Do you use your powers for good, or for AWESOME?

Since the Ultimate Water Gun was BoingBoing‘ed in June, I’ve been getting requests from Dutch photo editors for high-res pictures of the gun.

Now, I’m a sucker for European press. I was called “New York Ideas Man Johnny” in the bilinglual Dutch/English magazine Pulp after doing this photo shoot with Consuelo and Oraia; how can even outrageous vanity aspire to more? Well, it can, I guess: I wanted to do something so great, so fantastic, so blow-the-clogs-off that every photo editor wearing socks with their sandals will run the results every month for a year.

The ingredients

  • The Ultimate Water Gun, with its shiny silver jacket.
  • The fabulous World Famous Pontani Sisters. The last time the Pontani Sisters’ paths crossed mine was when they graciously judged the results of Mustaches for Kids NYC in 2002.
  • My 1977 BMW R100/7 and Checkoslovakian Velorex 562E sidecar outfit.
  • Kate’s mom’s 1960s Austin Healey 3000 Mark II convertible.
  • Maybe a Bell 47 bubble-canopy two-seat helicopter, if Rob from Lancaster Helicopters consents to fly out to the runway where we’ll be shooting.
  • A new Ultimate Water Gun helmet made from a new-old-stock Shoei Rebel stars-and-stripes Eval Knieval-style metalflake helmet.
  • Various imitations of 1970s action-adventure toys, like the Fisher-Price Adventure People “Daredevil stunt plane” pictured — that’s by way of a stylistic anchor.
  • Photographers Julie and Viva.
  • Helpers driving down from NYC, for which I am everlastingly grateful.

I’m driving all around West Chester today, trying to gather parts and get stuff lined up in time for the shoot tomorrow. I’ve already managed to locate some back boards at Dudas’ Diving Duds in West Chester; I’ve got a long list of other stuff to round up, too!

Update: It’s now 2:52 PM, and so far I’ve met a woman who runs a fire safety company and a macaw rescue foundation (one macaw, after three years in a small cage — responded to a year of TLC and revealed the ability to sing the Mexican Hat Dance) and local fire-safety destination The Fire Store, where I found some AWESOME rescue supplies. The Fire Store sells cool-looking vinyl alphabetic stickers for your vehicle, but only in the letters “A C E L R N T” and “S”. I’m sure there’s a good reason, but I haven’t a clue what it is; it’s not a store for newbies. Though if you want radio holsters, hatchet holsters, gun holsters, barrack pants(?), locker organizers, or brightly-colored hundred-dollar flashlights, it’s the place for you. Now I’m off to see about those scuba back boards, and get lots of garden hose supplies.

Update Two: 6:25 PM. This has been a magical day. After gathering lots of clear tubing, hose nozzles, crimping ferrules, and pop rivets at Maxwell’s Hardware, I pointed the GPS at Dudas Diving Duds, a familiar brand name in West Chester, but a place I’d never been to before.

The trip to Dudas Diving was… incredibly awesome. it’s located in a suburban development, but you roll up the driveway past a thick screen of trees, and it turns out to be the original house that used to go with the land. The shop is on three levels in an old, sprawling barn, and it’s filled with friendly, sunburned dive instructors. I used to walk past Dudas’ driveway several times a month in boarding school, and I never suspected that it was actually a HUGE HIVE OF COOLNESS. I mean, seriously: you think high school is boring, and there’s this whole cluster of, like, salty wreck divers and their specialized equipment just steps from the path where you used to mope back and forth to the strip mall. What’s the lesson there?

A high point so far, while gathering various backplates and webbing from the parts bin in the repair shop in back: “So, what are you going to do with this stuff?”
“Oh, you know, three dancing girls and maybe a helicopter.”

Update Three: 8:20 PM, and we’ve gotten the baby to sleep. Now I’ll go out and start working on the blocks that hold the hoses and hardware on the helmet.

Update Four: 11:49PM, and garage contains two shiny new ULtimate Water Guns. Better. Faster. Stronger. First thing in morning, must get up, load van with changing-room tent, other odds and ends, drive to Helicopter Museum. Great tiredness stealing definite articles. More to come tomorrow.

Do you use your powers for good, or for AWESOME?

“It’s dollars… to doughnuts… that our state fair… has the most vehicle-mounted surface-to-air short-range aircraft suppression systems in the state!”

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This afternoon, Kate and I visited the Kimberton Community Fair, where Kate had entered a quilt — which won a red ribbon! Hurrah! And that’s without sneaking any whiskey into the mincemeat. There are pictures on her blog. Congratulations! And congratulations too to Kate’s cousin Dina, whose lemon meringue pie took a blue ribbon. This is part of a knit- and quilt-blogger movement to get involved in state fairs, which I think is awesome!

On the way in to the fair, there was a National Guard Avenger missile system set up, which is a pod containing eight surface-to-air Stinger missiles remotely controlled with a pair of joysticks and a gun camera, all turret-mounted on a humvee. There was, of course, a line of nine-year-olds waiting to swivel the turret around, rocking the humvee on its suspension, and look through the monochromatic green display (number one question: “what happens if I push ‘fire?'”) This was a piece of technology that was, at once, really cool and horrifically menacing, and the juxtaposition of this war machine with excited fairgoing kids was a total Verhoeven moment.

In the picture at left, you can see that the kid has swiveled the turret around to point directly at himself, and is checking out his portrait in the gun camera. In the picture at right, his younger brother is attempting to track an airplane(!)

“It’s dollars… to doughnuts… that our state fair… has the most vehicle-mounted surface-to-air short-range aircraft suppression systems in the state!”

Respect for Richard Simmons.

Like Quicken, except even MORE fun.
Starting weight: 230 lbs
Target weight: 185 lbs
Current weight: 220 lbs
De-big-ulation process: 22% complete

I’m motivated by success — if I feel like I’m doing a good job at something, I like to devote more effort to it to see if I can do an even better job. If I’m doing a really good job at something, I try really hard to see if I can do that thing the BEST THAT IT’S EVER BEEN DONE IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD. The converse of this is that I handle setbacks really poorly, so I’m not about to start recording my own series of self-help CDs.

Luckily for me and my motivational style, the weight loss has been going quickly, even though I haven’t been able to run a tithe of the times that I’d like to. My self-appointed (and very much appreciated) coach Will Ronco has examined my workout log and helpfully suggested that I run more, though with my current schedule I’m despairing of success at that, and trying to think of solutions: If each Amtrak car is 90 feet long, times a 12-car train, eight round-trips jogging up and down the center aisle would be a 5K. But think of the bruises from newspaper readers’ elbows.

I promise I’m not starving myself: yesterday I had a burger on the grill for lunch and some salmon salad that Kate made for dinner. I’ve cut out a lot of the ancillary calories during the day: for the last year, I’ve had a slice of pepperoni pizza and a slice of hawaiian pizza for lunch, then as a snack going home a bag of doritos, etc. Oh, and one of those big cafe muffins for breakfast. Which if I entered into WeightWatchers now, the points values would roll over the meter like a seventies gas pump.

For no good reason, I tried the FitDay software last week. The best I can describe it is like Quicken for your food and activities, with a nice, streamlined interface and a real depth of reporting (my “overview” screen is above.) I think I’ll go back to the WeightWatchers web interface for two reasons, though: FitDay’s database of food isn’t quite as deep as WeightWatchers, and it’s a pain in the ass to have to save your wasabi pea wrapper and type in all the info from the food label. Also, I think it’s just a case of too much information. While it’s good to be able to know what percentage of my calories are coming from carbs, and whether or not I’m getting enough niacin to complete my RDA, I’ve got bigger, fatter fish to fry. WeightWatchers does a good job of hiding the complexity.

I’m boring myself (and, probably, you) with this post, so I will now tell a true Richard Simmons story. At age seventeen, I worked at a marketing company in Malvern, Pennsylvania that was one of the pioneers of the infomercial. They sold a countertop water filter, a hands-free phone, and most of all they had filmed “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” as a part of Richard Simmons’ “Deal-a-Meal” package. I worked in the customer service office, opening mail and handling returns. Many of the letters were addressed directly to Richard. Most were normal customer-service stuff, but some were raw outpourings of misery: “Richard, help! I’m so fat I can’t use an escalator!” read one. “Richard, I’m miserable! I can’t fit through the door!” read another. How do you react to that at age seventeen? You laugh, nervously. “Hey, here’s one from someone who can’t use an escalator! Er, ha ha ha! What should I do with it?”

Customer Service manager: “Oh, those? Those go in the ‘Richard’ box.”
Me: “Okay, and what happens then? Do they get thrown away, or something?”
Manager: “No, Richard reads them.”
Me: “…”
Manager: “And he answers them. Every month, Richard picks a letter out of the ‘Richard’ box, and he calls that person every month. For TWO YEARS.”

That was just a showstopper. Far from being a ridiculous joke, Richard Simmons turns out to be, well, a ridiculous AND COMPLETELY GENUINE PERSON. When he was visiting from California, he’d run up and down the halls singing (he really did wear those Dolphin track shorts all the time.) He was out and completely up-front about it, too, though, though he’d tease you mercilessly if he detected that you weren’t comfortable: when driven to the airport by Sweatin’ to the Oldies director Ed Shipley, he fell to the carpet and grabbed Ed’s feet, sobbing hysterically “Don’t LEAVE me, Ed! Don’t LEAVE me!” This just to embarass Ed, who was an ex-Navy pilot and fairly uptight about that sort of thing.

Richard’s energy, fearlessness, and generosity with his time was really inspirational, and made me feel guilty about spending clocked-in customer service hours making eight-hose hookahs out of water filter parts. Here’s to you, Richard! May your ‘fro grow ever larger!

PS. That wasn’t the last time that Richard made a scene in an airport; in 2004, he slapped a steel-cage-wrestling Harley salesman for being snide (the case was later dismissed.) Go get ’em, Richard!

Respect for Richard Simmons.

I wasn’t expecting to rant so hard about this.

My cousin Max Alexander wrote a response to this op-ed piece in the NY Times.

The original piece starts with an accurate, though obvious, observation — people who shop in growers’ markets tend to be pompous, rich, self-righteous, and vicariously entertaining. One trip to the West Chester Grower’s market will give you a month’s dose of (simultaneously) patchouli, spandex, and entitlement. Man, no wonder the Amish growers on the other side of the table look like they’re trying hard not to laugh the whole time.

As goofy as the honky devil crackers that frequent the grower’s market might be, and as nerdy as their elevation of handcrafted raspberries is, the author of the op-ed piece then tries to build a case that low-end supermarkets, with their “antiseptic but nonjudgmental” aisles, are somehow better, representative of (as Max says) “Middle class thrift.”

WTF? Look, as any hippie can tell you, the gas burned to deliver produce from the four corners of the earth is one of the things future generations will look back at in amazement, like we do about the days of uncontrolled ocean dumping, or snake-thumping day, or whatever. I’d like to know what percentage of the oil America needs is used to power Sysco trucks — the vast distribution network that provides the feeling that south american grapes are a kind of a ubiquitous, omnipresent resource. Ye gods, American distribution networks are right up there with the East India Company in terms of a national presence with global impact. I don’t mean to suggest that Sysco is evil, only that the American middle-class supermarket shelf is a kind of analogue to the magazine retoucher’s product.

Those “antiseptic” aisles are running with blood, man. Blood!

Okay, now I have to go get a Sysco graham cracker from the cupboard.

I wasn’t expecting to rant so hard about this.

Bragging, blogging, dieting, and determination

Starting weight: 230 lbs
Goal weight: 185 lbs
Currently: 223 lbs
De-big-ulation: 16% complete

I’ve been doing pretty well on the Weight Watchers points — I use the online tool to track what I eat, which is the most valuable part for me. I would probably do just as well if I wrote everything down in a book using a pencil, but I wouldn’t actually *do* that, so it’s moot. I had ambitions to keep a journal (a diary journal, that is, not a weight-loss journal) since I was eight years old, but it wasn’t until the Internet came along that I actually started to write something regularly. Mark Twain talks about this in The Innocents Abroad, describing the writing saloon in the steamer Quaker City on the first few days of their trip, when everybody was writing ten pages a day:

Alas! that journals so
voluminously begun should come to so lame and impotent a conclusion as most of them did! I doubt if there is a single pilgrim of all that host but can show a hundred fair pages of journal concerning the first twenty days’ voyaging in the Quaker City, and I am morally certain that not ten of the party can show twenty pages of journal for the succeeding twenty thousand miles of voyaging! At certain periods it becomes the dearest ambition of a man to keep a faithful record of his performances in a book; and he dashes at this work with an enthusiasm that imposes on him the notion that keeping a journal is the veriest pastime in the world, and the pleasantest. But if he only lives twenty-one days, he will find out that only those rare natures that are made up of pluck, endurance, devotion to duty for duty’s sake, and invincible determination may hope to venture upon so tremendous an enterprise as the keeping of a journal and not sustain a shameful defeat.

Twain was writing with his tongue in cheek, since the reader knows that he, Twain, wrote half of the book in the two weeks following the end of the journey from sketchy memories. If Twain had the ability to brag and tell lies and get read on a daily basis, like bloggers do, I’m sure he would have considered the problem solved. (He liked to show off his prodigious speed on the typewriter, a new invention, but only on the single phrase he had practiced over and over: “the boy stood on the burning deck.” This, of course, is by his own cheerful admission.)

Anyhow, the ability to write regularly about my delardassification progress is helping immensely. Weight Watchers is warning me about the fact that I’m losing more than two pounds a week, but I’m not starving myself, promise. If WW offered outside links, I’d show you my food intake. I’m managing to run a fair amount — yesterday, when we arrived home, I found the second jog stroller waiting in a huge box. I assembled it and took it out for a spin, which Lydia quite likes. Though with the humidity, going for a run is like wrestling with a warm, wet, dishrag.

My plan is to stick to the Weight Watchers points plan as much as I can, and run 3-4 times this week, taking it easy and not worrying at all about my pace, which is glacial. Once I get ten workouts under my belt, I’ll start thinking about setting a target pace, or doing one of the Runners-World approved regimes, like pushing one minute out of five for a week, then pushing two minutes out of five, etc. Wish me luck! Encouragement gratefully accepted! Here’s a link to my workout log, so that those of my friends who are superhuman triatheletes can give me helpful tips: “I suggest you should run more often! For longer distances! Oh, and faster!” (As Will points out, this advice is best delivered through a megaphone, with a thick accent.)

PS: Apparently my great-grandmother Anna Thomas did have a nature made up of “pluck, endurance, devotion to duty for duty’s sake, and invincible determination”, since she was able to keep, and complete, a grand tour journal. It’s possible that she wrote it all in a hurry on the trip home, of course, switching pens after each entry. Both approaches have precedent in my family.

Bragging, blogging, dieting, and determination

What I did on my summer vacation

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Originally uploaded by tikaro.

We’re back. Pennsylvania is an odd analogue of Trinity, right now: all the mist, twice the heat, but no fog horn.

While we were up there, we also visited the geocache we placed on our honeymoon.

On Monday, when champion babysitter Afton watched Lydia, we put on orange survival suits (like being mugged by a marshmallow), and climbed into a zodiac to go whale watching. We saw a lot of them. Lydia had the time of her life, too, and made lots of friends.

Kate had worked really hard before we left to plan meals, with the result that we actually had an organized, restful, and well-fed vacation, and only ate out when we wanted to. It’s funny: if you read “my mom planned vacations like an amphibious assault”, you don’t think twice about it, but you don’t think (or read much) about the process of a young mom LEARNING to plan vacations like an amphibious assault.

What I did on my summer vacation

In Newfoundland

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Originally uploaded by tikaro.

We’re in Trinity, Newfoundland on vacation. Lydia is having the time of her life — riding around in the backpack, making new friends, and laughing at the ocean: “a pool! a pool!”

There are many whales here, unlike previous times when we’ve come up too late in the year for them. There are also rocks in abundance, plenty of mist, and nice c-o-o-o-ol weather. Also, drawers full of knitwear in the house.

So Kate grabbed a Kaffe Fasset jacket, I put on an ascot, and we went and had ourselves a fake Rowan shoot. On account of the rocks and mist, you see.

She didn’t want to seem conceited, so she didn’t include some of the dishier photos of her, but I have no such scruples.

In Newfoundland

Gonna fly now! Flying high now!

Ivan Drago never had it so good.
Starting weight: 230 lbs
Goal weight: 185 lbs
Currently: 227 lbs
De-fatassification: 6.7% complete

So this morning, I got up, put Lydia in the baby stroller, and strapped on a constellation of electronic devices: My FS-1 Fitness Speedometer, a radio-linked foot pod accelerometer, a radio-linked heart rate monitor strap, and a Garmin eTrex Legend GPS receiver. Hey, any excuse to pretend I’m Ivan Drago.

A very slow 50 minutes later (30 minutes jogging, 20 minutes walking), Google Earth had a nice picture of my course, and the bad news that my watch is being outrageously optimistic about my distance (I have to recalibrate it from actual-runner mode to shuffling-newbie mode.) My heart rate (in red) was not in imminent-death territory, and my pace (in blue) was the part where the watch was telling me big white lies. 10 minutes, my ass. My 15-minute-mile ass.

Due to an eBay accident, I now own two Baby Jogger strollers — the one given to me by our very nice neighbors whose kids have outgrown it, and the one that I accidentally won for twenty bucks in Michigan because I didn’t read the “local pickup only” part. So the Michigan one is getting shipped after all (actually, not a bad deal even with the shipping) and I have the choice whether to give back the donated stroller (rude and unnecessary), re-sell the Michigan stroller, or possibly create some sort of Voltron Jogging Stroller Zord. Now that would be a montage. Honey, where’s my welding mask and my montage music?

Gonna fly now! Flying high now!

Are you “fed up” with seeing the huskies walk off with the best of everything?

So begins the famous Charles Atlas comic-book pitch: “The INSULT that made a MAN out of “Mac.” Which is kind of funny, since as a husky, well… I have very little to complain about in life, but my weight bothers me. It bothers me a lot.

Now, this is not a plea for reassurance: I don’t have terrible self-esteem, I’m luckier in love than I had ever hoped to be, and being a daddy has realigned my priorities so that I really don’t mind chasing a toddler around a swimming pool at an extended family barbecue, all pale and love-handle-y. I’m aware that I’ve got other things going for me: at a trial therapy session five years ago or so, the psychologist listened to my worries and fretting and summed up with “well, I don’t think you need to be so worried. You’re young, you’re intelligent, you have [long pause] …a fullll head of hair…” (That was my first and last session there.)

But, to be blunt, I don’t like looking at pictures of myself. Which is why I keep a stock of pictures around that are outdated, obfuscated or not photographs at all. And I have a habit of hiding behind the baby, which nobody minds, really, but I’m tired of averting my eyes from the bathroom mirror when I get out of the shower, you know? Particularly because no matter what, twenty years from now, I’ll probably look at pictures of myself and think “What a handsome young buck! What was I wasting so much time worrying about?”

But that’s the thing about our hangups, isn’t it? We take all our disappointments in life and pin them on the one thing we can’t seem to control. I know that I’ve listened with amusement to the radio commercials where the bald guy is listening to his fully-haired friend describe his yacht and daily jacuzzi parties with a team of supermodels. These guys are twins, intimates the commercial, with pellicular vigor being the only thing standing between baldy and a Hefner-like existence. It’s easy to laugh at that magical thinking when it’s not your issue. But. I’m incredibly lucky, incredibly fortunate, yet if I’m not busy counting my blessings, I feel like I’m only, say, 60% happy with myself. Why? Because of my inability to lose forty pounds for six years. How dumb is that?

Now, I hear you saying (because half of my blog’s readership is made up of parents): “Forty pounds is a lot of weight, John. Aren’t you setting yourself up for failure?” Well, maybe: but I did it once before. In a four-month period in junior year of college, I treadmilled my way from 216 to 185. That was college, of course, and my set-point may be frozen in place now. But in the three times that I’ve managed to stick to Weight Watchers for three weeks, I’ve managed to start and keep momentum that makes me think that I might be eventually successful — no matter how long it takes. I haven’t blogged about it before because, well, everybody hates trying and failing.

Well, screw that! I’m nailing my colors to the mast!

Alright, ladies and gentlemen, here’s the digits: in college, I was 185 pounds. At 185, I strutted around Mexican swimming pools in a pair of size 32 Birdwell Beach Britches and once — I am not making this up — overheard a group of Texan lifeguards daring each other to come over and talk to me. Hell, if that’s not a reason for picking an arbitrary target, I don’t know what is. I have no desire to attract Texans, but I’d like to do some Birdwell-strutting around the backyard pool for my very own lifeguard.

Last Friday, I was (okay, deep breath, blogging my REAL WEIGHT) 230 pounds, which means that I, like other thirty-something middle-management fatties, have to stick to the boxy style of golf shirt (curse you, Ben Sherman, and your switch to darted torsos!), and have doctors to waggle their eyebrows and point to the red-shaded right side of the BMI chart. (“Are you aware that you are morbidly oh-bess?” said an Indian physician to me at a checkup six months after visiting the bald psychologist. Dude. I equate “morbidly obese” with apron fat, which I am nowhere even near, thank you very much. I didn’t go back there, either. But I don’t want to start having heart trouble while Lydia is still in college.)

So my 10% Weight Watchers target goal is 207 pounds, which will then become my new base camp. I’m off to a pretty good start; I managed to stay within my point plan over the holiday weekend, and I ran a 5K race with Lydia in the stroller yesterday. I maintained a glacial, steady, 14-minute pace, but I was talking and feeding cheerios to the baby the whole time, so overall prognosis is good. So I’m hoping that with diet and exercise, I’ll be able to post numbers, charts, graphs, etc to this blog in the next couple of months that don’t make me grit my teeth in embarassment. Wish me luck! Encouragment gratefully accepted! Alternatives to whole-milk lattes cheerfully considered!

Are you “fed up” with seeing the huskies walk off with the best of everything?