Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Monkey seen, monkey done: New work

Another fun assignment goes by way too fast: Namely, the remanufacture of a monkey.

A marketing firm specializing in credit union public relations asked me to make a monkey dance about the pages of a publication for kids.

Maxwell Monkey is the mascot for a Michigan credit union to encourage kids to save and learn about money management.

The marketing firm, Matrix Manager, sent me a copy of Maxwell: Kinda cute, though to be frank, not rendered particularly well.

Maxwell as he showed up
on my doorstep.
I saw some wiggle room
with the character.
The tone of the conversation with the Matrix Manager people was that the firm could use some help bringing Maxwell to life. At least, that's what I heard and, deciding to ask forgiveness rather than permission, I went for a Maxwell makeover.

I didn't want to ask if Maxwell absolutely had to be drawn as he was sent to me — like maybe he was created by the credit union CEO's daughter, or the CEO him/herself — because I didn't want to know the answer.

But if Maxwell was going to do what the Matrix Manager folks wanted, he at least had to have limber limbs.

First things first, a quick render of some ways Maxwell could look:
Whew! The client chose the middle sample, which affords versatility and reproduces well. I would have liked to explore the sculptural figures on the right, though.

I didn't receive specific instructions on how to pose Maxwell, so I just imagined what a monkey child would do, and drew up a barrel full:

Maxwell benefits from a long illustrated monkey legacy, including Curious George (whom my son called CURE-uh-see George when he was quite little), Disney's version of The Jungle Book, and Paul Frank's Julius the Monkey. I'm sure monkey images have been stewing in my monkey brain for quite some time. Plus, monkeys are absolutely the most fun to sketch at the zoo. Try it sometime.

The sketches helped spur the credit union to choose five specific poses, the finished remainder I bring you herewith. 'Twas fun while it lasted (sigh):

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bragging on our kids

(Warning: The following post contains mushy, sanctimonious tripe. If you don't like people bragging about their kids — and I can't blame you — let me recommend The Comics Curmudgeon, Axe Cop, or a link to Sanjay Patel, a Pixar animator whose illustrations knock me flat, to pass the time. Or brag about your kids on a blog, and direct me to it.)

One of the page treaments our son created as art director of Chico State's The Orion.
My kids hardly ever call, and by that I mean hardly ever send emails or message me on facebook (they know my cell phone is usually off or lost, so actually calling is impossible anyway), but I'm fine with that. I know they're busy, and I want them to go out and build their lives. Though I miss them, I know they have accomplishments to accomplish.

(To be fair, they call their mom often. All of them exist on a much higher technological plane. If you consider typing with your thumbs an advancement.)

I'll see them this week for Thanksgiving, which makes me realize how extra thankful I am for them. They have given my wife and me little to worry about and much to wonder at as they grow.

They've grown — as I wrote once in a poem about children yet to come — good and strong and glad.

That's good parenting, you might be inclined to say. Eh. Good modeling can't hurt, but Lord knows I could have been a better model. I think it comes down to me being extremely fortunate that they comprise my family.

They aren't becoming what I imagined when I wrote to them before they were born, and I'm fine with that too. They just prove the limits of my imagination.

Our daughter is really just beginning her college life in Oregon. Though I'm looking forward to what she eventually does with her studies — I think it's still in flux — I'm most proud of the journey she has taken to date.

A year ago she wanted to come home, regroup and rethink, after just a few months being away, and we were all for it— until we realized that might be the worst-case scenario for her. California's public universities are going through a slow motion implosion, taking our taxes with it and seeking more, and the community colleges are filling with refugees from those university systems. She might not have had anywhere to go once she got home.

We urged her instead not only to stay, but to become a resident of Oregon to reduce tuition costs and her looming loan debt. That path is full of big hurdles, namely showing that you're not in Oregon to go to school but support yourself, for a year.

Realizing she had already made good friends, planted roots in a church group for college students, and bonded with her school (Eugene is crazy in love with its university; it's so amazing to me how few students on campus DON'T wear their green-and-yellow Oregon Ducks gear), our daughter decided she would stay.

Every step since then has been a struggle, but she has plugged on. She even stayed in Oregon through the summer to get the process started early. She looked for work, and looked, and looked, and looked. She made lists and plans, she carried out those plans, and ran into a lot of walls as a result. Sure, when she called it was to complain about how hard everything was, but after each call she tried again.

Even when she found work, she struggled with it: The hours, or lack thereof, the lost personal life, the feeling of being outside the university community looking in, knowing college friends are having their college fun without her. But she continued to list and plan, and continued to work her plan.

I can't say she's fine with where she is — even this week she ran into big bumps — but she has begun to find a groove, adapting and overcoming. She takes the minimum units of classes allowed under the Oregon residency requirements, to keep herself on track, and stays busy with work and her duties within her youth group. Our baby, in other words, is growing up.

Our son will soon finish his time as art director of the university's weekly newspaper, The Orion, and will stay a while longer in school to broaden his experiences. He loves the job, which comes with a lot of pressure, because the newspaper is a longtime winner in national newspaper design contests.

He loves graphic design, which is his major; he loves especially the history of it, the work of those who went before. (Most people, hearing this and knowing me, say something like, "Duh!" But we rarely did artistic things together, and he found this love on his own, spending many, many days teaching himself Adobe Photoshop by making many miniature montages of words and pictures. He knows a lot more than I about design and technique.)

One day last year, a well-known consultant came to the school newspaper design staff and said, "Since your time is short here and your job is to design, why don't you redesign the paper?"

Our son took it to heart and spent his spring break breaking down the newspaper and rebuilding it into a new design, with new column widths, new design rules, new nameplate, almost new everything. Then he drew up the new design rules, returned to school, selected and trained his staff on the rules, then let the talented designers go to explore in this new playground he built.

Designing a publication is a mystery to me, so I'm in awe. I'm also amazed how soon in life he has managed to learn how to manage — such a tricky, nebulous art — to let creative people have their space, to trust them to excel at design on deadline. I don't have a lot to show of his work on the paper, because his work is the unseen framework on which others design.

Something about reading The Orion online last week gave me an overwhelming sense of wonder at what our children are doing and becoming, and I look forward to seeing them soon. Bring your children close, give them a call, be thankful.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Something wicked good this way comes

One good result from 9/11 — if any — is the creation of something called meetup.com. It's an online tool with which people can form and organize clubs for just about any joint interest imaginable.

Without meetup.com, I might still be wondering how and whether I would swim in the open water. About this time last year, I had committed to swimming Alcatraz in the summer, but I fretted about ever getting open-water experience.

Then I stumbled upon the Sacramento Swimming Enthusiasts, a club on meetup.com, which promotes exactly what I was looking for. The guy running this club organized an "Intro to swimming San Francisco Bay" event at Aquatic Park in San Francisco, and I got a chance to swim with an instructor at the South End Rowing Club. Swimming in the chill ocean, without a wetsuit: I had begun a new addictive adventure.

(When I say anybody can form a club, I mean it: The only other Sacramento-area swim club on meetup.com is the River Dippers, who swim and do a bunch of other stuff, as long as it's in the nude.)

Since then, I've been swimming in open-water five to seven days a week (not with the River Dippers, though), having befriended and learned from people I never would have met otherwise, from newbies like me to hardened triathletes to elite swimmers who leave me in their wake.

Instead of swimming by myself at a gym pool at 4:30 in the morning, I'm out in the broad daylight on a clear lake ringed with sweetly scented sycamores and rolling hills. Ironically, I'm still by myself these days, since most of the Sacramento Swimming Enthusiasts have either retreated to their respective pools as the lake temperature has dropped, or fellow diehards live too far away to swim with me every day. But that's beside the point.

On the eve of 9/11's 10th anniversary, I got an email from Scott Heiferman, meetup.com's CEO and co-founder, who called meetup.com a "9/11 baby."

Before that date, Heiferman said he was an un-neighborly New Yorker, cocooned on his Internet.

"When the towers fell," he wrote, "I found myself talking to more neighbors in the days after 9/11 than ever before. People said 'Hello' to neighbors (next door and across the city) who they'd normally ignore. People were looking after each other, helping each other, and meeting up with each other. You know, being neighborly."

That got Heiferman thinking, "Could we use the Internet to get off the Internet — and grow local communities?"

The small startup has now helped spawn more than 100,000 meetup groups across the country, he said.

"9/11 didn't make us too scared to go outside or talk to strangers," he wrote. "9/11 didn't rip us apart. We're building new communities together. The towers fell, but we rise up."

If the narrative is true (I am nothing if not an indefatigable skeptic), it's a wonderful story, and I am deeply thankful for it during this season.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Three Wise Truisms

I call him Commie Santa, the Hero of Industrial Plenitude the Soviets
were getting ready to honor with a statue before their collapse.
Wait, did I miss them, the true harbingers of the Christmas season?!!

You know them, those black-and-white cologne commercials in which gaunt models, starved for love and food, suggest their desire for both with mouths agape and eyes distant and flashing. The angry sea crashes dangerously close.

Those commercials, of course, signal Christmas is coming: Put eau de toilette at the top of your list, and prepare for the onslaught of wanton consumerism disguised as warm televised (also, computerized) nourishment for the soul.

But I missed these warnings and got swept out to the sea of Ad Nauseam.

In the early going, the commercials follow three basic truisms:

[1] For God so loved the world that he gave you this smartphone. It is the greatest gift to humankind, dispensing world peace and, judging by some commercials, dispatching alien invaders.

[2] No greater love hath any mother than to make sure her children get only the coolest gifts and shame every other mother for falling short. The spirit of Christmas manifest.

[3] It is nothing to give your loved one a new car for Christmas. A trifle. So obvious, the Acura and Mercedes Benz and Lexus and Audi makers seem practically embarrassed to suggest such a thing. We have celebrated that holiday tradition so many times — walking our loved one, hands over his/her eyes, out to our brick-paved driveways, swept clean but banked on its edges with storybook sugar-crystal snowdrifts, to the gleaming new automobile — that we risk driving into a rut. But we buy a new car for Christmas each year because of course it transcends joblessness and economic disaster. In fact, it solves both, especially the tenuous production of gigantic bows to place atop the sedans.

It's time to surrender to the Ad Nauseam. No better way than to sing the carols twisted into sales pitches ("Talking in a Winter Wonderland!" or the flash mob, "We wish you a Merry Christmas, but at the mall you're spending too much!") or camp out in front of the Hallmark Channel, which will roll out nine 14 (!) original Christmas-themed movies to go with its collection of umpteen, and has already been showing Christmas movies since before Halloween! Halleluia!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Veterans deserve more from me

A letter to myself; you can read over my shoulder if you want:

Despite my objections to the wars the United States have fought the last
20+ years (which these 'toons elucidate), I support the warriors who
have gone in my stead. I just haven't done nearly enough to show for it.
Really, what the hell is the matter with us?

If we are truly a county worthy of our many and sundry ideals, we'd focus our collective will on two matters:

[1] The education of our children, who would advance those ideals and solve dire world problems that grow only more dire daily— as long as we see to the children's preparation.  But we risk leaving our children lacking for those tasks, or at least much less prepared than the generation sending them to school.

Seniors at a retirement development near my home made news last month by adopting a public school, harnessing their wisdom and patience to help students. It's a tremendously generous effort, and absolutely perfect, because what students need above all is mentors to accompany them on the journey of mastering concepts. It's one thing for a teacher to control the learning environment for 32-plus children, and keep them on task for most of the school day; it's something more entirely for a teacher to make sure each of those students actually learns.

The best of the best teachers master it after years of practice, and master it by overcoming students' various learning disabilities or their initial inability to speak and read English. Even the master teachers, though, welcome the help of the community to leverage the results of their enormous task.

Those seniors shouldn't be newsworthy, because their endeavor should not be rare. Every community should join them. Every business whose growth and vision depends on these children, as intelligent producers and consumers and stewards, should be in the classrooms, modeling citizenship, making sure students succeed.

But that's not what I wanted to write about, even though I know a little bit. On the eve of Veterans Day, I meant to write about something about which I know nothing:

[2] The support of our veterans.

Their sacrifice should be uppermost in our minds and in our actions every day, not just Veterans and Memorial days, not just in the wake of news of the full "battle rattle" of war.

They should go to the front of every line, get free meals at every restaurant, the best tickets to the best events, not just tomorrow but every day. They should have jobs. They should have our jobs.

Can you imagine, veterans having to struggle just to find jobs?! Veterans who have done our bidding, to have faced unimaginable, indescribable, soul-shredding horrors, and then to see our backs turned on them when they come back in the world. President Obama last week proposed credits to employers for hiring veterans with disabilities, though in fairness to employers, the credits wouldn't pay the necessary resources to hire and train new employees. Why couldn't we/shouldn't we commit so much more?

Or imagine having to fight to get fixed for what war has broken. Veterans who went in our place, so badly broken physically and psychologically, and then being put in the position of having to advocate for their care and their families' welfare. Imagine families of warriors killed in action, having to fight for benefits.

Their care should be a given, and it should be given freely and immediately and generously, with all the resources we have at hand.

Even veterans who managed by good fortune or the nature of their missions not to suffer wounds of war nonetheless have given up their civilian lives for us, and deserve our thanks and generosity for their sacrifice.

Though I hate the wars in my lifetime fought on behalf of my country, I love the warriors. Not that they would know, because as one who made the choice not to serve, not to fight, I'm a hollow fake who doesn't really know what to do or how to give thanks.

Without a wink of effort, I can rattle off at least a dozen high school classmates, including my neighbor Buddy, who joined the armed services; I know at least five officers among them. One was a college roommate. One became a school teacher and was recalled to active duty in the Marines in Iraq; he got the call-up on a Friday and was gone from the classroom by Monday, without a moment to tell his students goodbye.

In time I have come to know veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan under presidents George Herbert Walker Bush and George W. Bush. I met one family whose last four generations have sent soldiers to war, and who might see the current generation go. My dad was a veteran who joined the Air Force under age to get out from under his stepfather's grip; he credits his time with getting him "squared away," being accountable to his family and community.

They went in my stead, all of them, because our volunteer armed services represents such a small portion — not even 1 percent — of our population.

We are a different 99 percent; don't you think we could use our leverage to help the few who served in our armed forces?

Veterans account for only 13 percent of the total population. Factor in veterans' immediate families, that probably leaves 60 percent of Americans who have not been touched directly by sacrifice in the armed services — a silent majority who can do more for those who served.

"Thanks" seems so small and ineffectual. A friend frequently posts tributes to veterans on facebook; though I appreciate the posts and the compassion behind them, I don't acknowledge them because I don't feel I'm the right person to respond. In a stupid and weird way, I rarely give to care packages because it feels like I'm endorsing the reason warriors are there, and helping prolong their presence; in my misguided way, I think I'll hasten their return this way.

Dumb. I can do more, and should.

Parade Magazine last weekend published tips for honoring veterans — concrete, local ideas that I can do year-round. I can do more for those who went in my place.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Mark Trail grows cold

Five things you can count on with the Mark Trail comic strip: (1) Boring stories that take weeks and weeks [and weeks]
to resolve; (2) Comparatively more interesting stories that wrap up suddenly using plot holes and great leaps of logic;
(3) faithfully rendered wildlife; (4) ham-handedly rendered humans, with the same shaped heads, eyes crossed or big as tea saucers, and interchangeable snap-on facial features; and (5) at least once a week, as in this example, a strip composed in such a way that it appears — inadvertently, I gotta believe — the animals or inanimate objects are talking.
Comics are the first order of every day for me, and have been since I could read, which makes me sad when people tell me they don't even subscribe to a newspaper, much less read comics.

I love comics so much, I even read the bad ones, including Mark Trail, which The Sacramento Bee carries.

Mark Trail is one of those serial comics, like Mary Worth, Rex Morgan M.D., Apartment 3-G et al. They're the comics equivalent of TV soap operas. Thankfully, the Bee spares readers this parade, leaving Mark Trail alone to carry the banner of anachronism.

Serial comics had their day, and it was June 18, 1963. Since then the world of multimedia has swept past, and we get all the stories we need from TV, iPhones and every other communications device except newspapers.

Only in the mid-20th Century, without benefit of so many media tools to sate our entertainment demand, would readers have put up with the glacial pace of Mark Trail stories. Yet this comic plods on, as if nothing has changed and time stands still. Which is appropriate, because that's what usually takes place — or doesn't — in this strip.

This story arc in this particular strip, from Oct. 24, 2011, has been going on, honest to God, since at least JULY 28! Three months!! My thanks to Josh Fruhlinger, the Comics Curmudgeon, who produces a hilarious blog I just stumbled upon, offering daily biting commentary on today's comic strips — "Making the Funnies Funnier since 2004" — for tracking this for me.

The current episode shows no sign of ending.

It began, as almost all Mark Trail stories do, with intrepid Woods and Wildlife Magazine writer Mark getting tipped off to a great story, mere moments after he has finished his last great adventure, which often requires Mark to punch someone and to call others "fellows," single-handedly sustaining that usage of the word in the English language. (Even after 41 years of writing essays, I haven't lost the gift for run-on sentences.)

Mark is forever (and I mean forever) stumbling upon poachers, moonshiners, rum runners, drug runners, mad trophy hunters — bad people doing environmental harm, usually to where he lives, Lost Forest National Forest. This is not meant to be funny, like Phil Frank's Asphalt State Park, but it's no less hilarious.

Mark usually gets help from his faithful Lassie-like St. Bernard, Andy, and no help from the meddling reporter named Kelly Welly (weally?), who desires Mark even though he finally married Cherry after a 47-year courtship. Also, their adopted son Rusty often gets kidnapped or roughed up mid-adventure, which slows the already lethargic story pace.

In the current arc, Mark discovers a wounded Canada goose wearing solid-gold tracking band, inscribed with a Bible verse, and decides its source will make a good story. Okaaaaaayyyyy, not the most riveting start. The adventure takes him to the Canadian border, where a Mounted Police officer attempts to throw Mark off the trail (no pun intended, but since I've written it, nice touch from yours truly) by detaining Andy the dog from helping uncover the mystery. What mystery? What does it matter?

The band and a plaque on the Mountie's wall contain the same verse, Genesis 1:20, King James version: “And God said, let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven." The Mountie's in deep!

One Mark Trail "fan" on the Internet points out why this story has taken so long to tell. Week after week, it's been like this:

Mark: I can't figure out why this bird had a Bible verse on its band
Let me ask [ __ ]

Mark: I found a bird with a Bible verse on its band. Know anything?

[ __ ] : Nope.

Mark: I sure wonder why this bird had a Bible verse on its band.
Maybe I'll ask [ ... ]

Mark: I found this bird. It had this Bible verse on its band. Any ideas?

[ ... ] : Nope.

(seemingly infinite loop) …

Having finally wrested themselves from this loop, Mark, Kelly Welly, and Johnny Malotte, a French-Canadian friend who looks a lot like the Golden Age B-list movie star Gilbert Roland, have entered a valley that appears to teem with wildlife that don't usually coexist: A biblical paradise, one might say. An Eden. The Mountie sneaks up on the trio and arrests them, even though they are his good friends.

This week, readers are treated to a looooooong conversation with Mother McQueen, the Mountie's mom, who lords it over this strange valley, her fringed buckskin coat serving as her cape and crown. (Did she dispatch the buck, or talk him out of his skin?) The Comics Curmudgeon publicly doubts whether Mother McQueen and the Mountie are really related, but they bear a close resemblance; then again, everyone in a Mark Trail strip looks alike.

Kelly Welly's first question to Mother McQueen: "Where did you get the gold to make the bands?" That's the first question?! Not, "What have we done wrong to be stuck in this strip?"

Who knows where this is going? Granted, it's different from the usual Mark Trail fare, which would pique my interest were it not for the fear I'll have grandchildren, or artist Jack Elrod — heir to Ed Dodd — will expire before this episode plays out.

For a fundraiser, by the way, Fruhlinger mailed to fans bird bands stamped with "Genesis 1:20" and "Lost Forest;" blog fans responded with photos of the bands on birds real and imaginary, as well as on a cat and a robot.

Writing this has also alerted me to a myriad Websites devoted to the silliness of serial comic strips. I may never resurface.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


It's all your fault I can't count.

I know you're there. I can't see you and I don't know you by name, but numbers don't lie. You're there. And while you're there, you could have pointed out that I had not, in fact, used my 100th post last month to commemorate the death of Steve Jobs.

It was merely my 93rd. But you let me go on like a fool, making a big deal out of it.

Maybe you were sparing my feelings and couldn't figure out a way to keep my dignity intact and explain that if I just bothered to add up all my blogs from 2010 and 2011 (they're tallied on the right column of the page, for pete's sake!), I could have discovered that on my own. In which case, thank you for your kind ways.

This is my 100th blog (I have numerous posts in draft form, and some so lame they wouldn't even make this blog). I know that, and I know you're there, because blogger.com, the Google online service through which I publish these semipublic rants, tells me so, in more detail than it used to.

(Don't worry: No private information, not even names, just different ways to count how many people read each of my posts.)

Now it's got me all cattywhampus.

For one thing, change: Why?

So much change in my life, most of it for no reason that I can fathom. So often and so fervent, as if change itself is an industry; which is probably true, now that I think of it: People must have figured out a way to monetize change; it's true every time I have to upgrade graphics software, certainly.

But I digress. Someone at blogger.com got bored, I think, told somebody down the line to tinker with the service, and it was so. Multiple bored people got to do something different for a while, and we have to relearn the ropes. Cha-ching.

It goes on all over the place. facebook is the most infamous. Blowback has died, but when facebook began rolling out changes a month or so ago, a lot of people expressed their hate immediately. The howls will rise again soon, because the rollouts have only just begun. My trouble is, I'm not sure how those changes changed my facebook; it seems like I'm missing stuff, but I don't know what. As a part-time facebook user anyway (for linking to this blog, making the random snarky comment and being a voyeur), I'm not the best person to talk about facebook's changes.

My local Target changed. Since last shopping there about two months ago, everything in it had been moved to the wall opposite where it was, as if a giant had spun the big box overnight. Everything but watches; somehow everything revolved around the watches, which were right where I last shopped for them.

My church has changed. Not a big change — hardly a riffle, really — but considering the years I've heard the change was in the works, you'd think it would be stunning, world changing. When the priest says, "Peace be with you," for one thing, instead of saying, "And also with you," we'll soon say, "And with your spirit also." It's supposed to be more authentic to the original texts — we're going old school!— and it's supposed to cinch the worldwide church together; I'm not sure how awkward semantics will accomplish this, but on we go, with the flow.

Yeah, yeah, I know, change is good for the soul. Change is the only constant in life. Geez, just give me a chance to use something up first, huh?

The other problem with blogger.com's new metrics: What am I supposed to do with them?

Ignore them, of course. But it's like being told not to think about elephants. Exactly.

Now I'm thinking about who reads this. Time was, this was just a lazy way of writing a journal. I didn't have to buy yet another notebook, didn't have to find it each time I wanted to write in it, didn't have to write it by hand. I just open up a Web tab and start typing. I never really thought anyone would read it.

Just in case, though, I've made it an excuse to attach stuff I drew, for the fun of it. Once in a while, I write about open-water swimming. Rarely, I write about something about which I know nothing.

Those posts get the most readers. If I pay attention to statistics, the message seems to be: Don't write what you know, because no one cares.

A couple of weeks ago, for example, I weighed in on Occupy Wall Street and why I think it's going on. Thousands of pundits, many of them paid for it, have provided their view, and mine has to be the least informed.

But compared to other posts, that one was by far the most popular, getting 50,000 views, compared to my rant on financial planning, which got only 13,000. (Embarrassing, I thought blogger.com tallied readership in the thousands. So that really is just 50 readers to 13 readers … well, that's a lot, too.)

So do I keep writing stuff where I'm faking my way to the end of sentences, or continue to drone about doodling, or splashing about in inky green lakes — unimportant, intimate stuff?

Should I cater to the 102 people in the United States who have viewed my page, or should I try to figure out what interests the 29 page viewers in Russia, my second highest readership, and skew new posts toward them? Would their interests conflict with the five viewers in Lebanon? Or should I just consider them all cosmopolitan in their tastes, and just resolve that I can't possibly satisfy the readers there and still entertain and enlighten the three each in Brazil, Canada, France and Malaysia? Not to mention two each in Israel and Singapore, and the lone faithful in Australia? Oy! Oy! Oy!

Their passive participation in my posts are highlighted on a world map blogger.com has provided. The greener the country, the more views emanated from there.

I know from blogger.com that most by far get my enlightenment via Internet Explorer on Windows Operating Systems, far above Firefox and Mac, the latter of which is how the enlightenment goes out into the world to begin with. Don't know what to do with that information. I'm not impressing the iPad, Blackberry or Android crowd at all, maybe because I'm supposed to format the blog for their viewing pleasure. Not this guy, who yesterday finally figured out where this symbol is: |. So now I can do the cool shawn turner | illustrator | phone number thing on all emails and typed matter. If I just figured that one out, smart phone formatting ain't never gonna happen.

Pie charts help me see this tremendous volume of data at a glance. A graph even shows me the approximate level of traffic per day for my posts, which show up twice a week usually. How to harness that information? It looks like mini-spikes occur at the beginning of most days; do I tweak my posts with some tagline ("What's up, Occupiers? Fight the Power!"), to get people to visit more often?

I don't know. Maybe next post, I'll write about elephants. They've been on my mind lately.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I'm No. 11! I'm No. 11!

You read right: Out of 80 male swimmers ages 45-49 without wetsuits, I finished 11th in total points for the 2011 Northern California open water race season.

(This was going to be a mercifully brief update on my obsession over open water swimming, but now it's become a whole big thing. As with most matters involving me, it is awash in controversy.*)

As a matter of fact, my feet do look like
Don Martin drew them …
Eleventh place, all to myself! I didn't have to share it like so many others. Five people have to share 27th place, for example. Nope, I stand alone.

My wife says I shouldn't even tell people that the first place swimmer in my age group earned 118 points to my 32 points, and that the next three swimmers earned 88, 88 and 80 points respectively before the points total drops precipitously into the 30s. So I won't mention it.

The Pacific Masters Swimming organization, which sanctions these open-water races (making sure they're run right, with paramedics and lifeguards and regulation distances, etc.) just posted the season's results online.

But right away, I'm confused. So, there are two at second place in points, but no one is listed in third place. The next guy is fourth, instead, and two guys after him are fifth in points. No one gets sixth place. The one after that is listed as seventh, then three in eighth before the list gets to me at eleventh. Huh, no ninth or tenth place?

If we're sharing rank by points, I should be seventh, shouldn't I? I guess the three dudes at eighth area really eighth, ninth and tenth, and by happenstance of heritage or fate, sub-ranking goes to whoever's last name comes first in the alphabet. Pacific Masters directs me to the email of someone to contact in case of disputes.

Eh, forget it. I never thought I'd be on any such list at the end of the season, let alone be that high on it.

Now I know a few things that'll help me next year. One is that I don't have to find the race results after every event, don't have to politely fight a crowd joined in reading tiny type in long columns as the results are stapled on a wall or tacked to a bulletin board; usually, the data alongside my name usually disappoints me anyway ("How could I swim that slow? How did that guy swim so fast?")

Now I can be disappointed all at once in the privacy of my office, because the Pacific Masters breaks it all down for you! I can tell at a glance that I swam four of the 14 sanctioned events this season (that comprises multiple races at eight different venues; some places allowed you to swim a half-mile, mile and two-mile race consecutively, if you are lunatic enough). I swam a few other unsanctioned races as well during the summer.

* I can also establish the benchmarks on which to improve my times, and use strength exercises, drills, running, maybe even learn the backstroke to strengthen my upper body. But here's where the  numbers cause me real problems:

All told, according to the season's results, I swam 6.7 miles (can't dispute that) for an average of 24 minutes and 37 seconds per mile. Impressive (for me anyway: At least I'm faster than seven-year-old Elsa Woodhead, the Marin County girl who last month was the youngest to swim the 1.5-mile Golden Gate span; neener neener!), but troubling:

I never swam faster than 27 minutes and change per mile in any of the four races, so how could I have averaged faster than that for all the races combined? Even my math-benumbed mind could sense a discrepancy. What's going on?

Careful sleuthing that could otherwise have been productive worktime finally revealed the hard truth: Results from the last race of the season indicate I swam two miles of Keller Cove at Point Richmond in four minutes, 51 and five-tenths seconds. I think that would have made international news and put me under intense scrutiny about performance-enhancing drugs, cleverly disguised jet propulsion or mysterious mastery of time travel. Since it didn't, and I wasn't, I have to conclude the results lopped an hour off my total time. Which is what happened.

Over the season, I really averaged a bit over 33 minutes per mile. Which is slower than the Elsa Woodhead, who swam the storied Tiburon Mile — actually a nautical mile, longer than a landlubber mile — in 30 minutes. My apologies for any needless aspersions I may have cast her way.

But now what do I do? This is junior high all over again, when I told the PE teacher my fitness test results did not earn me the coveted red gym shorts, contrary to his interpretation of the data. Must I revisit that trauma, and alert the Masters Swimming organization to this discrepancy? My PE teacher berated me. Will Pacific Masters Swimming discredit me, make me admit my slothful shame and obsessiveness over my race times? After I sent out all the invitations to my Eleventh Place Extravaganza: Take That, Haters! party?

This asterisk is going to hang around my neck for a long time. I hope it floats.