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

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!”
“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!