Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Rowing Downtown

This past Sunday marked our second Head Race of the season. Our first was two weeks ago with the race around Wye Island on Maryland's Eastern Shore. I've been too lazy to get around to posting pictures and writing about it and perhaps I still will, but the bottom line is we won! There were three boats in our category (Masters Men 8+) - ourselves, a boat from Wilmington and one from Alexandria. We were first off and slowly pulled away from Wilmington and we never saw Alexandria. We later heard they made a wrong turn somewhere along the line. So a great start to the Head Race portion of our schedule.

Sunday our race was the Head of the Potomac. I was scheduled to race in a 4+ and a mixed 8+. The mixed 8+ consists of 4 men and 4 women. I didn't get to race in the Men's 8+ primarily because I have the suckiest erg time for 5,000 meters among the men. I need to work on that although part of it is that I'm also the smallest guy on the team. However in the men's 4+, I was moved from2 seat to the stroke seat so a bit of a promotion there. My first race was in the Men's 4+. The boats launched from Thompson's Boat Center although the race itself is hosted by the Potomac Boat Club. For those familiar with the Washington area, it all happens down at the Georgetown waterfront. One of the interesting aspects of the area is that the old C&O Canal runs through it. Keep in mind this is right downtown.

The course itself starts above Key Bridge - way above and finishes at the Roosevelt Bridge. It's shorter then most Head Races although not by much. However it seems longer then most. As far as a scenic course, it can't be beat. This is looking up the course from Thompson's.

After the race, you circle back to the docks at Thompson's and row by the Kennedy Center.
So for my races. My boat finished last in the Men's 4+ (out of 7 boats), even after the time adjustments due to the age of our boat (50+ category). The race didn't feel that bad, but obviously we have some work to do. The Mixed 8+ was the next to last race of the day. There were 3 boats in the race - one from Capital Rowing Club and one from Thompson's. We were the third boat crossing the start. I had no real expectations for this race. The 8 of us had never rowed together and the crew was not made up out of the cream of the crop of the rowers in our club. It took us a while just to figure who should row in what seat. I got elected to stroke, which was ok with me. As we rowed up tot he start, the sky was turning an ominous color of black. The referees on the course told us as we passed them that if the storm struck to row to Potomac Boat Club and wait it out rather then to try and make it all the was back to Thompson's. We were late getting up to the start as we hot seated the boat with our Men's 8+. Hot seating meaning we rowed the same boat as the Men's 8+. They pulled into the dock and hopped out and the Mixed 8+ hopped in and took off. So we basically rowed up, spun the boat and headed to the start. As we crossed the start line it started to rain. Lightly at first and then harder. I kept the boat at a 28 stroke race through most of the race. As we approached the Key Bridge, our coxswain started telling us how close we were to passing the boat from Thompson's. Frankly I thought she was lying to us just to keep us motivated as I didn't think we would be passing anyone, but who knew? We did catch and pass them. I have to put a mention here of our coxswain for the race, Sammie. She coxes primarily for the women's side, but for this race she agreed to do the Mixed 8+. She's from Australia and still has the accent. It's so cool listening to her. Her calls sometimes are a bit different then our calls here in the States, but that just adds to the experience. Anyway, as I mentioned we passed the boat from Thompson's and then Sammie was telling us how we were gaining on the boat from Capital. By that time we were nearing the finish and I picked the stroke rate up to 31/strokes per min so we finished hard. The organizers were quick to post the time and we had the fastest time and won 1st Place Medals. So cool. Oh and rain, it slowly diminished as we raced so it turned out to be a nonfactor. Besides our Mixed 8+, the Women's 8+ also won. Our other Men's 4+ came in 4th, one of our Men captured a 2nd in the Masters single (1X), The Women's 4+s came in 2nd and 5th (out of 14) respectively, and the Men's 8+ came in 4th (out of 11). Overall a good day for our club. next week we race on our home water in the Occoquan Challenge. I will return to the Men's 8+ for the race, which I love.
Some more pictures from this weekend. The Men's8+ loading at the dock.

Men's 8+ leaving the dock and rowing up to the start.

The Women's 8+ loading at the dock.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What Customer Support?

Since I'm old I've been witness to much of the progress of the computer through the ages. I'm not sure my kids, even though they are adults, can even fathom a life without personal computers. When I was a kid, the whole of idea of computers was still like sci-fi. Sure they existed, but they were few and far between and huge. Whole rooms/areas were set aside to house these behemoths, which required a good deal of air conditioning to keep them cool and only a relatively few people knew how to operate them. When I went to college, I had to take two computer course. These were classes in programming in COBOL and FORTRAN. Auburn had one computer, an IBM 360 mainframe, that every one used for everything - from admissions and billing to athletics to students. Needless to say, student computer programs were at the bottom of the priority list. There was no Internet (or at least not that any one knew of except maybe a few Government labs), no wired dorm rooms, nothing. To run our software projects, we had to use punch cards. A single COBOL program and a simple one at that, might use 500 to 600 cards to run. We had maybe 12 to 15 punch card machines for the entire student body. Needless to say they were always busy although the computer center was open 24 hours a day. We didn't have any remote terminals to enter data. I didn't do that well in either class although I passed both. I always seem to be a week or two behind in grasping concepts. I would spend entire Quarters cussing out the computer and how dare it tell me my coding was wrong? Couldn't it read? WTF?

Fast forward to the late 80s and early 90s and personal computers are becoming much more common in households. For the most part, access is by dial up. Broadband has not made it to the masses yet. This is about the time that I first became an AOL member. Unlike a lot of people, I've been pretty happy with AOL over the years. My primary e-mail address has been an AOL address. Even when I got broadband, we have kept AOL. In fact AOL is a local company. They are a neighbor to the bike trail I visit most weekends. One of their server farms is in my county. A few days ago when trying to sign on a message appeared that my screen name had been suspended. I mentioned it to Ann, who happens to have the AOL account in her name, and she said she had been notified of a Terms of Service (ToS) violation by The Son. ToS covers everything from cussing out other people on line to spamming, to sending inappropriate pictures, etc. I didn't think that much of it as The Son has gotten his share of ToS violations over the years. Usually a call to Customer Support is all that is required. So it was yesterday that I decided to contact AOL to see what the problem was. My first problem was that I couldn't find their Customer Service phone number on the web site despite looking for quite a while. I finally Googled it and apparently others had had the same problem and were only too happy to share it much to AOL's dismay, I'm sure. So I called. After providing some basic information to a recorded voice, a representative came on line. I told her of the problem and her response: "I can't help you. You'll have to write a letter to AOL headquarters." A letter? Was she serious? She couldn't help? "No. You have to send a letter." No phone number to call? An e-mail address maybe? "No. A letter." I told her that was the stupidest thing I had ever heard, but took down the address anyway. When Ann got home, I told her of the problem and she mentioned the ToS violation, but thought it was pretty benign and therefore hadn't replied to it. We thought since she was the account holder of record, that she might have better luck then I had. So she called AOL and same thing. Customer Support couldn't help and a letter was required. For a company that provides internet access, e-mail and probably has the most popular Instant Messaging program, that they are requiring a letter just seems bizarre to me. I'm not sure what a letter will say. Ummm...not sure exactly why, but our account has been suspended. Can you tell us why and how do we get it turned back on? Oh and by the way, you're still collecting my money. It just seems so archaic. I can hardly wait to see what response our letter brings. Maybe in cuneiform on clay tablets.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I Love Football

There are a few things I love about this time of year - Head Races, warm weather, but not hot weather and most of all football. I enjoy pro football and follow our home team (the Redskins) as close as the next fan, but my true love is college football. I love the tradition, I love the atmosphere, the rivalries, the BCS upstarts, in short everything (except for the lack of a football playoff ,but that's a post for another day). I love being able to watch several college games a week. I look forward to College Game Day every Saturday morning. I went to a college (Auburn) where football is king. There was nothing like attending a game at Jordan Hare Stadium. I was lucky to have attended Auburn during the run of Pat Sullivan and Terry Beasley. While Auburn never won a National Championships during those years, Pat Sullivan did win the Heisman so it was exciting times for Auburn football. If I didn't know it before, going to Auburn taught me there is no better thing to do on a Saturday then to be at a college football game.

My life travels have taken me far away from my alma meter so attending games back on the loveliest village on the plains isn't practical. That doesn't mean there aren't options. When I moved back to the Washington DC area, I started attending University of Maryland football games. My now ex-brother in law (actually deceased now) was a big fan of Maryland so Ann and I would go. Eventually we bought season tickets with him. Section 6, on the 45 yard line. We've had those tickets now for over 25 years. By no stretch of the imagination is Maryland on the same level footballwize as Auburn and to be sure there have been some ups and downs over the years. The fact remains though that we enjoy going to the games. The tailgating, the band, just the sense of excitement as you enter the stadium. It's a perfect way to spend a day. And so it was this past Saturday. After Saturday's rowing practice, Ann and I headed to College Park. It was a gorgeous day. Bright blue sky with not a cloud to be seen. The temperature in the high 70s. We munched on veggies with ranch dressing, Italian Subs and chips, washed down with some cold Coronas. The only downer was Maryland lost - to Middle Tennessee State. Ugh. Maryland hosts Rutgers next week so hopefully the outcome will be better. On a happier note, Auburn rallied to beat West Virginia Saturday night on ESPN2. West Virginia has some of the most obnoxious fans I've even encountered so I love when they lose. So Saturday night closed out on a good note.

On the rowing front, we had our first race last weekend and I've been meaning to write about it ever since. I took pictures that I want to include, but I'm always forgetting to upload them. I need to get that done, but the good news is we won! Details to follow. On other rowing news, I got bumped out of our 8+ for our next race, which comes this coming Sunday - Head of the Potomac. It's a great venue as you race down the Potomac through the key Bridge and the Georgetown waterfront and finish in front of the Kennedy Center. I'll be racing in our old (50+) 4+ and in a mixed 8+ with some of our women. I have been rowing 2 seat in the 4+, but got asked to move to stroke. A little added pressure there, but I've rowed stroke before so we'll see how that goes.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Happy Anniversary!

Today marks Ann and I's 33rd wedding anniversary. The fact the our anniversary now shares a date with the one of the most infamous events in America history makes it pretty difficult to forget. It makes it both a day to celebrate, but also a date to remember. To me it's hard to believe we've been married that long and that we have adult children (some more adult then others). When I meet new couples I'm always curious on how they met. What brought them together. What was the initial attraction. So I'll give you our story.

Ann and I first met in 1975. I was living in Charleston, SC at the time and she lived in Alexandria, VA. We were both working for the Navy (and still do). We were both in the intern training program but working for different Commands. I was involved in ship repair and Ann dealt with buying things for the "Air" side of the Navy. In our line of work, new hires are sent to a ton of classes the first few years. Not surprisingly there are endless amounts of rules and regulations to learn in order to do our jobs. One of the first classes is a four week one to learn the basics. I chose to attend one that was being given in northern Virginia, across the street from the Pentagon , literally, rather then the traditional location, which was Ft Lee in Petersburg, VA, just south of Richmond. The reason I chose the former was so that I could spend time with my family that lived in Maryland at the time. The first day of class started auspiciously as I was over an hour late due to an accident that screwed up rush hour traffic. What a surprise there. Anyway,I finally manged to get to the class, which was being held in an office building in Crystal City, an office/residential/commercial series of buildings located next to National Airport. The class was made up mostly of locals with just a few of us from out of town. Included in the locals were three girls who were friends and all worked in the next office building over. Now remember this was 1975 and the miniskirts was the fashion of the day. The three girls sat on the far side of the room so they had to walk across the front of the classroom to reach their seats. It became a viewing sport to watch them return after breaks. Very cute girls. After a week or so of class, during a break, I was getting a drink from the water fountain and one of the three girls approached me and asked what school I had been a Delt at. She was referring to what fraternity as I was wearing my windbreaker with the fraternity letters on it. I told her I had gone to Auburn. We talked a bit did the introductions and I found out her name was Ann and she asked if I would like to get together for a drink after class. Next to the office building where the class was being held was a Holiday Inn with a bar. A lot of the class went there after class. So we went for drinks and talked and talked and talked. We ended up having dinner there. Then we went back to her apartment where we mostly just watched TV and maybe a little making out before I left late for the long drive back to my parent's house. We went out everyday after that until the class was over and I returned to Charleston. After that there was daily phone calls. Well during the week anyway. I had no phone in my apartment as I was making all of $8,000 a year at the time. We managed to schedule a three week class a few months later. We did the long distance relationship thing for about a little over a year until I managed to switch jobs to the same Command Ann worked for. A few months after tat we were married in my hometown in Maryland. None of this living in sin for Ann. So now 33 years later I can safely say that I definitely made the right pick.