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Indoor Skydiving December 10, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Other.

This weekend I took my son to a birthday party that was held at SkyVenture in Nashua, New Hampshire. It’s just a short ride north from our house, so it sort-of surprised me that the owners advertise it as the only indoor skydiving place in New England. (I checked the blogosphere and notice that they have places like this in Orlando, Las Vegas, somewhere in Colorado and in Greater L.A.) The kind people who staged this birthday party offered to let parents take their turn at the fun, so I jumped at the chance.

It was an interesting activity, although a little disappointing. I only got two 90-second stints in the vertical wind tunnel. And my first one was cut short, because during my first flight the spotter noticed that my goggles looked a little loose, and they took me out of the chamber, fearing that the goggles would come off my head and fly into one of the fans at 120 mph.

In just 90 seconds it is a little difficult to get the hang of something new like that. It is surprisingly difficult to think clearly while bobbing up and down in a roaring vertical hurricane. They tell you that the key is to relax, but your body is sending an alarming number of nerve impulses to your brain. For me, at least, it takes time to process and sort it all out. The spotter is also constantly communicating to you through hand signals. He kept telling me to bend my legs, for example. They are long legs, and when fully extended they apparently grab considerable air, which has to be balanced out by my arms. Another guy was telling me to smile for the camera. I didn’t even know that my legs were extended. I had no idea what facial expression I was wearing. Apparently it was not a smile.

I have to say that what impressed me most about the place was the staff and the service. This place charges quite a bit, of course, because they can. People were in that morning, I heard, from the Royal Air Force, training for sky dives. When we got there there were at least 20 people up from West Point, doing the same thing (not quite sure how flying in this thing translates into actual skydiving experience, by the way. I knew a guy in graduate school who was a paratrooper. He was a big guy, and they always made him carry the heavy stuff. None of these Army people had so much as a backpack on. They were all wearing special spandex suits with little fins on the knees.) It must be expensive to run the fans and all that. But, even so, this was the best service I have experienced in several years.

And I don’t mean just the expertise at helping people learning to sky dive. The guy who trained this group of ten-year-olds was fabulous. And he spotted for our group, making sure that nobody ran into a wall, or went to high and into the fans, or slammed into the grate below. He was amazing and kind, focused and sharp.

It impressed me still more that when we were all preparing to enter the tunnel the pizza was delivered. It was early, and the hosts were jumping too. Both of them had taken everything out of their pockets, so they couldn’t just step out and pay. But the guy who was taking pictures simply stepped up and explained the situation (hard to do, since everybody was wearing earplugs) and asked the hosts how much to tip.

The hosts also had a young daughter who didn’t want to go within 20 feet of the tunnel. She holed up in the party room, and one of the staff went over and kept her busy. Nobody asked her to do it. She just stepped in and took care of it, so the parents could jump.

I’m not sure I can recommend the experience itself. I am glad I tried it, but it is far out of my price range to make a hobby out of this sort of thing. But I can enthusiastically recommend the place.

King of Horror December 7, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in bookmooch, Books, fiction, Other, Paperbackswap, writing.

This fall I find myself re-reading some of Stephen King’s books, many of which I first read when they were first issued in paperback. I’m doing this partly because I like the genre, partly because I see Mr. King as a really good writer, from whom I have a lot to learn, and partly because I have one of those unique minds that can forget all but a few basic plot elements from a novel I read only a couple of years back. This special skill allows me to enjoy a book just as much upon second, third, or fourth readings. It can save money during those times when you are mainly reading for entertainment or escape.

I’ve long since lost or loaned or sold the novels that I am re-reading, of course, assuming I ever owned them, so I turn to Bookmooch or Paperbackswap for a fresh copy. I usually opt for hardbound books, when I can get them, knowing that I am likely to keep them, and that since I live now in a house with dry and ample basement space, and am likely to be here some time, there is a place to store them. Plus, I just like them.

This week I am reading The Dead Zone, which I was surprised to discover I had never before read. I saw the movie, of course. Anything with Christopher Walken in it is a must-see. But all of my memories are from the movie–I’m almost certain. Most shocking of all, though, was this picture of the author on the inside of the jacket.


Would they have sold more copies if his picture was on the front cover? Or would they have scared off potential readers? You decide.

Keep Your Passwords Safe December 6, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in DIY, how to, information management, lifehack, Memory, Other.

I just read this post on Lifehacker today and was a little surprised how few people keep passwords the same way that I do. Aggregated from an interview with Bruce Schneier at the Freakonomics blog (New York Times) it advises that you write down your passwords. He has some sort of password generating and encrypting program that he also uses, and I don’t have any idea what that’s all about, or why anyone would need such a thing. Over at Freakonomics they like the counterintuitive nature of the advice, I guess. But I agree with the idea in principle.

I have worn quite a few different hats at work in the last five years, and so, like many people, have literally dozens of passwords that I have to remember, and another couple of dozens that I use in blogging and my personal stuff. I write them down, but can usually remember them without referring to the written versions. And I have no fear that the written versions will be used by spies or snoops, because they are encrypted with my own system.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Come up with some sort of mnemonic trigger for your password. My Netflix password might be the title of my favorite movie, for example. Say, Casablanca (which is not my favorite, but has the advantage of . . . well . . . not being my favorite and being one word long.)
  2. Then come up with a two or three digit number that has no particular significance for you, but which you will remember to use in all of your passwords. How about 892? Commit to always putting the 8 after the first letter and the 92 just before the last, for example.
  3. Decide to use some odd, yet consistent method of capitalization. Commit, for example, to capitalizing the second-to-last letter of each password.
  4. Integrate all three of the above into a password: c8asablanc92A.

My Amazon.com password might be the name of a book that I bought from them and hated, which will become o8ddthoma92S.

Now, write down all of your passwords, but do not write down the algorithm that converts them into the actual passwords. On a slip of paper, or with a sharpie on your wall or desk, your forehead, write Netflix: Casablanca. Write Amazon: Odd Thomas (you’ll know that there should be no space in the actual password, of course.) Any luck and it will look more like a shopping list than a bunch of passwords.

The Stronglifts 5X5 Difference December 5, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Lowell, MA, Other, stronglifts 5X5, weight training.

Last year at this time I was a 200-pound weakling. O.K., not really. But my strict adherence to the Stronglifts 5X5 Program for the past 6 weeks has made me stronger. But I didn’t know the real difference until Monday, when we got our first substantial snowstorm of the season.

It took me about 90 minutes to shovel the driveway clean (partly because it takes longer to carry all of the snow to the same side of the driveway and build a snow mountain into which my ten-year-old son can later carve a snow cave). Ninety minutes is about the same amount of time it always takes. That’s not the difference. The difference this year is:

  • Last year I would have been in pain, particularly in my lower back and rear, after shoveling for 90 minutes.
  • This year, I was in pain when I woke up Monday morning.*

Thanks, Mehdi!

*However, after shoveling, I felt much better.

How to Fold a Westie December 4, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in DIY, Dogs, how to, Maggie, Origami.

A while back I posted a response to the 19 Things Meme that revealed that the header image you see above is actually a picture of a mirror in my house that has little origami dogs standing on top of it, all facing the same direction. Somebody (Diane) posted a comment a couple of days ago requesting instructions for creating these little origami dogs, and I am more than happy to comply.

I have always felt that the West Highland White Terrier (Westie, for the cognoscenti) is the pinnacle achievement in dog breeding. And this easy-to-fold origami stand-in seems, somehow, proof of that belief. No other dog is so recognizably rendered with a sheet of paper (not to mention the fact that for most every other dog you would have to use colored paper) and a few simple folds. They are the platonic ideal of dog-ness. They are friendly, smart, determined, persistent, cute and fun. And they fear nothing.

I didn’t invent this origami dog. I suspect that like many of the more simple diagrams it was invented quite a while ago. But I here render the folding sequence as a public service to those who would beautify the world with more of such likenesses.

Start with a piece of white paper, the thicker the better. I’ve folded hundreds of these out of business cards, while mired in pointless, endless meetings. Business card stock works really well. First find the center by folding and creasing in the middle so that it looks like the diagram below. (Click to enlarge. I am using paper printed with gridmarks to make the folding easier to follow.)


Then fold all four corners towards the center.


Then unfold two opposing folds. Fold one outward and one inward, as shown below–near the one-third mark.


Then fold the whole thing in half. It is beginning to look like a dog already. A headless dog . . .


Then fold from one corner to the other, one side at a time. This forms the ears.


Then the other side.


Then unfold the front legs, which are now tucked inside the dog.


Finally, you have to unfold the beard, and crease it flat.

It should look like this:


Notice the resemblance to the real thing (I didn’t have a current action shot of Maggie, who is now a little too big to play table tennis, so I used a shot from last year)?