10 December 2017

Race Reporter Ruby Rides a Bike

Just in time for the holidays, here is Specialized with some superb marketing sweet cuteness. This makes me want to go ride a bike. And also buy one for my niece, if she were at all interested in riding bicycles (she is not). I can't ride right now and it suuuuucks. So watching cycling videos and getting super pumped about getting back on the bike will have to do.

Speaking of being super pumped about getting on the bike: this video is good because Ruby makes bike riding seem like a hell of a lot of fun. People have a tendency to take it very seriously, and wear terribly ugly outfits, etc. They don't always seem like they are having fun. Weird, but here we are.

Ruby's bike has a custom front crank (it's a 1x, i.e. it only has a single chainring up front), Dura Ace brake controls / shifters, an ultegra rear derailleur, and probably some other bits that I cannot figure out. It's a lot different from the stock bike, but whatever. My only quibble with the video is that she says that her power 'comes from her bike'. That is wrong. Her power comes from her, and that is awesome.

08 December 2017

Bicycling: Peter Sagan and Race Reporter Ruby

Peter Sagan, aka the guy that your ex hooked up with during her backbacking tour of Slovakia a couple years ago but don't worry he was totally chill about it, is the most popular cyclist in the world right now. He often rides the Tour of California as a leisurely warm-up for the Tour de France. Most professional riders are riding the Giro d'Italia in May, but that race is a brutal slog (like the Tour), and riding the two efforts back to back is not common for riders that want to win the GC of the Tour. (Chris Froome, who is a great rider but the type of guy that your ex felt very comfortable rooming with during her backpacking tour of Slovakia because they were such 'great friends', made big news when he announced that he was riding the Giro this year. Chris Froome is good at a very specific type of cycling, and he is boring as hell.)

In 2016 Sagan won the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders). In his words after the race, "no one wants to work with me, so I just have to do it by myself." Which is true, but almost impossible to actually do. (Sagan was leading the 2017 Ronde van Vlaanderen when he crashed because a jacket hung over a barrier caught his handlebars.)

As part of Sagan's effort at the ToC last year he sat down with Race Reporter Ruby, who is the best. Please enjoy this interview between two stars. Race Reporter Ruby did more very good interviews with other riders, so if you liked her interview style I encourage you to review those as well, if only to hear how she pronounces "South Lake Tahoe", which is adorable.

26 November 2017

The Wayback Machine: Counting Crows and Middle Age

I had a chance to see Counting Crows recently. Free tickets, free beers, super good seats. I opted not to attend. Skipped it because they have a tendency to get all jam-band-y in their live shows, which is definitely not my jam. (HONK) And also because the songs on August and Everything After mean a lot to me; I was afraid that hearing them again a lifetime later in a different context would have made me feel some feels, which is blah. I was also afraid I would feel nothing at all, which is worse.

When I first got a copy of the record on which this song appears I wore it out. If it were an actual record I would have had to buy a new copy because the needle would have smoothed the groove. As it is I just wore out everyone else's patience while I load-tested the speakers and repeat-offender'd my preferred cuts. Rain King remains my gold-standard, all-time favorite from this record. YMMV.

Covered this already in another post just over two years ago, so I will not belabor the unhappy sections. I will say that this song reminds me of spending time with Big Cheese and Sweet Katie when we were young. It's all a bit of a blur - it was a long time ago, and I spent entirely too much time drinking as much as I could afford, as often as I could afford it. The mere fact of my survival during that era is partly dumb luck, and partly my patient and generous friends.

As for generous friends, were we ever that young? I guess so, because there are pictures. I remember Sweet Katie was the best kind of beautiful (she still is). I remember laughing a lot. Big Cheese was funny (he still is), and he and I had a good time together, celebrating our infrequent successes and laughing about our many, many fuck ups.

It's been decades, but the Counting Crows remind me of the pure truth of Big Cheese and Sweet Katie's tremendous kindness towards me; it is a through-line that spans my entire adult lived experience. The other through-line, closely related to the first, is how much I love them. The only way I would see the Counting Crows at this point is if they were playing a live show at my cousins house and all of us were going together. In December. In 1993.

Also, not for nothing, but: this song fucking rules. Merry Christmas.

23 November 2017

Happy(?) Thanksgiving

I hope that you are having a good thanksgiving. If it is not good then I hope it is over soon, and that there is pie. If it is not good and there is no pie (which is very bad indeed), then make yourself a goddamn pie next time. It is not hard to do, and everything is a little bit better (or less bad) if you have some delicious pie.

I made four pies (so far) this year. Ate half of one, gave the rest away. Pumpkin pies are easy to make two at a time because the recipe can be doubled without affecting the result.

This particular pie is a variation of the classic pumpkin, with an amaretti cookie crust. It is very tasty and pretty easy, so if you want I will send you the recipe. The hardest part is forming the crust in the pan with your hands. I looked at a couple videos on how to make a graham cracker crust and they were useless garbage, so your best bet is to get in there with your hands and go for it. A bit of trial and error will see you through. Aim for an even layer of crust everywhere, and pay special attention to the angle of where the bottom of the pan meets the side of the pan - always a lot of buildup there.

Big plan for thanksgiving over here is doing homework. I cannot make any more pies because I loaned out all my pie tins. Fuck.

I went there: Boulder, CO

Boulder was nice. The trip itself was a drag, because the training was not very helpful. But the town is lovely, and it snowed while I was there. I very much enjoyed the snow, although the locals were not pumped. I got to leave for more temperate climes at the end of the week (87 and sunny here today).

Got myself a souvenir jersey from one of the local bike shops. Not the famously pretentious snobs at Vechhios, because f those guys. I got it at the Rapha store, which is a coffee shop that also sells flattering cycling gear.

The people I spoke to at the Rapha store were very chill, and we talked a lot about how the old-school model of the "Local Bike Shop" is not sustainable, because it does not take long for people to run out of stuff to buy. Yeah sure you need n+1 bikes, but even then you cannot buy a new bike very often (and if you can, most people do not). So how do you drive foot traffic and keep the lights on?

You used to be able to do that with Service and Parts departments, but Amazon has killed the latter, and general commitment to DIY (and instructions for everything on the intertubez) has put a huge dent in the former. Which is why most new bike shops now prominently feature a coffee bar, and also probably a bar bar. This gives cyclists (or coffee drinkers, or beer drinkers) a reason to come to the shop, hang out, talk to people. Rapha sells yearly memberships that offer unlimited free coffee drinks at all their shops. The (very nice) guy working the shop told me that they have people that sign up for the club just for the coffee deal; they don't even ride. Your local bike shop wants to be your local hangout, and that is smart business.

08 November 2017

I Went There: Ciudad Mexico

Yeah I Was That Guy
I went to Mexico City (Ciudad Mexico, or CDMX) with some friends. It was pretty good! I took a bunch of pictures, a very small portion of which I will share here as I sort through them.

This is me on the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan, just hanging out, as you do. That's the Pyramid of the Moon in the background.

Mexico City was a fantastic time. Super good food, excellent sightseeing, easy to get around, and lots to do. Many neighborhoods are walkable (depending on where you stay). We were in Roma Norte by Fuente de la Cibeles, which is in the city center, right in the middle of several very nice neighborhoods.

I travel quite a bit for work so it takes a lot for me to want to get up and out of the house for a flight. CDMX was only 3.5 hours away from LAX but (the same as Chicago!) but worlds away in terms of culture and adventure. Flights were cheap - only $300 round trip from LAX, and lodging and food were similarly affordable.

Speaking of food: even if you don't like sightseeing and cool stuff you should go for the food. Ohhhh the food. I loved the food so much. I would eat it every day if I could because it is glorious. I would probably have to mix in some salads because based on my experiences I am not sure my body can handle Tacos al Pastor for dinner every night. :-/

I was there the weekend before Dia de los Muertos so there were many festivals and a parade and decorations everywhere. That was a good and fun time to go, so if you're not doing anything at the end of next October and feel like taking a trip let me know, maybe we can check it out.

CDMX: Highly recommended.

05 November 2017

People Are Awful: Mass Shooting in Texas

In the less than 24 hours since my last post went live there was another mass murder, this time in a small Texas town.

In my post yesterday, I said:
However, there are many, many people with ready access to the guns used by the Vegas shooter. The only thing preventing more of those types of mass murders is basic human decency.
It turns out that human decency was in short supply when (another) white male decided to go on a killing spree today.

This happened in one of the most gun-friendly states in the Union, so there is no chance that they will enact any type of meaningful gun control legislation. These people's lives (and the lives of their loved ones), are just the cost of doing business. Also, these types of murders represent only a small fraction of the total number across the country. Despite what you see on the news almost all gunshot victims die one at a time, from handguns.

Guns are too easy to buy and own across the country, and we as a society can and should do something about it. It it easier to buy a gun than it is to get a Cosmetology license. Can we maybe make it at least as difficult to get a gun as it is to learn to cut someone's hair? That would be progress.

Banning guns completely is a non-starter, as it makes the people dependent on the state for protection. That is a mistake, because the state is not going to protect you (it does not protect you in countries where guns are banned - you will always be at the mercy of someone more powerful than you unless you have a force equalizer). There is a middle ground, and we could get there if the gun lobby and gun control advocates were able to have a reasonable exchange. Maybe someday.

04 November 2017

Gun Control is Overdue: Ban Bump-Fire Stocks Already

After an elderly white male in Nevada killed 59 people and physically injured around 500 more with a collection of military rifles, some of which were equipped with 'bump-fire' stocks. These stocks enable you to use the recoil of the gun to simulate full-auto fire. According to the Washington Post the shooter had 23 guns in his hotel room, at least a dozen of which were AR-15 style rifles with bump stocks. (Note that 23 guns is 20 more guns than you need to do what he did, about which more shortly.)

A friend of mine that hunts and shoots recreationally asked me what I thought of bump-fire stocks a while back. I said that they were stupid toys, and not for serious shooters; they are strictly for clowns and/or novices. The stocks cannot be accurately aimed, and as such serve no purpose except to dump a bunch of rounds aimlessly downrange. This is exactly what the murderer in Las Vegas did, and it is exactly why those kinds of toys should be thrown in the trash forever.

There was a great outcry in the gun community about the NRA agreeing not to obstruct a ban on bump-fire stocks. The NRA has since walked back that agreement, and the repugnant, idiot CEO of the NRA has gone on the offensive, blaming, among others, the "Hollywood, television, gaming industry". Not sure which of those things drove the shooter to stockpile so many guns, aim them at defenseless civilians, and mow them down in great numbers, but I would venture to say that if he did not have a gun it would have been much harder to do. It would have been somewhat harder to do had he not had ready access to devices that serve no purpose beyond turning money into noise.

The Las Vegas shooter was the perfect storm of amateurism and mental illness. He had a very limited grasp of the proper equipment required to accomplish his terrorist attack, and his compulsive behavior is more common than you might think in 'two is one and one is none' shooting circles. He did not need "at least 12" AR-15 style rifles to shoot a bunch of unarmed, unprotected civilians. At most he might need four guns, and then only because the AR-15 is not designed for sustained rapid fire like a proper air- or water-cooled machine gun. The gun gets too hot and either the gas tube melts (in a direct impingement gun) or the barrel overheats (gas-piston gun) and the rounds start to tumble or 'keyhole'. (This second issue was maybe irrelevant for someone not concerned with aimed fire, but who knows.)

Why did the shooter have so many guns in his hotel room? Because he was fucking nuts.

Your typical combat rifle (I reject the term 'assault rifle', as should you, because it is ignorant and imprecise) is a very practical tool for hunting many different animals (if that's your thing) or to protect yourself or someone you love (if that's your thing). It is designed to inflict harm, which is what almost all guns have been designed to do since they were invented in the 14th century.

Since I first started this draft a couple weeks ago the Las Vegas shooting has fallen so far off the front page that you cannot even find it should you go looking. That is a concern, because the Vegas shooting is much more relevant to the national discourse than the Newtown massacre. There very few autistic, hyper-violent, over-indulged teenagers whose mom will buy them weapons of war and then give them the keys to the gun cabinet.

However, there are many, many people with ready access to the guns used by the Vegas shooter. The only thing preventing more of those types of mass murders is basic human decency. I would prefer if we could make it more difficult for insane people to commit those types of violent acts. I think that we can do that without compromising anyone's right to self-defense and personal protection, and the first step is by banning bump-fire stocks completely. It will do nothing to reduce the gun violence in the United States, but it is past time that we did something about making it so easy for insane people to inflict harm on others.

10 October 2017

Don't Steal Shit

I had a couple bikes stolen at UCSB. I got both of them back later, and while it did not make up for the tremendous frustration I felt when my bikes were stolen, I remember the recovery events with fondness.

So this thing should bring a lot of people great joy, and I wish them luck.

BTW, the cops are not at all interested in recovering your stolen bike in Isla Vista. Too hard to prove, too hard to prosecute. Fight crime? lol why would they do that? They could not care less. All they want to do is write tickets for MIP's, DIP's, and open containers. Those are revenue generating opportunities.

07 October 2017

Go Do This: MDTS Practical Shotgun for Home Defense

AAR for MDTS Practical Shotgun for Home Defense
Course date: 30/31 Sept/1 Oct
Instructors: Chris Fry and Bill Aprill
Gear required: A working shotgun; your brain
Rating: Five stars (out of five)

I took an excellent class over the weekend; I cannot recommend it highly enough. The instructor runs classes all over the country, and if you are at all interested in improving your mental and physical approach to your (and/or your family's) safety then you should attend. The only reason not to participate is if you already know that you are not the type of person that would use a firearm to defend yourself in a life or death situation. In that instance you should focus on techniques that are better suited to your abilities.

MDTS is run by Chris Fry, based out of upstate New York. He travels around the country doing trainings for firearms, edged weapons, and unarmed self-defense. Chris was joined by William Aprill, of ARC, who runs his own training programs down in New Orleans. Together they delivered a curriculum that covered both the mechanics of shooting a shotgun and, more importantly, the mindset you must cultivate to protect yourself from violent criminal actors, up to and including using deadly force in your home. As a special bonus, Bill Aprill did extensive lecturing on the mindset of violent criminal actors: where they come from, what they want, and provided the students with anecdotes backed up by hard data accrued during his career in both mental health and law enforcement.

I did not know the first thing about these guys when I registered for the class. I signed up because they were recommended by Craig Douglas. He is an awesome instructor, so anyone that is approved to work with him is likely to be good. Not only that, they will likely have a cerebral, intelligent approach to the hard truths of self defense and personal protection in a low-pressure environment.

That is the best course summary I can offer you: a cerebral, intelligent approach to shotgun home defense, which includes an excellent lecture course on violence and criminality. To do this kind of thing on your own you would have to read The Gift of Fear, and then read Meditations On Violence, and then read Thinking, Fast and Slow, and then read Sources of Power, then read a great many more books that I cannot remember because they are not already sitting on my bookshelf right now, and then spend thousands of hours studying and talking to violent criminals, and also spend thousands of hours practicing your weapon mechanics. Or you can take advantage of seasoned professionals and use their knowledge to your advantage. (Still have to practice your weapon mechanics though.)

I have been fortunate in that I have been able to take many shooting classes over the years. This is the most useful, most applicable, and most valuable of all. Useful and applicable because the information about mindset and criminal actors can be used and applied during every waking moment of your life. The gun mechanics are useful and valuable because you learn skills that you may actually have to employ. (This is a contrast to the long-gun courses and handgun courses that you might take - they are fun but they are really just LARPing for guys that like molle webbing - you will never, ever do that shit IRL.)

The value of these real-world, readily applicable skills cannot be overstated. You should take this class. It is a superb way to learn skills that will keep you and your loved ones more safe.

See you out there.

03 October 2017

That's Not Where That Goes

Rather Have This On the Wheel and On the Bike TBH
Why do I have a rear cassette (Shimano Ultegra R8000 11-32, if you must know) sitting on my desk? Don't those things belong on a bike? Wellllll it turns out that if you have a mental episode splurge on some super-sweet wheels* to put on your super-sweet bicycle and you don't read the directions about maximum tire pressure during tire installation you might have a Negative Outcome. And by that I mean they might crack at the valve stem. I needed a place to store my cassette until my new wheels got back from the vendor, and there it is. Just pointing all this out in the event it ever happens to you.

I had originally thought that the wheels were defective (and they may have been), but I probably contributed to their demise when I inflated the tubeless tire to seat the bead and exceeded the specified maximum tire pressure. (The bead is the part that touches the rim and seals. It is very tight in tubeless tires; it has to be in order to keep the air from spilling out.) This may be more information than you need, but the important part is that the prohibitively expensive, hand-made-in-the-USA carbon fiber wheel cracked before I even put it on the bike. The other wheel leaked badly from the valve stem during inflation and installation of the sealant, so it was a goddamn debacle all the way around. Though it eventually sealed it did not seem like it should have happened - the wheel that cracked did not leak at all.

The only good news about this whole thing was that I still had the boxes when I went to return them, and the vendor (wheelbuilder.com) was phenomenal. They handled my returns and warranty and rebuilt my wheels extremely quickly. Enve was also extremely apologetic, and I think it is probably the first time ever I had a c-level executive address an issue with a product I bought. They took my issue seriously and handled it no questions asked. Official word is that early versions of the wheel may have had some issues at the valve stem, but they have been resolved, and with a five year warranty you can buy with confidence.

Do I need prohibitively expensive, pro-level, hand-made-in-the-USA carbon fiber wheels on my bike? Fuck no! I do not need almost all of the shit I buy. But the groupset I want to put on the bike (Ultegra R8020) is not available in the states yet. So, here we are. I could have opted out after the unpleasantness detailed above, but one of the nice things about being a party of one is that I can allocate my resources however I choose. (Could also have switched to the main competing brand, but I do not like the branding, and the last time a rich white guy passed me on the bike path without responding to my friendly greeting he was on Zipps, and I refuse to ride the same wheels as that asshole. Also the patented dimpling seems like pure ::wanking motion:: to me. YMMV)

* Wheels: Enve SES 4.5 AR Disc; hubs: Chris King R45D in 'jette' aka matte black; bladed spokes: I forget which brand (DT Swiss?), but also in matte black; Hutchinson Sector 28 tires; orange seal sealant

26 September 2017

Dirty Faces Win Races

Peter Sagan was a legend before this race, and he put a nice exclamation point on his legend here.

Winning a six and a half hour (!!) cycling race is not about proving who is the strongest, it is about proving who can win a six and a half hour cycling race. It takes skill, nous, luck, and legs and heart and lungs and will of iron. Sagan has all of these things in spades, and they are on glorious display here.

He rode a strong race, got a bit lucky to get close, and found a way to win. It gets no better.

11 September 2017

Hot Jamzs: Trip the Light by Kaz James

Big Cheese sent this along and it's got a good vibe. Long mix so it takes a few minutes to get started. The radio edit, if one exists, would skip that part.

04 September 2017

Bespoke Jersey is Best Jersey

Same Colors as a Chewy Peppermint Christmas Candy
Along with the bike you need stuff to wear while riding. That means padded tights, which do not have pockets. And also jerseys, which (conveniently) do have pockets. I am no big fan of wearing tights in public but if you want to ride there is no way around it. I will never be that guy at the local coffee shop tromping around in clipless pedals and tights but as long as I am just out the door, riding, and then home with no intermediate stops then I am okay with it.

Finding cycling gear that isn't lame and ugly is tougher than you might think. Or maybe not, because if you even noticed almost any road cyclist you probably only noticed them because their outfit was ugly af. If you can find something that is decent (more on that shortly), you then have to find something that fits. This is even harder than finding something decent to wear, especially if you regularly lift anything heavier than your 8 Kg road bike. (Why are road cyclists so obsessed with weight? Because if the bike is too heavy they are afraid they might not be able to pick it up. OR: What's the hardest part about learning to ride in a peloton? Asking your dad to lift your bike into the truck. To be fair this is perhaps a bit much because cyclocross riders frequently lift their bikes and run with them and then jump back on again, but you get the idea.)

If you have shoulders then fit is problematic. Partly because I do not have a 'cyclists build', and partly because the hot thing in cycling these days is to be as aero as possible. Marginal gains and all that. So not only do the jerseys tend have narrow shoulders to start with, but, depending on what you buy, they are designed to be very tight.

So you found something that fits (maybe), what do you do about the graphics? While most of the designs you notice are butt, there are happily a few decent offerings from both affordable and premium brands. Or you can get creative and build your own. It is very easy to build custom from scratch and then order it online, as in this post and the one immediately below. There is a lot of overlap in the snob craft beer culture and the snob cycling culture so I enjoy the idea of having a not-cool beer jersey to ride on my supposedly not-cool bike. (My bike is polarizing because it has a suspension in the front, which gives traditionalists the vapors.)

I saw some California-themed jerseys out and about and they were okay, but not as good as one you could design in half an hour if, for example, you already had plenty of practice trolling the internet for Miller Lite logos and pasting them onto a color-themed template.

No plans to do a custom order on the jerseys any time soon, but if you want to then get your order in now because the price drops dramatically as you increase the quantity. You have my number.

YMMV: Likeness by Lawless, feat. Little Ashes

I heard this jam and I thought it was good. It's got that epic feel. You might dig it, or you might not. You do you.

Also heard recently that riding a bike 'brings color and joy to the world'. Riding a motorcycle does the same thing. You should do one or the other or both.

02 September 2017

Overdoing It

You Know You Want One
So it turns out that if you have not ridden a bicycle in a serious way for over 25 years and you get a new bicycle and decide to ride it in a serious way then you are almost certainly going to hurt something. It is possible that you will not, such as if you stopped cycling when you were 2, but even then: the body needs some time to adjust after a long time away. 

For example, if you get a totally awesome new road bike that you think is the dope shit and start logging miles because the bike is awesome and rad and riding around on it is awesome and rad then you will very probably get sore knees, which is decidedly not awesome and/or rad. In less temperate climes than the type I enjoy here in lovely Southern California they call this condition 'spring knee', because riders would be drawn outside and begin to ride more as the weather warmed. You can ride 365 days a year where I live so I just call it "sore knees that are bad and hurtful" or "hurtful knees", for short. The struggle is real. 

The hurtful knees are definitely cramping my style, so I have had to scale back my riding and do more (a lot more) to loosen the angry, angry quads in an effort to ameliorate my condition. Pro cyclists get a massage after every stage of every race, and also after almost every workout (must be nice). That's not in the budget, so I have been spending some quality time with a roller and a supernova ball. It's not much better but it's not worse. You care. Soon I will be back on the roads and looking good while going slow. I have a lot more words about looking good on the bike, but that will be another post. Get excited. 

26 August 2017

Two Wheels Good

Click to Enlargen
The past couple weeks have been very busy. I was in San Ramon for work one week, and then San Francisco for work the following week, and then Boulder, CO for work the week after that. SF and Boulder were cool but yeah I don't care to talk about it either.

What I do care to talk about is this new thing that I'm doing that gets me out of the house. I am back on two wheels on the regular! Except now I have to provide the motive power in addition to the steering/braking inputs.

This here is a Specialized Roubaix in the best color they offer (black), which is the color I brought home. My bike is a different than this one in that the groupset is not as high-end as the one pictured here, so the one I bought cost quite a bit less. That is good news because it functions the same and I had a lot of other ancillary stuff to buy. Like pedals. And tights. And the shirts with pockets on the back. And a helmet. (Borrowed one from my friend but you are supposed to get a new one after 3 years and his was 10 years old.) And a little computer to track your data. So much data. Fortunately I had shoes left over from when I did spin class several years ago - shoes are expensive. Actually all of it is expensive, because cycling overlaps demographically very heavily with golf.

Cycling is very much a rich, middle-aged white guy hobby. I am not rich, but I do not have kids and I have the middle-aged white guy thing on lock. The big question is whether or not my back will hold up. So far it's okay. Not great, but okay. That will have to do for now.

More to come as I get caught up on the book reviews and maybe, if you're lucky, politics. Get excited.