Sunday, July 27, 2008

Professional Bull Riders Are Insane...

Last night, I proved this beyond any reasonable doubt. Debbie (my wife) and I traveled to a distant place – the Del Mar race track – to watch a Professional Bull Riders (PBR) competition. After watching forty or fifty of these men attempt to ride a pissed-off bull for eight seconds, I feel completely qualified to render judgment upon their sanity. Conclusion: they have none.

The goal of these bull riders (as best I understand it) is simply to stay on the bull for eight seconds without violating any of the rules. The riders are not allowed to slap the bull with their free hand, and I think there are some other rules as well. They are just sitting on the bull's back, holding onto a rope tied around the bull's chest, just behind its front legs. There's also another rope tied around the bull's body, just in front of its rear legs – I think that rope is there to piss the bull off (that's not hard to do!), encouraging it to spin and buck. If they qualify (by staying on for eight seconds), the riders get up to 50 points for the quality and style of their riding, and up to an additional 50 points for the challenge presented by the bull.

Above right you see the most common outcome: the bull wins, pitching the would-be rider off into the dirt.

The evening started with some patriotic words, a skydiver landing in the ring with a giant American flag streaming behind him, and the singing of our national anthem. There was a lot more patriotic fervor in that stadium than you normally see in people on the street – I suspect this sort of event is most frequently attended by those people who tend to be fervent patriots. It was heart-warming to see this. George Bush and John McCain would have been right at home here; Barack Obama, I'm sure, would have been very uncomfortable...

First we saw the flag, then as the skydiver got closer we could see him as well (and you can see his feet in the photo at right). It was a perfectly still night – great conditions for a stunt like this – and the skydiver was very skilled. He landed smack in the middle of the ring, flag trailing behind him.

As he landed (see photo at left), other people on the field came running to grab the flag before it hit the ground. Seconds after he landed, there were about 15 people surrounding the big flag, stretching it out horizontally at waist height while the national anthem was sung. Then they rolled it up carefully and took it off the field.

I'm sure some people would think this overt display of patriotism rather corny – but I liked it; it reminded me of earlier days when most people thought overt patriotism was normal, and admirable…

My lovely bride naturally had to get properly outfitted before we left for the show. I perched her on my truck's tailgate for this photo (at right) – Debbie in her natural element!

When we first arrived at the race track, Debbie was drawn (of course!) to the vendor's booths. Various sorts of items were for sale, things that either were really directly related to bull riding, or which some folks might imagine are. Debbie went straight to the PBR booth; she wanted some official PBR T-shirts.

But the booth operator could only take cash, so we had to go to a portable ATM and withdraw some money. There was a short line there, and immediately in front of us was someone that Debbie recognized immediately: a bull rider named Tony Mendes (see photo at left). We had a silly, brief conversation with him about the probability of the ATM running out of cash, and then a bit about him riding in the competition. At the end of the night, Tony was the winner!

A little later, when we were sitting in the stands waiting for the show to begin, we could see the bull riders off to our left, getting ready for the show. At one point Debbie got quite excited: one of the bull riders took off his shirt briefly, before donning another one. Debbie made me take this photo, which is allegedly for her girlfriend Marsha. I know better!

A woman sitting to our left was even more enthralled with the shirtless bull rider than Debbie was. She was still talking about it when we left...

The actual bull riding events surprised me in one regard: they pay a lot of attention to safety. If you watch them carefully, you can see that there are eight or ten men, each with a particular job, all watching to make sure the bull rider has the best possible chance of emerging from his trial uninjured. There are mounted cowboys with ropes, ready to snag the bull and wrestle him away from the rider. There are people whose entire job is to distract the bull, by throwing hats, waving their arms, and so on. There are three men tending the gate – one to pull it open with a rope, one that acts as a lookout, and one that makes sure the rider isn't crushed between the bull and the gate. Quite elaborate, and, so far as I can tell, quite effective.

During one of the breaks in the bull riding, there was another little piece of entertainment that was, if anything, even crazier than the bull riding! This is something they called “cowboy poker” – wherein four bull riders go sit at a small table in the middle of the ring and pretend they're playing poker. While they're sitting there, an enraged bull is turned loose in the ring. Within a few seconds, the bull is attacking the poker players, with obvious intent to kill.

The objective of this “game” is to be the last man sitting. There was a $500 prize for the winner. You'd have to offer me a lot more than $500 for that to tempt me!

The guy on the ground was uninjured, despite appearances. The table and chairs were completely destroyed. The safety men had quite a time trying to round that bull up and get him off the ring.

I mentioned earlier that Tony Mendes was the champion for the night. He rode twice, qualified both times, and had the highest total score of all the riders. In fact, he was the only bull rider who qualified on both rides. Here he's taking a victory lap around the ring, riding in the saddle but without using the stirrups...

And finally, I'll leave you with a collection of photos capturing the moment that a bull won the contest. Ouch!

Heart-Stopping Geek Experience...

Recently I purchased a Mac “Mini” for my wife. In general I am very pleased with this purchase – the price was right ($800), it reuses components from her old Windows PC (screen, audio, keyboard, and mouse), and it was easier to move her data from her old Windows box to her new Mac Mini than it would have been to migrate to a new Windows computer. And then, of course, she's got OS/X (Leopard) – sleek, beautiful, and zippy – instead of some monstrosity of a Microsoft operating system. Best of all, Debbie (who previously expressed nothing but hatred for her computer) actually likes her new Mac Mini!

But early this morning, as I was attempting to enable file sharing on her new Mac Mini, with a single erroneous click I managed to (temporarily) completely kill it. The steps I took were these: in System Preferences I went to Sharing and added her Mac Mini's hard disk as a shared folder. That worked. Then I noticed that Administrators were granted read only access, and I wanted to limit access to my account – so I removed Administrators from those granted access. Sounds innocent enough, doesn't it?

Any Mac-heads reading this are probably laughing at my expense right now. What I know now, but didn't know then, is that enabling and disabling access to shared folders operates directly on the file system permissions for that folder. Since the “folder” in this case was the entire disk drive, what I did was to remove access permissions for all Administrators from that disk. And Debbie's account is in the Administrator's group. Oops. Suddenly her account had no access to the disk. Nothing worked. I rebooted the system, and all I got was an unadorned dark blue screen with a mouse pointer. I could do nothing whatsoever.

Of course, I figured all this out only later. At the moment it occurred, I didn't have the faintest idea what I'd done. And truth be told, it is kind of dumb for Apple to allow the Sharing settings to affect basic operations that have nothing to do with sharing...

So I started troubleshooting in the usual way. I Googled for information, and very quickly found out about booting from the installation CD and using Disk Utility to repair permissions on the disk. Whew! Sounded easy! So I grabbed the CD, inserted it, restarted the computer, held down the “C” key to force it to boot from the CD, and started it back up.

Nothing. Just the evil blue screen again.

Back to Google, where I discovered that it's common for wireless keyboards (which I was using) to be unable to use the pre-boot key combinations that allow OS/X to boot into troubleshooting, repair, and installation modes. Well, that's fine – I've got several wired keyboards lying about. So I went grubbing for one with a USB connector and dang it, I didn't even have one! All my wired keyboards use the old-fashioned PS2 connector. I really had no choice – I drove 20 miles into town to go buy a new keyboard. At 7:30 in the morning on Sunday, there isn't much choice about where to go. First I tried Target, but all they had was wireless keyboards. Next I drove another 10 miles to Wally-World (Wal-Mart), and they had several to choose from – all much fancier than I actually needed, so I just picked up the cheapest one they had and hurried home...

When I got home, I plugged in the new keyboard and rebooted, holding down the “C” key, and voila! – it booted from the CD. I was saved!

Well, not quite so fast. First I ran Disk Utility, and used it to first repair the disk drive, then to repair permissions. Both of those completed successfully, pronouncing the disk to be in fine fettle. So I rebooted with the hard disk, and … nothing but the blue screen of horribleness...

Back to Google, where after a frustrating marathon session of searching I found nothing but an obscure reference to permissions on mounted volumes. This gave me the clue that finally saved the day. It turns out that for the purposes of sharing, finder, and some other things, mounted disk volumes are exposed to the file system in the /Volumes directory. When I looked in there, I found this:

/Volumes/Macintosh HD

and that object turned out to have no read or execute permissions for the group. This is the sort of thing only someone familiar with Unix command line operation would be comfortable fixing. Just FYI, here's what did the trick:

chmod go+rx /Volumes/Macintosh HD

Just that little magic incantation, and my wife's Mac Mini came back to life.


One little side note… If I had failed in my efforts to fix it myself, I'd have been forced to take the busted-ass Mac Mini into the local Apple store. There, I'd have had to sidle up to the “Genius Bar” to have one of the Apple “Geniuses” (generally pimply kids with baggy, falling down trousers and metal studs and rings penetrating various parts of their bodies). The humiliation of this possibility was a far better motivator for me than the thought of the Wrath of Debbie (my wife). It would be like a Toyota engineer being unable to figure out how to change his car's spark plugs, so he pays the neighbor's 14 year old daughter to do it for him. Oh, the humiliation!

I'm so glad I avoided that!