Friday, September 29, 2006

I CAN Drive 55!

Ever ride a bicycle 55 miles per hour? Howard did. Today [Friday]. Technically, his speedometer registered a max velocity of 55.1, but let's not quibble.

-- 55 mph --
Howard's new land speed record... on a Fuji Touring bike, of all bikes.

You see, there's this long, steep, straight road heading north that drops off the side of a dam and a reservoir west of town. Howard pedalled hard to prime the pump, went into his tuck, never touched the brakes once, and let gravity do its best to yank him to the center of the Earth.

Howard also came across a couple days ago, a site where over 16,900 cyclists around the world track their annual mileage. Howard -- who loves competitive endeavors -- registered his own miles, and is now leading all 405 Colorado bicyclists at in mileage for 2006 with 5,500 miles (and counting.)
Worldwide, Howard ranks 246th.

Howard's goal is to reach 8,000 miles by December 31st -- the diameter of the Planet Earth -- yeah, the same planet trying to yank Howard to its core.

"Make no small plans." -- Daniel Burnham, Architect

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Warp Speed, Captain! [with updated update]

Just so Howard's two older sons receive equal blog time from Dad, here's a photo of Second Son (23) going out for a test drive Thursday evening in a BMW M3. He'll possibly complete the transaction on Friday. Howard will keep you posted...

Second Son graduated college last May, is having a lot of fun in his job, and is already making almost as much money as his dad ever made. (I said almost.)

Still, the size of the end-of-year bonus he's anticipating will put him well over anything his parents ever earned. He's in an industry where massive bonuses are the norm for overachievers like Second Son (overachievers in the good sense.)

He's always loved the idea of Clark Kent/Superman. So it makes perfect sense that he would love cars that look bookish and conservative on the outside, while sporting serious "Sweet Ride" under the hood.

This photo was taken by Second Son's girlfriend just as we three were making the jump to Light Speed...

Update: Second Son purchased his BMW M3 Monday evening --
not the same one he originally test-drove with girlfriend and dad. No, this one is even better. AND a better deal. "Leave it to [Second Son] to get an interesting, cool, extraordinary car," is Mrs. Howard's [nearly] exact quote upon hearing about the purchase.

Update to the Update: Here's a picture of the proud owner alongside the proudly owned. Notice the family resemblance? Yeah, he and his dad have the same smile. And they both wear flip-flops all the time. Damn hippies.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Holy Shirt!

Received this email and picture from my grad student son today:
This is a picture of the shirt I was wearing yesterday. A vial containing a borane (allyl phenyl boron chloride to be specific) broke while I was holding it yesterday, spilling the contents on my shirt.

The effect was instantaneous: gray smoke started fuming uncontrollably into my face, which happened to be hydrochloric acid (this borane is such a strong acid, it reacts with water in the air to make hydrochloric acid, one of the strongest acids around) and my torso area got very hot very fast.

Within a second or two I had my shirt off and fortunately did not have any burns on my body. I ran to the eye wash station and rinsed my eyes out for 5 minutes, though none of the chemical had gotten in my eyes that I was aware of. Some of my hair was singed from the shirt removal process, but that's it.

A colleague was standing only a few feet away, and he said that as soon as it happened, there was so much smoke, he couldn't even make out my face. Pretty awesome!

I'm completely allright, but looking back it was SO cool that I had to share. If I hadn't gotten the shirt off in the first few seconds, I'd probably be receiving skin grafts right about now and I'd probably be less jovial about it....

When people talk about harmful professions, I'd guess people don't think about graduate student in chemistry as one of them. But in academia we get away with practices and using chemicals that industry NEVER would, and as a result, almost everyone experiences or witnesses a huge accident. Combine that with young, inexperienced kids in their early 20's and you're bound to see a lot of accidents. Not that I'm inexperienced or anything. It was more of a freak accident.
This is sobering. Thinking of how bad the outcome might have been scares the holy crud outta me -- it reminds me of the effects of the acid blood of the creatures from the movie Aliens!

His reaction -- "pretty awesome" and "SO cool" -- is typical for him, though. He has such a keenly rational mind that he's always been able to keep some distance between "what is" and "what might have been." His parents, on the other hand, lack this perspective and are kind of freaked by this freak accident.

Update: Mrs. Howard has a brother who is also a scientist at a university, and he's come up with a bunch of alternate explanations for our son's T-shirt:
1) It wasn't an accident. He borrowed his wife's T-shirt and got a mustard spot on it that he needed to hide.
2) He's secretly at Area 51, and an alien drooled on him.
3) What hair he has left is now luminescent green from the chemicals.
4) He finds his work very borane.
5) Heard in the lab just before it happened: "Hold my beer a sec and watch this..."
6) It wasn't allyl phenyl boron chloride. It was bong water.
7) He's breathed in so many fumes over the years his snot dissolves cloth.
8) "Deodorant not working ? Try new Borane! Feel the burn!"

9) "Graduate Student Starts New Fashion Line. Plans fall debut sponsored by DuPont and Macy's"
10) Someone didn't follow the directions on the liquid fabic softener that say "Do not apply to dry clothes."
11) Drooling is a poor habit if one is a fire-blowing street performer........
12) "I wasn't kidding when I said the Elmira Grad Nite party was HOT!"

13) (Speaking of fashion) If pink is the new white, chemically burned purple must be the new periwinkle.
14) "I went to grad school and all I got was this lousy acid burn."
15) Headline: "Fruit of the Loom recalls new line of fire-retardant T-shirt."
16) "Ask me about my gaseous hydrochloric acid."
17) Darwin Award winner for 2006?
18) "Mom, Dad? I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner, but I'm The Human Torch and this is what happens when I sneeze."

Okay, that last one was mine.

le Viaduc de Millau -- French for "Hellacious Bridge"

Howard's always had a thing for bridges, particularly suspension bridges. Did he tell you that he used to build models of them as a teenager? He did?

Oh yeah... (six paragraphs in)

This "cable-stayed bridge" is the Millau Viaduct in Southern France (more photos available at the link including the one below.)

You MUST click both of these photos for enormous enlargements of same.

Bridges can be such graceful sculptural objects. The soft curve of this bridge as it spans across a tremendous valley below is utterly gorgeous and spellbinding.

However, looking at a panoramic photo of such a huge bridge from this angle can also be vertigo-inducing, as I can hear Mrs. Howard's palms getting sweaty right now.

Still, I'll bet one hardly knows one is driving over it at the time since bridge designers are clever to conceal any "perceived dangers."

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

You Can Judge This Book By Its Cover

More photos of the million dollar house -- this time with exterior shots.

The stone is being installed, but they haven't gotten to the stone on the column bases yet. Those will look sharp.

The exterior paint colors for the body of the house and the trim boards have been selected -- an interesting brown & tan combination.

Also, all the heavy timber posts, beams, and fascia boards will be stained dark brown in a few more weeks.

After that, driveways, sidewalks, and landscaping.

Quite dramatic changes coming soon.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Housing Bubble Leaking

Back to the housing bubble...

This is purest anecdotal evidence, but during Howard's bike ride today he witnessed a homeowner pulling up his For Sale By Owner sign while a real estate agent was planting his agency's sign in the homeowner's front yard. As if that was going to help. At least Howard knows how motivated the seller must now be. You see, Howard might be in the market for a bargain in that particular neighborhood...

Howard's honest realtor friends [oxymoron anyone?] tell him that high-end homes are not moving, nor are the low-end homes in Our Town. However, the market for mid-range priced homes is doing... okay. At least that's what they tell Howard.

The real estate industry is still solidly in the denial phase. Anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance looming on the horizon.

For more evidence, flip over to Political Animal, where blogger Kevin Drum has his own update on the housing bubble situation at this link.

Dancin' and Singin' and Movin' to the Groovin'

Hippies and freaks, as far as the eye could see!

Howard and the missus had fun Saturday at the Tour de Fat,
an annual fat tire bicycle ride, or actually a parade, from the host mothership at New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado through the Old Town, around the Colorado State University campus, and back to the brewery down the Fort Collins mainstreet of College Avenue. Over 2,000 hippies and freaks riding tricked-out bikes and wearing amazingly inspired costumes.

Thankfully, the police were great, stopping traffic at every major intersection!

While at the CSU Oval -- nexus of the original campus -- all the hippies and freaks dismounted, congregated at the center of the Oval, and grooved to Wild Cherry's Play That Funky Music from 1976 [click the YouTube link to start the groovin']:
Yeah, they were dancin' and singin' and movin' to the groovin'
And just when it hit me somebody turned around and shouted

Play that funky music white boy
Play that funky music right
Play that funky music white boy
Lay down that boogie and play that funky music till you die…
(hey,hey) till you die…yeah, yeah
Imagine 2,000 hippies and freaks dancin' and singin' and movin' to the groovin' of Wild Cherry's one hit wonder. Loved it -- especially since Howard and the missus were teens when that song came out!

When the song ended, we all resaddled and rode back to the New Belgium Brewery mothership to continue the fun with Fat Tire Ale and tunes and further bicycle shenanigans.

So to honor the events of Saturday, I present a special treat, also from the 70's...

Bicycle Repair Man

P.S. Here is the totality of coverage given the Tour de Fat by the Fort Collins daily rag the next morning. In the lingo of the 70's, "total squares." Either that or Saturday is their day off.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Hoping Television Doesn't Add 10 Pounds

Okay, this is kinda silly, but Howard isn't embarrassed to admit that he's a pretty silly man.

He says inappropriate things at awkward times which cause maximum embarrassment to himself, his wife, and sons... all the freakin' time!

After a funeral, he even once asked a cousin he had only met a few times if her mom was going to be showing up at the graveside service, thinking that the inconvenience of being outside in a wheelchair on such a hot and humid day might be too much for her mother to take. Turns out her mother was the woman in the coffin, not the wheelchair. Oops. How does one apologize for such a horrendous mistake? Can't be done, Howard learned.

Do you now understand the level of Howard's inappropriate and thoughtless blurting? It's waaaay beyond silly.

Okay, now we can continue.

Howard is hoping that ten or fifteen seconds of his 15 minutes of fame might be expended next month on the teevee.

Wyoming Public Television will be showing a half-hour broadcast of the 2006 Tour de Wyoming on Thursday, October 26th at 7 p.m. Since there were only 320 participants during the six-day ordeal, Howard figures his chances for face-time might be pretty good.

Now he has to figure out how to be in Wyoming at 7 p.m. that night to watch.

The two photos shown here are promotional pics from Wyoming Public Television's website. And with no thought for copyright infringement penalties, Howard flat-out cut-and-pasted them. But not without good reason.

The picture on top is of a cyclist getting ready to get going on the first day of riding. The picture was taken in front of Dayton High School. And Howard is standing like a statue in the background to the left. Tall. Thin(ish). Wearing red. Or at least it would look red if the picture was in color.

The next picture is at an aid station on the second day -- a long hard ride from Buffalo to Ten Sleep. This aid station was at the first level piece of ground after a relentless and grueling 10-mile 7% climb. Although Howard should be in this picture as well, his riding companion for the entire climb--Glenn (The Machine) from Gillette--is visible on the far right side of the photo looking sort of toward the camera, standing tall, wearing sunglasses and a lot of scalp.

Howard was probably further off to the right emptying the contents of his stomach after that horrific ascent.

Copies of the broadcast, as part of WPT's Main Street, Wyoming series, will be available for purchase afterwards. If Howard can't see the program the night it premieres, he'll probably be compelled to buy hisself a piece of personal history and fame.

Back to the intro to this blog entry... Why did Howard tell you about his most embarrassing moment? Like I said, he's a silly, stupid man.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

And One More Thing...

While I'm on the subject of bike paths, I think every serious bicycling city and town should have one of these.

After seeing what a great bicycling city Tucson is, I am deeply annoyed to realize and admit that though I lived in Tucson for five years, I never once went bicycling. Not solo, and not once with my sons -- at least that I can recall. I kept myself busy in school, and I played lots of basketball (with my sons) and volleyball (with my friends). But that's still a lame excuse.

Other than possibly riding in this year's El Tour de Tucson, it is my next goal to create a detailed Bike Rides Map for my hometown similar to what these guys did. Nice going Tucson bike freaks!

Top 10 Western US City Bike Paths

Since we love the Top 10 Lists, here's one that combines three of my favorite things: A Top 10 Ranking, Bicycling, and Colorado cities...

The October issue of Sunset magazine, which focuses on western U.S. living, names the Top 10 City Bike Rides [link upcoming when available]. Boulder ranked No. 2, Denver No. 3, and Albuquerque, New Mexico earned the top spot.

“With so many people looking for travel destinations that are fitness-friendly, the list offers the top ten places for both exercise and fun,” said Sunset PR Manager Karen Affinito.

The entire top ten list was ranked as follows:

1. Albuquerque, New Mexico: Paseo Del Bosque Trail

2. Boulder, Colorado: Boulder Creek Path, also here, & photos here

3. Denver, Colorado: Cherry Creek Trail

4. Los Angeles, California: South Bay Bicycle Trail

5. Portland, Oregon: Willamette River Loop including East Bank Esplanade (plus bonus trails link here)

6. Salt Lake City, Utah: Jordan River Parkway Trail

7. San Francisco, California: Bike the Golden Gate (forgive the commercial link)

8. San Jose, California: Los Gatos Creek Trail

9. Seattle Washington: Burke-Gilman Trail

10. Tempe, Arizona: Rio Salado Paths

If Howard had a vote -- and Sunset was most wise to avoid this -- he would have added Eugene, Oregon's Ruth Bascom Riverbank Trail (Warning: Large PDF file) and Fort Collins, Colorado's Poudre River/Spring Creek Trail. Unsure which paths to remove from the Top 10, Howard would have filibustered for a Top 12 List.

What a Million Bucks Buys

In case you need another dose...

The Brazilian Mahogany front door came from Alpine Stained Glass in Texas. That company was recommended to Howard by his brother-in-law who bought a few of their Arts & Crafts doors about a year ago. Howard specified a shiny "spar" finish on the exterior face -- similar to the laquered coating that natural teak is finished with on yachts to protect them from the harshest elements on the planet. Should also bring out the grain of the mahogany spectacularly.

The stained glass window accents and cultured stone "wainscot" around the perimeter of the house will add nice touches too, don't you think?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Have a Nice Day!

Howard has to confess that he's been wanting to come out of the closet of Blogger anonymity for a long time by posting a photo of himself and his best girl for all to see. It's just that Howard has been waiting for the right pic. This one in front of Crater Lake from August is perfect -- bluest blue lake, perfect smiles, love all around. Almost makes you wanna wretch, it's so perfect. Hence the smiley faces.

Yeah, most of Howard's hair is original. And neither one of them has nary a wrinkle.

And yeah, the shirt DOES say:

Climbing 25,443 feet in 6 days

Most of those feet were climbed during two awesome days. Read more about it at this link.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Million Dollar Photos

Here are seven photos of the million dollar house.

I don't know if they make too much sense, or if I should even try to explain all
the things you're seeing here.

But here goes:

1) the front entrance as the mahogany door is being hung; 2) the stone being installed along the patio at the walk-out basement, back door, and dog door; 3) the stair
landing showing future glass block locates; 4) the southeast side of the house with stair to back deck; 5) one of the kids bedrooms with closet, window seat, and future in-wall drawers; 6) the painter staining 1x6 baseboards in the family room; and 7) the kitchen being used as door staining HQ.

Since you've been asking for them for so long, I'll just post them As Is and let you figure out which is which.

As usual, you can click on any
of them to see them greatly enlarged.


This American Flyer

I've never really been a speed freak.

I downhill skiied some as a teenager, and while the speed of blasting down a hill well past any semblence of reasonable and responsible control was exhilarating, I never really enjoyed it.

I once pushed my father's Datsun 280ZX turbo up to 120 mph on a high country road, but I was too worried about the cop hiding behind the next curve or the tire about blow out to really enjoy it.

I even skateboarded down the mountain summit of Interstate 80 -- on the shoulder, of course -- until I got going so fast that the skateboard hit its natural frequency and started shimmering back and forth until I went tumbling for about twenty yards. My first (and fortunately last) introduction to road rash.

You'd think I would have learned a thing or two about my natural fearfulness when exceeding a comfortable four-mile-per-hour walking pace.

But no.

Here I am in my mid-40's and I love flying down hills on my bicycle. I've hit 52 mph twice. In the back of my mind, I was a bit nervous imagining all the horribleness that could befall me. But I had been riding long enough that the front of my mind was more confident and comfortable. And while 52 mph isn't so very fast compared to some others who brag about hitting the mid- or upper-50s, I still feel like I've done something that less than one percent of the population could ever do.

Tonight I watched the movie American Flyers with Kevin Costner about a pair of brothers dealing with impending death while on a bicycle race in Colorado. While filmed around a real bike race --the now deceased Coors Classic, formerly named the Red Zinger -- the action, the race strategies, and the bicycling footage were all legit. Howard even personally witnessed one leg of the Coors Classic in the 1980's. Not much to see, really. At one point in the film, Costner says they'll be riding up to 60 mph, which sounds impressive, and is true but misleading -- cyclists only go that fast on the steep downhills. Leg muscles can only do so much without the aid of bunches of gravity.

Yet, when I heard that impressive number -- 60 mph -- I thought to myself... I could do that. When I hit 52 mph twice, I was coasting. With the right hill, the right visibility, a total lack of traffic, and if I also peddled like mad from an aerodynamic crouch, I could do that too.

52 mph is top one percent. That's a satisfying achievement, particularly for such a wuss as myself. But 60 mph would be top one tenth of one percent.

Some day I'll get the chance (and the nerve) and let you know how it goes.

P.S. Remember when I said that Howard the Cyclist needs a challenge if he is to excel? Well, he's semi-seriously considering entering the El Tour de Tucson, a 109-mile bike race/tour in November. It's a "tour" in the sense that it's open to everyone willing to try and ride a 109-mile loop around the sprawling metropolis that is Tucson. It's a "race" in the sense that it's timed -- you get ranked from one to 4,018 (last year's results.) This appeals to Howard's competitive nature. He's certain that he can exceed a 20-mph pace for over five hours, which would keep him in the Top 800. (800!) But he's not sure he can maintain a 24-mph pace, which would be good enough to place him in the top 120 or so. Mrs. Howard is supportive, as usual. Just so long as she doesn't have to ride.

An Architect's Pride

The $1.4 million house we viewed on Saturday during the local Parade of Homes Tour was stunning, we all agreed. So after walking through five houses that were impressive with their sumptuousness, yet depressing in their formality because we all agreed that we could never really feel comfortable in such stuffy and screaming-for-attention-and-approval spaces, I suggested to the group that we all drive out to see my house. Amazingly, they all readily agreed. I didn't expect that. Not sure why -- or at least I'm not sure I want to admit why.

The last time any of the other five people had seen my house, there was no drywall on the studs between the rooms. There was no plaster texture on the dry wall. There were no door frames in place. There were no soffits, fascia boards, cedar shingles on the walls or the roof. There was no stone being installed on the outside of the house. There were no bathroom fixtures, no decks, and the gypcrete hadn't yet been poured over the PEX tubing in the floors for the radiant floor heat system.

While there is still over two months of work yet to be done, which I was visualizing, I also realized that they hadn't seen the progress that had been made in the past three months.

The individual rooms and spaces were now apparent. The exposed interior glulam beams and ceiling joists were quite striking. The character of the house was starting to shine through. And... while the wind was roaring outside at 40 miles per hour, you wouldn't know it from inside the house. That puppy is solid, well-insulated, and quiet.

No, I still don't have photos.

Perhaps tomorrow...

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Busy? Yeah! Depressed? Heck yeah!

There are a lot of things to write about -- so many that I've been overwhelmed by the thought of blogging about it all. So instead I will do as Mrs. Howard does: Make a list. I could write more extensively about each of these, but...

1. My best girl and I rode the Buffalo Bicycle Classic last Sunday from Boulder to Horsetooth Mountain Park near Fort Collins -- a distance of 53 miles. When we got there, we ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and then headed back for a total of 106 miles on the day. This was Mrs. Howard's first (and last) century. She did great, though she did suffer so. Heroic efforts do indeed become heroic results.

2. During the BBC, Howard passed the 5,000-mile mark for the year, which works out to a bit more than 20 miles a day on average. At this rate, he should be somewhere over 7,500 miles by the end of 2006 -- nearly the diameter of the Earth. On New Year's Eve of 2005, Howard was about five miles short of 500, so he jumped on his father's crappy bike and rode around his neighborhood for about 20 minutes. Howard started keeping track of all his miles on October 12th, 2005. You should see his spreadsheet!

3. The craps mantra goes, "Baby needs a new pair of shoes!" But in our family the past three weeks, it goes, "Baby needs a new computer!" We've been putting off getting a new one until the Big Check arrives in the mail. And now it appears that it ain't forthcoming. One of Howard's clients has apparently decided not to pay him the $5,500 they owe him for construction documents. They paid promptly for schematic design and design development documents. But when Howard finished with the CD's, it seems they decided they might not build their addition after all, and so they figure they don't have to pay Howard for two-and-a-half-months of work spent finishing the CD's. Contract says they must pay. What now?

4. The million dollar house is still about three months from completion. Howard is meeting with the finish carpenter this afternoon to go over the details. Also, the exterior stone veneer has finally been delivered to the site and is now being installed. Pictures should be forthcoming. Should.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

For Love of the Game

Today, Howard toured the construction site of the million dollar home. And while visiting with the contractor, his job superintendant, and a rep from the company that will soon pave the driveways, the contractor turned to the rep and said, "Howard here has been losing money on this project for over a year now, while we only started losing money on it after four months of construction!"

We all laughed, but alas, 'tis true. Totally true.

Friday, September 01, 2006


In my recent post 0-for-6, But Thanks For Playing, I listed six prospective projects from a year ago that all died in subsequent months and went to architecture heaven. And although scores of past projects have gone belly-up in the past 20 years, each becoming what might best be described in the words of writer/poet Andrei Codrescu as an "exquisite corpse", I've never had so many projects come and go so quickly as this list makes clear. I then blogged the question, "What could all this mean?" and reader Cara Lietuva provided one answer -- possibly the most thoughtful, wise, and articulate answer ever posted to Why Howard Laughed:

It means that architects who are self employed need to learn the art of bird-dogging. Isn't that what seeking out new projects is called? I don't think they teach this in architecture school--the art of getting work. They certainly didn't teach it in my MFA program in creative writing, but you know what? They should have. Because it's one thing to create and to know all the things involved in bringing something from idea to physical reality, but to even get the opportunity to create, whether it's a building or a published story, is often quite difficult. My professors NEVER talked about that. This is where our colleges are failing us as students and alumni--they gave us theory, they gave us how-to's, but they didn't teach us about the reality of our chosen art forms: how to get work, how to maintain your creativity even in projects that don't challenge it, how to make a living, how to deal with clients/editors, how to market, how to keep records, how not to lose heart.
It's true that my own exposure in architecture school to the realities of architectural practice were woefully meager. As a matter of fact, the professor who taught a course titled "Professional Ethics and Practice" was the biggest cop-out artist on campus. He didn't try to "teach" his students so much as he "facilitated learning" -- his own words -- meaning that he believed his job description consisted of pointing the direction to the College of Architecture library, expecting us to figure out on our own the answers to the questions we barely knew enough to ask.

How do architects bird-dog projects, sign them to contracts, and then direct a team of designers, engineers, clients, builders, and governmental agencies through a multi-year design-and-build process?

"Forget it. The question's too big. I'm not even going to try to explain," the professor would have whined and evaded. "That comes with experience -- post-degree. Assuming one can even make it THAT far."

"You're on your own, kid."

I still despise that worm.