Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Let God Sort 'Em Out

Just a little something evil heard Tuesday night on the AM dial from some conservative radio talk show host (paraphrased because Howard's memory is an imprecise thing):

"We need to show those Arabs what the American Main Street is thinking by nuking them, because you know they're gonna nuke us first if we wait too long."

Honest to God, I don't know why people who say this still draw a paycheck from Corporate America. Oh wait, I remember now since I once saw the film, Network.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

0-for-6, But Thanks For Playing

How organized are you?

If there is one personality trait that all good architects share, it is organizational skill. The details that need to be tracked and documented throughout the design process are staggering, and without organizational skills, all is lost.

Thus, it would be natural to assume that a good architect would have an organized desk. Well, perhaps not if Howard is to be considered a good architect. Granted, there have been scores of examples proving once and for all that he is not. But just for now, let's humor the old man and stipulate for the record that Howard is good at what he does. Despite the rotting trash piles on his desk.

While sifting through some old documents, Howard recently came across a list of prospective projects that he made a bit less than a year ago. And he didn't have to dig too far down into the refuse to find it either.

The list contained six projects for which he had been contacted -- in most cases even meeting with the prospective clients for that "free initial consultation."

One project was for a wealthy couple in a neighboring town that owned an extremely prominent piece of land on a hill overlooking much of the town. They wanted an architect to design something Frank Lloyd Wrightian. Howard said he was their man. They seemed to believe him, and everything went very well until they never called again. The property now appears to be in the process of becoming just another a strip mall.

Project number two was for a fireman in the same neighboring town who owned a shack on a large piece of property. He was interested in hiring an architect to design his passive solar dreamhome -- one that he could build himself while continuing to live in the shack. But first he needed to sell another property to provide the seed money. The other property did not sell as quickly as hoped, and Howard never heard from him again.

Project number three was for a client who loves Modern Architecture, and whose goal was to buy a modest ranch-style home in their preferred neighborhood, and then tear the roof off -- a "Pop-Top" -- and rebuild bigger and better and Modern. Though they really liked Howard, they couldn't find a house at the right price in the desired neighborhood, and ultimately bought a large ranch-style in decent shape that was far far away... and needed no architects.

Project four was for a Las Vegas couple who owned a large and nicely-oriented piece of land in the exurbs. They needed an architect to design their house since the grade and soil conditions were so extreme, plus they had such discriminating tastes that they were unlikely to find any old builder to meet their needs. Unfortunately, they needed to sell their Las Vegas home first. Didn't happen quickly enough and Howard never heard from them again.

Project five was an office building remodel. The unoccupied office building was owned by a prominent investor in Omaha, Nebraska whose name shall remain confidential. The interview with the owner's agent went well, but the owner decided to sit still and let the property appreciate despite the lack of rental income. To this day, it's still a shell of a building.

Project six never really bloomed into a prospective project so much as it was an interesting phone call from an old guy calling on behalf of a friend who needed an architect for a major addition and renovation to his home to make it more livable in retirement. The old guy said he was having a problem finding architects willing to take on such a "relatively modest" project, but Howard told him that he does those all the time. The old guy sounded encouraged and said his friend would call. He never did.

While Howard has four projects under contract right now with two more waiting in the wings -- and is not trying to make the case that the architecture biz is currently suffering or anything -- it's still interesting that at the time this list was made some ten or twelve months ago, all six of these projects seemed like good prospects. And yet all six failed to materialize.

What could all this mean?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Losing Hope, Bit by Bit

Once again, I spoze I should apologize for not posting more frequently. But then it's true that I also pay a price for my laziness, since most of my regular readers tend to stop checking the Big Blog of Fun quite so regularly if it isn't regularly updated.

I have to admit, though, that it hurt that my last four postings of the past two weeks didn't receive a single comment, though I know you're out there and reading what I'm writing. I can hear you breathing, though it's more like the beginnings of a lusty snore.

So please, please, let me know what you're thinking as you slog though my pitiful attempts at writing. Otherwise, Howard just might lose hope in this cynical, cynical world.

And nobody wants another hopeless howard clogging up the buffet line at weekly meetings of Cynics Anonymous.

Quads of Goo: 2006 Horsetooth Double Dip

Howard, being the self-employed slacker that he is, slept in this morning until 10 a.m. But he had just cause: He rode the 73-mile route of the Horsetooth Double Dip Bicycle Challenge on Sunday, and then finished off his century with 28 more miles of riding with his best girl.

The pain when trying to climb the 16% and 18% cliffs was unbearable and just plain awful. Howard climbed the steepest hills he's ever climbed yesterday on the Stove Prairie portion of the route, yet he lived to tell the tale. And for what it's worth, Howard was the first one to finish the 73-mile route.

The ride started at 7 a.m. Howard finished the ride at noon with a bit more than a half-hour of breaks in-between. Probably because the aid stations were generously stocked with Clif Bars and various energy goos, most of the other riders were taking very long breaks at the aid stations. But Howard's learned to limit his breaks to maybe five minutes each time otherwise his old-guy muscles will cramp up.

Total ride time on the bike was about 4 1/2 hours. That worked out to an average 16.6 mph.

The supportive and always mezmerizing Mrs. Howard drove the route with the car, and she met Howard at four stops along the way to offer encouragement, and a place to sit and guzzle PowerAide as a supplement to the four aid stations. Howard got back to town so fast that they hadn't even set up the buffet at the starting/finish line, CB & Potts Restaurant, yet. So he went home and showered, then came back with the wife and ate free pizza. Even when satiated with pizza, only about a half-dozen people had gotten back from the 107-mile route by then. There were about 30 people who did the 107-mile route, but only about 15 did the 73-miler.

There was a lot of suffering on the roads yesterday and Howard experienced his share of it.

The highlight of the ride was a thunderous downpour for about 15 minutes along Glade Road, heading south towards Loveland. Howard's touring bike has 32mm tires, rather than the skinny 23's that most road bikes have. So he was like an SUV in treacherous weather -- overconfident. He got good and soaked too, and had a wonderful time.

After getting home from free pizza, The Howards went for a 90-minute ride to a neighboring town and back to "get a century" -- riding 100 miles in one day. To celebrate the long day's achievements, husband, wife, and youngest son went to Red Robin and had a great greasy dinner with big chocolate malts.

Howard now realizes why he's not such a good climber: He's still about 15 pounds overweight when compared to uber-skinny uber-serious cyclists. Plus, his Fuji Touring Bike, with pack on the back rack, also adds another 15 pounds when compared to sleek and expensive road bikes. Those extra 30 pounds make life tough on Howard's quads and calves on the steep inclines.

Next up? The 100-mile ride of the Buffalo Bicycle Classic on September 10th, which begins and ends in Boulder. This time, Mrs. Howard is riding along and it will be her first century.

Friday, August 18, 2006

At Least We Beat Turkey*


[click to enlarge]

Also, I don't see Russia on the list. After decades of Godless Atheism as their state-approved belief system, I'm curious to know where they now rate.

* Editor's Note: This chart and witty header came across Howard's desk via the lovely and talented Tristero at Hullabaloo. Howard isn't clever enough to have written it hisself.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Best of the West: Eugene, Oregon

Funny how mistaken first impressions can be.

Case in point: Eugene, Oregon.

Nearly two years ago, when visiting our son and his freshly minted wife, we had high expectations for Eugene. "It's Oregon's equivalent to Boulder," everyone told us. Unfortunately, we didn't see it that way. The downtown lacked refinement and visual polish. The streets were badly in need of repair, improvements, and a discerning eye towards cleaning up the visual clutter. Even the neighborhoods seemed a bit dumpy, if not fiscally stingy. It was as though the city's residents had the money, but refused to tax and/or spend even the minimal amount necessary to help make their neighborhoods, public thoroughfares, and community amenities shine.

Not at all like Boulder, Colorado -- one of the most picturesque and thoughtfully designed and landscaped cities in the western U.S.

Back to Eugene we recently went just prior to their two-year anniversary. Only this time, after again spending a few days in and around Eugene and its sister-city Springfield, and after experiencing the city the way it was meant to be seen -- by bicycle -- we have a wholly different opinion of the place.

We started our bike tour by renting four Trek bikes from Paul's Bicycle Way of Life on 5th Street. Although we got there late in the morning so only one of the four bikes was large enough for Howard's Family of Giants, the bikes were nice enough and the employee who helped us was very, er, helpful.

After glancing at the city bike trails map, know-it-all Howard headed west. Howard's son, however, knew better and just sat and waited. Howard reversed course and the three proceeded to follow Howard Jr. as he led them over the Peter DeFazio Bridge and along the Willamette River for the next hour. The bike trails (and the weather) were stunningly beautiful and in perfect condition. The photo above of a bike bridge near downtown Eugene is a good example.

Howard's hometown, as well as neighboring towns and cities, have an amazing array of bike trails that help make those towns some of the best biking cities in the country. But none of them were anywhere as thoughfully and generously designed for bikes, pedestrians, and joggers as the trail system in Eugene.

Additionally, this time the downtown was vibrant and lively, auto traffic was very respectful of cyclists, and the number of people on the paths was overflowing, though not so much that we couldn't keep a comfortable 10- to 12-mph pace. Howard's youngest son, who has vowed to never love the bike the way his parents do, even had a great time. He especially loved to lean on the bell that his bike came equipped with to alert pedestrians ahead that he was about to breeze by.

After finishing the loop of the Willamette, Howard Jr. led the group towards Springfield. After passing under Interstate 5, we came across a massive grove of blackberry bushes next to the bike trail, each plump with ripe berries. We stopped and gorged on fresh, free blackberries for about 20 minutes. Apparently, blackberry bushes were not an indiginous species to Oregon, but after taking root in and around Eugene -- everything grows like mad there -- the City decided to let them thrive, even refusing to spray them with pesticides and herbicides so the residents could eat freely and organically.

Howard loves blackberries, though they only come to him in his mountainous homestate via 4 oz. plasticized packages costing $2.50 or more, and only during a few brief times each year. Since Howard also loves the free food, this was a special treat that he won't ever forget.

After the feast, we headed back to Eugene. We four rode through the campus of the University of Oregon, where Howard Jr. studies graduate-level chemistry, and then we headed up to Hendricks Park. Howard and the Jr. made it up the approximately 10% grade that stretched out for about a fifteen-hundred-foot run, while Mrs. Howard stayed back to accompany their youngest son, who was busy remembering why he doesn't so much like cycling -- at one point getting off the bike and walking up the steepest stretch.

Hendricks Park is on top of a hill in the middle of an older established neighborhood, and it is lush and verdant, as one would expect of an Oregon park. Unfortunately, the lushness and verdance screened off any views of Eugene below -- at least where they stopped to rest -- but I'm sure there were great views to be had somewhere nearby. Perhaps at Pre's Rock where U of Oregon track star Steve Prefontaine met an untimely death. We didn't go downhill by that route. The road was too steep and narrow, with blind corners.

Riding back the way we came, we zoomed down and headed back to Paul's Bicycle Way of Life, passing directly through the downtown on our way. Once again, auto traffic was very patient with us as the street we were on did not have enough width to justify a separate bike line, let alone two lanes of traffic.

Our first impression two years ago was colored by the fact that the first apartment that Howard Jr. and his wife rented in Eugene was far to the northwest quadrant of the metro area -- more of a light industrial/strip mall section of town. We were underwhelmed by the lack of visual interest, annoyed by the traffic, and disgusted by the seas of parking lots everywhere we looked. And that unfortunately became our first -- and erroneous -- impression of the City of Eugene.

To all Eugenonians: Sorry about that.

Now to make amends, I am naming Eugene a Why Howard Laughed "Best of the West." The check is in the mail.

Final Note: While driving through Eugene, we played a fun game of Hippy/Not a Hippy. The hippies won in a landslide. Like I said, my kinda town.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Feeling The Burn Once Again

Well, Howard went and did it again -- he signed up for another Colorado bike tour that he's woefully unprepared to attempt. This time its the Horsetooth Double Dip on Sunday, August 27th.

There are four single-day ride options: a 30-mile ride that is for the wee children and citizens with seniority; a 50-mile ride that skims the nasty foothills around Larimer County's Horsetooth Reservoir; a 75-mile ride that takes its riders through some of the most difficult climbs behind the reservoir including Poudre Canyon; and a 105-mile excursion through hell. This one includes Rist Canyon and two passes through Stove Prairie Road.

Howard, being the sensible 40-something jock that he is, opted for the 75-mile ride that will leave him shaken but not stirred.

In his training ride today, Howard rode a shortened version of the 50-mile ride -- less distance but with all the climbing highlights. Lots of 15% grade climbs that leave lesser mortals gasping for glycogen, oxygen, and bonus hemoglobin. Howard passed scores of these gaspers, but did not slow the pace of his machine-like quads of steel. He did however downshift gears quite a bit. Most noteworthy: During a long descent off one of the Horsetooth dams, Howard reached 50.9 mph -- a new record!

One thing Howard knows: He needs goals if he is to excel at cycling. Without the threat of dying on August 27th -- death by embarrassment truly being the greater motivating factor -- Howard would revert to softness and plumpness and defeatist, anarchistic thoughts.

Been there, done that. No more.

Doing Oregon

Well, Howard went and did it again -- he travelled off to far-away lands in search of peak experiences. This time The Great State of Oregon was the destination -- or at least a significant portion of the state.

Along with Mrs. Howard, our three sons, a daughter-in-law and a middle son's girlfriend or--can I say?--significant other, we also spent a couple days touring with Mrs. Howard's sister and her family. Lots and lots of people. 10 of us when we were all together. Good thing Howard rented an SUV, though there will be karma to be paid later.

The itinerary was broadly conceived and expertly achieved. Portland, Salem, Eugene, Springfield, the Pacific coast including (chilled) swimming, sand castle building, kite flying, and a visit to a lighthouse, then an overnight excursion to Crater Lake, then a 2 1/2-hour bike ride through Eugene including a climb to Hendricks Park, followed by a guided tour of the Willamette Winery southeast of Salem.

And except for some tension as Howard attempted to advise his oldest son on automobile towing and repair options -- oh yeah, and when Howard tried to "educate" the same son on which routes to take on the bike ride though it was the son's hometown for the past two years -- other than all that, the trip was a total success. So successful that Mrs. Howard is now suffering from PVD -- post-vacation depression.

You can't ask any more from a trip. The best ones always leave you PVD'ed.

Howard will have much more to say soon on the subjects of biking the wondrous trails of Eugene, Crater Lake's stunningly blue beauty, Portland's stunningly awful drivers, and the unexpected merits of SUVs. Stay tuned...

Monday, August 07, 2006

Cooking the Planet to Chill Our Toes

From William Salatan:
Have you heard the news? Scientists have found a planet that can support life. Its atmosphere is too hot for year-round habitation, its gases impede breathing, and surface conditions are sometimes fatal. But by constructing a network of sealed facilities, tunnels, and vehicles, humans could survive on this planet for decades and perhaps even centuries.

The planet is called Earth...

Air conditioning takes indoor heat and pushes it outdoors. To do this, it uses energy, which increases production of greenhouse gases, which warm the atmosphere. From a cooling standpoint, the first transaction is a wash, and the second is a loss. We're cooking our planet to refrigerate the diminishing part that's still habitable.

He goes on...

Policymakers aren't facing global warming, because they aren't feeling it. They gave themselves air conditioning in the 1920s and '30s, long before the public got it. White House meetings and congressional hearings on climate change are doomed hours beforehand, when the thermostats are set. One minute, you're watching video of people sweltering in New Orleans. The next minute, you're watching senators dispute the significance of greenhouse gases. Don't ask whether these people are living on the same planet. In effect, they aren't.

And an interesting architectural tie-in...
From 1991 to 2005, the median lot size of single-family homes sold in the United States shrank by 9 percent, but the median indoor square footage increased by 18 percent. If you can't stand the heat, go hide in your kitchen.
Read it all here.

Friday, August 04, 2006

A Pound of Cure

This isn't Howard's usual news beat, but sometimes a story crosses his desk that merits extra attention:
Shanghai, China -- Last week, a county in southwestern Yunnan province killed 50,000 dogs, many of them beaten to death in front of their owners, after three people died of rabies.

The slaughters have outraged animal rights groups, who call them cruel and a sign of government incompetence in dealing with rabies, an often fatal disease that attacks the nervous system but which can be warded off with a series of injections.

"I think this is completely insane," said Zhang Luping, founder of the Beijing Human and Animal Environmental Education Center.

"What's more, this really damages our national image and sets a really bad example to show how lazy and inconsiderate those local government officials are," Zhang said.

You think? When giving uninfected dogs a simple rabies shot could also work?

A second round of mass dog slaughters has been ordered by Chinese authorities which could number in the hundreds of thousands. Still, to be fair to the Chinese government, the dog owners were compensated $0.60 for their loss.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

How Low Will You Go?

My most devoted reader, Anonymous, asks in comments in the previous thread about the worst 10 jobs Howard has held. Here goes...

Howard's Top 10 List of His Crappy Jobs:

1. Orderly in nursing home. Literal crappiness. Although Lovey was a neat old dude.
2. Bellboy at Holiday Inn. Got to clean up blood spills. Plus side: Also cleaned the bar! (To be honest, Howard got the job after the previous bellboy got fired for stealing booze.)
3. Dishwasher at three different restaurants. Minimum wage slave. But free spiced apple rings!
4. Data entry dweeb for my father for which I was paid with a 10-speed Schwinn. Sweet bike. Howard typed up computer punch cards containing weather data until his eyes refused to uncross.
5. Waiter at fancy-pants restaurant. $60 tips a night... tax-free. But still.
6. Cabinetmaker. Hard work. Loud. Sawdust and supervisors everywhere.
7. Pizza delivery. College girls occasionally gave nice tips though.
8. Newspaper delivery -- both of the "boy on a bike" and of the "adult in a car" varieties. Hard to make money either way.
9. Construction laborer in the American Southwest. Hot and sweaty.
10. Sportswriter for two daily newspapers. Covered loser football coaches, who blamed me for their losses. After all, I asked such lame-ass questions.

What are some crappy jobs you have worked?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Top Ten Rural Counties

Howard is now in for a penny, in for a pound with the Top Ten lists.

Progressive Farmer Magazine (?!) has come out with its annual Top 10 List of Best Places to Live in Rural America. Topping the list is Ontario County, NY. Can't say Howard disagrees as he once lived and worked in neighboring Livingston County one summer, and was impressed with the beauty and abundance of the region.

No mountains though, so it was tough to keep ones bearings.

Howard's job? Quality assessor in the pea canning industry. He determined how much the farmers got paid for their peas. Funny, but he was never offered a bribe.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Howard's Best Stuff

It's been nearly seven months since Howard started blogging on Why Howard Laughed. And during that time, he's posted 101 entries for your scorn and ridicule. Now it's time to mail one in, which means it's Jump the Shark Week.

What does it mean to jump the shark, you ask? In the 70's, when the writers for the hit teevee sitcom Happy Days ran out of creative juices, they sent the Happy Days crew to Hawaii, where Fonzy water skied and jumped over a shark. That episode became synonymous with such future teevee cliches such as Evil Twins, Retrospective Episodes, and Forbidden Sex Between Coworkers, Platonic Friends, or Bitter Antagonists.

These kinds of episodes have become such eye-rolling cliches that they signal the dying pangs of a typically long-lived but played-out teevee show.
Nearly all sitcoms and dramas that have explored every possible story arc permutation have resorted to one or all of these cliches in the end. You get the idea.

But don't worry. Howard's still full of unique and awe-inspiring verbiage, even though he's gonna jump hisself a shark today, August 1st, by posting a Top Twelve List of His Favorite Postings from Why Howard Laughed during the past seven months.

Some postings are a long hard slog to read but were inspired by wonderful personal experiences that required lots of extra words (#1, #2). Others represent some of the finest writing that Howard has ever spewed forth (#3, #8, #11). Some were written only after a tremendous amount of research and effort (#4, #7, #9, #10). And finally, a few were just fun and interesting things to write about (#5, #6, #12). Howard hopes you enjoy reading or re-reading these as much as he enjoyed writing them.

Howard's Best Stuff:
1. Howard's 2006 Tour de Wyoming
2. Howard's 2006 Ride the Rockies
3. I Am the Lord of Bonk -or- Mysery Loves Company
4. Futility, Thy Name is Ames
5. What's Your Superpower?
6. The Universe is Symmetrical
7. Howard's Blog of Fame: The Mansard Roof
8. Don't Get Between An Architect and His Movietime
9. Lovely Images, Part VI: Machu Picchu
10. Ugly to the Bone
11. So Why Did Howard Laugh? (This one explains the origin of the blog's name)
12. American House Design Awfulness