Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ninja news from all over

OK, I had a couple of imitation ninja stories over the past year, but nothing seemed to show up for weeks on end at news.google.com.  I had given up hope that I could regularly record the exploits of the near ninjas among us.  True ninjas, of course, we would never know about.  Or if we did, we'd be dead before we could blog about it.  Enough of such happy thoughts, on to the news!

In Massachusetts, a man wearing a ski mask and carrying a sword in a scabbard tried to hold up a dry cleaners.  In a classic Not-Really-A-Ninja move, he first went to a nearby convenience store with said ski mask on and said sword in scabbard in plain view.  Presumably he was trying to carb up for his later efforts in the dry cleaners.  Maybe picking up some beef jerky, some Cheetos and a Red Bull.  You know, ninja food.  Well, the clerk in the store decides to call the cops, when Mr. Not-Really-A-Ninja asks, in an obvious homage to Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver, if the clerk is talking about him as he hurriedly takes off the ski mask.  When the clerk tells him, "Uhmm, yeah," he takes off.  Later attempt at holding up the dry cleaners fails, as the person there claims "I can't open the money drawer."  This guy is so Not-Really-A-Ninja, I have to wonder if his sword is sharp.  Also, the total ignorance tactic seems to work for dry cleaner clerks when faced with inept ninja-tude.  Just remember to take a note of that, dry cleaner clerks everywhere.

In Nearly-Ninja News, a man under arrest for posing as a ninja during an armed robbery last August got into more trouble this week.  The news of note is that, after being caught, still waiting for a trial, he was being moved from one cell to another for a disciplinary infraction when he resisted.  Jailer grabs the suspect's arm and executes a take-down.  But apparently there was some Ninja-dom in this suspect, as the deputy ended up going knee-first into the concrete floor, causing him "extreme pain."  Of course, the news is that said deputy has filed a criminal complaint.  "Interference with official acts causing injury."  At least it wasn't the suspect suing the deputy.

Expect more Ninja News as it breaks.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Review of Action Wipes

Gotta story for you folks.
They are finally building a gym here at my office. Hooray! We've got more than 500 employees officed here and it was part of the original building plan, so it makes sense to have it. Unfortunately, it won't be here until October, and as they are going to have to do some renovation work, the only office shower will be closed soon. Then new facility will have three or four showers in the Men's Locker Room, which will be great. I think we'll be able to get some folks to do some lunch rides. But how am I to be able to ride my bike to work and not be stinky all day? With no shower? Of course, lots of folks do this. One option I had seen was Action Wipes. They're supposed to be like baby wipes but for adults. I'd also heard of them through their Twitter campaign during the Tour of California. Really genius if you ask me. So I figure these might work. I look them up, decide to try them, place an order, and right before I do, I realize that hey, there might be an online coupon code out there, let's Google it to see. I did that and came across Ultra Rob's site. He had a coupon code from that week and was having a contest to give away a free set of wipes! So I used the code and entered the contest. I didn't win, not surprising, but I did get surprised by what happened next.
When you order something online, you usually expect some email traffic from it. So Paypal will send you an email if you used that. Then you would expect an email confirming the order, and perhaps an additional one confirming that your stuff has shipped. That's what I get from Amazon and eBay, from small and large online bike retailers, from everybody. Well, there was more from Action Wipes.
I got all those emails when I ordered my stuff on Thursday and then I got another the following Tuesday. It was the owner of the company (Action Wipes is still pretty small) apologizing for not emailing me sooner, and telling me that she had sent the stuff priority mail and that I should expect it that day. Nice, very nice touch. Then I get home and open the package and in it are my order, and an extra, small pack of wipes (what was being given away in the contest), and a short hand-written note. I have to say, those are not what you expect. Those are things that say above and beyond. From that point onward, I wanted these to work out for me. So the whole un-biased reviewer thing goes out the window at this point, but that's part of the review. I'm biased and it's all their fault!! That's not something that Action Wipes should be upset about, obviously. It's one thing to drool over a piece of beautiful bike equipment, ridiculously light, impossibly stiff, made from unobtainium and priced to show it. When you dump out eight grand for a set of wheels you set yourself up to love them (note: when you have six kids, eight grand only equals three hunnerd dollars, but it feels the same). You have to like that stuff. But wipes? Who gets all geeked up about wipes? Me. I do, and only because they went so far to make sure that I had an individualized, personal experience. The shower at my office is still operational but I brought Action Wipes today because I wanted to try them out. I wanted them to work really well. I wanted to show them off and say "check these out, even more, listen to how much they made me feel like a real human being."
So, review time. I used them today and I don't stink. I don't feel slimy. It was only after about nine miles, at about 60 degrees, with a tail wind, and I didn't average 20 (although the guy in the truck behind me was pretty impressed at my 35 mph on a short downhill). But they worked fine. Well, I only used one, they're pretty big, almost like a thin sponge. And they point out that they are washable and reusable, which I'll try to verify. I don't know how they will work after riding a century, but I didn't buy them for that. I don't know how they will work after an 80 degree ride (we'll get 80 degree mornings off and on from June to September) or after a 30 degree ride. But I like them. I encourage you to give them some money and see if they work for you. Or maybe just give them a chance to impress you before you use them.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Bike Commuter Tax "Benefit"

OK, so as part of last year's "stimulus" package, something called the "Commuter Tax Benefit" was extended from mass transit commuters to Bicycle Commuters. By the way, the writer of this blog commutes on bicycle to work quite often. It's only for $20 a month, which doesn't pay for a ton, but hey, that means I never have to worry about having the dough for some spare tubes, eh? Maybe I can throw it all at a nice set of lights or a helmet or some shoes. Yup, it's looking better and better. But it's up to the company to offer it, it's not something I can set up for myself. Dang it! I would have gotten away with it if it hadn't have been for those meddling kids, and their dog too! But I digress.
Then I noticed a glitch in our local HR's web site where for one afternoon, there was a banner headline about a "Commuter Savings Account." Of course it was gone the next day, and the link never went to anything. Shortly thereafter, I was contacted by a buddy of mine who's a journalist for the Dallas Morning News. He was researching it and he knew that I rode a bike. So I really looked hard into it. Here's what I found out so far.
OK, the "Commuter Tax Benefit" has actually been around for a while. The original law was drafted to give tax incentives to big companies to offer fringe benefits to employees tax-free. Note that the companies still had to fund the bene's, but now they could fund them tax-free on their part. So it would encourage (theoretically) the employers to offer more bene's in lieu of or in addition to salary. There are several sections of it including moving expenses, retirement planning services, and a fringe bene for folks who's home valuation is adversely affected by a military base closure. The transportation section is focused on parking and mass transit costs and is just now being opened up to bike commuters. Please note that no employer is obligated to offer any of these cash benefits. In 1998, the law was amended to allow employers to offer these benefits in a different manner. Instead of funding a cash benefit, it allowed employees to set aside money from their own paychecks as pre-tax dollars, then draw upon those accounts to pay for these qualified costs. If you are an employer, which would you choose, to offer free money to your employees? Or to offer your employees the chance to bank away their own money tax-free? Hmmm... Not a hard choice. Fund the management of the plan instead of funding the plan itself. So instead of bicycle commuters looking for a cash benefit, now the best they can expect in some circumstances is a tax-free reimbursement. If their employers offer it. And so far, mine doesn't. Actually, I didn't expect it. We've got thousands of locations, some with hundreds of employees and some with only a dozen or less. It sound like a nightmare to manage that plan. And the taxes that I pay on $240 are next to nothing. OK, with six kids and 14 dependents on my W4, it is nothing. It would have been nice to have as a bike-stuff-in-a-pinch security blanket, but I don't see anything suggesting that it's going to happen soon, or at all.
So I'll just have to ride my bike in order to ride my bike, like I always have.