Bill takes a spill

In which Bill's Head is dashed violently against the pavement and Bill's Shoulder nearly falls off
Jun 212014
Crashing doughnut bike

Note: I was originally just going to write a quick, humorous piece about Concussion Camp, but then realized that the three of you who hadn’t already heard the backstory might want to be filled in, and if I had written this a month ago I could have just pointed concerned friends, family, neighbors, and strangers here instead of telling the story over and over. I know it’s generally tedious hearing about other people’s minor medical dramas, but I’ve tried to stick to the entertaining highlights.

One Tuesday evening back in May I crashed my bicycle,* landing quite hard on my helmet, face, and shoulder.

Fortunately this happened during a lull in traffic, and I was able to get myself out of the road before I got run over. Two men in an old station wagon, with limited English-language abilities but generous hearts, pulled over and kept asking if I was OK and if I needed a ride home. Naturally I told them I was fine, despite the ripped jersey, big lump under my eye, and assorted other abrasions—never mind the wrecked front wheel of the bike. I’m not sure what I thought my plan was, but I wanted everyone to just go away and let me solve the problem myself (last time, after all, I rode 35 miles to get home on what turned out to be a broken wrist). Maybe I was going to walk three miles home? Or catch a bus? I remember watching all the other cars coming up the road and worrying that one of them was going to rear-end the stopped car and make the whole situation even worse.

They were persistent, though, and eventually I let them tie my bike to the roof of the car and drive me home. I tried to be polite and make small talk, but I’m not great at that in the best of circumstances, and it was more than a little awkward chatting with the driver about his work as a painter/carpenter/electrician/drywall-installer, all while giving driving directions using a lot of hand gestures and trying not to bleed on his seat (or cry). Part of my internal dialogue went something like this:

Hey, I need some drywall work done. I should get his card or phone number so I can call him. Hiring him would be a great way to thank him.

But how do I know if he’s any good at it? What if I hire him out of gratitude and he does a crappy job?

Would that really be the worst thing? Then you hire someone else to come fix it, and the nice man has still gotten a reward for helping you out.

My arm hurts and I want to cry. Stop thinking about drywall.

When I said something about how nice they were to bring me home, the driver said, “It is OK, my friend, because today it was you but tomorrow it could be me.” That’s like what people say in movies! I feel extra-terrible that I didn’t even get their names.

At home I tried to give them some money but they refused to take it. “Please,” I said, “take the money and go buy yourselves a drink on me.” They misunderstood me and thought I was offering them a drink right there. “OK, yes,” one of them said, “some water is good.” Was he really thirsty or was he just accepting my offer to be polite? There wasn’t a good way to sort this out, so I went insideone arm dragging, blood dripping, slightly in shock—and poured out two big glasses of ice water. Then I stood around while they drank the water, thanked me profusely, and prepared to leave. I was pretty sure they weren’t very familiar with the area and had no idea where they were, so I tried to give them directions to where they were headed. The whole time I was feeling guilty that they were going to end up lost and stuck in rush-hour traffic because of me.

No wonder I didn’t want to accept a ride.

After the Nice Men left, my first thought was that I should go find my next-door neighbor, whose bike I recently fixed so he could start riding again, and tell him that this is why he needs to go buy that helmet he keeps telling me he’s planning on buying any day now, even if he’s only tooling around the neighborhood.§

Picture of mangled bike wheel
Dammit, I just bought this wheel three months ago

My second thought was to take some pictures of myself and the bike, in case I wanted to write a blog post about the crash or something.

My third thought was to send one of the less-alarming pictures to E—— to let her know I had had a little accident but was OK.

Whilst taking additional selfies in the bathroom mirror, I realized that the lump on my elbow was nothing but my shoulder was a mess, and decided I should go see a doctor. I pulled on a red shirt that seemed like it wouldn’t be ruined by blood stains and drove myself one-handed to the walk-in clinic at the family practice.

At the clinic they got a little worried when I almost fainted, but decided it was probably due to shock and the fact I hadn’t eaten in six hours rather than to head injury, so they brought me a juice box and some cheese/peanut butter crackers. One of those little kid-size juice boxes. I wish I had a picture to show you of me drinking juice from that tiny box through a tiny straw while three medical professionals stood around with solicitous looks on their faces waiting to see if anything terrible was going to happen. They checked me for obvious major injury, told me to come back in the morning for an x-ray, and to follow up on Friday with a doctor at the practice’s sports medicine clinic.

What they didn’t do (as far as I can recall, and according to the clinical summary they sent me home with) was talk to me about the possibility of concussion, or tell me what to watch out for to make sure I didn’t die from an undiagnosed brain injury. Still, I survived the night even without someone waking me up every two or three hours to make sure I wasn’t dead or confused.

By the time E—— and I had gone back to the doctor’s office Wednesday for x-rays, gone shopping for more bandages for my shoulder, and gone out to lunch, I was physically and mentally exhausted. I tried to get some work done on Wednesday and Thursday, but found I was fighting a brain fog a lot of the time. Thoughts moved slowly, I had trouble maintaining concentration, and when I did concentrate for too long I got a headache.

At first I thought my body was just tired from the trauma, but eventually I consulted with Internet and we decided I had a concussion.

Friday morning I saw a doctor in the sports medicine clinic, who, after another set of x-rays, diagnosed me with a separated shoulder (grade III AC separation, if you’re curious or keeping score). I was advised to “avoid things that hurt you” and to start physical therapy in a week or so.

He also had me follow a stick around with my eyes and head and thereby confirmed that I had a minor concussion (or mild traumatic brain injury, to use a name that makes it sound as serious as it is). He told me to come back in a week to be seen at the practice’s concussion clinic,  which a) I was stunned to learn exists and b) I immediately started calling “Concussion Camp” to make it sound more fun. In the meantime, he suggested, I should “take easy walks with friends for exercise. Avoid long hours of TV or reading. Take frequent breaks at work.” And my favorite: “avoid getting into emotional arguments.”

“Concussion is like shaking up a snow globe,” the doctor said, “and it takes a while for things to settle back down.”

Next time in Bill’s Head: a letter from Concussion Camp!


This was a self-inflicted crash: my chain slipped down a cog while I was standing and leaning forward to accelerate, causing my foot to jerk forward unexpectedly and me to lose balance and pitch forward.
Did I just write “generous hearts”?
I was maybe going to illustrate this dialogue with some Angel Bill’s Head and Devil Bill’s Head graphics and before I abandoned the idea I spent some time looking for angel wing pictures I could use. That took me to all sorts of weird places (what is it with the angel fetish?). The best thing I found was in the comments posted for this pair:

many thanks for these arms in the PSD, really makes me work because I have a case of death and had to place the person who died as angel ak. But other photos that were on site with tired with this vain not thank you very much

I’m not trying to make fun of someone who clearly isn’t a native English speaker; I just love the phrase “I have a case of death.”

I didn’t actually do this, but when I talked to his wife the next day it was her first thought, too.

How to tie your shoes

You're probably tying your shoes wrong. This year, resolve to learn to do it right. Or at least faster.
Jan 282014

Happy New Year, Faithful Reader!

I see that I managed two posts in all of 2013, and made the usual promises about doing more. What will 2014 bring? Perhaps Warren Buffett could sponsor a $1 billion prize for the person who correctly guesses the full Bill’s Head posting bracket for this year. (We did accomplish a Very Significant Goal over at Bill’s Day Job World Headquarters late last year, so this year the work pace will perhaps be less frantic, leaving me more time and energy to waste here at Bill’s Head World Headquarters. As always, prepare to have your hopes dashed.)

Now that we’re 28 days into the year, are you still casting about for a New Year’s resolution that will improve your life in a massive, revolutionary way, but also will be really easy to keep so that you won’t find yourself, come December 31, despondent that you didn’t accomplish a single one of your self-improvement goals for the year? What if I told you it could also reduce by ⅔ the amount of time you spend performing a common chore? Look no further, dear friend. Simply amend your resolution list as follows:

list of New Year's resolutions, amended to include "Learn to tie shoes properly"

That’s right: “Learn to tie shoes properly” should be number 1 on your list of things to do this year.

“But wait!” you say. “I am a grownup and I already know how to tie my shoes.” Let me tell you a story.

Late last year, E——, who had been complaining about her shoes not staying tied, applied her sailor’s knowledge of knots to an analysis of how she was tying her shoes. “Oh my god!” she told me. “I’m tying my shoes wrong. That’s why they don’t stay tied.”

“That’s ridiculous,” I said. “There’s only one way to tie shoes. You can’t be doing it wrong.” So she demonstrated. And then I looked at how I tied my shoes.

“Oh my god!” I said. “I’ve been tying my shoes wrong all my life!” Why? I was doing both phases of my knot “left over right,” which results in a Granny Knot. When you do it properly,  the two phases of the knot go in opposite directions (“left over right” and then “right over left”) producing a proper Bowknot.

After I got over my initial shock that I’ve been doing something so basic incorrectly for nearly 40 years, my first impulse was, of course, to go do a Web search to find out if anyone else had had the same revelation. It turns out that there are a lot of people doing it wrong, judging by the number of articles on Internet demonstrating the correct and incorrect technique.

Based on my highly scientific survey of people I know, there’s a pretty good chance you’re doing it wrong, too. How can you tell? Do your shoes come untied a lot? You’re probably doing it wrong. Do the bows on your knot end up pointing toward your heels and toes (below right) instead of draping nicely across your shoes (below left)? You’re probably doing it wrong.

photo demonstrating correct and incorrect shoelace knots

It didn’t take me long to come across Ian’s Shoelace Site, because of course there has to be one of those. Here you can learn everything you never wanted to know about shoe laces and how to tie them, including the revolutionary Ian Knot, which, according to Ian, allows him to tie his shoes in ⅓ the time as compared to a standard knot.

I have adopted the Ian Knot myself (along with Ian’s Secure Knot for more demanding situations). Have I achieved that sort of performance improvement? You may be surprised to hear that I have not gone so far as to time myself. But I will say that learning and converting to the Ian Knot was easier than overcoming all the years of bad technique and getting myself to tie a proper Bowknot.

Still skeptical? When I saw my family at Christmas I told them all about my recent shoe-tying revelation, and of course they all laughed at me for not knowing how to tie my shoes. Until I made them all show me how they do it: every one of them was doing it wrong, except for my 5-year-old niece, who clearly was taught to tie her shoes by someone other than her parents. They were all still skeptical that it mattered, but I have subsequently heard independently from both of my parents—who have had to overcome a lot more years of bad habit than I—who have changed their technique and find their lives better for it. Lest you think I am making this up, here is the actual testimonial from my father:

I should also tell you that I have taken to tying my shoes your “new way.”  I will readily admit, it is vastly superior to the way I did it for the first [middling-large number] years of my life.  Amazing what tricks we old dogs can learn from our children.

So don’t wait. Hurry over to Ian’s Shoelace Site* and accomplish something significant in 2014.


There’s even a shoelace app for you iPeople. Ian also published a book, Laces: 100s of Ways to Pimp Your Kicks, which E—— got me for Christmas so I can keep it on the coffee table and lecture everyone who comes to my house about how to tie their shoes properly.

Abraham Lincoln on the government shutdown

Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us.
Oct 022013

James Fallows posted this excerpt from Abraham Lincoln’s Cooper Union Address:

Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events. This, plainly stated, is your language…

In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool.* A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, “Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!”

To be sure, what the robber demanded of me – my money – was my own; and I had a clear right to keep it; but it was no more my own than my vote is my own; and the threat of death to me, to extort my money, and the threat of destruction to the Union, to extort my vote, can scarcely be distinguished in principle….

Let us be diverted by none of those sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously plied and belabored – contrivances such as groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong…

Fallows also brings to our attention this graph from Voteview, demonstrating how the Republican party has been getting more extreme in recent decades than the Democratic party:

Graph showing movement of political parties away from center

Visit the Voteview site for more graphs and analysis, including this:

we should be careful not to equate the two parties’ roles in contemporary political polarization: the data are clear that this is a Republican-led phenomenon where very conservative Republicans have replaced moderate Republicans and Southern Democrats….Moreover, the rise of the “Tea Party” will likely only move Congressional Republicans further away from the political center.

And, finally, this has all brought to mind a 2011 article by Mickey Edwards (How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans):

Ours is a system focused not on collective problem-solving but on a struggle for power between two private organizations. Party activists control access to the ballot through closed party primaries and conventions; partisan leaders design congressional districts. Once elected to Congress, our representatives are divided into warring camps. Partisans decide what bills to take up, what witnesses to hear, what amendments to allow.

If it weren’t for party control and safe Congressional districts, extremist nutbags wouldn’t be able to get elected to Congress and hold the government hostage.


I really enjoy picturing the statue at the Lincoln Memorial booming out (or squeaking out), “That is cool.”

Proof that mockery pays

In which Bill's facile mockery finally pays off
Jan 312013

I’m sorry, Dear Reader, that you haven’t heard much from me lately. I know you don’t care, but I do. Things have been too busy at work, or something. But I have lots of great ideas in the works, so stay tuned and prepare to be disappointed all over again.

In the meantime, here’s the third-funniest that’s happened to me all week (so far!): Remember way back last year when I made fun of the The Personal Internet Address & Password Log Book? Well, someone walked away from my review with completely the wrong idea. They clicked through my link to Amazon and bought one, earning me an Amazon Associates commission of 16¢. That may not sound like a lot, but that’s enough to qualify as the most remunerative post I’ve ever written (or maybe second-most, if you count the free Mucca Pazza album I got for talking about them). So, thanks, anonymous person who decided, despite my scorn, that they really needed one of those things. I will think of you fondly as I spend my 16¢ windfall!

Hunting for treasure in the sewers of London

Toshers made a living digging through the sewers of 19th-century London for items of value
Oct 022012

Some years ago I read Charles Palliser’s novel The Quincunx. Though I don’t remember much about the book at this point, it stands out in my mind as one of my favorites. Perhaps one day I will reread it and see if it holds up.

One thing I do remember from the book is that it introduced me to toshers (I have mentioned them before)–the people who made their living scrounging through the sewers of 19th-century London looking for items of value. I was therefore quite excited when I came across Mike Dash’s post about toshers in Smithsonian magazine’s Past Imperfect blog. Dash describes

the men who made their living by forcing entry into London’s sewers at low tide and wandering through them, sometimes for miles, searching out and collecting the miscellaneous scraps washed down from the streets above: bones, fragments of rope, miscellaneous bits of metal, silver cutlery and–if they were lucky–coins dropped in the streets above and swept into the gutters.

The work was dirty and dangerous (“what a tosher feared more than anything else was not death by suffocation or explosion, but attacks by rats”) but apparently surprisingly lucrative, earning toshers enough “to rank them among the aristocracy of the working class.”

After you’ve read up on toshers, learn more about what was going on beneath London in the 19th century in Dash’s post about the first attempt to build a tunnel under the Thames.

You could also read The Quincunx and let me know what you think.

Something inspiring for a change: bicycling from Washington, DC to Austin, TX

In which Bill meets an interesting guy. Also there may or may not be an Octopus Slide.
Aug 132012

When I go out for a bike ride on the weekend, I often go with a group. It’s nice to have people to talk to and to know someone’s there to help out if I get into trouble. But on the other hand, I have to get out of bed and show up on time to start the ride, and at the end of it all I sometimes feel like I’ve just passed a lot of beautiful scenery that I forgot to look at because I was too busy looking at the back of the person in front of me and worrying about maintaining the pace. Partly this is due to the nature and riding style of this group, and partly it’s my own fault.

When I go out for a long ride on my own, I sometimes end up feeling like I’ve had an adventure. This is especially true when I ride in an area I’m not familiar with, or improvise a route. I slow down to look at the scenery. Sometimes I stop to take pictures. If the ride ends up taking far longer than I expected, that makes it feel even more like it was an adventure. It’s a nice feeling even though the “adventure” quotient is actually fairly low. Even if I’m on a new route, I’m generally in an area I’m roughly familiar with, and if something catastrophic were to happen I could always call a friend or family member to come rescue me.

On Sunday I was out on my own for a moderately-difficult 60-mile ride. I hadn’t set out to do anything too ambitious because I wanted to get home with time and energy to deal with some chores. By the time I came into Front Royal after 25 miles, though, I was enjoying the ride and the slightly-nicer-than-it-has-been-lately weather. I had already made one brief detour in search of the “Octopus Slide” (which I never did find, so clearly their idea of “all day!” did not include the middle part of the day). So in search of further adventure I decided I’d extend my ride by getting on Skyline Drive, riding uphill five miles or so to the end of the first big climb, then coming back to continue on my way.

Five miles along Skyline Drive I stopped at the Dickey Ridge visitor center for a food break (and a crappy cellphone picture that I won’t bother posting but I will bother mentioning). While I was there I saw a guy with a loaded-up touring bike (my favorite part: the solar panel strapped across the rear panniers for charging his phone and computer). I asked him how far he was headed, expecting to hear that he was riding the length of Skyline Drive, or maybe Skyline Drive plus the Blue Ridge Parkway. Instead he said (with a distinct Scottish accent) that he was riding to Austin. As in: Texas. This was day three of his 10-week, 2500-mile ride.

I learned that he lives in Brighton (England) and is a fan of American music–country, blues, folk, etc. He’s also a fan of bicycling and felt like he needed an adventure, so he decided to combine the two interests and come tour the parts of the country where the music was born. There isn’t a well-documented and -traveled bike route for this tour (by comparison, there are lots of resources to help you plan a coast-to-coast ride), so he pieced a route together as best he could using Google Maps. He couldn’t tell on Google Maps which roads are paved and which aren’t, so he’ll have to take his chances. He doesn’t seem to know many people in this country, so he doesn’t have much of a support network to draw on if something goes wrong.

After we talked for a bit my own ride for the day was seeming decidedly less adventurous. Rather than turning back as I had planned, I rode a few more miles along Skyline Drive first to make sure I was getting as much as possible out of my day. It even occurred to me to just keep riding until I couldn’t go any further and then figure out what to do next, but that seemed more stupid than adventurous, so I headed back to Front Royal and resumed my original ride, turning in a respectable 75 miles for the day.

As I rode on I realized I hadn’t even gotten the guy’s name, much less asked him if he had a blog where I could follow his progress (everyone has a blog for everything, right?) Fortunately there aren’t a lot of people cycling from Washington to Austin this summer, so 45 seconds with Google was all it took for me to learn that his name is Iain and his blog for the trip is here. Go follow along while you’re waiting for me to do something interesting with my life and write about it.

Oh, there was one bit of extra adventure for me on my ride: toward the end I was shot at by some jackass kid with an air rifle or paintball gun or something like that. No doubt he’ll grow up to be one of those people who thinks it’s funny to throw beer bottles at cyclists or try to run them off the road. Here’s hoping Iain is spared this little part of the American experience.

Joan Miró, technology visionary?

Did Joan Miró paint a picture of a laptop computer in 1922?
Jun 132012

The National Gallery of Art currently has a large exhibition of works by Joan Miró. It’s  a well-organized show that does a great job of providing background and context for his work. As for the art itself, I like his earlier paintings, but the later, more abstract work mostly does not resonate with me.

One of the best-known early-period paintings is “The Farm,” which Miró painted in 1921–22 and which was once owned by Ernest Hemingway.

image of "The Farm" painting by Joan Miró
National Gallery of Art / Successió Miró/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

There’s a lot going on in there, but take a look toward the bottom right corner. What’s that rooster sitting on?

detail of a section of "The Farm" by Joan Miró

I spent a long time staring at this up close at the museum, and I’m pretty sure it’s a laptop computer with a pie chart on the screen. Maybe that rabbit was working on a spreadsheet?

Happy Birthday, Niece!

Happy fourth birthday to my niece
Jun 122012

Happy Birthday, Niece!* Not that you will see this, because your are four years old and your laptop is pretend and plays “Old MacDonald” but does not connect to the Internet, and your smartphone is real but it’s deactivated, and your parents can’t show it to you because they never come here so they won’t know about it, either. But it’s the thought that counts, they say, so when I show up at your birthday party later today without a gift, just remember that I thought about you and that will be just as good.

Bill with Niece
Bill with Niece at age 12 days (Niece is 12 days, Bill is older)


Name withheld for privacy to prevent online stalking or whatever.

Report Disable Motorist

Do your duty, citizen: report disable motorist
Jun 062012
roadside message board reading "REPORT DISABLE MOTORIST"
Created at Atom Smasher

Driving along the highway today I saw one of those generator-powered roadside signs with this message:


That’s a fake version of the sign over there at the right because I wasn’t able to snap a picture of the real one as I went by at 65 55 mph. Though I did consider, more than briefly, getting off the road and looping back with camera at the ready so I could get a picture.

The real sign was narrower (or the type bigger) than the fake sign pictured here, so “DISABLE” wasn’t so much a typo as a running out of space. Clearly they meant: “REPORT DISABLED MOTORISTS.” Page 2 of the message told me to call #77 to make my report.

For a moment I considered calling to report the fellow in the next lane with the wheelchair symbol on his license plate, but then I realized they wanted me to report disabled vehicles, not motorists. If I were a slightly different person, I would have called anyway and recorded the conversation for your enjoyment.

Another plug for Mucca Pazza

Check out Mucca Pazza. You will like them.
Jun 012012

During a brief trip to Cleveland last Summer I caught part of a performance by the circus-punk marching band Mucca Pazza and loved them. I got to see them again last month when they came to Washington, DC, for two performances as part of a street arts event put on by the Kennedy Center (you can find video of one of their performances here), and I loved them all over again.

They have a new album coming out soon and recently released a video for one of their songs, which you will enjoy unless there is something wrong with you:

For those of you in the DC area, they’ll be back for a free performance as part of the Tour de Fat on June 16.