America: Civil War. Because of this, she wanted me to do dueling Captain America/Iron Man shoes. We’re pretty happy with the results:

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With slip-on sneakers, the largest area of canvas on the shoe is the toe. Since Civil War is all about the conflict between two of the most important Avengers, it made sense to give them the primo spots. Captain America went on the right, and Iron Man went on the left.

Here are some close-ups on the main character designs: Click the images to view close-ups.

Captain America close-up

Close-up of Captain America. His costume has changed so many times, it was just a matter of picking one. Faces are hard.

Iron Man close-up

Just like Cap’s suit, Iron Man’s armor changes from movie to movie. I’m not sure which version this is, but I really like the pose.

Please read absolutely nothing into the choices for right and left. It was purely coincidental, though completely appropriate. In the movie, Steve Rodgers (Captain America) resists pressure to give up his personal liberty to the United Nations, while Tony Stark (Iron Man) advocates for greater government control.

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

—Benjamin Franklin

A few more images from Megan’s Avengers Shoes:

Avengers shoes, side detail

Avengers and Marvel logos

Avengers shoes, side detail

Proto-Iron Man and the Stark Industries logo, vs. a retro Cap design with WWII-era flag and marching GIs.

Avenger shoes side detail

More side detail.

Avenger shoes side detail

More side detail.

Avenger shoes back detail

Shield logo and stylized Captain America character.

The movie is all kinds of awesome. Go see it!

Posted in Art, Personal

Brave, Stupid Roxy

 

Roxy-Trail

We have the bravest and stupidest dog on the planet.

Roxy likes to run. She especially likes to run out on the hiking/off-roading trails north of our house. She likes it when I let her off the leash and she can run this way and that, sniffing anything she likes, peeing on anything she thinks needs peeing on, chasing rabbits and squirrels and even deer.

Last night we took one of our favorite routes. It loops up through a new subdivision, then down across the creek. From there it winds up and around through the hills, providing a challenging seven-mile run and giving Roxy lots of things to sniff and pee on and chase.

She did just great—disappearing for a few minutes at a time and then showing up next to me again, trotting along and wagging her tail. We began the long two-mile descent that takes us past some cow paddocks (Roxy loves barking at cows), over a hill and through a gate and then across a flat section that takes us back home.

We passed the cow corral, but the cows were gone. As we made our way across the hill toward the gate, we started seeing cows up on the hill. Roxy gave them the eye, but for some reason didn’t run off barking.

Then we crested the hill and down below, between us and the (suddenly padlocked) gate, were two huge black bulls. Note that we hadn’t gone through any gates to get to this point. We just ran along the trails.

I gave the bulls a wide berth, heading straight for the gate. Roxy refused to listen when I called whistled for her again and again. Stupidly, and characteristically, she ran at the bulls and started circling around and around them, barking her stupid little head off.

I jumped the gate and began calling her. I screamed myself hoarse, actually, and whistled again and again. She usually responds when I do this. Last night … yeah, no.

Around and around the bulls. Yap yap yap yap. The monstrous animals began getting agitated, butting each other in the head and pawing at the ground. As they churned up the dust, I got seriously worried about the little mutt. She danced all around and between them, yapping the whole time. I was standing on the other side of the gate, screaming at her. The group of deer watching from the hills to the east may have heard a few bad words. Sorry, deer.

Somehow—and I still can’t believe this happened—Roxy managed to separate the bulls. She chased one of them down the hill toward me, and “herded” the other bull up and over the hill. Just like that, the bull trotted off with Roxy behind her. Couldn’t really blame him, with Roxy on his heels. The other bull stayed put, just on the other side of the gate, ready to stomp me if I ventured behind the fence.

There may have been a few more bad words as I waited for her to reappear. I can neither confirm nor deny. Only the deer know, and they’re not telling.

I kept calling and whistling. The one bull kept looking at me with its evil eyes.

After ten or twelve minutes, here comes Roxy, tearing down the hill. She raced past the prairie dog burrows and past the still-grunting bull, ducked under the fence and fell in beside me. We ran the final two miles home. I let her know—in pretty certain terms—that she was not a good dog.

She did not get a treat last night. Not from me.

Stupid dog.

Dave_Dog

Posted in Personal
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