Friday, January 25, 2013

Will The Real Brady Murphy Please Stand?

I have Fred and Shim to thank for introducing to me the art of thread hijacking.  Without their tutelage I believe that the following transactions would have either ended in a flame out or a filter to the trash can. Instead, what resulted was something just shy of amazing.

In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definition, a thread hijacking is a deliberate off topic comment in a conversation. This is seen most on Facebook comments immediately after the President enacts some executive privilege that may or may not be illegally altering certain amendments to the Bill of Rights. Oh boy, here we go.

Wait wait, **snap **snap** , over here, focus, fo-cus...

A less toxic example of comment hijacking occurred on this very blog's comment section of the blog post The BCM Brand. Let's take a look.

Instead of commenting on the blog post's subject, the BCM Brand, Fred went off topic and commented about how my story reminded him of the time I crashed my bicycle into a steel post and destroyed my shoulder. And then he finishes by trumping himself with an off-off topic comment on the random word verification that has nothing to do with anything. Nicely done, Fred.

Not to be outdone, Shim's comment answered a question Fred never asked, and that was tangentially related to Charlie Burton. Who's Charlie Burton you may ask? Good question. And that's how you hijack a thread.

Confusing, right? How about rude? Allow me to introduce you to Fred and Shim.

Thread hijacking needn't be radically off topic. It needs to be only be slightly so. In refining your approach, you may just get an opportunity to turn what would otherwise result in a hostile reaction to one in which your captive audience accepts the injected disinformation and respects you for doing it.

Here's how it all went down. Be forewarned, this might take a while. So for those of you who are still here -- Shim left us long ago -- I wouldn't be offended if you took a break right now to brew a pot of coffee or visit the toilet or something. Yes, you can even do number two. Take your time. Please, don't strain. Honestly, I won't be hurt by your extended absence. Yes, I want you to be good and comfortable when taking this wholesome goodness in.

Part One: Finding Your Audience
What I've learned from the experience I'm about to share with you is that one aught to consider opening their horizons on selecting an audience to thread hijack.

The obvious choices are Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Yeah, okay, if you want to dabble in the minor leagues, be my guest. Go ahead and try it, but I'd venture to guess that an off topic comment on gun control, global warming, abortion, etc... on your democratic | republican frenemy's recent photo of their pet isn't going to go very far.

Instead, what I'm talking about is looking for new avenues to explore. Why not venture into a heady Newtonian physics forum and lob a comment about how unrealistic the Barbie doll's dimensions are? Ok, so maybe that's a tad trite. Or how about visiting a cooking website and posting a recipe on minced baby seal meat? See where that takes you. Even better: perhaps there's a legitimate thread in your spam folder that's waiting to be explored?  Who knows, there may be a gem or two in there that involves a real conversation that doesn't involve the Nigerian check cashing scam or 78% discounts on Viagra.

I was lucky. I didn't even have to get my hands filthy by digging through spam. It came directly to my inbox.

Part Two: The Hijack
Earlier this week, I received a legitimate email from a group of acting students who were in a class project together. Like you, I was confused why I received the email and nearly deleted it. But before doing so, I glanced at the body and saw that the author mentioned that he hoped he got Brady's email fixed this time.

As you can see, it was a legitimate email with a real purpose. The problem was that Benjamin's fix was for some guy named Brady Morphy, and that second fix erroneously "corrected" the other Brady's email to mine. That's how I got the email in my inbox.

I was busy and chose to ignore it. The thread went quiet for two days and I forgot about it.

Then these appeared in my mailbox:

I have to admit, my reaction to this inflood of unwanted mail was not favorable. I was tempted to reply curtly to have my email address removed from their list. But I rationalized that they were college kids. I was once like them, stuck in a group project that I didn't necessarily want to be in. I decided to give them a break and replied gently:

Contented for the moment, I went back to my work.

A few hours passed before checking for notification of new mail. Suddenly, my inbox was flooding faster than an unattended basement with a broken washing machine hose:


Since my first note fell on apathetic ears, it was now time to act.

Hello? Are you still here? Pay attention! This is where the whole dealy about thread hijacking comes into play. My response:

Hooah. That's a beaut.  A Masterpiece, I tell you.

I'll never forget the titillating feeling I had when I clicked "send" on that message. I wondered, would they ignore me again? Or would they accept my hack as advice? I was besides myself with anticipation. I must have clicked my refresh button a hundred times over the next five minutes. Nothing.

Then this:

And then this:


Then the other Brady again:

To which I replied:

By now, I felt a certain kinship to my doppelganger. Truly, like a brother.

Oh yeah, I really don't know anything about acting, the theater (theatre?), drama, etc... I garnered all of that crap from Wikipedia.

Finally, Casey sent out another note to follow up on the alternate universe Brady's initial one:

Solid? I'll tell you what's solid: that thread hijacking. 

So let's recap what have we learned here. Thread hijacking needn't be radially off-topic. Your audience may be in your spam box, or if you're lucky, they just may come to you. And if they do, and especially if they happen to be college students, cut them some slack. Your (mis)directed but well intended hack might just garner some respect and admiration from your captive audience. They may even name something after you.

To Brady Morphy and company: I wish you all break your legs in the worst way possible. 

Thank you all for being good sports.

Happy thread hijacking, everyone.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Lurker | Narcissist

People who sign up for Facebook are either lurkers or narcissists. Lurkers are those who hide in concealment, never posting anything. Narcissists are those who enjoy seeing their pictures or comments over and over again, like Marcia Brady vapidly coming her in a mirror.

Facebook 1.0 = Marcia Brady's mirror
Hello, I'm a narcissist. I'll be honest, I enjoy seeing my pictures, comments and likes on Facebook.

While that's admittedly vain, my wife Katherine is the opposite. She wants nothing to do with Facebook. Yet she still trolls on it from time to time. We call this type of Facebook user a silent lurker. Katherine claims to hate Facebook.Still, many times she knows more about our family and friends whereabouts than I do. What's more is that she when she lurks, she does it under an assumed identity: mine. So to Mark Zuckerberg and the folks at Facebook, my marketing profile fits into both camps: narcissist and lurker. It makes sense that Facebook pitches me $10,000 bicycles and Louis Vuitton handbags.

At any rate, Katherine and I celebrated an anniversary this past week. My Dad posted a photo on Facebook and it went small-time viral among my family and friends. 50 comments!

50 likes was some sort of new personal record. It made me wonder why so many people liked it.

I mean, the previous Facebook photo that Fred posted of me (only) riding my bike garnered just seven likes.

And the one before that? My blown out ice skates drew an anemic four likes. Boo.

But prior to that one was another one of Katherine and I ice skating, and that one drew 38 likes!

Now I was beginning to see the bigger picture. The larger numbers have nothing to do with me at all and everything to do with Katherine being in the picture. Duh! So in conclusion, you all can expect to see our favorite lurker being drawn out from the shadows more to prop up her vain husband's frail ego with more FB likes.

I think humans are generally wired so that we want to be liked. I know I am. I also have an issue with conflict. Therefore, I'd rather get you to like me than to hate me so I don't have to deal with all of that yucky conflict stuff down the road.

While I care about how you feel about me, fellow narcissist Lance Armstrong doesn't. He's actually a very simple person. He's a competitor who will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that his doping apology is insincere.

My only beef with Oprah is that she fell for the classic blunder in dealing with cheats and liars: she never asked if he was crossing his fingers behind his back.

And they say that Oprah asks the probing questions. Sheesh. What a joke.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Pack of Trust

Last night I was reading a book. I was laying down. My dog, Emmylou, was my pillow. While I was reading the book, she was destroying a rawhide bone. Both man and beast were contented.

I gave her the rawhide about 15 minutes beforehand.  And for the next ten minutes after, she was besides herself with it. She clutched the rawhide in her jaws while pacing around the interior of the house. She then took it outside, but that only lasted for one pass around the backyard. It was obvious what she was doing. She was showing off her prized possession. Even more, she wanted somebody or something to challenge her for it. 

At first it was just simple pacing. But by the time she had her made tours of inside and out, she was getting bored of simply showing it off.  That's when she started up with her high-pitched whistling through her nasal cavity. The whistling is grating on the nerves and quite effective at getting someone to focus on her.

That would be me. And since Emmy had no dogs to challenge her, I got down on all fours and began to slowly approach her. 

Now there are many things that I cannot do well in life. Like dancing. Trust me friend, you don't want to see this white man's overbite.  

Playing the role of a dog, however, is something I somehow excel at.

I'm a keen study of behavior. It doesn't matter if its humans or animals, it just comes naturally to me. I probably should have been an anthropologist. Or a dog-thropologist. Huh, what's it pay? 

Anyway, it only takes a few minutes of meeting a dog (that doesn't want to immediately rip my head off) to get insider their pack of trust. It starts with the non-threatening visual contact, then cautious posturing, which gives way to the obligatory sniffing, and finishing with feigned boredom and darting eyes that break contact as soon as its made. Repeat, etc... A couple minutes of this and I'm no longer that funny looking human, but an even funnier looking canine who's been accepted into their pack of trust. 

I've been in Emmy's pack of trust for nine years now. I rescued her from the Humane Society when she was about a year old. She's some sort of lab mix, very friendly and loves attention. She's also a somewhat neurotic and may or may not suffer from anxiety/depression/OCD. --  Prozac Nation 2.0 

So back to last night: Emmy was playing hard-to-get with her rawhide. Even after parading it around, all she wanted to do initially was to play with it. When I'd get near, she'd get all growly and such at me, then break it off and wag her tail. Then I'd pretend I wasn't interested, and then she's shove the rawhide back in my face again. This went on, back and forth, for a few more minutes until she was satisfied that she was the alpha dog. For the moment. That's when she started chowing down on it.

At this point, I began reading a book and used her as my pillow. Of course, I was only using the book as a ruse to make her think that I was reading it.

She took the bait. Within a couple minutes, she had forgotten about me.  I waited until she was well into gnashing that thing into a bloody stump before making my move.

As they say on TV, please do not try this at home. What you're about to see is the true sequence of events as they unfolded and were caught by my phone's camera. 

Emmy's settled in, mouwing down on that rawhide. Look at the hyper-extended jawbone! Amazing. Meanwhile, the pack of trust is in full effect. Brady's apparently no threat to her busy work.

Emmy's all CRUNCH! SNAP! RIP! She has no clue what Brady's scheming.

Emmy: Oh no, what's this?
Brady: Groaaaaaaaarrr!!!

Hey Emmy, who's alpha dog how, huh?

Yeah, pretty good.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Winter Cycling: the Good the Bad and the Ugly

Every winter, cyclists must decide if they are going to ride inside or out.

For those who choose to stay inside, there are options like spin classes, stationary bikes, trainers, and my personal favorite: rollers. Rollers are just what they sound like: a set of drum "rollers" connected by an elastic band that one rides their bike on top of. It's like a treadmill built for bicycles. I like them because it's the closest thing to actually riding a bike indoors. Because you're riding on top of drums, and not physically connected to anything, you not only have to balance but steer your bike to remain on the drum. If you ride off the drums, well, that's where it gets interesting. Can you bunny hop an ottoman? Yeah, pretty good.

It can be intimidating at first, but after a session or two, it ain't nothing but a 'thang.  If you're interested, Mike Munson is selling a set for $75 bucks right now.  That's a great price. You can use them for a few seasons and sell them again for at least that much.

If you ask me, your best bang for your buck is investing in good cycling clothing to ride outside. I mean, you can get by with a lot of stuff you have already. I've seen folks riding in fleece pullovers and snow pants. It's doable. But it can be a lot more comfortable and enjoyable if you start investing in cycling specific clothing.

There are lots of benefits to riding outside. For one, riding indoor sucks. I know that's not a benefit for riding outdoors, but let's face it, the only thing worse than riding a stationary bike|trainer is running on a treadmill. And that's not far behind.

Riding outdoors in the winter is fun. It's that simple. Just fun. Ah, that deserves it's own paragraph.

It's fun because it's more social. Social because you'd be an idiot to ride fast in cold weather. You ride slower so as to not overheat and sweat when  it's 3°F outside. As a result of slower speeds, the pack tends to stay together. That allows more time to dawdle. Besides triathletes, who doesn't enjoy dawdling?

Another benefit is the scenery. The snow changes everything. There have been many occasions that I've ridden familiar roads as if it was the first time on them.

For others, it's facial scenery. Take for example our own ginger, Lucas Marshall. For him and others alike, one of the major winter cycling benefits is to show off your ice beard. As one breathes, exhalation condenses and freezes onto facial hair. Apparently snot does, too.

In a word, ick.

Anyway, despite all of its benefits, some resist winter cycling out of fear of the unknown.

After seeing this picture that Fred posted on Facebook, a friend and newbie cyclist sent me a message inquiring if cycling "was possible in the snow and how safe was it?"

Now that was a curious question to ask me, since the picture clearly shows that it's possible to ride a bike in the snow. But was it safe?

Sure, there is an element of risk here. But it's manageable risk with some basic winter riding skills.

I've ridden for many years now and still marvel how a bicycle can stay upright over a sheet of ice. It's turning an braking where things can get a little dicey.  On a recent ride I got going a little too fast on a descent. I panicked and squeezed the back brake too hard, locking the wheel into a skid. The wheel got squirrelly beneath me. That spooked me enough to keep me from touching the front brake. This only made the situation worse as I kept accelerating down the hill. I starting passing friends, one by one. On both sides of the road were drainage culverts. At the bottom, the road junctioned with another gravel road that had its own ditch on the far side. While passing, I told Rafal that it was nice knowing him, then pointed the bike toward a band of snow along the shoulder with the hopes of getting traction there. Fortunately, my plan worked and I didn't dump it. What a rush of adrenalin that was.
My rendition of East Jefferson Avenue and Mudhollow Road, Iowa
For the record, that was the hill that Lucas said he'd like to put on a pair of Carharts and just let 'er rip and see what happened.  Also for the record, Shim said that he didn't touch his brakes at all. He probably clipped out for a one legged-drill. Soft-pedaling of course.

So that's the worst it can get. From this experience, I learned a few things, like not panicking, looking for snow for better traction and how to effectively feather the front brake. I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't have gotten this same experience riding a trainer while watching the movie Predator.

Is winter riding risky? I suppose it can be. But riding on your rollers over your cement basement floor can be risky, too. Heck, I saw Shim crash on a trainer before a cyclocross race this year. And he never crashes.

But with a little precaution, riding outside in the winter is not only possible to do so, but it can also be safe.

Happy Winter Riding Everyone.