Monday, November 24, 2008

I love it but...

The new MacBook is fantastic, and I'm quickly learning the ropes concerning all things OSX. And Creative suite 4 has excellent new features that I love, except one. The new help environment. Back in the day, when you hit F1 it would open the built-in help documentation. You could use the index to look up your problem, or search for keywords to find a topic to help you, and 99% of the time you found what you were looking for in seconds.

Now, the help command takes you to the Adobe Community Support forum, which is basically just a collection of forum topics and blogs that may or may not be about your problem, or may in fact be
three FUCKING years old.

Evidently the whole thing is powered by a Google search, but if that's the case, why even bother with an Adobe community page if I can just jump on Google? And what if I don't happen to be connected to the internet at the time?

It seems you can download a complete PDF of help documentation. But it's only 40MB, so why not just bundle it with the software and make that the default F1 help environment?
I'm not suggesting a big thick paper manual. Then you can have an additional Help menu item that will take you to Adobe Community. In fact, I think that's the way it was done in previous versions. Adobe new help and support = FAIL.

Friday, October 31, 2008

I love it I love it I love it.

I an officially a Mac user as of yesterday. I spent several hours getting used to the new laptop, and I love it. OSX Leopard is so much better than Vista in so many ways I don't even know where to start.

It's nice to fire up a computer, install a peripheral and have it just... WORK. No ridiculous permission issues, none of this automatic attempt to find and install your driver for you (which NEVER works, by the way) no more antivirus software hogging system resources. Sorry, Microsoft, you done fucked up and lost a customer with your bloated new OS. Once you go Mac, you never go back.

On a funnier note, I had to do some dumpster diving this morning. I had left the box the MacBook came in on the floor next to my wastebasket, which the cleaning crew took as a signal to throw in the dumpster. I can't blame them, but it was unusual because most of the time you can't get them to throw empty boxes out. At any rate, I started to panic because the box had all my software and a couple accessories in it. Fortunately I was able to find it in the big dumpster out back, but I had to do some crawling. I was also fortunate that it was all office waste, which is mostly paper, and not everyone's kitchen garbage and broken glass.

So I am thoroughly enjoying the new MacBook Pro, and checking out all the new features of Adobe Creative Suite 4.

Monday, October 27, 2008

More vectors!

Some more downtime at work today so I decided to flex some Illustrator muscle. Almost everything I know about graphic design I've learned on my own since graduation. They just don't teach much of it at all in the BPMI program at Iowa State.

My laptop should get here Thursday. I'm like a child before Christmas.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ilea iacta est.

The die is cast. I am about to become a Mac user. I just ordered a MacBook Pro:

320GB Serial ATA Hard Drive @ 7200
4GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM - 2x2GB
Accessory kit
iWork '08 preinstalled
2.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
SuperDrive 8x (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
Backlit Keyboard (English) / User's Guide
MacBook Pro 17-inch Antiglare Widescreen Display

I think this is going to actually replace my desktop as a work computer. I can still hook up a second monitor to it, and I still have all my peripherals. Wacom tablet, NuLOOQ Navigator, external hard drive, etc.

The only thing is that I'm going to have to upgrade to Adobe Creative Suite 4 since I can no longer do a cross-platform switch with my current Adobe Software. But CS4 looks fucking AMAZING. Just the new features in Photoshop, Illustrator and Flash gave me a hard-on. Especially Flash, which now has, among other things, inverse kinematics. You can make complex character animation without having to use a ton of script. Awesome. I can't wait.

Monday, October 13, 2008

My latest gripe with Vista.

I'm working on a Photoshop painting, doing a lot of heavy, hi-resolution brush work. I noticed I was getting a lot of brush lag; that is, when you make a stroke it takes a split second for it to register on screen. If you aren't a digital painter it doesn't sound like a problem, but trust me, it is a HUGE problem.

I need my graphics program to be responsive and provide instant feedback, otherwise what's the point of all this expensive technology? When your computer boasts a 2.41 GHz CPU with 512MB video memory and 4GB RAM it had better goddamn perform.

I did some forum searching and found that if you change your display theme from Vista Basic (solid-color windows, no fancy effects) to Vista Aero (transparent window frames, animated window opening effects, more of a "Mac" look), the problem is fixed. Sure enough, after I did that, no more brush lag.

Leave it to Microsoft to design an OS in which the more basic graphics scheme makes your computer run LESS efficiently. "What's that? You say you just want a basic interface with no fancy animations and eye candy? You're missing out on the whole Vista Experience™! Look pal, we spent a lot of money and man-hours programming these advanced display features, and dammit, you're going to use them. Alright, alright, if you MUST have a no-frills interface, I suppose we have some leftover source code we can paste on top of everything."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Mint chocolate swirly vectors

Had some more downtime at work today, so I played a bit more with Adobe Illustrator. I used some of my calligraphic art brushes to make the swirly lines, added some leaves, and then mirrored some blend objects on the top and bottom. Voila. I think it makes a nice decorative pattern. I'm not gay.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I almost bought a Mac Pro today.

Today I was probably less than two clicks away from purchasing a Mac Pro. This, when I am one payment away from paying off my credit cards. All I'm waiting on is payment for the Mr. T book project (or my next paycheck, whichever comes first) and I will have completely eradicated all of my consumer debt.

I've carried a credit card balance since 2000, when I custom-built a PC for college. I've come close to paying it off several times, but time and again I've succumbed to the pattern of buying stuff. Woodworking equipment here, electronic drums there, computer monitor, furniture, toys, stuff stuff stuff. Some of it has been necessary for my profession, like Adobe CS3 software, but much of it has been just... stuff. At one point I had a balance of over $6,000. I know that's actually below average in this country, but it's still unacceptable. So over the last year I've disciplined myself to pay that sonofabitch down, and now I'm one payment away, and I'll be damned if I didn't just almost shoot it right back up into the thousands.

Not today, baby. They almost got me, but not today. My mantra from now on shall be "If I don't have the money for it, I probably don't need it." I'm holding to my plan, which is - wait for it - saving money until I can afford to buy something. What a crazy concept! Besides, in a few months, when I actually have the money, the price might come down, or I might get more bang for my buck. And don't give me any business like, "well, just put it on your credit card and pay it off when you get the bill." I'm not falling for that ballyhoo.

Two quad-core 3.0GHz Intel Xeon processors with 4MB RAM is going to be pretty sweet, though.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Mavericks to nowhere.

Smile big and wave for the cameras, sweetie!

"As for that VP talk all the time, I’ll tell you, I still can’t answer that question until somebody answers for me what is it exactly that the VP does every day?" -Sarah Palin, June 25, 2008

When my sister asked me what I thought about McCain’s choice for VP I didn’t have much to say on the matter, because I honestly didn’t know much about Governor Sarah Palin. I gave a non-committal answer and told her that it wasn’t surprising that he would choose a young photogenic woman to try to balance the ticket. Say what you want about her experience... whatever. I’ll concede that not everybody elected to public office has to be a 20-year Washington veteran .

However, the more I learn about Sarah Palin the more she scares me.

In her acceptance speech at the GOP Convention this week she claimed that she “told Congress thanks but no thanks on that Bridge to Nowhere”, a term she said she was insulted by when she was running for governor in 2006. She indeed did reject federal funds, but only after the fiasco gained national attention and it became politically expedient to do so. She forgot to mention that she originally supported the project and secured a $223 million earmark for it in 2005. In fact, she supported the bridge in 2006 at the time the Republican Congress opposed it. The money, consequently, stayed in Alaska. And she claims to be a fiscal conservative.

Apparently she does when it comes to social programs. As Governor she used her line item veto to reduce funding for Covenant House Alaska by over 20% earlier this year, before her teenage daughter became pregnant. I guess fornication is not as much of a sin when your own daughter is doing it. Too bad not all teenage mothers are from wealthy political families, then I guess we wouldn't need halfway houses at all, would we?

Here’s what that exemplar of objective, non-partisan journalism Bill O'Reilly had to say on the issue of teenage pregnancy. Pay attention to the dates:

“Millions of American families are dealing with teenage pregnancy and as long as society doesn’t have to support the mother, father, or baby, it is a personal matter. It is true that some Americans will judge Governor Palin and her family… for the sake of her and her family we hope things calm down.”

- Bill O’Reilly on The O’Reilly Factor, September 2, 2008

And this, directly from

”On the pinhead front, 16-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears is pregnant. The sister of Britney says she is shocked. I bet. Now most teens are pinheads in some ways. But here the blame falls primarily on the parents of the girl, who obviously have little control over her or even over Britney Spears. Look at the way she behaves.”

- Bill O’Reilly, December 20, 2007

Sarah Palin believes that Roe v Wade should be overturned completely and irrevocably, and that women should not have the choice to end their pregnancy in any situation. These are arguments that should have ended twenty years ago. What’s that? You were raped? Tough stuff, sweetheart, you’ve got to have that baby no matter what. Your pervert father molested you and knocked you up? Too bad, so sorry, you and your unwanted child are screwed for life.

She also appears to be unfamiliar with the First Amendment, judging from her attempt to fire the Wasilla, AK city librarian because the she refused to consider removing from the library some books that Palin wanted removed. Censorship is not what this country is about. Fortunately the people of Wasilla banded together and came to the librarian’s defense, and Palin withdrew the termination.

And goodness gracious, fuck me, she also thinks that public schools should teach creationism.

Are these policies what she was referring to when she talked about eliminating big government in her much-heralded acceptance speech? Conservatives love talking about getting government out of our lives when it comes to their money, but on all other matters they don’t mind telling you how you should live.

I’m not buying any of it. She looks good in front of the cameras. She can deliver a speech well. What's it been, 11 days since she accepted the VP nomination? She hasn't held one interview, not one press conference. But then again, what's the point? Any word out of her mouth in an interview or press conference would just be more window dressing, fearmongering, meaningless phrases like "small-town values" and outright lies, to say nothing of her avoidance of speaking about policy issues and things that matter.

I want to end this with a question. What would you rather spend money on, four more years of war in Iraq, at a cost of $6 billion per MONTH, or affordable health care for children (at a comparatively low cost of $1 billion per month for five years, a bill that Bush vetoed in 2007?)

I could go on, but I'm getting pissed. More lies, more aggression, more of the same.

Thursday, September 4, 2008


I've been getting into a lot of swirly vector art lately. I know there's a lot of swirly vector design out there lately, but it's a lot of fun. I had some downtime today and I knocked out this design. I also found some great illustrator tutorials in general at this website: http//

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Another project in the can.

Last night I finished up illustrations for the "Mr. T vs. Chuck Norris" book. There are still a couple drawings with which I'm not entirely satisfied, and I'd like to dress up some of the backgrounds a bit more, but I was under a huge time crunch and yesterday was the deadline. That's the way it is with every project; you always find little details that bother you after it's done. It's especially true with multiple-illustration projects. When you're on a tight deadline sometimes you just can't give each one the love it deserves.

It reminds me of something my BPMI instructor Dean Biechler used to say. There's a lot of "C" work available, a fair amount of "B" work and very little "A" work to be found in the illustration field. Clients need drawings, and they need them yesterday. Each one doesn't have to be a 30-hour masterpiece, it just needs to "look good".

Take this one for example. The concept is "There are only 4 horsemen of the apocalypse because Mr. T is going to walk." I think I did a good job with the line work, but I know there are some issues with the shading. I didn't have time to go into super detail, so I used some digital speedpainting techniques I learned from watching several Gnomon Workshop DVDs, and just roughed in some background texture, clouds and assorted hoo-hah.

Either way, I think I delivered a good service in a very timely fashion. I'm anxious to see the end result (and get paid for the job). In the meantime, I'm going to Dubuque to visit my family for Labor Day weekend, play some Rock Band, watch my niece in the parade, ride my bicycle and relax a bit.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A similar Wed-nes-day in Feb-ru-ary

There are certain words in the English language that I still struggle with. I've always used grammar reasonably well (see?) and I've always been a good speller, but some words continue to trip me up, and always will.

Some days I just can't seem to get a particular word right, like baloon balloon. Does it have one L or two? Even now I can't get it right. Carreer career is another one. One day I managed to convince myself that the word "similar" was in fact not a word. I kept saying it over and over, and it just did not sound right. For an entire week I avoided using the word for fear of embarrassing myself.

To this day, whenever I write the word Wednesday I have to phonetically separate it: "Wed-Nes-Day", I'll say to myself. Same thing with the word February. I am unaware of the origins of these words, but I hope the person(s) who coined them centuries ago died horribly.

And if I ever have to write "Wednesday, February 12th is Career Day! There will be complementary complamen comp free balloons" I shall run screaming from the room.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I pity the fool!

I landed another illustration contract this week, making art for the book Mr. T vs. Chuck Norris by Ian Spector, the guy who started the whole Chuck Norris thing. He already has a book titled The Truth About Chuck Norris. Angelo Vildasol, the illustrator of that book, worked with me on The Alphabet of Manliness. He recommended me for this project, so I owe him a thank-you. I have 10 illustrations to complete for an August 27 deadline, so the rest of this month is going to be busy for me, to say the least.

Just so you know, it's a fact that Mr. T once punched Chuck Norris in the face at the exact moment Chuck Norris roundhouse-kicked Mr. T in the chest. The result was the 80's.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

RAGBRAI 2008, Part 2

After a much-needed 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep in comfortable beds, Denny and I were ready to bid Ames farewell in the morning. We took our time leaving, dropping our bags back on the NAD bus and rolling out of town at about 10:00. By that time, most everybody was gone and the cops were clearing out the barricades. Other late riders were asking us where the route was. We weren’t too sure about where the actual route through town, but we knew that it was Lincoln Highway to Nevada, so we just told everyone to follow us.

It turns out that starting late was a good thing, because early that morning somebody thought it would be funny to throw down a bunch of thumbtacks on the road in between Nevada and Colo. By the time we reached that area, the Highway patrol had brought in a street sweeper to clear them out.

Most of the day we biked into a headwind and it was quite slow going. Colo to State Center to Green Mountain, we just kept our heads down and hammered into the wind. After Green Mountain we hopped into a paceline with Los Bastardos, and then another big paceline after that. This gave us a much-needed speed and morale boost, as we were really dragging. By this time we had caught up to the bulk of the Ragbrai riders. We stopped in LeGrand to reapply sunblock and get some munchies.

We slipped into another big paceline on the way into Montour, where we stopped again. Denny had a burger and a brat while I decided to wait until the end to eat a meal. I tried this stuff they were selling in a miniature tube, the end of which you crack off to open. It was some sort of energy gel/fluid that had glucosamine sulphate (“like WD-40 for your joints!” it advertised). It was quite bitter, and had been sitting in the sun all day, so it was really hot as well. I suppose I should’ve just passed, because I don’t have bad joints in the first place, but I figured what the hell, I’ll try it for the energy boost. Meh.

We caught up with the other fast riders in our group and I started another paceline, pulling us most of the way into Tama/Toledo. By this time we were ready for the day to be over. We got to the house, and the owner was there with deer sausage and crackers on his deck. Man, that was some good stuff. His 8-year old daughter was driving a golf cart around his big yard, offering rides. She was a little firecracker.

We showered and changed, then went off to find a place to eat. Denny, Matt and I hit this Mexican restaurant, where Denny and I had the biggest goddamn margaritas you’d ever want to drink in your life. My arm actually got tired while holding this thing as we waited for a table. After a huge enchilada dinner we went back to the campsite and collapsed.

On day 5 we woke to a steady rain, and I had left my rain shell in Ames. Everyone had left, but Denny and I watched the radar from in the house and decided to wait it out for a while. After thanking our hosts we left after the rain had stopped, but the pavement was still wet. We also had a headwind and rough road, so the first half of the day was an absolute chore that I’m not too fond of re-telling. After a long stop in Blairstown we started to make some good time because it was mostly downhill to the Amanas. We stopped for a smoothie in Homestead, listened to another cover band play “Sweet Home Alabama” and hit the road. We made a short turn north, getting a much-needed tailwind and downhill stretch. It was here that I set a new personal top speed record of 44.5 mph. From here we just hammered into it, ready for the day to be over.

We rolled into North Liberty and found the house, and with it a huge spread of goodies. I swear the accommodations just kept getting better and better with each house we stayed at. Nachos, taco casserole, pasta salad, cookies, and a nice big yard to pitch the tents. These people were fantastic. The husband used to DJ, so he had a big sound system set up, blaring tunes into the night. We could’ve just stayed there, but Denny had made plans to meet up with his old college friend Nikki. She took us to her friend’s house in North Liberty, and we had burgers on his grill. Everything always seems to taste better after you’ve just ridden 76 miles on a bicycle.

They dropped us back at the host house and we sat around with the team for a while, having cocktails from the drink machine and talking about the day. We collapsed in the tent, and I actually got good night’s sleep this time.

Day 6 was much better. Low 80’s and low humidity, and a slight tailwind. We had breakfast burritos in Solon (go Spartans) while listening to a high school cover band. Afterwards Denny, Matt and I blazed through the route. None of us really felt like stopping much, because it was a welcome change of pace compared to the previous day’s slog. We stopped briefly in Mount Vernon to use the kybos, and the next thing we knew we were in Mechanicsville with only about 12 miles left in the day.

Mechanicsville was too funny. The whole town was one gigantic beer garden. Nobody, as far as we could tell, was checking IDs. Folks were partying on the roof of one of the buildings, Mardi-Gras style. I was anticipating exposed breasts, but alas none. Perhaps we got there too early. We had lunch (hamburger and a slice of apple pie from the American Legion Hall – fuck, it was delicious), stretched and hit the road.

To my concern I noticed I started getting a bit of a tickle in my throat. Ignoring it, I started another paceline and traded off taking the front with a guy from Team Road Show. A line of about 15 of us flew into Tipton, averaging about 22 mph. Day 6 was in the can. We destroyed it.

The owners of the house weren’t home, but they left a note telling us where everything was, and to feel free to throw our sleeping bags on the floor if we were tired of tents, which we most certainly were. After a shower and a nap we had some Tender Tom’s Turkey for dinner and checked out the block-long beer garden. Team Road Show was putting on an impressive juggling and hula-hooping display. The headlining act in the last, and therefore biggest party town was a stand-up musical comedian who was supposed to be really good, appeared on Comedy Central, etc. He sucked big-time. People were leaving the crowd in droves. We all ended up standing around and talking, met a couple young ladies (too young for Denny and I, plus we’re taken). Actually it was more like yelling, since the band and crowd were so loud. This was doing wonders for my throat tickle, which by morning had developed into a full-scale sore throat/chest cold. I think the damp, cool weather on Day 5 did it.

At any rate, Day 7 was by far the easiest. Mostly tailwind and only 53 miles. And the weather was gorgeous. As we crossed Highway 61 it was weird seeing the sign “Davenport: 3 Miles”, knowing we were just kissing the north edge of the Quad-Cities. We blasted into LeClaire, barely stopping at all that day. As we hit the outskirts I had stopped to shoot some video, and Denny had gotten way ahead of me. This was another situation in which we tried to find each other, but ended up missing. I coasted into town with Matt, Joe and Nick and we hit the riverfront with a warm welcome and congratulations from the locals. We got into the huge line to dip our front tires. I managed to contact Denny’s phone, and he came to join us in line. We dipped our front tires into the Mississippi and breathed a sigh of accomplishment.

In all, Denny and I had ridden exactly 500 miles that week. The extra 35 miles trying to find the Missouri River put us over the half-grand mark. We had a couple of hours before the bus would arrive, so we stepped into Sneaky Pete’s for a celebratory late lunch. I had a salmon entrée with a Corona that never tasted so good. Denny had a steak. Afterwards we went to find the bus, which hadn’t arrived yet. The rest of the team was in a roadhouse tavern, so we joined them, having some cocktails and playing pool.

The bus finally arrived, and we threw our bikes and bags on top, some of us using the camp showers we brought with us. Knowing I’d just get sweaty again, I instead wiped off with a Klenz towel (those things are great; they’re like gigantic baby wipes for when you’re camping without shower access). The bus ride home was loooonnnng. Just outside of LeClaire we had passed a team bus that was stuck perpendicularly in the median ditch, digging themselves out. It looked like they had tried making a U-turn; who knows what the hell they were doing, poor bastards. We honked and waved, but they understandably didn’t seem to be in a very friendly mood.

After over 4 hours of jostling down the interstate we finally rolled into Napier at 11:00 pm. Denny and I transferred our stuff to my pickup truck, bid everyone farewell, and drove back to Ames, stopping at the grocery store for breakfast stuff because I was damned if I was about to step outside the next morning. We were both looking forward to a lazy day of sitting on our asses and playing Rock Band.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

RAGBRAI 2008, Part 1

Ragbrai XXXVI has come and gone, and it was a fantastic time. I forgot how much fun it was. The last full Ragbrai I participated in was in 1991. All the years since I’ve come up with a myriad of excuses why I couldn’t do it (busy with other things, don’t own a tent, put it off, I hate camping, etc.) When I heard that Ragbrai was stopping overnight in Ames this year, I knew I had no more excuses.

My good friend Denny Smith drove up from Corpus Christi to participate. The longest he had ever ridden his bicycle was 14 miles, so I knew he was in for a challenge. Ragbrai averages about 68 miles a day, rain or shine.

One thing I noticed is how much easier it was. The weather, mileage and climbing were all about the same as they were last time. I was 18 then, I’m 35 now, and it wasn’t nearly as challenging. I think because now I ride my bike every day and am just in generally better shape. I have a better bike, but not that much better.

We rode with Team N.A.D. (Not Against Drinking), which consisted of a couple guys from my work and a bunch of their friends. The bus got into Missouri Valley late Saturday afternoon, and Denny and I decided to ride our bikes to the Missouri River, which was about 13 miles away. We ended up missing the turn into the state park and went 4 miles too far. We eventually got to the river and dipped our back tires in the Missouri, a Ragbrai tradition (at the end you dip your front tire in the Mississippi). When we got back into town at dusk we had ended up doing about 35 miles.

The first night we didn’t get much sleep. It was terribly humid, and we had to keep the rain fly on the tent because thunderstorms were near. Denny and I ended up sleeping outside on the grass. Day 1 was a good start. It was hilly, but calm, so we didn’t have a headwind. I had to stop and wait for Denny several times, which I expected. He was doing well. We rolled into Harlan at about 2PM. It was hot and humid, but we pitched the tent.

Team NAD had arranged a host house in each of the overnight towns, which makes a world of difference. We had a place to pitch our tents on their lawn and they let us use their showers and bathrooms. It was fantastic. The Kastens, the family that hosted us in Harlan, were wonderful. They had cookies, lemonade and other goodies waiting in their basement. A group of us hung out there all afternoon in the air conditioning after a shower. The house was two miles west of the actual town, and none of us felt like riding into town and getting all sweaty again, so we ordered pizza. That night we were in the tent, and we woke up at about 2:30 to howling wind. The sky looked awful. Just then a sheriff’s deputy rolled through the neighborhood and on his loudspeaker announced that all Ragbrai campers were to take shelter immediately. So we all packed into the Kasten’s basement. After a while some people went back outside to their tents, but Denny and I ended up crashing on the floor.

We woke up at 6:00 again in an effort to beat the heat. We packed up the tent and got ready for the next day. After emphatically thanking our hosts, we hit the road, more or less ready to ride 83 miles to Jefferson. Day 2 was more of the same. Calm, sunny, mid-80’s and hilly. I had pulled ahead of Denny and came upon a food stand called Pastafari. I dedided to grab a spot in line and wait for Denny to pass, intending to call out when I saw him. Minutes passed, and no Denny. I tried calling him a couple times, but his cell couldn’t get a signal. Sprint sucks. By this time I was halfway through the line, so I decided to grab some pasta on my own. I had a tomato penne with cucumbers that was delicious. I hopped back on the bike and rode ahead, passing riders and scanning for Denny, hoping that he wasn’t in either of the two ambulances that passed me.

Later I heard that one of the ambulances was for a guy who was one of the self-contained riders (hauling his own equipment). He hit a parallel crack in the road, lodged his front wheel and went over the handlebars. Audrey, I’m sure you can relate to this.

After a while Denny called me. He couldn’t even get a roaming signal until he reached the next town. He told me he had hauled ass trying to catch up to me, and he had been walking around Coon Rapids for about 30 minutes looking for me. “Well, you caught me alright”, I said. We took a break and had some bananas and Gatorade. We then pressed on to Scranton, making jokes about The Office all the way (“Hey, I wonder if Scrantonicity is playing a gig there!”). Scranton ended up suckin’. We noticed a storm front up north, complete with lightning, and decided we could make the 9 miles to Jefferson if we hurried. We got back on the road and with Denny on my back wheel we burned into Jefferson. The rain started falling right as we rolled into town, which felt good. 83 miles in the can. The longest day was done!

Day 3 was cake compared to the previous day. 57 miles, mostly flat. We replaced Denny's rear inner tube due to a slow leak, but fortunately that was the only mechanical problem the entire trip. We made good time, stopping at a smoothie stand on a farmhouse lawn outside of Ogden. Best smoothie I think I've ever had.

We hit the Des Moines River Valley and the monster hill that came with it. I stopped at the top to film Denny's ascent, but he must have passed me while I was farting around with the camera. I guess he wasn't that far behind. Anyway, the same thing happened as it did on Day 2. I pressed on to Boone and walked around for about a half hour looking for him. Called him twice, but again, Sprint sucks a fat one. I decided to press on alone to Ames. Denny called right as I left Boone; he finally got a signal.

Me: "Where are you?"

Denny: "I'm about 2 miles from your house!"

It seems he hammered again, trying to catch up to me, not knowing that I was way back looking for him. I still had 18 miles to go, and he was already in Ames. So I hammered on, passing everybody, with nobody passing me so I couldn't even get into a decent draft line. Finally I hooked up with Team Air Force and drafted them all the way into Ames. I thanked them for the pull and headed to my house. Denny wasn't there, but he had left his water bottle at my garage door. I went into the apartment and said hi to the cats. He came in 5 minutes later. Seems he couldn't wait so he took a shit at the convenient store around the corner.

After showers I threw in three loads of laundry and we crashed for two hours. I was going on 8 hours of sleep in the last 3 days. I could've slept for 12 hours straight. Later we had dinner at West Towne Pub. Afterwards we went to Jax Outdoor and picked up all the camping stuff we should have brought with us in the first place. Stopped by Skunk River Cycles so I could pick up a new bike computer. Mine had crapped out. Later we went to Welch Ave. Station and met up with some of Denny's friends. I'm so glad you can't smoke in bars in Iowa anymore. Sorry, smokers, but it was pretty annoying. Anyway, we wanted to see Styx but we decided a good night's sleep in a proper bed in air conditioning was in order.

Part 2 coming soon…

Return to San Francisco

Over the weekend of the 12th I visited the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. I’m thinking of getting a Master’s Degree in Illustration, so I took advantage of their hospitality weekend, and stayed a couple of nights on campus. I love that city. I arrived Thursday afternoon and the first thing I did after riding the BART into the city was to sit down on the steps at the plaza by the Montgomery Street BART Station and just take in the sights and sounds. The weather was beautiful, and it stayed that way all weekend.

I checked in at the housing office, and they gave me my room assignment; the Commodore on Sutter Street. Freshman dorms, but it was surprisingly quiet all weekend. Probably because of summer. I read a book while having dinner at a Thai restaurant. I had been up since 4:00 AM, (2:00 AM Pacific). By the time I got settled and talked to everyone on the phone, I was so tired that I collapsed around7:30. I slept for nearly 12 hours.

Woke up at 7, had breakfast at the Taylor Street Coffee Shop. One of the best in SF. Read the paper, walked around for a bit snapping photos and trying not to look like a tourist. Found a spot at an outdoor café named La Boulange on Market Street. I drew in my sketchbook for a bit. That's a great spot to sit and watch people go by on their morning commute, especially the cyclists. SF is an incredibly bike friendly city.

At 10 I met up with an admissions advisor, and he told me that I have a killer portfolio and I should have no problem getting in. Then I met with a financial aid advisor. Money is the big issue for me, but I was pleasantly reassured after meeting with him. This isn’t going to be impossible. After a lunch of sushi I took a tour of the Schools of Illustration, Interior Design, Fashion, Animation/Visual Effects, and Film. I was very impressed. Lots of great facilities and student work.

Afterwards I had dinner at a small Italian restaurant in the Nob Hill district. Tired again, I went up to my room and read for a while before going to sleep.

Saturday morning I got up and had breakfast at the Pinecrest Diner. I checked out of the Commodore and into my room at the King George Hotel. I dropped the bags in my room and went to Bay City Bike to pick up a bicycle rental. Now that’s the way to go. Much quicker getting around than walking and you don’t have to rely on bus schedules. At first I was a bit nervous about cycling in a big city, but like I said, SF is very bike-friendly. There’s a rhythm to it, and I was able to keep up with vehicle traffic. Some of the hills are BRUTAL. I was hammering up Taylor Street, and even in the granny gear I had to stand up in the cranks. Then I rolled down crooked Lombard Street, because you can’t bike in SF and not do that.

I went to City Lights Books on Columbus Avenue, right next to Jack Kerouac alley. I could’ve spent hours in there. Almost an entire wall on the second floor was devoted to Beat literature. I picked up Roomanitarian by Henry Rollins.

Afterwards I rode down to Brannan Street to check out the Academy of Art Spring Show. I was blown away by the quality of student work. Overwhelmed, really. This is an annual show where industry professionals from companies like Pixar, BMW, Canon, Adobe Systems, Cisco, Mercedes Benz, Lucasfilm, Nickelodeon, Microsoft Games, THQ, ILM, Walt Disney, Sony, EA Games and more are flown in to review portfolios and interview graduating students. I’m definitely going to school here.

After a hamburger lunch at Dottie’s Diner I got back on the bike and pedaled down to the Haight-Ashbury district. It was about what I expected. Gentrified and commercialized, but still carrying the ghosts of hippies. Street musicians and bums nested between clothing stores selling $100 jeans. And Ben & Jerry’s of course. I found a great used clothing store and bought a couple shirts. Then I cut into Golden Gate Park and checked out a drum circle, one of the coolest things I saw on the trip. All types of people playing all types of percussion instruments in tempo. Clean, dirty, old, young, white, Hispanic, everybody just getting into the beat. A young woman in a long skirt danced in the center. This is what it’s all about, I thought.

I rode through the park to Ocean Beach and sat in the sand for a while and looked out over the edge of the world.

The sun was getting low so I made my way back to the hotel. I showered, changed, and went out again to find a place to eat. Not a problem in SF. Another Italian place, this time a calzone and salad. I walked around some more (I left my bike at the hotel) and found a bench at Union Square. I observed a crowd of teenagers sitting in a circle. It didn’t look like they were doing anything illegal (i.e. drinking, drugs, etc) They just seemed to be talking. I thought of how different it must be growing up in a big city like this as opposed to a small town in Iowa. I envied these kids and their environment.

One thing I wouldn’t have envied is the panhandlers. As I was sitting on the bench trying to make some sketches a bum (probably a junkie from the way he was fidgeting) came up to me and asked if I had any spare change so he could get something to eat. I told him no. Twice, because he approached me a second time.

One thing I learned quick is to not give money to panhandlers. You might say, “oh, what’s a few coins?” Ordinarily nothing, but these people are everywhere. Every street corner, every park, every store entrance. The only people I give money to are street musicians because they're at least performing a service. The only negative thing I've experienced so far in San Francisco is all the panhandlers. Anyway, I walked back to the hotel and called it a night.

Sunday morning I slept in a little (9:00) and checked out. I left my bags with the front desk and took my bike out. Breakfast at Taylor Street Coffee Shop again (I love that place), and then I went up to Chinatown. I bought a wall hanging for Rose to replace the one her dog destroyed. Walked around some more and observed a rally protesting the mistreatment of Falun Gong practitioners in China. I spent some more time strolling around Chinatown, checking out the goods. Some stores had really interesting things, some had touristy crap.

Then I rode over to the Embarcadero and watched a preteen rock band playing a show at Justin Herman Plaza. Very spirited, that’s all I’m going to say. Alright, they sucked, but I gave them an A for effort. They were collecting donations for their future “tour”. I crossed Embarcadero and watched an awesome percussionist banging on rubber trash cans, pots, pans, and bowls while wearing tambourines on his feet. Made my way north to Pier 39, but didn’t go in there. Fell into that tourist trap last time. My mom called, and I talked to her for a while.

I must not have zipped up the phone pocket in my backpack when I replaced my cell because later I realized that my phone was gone. I retraced my steps and couldn’t find it at all. I borrowed a phone a couple times from people and called the number, but no answer. I was a bit upset at my own stupidity.

I went to a coffee shop later, and would have enjoyed the rest of the afternoon sitting outside and reading (great weather again), but the damn phone was bothering me. I went to return the bicycle to the shop and called the police station from their phone, but the cops told me I had to file a report in person. For the hell of it I tried my number again. This time a guy answered! He told me he had already talked to my mother (oh great). We agreed to meet at the Embarcadero BART station. A very nice man met me there with his two kids. Evidently one of his sons found it next to a bush. I slipped him $20 for his trouble, happy to get my phone back.

All things being as they should again, I hopped a cable car back to Powell Street. I walked around some more, talked on the phone with my sister and watched a quartet of young boys singing out of a third-story window. It was beautiful. There must have been some music school in that building. After some Chinese dinner I returned to the King George Hotel and took the airport shuttle back to SFO for my red-eye flight to Des Moines. I went right into work on Monday, a little more certain of my future.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Hi there.

Hello and welcome. This is a page for me to stay in touch and let everyone know what's going on in my life. I'm taking off for San Francisco tomorrow to visit The Academy of Art University and start deciding if I want to go to graduate school for an MFA in Illustration. I'll probably have trouble sleeping tonight; I love San Francisco, and whether I decide to go there for school or not, this will be a fun and exciting weekend.

The week after next is RAGBRAI. My friend Denny is coming up from Corpus Christi. The crazy bastard is driving the whole trip, but with airfare the way it is I can't say I blame him. It's going to be a great time. I'll have my camcorder, and I might bring my laptop to post updates throughout the week. Depends on how much room we have and whether I want to deal with it. It seems odd to have a laptop while you're "roughing it".