30 December, 2008

Dvorak Keyboard

I'm no efficiency master. There are tons of things I do that are inefficient. But I do try to minimize them as much as I can. My most recent random attempt at better efficiency was to change my laptop keyboard layout to the Dvorak layout. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, don't worry, I hadn't heard of the Dvorak layout either. Here's a summary:

When keyboards were being invented, the keys had a tendency to jam. This caused the inventor to change the placement of the keys so that the most commonly used keys were as far apart as possible to reduce jamming. While this successfully fixed the jamming issue, it also set up keyboards incredibly inefficiently. And for some reason, we have continued to use the same layout.
Somewhere around 1930, Dr. August Dvorak tested efficiency in the office and realized that the QWERTY (standard) keyboard layout was incredibly inefficient. After much research and after trying numerous layouts, he eventually came up with the Dvorak layout. Here's the basic premise: put the most common letters under the fastest fingers on the home row. Smart, huh? 
But because everyone was so used to the QWERTY layout, few people converted, and it (obviously) has not become an industry standard.
The good news is that even though keyboards do not tend to be set up in the Dvorak layout, it is incredibly easy to change most operating systems to use the Dvorak layout. Here is a website that shows you how.
So, now that I have rambled on and on, here is my story: I changed my keyboard! It was fun. And then I pulled off all of my keys and moved them around (see picture). It took me some time to get used to it, but now I'm comfortable with it again, and I'm hoping that it will allow me to reach previously unattainable typing speeds (the fastest typist in the world uses Dvorak).
I realize that it isn't for everyone (mostly because most people do not have time to re-learn to type), but wouldn't it be great if all of the kids who were learning to type learned on Dvorak keyboards? We'd have a whole new generation of mega-speedy typists!
ps. You can buy stick-on letters so that your keyboard reads correctly if you don't want to pull out the keys, like I did...

25 December, 2008

Happy Holidays 2008 Card


Dear family and friends, 

For those of you who don’t already know, the two of us are spending the year abroad in South America. This has completely changed the feeling of this holiday season. Even though we’re taking full advantage of the bike-riding, lake-swimming, sun-tanning weather, we’re missing the snow and luminarios back home, and most of all, missing each and every one of you! So we thought we’d write a letter to let you know we’re missing you and update you on our adventures abroad thus far.
The first two months of our trip we spent in San Alfonso, Chile, a town of smaller than, well, smaller than small. San Alfonso is located 60 kilometers (about 36 miles) Southeast of Santiago, the capital city, in a beautiful canyon called Cajón de Maipo. Living in San Alfonso was always an adventure. Getting groceries each week consisted of two hour long rides on the rather unpredictable (but always entertaining) bus, and doing laundry meant tracking down one of the three or four people in the town who owned washing machines (and paying them an outrageous amount per load).
While in San Alfonso we met an incredible number of amazing people who made our time there, well, AMAZING! We met the Andrade family who rented us our casita, took us rafting, and gave us free range to explore the 3,600 hectares of mountains they owned. We became friends with the family who owned the market where we bought fresh bread daily, and with a wonderful taxi driver named Tito who took us to try our first Mote con Huesillo, a traditional Chilean drink. At the school where she volunteered as an English and dance teacher, Victoria made a number of small friends who called her tía and didn’t seem to notice how slowly and carefully she spoke Spanish. We were even befriended by a number of stray animals, the two most memorable being a pregnant, one-eyed cat (Pirate), and a dog that, if she were human, would be an Olympic runner (Dingbat).
We also mountain bike raced in Chile. Macky raced in four of the Copa Chile races and placed 9th, 7th, 12th, and 9th, respectively, in the Pro category. Victoria raced in the Copa Chile series finals and topped the podium in the Novicio Damas category. It was at these races that we met the “Giant Bicycles Chile” Team. They ended up becoming our adopted Chilean bike team, and the team manager Antonio, his girlfriend Paula, and her daughter Anastasia became our adopted Chilean family! During our last week in Chile we lived with them at their beautiful house in Santiago. 
San Martín de Los Andes, Argentina, where we are currently living, is turning out to be just as wonderful as San Alfonso. In addition to it being stunningly beautiful here, situated on a 15-mile-long lake in the Andes, we have met another group of (you guessed it) amazing people! During our first few days here, a number of people we barely knew helped us find a place to live and introduced us to the town. We quickly became friends with Flavio Bonilauri, the owner of a local bike shop, and his crew. Victoria even found an all girls cycling group that rides together twice a week. 
Argentina has also sharpened our culinary skills. Being used to the diversity of our moms’ delicious home-cooked meals, the shock of cooking for ourselves was just that, shocking! Unable to come up with a different meal for every night, we resorted to alternating between pasta and…pasta. Mind you, we did switch it up a bit; sometimes we ate our pasta with cheese and sometimes with tomato sauce. And sometimes, we even ate it with BOTH! But once we hit San Martín, we decided we had had enough pasta to last a lifetime. With the help of our parents and the Internet we have mastered a whole new smorgasbord of recipes. Among other things, we can now make our own tortillas, refried beans, salsa, breaded chicken, and energy bars!
We hope that this holiday season finds everyone as healthy, happy, and excited about life as we are (if someone less tan)! We are missing everyone back home, and send all of our love and wishes for an awesome 2009! 

Tear up the powder for us! 

With Love,
Macky and Victoria


P.S. We made a “Happy Holidays” slideshow for everyone using some of our favorite pictures from the trip! You can view it here.

Other links:

To see an interactive map of our trip so far, click here.

To see our complete collection of photos, visit our flickr albums.

If you want to read more about our trip from Macky’s point of view, visit his blog (okay, you've clearly already done that). 

…and if you want to read Victoria’s account of the trip, ask if you can borrow her journal or read her poetry when she gets home. 

Christmas Wishlist

It's a whole new thing for me, this Summertime Christmas. I've found it incredibly difficult to get into the Christmas spirit without snow, cold weather, a Christmas tree, lights, decorations, or skiing. Victoria and I have tried hard. We decorated (colored on) our Christmas tree (a hand-drawn picture) yesterday and made ourselves a delicious Christmas dinner of breaded chicken and twice-baked potatoes tonight, but the one big thing we're still missing is presents. You see, the problem with being poor and in a foreign country is that you can't buy one another expensive presents and there's a good chance Santa might not be able to find you. So, because I'm not planning to get any of this stuff, but I'm still trying to get into the Christmas spirit, I decided to write down my Christmas list here and explain why I want each thing. Here goes (note that these are not in any specific order):


1. The $1000 entry fee for the TransAndes mountain bike stage race (unfortunately, I need this by December 31st) because I really want to race the TransAndes Challenge.

2. A new 15" (unibody) MacBook Pro laptop set up as follows: 2.8GHz processor, 320 GB Hard Drive (@7200), 4 GB RAM. Microsoft Office, Final Cut, and Photoshop CS4 Suite installed would be a plus. My Dell is working, but has seen better days. Plus, you can dual boot run Windows on the new MacBook Pros (in case I need any of my PC programs).

3. The iAero III G or the iPro Wireless III G power meter by iBike. I have accepted that POWER is the next step to take in my training (along with riding more) and the iBike power meters look great (and are easy to switch between bikes).

4. The Garmin Edge 705 cycling computer (with heart rate and cadence, of course). The new Edge 705 is power meter compatible and works with the iBike power meters. And what would be the point of having power if you couldn't pair it with your heart rate and GPS data?

5. Any set of PowerCranks (the PowerCranks xLite Adjustable would be best). These are crank arms that DO NOT connect but both sides power the drivetrain. I am told that they work wonders for your pedal stroke and I would love to have a perfect pedal stroke (there's no point in wasting energy when you're pedaling).

6. A Retul fit for all 4 of my bikes. I had a professional bike fit a few years ago because of knee pain, but I have had a bit of pain resurface recently (I think I've grown). Now that I don't plan on growing any more, I figure this is the time to get another one.

7. 2 SRAM group sets (I'd love Red, but I'm not picky), 1 for my cyclocross bike, and 1 for my road bike. I've got low-end Shimano componentry on them right now and it just doesn't work all that well. Plus, I really like the hidden cables...

8. A smartphone. I admit that iPhone is the best known and absolutely beautiful, but since it is still unavailable for Verizon, I'll go for some other kind of phone. I want to be able to browse the web/check email from my phone, and this seems like the way to go. Plus, as a Computer Science major, it seems like I should probably stay at the forefront of the technology that is around. So, maybe a smartphone running on the new operating system, Android.

Like I said, I'm not planning on getting any of this, but it doesn't hurt to DREAM BIG right?

22 December, 2008

Galletas de Bici (Bicycle Cookies) - Homemade Energy Bars

At $4 a pop, Clif (R) Bars just aren't worth buying down here, but I still need something to train with. So I decided to search the "magical internet ball". I found tons of recipes. TONS! I didn't know where to start there were so many. So I decided to try a new approach: Twitter.
Although I found Twitter (and blogged about it) almost 11 months ago, I didn't really start using it until about a week ago. That was when I realized its potential (it also didn't hurt that I got wireless internet). So I sent out the message:
Anyone know of any good "homemade Clif Bar" recipes? I'm in Argentina and can't get Clif Bars down here, but need something to train with...
And people actually responded! I had multiple people send me suggestions and websites, and I finally decided on a variation of this recipe (thanks to @sprocketjockey).
The only problem was that it required peanut butter, another luxury that is hard to come by here in Argentina. So I decided to make that too!
Back to the "magic internet ball". And I came up with this recipe.
Between these two recipes, Victoria and I made some delicious energy bars, which we have since dubbed "Galletas de Bici" (Bicycle Cookies). I admit that they do not have the same flavor nor the same texture as real Clif (R) Bars, but they are cheaper, delicious, and easy to make.
So here is our "Galletas de Bici" recipe:
Homemade Peanut Butter (makes 1.25 cups):
1.25 cups Peanuts
0.75 cup Caramelized Peanuts
1 tsp Salt
4 tsp Olive Oil

Blend the peanuts and salt, adding olive oil slowly until the desired consistency is achieved.
Galletas de Bici (makes 18 brownie-sized bars):
1 cup Rolled Oats (regular old oatmeal)
1.5 cup chopped Dried Fruit (we used pineapple, apricots, pears, and raisins)
0.5 cup chopped Nuts (we used almonds, peanuts, cashews, and walnuts)
0.75 cup Rice Crispies (or other cereal)
0.5 cup Fat-Free Powdered Milk (we don't think the "Fat-Free" matters)
0.75 cup Sugar
2 tsp Butter
1.25 cup Homemade Peanut Butter (see above)
1 cup Honey
Chocolate

Mix all of the ingredients up to (and including) the sugar.
Melt the butter, peanut butter, and honey in a large frying pan.
Mix the melted mixture with the dry mixture (not with your hands - it's HOT).
Pour this into a wax-paper lined 9x13 inch baking pan.
Sprinkle the chocolate (or if you have a bar, grate it) over the whole concoction.
Put in oven for 5-10 minutes or until the edges brown very slightly (I'd give you a temperature, but our oven doesn't have any numbers).
Allow to cool fully.
Cut up and store in fridge.

21 December, 2008

Copa Chile #5 - Lo Barnechea

I didn’t win, but Victoria did! Seems a little unfair to me; I race 3
Chilean races and get to know the competition, the area, the Chile-style courses, and she shows up and wins her first Chilean race. But I was glad. And proud! I can’t tell you much about her race, because I only saw her when she was coming through for her second lap, but she was smiling (she always smiles while she races) and was riding well. And she won!
I was not smiling during my race. It hurt a lot, and I didn’t race nearly as well as I would have liked. The course was fun though, and had more climbing than any of the other courses had had, but I didn’t race smart, and ended up bonking towards the end of the race. I also remember getting frustrated because I wasn’t descending well. I think that spending so much time in San Alfonso and having only dirt roads to train on really hurt my technical skills.
I ended up 9th overall and 6th in the Elite (Pro) field. I would have finished 4th in the Sub-23 (U23) but the UCI official who was there wouldn’t let me race Sub-23 because my license said “Elite” on it and didn’t specify that I was under 23. I admit that I wasn’t all that phased, because my UCI points were determined by my overall placing, I just didn’t like the UCI judge being a jerk.
But enough complaining. Lo Barnechea actually taught me quite a bit. I learned that I need to ride singletrack regularly and always need to practice my descending. I also learned that a 9-month season is a very long season. I was tired during this last race, and think it was simply from having raced 34 races in the last 9 months.
But now I’ve had my 2 week break and am beginning to base train again. And this season may be even longer!

19 December, 2008

Copa Chile Jeep #4

The 4th stop of the Copa Chile mountain bike series happened a long time ago.  Unfortunately, it happened during the time I wasn’t really blogging.  Then I raced the 5th (and final) stop of the series.  Then we moved.  Because of all of this exciteme
nt, I am just now getting around to writing about both races which means I may not remember them nearly as well as I did earlier (which means shorter posts).

Here were my thoughts during the 4th stop of the Copa Chile (Concepcion)

On the start line:
“Okay, just focus on the race.  Ignore the stomach, it’s probably just nerves anyway.  Okay, so it’s not just nerves...the bathroom says it’s not just nerves.  Focus, focus, breathe, calm...  Wish that breakfast had been bigger than yesterday’s.  How are a bunch of bike racers supposed to survive on bread and tea?  Good thing Antonio bought
 that oatmeal and fruit.  Wish I’d gotten a better warm-up and wish I had mud tires. No point thinking about that now. FOCUS!”
GO!
“WEEE!  Here we go!  Come on guys, FASTER!  Wow, look out for the crash.  Bummer for those guys.  Stay with the fast group.  Pedal, pedal, pedal, just keep pedaling.”
*Pant, pant*
“Oh man, these guys are fast!”

Part way through the race:
“Oh, not good. I’m bonking. I should’ve started a bit slower, or at least pulled back earlier. Dangit. Okay, just keep pedaling. If I can keep going at a somewhat decent pace, maybe I won’t get passed by too many people.”
A little later:
“Come on guys, cheer from me! CHEER! I need cheering so that I’ll go faster! PLEASE! Oh no, not the running section again. Wish I’d brought mud tires...”

As you can tell from my thoughts, Concepcion wasn’t my best race. I finished 12th overall and 5th in the Sub-32 (Under 23).  My biggest regrets were that, (1) even though I had them, I hadn’t brought my mud tires (I didn’t know it was going to be wet), and that (2) I didn’t pull back my intensity quickly enough after the start of the race and bonked on my 5th of 7 laps.

14 December, 2008

2009 Cycling goals - out in the open

I do not have two-thousand-and-nine cycling goals. That would be hard to remember, not to mention hard to accomplish. Instead, I have 6. 
All of my goals are goals that I believe I can accomplish (with a good dose of luck, of course) because I think it is unwise to set impossible goals. At first, I was hesitant to post these publically (partially from a fear of jinxing myself and partially from a fear of posting my goals in such a public place) but I have come to realize that the first fear is silly and the second will actually help me. By posting my goals pubically, I am giving myself more people to answer to, as well as more people who can support me as I work towards realizing these goals. So, here goes:
(Note: I started writing these in order of importance, but then I realized that the "less important" ones are actually incredibly important and will help me accomplish the "more important" ones. So now I've decided they are all equally important!)


1. Make the US U23 (Under 23) Team for the 2009 Mountain Bike World Championships to be held in Canberra, Australia.

2. Make the US Team for, and WIN, the 2009 U23 Continental Championships to be held in Santiago, Chile.

3. Improve my endurance so that I can ride hard for the entire race and finish strong.

4. When racing, start strong, but not too strong.

5. Get enough sleep.

6. Stretch every day.

08 December, 2008

Mi casa es su casa...¡pero no la venda!

It happened like this:
Victoria and I were wandering around San Martín de los Andes, Argentina looking for housing and we found what we thought looked like a promising apartment building, but couldn’t figure out where to go to ask about renting. Then Victoria saw this kind-looking middle-aged woman walking from her car to her house. We ran over and asked the woman who we could talk to about renting and she explained that they were all owned individually. We thanked her and were about to leave when she mentioned that she had a friend who was renting a small house and invited us in while she gave this friend a call. When she was unable to reach her friend, she offered to drive us up to see the house, because she knew where it was and figured we’d like to see it, if only from the outside. We accepted and thanked her and the three of us headed off.
This was the beginning of a more-than-2-hour adventure where Cecilia drove us from place to place following one lead after another. We talked to people that were friends of friends of Cecilia’s whom she had never met, drove to numerous different communities in the San Martín de los Andes area, practiced our Spanish, saw 3 different potential houses, and heard about Cecilia’s Italian lover. Admittedly, none of the places she showed us were quite what we were looking for
and we eventually rented a cute little apartment in the center of San Martín that another friend showed us, but Cecilia’s generosity and kindness after knowing us for less than 5 minutes really surprised me.
And this is how our entire trip has been! Everywhere we have gone people have invited us into their homes and made us feel welcome. In Mendoza, we met up with friends of the family,
Alberto and Maria-Gracia Aristarain, who helped us find a hostel in Mendoza and then let us stay for two days (for free) at their beautiful Bed and Breakfast, Casa Glebinias. In San Alfonso, we were warmly welcomed by friends of friends of the family, Sergio Andrade and his family, and given a place to stay for the night and the next morning, the son, Pangal, and his friend, Marco, helped us find a place to live in San Alfonso for the two months we were there. Also during our time in San Alfonso, we were invited to two
different asados (barbecues), two different times, by two different families that barely knew us. The colectivo (a kind of taxi) driver, Tito, who we got to know, invited us out to try mote con huesillo (a special Chilean drink – see picture) because he heard that we had never tried it. And the list goes on and on.
There is one other group that I would like to mention: the Giant Chile mountain bike team. The first race we went to, we met one of the younger racers, Nicolas Prudencio, who introduced us to the team and invited us to join them at their tent. From then on, we hung out at their tent during every race and even traveled with them to the race in Concepcion (5 hours away). We got to know the team really well and, just before we left for San Martín de los Andes, Argentina, spent 5 days at the team manager, José Antonio Riquelme’s, house riding and touring Santiago.
Throughout our trip we have met incredible people and I have made life-long friends. I am also more determined than ever to do everything I can to help people out, even if I’ve barely met them!
Note: The title of this post was something that José Antonio said to me when we were at his house. It means “My house is your house...just don’t sell it!”

03 December, 2008

An interesting experience

I have always had the tendency to give people the benefit of the doubt. I usually assume that insults were accidental and that I need not react. And I’m usually correct. Most people do not mean any harm and insults are usually the result of accidents, miscommunications, or both.
I found out two days ago that this is not always the case.
Victoria and I were sitting in the central plaza in San Martín de los Andes discussing whether or not to rent a cute, comfortable apartment we had just toured, when a boy of about 18 wizzed by us on his bike. I wouldn’t have thought anything of it, or even noticed, but he knocked Victoria’s hat off of the wall on which we were sitting. He immediately stopped and both Victoria and I thought he was going to apologize for his careless behavior, but then I noticed that he had also knocked my digital camera off, and began to get suspicious. Victoria bent down and picked up the camera and turned to the boy who then tried to GRAB IT OUT OF HER HANDS. At that point we both realized that his intentions were not harmless, so Victoria kicked him and yelled “NO!” while I jumped up and asked him what he was doing. At this point a friend of his of about 20 came up behind us and said something. I turned to explain that the boy was trying to steal our camera when I realized that they were in it together, so Victoria and I quickly made our way out of the plaza into a more open area. Unfortunately, in the heat of the moment, I was not able to come up with anything good to say and didn’t know where to go to get them in trouble, so we simply left.
The thing that surprised us the most was that the failed thievery happened during the day in a relatively well populated area and that, instead of running, the failed thief tried to force the camera from Victoria’s hands.
Aside from being overcharged by a baggage carrier the first day of our trip in Buenos Aires, this has been our only bad experience in South America. And, like the baggage carrier experience, we’ve learned from it. We are now a bit more wary and careful not to let anyone see us carrying anything expensive. But we still have my camera!
Victoria says “Oh yeah? That thief is probably at home now crying about his bruised shin! I taught him to mess with gringa girls!”

02 December, 2008

Squirt Lube: The Lube of Legends

“I could hear you all the way around the course your chain was so squeaky!” joked Larry Grossman (the SQUIRT Guy) after this year’s Eldora Escape STXC race. He was right. For some reason, no matter how much Pedro’s Ice Wax I used, I could not silence my drivetrain. But that was about to change...
When I started using SQUIRT Lube, I immediately knew it was the lube for me. It was wax-based, like Pedro’s Ice Wax, but had a consistency similar to that of oil-based lubricants. It went on easily and once it had dried (in a matter of minutes) the resulting wax film left my drivetrain quieter than I had ever heard it. I was hooked.
Since then, I have used SQUIRT in a variety of conditions and like it more and more every day. I’ve used it for stream crossings (during the Breckenridge Fall Classic XC race), in muddy races (like the Copa Suzuki by Scott), and countless times in dry, dusty conditions, and it has worked wonders in every type of riding condition! The only time I hear any squeaking is when I wait too long to re-lube it (I re-lube approx. every 7-10 riding hours). And re-lubing it is a breeze; you don’t even have to clean your chain, you just add more SQUIRT Lube over the existing lube.
I’ve also used SQUIRT as a componentry lubricant and it has continued to impress me. A few weeks ago, I found that my Crank Brothers quick release levers where sticking and noisy. I simply dropped a little SQUIRT into the moving parts and let it dry and haven’t had any issues since. My levers are now perfectly smooth (and silent)! My next experiment will be to use SQUIRT as a cable lubricant to see if it is as effective at this as it has been at everything else.
There is one riding condition I have yet to test SQUIRT Lube in: snow. (Not at all) sadly, I will not be able to test it in snow for another year or so because after experiencing this southern hemisphere summer I will be heading back to the US where I’ll get another northern hemisphere summer...I’m sure it will not disappoint.
Ps. If you're lucky you might find the limited edition PINK SQUIRT lube!

28 November, 2008

Excuses

There are a few good excuses for not posting on your blog for as long as I have: extended hospital stay with no use of your hands (and no friends to type for you), extended hospital stay with no internet (I probably wouldn’t believe you), travel to a foreign country with no internet access (hard to find nowadays), and (the only real excuse) death.
While much less life-threatening and impressive, my excuses are, at the very least, true. The first, and possibly most valid, is that I was overcome by a computer science major’s version of writer’s block. I began to worry that my writing was not worth reading and that I was wasting my time by blogging. I eventually realized that this was absurd. First of all, my blog is not especially well frequented, and secondly, the people who do read my blog probably don’t care as much about how readable it is as they do about knowing what it is that I’m up to and that I’m not in jail or dead.
My second reason is that I found my bookmarked links to Photoshop tutorials. Of course, this caused me to drop everything (aside from the basic necessities of eating, sleeping, and riding my bike) and spend countless hours on the computer learning to do things like make a snail look like
it is crawling out of its picture frame (see first picture), light letters on fire (see second picture), or make miniature planets (I have yet to accomplish this).
Last but not least, I changed my keyboard from QWERTY to Dvorak. This probably means very little to most of you, but it has had quite an effect on me. Although by no means a record-breaking typist, I was at least comfortable and relatively fast on a QWERTY keyboard (the normal one – look at the upper left row of keys). I have now reverted to a typing speed slower than the one I had achieved in my 4th grade typing class in New Orleans. “Why would you do that?” you ask, well, that is a different story, but let me suffice it to say that it was the promise of incredible feats of typing that drove me to act in such a brash manner.
As I have finally regained a very small percentage of my previous typing speed, I no longer have any excuse not to be posting regularly (or as regularly as I ever do). I also have quite a bit of updating to do, so look for numerous posts in the near future!

02 November, 2008

Late US mountain bike race season 2008

Vermont is cold in the winter. And snowy. And cold. And sometimes slushy. Did I mention cold? With all of these unfortunate weather events, trying to train outdoors at Middlebury College during the winter is difficult. I occasionally ride my cyclocross bike on the dirt roads or in the snow but I usually set up the trainer indoors and watch a movie while I train. Although I have now seen quite a few movies that I probably would not have seen otherwise, it also leaves me in pretty miserable shape when the mountain bike season starts.
Unfortunately, this year was no exception. While everyone else was training through the winter, I was stuck inside. And the snow wasn’t even any good. It was just COLD! When the spring collegiate road racing season came, I raced a few races before crashing badly at the UVM road race and cracking my bike frame. Then I had a few weeks of healing, finals, and driving across the country to get home. I admit that not much time was spent on my bike.
The Angel Fire Chile Challenge on May 25th found me in lousy shape. I finished 26th in the Pro field of 27 or 28 racers. Not quite up to par. So I started training and trained hard and it finally paid off at the end of the season when I had 4 good race weekends in a row: Eldora MSC, Brian Head NMBS, Breckenridge MSC, and Cedropalooza (NM State Championships).
Eldora Escape (Mountain States Cup Series - MSC):
For the last couple of years, Eldora has been my “coming-to-form” race. It is the first race of the season where I feel fast and I always go on to have a good rest of the season. Fortunately, this year was no exception.
I admit that I had hoped to win the Pro Short Track Cross Country (STXC) like I did last year, but it was not meant to be. “Jungle” Jay Henry (Tokyo Joe’s) was there to help me realize that I still needed a little more training and to bump me into 2nd place (see podium picture). The next day though, I finished only 20 seconds behind 1st place (Jay again) in the Cross Country (XC) race (see racing picture). This was quite an achievement for me, as it was the closest to winning a Pro XC race that I had ever come.
Brian Head (National Mountain Bike Series Finals – NMBS):
Brian Head was the race that I had been training for all year. It was the race I planned to be at peak fitness for...AND I WAS! The STXC was Saturday, August 30th, and I finished 5th in the Pro field, 17 places better than my best-ever Pro STXC finish at a national race. And I got my first Pro podium at a national race (see podium and racing pictures). I felt good during the race and really enjoyed being able to race with the fast Pros and prove that I could compete at their level.
The next day was the XC and I had another great race (even though I didn’t get a warm-up). I finished 6th in the Pro field, just one spot off of the podium. The course was a single, long loop (23 miles) and I really enjoyed it. I found that I was finally comfortable descending on my hardtail and it was nice to feel strong during a national XC race.
Breckenridge Fall Classic (MSC Finals):
The weekend after Brian Head was the Breckenridge Fall Classic. It was a one-day event (XC only) and was another long loop (27 miles). The course was AMAZING. It had quite a bit of climbing, which I enjoy, but also had really fun, fast descents. Although I didn’t feel amazing, probably from a lack of sleep, I still had a really good race and got my first Pro XC win EVER (see podium picture)!
Cedropalooza (NM State Championships):
Cedropalooza was an interesting race for me. Once again, it was a single long loop (23 miles again) but I had never raced the course, so I had no idea what to expect. I chose to bring my hardtail because I had been having good races on it recently (the last 3, for example) but that was not a wise decision on my part. The course was rocky, loose, and flat, and would have been great on a full-suspension bike. There were no extended climbs, which hurt me, and, as I mentioned, I was on the wrong bike. I was hoping to finally beat Damian Calvert (Cannondale), something I have been trying to do for 3 years, but he ended up beating me by almost 2 minutes (although he broke his previous personal record by more than 5 minutes). I finished 2nd though and that ended my 2008 late-season peak.
This year, instead of the usual Vermont winter, I’m getting another summer. I have already put in significantly more time training than I normally would have at this point in the year (almost 17 hours this week, for example) and once the next two UCI races are done, I will be putting in even more time on my bike to build my base. I plan to be in great shape at the start of the coming US mountain bike race season because I want to qualify for the 2009 Mountain Bike World Championships Team. Worlds, HERE I COME!

23 October, 2008

Why I changed my name

“Frank McConnely”. That was the worst massacre of my name by a mountain bike race announcer that I can remember. It wasn’t the only massacre, just the worst. The most frequent was “Franklin McConnell” or “Frank McConnell”, and there were others, but “Frank McConnely” just blew them all away. I told the officials over and over that my name actually was “McConnell Franklin” and that I hadn’t filled out the entry form incorrectly but they never got it. Even when I started doing well at races, even winning some, they refused to get my name right.
I finally gave in. My coaches and I discussed it and we decided that it was probably hurting me to have my name massacred over and over. First of all, the UCI (Union Cycliste International) website had me listed as “Franklin McConnell” and we were worried that I might not be getting all of the international points I should be. Secondly, my coaches said that if I wanted people (and sponsors) to remember and recognize my name then I needed to use something that was easier to remember and impossible to confuse. So “Macky Franklin” I became (at least in the cycling world).
Fortunately, USA Cycling made it really easy to change. I talked to one or two people at the USA Cycling office, changed it online, and that was that. They changed all of my past results as well, so any time USA Cycling license number 0215111 comes up, so does “Macky Franklin”. Unfortunately, UCI has not been as easy to contact and I am still working on getting them to change my name.
I have been going by “Macky” since I was little, so the actual change wasn’t a big deal, but it was a little weird to see my nickname on all of the “official” results instead of my “real” name. I’m used to it now though and it seems to be working because announcers no longer call me “Frank”. Success!

20 October, 2008

Copa Chile Jeep #3 – Parque Aventura Geoexpediciones

Short track on steroids. That’s the best way to describe these Chilean World Cup style cross country race courses. They are longer, steeper and harder than short track courses, but still remind me more of short track courses than of cross country courses. Also, racing them tends to be more like a short track race than a cross country race: you do the same course over and over and you have to stay far enough ahead to keep from being lapped by the leaders and pulled out of the race.
That is very much how the race this last Saturday, October 18th, seemed to me, except I wasn’t especially worried about being caught by the leaders. The Elite (Pro) and Sub-23 (Under 23) racers did 6 laps on the 3.85 mile course and by the end, I knew every turn, rut, and tree like I’d ridden the course every day of my life. The course was full of short, steep climbs and rutted, loose descents mixed in with fast, flowy singletrack that was a dream to ride. There were a few flat sections that were a little rough on the hardtail and a few road sections, but most of the course was singletrack and amazingly fun!
The race started off fast, like last weekend, but fortunately the starting stretch was nice and wide so I was able to sprint around the outside and sit myself somewhere around 10th place right from the get-go. I spent most of the race somewhere around 7th place until the 4th lap when I felt like I was beginning to bonk. At that point I pulled myself back a little bit and focused on hydrating and “Hammer Gel”-ing until the last (6th) lap when I felt good again and put in a big effort to catch the two guys ahead of me. I ended up catching both of them (and even putting a few minutes on them) and finished in 6th place overall.
Once I finished, there was a bit of confusion. I’m not sure exactly why, but apparently the UCI officials had thought that I was racing Elite so they originally told me I finished 4th (in the Elites). I was happy to hear that I had done so well, but was slightly annoyed because I figured I must have done pretty well in the Sub-23 race as well. Once the judges figured out that I had indeed registered as a Sub-23, they told me that I had finished 3rd and that I needed to get to the podium ASAP. So I ran over to the podium and was waiting around for the awards ceremony to start when I was called back to the finish line to be told that the judges had been wrong and I had actually finished 4th in the Sub-23 race. I was also told that the Sub-23 racer who finished 3rd had only finished 1 second ahead of me. I wondered if there had been some kind of mistake because I knew that there had been no one near me when I finished but I didn’t want to annoy the officials, so I accepted it for what it was and went home. The next day though, when I was checking results, the website said that I had indeed finished in 3rd place, and had been accidentally tricked out of my first chance at an international podium and a medal (they only award 3 deep in each category). And now, 3 days later, I checked the results again and they said that I did actually finish in 4th. Because I thought that I had missed my chance at a podium shot, Victoria drew a podium picture for me (see picture). I think it does it pretty good justice (if I had finished 3rd).
I am also not sure how many UCI points I got. It was either 6 or 16. Unfortunately, I do not know which because according to the UCI website, the race was a Category 1 UCI race, but according to the Copa Chile website, it was a Category 2 UCI race. Either way, I got some points. I really hope it was Category 1 though...

19 October, 2008

First international race abroad…of many

Last Sunday, October 12th, was my first international bike race abroad. It was the “Copa Suzuki by Scott” bike race in Santiago, Chile. As of right now, I plan to race abroad regularly, so I figure that not doing as well as I would have liked in my first race was not all that bad.
I chose to race the Elite (Pro) race instead of the “Sub-23” (Under 23) because according to the website, UCI points were only awarded in the Elite category, as well as money (I admit that I had tricked myself into believing there was a chance I would win some money at that race). I now know that UCI points, along with the prize money, are awarded as if the Sub-23 and Elite categories were one category, so I should have raced Sub-23 so that I could have had a slightly better finish. My official finish position was 6th of 11 Elite racers, and I would have finished 4th of 8 Sub-23 racers, which put me in 9th place overall (of 19 racers). 2 UCI points for me!
The morning of the race was terrible. First of all, the time changed, FORWARD, the night before the race, so getting up at 6:00 AM felt like getting up at 5:00 AM. Then, my palm pilot, which I had changed the night before, automatically changed itself overnight so the alarm went off at what felt like 4:00 AM. This wouldn’t have been too bad, but I was so nervous about the race that I couldn’t go back to sleep and ended up getting somewhere around 6 hours of sleep. It wasn’t enough.
Once we got up at “the new” 6:00 AM, Victoria and I made breakfast, got everything together, and went out to meet Tito, the “Colectivo” (a kind of taxi) driver. Unfortunately, being a foreign bike racer living in San Alfonso, Chile, means that I have ended up taking quite a few Colectivos. Aside from being expensive, they are not big enough to comfortably transport my bike which is forced to hang out of the trunk with only a towel and bungee cords to protect it. Anyway, Tito picked us up, we got to the race venue, I got registered, and I still had a couple hours before I had to warm up so I decided to put on a new rear tire in place of the very-worn semi-slick I had on at the time. I checked with the Giant Chile team and they pointed me in the direction of the nearest gas station with an air compressor so I headed off.
Partway down to the gas station, my rear tire went flat. I was slightly annoyed, but concluded that as I was already on my way to change it, I needn’t let it get to me. Once I got to the gas station though, things got worse. Again. The air compressor at the gas station would not work for my tire. The problem was that it wanted to fill the tire VERY, VERY slowly, which was exactly the opposite of what I needed it to do. If I had wanted to fill my tire VERY, VERY slowly, I would have pumped it up by hand and saved myself the time and trouble of riding to the gas station.
At that point, I realized that there was no way I was going to find another gas station with a better compressor, so I flagged down a taxi, unceremoniously threw my bike in the trunk, and headed back to the race venue. At the venue, Jose Antonio Riquelme, the Giant Chile team manager, gave me a CO2 and I was able to get my tire mounted. Then I noticed my helmet was missing. I realized that I had left it by the air compressor at the gas station. I found someone to give me a ride down to try to find it, but had no luck. Unsurprisingly, someone had noticed it and picked it up. No more helmet for Macky...
By that time, I only had 30 minutes until the race, so I quickly got dressed, borrowed a helmet from another racer on the Giant Chile team (they REALLY helped me out) and got on my bike. I began to feel better and wisely decided that I needed to stop stressing about the morning and focus on the race.
My warm-up was fine. I actually got a slightly longer warm-up than I was expecting (30 minutes instead of 15) and got a front row spot on the starting line. When the race started, I immediately ended up near the back (I didn’t want to insult anyone or do anything illegal during my first international competition) and had to fight for position the whole first lap. I had not had a chance to pre-ride the course, so I didn’t know what was coming, and that slowed me down quite a bit. The climbs were all short and steep and some of them were barely ride able when you combined their pitches with the mud on some and loose dirt on others. Most of the descents were loose and twisty which was very difficult during my first lap because I wasn’t prepared for any of them and lost quite a bit of time simply from not knowing the course.
I did learn one very useful thing during the race though, the two words that you need to know for Chilean bike races: “pista” and “gracias” (pronounced “pi’ta” and “gracia” because of the Chilean habit of dropping the letter “s”). “Pista” translates loosely to “trail” and implies “get off the trail because I’m faster than you and need to get by”. “Gracias” simply means “thanks”. If you wish to get more sophisticated, you can always add “izquierda” (left) or “derecha” (right). These few vocabulary words served me quite well throughout the race and everyone was very nice about yielding the trail.
Unfortunately, my incredible mastery of Chilean-bike-racing-Spanish did not keep me from bonking and I realized on lap 5 of 7 that this was exactly what was happening to me. At that point, I had no choice but to continue on as quickly as I could (now that I knew the course) and try to keep from being lapped by the fastest racers. I was successful in this and finished all 7 laps, although I was the last person not to get lapped.
Overall, it was a great experience. I met a ton of great racers and riders who were friendly, kind, helpful, and supportive and got my first taste of World-Cup-Style international mountain bike racing. And I got 2 UCI points!

10 October, 2008

Chile: The land of “HERE WE ARE...Now what?”

Santiago is big. And confusing. Seriously. First of all, the ATMs at the terminal wouldn’t accept our debit cards. We tried with both of them, but to no avail. Finally, we gave in and exchanged 300 Argentine Pesos at a less-than-great rate so that we would have enough money to last us until we found an ATM that would accept our cards. After that, Victoria and my first goal was to get ourselves and our luggage to Cascadas de las Animas, an adventure resort 45 kilometers southeast of Santiago, where we have family of friends-of-the-family. Unfortunately, that was easier said than done.
First of all, we didn’t know exactly where Cascadas de las Animas was. When we finally figured out the general area and explained it to one of the cab drivers at the terminal, he told us that getting down there with all of our luggage would cost something around 200,000 Chilean Pesos (approx. $400 USD). So we immediately nixed that idea and began look into the idea of taking various metros and buses, as had been suggested by one of the members of the “family of friends-of-the-family”. The problem with that plan was that there was no way we were going to be able to transport 2 bikes (in boxes), 2 suitcases, 2 bike bags, 1 backpack, and 1 messenger bag 45 kilometers via metro and bus.
This is where the next useful piece of information came in: at bus terminals, there are frequently “custodias” (cheap baggage storage). Overjoyed by this new piece of information, we paid a luggage carrier 1000 Chilean Pesos ($2 USD) to transport our luggage to the nearest “custodia” and paid to have our bikes and 3 of our remaining 6 bags stored overnight. Then we had to figure out public transportation in Santiago, Chile.
First we had to get on the “Linea 5” metro. We ended up asking the ticket lady, and after she gave us our tickets, she pointed to the stairs directly behind us. When we got down the stairs, we realized that we were on the platform for “Linea 1”. Because “Linea 1” is not “Linea 5”, we went back up the stairs and asked the turnstile guard. He also pointed us back down the stairs. Getting slightly worried, we trekked back down. It was at this point that I realized that “Linea 1” would bring us to “Linea 5” if we got off at the correct stop. One down.
Once we reached “Linea 5”, we knew that we had to take it to the “Mercedes” stop. When we realized that we had 20 stations to go, we relaxed slightly and began to look around. The first thing I noticed was that we were getting closer to the mountains. I was overjoyed by this prospect and pointed it out to Victoria roughly a million times. This started our discussion of where we wanted to live in Santiago, and we both agreed that we would be perfectly content to live outside of the city. Two down.
At the Mercedes stop, we had been told to get on bus #72 to San Jose de Maipo. Unfortunately, we watched 10 or 15 busses go by in a matter of minutes, and none of them was #72 to San Jose de Maipo. So we walked across the street to the shopping center called “Puente Alto Shopping” and used the pay phone. We spoke to Pangal (the son of the family) and he gave us the following directions: “Take bus #72 to San Jose de Maipo. Then take the bus to San Alfonso and ask the bus driver to drop you off at Cascadas de las Animas.” That seemed relatively easy, so we crossed the street again and as we approached the stop, we saw bus #72! Three down.
Once we hit San Jose de Maipo (fortunately, the bus driver told us when we were there) Victoria and I almost immediately decided that we liked San Jose de Maipo and would be content to live there. We bought 4 empanadas at the corner store where the bus dropped us and were given directions to stay on the same corner to await the bus to San Alfonso. Imagine our surprise when the bus to San Alfonso (it said San Gabriel, but we asked the driver and he said he went through San Alfonso) was also #72. We decided not to let this phase us and finally arrived at Cascadas de las Animas, which people kept calling Cascada de la Anima (I found out later that that is because no one pronounces the letter “s” at the end of words in Chile). At Cascadas de las Animas, we met Pangal (after having spoken to him multiple times on the phone) and he brought us up to his family’s beautiful home on the side of a mountain above San Alfonso. We met his parents, Sergio and Gordita, ate a light dinner and went to bed. Four down. Success!
Note: we didn’t take many pictures during this part of our adventures. We were too concerned with survival...

09 October, 2008

Chile, HERE WE COME!

Considering that we only had to go from Mendoza, Argentina to Santiago, Chile, it turned out to be quite an adventure. It started off easy enough: we got to the bus stop, got all of our bags and ourselves on the bus, and began the journey. Then it became more complicated.
First of all we had to fill out immigration cards to get into Chile. This wouldn’t have been too difficult if the English translations hadn’t been just as confusing as trying to understand the Spanish. For example, “Address in stady country” was the English translation of “Dirección en el país de destino” (address in destination country). Personally, I have never heard of a stady country and it took some deciphering to figure out what we were being asked. We also realized that we had about 8 mandarins and 4 kiwis to dispose of before we reached the Chilean border because you cannot bring foreign fruits, vegetables, or animal products into Chile. I quickly sat to work on a couple of mandarins and a kiwi while Victoria drifted off to sleep.
As we got closer and closer to the Andes, we began to realize how tall they were. I kept trying to get photos that showed cars at their base so that I could blow it up to show how small the cars were compared to the mountains, but every time I tried, the cars seemed to disappear because I had to zoom so far out to fit the mountain into the picture. And they were BEAUTIFUL. Most of the mountains we could see were snow-capped, and we were told that what we saw was “nieve eterno” (eternal snow) that stayed year-round.
When we finally hit the border with Chile, we had quite a wait. At first we simply sat on the bus and looked at the snow-covered peaks but then we decided we wanted to get out and walk around. Unfortunately, immediately after we left the bus, we were told to go back and get our passports and proceed to the border office to get approved to pass into Chile. And that’s when things got a lot worse...
First of all, it was cold. Not just chilly, COLD! I wasn’t all that surprised, seeing how we were 3,000 meters (9,000 feet) above sea level in the middle of the Andes surrounded by snow. I was alright, but Victoria had decided to wear shorts for the bus ride, so she was freezing. Then someone started smoking near us and it really affected Victoria. First she started complaining about being light-headed, and then she said that her vision kept slipping away. I was getting a bit worried, but we needed to get through customs and we were at the front of the line, so we gave them our passports and they stamped them and everything seemed to be going fine, until Victoria swooned. Fortunately, I was right next to her, so I caught her and some nice people in line with us helped me get her and our passports to the medical center. At the medical center, they put her on oxygen, and laid her down while she recovered, and I ran around getting the rest of the customs things taken care of (more stamps and papers and bag searching). The nurse explained that altitude sickness (“apunamiento”) was a relatively common occurrence at the border because we were so high up and told me to give her lots of fluids and keep her from getting excited. Fortunately, we still had 3 or 4 hours on the bus, so it was pretty easy to keep her from getting too excited; she also immediately went back to sleep once we got through the border.
The rest of the bus ride was relatively uneventful (thankfully) and we got to the Santiago bus station sometime in the afternoon. There started our next adventure.

08 October, 2008

Argentina: The land of $10 steaks and terrible drivers

I am in love with Mendoza! It is a beautiful city full of wonderful, helpful people. Victoria and I arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina October 1st at 9:20AM after an 11 hour flight during which we got to watch “How to Eat Fried Worms”. We promptly found a taxi and set off for the Terminal Omnibus (bus terminal) because we had been warned that Buenos Aires was not a very safe place to be, especially as a couple of tourists loaded down with 2 bikes and enough luggage to last us 8 months. We were able to find an ATM almost immediately and made the first dent in our summer savings. It cost us about $30 USD to get to the bus terminal (not including the $20 in tips that we spent paying everyone to help us move all of our bags and bikes from point A to point B at each stop) but the experience was priceless. The drivers in Argentina are TERRIBLE. According to one travel website I saw, Argentina had 7,500 deaths from automobile accidents in 2006 (which averages 20 deaths a day) and I can see why. Although there is some road signage, drivers seem to follow their own rules and no one seems to care. Turn signals are never used, lanes have absolutely no meaning, and honking is a popular pastime. Drivers seem to drift from lane to lane, or simply straddle the center line as if they cannot decide which lane is the one they wish to occupy.
At the Terminal Omnibus, we bought tickets to Mendoza, Argentina ($50 each) and then tried to entertain ourselves for 5 hours while trying not to attract too much attention from the locals. Although we look pretty similar to many of the people in Argentina, our clothing gives us away. Shorts, t-shirts, and brightly-colored Keens don’t seem to be in style in Argentina right now...Oh well. I was very worried about whether or not we would be allowed to put 2 bikes, 2 bike bags, and 2 suitcases on the bus, but no one seemed to mind and the baggage guy seemed content with a $3 tip. Then started our 16 hour bus ride.
We slept. Kinda. But mostly just sat in the relatively comfortable seats (better than a plane) and looked out of the window. Most of the ride took place after dark, so there wasn’t much to see aside from the occasional lit-up town. We stopped sometime after 21:00 (9:00 PM) and had a delicious dinner of chicken and mashed potatoes that was (apparently) included in our bus fare and then kept driving.
When we arrived in Mendoza, Alberto Aristarain (a family friend from Mendoza) had someone waiting to pick us up. Fortunately, he waited around even though the bus arrived an hour late and we were able to cram all of our stuff in his mini-van like car and eventually made it to our first destination: Casa Glebinias, Alberto and Maria-Gracia’s Bed and Breakfast, 15KM south of Mendoza. We introduced ourselves to Alberto and Maria-Gracia and ate a late breakfast on their veranda overlooking the sprawling grounds of their B&B. That afternoon, we took a cab into Mendoza and got a room at the Adventure Park Hostel, just blocks from Plaza Independencia, the center of Mendoza.
We spent the night at Adventure Park Hostel and spent two days wandering around Mendoza Casa Glebinias in one of Alberto’s cabañas with a cute little veranda and amazing breakfasts. It was all very surreal and enjoyable. Our third day in Mendoza, we slept in, ate breakfast, and eating delicious food and being tourists. Our second and third nights in Mendoza, we spent at then took a 45 minute bike ride around the community surrounding Casa Glebinias on two very old bikes with HUGE, incredibly uncomfortable seats. It was an interesting experience and difficult for me, as it was the first time in a long time that I had ridden for more than a few minutes on a bike that did not belong to me wearing something other than spandex! That night, we went to Patio de Pastas and I ate one of the best steaks of my life. It was well done, juicy, covered with cheese and mushrooms, and only cost me $10!
The other exciting event that night was that we were mistaken for locals 3 times! Considering that all of our other experiences had told us that we were very obviously tourists, this was quite an improvement. Unfortunately, stammering that we were not from the area and couldn’t give them directions quickly informed two of the three groups that we were indeed tourists, although I did successfully direct one taxi-full of people to continue “al derecho” (straight) to find the road they were looking for.
The next morning, October 5th, we left Casa Glebinias at 8:45 in the morning to catch the 9:45 bus over the Andes to Santiago, Chile. I was sad to leave Mendoza and the Argentine population, but hopeful that the Chileans would be just as hospitable.

01 March, 2008

Worth 1000

Worth 1000 (from the phrase "A picture is worth 1000 words") is one of the coolest websites I have ever found. I will warn you right now that if you do not have a lot of time to spare, you shouldn't look at it.
According to the website, Worth 1000 is two things: "a daily image manipulation contest site [and now also writing illustration and photography] and it’s also a gallery of all the entries ever produced for these contests." While this is a pretty good overview, I would add to it that it is also a great place for Photoshop Tutorials. I have found some of the coolest tutorials on this site, and they are pretty easy to follow and explain how to do some really cool stuff.
The other thing about Worth 1000 is the images that are stored there. As mentioned in the overview, it is a database of all of the entries from these contests, and some of the them are absolutely amazing! Here are some interesting ones: turtle sandwich, angry scarf, stepping through the door, and mechanical frog.
I haven't so far, but at some point, I am hoping to enter some of these contests just for the sake of doing so.

24 February, 2008

Bike accident

On January 18th at 14:30, I was riding my bike through Middlebury, VT on my way to work, and I glanced down for a second to look at my gears. When I looked up, the two cars ahead of me had stopped. I had almost no time to react, but was able to miss the first car, and then slid along the side of the second car, knocked off their mirror, and scraped the car's side, all without falling off my bike. I immediately pulled over, and went back to talk to the driver, who, I found out, worked at Middlebury College. She was incredibly helpful and kind, and walked me through everything I should do in a car accident (since it was my first one). We called the police, but because it was a small accident and no one was hurt (my arm was a little sore), they decided it made more sense to record the report and not to send anyone out. We traded insurance information, and I found out a couple of weeks later that she had a really nice heated, auto adjust mirror, and that to replace the mirror and fix the scrapes would cost $1400. I am now in the process of trying to get my family's insurance to pay for it, but I don't know how much luck I will have. I guess that I did learn my lesson though, and didn't get hurt, so that is something to be thankful for. Sadly, $1400 is one expensive lesson!

21 February, 2008

Spring Semester 2008

Finally, school is looking up again. I admit that last semester and winter term, I was having a really hard time getting excited about classes, homework, or anything except for racing my bike and going home to see my family, Victoria and New Mexico. I was getting excited about going abroad, but was having a hard time accepting that I still had a long time before it happened.
Now, I'm enjoying school. I'm taking CS102 (Mathematical Foundations of Computing), CS312 (Software Development), Japanese 103, and Documentary Film Production. I am enjoying all of my courses, except for CS102, but I'm trying to get excited about it to make it more bearable. CS312 is really cool, especially because we are doing software development on the web, which gives me a good excuse to spend time learning CSS, XHTML, XML, and web programming. I am also enjoying Documentary Film because I get to use a really nice video camera and learn to shoot documentary films. I am hoping to use what I learn from this course to create a documentary-style video about the Middlebury Cycling Race team to try to get more people excited about racing. Japanese is going well, but I'm having a hard time spending as much time as I should studying and doing the homework.
I am also excited about school because the Middlebury Cycling Race team is finally coming together. I held a meeting for those people who were interested in racing, and it sounds like we may have about 10 people who will be racing on a regular basis. This is a great improvement compared to the 1 (myself) who raced regularly during the mountain bike season, and the 2 (myself and Brett Dollar) who raced regularly during the Cyclocross season. I am also excited because about half of the people who plan to race have never raced before, and many have never ridden on a regular basis. They are also just really cool people who are a ton of fun to hang out with.
The last thing that I am quite excited about is the video work I will be doing for the school. I am working with Maggie Paine, and some other students on campus to create videos and think of other ways to get prospective students interested in coming to Middlebury College. We are hoping to create "MiddTube", which would be similar to YouTube, except that only Middlebury students would be able to add videos. I may play a significant role in the creation of MiddTube, and I am really excited about it.
That's all for now, and I'm working on getting better about blogging more often.

11 February, 2008

Vixy.net

Vixy.net is a cool website that lets you convert FLV (flash) videos (for example, YouTube videos), to AVI, MOV, MP4, or 3GP formats, and then download the converted movie. This is very useful for getting videos in a format that can be easily played on your computer (ie. MOV files can be played by Quicktime) or for getting a video in an acceptable format for upload by video upload sites.
I recently used Vixy.net to convert a YouTube video that I had uploaded to MOV format so that I could upload it to another website to enter a contest to win free Oakley products. It worked quite well, and I highly recommend it.
Here's how to use Vixy.net:
1. Enter the URL of the video you wish to convert
2. Choose the output format of the video
3. Click "Start"
4. When Vixy.net has finished converting your video, it should automatically ask you what you if you want to open the file, or save it. If it doesn't ask you, click on the "download video" link
5. Click "save" and choose where to save it

09 February, 2008

GPS Babel


If you are interested in GPS or Google Earth, GPS Babel is a program that you should look into. It is compatible with Windows, OSX, and Linux operating systems and will download GPS data from Garmin and Magellan devices via serial port (COM3) or USB and will then save the data in any of 90 GPS formats (including Google Earth .kml, National Geographic .tpg, and many, many others). It will also translate from any of the 90 formats to any other of the 90 formats, and transfer data to Brauniger, Garmin, Magellan, or Wintec devices. Basically, this program eliminates the problem of the huge number of DIFFERENT GPS formats.

I also suggest downloading GPS Babel if you are a Google Earth user, because unless you have purchased a Google Earth Plus ($20 per year) or Google Earth Pro ($400 per year) license, both of which include the capability of downloading GPS data directly from a GPS device, it is the cheapest way to get GPS data from a GPS device and store it in a Google Earth compatible format.

Here is how to get your GPS data from your GPS device into Google Earth using GPS Babel:

1. Connect your device

2. Run GPSBabelGUI (it is easier to use than GPSBabel because it has a nice user interface)

3. Check the “[Device]” box under the “Input” section

4. Choose your device format (Garmin or Magellan) and the port type (USB or COM3)

5. Set the “Output” format to “Google Earth (Keyhole) Markup Language”

6. Choose where to save the new file and name it

7. Click “Let’s Go”

8. Open Google Earth and click “File” > “Open” and choose the newly created file

Launchy

Launchy is a program launcher/file opener/website searcher for Windows. It is essentially Quicksilver for Windows operating systems, and was my favorite out of a few programs of its type that I researched.

Here’s how it works: Launchy runs continuously in the background while you are working, and can be brought forward by pressing Alt + Space. Once it appears, you start typing the name of the program, file, folder, or website that you would like to open, and Launchy searches through its database looking for anything that matches your search. Launchy then displays what it guesses you are looking for, at which point you can hit Enter to open that file, folder, or program, or you can wait for a second and Launchy will show you a list of other close matches. You can then use the Up and Down arrow keys to cycle through the matches, and press Enter to open the one you want. Once you hit enter, Launchy hides in the background again, and you can go about your business. If you decide that you do not want to open anything once you have started Launchy, press Alt + Space again, and it will hide again.

Another useful aspect of Launchy was the built-in calculator, and the ability to search the web simply by typing in a URL and pressing Enter.

Initially, Launchy did not help me very much, because by default, it only adds the programs from your start menu, and for some reason, I found that quite a few of my programs were not being found. Launchy also would not open anything but programs, which was unfortunate, because I frequently wanted to open folders quickly. The solution was to run Launchy (Alt + Space), right click, and choose “options”. I then added folders to the “Catalog” tab and added types of files for Launchy to index. Now, Launchy will run programs, open folders, and search the web for me. It speeds things up quite a bit for me, because I never have to take my hands off the keyboard to get to the files I need.

07 February, 2008

Adobe Photoshop CS2 Help


While I was in Salt Lake City visiting Victoria, I had quite a bit of time to kill while she was in her classes, so I decided to use it to improve my knowledge of Adobe Photoshop CS2 on my Dell Inspiron 1300. I found that the standard Adobe Photoshop Help that is part of the Photoshop program is quite an extensive resource and quite helpful. To access Photoshop Help, click File > Photoshop Help, or press F1. You can then search for any Photoshop topic that you can think of, or simply move from topic to topic from top to bottom (like I did). You can also click File and choose any of the options at the bottom of the drop-down menu if you know what you are looking for (ie. How to Create Web Images > To create a rollover button).The one thing that really showed me how impressive of a program this was, was the "Shadow/Highlight" command. I took a picture of a bike ride that I had taken that was so shadowed that it appeared silhouetted, and used the "Shadow/Highlight" command (Image > Adjustments > Shadow/Highlight) and it went from being silhouetted to being completely visible.
Another great place for Photoshop tutorials is the internet. Here are a few of the places that I found that I liked: PSDTuts (my favorite), Photoshopcafe, Entheos Web, Adobe Tutorialz, Photoshop Talent, and Graphics.com. You can also find just about anything by Googling "Photoshop (your version) (what you want to learn)".

03 February, 2008

Garmin Edge 305

Last year, my big birthday present was a Garmin Edge 305 with heart rate monitor and cadence sensor. Since July, I have logged 2294 miles with it and have loved it.
Basically, the 305 is a cycle computer that measures speed, distance, and elevation by using GPS. It also records your rides as GPS tracks that can then be uploaded to Google Earth (see Google Earth and GPS Babel posts). If you purchase the optional heart rate monitor and cadence sensor (like I did), you can also measure heart rate, cadence, and continue to get accurate speed and distance readings if you lose GPS reception (ie. during indoor training).
When you return from your ride, you can upload the ride data to Garmin Training Center, using a standard mini-USB cable, and get the full statistics of your ride including: GPS map, distance, time, speed (ave, max, instantaneous), ascent, descent, laps, pace, calories, heart rate, and cadence, as well as weekly totals, and overall totals.
The 305 will also let you save rides as "courses". Once you have saved the ride as a course, you can then race your previous time (with instantaneous information as to how far ahead or behind you are) or e-mail it to a friend and let them race it.
Another thing that the 305 will do, which I have not tried so far, is creating workouts and letting the 305 walk you through them (with set heart rate ranges, times, alarms, etc).
I have only had one difficulty with the 305, and that was that it would not power on once, but I called Garmin (they are really helpful), and then showed me how to soft reset it (press and hold "lap" and "mode" for 5 seconds).
The only thing that the 305 lacks is the ability to measure power, which was recently remedied by the release of the Garmin Edge 705. The 705 includes all of the functionality of the 305 and adds a color screen, wireless power option (purchased separately), and the ability to get turn-by-turn directions (with optional maps). I want one!
My suggestion for buying a Garmin Edge is Amazon (I was able to get mine with heart rate and cadence for $275 instead of the suggested $433).

01 February, 2008

Twitter

Recently, during my computer wanderings, I came across a site that I had never heard of: twitter.com. Here is its basic premise: You create a membership, get a URL, and update your status. People who are interested in knowing your status can subscribe to your twitter and will be updated through e-mail, text message, or online whenever your status changes. It is an interesting idea, so I promptly joined (see twitter.com/uncoiled), but have realized since that I am not online enough to really learn anything interesting from following anyone's status. Also, I do not think that anyone I know is a twitterer, and there is really no reason for me to stay up-to-date on the status of people I do not know. I do understand how twitter would be useful though if your group of friends all used it and if you had unlimited texting capabilities on your phone (which I do not) because it is quick and easy to update your twitter status from your cell phone and get updates on all of the people you are following. If that is the case for you, go check it out. Maybe I'll become a regular twitterer when I get unlimited texting, and then I'll try to convince everyone I know to use it too.

31 January, 2008

Introduction

As this is my first ever blog, I would like to give an introduction to who I am, what I do, and my reasons for creating this blog, as well as a quick explanation of how to find what you are looking for in my blog.

First of all, my name is McConnell Franklin and I am 20 years old. I am a second year student and Computer Science major at Middlebury College in Middlebury, VT. I also race bicycles. I race Professional on the mountain (Cross Country and Short Track), Category 1 in Cyclocross, and Category 4 on the road (simply because I have not done enough races to be racing in the category I should be racing). In my spare time (of which I have very little), I spend quite a bit of time on the computer learning as much about computers as I can. I am also interested in video, web design, GPS, and programming.

I started this blog for a number of reasons. First of all, I wanted to create a place where people could go to stay updated with my racing (if they were so inclined). I know that there are quite a few Pro racers who keep blogs so that anyone who is interested can get the first hand story of the most recent race or training ride, and I figured it was a good way of letting people know what was happening without sending out mass e-mails to people who might not want to know. (Search for tags: cycling, training, racing)

Secondly, I wanted a place where I could talk about the interesting things I learned on the computer during my many hours of knowledge searching. I know that in my quest to understand the inner workings of computers, how to program, web design, etc, I frequently relied upon blogs, discussions and forums to help me find the answer to strange, uncommon questions, and therefore hope that anyone who is interested in a (hopefully) easy to understand and read explanation of some of the more interesting things I have learned about computers will begin to visit my blog on occasion to learn something new. (Search for tags: technology, computer)

Third, I created this blog as a place to write about my adventures abroad. Although I am currently still in the United States, I have made the decision to take a gap year next year to travel. I will be leaving in September of 2008 for Japan, where I will be staying for 4 or 5 months, and will then travel to Argentina for another 4 or 5 months. I plan to spend my time in these countries meeting as many people as I can, making contacts, learning the language, and racing my bike. I made the decision to take this gap year for a variety of reasons: It has been too long since I was overseas, I need a break from class and homework, I want to ride and race my bike internationally, doing a study abroad year through Middlebury would be very difficult because of the Computer Science major requirements, and I feel that my Spanish, and Japanese to a lesser extent, is at the point where immersing myself in the culture will quickly improve my fluency in the language. (Search for tags: travel, "country name")

Lastly, I plan to use this blog to write about other important happenings in my life. Most likely, these will be stories or important events, or simply updates on what and how I am doing. (Search for tags: life, stories, updates)

To end this lengthy post, I want to explain how I came up with the name of my blog. Initially, I was planning on calling it "Conflict of Interests" and giving it the URL of "conflictofinterests.blogspot.com", but someone had already taken that name. Then, as I thought about it more, I realized that I do not believe that my interests conflict with one another, and rather that they are simply an interesting and unique mixture. With that in mind, I decided that I would title my blog "No Conflict of Interests" and decided I needed to use an acronym of sorts because "noconflictofinterests.blogspot.com" is a little wordy. So, I searched for a very long time for words that contain the "NCOI" and eventually stumbled upon "UNCOILED". I settled upon this name because I feel that it accurately describes certain aspects of my life.

"I am simply a piece of string that has come uncoiled and is stretched across a variety of interests."