Category Archives: General Stuff

Disney and Universal 2014 wrapup

A few more-or-less random thoughts about our recent trip to Disney World and Universal Studios Florida:

  • Universal is a see-it-once park, I think. We enjoyed it but there was nothing so compelling that I think we’d want to go back again in five years. On the other hand, all four of us had specific things at Disney that we looked forward to doing (among them: turkey legs, the Winnie the Pooh ride, Tower of Terror, and Space Mountain).
  • Having said that, the Harry Potter attractions are superbly done: decoration, character acting, costuming, and all the little touches come together to provide a very immersive experience. Just don’t expect to be able to drink a whole mug of butterbeer. (And don’t be surprised if the Forbidden Adventure ride leaves you nauseated for a couple of hours afterwards.) Getting early access by virtue of staying in a Universal property was well worth it.
  • We didn’t buy, nor did we miss, the front-of-the-line ride access benefit that Universal sells for $60+ per person, per day.
  • Disney’s MagicBands system works extremely well and made paying for things much easier– which, I suppose, is the point.
  • The FastPass+ system takes a little getting used to because you can get multiple passes at once, but there are limits on which rides you can stack passes for. Read up on it before you go.
  • We stayed at two “value” hotels: Universal’s Cabana Bay and Disney’s All-Star Music Resort. Both had nicely equipped, clean “family suite” rooms. Both claimed to sleep six: Universal provided two double beds and a twin pull-out sofa, while Disney provided a queen, a twin sofabed, and two single fold-out sleep chairs: not ideal for six-foot teenagers, but workable.
  • Disney’s on-property wifi was great at the parks, as was Universal’s. However, the Disney in-room wifi was unusuable– worse even than the worst of the Microsoft conference hotels I’ve had to use in the past.
  • EPCOT’s International Food and Wine Festival was going on, so we got some primo foods when we ate dinner there. I’d like to do the festival again, but with more time to savor the food.
  • Tom, Matt, and I all ran into friends at the parks. It’s a small world indeed.
  • We didn’t rent a car, so we used Uber for the move from the Kissimmee airport to Universal, then a cab from Universal to Disney, then Uber again. Orlando’s taxis are about a million percent cleaner than in most other cities, but Uber was cheaper and faster.

Overall, a successful trip (good flight, too!) but boy, am I glad to be home!


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Thursday trivia #108

First, my thoughts and condolences are with the families of the pilots killed in the Westwind II crash at Huntsville yesterday. 
  • I don’t normally post on political topics here… but if you believe that six key IRS employees just happened to lose all of their email, at the same time, in a manner that’s not recoverable, then I have some hope and change I’d like to sell you. Government agencies and large companies pay large sums of money to prevent exactly that type of occurrence.
  • This looks pretty interesting: “Loss of Signal: Aeromedical Lessons Learned from STS-107
  • Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the first successful demonstration of an autopilot. We’ve come a long way since then.
  • Having two teenage sons both driving has reacquainted me with all the reasons I don’t like auto insurance companies. Every six months, when I write that check, my dislike for them peaks.
  • I’m loving the World Cup, but oddly I don’t care much about soccer in general. Go figure. I must be an American.


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Thursday trivia #107

  • “Learned helplessness” is totally a thing, but perhaps some people are more prone to it than others
  • If I were critically injured, I would be totally OK with having my blood replaced with freezing salt water to “pause” my metabolism long enough for the ED docs to fix me up. 
  • In the past two weeks I’ve started watching 3 new shows: Longmire, Orange is the New Black (thoroughly enjoying it so far), and Halt and Catch Fire (atmospheric, but they muff a lot of technical details and the MacMillan character seems a straight ripoff of Don Draper). However, that’s all about to go by the wayside for two reasons: my “pre-order” list at Amazon is about to blow up with new books, and the World Cup is starting today.
  • Hopefully the airplane will be fixed in time for our scheduled trip to Perrysburg. If not, second prize  is the Fathers’ Day Weekend Inferno at Anaheim Chili.

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Training Tuesday: more of the same

[ I know this is a day late but the draft was sitting on my computer at home and I couldn’t post it yesterday. C’est la vie. ]

My weightlifting training should have been pretty easy: I had a daily eating plan and a scheduled list of workouts. All I had to do was stick with that schedule. The effort involved, of course, came from actually lifting the weights (and, sometimes, getting my lazy ass off the sofa and going to the gym). That is one of the key aspects of the Fleet Feet TRI101 program for me: the training schedule is laid out, day by day. In theory, all you have to do is follow it and you will, almost inevitably, get better at the individual events. But what if you deviate from it… for example, by mixing in races? I guess I’m going to find out. My first multisport event was on Saturday: the brand-new Mountain Deux aquathlon (a rather stupid name; it’s a ~5K trail run followed by a 200m swim).

I signed up for two more sprints, too: the Tarpon Tri in Houma (200m swim, 10mi bike, 5K run; super flat course but August in Louisiana, yikes!) and the RaceVermont Sprint in Shelburne, Vermont (where I’ll get to see Julie and her family, and for which I had to rent a wetsuit— Lake Champlain is cold!) I am a little nervous about the Vermont race because it’s a longer bike distance than I’m used to, and the swim portion is 500m of open water. It’ll be a fun challenge though.

Workouts since my last post:

  • Tuesday: in TRI101 class, we had a 40-minute group run scheduled. It was 88° when we took off, but I still managed 4.0 miles in 40:04. I’ll take it, but maaaaan, I was sweaty when we finished. I also had a swimming lesson, which went poorly— I am still having a hard time getting my stroke and breathing coordinated, and the drills Lisi taught me mostly just made me frustrated that I wasn’t doing them well.
  • Wednesday: I took a short ride to test my new cadence/speed sensor. Just under 7 mi in about 31 minutes.
  • Thursday: I had a root canal around noon, so I wanted to get a run in early. A local group of runners meets at Bridge Street for a 4.5 mile run, so I dragged out of bed at 0515 to join them. There were storm clouds building when we stepped off, then we started getting a really impressive lightning display about 1.5 mi into the run, so we cut it really short. 2.67mi in 23:14, which felt great— that’s very close to my “good” 5K race pace. The threat of getting zapped by lightning obviously helped, given my pace on the last part of the race. I love it that the watch gathers enough pace data to show the two (short) intervals when I took a walk/water break— those sharp downwards spikes.
  • Friday I swam 600m: in 3 sets:100, 400, and 100 again. I haven’t been doing the drills that Lisi prescribed, which means she’s been fussing at me.
  • Saturday was the Mountain Deux. See my full report here.
  • Sunday I had planned to do a brick, but wasn’t feeling well so I punked out. The schedule had a programmed day off anyway so I didn’t feel too badly about it.
  • Monday I had another swim lesson with Lisi. She introduced me to the notion of holding a steady stroke count, as well as giving me a whole bunch of drills. I swam about 450m, plus at least another 300m or so of drills. Then for fun, I took a bike ride through part of Limestone County— beautiful country scenery, followed by a big rainstorm once I was safely at home with the gear put away. This was the farthest distance I’ve ridden so far, just over 12 miles, and after finishing it I feel better about the Vermont distance.

This week I need to focus on getting in the pool!

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Does getting a root canal hurt?

tl;dr: not as much as the tooth hurt before the root canal

For years I had one tooth that would, very occasionally, make a popping or clicking sound— very faint, but since it was inside my mouth I could feel it. I couldn’t figure out why so, as one does, I ignored it. Then last July, it abruptly became very sensitive to heat and cold: Toothmageddon. I went to my dentist, who referred me to an endodontist, Matthew Friedt, who told me “keep an eye on it.” It seemed to get better, so I left it alone. Then came “Toothmageddon II: The Revenge.” A couple of weeks ago, the heat sensitivity returned with a vengeance, along with the popping sound; eating anything above mouth temperature would make the tooth throb for hours. I immediately made another endodontist appointment, and yesterday was the big day.

I found a lot of contradictory and confusing information online about root canals, so I thought I’d summarize the process, at least the way my endo did it.

First, he took a couple of X-rays and confirmed, by using both heat and cold tests, which tooth was afflicted. Interestingly, the nerves that sense cold tend to be the first ones to die off, which is why I lost the cold sensitivity. The tooth was definitely heat-sensitive, and Matthew used an optical microscope to examine the tooth surface and saw a few small cracks. Once he had verified that he had the right tooth, he shot me up with plenty of lidocaine (or whatever the cool kids use for face numbing), let it percolate, and then started working.

The work phase was simple: he clamped a little metal ring on my back molar and used it to hold a dental dam and frame, which was a new experience for me. Then he drilled a hole in the top of the tooth and used a series of super-fine probes and drills to clean all the tooth-guts (that’s a technical term) out. Once he finished this phase, I got another X-ray so he could verify that everything was out. Then using the same series of probes, he filled the nerve channels in with some sort of rubber or epoxy or something, then added a cone-shaped plug that sealed the hole in the tooth and tamped the material down. That was it; I didn’t have anything stronger than topical anesthesia, and he didn’t prescribe any antibiotics or pain pills.

After I left I noticed that the entire right side of my face— all the way up to my right temple— was as numb as a steak; my jaw was super stiff from holding it open, and my neck and shoulders were tense from me tensing them. I went home, had a protein shake, took an Advil and a leftover pain pill from Toothmageddon I, and napped for a couple of hours, followed by a light dinner and some Netflix. Now I’m back to normal.

While I wouldn’t say it was fun it wasn’t as bad as I had feared, and it is nice to be able to enjoy non-room-temperature food without pain. I very highly recommend Dr. Friedt; he explained very clearly what he was going to do, then he did it efficiently and quickly (the whole process from arrival to departure took a little over 2 hours).

The More You Know™…

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Training Tuesday: slow progress is still progress

One of my fellow TRI101 participants shared this excellent article about building on your strengths in one event to bolster your weaknesses in another. I don’t really feel like I have any special strengths in running or cycling, other than “can complete required sprint distance.” But on reflection… that counts too. I definitely feel like my swimming is improving, though, and cycling the 10-15Km routes we use for training has been getting easier: an excellent sign that I need to go either farther or faster. The TRI101 program is scaled for participants who start at a low fitness level, but we are now at the beginning of week 6. If I stopped right now, I’m confident that I could finish a sprint triathlon, which is great news— now I just need to work on doing it faster.

The week’s training:

  • Thursday: 250m swim + swim drills. Slow, but better than nothing. I just wasn’t feeling it that day. As Karen, one of our coaches, pointed out, some days are better than others, and sometimes the best thing to do on a bad swim day is cut the distance short.
  • Friday: I swam 100m without stopping— a big deal for me, since I hadn’t been able to do that before— then 5 x 50m intervals, then another 100m. The intervals are 25m slow and 25m as fast as possible. It was a good workout, and I felt much better than I did after Thursday’s swim.
  • Saturday I did a short run/bike brick with a couple of classmates: 8.5 mi on the bike in 44:26 and 1.1mi running in 11:34. On the bike I spent a while riding slow circles waiting for all our party to catch up, so I didn’t take that time too out of sorts. I also went to the pre-race brief for the Mountain Deux aquathalon, which is this coming Saturday: a ~5Km trail run, followed by a 200m swim. Should be fun, except for the “trail run” part.
  • Sunday I swam with two TRI101 peeps: 100m warmup without stopping, 400m with minimal rest, then another 100m (which I did as 2×50, with the same 25m slow/25m fast). This was the first workout I logged with my new Suunto Ambit 2s triathlon watch.
  • Monday I had a bike fitting. That’s a topic for a post all on its own; look for it next week.

So, the watch. Anyone who knows me knows what a gadget nerd I am. I saw a mention on Facebook of a big watch sale mentioned at the DC Rainmaker blog, so I started poking around and was fascinated by the idea of a GPS-powered watch that could track my workouts for me— something I’d been using my phone for, with varying degrees of success. After reading his über-review, I decided to get an Ambit 2S. As much fun as it would be to have the barometric altimeter in the Ambit 2, it wasn’t worth the extra money. It arrived Saturday, and first thing Sunday morning I strapped it on and headed to the pool. Here was my reward: a more-or-less accurate record of my swim activity. I say “more or less” because I think it miscounted laps a couple of times, and the “total distance” column in the laps table doesn’t match the “distance” field at the top. I will be using it for cycling and running in the next couple of days and can get a better idea of how it works but I am most interested in the “multisport” mode for triathlons. I’ll be using that at Mountain Deux next week. The watch can pair with heart rate monitors, cycle sensors, and all sorts of other goodies that I will eventually add.

First swim

The upcoming week’s training should be good stuff— running tonight and Thursday, swimming Friday, and a bike/run brick Saturday. There’s a group that meets Thursday mornings to run a 4.5mi road course; I might join them to get a little distance in on the theory that if I can run 4.5 miles, it’s not that much of a stretch to run 6 miles, which means that I’d be in striking distance of running a 10K once triathlon season calms down some. On the down side, I also have a root canal Thursday (after running), so that may slow me down a bit. Hopefully I’ll bounce back in time for Mountain Deux on Saturday!


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Training Tuesday: week in review

I’m a day late this week; blame the Memorial Day holiday for throwing my schedule off a bit.

Last Thursday I had a big day: swim coaching, then a bike/run brick: 7.16 mi on the bike, followed by a 2.32 mi run. Neither was especially fast, but that’s OK. This was the first time I rode without headphones, using just the speaker on my iPhone for music. It worked fine and made me feel slightly more safe; I am super paranoid about sharing the road with cars since there aren’t any bike lanes out here in Limestone County, and not having my ears plugged made it quite a bit easier to hear vehicles behind me.

Swim coaching was a blast! On the advice of some friends from the TRI101 training program, I set up a coaching session with Lisi Bratcher. Over the course of about an hour, she spotted probably half a dozen things I was doing wrong. This is no big trick; almost anyone who’s ever swum a race could watch me and say “dude, you’re not supposed to do that”. The difference is that she taught me what to do about those things. For example, I am turning my head to breathe too late in the stroke, which means that I am working harder than necessary to get air, which explains my pitiful pool endurance. She also gave me some useful advice about my arm stroke, leg kicks, and timing. This week my swim days are Thursday and Friday, and I’ll probably sneak in at least one extra swim over the weekend, and I’m looking forward to putting her advice into practice.

I didn’t do anything Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. Booo hiss. However, the TRI101 schedule (which I am trying hard to follow) had Saturday and Sunday as off days anyway, so no real harm done. I did work a volunteer shift at the packet pickup for the Cotton Row Run, where I bought a cheap triathlon kit at the race expo. I’ll eventually post pictures (of the kit, not of me wearing it), but it basically looks like just-above-the-knee bike shorts with a sleeveless quarter-zip top. The idea behind the kit is that you can wear one outfit for the swim, bike, and run, only changing your footwear. My practice swim suit would be fine for the bike but uncomfortable for the run, and my bike shorts (with their enormous diaper-like groin pad) would be terrible for swimming. I don’t have any opinion about the quality of this kit (it’s Nike) but it was cheap, so I’m sure it’ll be fine.

Monday morning Tom and I ran the Cotton Row 5K, both carrying our flags as we did last year. I ran it in 30:38, which was slower than my last few 5K races. In my defense, I was carrying a big ol’ Marine Corps flag. I ran with the race belt I’ll use during the triathlon; it was really nice to be able to grab a drink in between the water stations, although certainly not a necessity.

Yesterday we had our scheduled TRI101 class; this week the topic du sémaine was cycling again, so we met up outside the Redstone gate and rode an out-and-back circuit. I rode just under 15Km in just over 35 minutes, which was decent for me. I wasn’t pushing especially hard; my pace was roughly on a par with my brick ride from last week. I am getting more used to using the special pedals and shoes on the bike; this week I didn’t fall over, and my mount / dismount mechanics are better. I still need to take my bike in and get it fitted to me though. I did like riding on the Arsenal because it has a lot of big, wide roads with relatively few cars (during this particular time), so I’ll probably use it as a venue occasionally from now on.

Five weeks in! August is looming closer and closer…

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