Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Red Truck 2005


A classic. The go-to red wine for eating, sipping, canoodling, etc.

Red Truck was my first purchase way back in the day when I started down the road of California red table wine. In those days I refused to spend more than ten bucks for this hobby (then I got a taste of The Prisoner from Orin Swift and that plan when to crap). Whenever I see people staring blankly at the shelves of blended reds, I always point the newbies to Red Truck. I've owed this wine a review for a while now.

I just happened to pick up this bottle for $7.99 at Tarjey (or Target as it's also pronounced) back in early May. Tell your friends you paid $30, have them drink it, let them ooh and aah, and then be a douche by telling them how much you actually paid. Jerk!

Mild from beginning to end without being limp. Clean and fruity - not a smoky complex wine by any means. Really pleasant finish. Sometimes I swear it's not really made from grapes the consistency from bottle to bottle is so perfect.

They also make White Truck ( a white blend). However if God had meant us to drink white wine, urine jokes wouldn't be so popular in Ben Stiller movies.

If you absolutely have to spend more for a different go-to wine than this one, pick up The Turk.

Personal crap starts here so feel free to stop reading...

Okay...been a while between posts. Also some races never got 'capped. And I'm missing some pics. Everyone get on board my excuse train!

First things first - I finished 4th overall in the Texas Mountain Bike Championship Series for beginner 30-39 men.

I've upgraded to Sport - I think they revamped classes though so stay tuned.

Last race at X-Bar? DNF'ed by flatting twice. Yeah....rhymes with 'truck' and 'buck'. My finish for the preceding race at Lake Lake was mediocre with a finish somewhere in the middle. Apparently I can't carry a lot of speed through turns.

I was a wee tired after that. So no hotels, no eating out, no driving around TX, no running, and no mountain biking. I must confess I played a more than a little bit of World of Warcraft this summer. The only thing that saved me from a totally sessile existence was my daily bike commute to work. Sadly that's still probably more exercise than 99 percent of America gets.

I'm re-focusing on working with the Rice Cycling Team. Great folks - lots of people signed up this fall. To that end I've ordered a Madone 5.5 Pro. My first road ride in 15 years. Stay tuned for a review.

Oh yeah... Hurricane Ike. That sucked and frankly it still does. Everyone is alright and we kept our windows, but lost our power and water. A lot of our friends got hit a lot worse. My wife missed the disaster completely due to a serendipitously timed trip to her parents in CA. I rode out the storm at campus - a story for another time.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

STORM Hill Country Challenge 2008

STORM Hill Country Challenge 2008

Back to Comfort, older and wiser than the last time. I didn't blister my hands, run out of water, or dress too warmly. Speaking of attire, this was the inaugural race for my new Rice Cycling Team kit. Sadly the fresh steaming cow patty I rode through not only splattered the Yeti, but my new jersey and shorts as well. The shorts also ended up with blood stains. Dang.

The weather.com bogeyman tried to frighten us away with prophecies of thunder, lightning, hail, and heavy rain for race day. But the wrath of God act was not to be. Beautiful weather instead - at least for the race. The ranch got pretty cold and windy after we hit the finish line.

I placed fifth after a good, but not outstanding effort out on the course. Drew and I spent almost the whole race dueling it out for fourth place. I lost a lot of seconds on the descents - especially the backside towards the finish. I did, however, clean the three spots that had me worried: a hop up rooted ledge right between two oaks, a chunky drop called 'evil worm' just past the top of the climb, and a big stone ledge drop at the end. I shouldered a tree, but everything else went smooth - including my start. I avoided another anaerobic detonation like Waco by not trying to hang on to Clint's wheel for too long. I have no idea what the results from this race will do to the overall point standings. Good news for Clint though - he's locked the series up. Look for him in sport at Double Lake.

Drew looking thoughtful, some dude, me napping, Chris looking nervous, Lonn thinking about sidewall protection, and Clint looking laser-focused as ever.

Notes:
  • Two dinners at Cracker Barrel. Cornmuffins! Saturday chicken and rice special! Pork chop! Cheap!
  • Saturday found me tasting wine at Becker Vineyards (get the cab sauvignon, skip the provencal) followed by lunch at the Silver K Cafe (get the spinach salad, skip the chocolate cake).
  • My stunningly sexy pre-ride partner took a tough fall that banged up her knee pretty bad and her chin just a little bit, but she climbed those rocky ascents like a vet!
  • Did anyone else notice that the Galactica ep had a lot happening, but nothing actually happened? Morbo demands more Grace Park screen time!
  • Reality met pseudo-reality when Bibi Martinez and I chatted for a bit about our blogs.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Fife Redhead Red 2004

Fife Redhead Red 2004 Mendocino Red Wine

This bottle comes to us from Fife Vineyards - specifically the Fife Vineyards’ Redwood Valley winery in Mendocino County started by Dennis Fife. This landed in my basket while I shopped for hot sauce at H.E.B. Central Market back in the middle of February. I paid $14.99.

I paired this blended California red with the movie Cloverfield (we're about a half an hour in - so far not great). I didn't get much from the smell in the glass - a bit of dark berry, but not much else. I'm not crazy about how this wine starts - the flavor begins lemony - a little bitter, a little woody, but still generally light.

I'm going to pop some popcorn and we'll see if that helps. Mmmm... better. This wine improves in the middle... now we've got some strong dark cherry flavors. It's smoothed out and gotten rich and gutsy. A bit smokey too. This reminds me of a nice pipe tobacco. The movie's gotten better as well.

I don't see myself buying another bottle - but I didn't dislike it. Two chainrings?

Drink well. I'm off to Comfort for race numero six.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Ra Sushi

The sushi bar at Ra Sushi

Ra Sushi on 3908 Westheimer in Houston

The half-full glass: Holy wow the tea! Holy wow the crispy spicy tuna roll!
The half-empty glass: The signature rolls are singularly bad and the sake menu is barely worth opening

My loyal readers have listened to me blather on about Ra's green tea for months now. Time to post up or shut up I figure. So the crew found itself parked at Ra's sushi bar this evening.

Tea indeed - Ra's fantastic, hot, nutty elixir of happiness and joy. Edamame to start, naturally, followed by squid salad. I've had better textured squid, but Ra doused it in something good.

Our chef behind the bar recommended striped bass and halibut, so we ordered nigiri for each. Ra in Houston must have a good buyer - the fish has been consistently above average every time. The halibut and bass were fresh, tasty, and nicely textured.

Halibut, stripped bass, and the legendary tea

Hang on, this meal has more ups and downs than the Waco course. We ordered up a Kizakura Pure - no race this weekend so I had a couple of sips. Not that I would want more anyway - way too lite for me. Nothing interesting in this sake. I think estrogen leaked from the fru-fru label into the bottle.

Have no fear, the crispy spicy tuna swoops in like superman obliterating all negative taste bud experiences in its path. This is the signature item on Ra's menu. They deep fry these little balls of rice with a crispy coating and top them with spicy tuna sprinkled with cilantro and jalepeno bits. Flavor and texture my friends, flavor and texture.

The crispy spicy tuna at Ra Sushi

If you find yourself at Ra enjoying your tea and crispy spicy tuna and feel like ordering a New Zealand roll, you are about to make a big mistake. The flavor of the smoked salmon inside gets diluted by the cream cheese and the kiwi bits with mango sauce overwhelm that and the scallops. So it's kinda just a fruity gooey wad. The lobster and shrimp maki we ordered tasted fine, but not great - plus it's cha ching.

The New Zealand roll at Ra Sushi

We decided to finish with pork gyoza potstickers and yellowtail scallion maki. The gyoza was pleasantly greasy and tasty and the quality of the yellowtail made the roll.

I'd say this was my fourth visit to Ra. The tea and crunchy little tuna balls keep me coming back. Some members of the crew appreciated the scenery. My experience with the service had been previously spotty, but our server tonight gave us great attention and didn't rush us out. Eat well.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tiz Red 2004

The Tiz Winery is a Kendall Jackson project - a big winery putting a pretty label on a table red. Normally I would chafe against this sort of thing (see my review of Horseplay), but not this time. The blend is 63% Merlot, 22% Cabernet, 15% Syrah. I picked this one up at Krogers for $7.99. Here's the web page KJ tossed up for promo.

Smells like citrus in the glass. The taste starts light and fruity and then goes to creamy and smokey in the middle. Finish is just a bit woody but it smooths out. Cool how the wine stays light, but not limp and never sweetens too much.

This is a fantastic complex wine that's got the depth and sophistication of bottles five times this one's cost. The big KJ comes through - maybe I should ask them for sponsorship.

Drink well.

2004 Tiz Red

Monday, April 14, 2008

Singletrack Stampede 2008 (Reimers Ranch)

Three days before: My head cold had officially finished migrating to my chest. 24-7 Nyquil/Dayquil rotation.

Two days before: I landed my back on a rock during pre-ride sending nerve pain from there all the way down to my heel. My ongoing MCL strain in my right knee flared up on the second lap and I soft pedaled back to the car.

Morning of: My front brake wasn't releasing on one side no matter how much I futzed with the tension screw. A neutral mechanic declared the bushings shot and he coaxed it back to life by fire-hosing it with lube.

Five minutes after the start: The rider sitting in fourth went for a quick pass, taking me off guard. We tangled bars and I went down hard superman-style. My hand pump went flying out of my pack to who knows where and I got back on. I coughed some phlegm onto the ground for good measure.

One minute after that: I realized nothings shifting or breaking because my bars had spun 360 degrees. I stopped to fix it and got going again having dropped from third to about twenty-fifth. The front brake was jacked again and my handlebars were about 15 degrees off center.

One hour later: After slamming into a tree, endo'ing in a rock garden, and some passing (just a bit) I'm up to fifth position directly behind the rider from the bad pass at the beginning of the race. I overtook him with a quarter mile to go and finished fourth - one second ahead of him.

Metallica's cover of Stone Cold Crazy stuck in my head.

In case you're curious, third place was two and a half minutes ahead of me at the finish. Sweet trophies too! Congrats to Eric for taking the win. We tried like heck to jinx him at the start.

So as you can maybe see, the stars didn't quite line up for me on this one. No matter. Bike and knees and cough aside, my mojo worked. I felt like a mountain bike racer, not someone hoping to be or pretending to be or trying to be a mountain bike racer.

As far as the course goes, the rougher rocky parts going up and going down were a lot of fun, but the miles of flat, smooth, twisty singletrack in the second half of the course needed a couple of hills to break it up. The downhill finish done chute style simply rocked.

The whole place had a fun mellow vibe. They brought in a giant tanker truck of spring water. The expo area stayed lively and parking was a cinch.

Ride well.

Drew Richman, some dude, Lonn Hart, Eric Warden, me, some other dude, and Colin Hill in the orange and white.

Notes:

* The biking beauty had her third ride, doing part of the course with me during pre-ride on the Friday before. The skills are starting to show!

* This Tiz Red 2004 I'm drinking right now is awesome. Light, fruity, buttery, and complex without being limp or too sweet. Look for a review soon.

* I don't own a kilt, so I've been doing the bare ass bike short shuffle before and after every race. I discovered this time that wrapping a fleece around me like a big towel spares me all the embarrassment of nudie-ness.

* I banged my kneecap pretty hard in one of the crashes. The knee's been getting ice and the Yeti goes in for tlc at Bike Barn tomorrow. It's making odd clicking sounds around the bottom bracket.

* I'm up to episode four of The Wire's fourth season. High freakin art man.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Uchi Restaurant

Uchi Restaurant on 801 S Lamar Blvd in Austin TX

The half-full glass: original, tasty, and contemporary menu delivered with outstanding service
The half-empty glass: fish quality, while good, does not match the menu, service, or prices

I appreciated the traditional sushi house ambiance at Uchi, but the needle on the decor pointed a little towards bland and a bit away from simple Japanese. I blame the wallpaper, the time of day, and my long exposure to Houston sushi bar interiors. Uchi compensates a bit with a cozy outdoor seating area arranged with low laid back chairs.

Let's start with a highlight - outstanding service. Uchi employs a very attentive knowledgeable staff that easily accommodated my haphazard ordering style (I never order all at once). Our server took a lot of time talking about dishes, ingredients and specials.

The basics worked out well. The edamame was clearly not the previously frozen kind, the miso was delicately flavorful, and the green tea came in my own pot - what a treat!

My online preview of the menu excited me to the idea of trying Japanese black snapper. Keep in mind that I have no benchmark for comparison for this fish. The texture stood out the most, being extremely tender - but not at all mushy, it fell apart exquisitely in my mouth. While the piece tasted very fresh, I found the flavor a bit too subtle.

Madai (Japanese black snapper) at Uchi

Don't panic, things go quickly uphill starting with grilled baby octopus. Uchi coaxes maximum flavor out of these little red charred tentacle balls. The texture seemed as non-rubbery as octopus can get. Three small piles of salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper come on the side for dipping. Remember the sugar sticks that you dipped in the packets of sugar (Lik-M-Aid's Fun Dip)? Like that but with seasoned infant invertebrates instead of pure sucros.

Baby octopus at Uchi

Now for the big finale - the zero sen makimono. Yellowtail with avocado, crispy shallots, yuzu kosho, golden roe and cilantro sided with a spicy sweet red pepper sauce. It's been a while since a roll impressed me (futomaki at Nippon, I think), so I was really happy to have these ingredients come together in a balanced flavorful experience. Great stuff!

My wife ate the hot rock wagyu beef - a cook-it-yourself-at-the-table experience. This brought instant flashbacks of my bachelor party. I expected a geisha with a strong Boston accent to pop up at any second and berate me to drink more. Good times. Oh yeah, my wife loved the beef dish - apparently a lot of flavor.

Okay, so clearly Uchi steers away from traditional Japanese. But the food and service deliver what the setting cannot - a unique, contemporary Japanese inspired foodie experience. The depth of the menu deserves second, third, and fourth tries at this Austin sushi gem. The Uchi omakase for two still beckons.

Eat well.

Notes:
  • We ate lunch at Food! Food!. I had an excellent black bean soup.
  • We spent a while at Bicycle Sport Shop. This place goes on forever with bikes and bike stuff. They have a coffee bar in the store and a pro section with nothing but high-end awesomeness (including a drool-induced shirt stain producing GF Superfly).
  • I drilled my back on a rock and stressed my MCL during my Reimer's Ranch pre-ride. I also feel compelled to mention my flemmy hacking cough. All perfect racing ingredients.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Aka Sushi House

Aka Sushi House on 2390 W Alabama St in Houston

The half-full glass: Amazing sake selection, wonderful rotating specials menu, big happy hour menu, and interesting house special rolls
The half-empty glass: Good - not great fish and above average sake prices

A while back when my quest to get the crew to unglue from their Friday night stools at Zake began, Saba Guy found Aka, gave it a try, and recommended we all check it out. Since then I've been back a few times - mostly on the strength of my first visit. We had some awesome aji that night.

The visit for this review wasn't with the crew. Instead the other sushi addicts (big Kyoto fans) in the family got together with just my wife and me.

I'll see if I can place Aka ambiance within the spectrum of Houston sushi bars. Less clubby and sceney than Zake, but more hip looking inside than Kubos. Almost like if Ra opened a family restaurant - lots of reds and dark woods. I can't really consider it a place to just come and drink but I also can't point to Aka as a Japanese restaurant like Nippon. It's also nowhere near as chi chi as Uptown Sushi or Blue Fin.

A lot of the food presented and tasted fairly standard: the seaweed salad, the green tea, the miso, the edamame, and most of the fish. You regular readers of my blog know all those things can be found well above standard at other places. Some of the fish has really stood out on occasion, like the aji and sea bass, but other fish like their tuna and salmon has just been average. Maybe their buyer is inconsistent. I don't know.

However, even though I said Aka doesn't necessarily work as a drinking destination, it does have the best sake selection of any sushi house in Houston (I think). Unfortunately, while I haven't done a rigorous comparison, the sake feels about ten percent more expensive than other joints. Enough grousing, let's get to the Aka highlights: the maki and the daily specials.

The rolls are pretty decadent with tempura ingredients for more than a couple. But I like the originality of their rolls and the production of some original flavor combinations. Presentation on all the maki I've had there so far is excellent.

The rotating specials menu has always delivered for me with creative dishes using excellent ingredients. My whitefish sashimi with apples and ponzu the other night electrified my taste buds - partly due to the sprinkling of little hot red pepper slices. To be perfectly honest, the rest of the menu is so huge that I really can't summarize it here.


I also want to note the fairly large happy hour menu as well as the fact that Sunday is happy hour all day. Sweet!

So there's Aka. Perfect for roll addicts, teetotaling sushi bargain hunters, and sake aficionados with cash to burn. The crew and I will keep it on the Friday night list, no doubt. Eat well.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Frontier Red "Anniversary Lot 72"

The wine buyer for my local Krogers keeps this one consistently on the shelf, so I've had a couple of bottles before reviewing this one. Ironically I bought it at Whole Foods for $10.99. I think Krogers carries it for a buck less. The label pitches this wine as "a great American value". To me that means five dollars a bottle, not ten.

Frontier Red comes from the Fess Parker Winery. Fess Parker played Davey Crocket back in the fifties. I think the label looks very silly - it puts out a National Rifle Association vibe and has a cheesy faux antique look. However, it's a California red blend with a screw top. How can I resist a table red with a screw top?

The blend comes from Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Mouvedre, Cinsault, and Carignane.

Jamming my nose in the glass gives me a sweet oakey dark berry aroma - a good sign of things to come. The taste starts sweet, light and spicy and then gets a little woody, but still balanced in the middle. The end gets kinda creamy but still a bit astringent. A nice change of pace if your drinking a lot of somewhat milder Red Truck.

Overall a gutsy kickin red that pairs very well with hot wings. I'm obviously recommending you buy Frontier Red since I keep buying it myself, so I'm rating it three chainrings. Drink well.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Warda Race 2008

Sunscreen - important!

First off, congrats to Clint on another win. Secondly, major props to Seth for crashing and still finishing top ten.

Ahhh... back on home soil. Can't say I miss Waco much in comparison, what with it's broken glass, pavement start, no room to pass, micro short BG course length, and Monowad - oh I mean Monogod.

Sweet course in Warda - ups, downs, twisties, roots, rocks, and passing areas. Plenty of time for the pack to sort itself out before the singletrack. Gosh golly perfect! Of course, as usual, Warda was a very well organized race as well. Two baby calves were born during the expert race and while cool, that was more placenta than I needed to see in one day.

I finished seventh out of thirty. I'm not sure how our group got six DNFs. Freaky! I went with the Ryan Moore tried and true strategy of starting in the middle of the pack then pass pass pass. And that's pretty much how it went. I wasn't having much luck making up time in those woods, but I held my spot until I could hit the straits for more passing. With the exception of easing up for five min a couple of time for recovery, I stayed on tempo. The beginners did two laps and the 14 mile total length did a lot to help me out.

The whole gang came to ride. Except for Metcalf - he cat'ed up to finish 3rd (!) in sport. We're turning into a pretty congenial bunch and people settled in pretty quick and smooth. I had zero issues with other riders. Great folks - drama free. Nice to see the pieces finally come together for Lonn.

The Yeti ran great. I admit I came pretty close to racing my wife's Paragon 29er. Loyalty pays off I guess.

Still second in overall points. Don't expect it to last!

Ride well.

Monday, March 24, 2008

29ers and the 2008 Gary Fisher Paragon

On Sunday, I rode my wife's new Gary Fisher Paragon 29er a few laps around Bluff Creek Ranch. She picked up the bike a few days ago and she was gracious enough to let me swing a leg over it. We're lucky enough to be within 3/4" of each other in height, so all my loan took was a peddle and seat swap. I can't believe she finds her saddle comfortable. The Paragon is an all aluminum 29er hardtail with a Fox RL. The components are a mix of SRAM X.9 and Bontrager (Trek) Race Lite. It's even tubeless ready. I should mention the powder blue paint as well. Pretty. Fisher has been building 29ers for a while and the geometry of this one was pretty dialed in, including a 51mm offset on the front fork crown to quicken steering. Bluff Creek was a great spot for a test ride to see how the whole package worked.

I'll try to compare my Yeti with the Fisher. Remember, however, that the test is unscientific and I have no experience reviewing bikes (just wine and sushi).

Let's start with a geometry comparison between my Yeti A.R.C. and the Paragon - both 19" frames when measured from the center of the BB to the top of the seat collar. I've tried to convert the Yeti measurements to metric, but you should consult the Yeti website for more accurate geometry.
MeasurementYeti A.R.C.Gary Fisher Paragon
Wheels26"29"
Seat Tube19"19"
Wheelbase1,072 mm1,121 mm
Head tube114.3 mm102.5 mm
Top Tube Horizontal594.4 mm622 mm
Standover767.1 mm772.5 mm

Aside from the identical 19" seat tubes, the standover is also similar. This is significant, as the axles and ergo the frame sits 1.5 inches higher on the Paragon than the A.R.C.. In theory, this should raise the standover 1.5 inches as well. However, that's not the case because as you can see the head tube on the Fisher is over a centimeter shorter than the Yeti. Plus the headset on the Fisher is a ZeroStack 2 which shaves the distance between the fork crown and the bottom of the head tube. The lower, shorter head tube and also a lower intersection of the top tube with the seat tube combine to make the standover almost equivalent. Now take a look at the top tube and the wheelbase. Whoa - big difference! The Paragon is certainly longer. Now that's partly standard Fisher geometry - longer top tube and a shorter stem. It's worth mentioning though that Yetis are also traditionally long bikes.

What does this mean on the trail? I think it means the following:
  • Better stability when pointed downhill from the longer wheelbase and the ability of the larger wheels to make all obstacles seem smaller.
  • Better traction going uphill and through the turns from the larger tire patch.
  • Faster climbing. I can't explain this one. Sorry.
  • The bike is harder to lean over than the Yeti in the turns. But so far the bars are still super wide and cutting them down might fix this.
  • A difference in acceleration probably exists, but I'm not sure I noticed it.
  • Overall I think the Paragon is faster for me in rough singletrack, climbs, and descents. It seems to offer no speed advantage on flat, straight, and smooth trails.
I worry what affect the advantages of 29er bikes might have on MTB racing. Will the sport now favor taller riders? Shorter riders might have a hard time getting the geometry to work for them without significant tradeoffs.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Forchini Beausierra 2004

Another bottle from a Whole Foods wine run earlier this month. This is a bit of a stealth wine in that the label kinda says "I'm an Italian wine", when in fact this wine if from California. Jeez, just look at the name of thing for goodness sakes. When the father of that guy in Breaking Away was sick of eating Italian food, he said, "I know I-tey food when I hear it! It's all them "eenie" foods... zucchini... and linguini... and fettuccine." Or in this case - Forchini.

Of course, it's not only from California, it's also a blend - mostly Cabernet.

The Beausierra smelled a little flowery in the glass. Or maybe all the wildflowers coming up around Texas have seeped into my consciousness. Time to drink!

Fruity start, a little viney in the middle, a really nice sweet smoky finish that feels good in the mouth. Sounds a lot like my pre-ride for the Warda race today. Not my favorite wine, but pretty good, so I give it two chainrings. Drink well.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Managing Our Perspective

Recently a friend of mine requested a post about the 'gaze' of upper management that falls on us when we or the teams we lead experience a failure, mistake, or setback. Management rarely feels easy and this aspect of it brings a large share of emotional pressure to our work. This pressure usually increases in proportion to the size of the group we manage. The bigger the group, the likelier the odds of a failure and the greater the chance of that failure being spectacular. Hey, management isn't for everybody.

During a race this spring I crashed twice and I felt pretty shaken up after the second fall. I quickly went from pushing myself too hard to not pushing hard enough. Getting my head back in the race and off of those falls required that I re-focus on my larger goal - winning the race. I had to place everything in the right perspective. The crashes were behind me, the finish line was still a long way off in front of me.

Dealing with the emotional pressure of personal or team failures becomes easier by keeping these setbacks in the right perspective. If we make the job about ourselves, then the failure will be about us. But the job isn't about us, it's mainly about two other things: our customers and the vision guiding the long-term goals of our teams.

Focusing on our customers. There are failures that affect them and failures that don't - we need to tell the difference. My failure to get HR documents delivered on time (while certainly a bad thing) has little bearing on the network uptime of my customers. Our intra-departmental failures generally have a shorter term impact than mistakes affecting our customers and the former should have much smaller emotional impact on us than the latter. Often, it's a disconnect from our customers and a focus on ourselves that erroneously flips the impact around.

Focusing on our vision. Our political mistakes and losses that we experience in management can be rough, but the day to day wins or losses of various battles should only matter in as much as they impact our goals that are two, five or ten years out. I've lost my fair share of arguments, but no matter how personal the disagreements feel or how personal the other person makes them, it's the impact on my team's vision that matters. Again, focusing on the long term takes ourselves (and our bruised egos) out of the equation by putting the failure in the right perspective.

Sometimes our failures directly affect our customers and sometimes they can be quite damaging to our long term goals. I'll save thoughts on that for another post.

Until then, manage well.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Blue Fin Sushi

The half-full glass: Best pepper tuna in Houston. Very good miso.
The half-empty glass: The maki tasted good, but not great. Long drive from the center of Houston.

Blue Fin Sushi exists as the slightly less see-and-be-seen version of Uptown Sushi. I've heard that getting a weekend table at Uptown Sushi required more patience than a trip to the DMV. I loathe the DMV - the TVs they installed do little to ease the pain. Blue Fin, anyway, shares the same culinary DNA as Uptown. Good times.

The crew was six tonight, so after pulling into the strip Blue Fin calls home, we grabbed our table (reserved - not that we needed it). Once again, as much as I hoped, the green tea was not as good as Ra's. (Shatner moment: Raaaaaaa!) But the sake menu displayed good variety and offered surprisingly good prices. We went with a bottle of Sushi Crew standard - the Hakushika Junmai Ginjo. The scenery, while lovely, reminded me too much of my grandmother's taste in fancy white dining room decor. I fear the Crew falls short of Blue Fin's age target.

We went with a mix of sashimi and maki because the special roll selections looked quite intriguing and ya know... sashimi. Great fish! Outstanding pepper tuna. I'm the one who voted for the fresh belly salmon - oddly average tasting and the only downer. On the other hand, the yellowtail, flounder, and sea bass all delivered excellent flavor and freshness. Our second round of sashimi? All pepper tuna. Shocking, I know - but I haven't been to Zake in a while for their pepper tuna and Blue Fin's was in high demand among the crew. Saba guy lived up to his namesake and ordered saba. I guessed he liked it. Gross - I'd rather eat raw quail egg. And I do, thank-you very much. But not that night.

No worries, there was more to Blue Fin than a good selection of affordable sake and awesome pepper tuna. We finished with a round of miso: traditional, orzo, and avodaco. All sweet, full flavored and wonderfully textured. Highly recommended.

Oh yeah, the rolls. Presented beautifully but... sigh. Well, not everyone shared my lack of enthusiasm for Blue Fin's maki. Here's the rundown:
  • 7 & 1/2 roll: Tuna, salmon, yellowtail, masago, and avocado rolled and tempura fried. Served with spicy pepper paste, eel sauce, and japanese mayo. The most popular among the crew (a second was ordered). I don't get all gooey over tempura fried rolls - I think it dampens the taste. Oh wait - it does. But I'll admit, this was one of the best tempura fried rolls I've eaten.
  • Red Roll: Avocado, cucumber, fresh jalepeno, sprouts, and shrimp on the inside with thin slices of tuna and our spicy pepper paste on the outside. Oddly lacking in any sort of distinctive flavor. I wanted this to be so much better than it was - just vague mild rice-fish-pepper flavor.
  • Millennium Roll: Spicy tuna toped with peppercorn seared tuna and avocado. Drizzled with ponzu and sesame oil. Pretty good - it has pepper tuna. So, duh. Very similar to a Zake roll for those of you who know what I'm talking about. And I think that you do. Or not.
  • Scuba Diver Roll: Soft Shell crab topped with salmon, tuna, and avocado. Not as good as a simple spider roll from let's say... Nippon!
  • Shrimp Tempura Roll. The lady ordered this one - apparently a bit bland. I'm sensing a "bit bland" theme with the maki.
And I felt the edamame was somewhat overcooked. Nobu spoiled me on this one.

The drive might be worth the pepper tuna and the miso. If you live out on the west side of Houston, I recommend making Blue Fin a regular stop.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Outback Blowout 2008 - Haiku Edition

Great weather to race
Well organized and well marked
An amazing course

Roller coaster trails
Climbs, twists, fast descents, and rocks
Thank goodness no sand

No mechanicals
A great start for me
Went too hard too soon

Started in third place
But I finished in twelfth place
Best that I could do

Good to see the guys
Clint, Seth, and Lonn showed up too
Metcalf took the win

Gorgeous day to drive
Wildflowers and blue bonnets
Good race everyone

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Finding the 'Out'

"Never write when you can talk. Never talk when you can nod. And never put anything in an e-mail."

Elliot Spitzer spoke those words. Words I've often considered and words spoken by a man I once admired. My heart goes out to him and his family as they work through their crisis.

In training for cycling, as in most athletic training, coaches, trainers, and athletes universally apply the theory of alternating periods of intensity and rest. The human condition both mentally and physically improves when it's pushed to the limit and then rested to let the body and mind adapt to the new limits. It's often best to enter periods of rest on our own, before our bodies or other external factors force rest upon us - usually the case. Rest, however, isn't as easy as it sounds.

People as focused and unrelenting as Elliot Spitzer never cease being energized by their internal drive. Their desire to create change, solve problems, and enjoy the mental and emotional highs of success continue even during periods of rest. A balanced life provides us with an 'out' for each of the shifting aspects of our lives - the periods of intensity and rest within our jobs, family, and training. Perhaps political realities forced Governor Spitzer's work life into a period a rest and he had no out for the drive and fire within him. Does this sound familiar? It should if you were reading the news during Bill Clinton's second term in office.

By the fall of 2007, the two year deployment of my organization's new data network and my own new management position left me in a near state of burnout. My period of rest had arrived, whether I wanted it or not. But just because the locomotive has slowed doesn't mean the engine's stopped. Think of the 'out' as a place steam needs to go when a valve is turned off - another valve must then open or the pressure builds up (surely I've hit my quota for metaphors on this post). Anyone reading my blog knows I'm no stranger to wine (or sake) and anyone familiar with Houston knows well both its club scene and its score of gentleman's clubs. But as you the reader have no doubt already figured out, I found my 'out' by getting back into mountain bike racing. True, like Governor Spitzer, I do suffer from an addiction, but it's an addiction to coffee and not infidelity. Mmmm... coffee.

Find your out! Parent? Try coaching. Dating? Try gourmet cooking. Single? Pick a sport and stick with it. Not the athletic type? Become an niche expert in a larger body of knowledge and start a blog about it (I suggest Australian blended red wine - California is taken).

You will need rest. You will need an out. And remember, World of Warcraft requires an monthly fee. On the other hand, a good mtb racing bike these days is about $3000.

Manage well.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Encore Red Medley 2003

My latest trip to Spec's brought this one back for $11.79 at the end of February of this year. Let's get started.

The nose in the glass offers a soft approachable fruity aroma.

The Encore gives a rich start then the middle is a bit astringent, but it moves into a buttery tone that goes all the way to the end of the finish.

This is a decent red table wine, not outstanding, but also maybe not worth paying over $10. I've had better wines for a couple of dollars less. I expected more maturity from a 2003.

I don't get any wierd flavors from it, but nothing really interesting either. Basically a mild red without being weak or limp tasting.

This wine comes from the mega vineyard of the Delicato Family. They are growing a lot of varietals on their 9,400 acres of vine. The fact that they don't list the blend percentages causes me to wonder whether the Red Medley was maybe a bit a of broom wine and not a goal in and of itself. Well, it's not listed as a meritage. Two chainrings - I'm not buying any more, but maybe you can find it on sale. Drink well.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Nobu Dallas Sushi Review

One finds Nobu Dallas beyond a heavy nondescript wooden door tucked to the side of the main entrance of the Rosewood Crescent Hotel. Picture Gandalf arriving at Bilbo's small home, except in this case the Shire is $10,000 per square foot real-estate. Even writing this review is intimidating.

The old wizard wouldn't have banged his head on this ceiling. A soaring room of warm wood and stone surfaces greets visitors. The sushi bar met all of my criteria: high comfortable stools with someplace to put my feet and an excellent view of the chef's work surface. All the stress produced by navigating downtown Dallas to get there melted away instantly. The bar also kept our backs to the regular parade of local elite coming to be seen.

Frankly, I would have enjoyed smaller, less extravagant surroundings in which to enjoy this food, but not if it meant giving up the service. I can't recall ever having been served better in my life. The staff seems to have telepathic powers that bring them by whenever the smallest need arises, but never otherwise. I'm also willing to accept an explanation of consisting of hidden cameras and microphones.

Prior to our meal my wife and I planned on this visit being a once in a lifetime event. We've since begun strategizing a way to become regulars. In accordance with the former plan, I ordered the omakase. This comes in two versions, one $95 and another $125. Our server described the difference to us as the $125 omakase using more exotic ingredients and more items not available on the menu. Nobu describes their omakase as a meal 'from the heart' of the chef - custom created based on a dialog between him and me. That became true to a degree. When asked about my favorite fish, I replied yellowtail. This produced a somewhat yellowtail theme. However, certain dished were clearly standard among everyone ordering omakase that night - an off-the-menu menu sampler of sorts. I know this because the person sitting two stools to my right ordered the same omakase. We'll get to him later. Here's the meal - by course, in order.

We started with Edamame. Our server asked, so why not. Well, I'll tell you why - even though we're talking top notch edamame here (yes, something as simple as steaming can be done better at Nobu), the stomach only has so much room to expand.

The usual little treat for sitting at the sushi bar came next - a small round of minced salmon wrapped in a thin radish strip topped with cilantro pesto. The fish looked a little white to be salmon, but a very nice way to get the brain switched to eating.

Course one consisted of a small round cake of minced toro topped with black caviar sitting in a brown wasabi sauce. All presented in a glass cup nested in a bowl of crushed ice. Our server presented a small spoon used to scoop all three ingredients into each bite. The flavor blew me away and this course stands out as the best of the night.

A raw seafood quartet cam next- eaten in order per instructions clockwise from the top left:
* Yellowtail w/ thin jalepeno pepper slices.
* Raw oyster half shell drizzled with ponzu.
* White tuna with miso flakes.
* Seared Japanese golden wall eye in chili oil.
Here the white tuna stood out with a sweetness enhanced by the miso flakes. The oyster was good, but the yellowtail and the wall eye were better.

Course three arrived as yellow tail sashimi set in a plate of hot mustard miso sauce. The excellent sauce overpowered the delicate nuances of the very fresh fish. My least memorable course of the night - but still excellent.

A salmon trio then arrived not from the sushi bar, but form the kitchen. Three large pieces of almost completely raw salmon seared across the top, each served with a different style. Cajun spices dusted salmon one, a Hawaiian chutney crowned salmon two, and salmon three sat with a small dollop of guac and another of finely minced pico de gallo.

Course five turned a bit heavier with wagyu beef seared rare w/ mushrooms and bok choy. Perfectly tender and flavorful. I'm really running out of room at this point. The chef sensed this and told me he would only prepare sashimi for the next course instead of sushi.

Ah, the sashimi: toro, yellowtail, aji, octopus w/ roe, and giant clam. I requested the aji and yellowtail, but he didn't let me miss out on some really excellent toro. I can't really distinguish between good and bad giant clam.

Course seven, a bowl of enokitake mushrooms in a clear hot broth arrived quickly after the sashimi to help settle things down (and make me drowsy). To be honest, I liked the soup, but I don't remember much more about it.

Our server decided we should share the desert so my wife and I split some sort of chocolate cone filled with a sort of chocolate mouse accompanied by a small cup of fruit-infused sparkling saki with a tiny floated sherbet ball inside. The chocolate cone was good, but the sake was truly original and interesting.

Go. Worth every penny no matter how many times you do it. I hope.

End Notes:

I was expecting hot green tea as good as the nutty green tea at Ra. Nope. Just the standard hot green tea served everywhere but Ra.

Our neighbors at the sushi bar came dressed in vans, jeans, and leather jackets - apparently guests at the Crescent. The snippets of overheard conversation convinced me they worked for the Val Halen tour recently arrived in Dallas. Cool reserved guys that worked hard at steering conversation away from their reason for being in town. I got a lot of questions about mtb racing.

If your trying to follow the order of events, here's the weekend's time line:
* Friday evening drive to Dallas
* Saturday morning pre-ride at Bar-H
* Saturday night dinner at Nobu
* Sunday afternoon race
* Sunday night drive back to Houston

This will sound like bragging, but a night at Nobu can only be enhanced exponentially by the accompaniment of a hot, young, slim, 5' 11" former model turned fantasy fiction writer. Fortunately for me, I've taken her off the market (for you gearheads out there: the ring is 6/4 titanium).

Our Lexus usually seems out of place at the mtb races for obvious reasons - even if the gigantic trunk does swallow the Yeti. Watching the valet pull it up at Crescent Court made it look out of place for a whole different set of reasons. Maybe it was the mud splatters on the sides and the bike tools in the back seat. Or maybe it was the sea of Bentleys and Lambos surrounding it.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Bar-H Bash 2008

The Texas Championship Series continued after Mas o Menos with the Yeti/Mad Duck Bar-H Bash. Let's go down the list of ominous signs, ill-portents, and bad juju that surrounded this race:
  • The weather consisted of high winds, light rain, and dark skies. A general doom-is-approaching-get-your-butt-indoors kinda vibe. My heart goes out to the beginners women racers who stuck it out to the end for their trophies. The wife and I didn't make it past the junior riders. Sorry - we tried.
  • The plenitude of tire pressure sucking foliage. I pulled my bike out of the car to find a flat rear tire and a little black thorn picked up in the pre-ride from the day before. I'm sorry, were you hoping to pass using the side of the trail? You'll have to pass through the tire-doom-thorn-vines to do that!
  • How often do you accidentally bend your rear derailleur tab enough to cause shifting problems? How often does it happen ten minutes before the start of the race? I owe the Mad Duck mechanic an iced bucket of longnecks for that save.
  • I'll spare you the port-a-potty descriptions. They made tenting in Terlingua look like a night at the Four Seasons.
The Bar-H folks put on a good race. A big race. Yeti was there with Seth looking scruffier than I pictured him over the phone. They brought a fleet of sweet Yeti demo bikes. A Spot Bikes trailer and the Mad Duck RV (of course) arrived as well. Dallas gave a huge turnout of riders of all types. The race came with cool chainring trophies and a pretty well organized start. The gals running the result sheets were getting times and ranks up lightning fast.

The Bar-H Bash Course
The course started flat for about two miles running over exposed jeep road and wooded singletrack before hitting the main climb. The ascent got a little tricky in parts, but it transitioned pretty fast to a short rocky rolling ridge line trail. Then a couple of quick bombing descents led into a series of twisty rolling hills with a lot of fun woop-dee-doos and tight corners. Then the flats arrived with a short ravine half-pipe and a loose gravelly run along the bottom of the same to break up time in the strong wind. It all ended with a trip back into the previously mentioned wooded singletrack before landing a short uphill finish. Personally I found it too sandy in parts. You'll see why in my rundown...

My Bar-H Bash Rundown
A lot of local Dallas boys sprinted off the line, blew up their lungs, and then sat up after 5 minutes. Due to a poor performance on the start line by yours truly, I had to pass them all. Joy. Then I somehow tangled my bar ends with a rider I tried to pass. That ended poorly as I was then passed by half a dozen riders I had just worked to get around not 30 seconds before. Ugh. Fortunately I blazed the climb, cleaning the whole thing. This included a short steep sandy left turn that I couldn't clean in the pre-ride. By the time I hit the top of the main descent after rocking the ridge line, I had picked off about another ten riders. But the course and my ride so far did start to go downhill. I figured my place to be somewhere in the top five at this point, so I tried to hammer the twisty rolling hills after the descent as fast as possible. Naturally this led to me crashing. Deep enough sand at the bottom of hills planted my front wheel and threw me over the bars. Twice. Between both faceplants, I had three riders pass me. Plus, the stem on the Yeti was twisted, but not enough for me to loss time trying to tweak it straight again. Working my butt off in the strong winds on the flats let me catch one of them before heading into the last section of wooded singletrack. I tried like heck to catch the next rider after that, but he turned out to be in a different category and I hammered through the finish line in seventh place out of 41 riders.

End notes:
  • My first try with a Cliff Shot. Yech - but worth the carbo kick.
  • I recommend Sarah's on the Square in Gainesville. It used to be a saloon/brothel, but now serves excellent cuisine instead of frontier entertainment.
  • Time to switch to tubeless. I don't want to make excuses for the two crashes but...
  • Clint Fontenot, the 30-39 beginner points series leader, rode a great race coming in first again. I plan to be glued to the rear wheel of his Cannondale in Waco. Unless of course Seth is there instead.
  • Hello to Nick, Lynne and the Martinez(?) family!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sushi Review of Nippon Japanese Restaurant in Houston, TX

Ever have one of those dreams where you go to work and you're not wearing any clothes only you really are wearing clothes and instead of being at work, you're sitting in one of Houston's best Japanese restaurants without any cash or credit cards? Yeah, not just a dream for me last year. So now that the emotional scars from that little episode have been tattooed over with little drawings of heart-shaped mountain bikes, my team of stalwart sushi comrades and I went back to Nippon. This time with money. Hooray!

The paper lanterns of Nippon in Houston

Holy out eating out of order Batman! One of my friends attained ultra-mega-regular customer status earlier this year, so the owner helped wait on us personally. Great, except that I angered the sushi gods (and felt that I maybe irritated her) by ordering the sukiyaki before the sashimi and the maki. Not traditional Japanese food eating order apparently.

Let's collectively gush over the sukiyaki. Split three ways, our mistake of not sitting at the sushi bar paid a dividend here by setting the pan in the middle of our table. Sweet, tender beef with tofu, spinach, onion, and noodles, it was all I could do not to plant my head in the pan and start slurping uncontrollably. Next!

Sukiyaki at Nippon in Houston

The sashimi unorthodoxically served after the sukiyaki came as squid, octopus, red snapper, tuna, sweet shrimp, yellow tail, and little red fish eggs. Wonderfully tender octopus, perfectly fresh red snapper, and excellent tuna cut in the shape of aspen leaves. Ahhhh. The yellow tail crowned the experience with a flavor and freshness that trancended the Osteichthyes class of vertebrates into pure edible angel... fish. But yellowtail. Mmmm.

Sashimi plate at Nippon in Houston

The maki included a futomaki (picnic roll) and a house special role containing tuna, spicy mayo, avocado covered in eel sauce, more spicy mayo, and those little deep fried flakes I can't remember the name of covering everything. Futo maki also translates as "let's all chuckle at our friend while he tries to only bite a piece off instead of sticking the whole thing in his mouth and letting the rest of it fall to pieces on his sushi plate". I know someone who has a friend that's neighbors with someone who speaks fluent Japanese. My first futomaki and I loved it. The house special role was also quite yummy.

Futomaki at Nippon in Houston

House special roll at Nippon in Houston

A perfect night in reverse. Be prepared for challenging parking and a warm comfortable dinning room as well as excellent service and a distinguished sake menu. I currentlty believe Nippon to be the best sushi restaurant in Houston. Contrary to what these proles believe.

Nighttime at Nippon in Houston

The sushi bar at Nippon in Houston

Friday, February 22, 2008

2005 Horse Play Rollicking Red

The smell didn't pull me in or get me excited about writing rest of the review - muskier than sweet, it made me think of all those strong French cheeses my comrade Steve was constantly encouraging me to eat. A Blade Runner cork color matched to the label seemed a bit gimmicky.

Woody. Alcohol came across balanced. Mild start, gusty middle, and somewhat bitter finish. A little spice to it, but too astringent tasting for me. It might budge my way a bit more after being open for a day. More woody and musky than sweet and fruity, but not spicy enough to make the musky or woody part work for me. It's not wimpy, but it seems to be coming on strong in the wrong ways. I'm not sure this wine is ready for the glass just yet, but I generally expect red table wine to be more approachable after 3 years in the bottle.

Jackson Family Wines (as in Kendall-Jackson) created the White Rocket Wine Company and this wine appeared as one of their first offerings. I picked it up at Krogers for $9.99 with a Super Saver card. I rarely have good luck with offerings from the mega vineyards, but I only saw this and one other red blend on the shelves.

Anyway, Melissa Bates crafted this blend for the KJ Empire and I apologize to her for not liking it more. I give it one chainring. Not that that really means anything.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Restaurant Review of Hide Sushi in Santa Monica, CA

We were quite literally blown into Santa Monica's Hide Sushi restaurant for a treat unlike the sushi I'm used to in Houston. I've never had a gourd roll or gotten this ecstatic over giant clam. Mmm... giant clams and gourds. Remember the Gourd's cover of Snoop Dog's Gin and Juice?

Yeah.

Sawtelle Blvd certainly doesn't lack for sushi restaurants or giant robot stores. This particular sushi restaurant came chosen by Zak for their superior fish. Oh the fish. So fresh. So tasty. So perfect. I swear there was a little hello kitty pulling salmon out of the water with its cute little paw, filleting the poor thing with a little pink hello kitty knife, and tossing the perfectly cut chunk of sweet pink fish flesh into my mouth. So good.

The sushi bar at Hide Sushi

An interesting place: cash only and not a really trendy or interesting interior. Smallish - tough to seat a lot of people. But WHO CARES? I loved the fish. On a Sunday no less.

I also loved the gourd roll (Kampyo-Maki). My first time with the gourd. Except for the marriage gourd my mother in law brought me back from Peru. But that was painted with a little love story on the outside instead of little brown marinated strips of yummy goodness wrapped in perfect rice and seaweed. Of course I got a soft shell crab roll - seemed pretty standard - then followed up by a B+ salmon skin roll. Don't worry, things ramp up with a giant clam roll. Shelled, cooked, and cut personally by the giant robot into a awesome roll.

Expect a traditional menu - not newbie friendly. Go for the fish, especially the salmon, and wave to the kitty.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Oversteer in Management Decision Making

About a year ago, I enrolled in a Modelnetics course. At the time, I also started reading a book by Scott Berkun titled "The Art of Project Management". Berkun alluded to a concept referred to as 'oversteer'. To me, Berkun's idea of oversteer in project management looked like a Modelnetics model. I'll do my best here to describe what that model might look like.

With a car, oversteer occurs when a small amount of steering input by the driver produces a larger than expected degree of turn. In the case of management practice, oversteer describes decisions made to take corrective action concerning a problem that in turn produces problems requiring additional corrective action. I think both the law of unintended consequences and misplaced confidence in our own assumptions come into play here.

I think management oversteer can take many forms. Overly harsh disciplinary action, creating spontaneous short term goals that distract from or conflict with long term goals, and faulty prioritization can all be manifestations of oversteer. Another interesting example might be an apology out of scale with a fault, thus making the mistake seem larger than it is. While recently trying to resolve a service affecting network issue in a VIP area of our campus, I directed steps based on bad data that completely failed to address the problem. The oversteer came from the fact that these steps, again based on bad data, would ultimately catalyze a new issue just two weeks later.

Where might oversteer come from? No doubt hundreds of things both conscious and unconscious play into our decision making. I'll guess, however, that common causes include faulty or insufficient data concerning the problem, inadequate focus on long term goals, panic or a desire to create drama, or the desire for the appearance of strong corrective action.

How do we avoid oversteer? Any of the best practice literature on good decision making should help prevent oversteer. I think staying focused on long term goals and vision and thinking about the real impact on those goals can help. The right perspective on a problem is a good insulator from all kinds of bad decisions. We need to make sure we're getting all the input from our team. The team input that will keep us from oversteer will sometimes only come from asking the right questions.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Race Recap for the 2008 Mas o Menos in Terlingua, TX

A lot can go wrong between starting the drive from Houston and crossing the finish line for Mas o Menos. As our semi-pro friend / race site tent neighbor John Seckinger wisely pointed out, that's all part of the sport and there's no sense getting worked up over all the things that can go wrong. Another racer we met at a gas station heading west said, "It all makes for a better story, right?".

Actually, not much went wrong, so I'll hit the highlights:

* Despite dire weather forecasts, the worst the weather handed us was a cold and super-windy night before the race. Tents blew over and the flapping from the tent material thundered for most of the night. So no fires, but hey no snow! I finally get RVs - some people (me) aren't natural 'tenters'. Thanks for lending the gear Coleman family!

* The food was fantastic. I bloated myself wonderfully on cheese tortellini at dinner and then huevos rancheros the next morning.

* The turnout seemed huge to me, but I'm a first timer to this particular race. A big bunch of super friendly folks. Wow, MTB racing needs more women.


* Ultra-friendly race workers delivered a pretty well-marked and organized race. The finish area felt a little chaotic and the volume on the music needed to be turned down all weekend. Cool trophies and awards ceremony. Did I mention how good the food tasted? I'll get to the course details in my rundown later. Here's the links for folks who would like to read coverage of the race other than mine (which is pretty much about how I did).

Here we go...

After a short lead out, the pack went into stupid sprint mode and I found myself already gasping and riding about fourth from last position after only a half-mile. The first (roughly) third of the 30k usually stayed flat through jeep roads, twisty single-track, and creek beds. The deep loose pea gravel in the creek beds drove me nuts, but the single-track was nice and passing required some strategy. Riders got all crammed together on a short rise called 'Shiddy Hill' and then a long jeep road led to the base of Tres Cuevas - the big climb of the course.

I managed to do one of those really stupid moves where when I get within twenty feet of the top and get distracted by patting myself on the back for cleaning the climb, I space out, hit a rock, and fall over.

Between the flats and the climb I had moved my place up a fair amount - but I wasn't sure exactly where I stood. Now it's usually this point in a race where I can't keep my head right, I kinda psych out, and let the pack go by. This time I pushed pretty hard figuring I had done enough of the total climbing to not hold anything in reserve.

Now I kinda understand full-suspension. The top ridge ride and descent had the Yeti bouncing everywhere. The fast, loose, narrow, twisty jeep trail was fun, but I couldn't get any power to the real wheel. I had the air pressure on the tires high for fear of pinch flats on the sharp rocks and they just couldn't hook up. The course didn't test slow, steep technical descending skills, but rather high speed bike handling skills through rough twisties. I think full-suspension would have sped me up for this section. This pic shows me about to turn into the last bit of downhill single-track before the finish.


I had caught sight of a rider in front of me at the top of the big climb, but he quickly left me in the dust and I didn't see another wheel for the rest of the race in front of or behind me. The descent ended crash free and I crossed the line in third place out of sixteen for the 30k - my first time on a podium.

My wife's race support went above and beyond with driving, tenting, feeding, and organizing. Kevin at Bike Barn got the Yeti running perfect.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Sushi Review of Bamboo in Bedford, Massachusetts

The blog is clearly due for a sushi review, but since we're in west Texas for Mas-O-Menos and little sushi is too be had here (but a lot of other great food), I'll have to fall back on my recollection of a great place I sampled back in the fall in Bedford, MA. I found a placed named Bamboo purely due to the fact that roads in eastern Massachusetts make no sense to me whatsoever (despite my having been born in MA).

Don't let the outside fool you. Bamboo has a nice polished atmosphere inside and the sushi bar met most of my criteria. The tall chairs felt comfortable, and I had a place to rest my feet while sitting on them. They displayed the fish nicely, but unfortunately I could not see the preparation area very well. The sushi chefs were not super forthcoming vis-a-vis fish recommendations.

I went with seaweed salad, miso soup, two pieces each of yellowtail, salmon, and regular tuna, and a maki special for that night containing asparagus, avocado, cucumber and salmon(?). I'm guessing on the fish in the maki - this was a while ago. The soup and sushi were fine - not outstanding, but no complaints. The seaweed salad was the major highlight, combining three different types of seaweed instead of single green stringy kind (although that was in there). Some of the seaweed was an excellent leafy kind. I must also note the maki for its unusual tempura treatment after assembly. I enjoyed the texture, but I felt the outside tempura batter diluted the flavor of the other ingredients too much. An excellent roll for training first time sushi eaters, but not a great item for the sea urchin and raw quail egg crowd.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Miles of Discomfort Race in Comfort, TX on January 26th

Two days before the race, Texas skies were bringing only rain, mud, and cold air. The idea of racing 26 miles in those conditions led me to almost skip the event. It's one thing to be muddy and cold - but to be muddy, cold and wet for 26 miles... no thanks.

Well, we went.

That turned out to be a good thing because...

Lance Armstrong also entered the race. He didn't finish though. Bummer. Weirdly, his entering the race led to professional photographers all over the course. That was new for me. This first pic of Lance in his yellow and black Livestrong jersey was taken while he entered the feed zone.

This was the best organized race I've ever been to. Excellent trail markings, lots of course marshals, great concessions, and super organized registration.

The course was spectacular. I had amazing views of the Texas hill country and the trail had a lot of variety: steep technical descents, fast winding descents, steep technical climbs, and lots of rocky narrow single track.

The bike ran really well. Damn, the Yeti was a trooper. It didn't complain the whole time. I must have passed ten guys on the side of the trail dealing with technical breakdowns. BTW, what's with all the full-suspension rigs? Come on, Texas isn't British Columbia.

I didn't finish last. This was my first race of the year and the thing about marathon events is that there are no rider category distinctions - just age categories (I was 19-34). Beginner, sport, and expert riders all race in their one category. This was also the longest race I will have this year.

So here's the blow-by-blow:

I had a good start with an up-front position. I clipped in pretty fast - unusual for me.

Five minutes into the race, I realized that I had overdressed. A short sleeve jersey would have been fine. The full fingered gloves I was wearing were starting to feel hot, so I took them off. Remember this point, it's important later.

The pace was high at the beginning and the pack split into thirds. My lungs were already burning from the climb out of the start area so I drifted to somewhere in between the middle pack and back third pack.

Over the next twelve miles, I slowly moved up to catch the middle pack and was able to overtake them. After a good decent back into the camp area, I was running about 8th with the last half of the race still to go. The pic at right shows me at this point in the race.

Next came a very long steep rocky ascent that took everything I had to get to the top. Things went completely to crap at this point. Not wearing gloves had produced huge blisters on my hands that became... uncomfortable. I also ran out of water around this time. My legs began to badly cramp and every small climb became a chore. Because of my hands, going downhill wasn't fun either. Within the last two miles of the race, that middle third of the pack caught and passed me. Somewhere on the trail, one of the gloves I had taken off fell out of my jersey pocket.

Then it was over. I changed into civvies, the wife and I had lunch, we loaded up the car, I dropped by the medical tent, and then we headed home.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Becker Vineyards 2004 Cabernet-Syrah


Ironically, my first wine post is not a review of a California red blend, but a Texas red blend. I rarely buy Texas wines, but I grabbed this one just for something new at the local super. Plus, ya know, it was already open. Let's start with the basics:
Be prepared for me to get all gushy about this one. I bought out the store after I tried my first bottle. The wine feels really balanced, not too sweet and not too fruity. I get great dark berry flavors without a lot of alcohol or grape-viney taste. I think the bouquet predicts a meatier flavor than the medium hit you get. Also it's not quite as spicy as I go for. I paired it with stove top popcorn and the first episode of Starblazers for a full faceted sensory extravaganza. I give it five chainrings!

The next post will head to California below the $10 latitude. Drink and be well.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Importance of Meeting Agendas

It probably seems obvious to most that meeting agendas are important for timing purposes. An agenda keeps a meeting from going too long and keeps a meeting on topic. At its most basic, an agenda lists the timetable for topics, activities and speakers within the pre-established time frame of the meeting. But lately I suspect there is more to meeting agendas than I first thought.

The importance of an agenda starts even before the meeting takes place. When we schedule a meeting, we should also send the agenda. This accomplishes the following:
  • Everyone attending the meeting is able to prepare appropriately. Supplying attendees with just a time, place, and meeting topic gives no one a chance to bring or review relevant documents, prepare status reports on action items, or suggest agenda changes to the one calling the meeting.
  • Writing the agenda helps focus our thoughts and strategy regarding the meeting before the meeting takes place. Leaving out this step can create meetings with unfocused goals, meandering topics, and stream of consciousness like communication from us, the meeting facilitator.
A brief verbal review of the agenda at the start of the meeting reinforces the meeting's goals to everyone attending. This review also gives the us a base on which to fall back on when the meeting drifts off topic and a way to bookend the meeting along with a recap of the meetings goals at the end. This brief review of the agenda at the start of the meeting also helps focus us when we start our meetings.

For meetings that are following a presentation format, instead of a discussion format, the importance of an agenda is lessened. However, in that case, sending out a short description of the presentation can help people make a more educated choice regarding their attendance when a scheduling conflict might exist.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Issue Zero - The Origin Story

I hoping this blog will make an excellent resource for anyone interested in mountain bike racing, California blended red wines, best-practice management techniques, and sushi. I know there are a lot of you out there.

The topics are not wholly unrelated. Mountain bike racing positively impacts my work life by greatly strengthening my focus and productivity. Difficult situations at work generally pale in comparison to the pressures of racing. Perspective counts for a lot in this world.

The phrase 'write memory' originates from the information technology world. Network engineers working on Cisco gear use the write memory command to save changes to the router's running configuration. While Cisco replaced this command with 'copy run start', the vast majority of us still use 'write memory'. This is partly to be retro cool, partly due to the new command's longer length, and partly due to the better reliability of the old command. The command felt appropriate to me for my blog title - blogging in way saves my own running configuration. While I'm neither retro nor cool, I am a bit outdated.