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A settled nomad living on the edge of Appalachia. I love to listen to music, spend time with my family, and play sports. I'm lucky enough to write code for a living. I'm often accused of having no "filter" as I tend to overshare. I make beer on occasion and try to sample new beers whenever I can.$BillRawlinson

My New Bike

7 min read

A couple of weeks ago Lisa came across a really nice bike on eBay that she thought I should bid on. I debated about it until the auction was almost closed becuase, quite frankly, I wasn't sure if I wanted to invest any serious money into a sport that I am so obviously bad at. Eventually the deal proved too tempting to pass up and I made an offer and won the auction. However, it seemed I was not going to get the bike becuase my offer was less than the sellers "reserve" price. Undeterred I emailed the seller directly and asked him to inform me if the bike was relisted as I would consider re-bidding. He responded and told me I could buy it for what my max bid was (well, that + $14 to round the numbers out). I accepted and within a week the bike was delivered to my office by our UPS driver.

The bike features an '08 Santa Cruz Superlight frame, an '08 Rock Shox Reba front fork, all sorts of Shimano XTR parts including hubs, shifters, Hyrdaulic disk brakes, and derailleurs, a Chris King headset, a Fox Float RP 23 rear shock, a Thomson seat post, Kenda navagel rear tire (running tubeless) and Mavic DT Swiss rims. Honestly, I barely know what all of that means so if, at this point, you are lost don't worry you aren't alone. The basics are this is all pretty high end stuff that passed the muster of my more knowledgeable and skilled friends.

my bike in my office

The bike arrived last Wednesday but we weren't going for our normal mid-week ride due to the bad weather so I had to wait until Saturday. Over the course of the next couple of days I managed to transfer my crappy nylon pedal's onto my highly tuned racing machine. It's was sort of like putting a Yugo Emblem on a Ferarr and I caught some nice crap from my friends for it - but I just don't have the necessary confidence for clip in peddals (more on those later).

On Saturday we hit up our normal trail but we went about it a little backwards and climbed the hill we normally ride down. Almost immediately I noticed some differences in the overall ride of the bike. The front shock, during the first 400 yards of the ride, saved me from going over my handle bars and the efficient shifters and gears that actually stay in gear made the climbs much, much, much easier. I also noticed I was able to make a turn I usually have trouble with thanks to the improved stopping power of my vastly superior brakes. I was feeling great. In fact I felt so great I was riding a bit more aggressively than I normally do which, when looking back with hindsight, may not have been the best idea.

One area I always walk through is a tricky rock garden and the surrounding trail that occurs about half way up to the top of the mountain. This time I decided I would try to ride through the surrounding trail and that I would just walk the garden. Unfortunately when going over a decently sized rock (about 12-18" tall) I steered poorly between the second two rocks and my front tire lodged into one of the neighboring large rocks. If you've ever ridden a bike or a skateboard before you can imagine what this did to me - I flew right over the handlebars. Fortunately I'm actually pretty adept at landing after that particular dismount so I didn't really get banged up at all and I was quickly back in the saddle and riding.

Later we approached a section of the trail that has been dubbed "Bills new Nemisis" becuase I typically won't even try to ride down it. I have ridden down it successfully once but most of the time I don't even bother. However, it was the first real bit of downhill for the day and I wanted to see what this full suspension bike was made of so I just dropped in and rode. Intially I did ok but I started to build up some speed which made me nervous so I used my rear brake to slow down. Then my back tire started to skid and I was hitting some big rocks kind of hard so I released the brake because, in my limited experience, it is easier to go over most of these things with a bit of speed. Unfortunately it can also be hard to steer when you're going over rocks and ruts while picking up speed and you don't have much confidence. One larger rock kicked my front tire to the left and started to point me off the trail towards a tree so I applied my back brake again so I could correct. Almost immediately the loose soil and my rear tire started to slide so I released and then tried to steer back to the right. However, the slipping I was already doing proved to be too much and my bike just slipped out from under me and I slid down the hill while still sitting in a normal riding position (just lying down).

My legs both hurt a little from the fall and slide but overall I felt OK considering I had avoided hitting the tree and I wasn't really hurt so I hopped back on the bike and finished the trail out to the road where we found Ed fixing a flat. When I passed up Ed to stop and help he noticed that my back tire looked a little funny so we investigated and quickly discovered that my rear rim was pretty badly bent. My ride for the day was officially over after 1.5 miles. It was pretty disheartening that I had just bought this expensive bike and immediately had to take it to the shop for repairs - I had never had to get my much cheaper bike fixed. My bike was still ride-able down the street to our car but not safe for trail riding so we headed to the car and then I went to the local bike shop to drop mine off for repairs. At this point I had been in possession of the bike for less than 3 days - that was on Saturday afternoon.

I just got the bike back from the shop (today is Friday). So, at this point, the repair shop has had nearly twice as much possession of my bike as I have. I can't afford to keep that trend alive so hopefully I don't break it again.

The only thing left to upgrade on the bike are the pedals. They really do suck. Even though they are textured because they are nylon they get pretty slick when they are muddy and I have a lot of trouble keeping my feet on the bike. Most mountain bikers use clip in pedals (STB, Egg-Beaters, or Time ATAC's) becuase they give you a better base on the bike, improve pedaling efficiency, and help you when you need to hop up the hill a bit. However, I'm a little nervous about the idea because you are locking your foot into the bike just like you do with your boots and ski bindings (practically the exact same mechanism really except it locks in at the ball of your foot instead of the heel and toe). I know that I need to overcome my fear on this issue so I have bought a pair of shoes and some Time ATAC Alium pedals that I will be installing on my old bike for a week so that I can practice getting started and locked in and, just as importantly, releasing when i need to. I figure after about a week I can transfer them to my new bike and I'll go out and try just the river trail and some other easy bits of up and down so that I can get comfortable enough with them that I can ride without being worried about my knee being destroyed when I crash.

I'll let you know how that goes.

What Happened in Vegas

8 min read

Lisa and I headed to Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago for a sunny vacation with my brother and his wife. We drove up to Cleveland a couple days before we had to fly out and dropped the kids off with Lisa's parents before jetting away on Monday of the week. Our flight, with American Airlines, generally sucked (and unfortunate condition I'm coming to expect from most domestic carriers) and we arrived in Vegas late. We then hired a shuttle service and got a ride to the Westin. I had booked the Westin room via back in December when I first told Lisa about the trip as part of our Christmas present and we had a pretty good deal of $70/night.

As the trip approached Lisa was getting pretty nervous about the Westin being off the strip but it wasn't very far off the strip at all and you could walk right across the street to Bally's to catch the monorail which worked out wonderfully for us as Ted and Cyndy were staying one monorail stop up at the MGM Grand. The Westin was OK. I can't really give it a great review but it wasn't that bad either. The hallways were a bit dingy but our room was clean and the staff was generally friendly. However, our initial check-in was full of problems. Our first room (on the fifth floor) didn't have an in-room safe. Of course we didn't know that till we got to the room so we locked our bags in the room and went back to the front desk where we had to wait in line again. We were moved to a new room on the fifth floor but it had two problems. The first was a dead battery in the smoke detector (they fixed that) but the second was the presence of a very large dog in the room beside us. I was unaware that the Westin was a dog friendly hotel. The neighbor dog didn't like the smell of me or something because we could hear him growling through the wall so I went back downstairs and got in line again. We were then given a room on the 12th floor. Finally, we had a solid room with a safe, no neighboring dogs, and a working smoke detector. We were settled in about an hour after we first arrived at the hotel. I don't want to dog the Westin entirely becuase, quite frankly their seemingly hyperbolicly named "Heavenly Bed" is one damn comfortable bed. In fact I'd say it was vastly more comfortable than any bed I've slept on including our tempurpedic (Lisa has always liked the tempurpedic but she even preferred the Heavenly Bed). If I had $3500 to blow on a bed I'd order one today.

That night Ted and Cyndy came down to our hotel and we enjoyed some very light snacks at the hotels mixer for guests and then we headed out and did a little light gambling. Ted, Cyndy, and Lisa all like doing slot machines so that was all we did that night. I don't really care much for the machines but I tried to enjoy them and managed to lose my days gambling money in record time. It was not a good sign for things to come in regards to me gambling during the week.

We had pre-purchased some tickets to go to the Price is Right show at Balleys on Tuesday and so, once we had breakfast, we headed over there and made sure we were signed in and that we had our name badges on. Bally's and Paris are connected so while we waited for the show to start we walked around Paris a bit and did some minor sight-seeing. Then we headed back to the show and had a great time. It was a lot like the version on TV but there were some noticeable differences. First if you were called to "Come on Down" you only got one chance to get up on stage. If your bid wasn't the closest without going over you were sent back to your seat with a tee-shirt as a consolation prize. By rotating contestants through this way they were able to give a lot more people a chance to play which was pretty cool. The second noticable difference was that between each prize round they gave away 1000 gaming credits at Bally's to four people in the audience. Via these two gimmicks they could claim to have more than 50 winners in the show. Finally, in the show case showdown there was only one show-case and both contestants (people who hadn't played in any game at all yet) bid on the same prize package. The person closest without going over would win a cruise to Mexico and if they were within $100 they would win the entire showcase (including a new Nissan). Both players overbid by about $7000. It wasn't that their bids seemed that outlandish but that the value of the showcase was so incredibly low; $13,000! It had the cruise, a 61" DLP, the Nissan, a fridge/freezer, and some other stuff. It was pretty shocking.

We had a great time cheering on the contestants and shouting out "HIGHER", "LOWER", and "ONE DOLLAR!!" and we felt the show was well worth the money even though we didn't get called up to play. It was neat being a part of something we all remembered from our childhood.

Wednesday was a day with nothing planned so we just wandered around a lot and had a good time. To be honest I don't even remember Wednesday.

For Thursday we had a special treat planned as we had pre-ordered tickets to see the Cirque Du Soleil show, "O". All four of us saw "Ka" the last time we were in Vegas and Lisa and I had seen "La Nouba" when we were in Orlando back in 2001 so we knew we were in for a nice treat. Even though Lisa and I were a little let down by Ka after La Nouba our faith in Cirque was fully restored by "O". "O" was much more enjoyable to us than "Ka" and Lisa thought it was even better than "La Nouba" - I'm not sure about that assessment but I really enjoyed "O". My favorite part of the show wasn't one of the acts or athletes but rather the technological marvel that is the stage they performed on and in. "O" is a water based show and the stage can disappear in part or entirely and leave a pool in its wake. It was awesome. At times the entire stage would sink beneath the water while at other times just a small pie wedge would be submerged. The flow of the show was so well timed that it would seem like the stage couldn't have time to disappear before a suicidal high diver would descend head first into the water. It never seemed like the water could be deep enough yet it was. It was fantastic.

On Friday we two couples split up and did our own things. Ted and Cyndy were flying home while Lisa and I were flying, via helicopter, to the Grand Canyon. Our shuttle bus picked us up at the hotel and then took us to a small nearby airport where we met our pilot and, before we knew it, we ascended to about 3,000 feet for a great trip around the Hoover Dam and then onward to the Canyon. We only got to see a small part of the canyon but it was still really cool. We flew past the Grand Canyon Skywalk and then landed at the base of the canyon for a picnic lunch and about 30 minutes of photographic opportunities. After that the pilot loaded us all back up and we flew on a different route back to the airport. Lisa had never flown in a helicopter before so she was a bit nervous before the flight started but by the time we landed in the canyon she was loving it. It was a great excursion and I highly recommend it. However, don't limit your Grand Canyon encounter to just that - you need to make sure you visit the South Rim at some point as well becuase it is a much grander vision than the portions of the canyon we visited. Someday I'll be taking Lisa back to see that part (and, who knows, maybe another Helicopter flight from the Canyon rim).

Finally, Saturday arrived and we had to check out and prepare to leave. By this point I had not won at all during the trip but instead had lost my daily allowance each day. It was very strange. However, even ignoring my losses the trip itself was great. It was nice to see Ted and Cyndy and I was really glad to get Lisa to the Grand Canyon and in a helicopter. Overall it was a great trip and I look forward to our next vacation (wherever that may be).

Pottery and Pneumonia

1 min read

I just put up a few photos that I wanted to share. This first set is of Shannon working on her Bowl for the Empty Bowls fundraiser.

These second photos are of Emily looking absolutely miserable while she was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. She is still as sick as a dog but she is now at home after spending about 2.5 days under medical supervision.

December Catch-up

9 min read

So much was going on in December I wasn't able to blog at all. Now that the new year is here, Happy New Year by the way, I figure I should catch everyone up on what kept us so busy. Technically this story is going to start in late November but hopefully you won't hold that addendum against me.

Emily turned 5 on Nov 26 amidst great fanfare and even greater parties. I'm not sure how many she had but trust me, there were a bunch. Lisa's parents drove down when all the hoopla had pretty much died down and we had one last gasp (well not really the last but I'll get to that later). While they were here we decorated the yule time tree and stood in a circle singing carols. Ok, so we didn't actually stand in a circle or sing carols but it was a nice rockwellian image wasn't it? (unless you have heard me sing then perhaps it was a scary image).

I had to work for the first couple of days of December (making sure to call my mother on the 2nd for her hundredth birthday or some huge number like that; it was also my friend Mike's birthday). On around the 5th we loaded up the family cruiser for a trip to Disney World. Fortunately we only had to drive the cruiser about 1 hour to the airport where we then flew to Orlando by way of Atlanta. We stay at the cheapest hotel at Disney, the All-Star Sports/Music/Movies. Our room was at the All Star Music. If you paid attention 2 years ago you might remember that we stay in a family suite which is really just two hotel rooms merged into one with a small kitchenette. It's perfect for the four of us because it basically has two bedrooms but we don't have to pay for two full hotel rooms.

The last time we were at Disney Emily was sick with some kind of flu. This time she was healthy the whole time and, I think, old enough to really get into everything. Earlier I mentioned the last bash for Emily well it came at Disney this year. We had pre-ordered a cake with dumbo on it saying Happy Birthday Emily and some balloons (free with the cake, sweet!). I had to pick the cake up from the hotel restaurant our first night there. However, I had to wait a while so I sent the girls ahead to the park to get some early rides in. Finally I got the cake and brought it back to the room with five balloons. Then I hustled back to the hotels bus stop so I could get to the magic kingdom and find the rest of mi familia.

Sadly, the cake wasn't really seen that night because, by the time we got back to the hotel, Emily had fallen asleep. It was understandable considering the drive, the flight, the bus ride to the hotel, the ride to the magic kingdom, the rides, the fireworks, and then the bus ride back to the hotel; she is only five afterall.

I'm reluctant to describe our entire week at Disney so I'll spare you most of the details and I'll just stick with the highlights for the girls; the biggest of which was their trip to the Bibby Bobbidi Boutique which is kind of like a beauty parlor for kids. The girls both had their hair done in a Cinderella hairstyle, they had makeup applied, and "pixie dust" liberally coating them. They both seemed to really dig the whole experience and they both looked cool when it was all done. It was weird seeing Emily with makeup on. Shannon has had to have heavy makeup applied before for dance recitals but Emily hasn't; it was really really strange to see her all dolled up. You can see a bunch of photos from Disney if you'd like

Overall, the weather while were there was cold but dry except for the Thursday of our week when it rained hard. We had gone to the Animal Kingdom and we were soaked and cold by the time we got back to the hotel so we spent Thursday afternoon at downtown Disney checking out the shops. We did that all backwards because Thursday afternoon turned out to be really nice. The best thing about the rain in the morning was that the Animals were all out on the safari ride and all of the characters were in one building (which was mostly devoid of guests) so the girls were able to meet 7 or 8 characters without having to wait in line at all. We also got to see a monkey going through dental surgery which was kind of cool. They had just brought in a local dental surgeon come in to do it since the procedure was pretty much the same for the monkey as for a human.

After we got back from Disney I had to work for one week before starting my 2 weeks of holiday vacation. It was the first time since 2009 (our honeymoon) that I had taken 2 weeks off in a row. With weekends that equated to 16 days off! Sweet. For the first four days I called it "Billcation" and I mostly just sat around and read some books. At the end of the four days Lisa was then off work and we celebrated our own little Festivus on Dec 24 where I gave Lisa her big gift, a trip to the Grand Canyon this summer. I went to the canyon while I was in the Army and it was amazing. Lisa hasn't seen it so I think she will really dig it. We will actually be staying in Vegas and my brother and his wife will be joining us which will make it extra cool.

After our little celebration we loaded up the car for a trip to Cleveland where we spent about 7 days with Lisa's family. It is always nice to see them. My nephews are all basically young men now which is a little strange but cool. One night my three nephews and I went to a local university to play some pickup basketball. It turns out I still suck but now I am in such bad cardio shape that I couldn't even make up for my lack of skill with effort. Danny and Chris both tried hard and Pete was doing really well from three point land. We played 3 games of 2-on-2 with Pete and I winning the series. Then we switched to a four on four game where Chris (the youngest and shortest) played much better. He had to guard a really big guy (wide, but not really tall) who was pushing Chris all over the place. Chris didn't back down and even swatted a few of the other guys shots. It was great. Danny ended up getting some seriously nasty looking blisters so he and I sat out after the first game of 4-on-4 so that the teams would be even still.

Danny, Chris, and I along with the girls went bowling one day where I dominated with an avg of 146. We all went again another day with Lisa, her sister Jane, and her dad as well and, while I had the best average (146 again) Lisa had the high score of the week with a 178. She had been using a 10 pound ball and was struggling, she moved up to a 12 pound ball and never looked back. It was really cool to see her do so well. I think she and I need to go bowling more often. We both enjoy it and it isn't too expensive (though for the 17 games our group played plus shoe rental it was over $100!)

The only truly negative part of out time in Cleveland, for me, was that I am now officially burnt out on Hand and Foot. We were playing with 7 people in each hand and that is just too many. We really should have broken out into 2 groups because each game just took way too long.

Once we returned from Cleveland my Dad, Patty, and my brother Chris, swung by and we had a nice dinner and they gave me a really nice Scarf for Christmas. I already had a Liverpool Football Club scarf but it isn't very long and its very red so doesn't go that well with my work clothes. It has been fairly cold and windy here lately so a nice scarf fit the bill pretty well. This one is green and gray striped and is very long so I can tie it on like I saw everyone in London doing so now I'm not only warm but fashionable!

Ted sent us a digital picture frame with about 500 photos of his part of the family on it. That was cool because we tend to harass him about getting some photos. My mom sent me three books I've been wanting to read and I've already finished 2 of them. In fact, over the past month I've knocked out 11 books. I have some serious reviewing to get to over on my book blog. Lisa's parents gave me some new rubber for my mountain bike tires that should help improve my grip. I haven't been out riding in a while but I am hoping to hit the hills this weekend with Ed and Mike (and maybe Gilbert).

Finally, we had a small party for my dad's 63rd birthday the night before his actual birthday. We had paella and apple pie. It was great. Plus my dad had put together a prototype for a secret project we are working on and the prototype was perfect. We agreed to work on the final version sometime in the next couple of weeks and I'm really excited about it coming to fruition. I suppose I'll probably let the cat out of the bag when it is done just because I will be so excited about it and want to show it to everyone! Stay tuned.

Change is in the Air

3 min read

Autumn brings changes in all aspects of our life. School starts, the clocks shift backwards, the leaves change color and fall to earth, and Lisa decides to rearrange our home's furnishings (and room designations). It has actually been a few years since she last decided to shift the layout of the house so it should come as no surprise that she made this shift more substantial than those before it.

For those of you familiar with our homes layout the changes I am about to describe may not seem that substantial; but trust me there was a lot of effort expended getting this all setup. Our house is an old 4-square style home where the base floor consists of four main rooms. Prior to this past weekend the four floors were arranged so that you entered into the living room (1). If you went straight through the living room you would enter the dining room (2). If you took a left out of the living room you entered the "music room" (3) and if you took a left out of the dining room you ended up in the Kitchen (4).

We have actually reverted to the organization we had when we first moved in so you enter into the music room (1) head straight from there into the living room (2) take a right into the kitchen (4) and you can cross the hall from the kitchen back to the dining room (3).

The biggest change was that the living room (2) was carpeted with an old green carpet which we pulled up. Part of that floor was also parquet flooring which we removed to expose the full richness of the wooden floor. We still have some work to do on that floor though. First the bottom right corner of the room's floor (where the parquet was) has some adhesive on it from holding the parquet down. Once that is removed we need to refinish the entire floor.

We situated the furniture much differently than we did in the past even when the floor plan was the same. Thus the living room feels much larger than it did before and the music room is more useful than it was. When we first moved in the music room served as a drop off point for stuff we carried in the house. Now we have a nice sitting area around the fireplace and a good spot for the piano. Overall I think we are both really happy with the changes. You can see some photos of the new layout in our online photo album. There you can see photos of the rooms last Oct as well as how they look now.