Monthly Archives: February 2008

A new bike…

So, I was out trying bicycles for fun. I rode a Bike Friday Tikit. I rode a Surly Long Haul Trucker. Two of the bikes that have piqued my curiosity lately. I might go out and test ride some others – filling out the ticket, if I can find them in my size, a Salsa Casseroll, a Novara Randonee, or a Jamis Aurora.

The Tikit is a very slick bike for what it is, but I really don’t think I have enough of a call for a travel bike, and the 16″ wheels are not ideal for every day riding. It came off feeling very sketchy at low speeds and I’m not sure how much better it would have gotten at high speeds. I was also worried every time I came to a crack or pothole that it would grab that tiny tire and make me eat gravel. The frame didn’t feel loose or flexy in the slightest though, it’s an engineering marvel. Perhaps when I’m older and awesomer, I’ll look at something like a New World Tourist, for biking on vacations.

The Long Haul Trucker, however, is just a very well thought out bike. It’s surprisingly quick for as “heavy” as it is (it’s heavy only by racey standards, I think it’s probably lighter than my IRO commuter, despite having gears and derailleurs), and it is a remarkably well engineered machine. It is, in a word, solid. You could take one out of the box and probably do a nation-spanning tour on it without thinking twice about the machine itself. The barend shifters are simplicity itself (so good, in fact, I bought a set just now on eBay) and the handling is superb. It goes where you want it to go without steering resistance or whippiness. It was almost good enough to make me buy it on the spot, and were I not such a bike nerd bitch tinkering doofus, I probably would have.

But I am, so I bought something else instead…

Yep, I decided that instead of buying one of the best thought out, most solid bicycles I have ever put between my thighs, I should buy a 30 year old basketcase from a company with a record of fucked up threading, made during an era where quality control was a joke.

Because, quite clearly, I am a genius. (The 95% lower price helped swing the scales, as did the idea of doing some fangly bike stuff)

Anyways, the pictures there show it in my old Formula/CXP22 fixed gear wheels (which I bought for my first fixed gear, ironically, also a Raleigh from this era), and I’ve stripped off the Raleigh-branded Suntour derailleurs and stem-shifters (blech). It’s got the Worlds Nastiest Brooks on there, for the time being. I need to source a new seatpost (I guess it’s 25.4, there’s no markings on the post itself, other than the Sturmey branding) and a new saddle, really. Look at this thing.

It’s the inverse of comfort and quality. It’s the vinyl manifestation of Raleigh of Nottingham’s pride being drawn and quartered.

Anyhow, I am trying to decide what to do with it. For now, I think I’ll clean it up, upgrade the seat, put my old fixed wheels on there, and ride it around for a bit. Probably put some nice cartridge brake pads on the front centerpull, yank the back one off (for now), and use it as a fair weather rig. I will definitely be taking the stupid turkeywings off, and the very poor quality levers with them. I might be installing a set of riser bars for the time being, just to see how I like it, but I have some other drop levers I can install on these bars (they’re not terrible) if need be.

In the long run, I kind of want to set this up as the road-ier bike. Skinnier tires (28’s maybe), higher gearing (I’m thinking about a Sturmey Archer 8-speed internal gear hub). I’m thinking about taking the Nitto Randonneur bars off the IRO and putting them onto this bike, and putting the riser bars onto the IRO, which could have some coolness. Maybe I’ll pick up some Mary bars for it. Hmmm.

Short shopping list, a new lockring, another set of ATAC pedals, some nice brake pads, probably a new chain.

Long shopping list, a new set of cranks, a 1/8 chainring, an internal gear hub… the list goes on.

Fascinating…

I was linked to a couple posts about Obama recently, both very long, and both seemed to have countless hours of research behind them. See article 1, and article 2. Guess which one drove me to decide to vote for Obama?

Go oh, guess.

I’ll give you more time if you need it.

Come on, bitch. Let’s go, I don’t have all day.

Both of them.

You see, the KOS article there has a lot of nice specific references and verifiable content about Obama’s stances, the bills he’s introduced, the bills he’s co-sponsored, and the successes he’s seen in his legislative service.

The Freedom’s Enemies article, however, proves a different point. It’s a smear, and an ineffective one at that, largely because it spends very little time addressing the man himself, and more time addressing his ancestry. It is trying to paint a picture of Obama as some kind of Muslim Manchurian Candidate, programmed by his communist mother and radical islamic father to insert himself into this country and take it over, for, uh.. the islamofascist-socialists, I guess. But the overall picture is more clear. Anytime a page whose stated purpose is to inform the world that “Islamic radicals and their supporters on the left have made systematic efforts to numb the United States and its allies to the threat of radical Islam.”? That’s a page worth disagreeing with.

I’m well aware of the logical fallacy of “My enemy’s enemy is my friend” but in this case I’m willing to make an exception.

Unexpected pimpage

Well, it looks like Hannah took the chance to pimp me on one of Scalzi’s random pimpage threads, and I got a linky from Mike Cain 2008 (a man bold enough to take an entire year for himself). Seriously though, anybody who posts this is worth a read.

The bigger issue here being that I now have Dancing Queen stuck in my head, as if I weren’t sexually ambiguous enough. Humming ABBA in the workplace probably won’t help me score, unless it’s with that hairy guy who still wears his big gold disco chain.

Tech-mal-ogy

So, this being the internet and all, there are frequent discussions about the relentless advancement of technology, and how it betters life for everyone. How newer processes and devices eliminate wasteful and difficult older methods, providing a higher quality of life for everyone. Right? This is how every discussion of new technology goes, right?

Wrong. And specifically wrong as regards consumer technology, which is somehow divided in the human psyche as “stuff that I can buy” versus “stuff that I can’t afford”, instead of the realistic break, “stuff that directly or indirectly affects my life” versus “everything else”. Every advancement in consumer technology runs the same obstacle course as it gets to market, the great steps of progress as defined by our capitalist market: proof of concept, viability, repeatability, marketability. and finally, profitability. But AFTER it hits the market, it runs into the human angle, and as in all things, that is the fiddly bit.

There seems to be four distinctive thoughtforms that looking at a new piece of tech generates.

1. “Why would anyone want that?”

This is an interesting one, because it’s exactly how I feel about Facebook and MySpace, for the most part. I saw them, went “Jesus this is like an uglified version of Geocities/Angelfire with a contact list” and went on my way. Later on I got creative and found a couple people from my past on there, but I really only visit them when I get an email and want to figure out how to turn that email shit off. This is a benign response, it’s just a mild disinterest, doesn’t really rationalize it. The “meh” response.

2. “I want that right now and I will pay any amount to get it.”

This is how I felt about HDTVs. I had absolutely zero need for it, I could not even come up with the barest justification for it: I don’t really watch that much TV! But, I wanted one, the way some people want every new Mac that comes out, or a 30 inch monitor for their computer, or a car with 400 horsepower, or a really exclusive designer purse, or a chick with no gag reflex. This desire avoids logic like the plague, depends on some sort of internal justification logic (No more worries about passing! We would never have to learn the heimlich!), and is usually linked to a hoarding complex.

3. “It’s cool, but that’s not really for me.”

This is a very rare response. This is kind of how I feel about electronic dictionaries or color screen graphing calculators. The last time I needed to calculate the area under anything was a long time ago, and I haven’t used any trigger no mittrey in quite some time. I rarely go “man, I need to know what ebullient means right now”. Others might feel this way about Smartphones or Xboxes – whatever. This is a pretty rational response to most stuff, and therefore isn’t very common in humans, and less so in forum discussion.

4. “NOBODY SHOULD EVER USE THAT THING.”

This is the response that caused me to write this post today. This is a wildly growing response, and it headbutts logic to the ground and yells at it. This is how I felt about… well, uh. Tamagotchi, I guess. Magic The Gathering springs to mind, though the “technology” angle of printed collectible cards is stretching shit pretty thin. In keeping with the irrational nature of this response, I have a hard time remembering or identifying my own failures in this vein.

The thought usually expresses like this:

This thing is a hunk of shit.
This thing is (for babies/for girls/for retards)
It’s just a direct copy of OLDERTHING.
People using this will never learn the skills associated with OLDERTHING.
Therefore it is DAMAGING SOCIETY, because we are LOSING SKILLS.
HERE IS A VAGUELY RELATED ANECDOTE TO PROVE IT.
OLDERTHING is much better because I know it in my gut.

This comes up all the time, here are some examples I have run into, paraphrased, and usually pulled from a couple sources. Also I edited them all to make the viewpoints I don’t agree with seem dumber, because I am a petty little bitch.

Electronic Ignition is a hunk of shit.
It’s like the idiot’s ignition.
It doesn’t do anything that properly set points system doesn’t.
People will never learn how to properly set points gap and dwell.
I had electronic ignition, and it broke, and I had to replace the WHOLE THING, for EIGHTY DOLLARS instead of THREE BUCKS for points.
And I don’t think the car ever ran quite as strong as it did with points.

You can see the thought form. This new technology is somehow substandard, not because of any real facts (other than the price, which is a very real consideration), but because our grandchildren will never think of points and dwell when they think of car ignition. It is damaging things.

My response to this at the time was probably more equitable, but here’s how it really goes. Electronic ignition is the way of the future. It’s smarter than points have ever been. Your car will run more efficiently, and if tuned properly, will stay that way regardless of altitude, weather, age of the system, or skill of the tuner. You retarded luddites can pretend all you like that $3 points are a bargain, but I put a Pertronix ignitor in the van and drove it for SIX YEARS without touching the ignition again, after having replaced/touched/fiddled/caressed/prayed to the points gods every three weeks before that. And the vehicle never ran stronger, ever, than when I had it timed right with the electronic ignition. I hope to god my kids don’t ever have to learn about points, any more than I hope they have to learn about fucking cousins because we have to keep the village going or how much cow shit to mix with the hay to make our bricks.

GPS is a piece of shit.
Is it really so hard to get from Point A to Point B? Morons.
You can get the same thing from maps!
People will never learn to properly orient a map and read street names from it. MAP READING IS IN DANGER.
I used a GPS once and it totally tried to take me on a different route than I normally take. Luckily I knew where I was going.
Plus they’re just a waste of money, you could buy a complete set of road atlases for that much!
And you can’t get topographical information on them!

Again, this follows the thoughform very clearly, again, they do have one fact in there to back them up, that topographical information usually isn’t available (which doesn’t matter so much when you’re driving). This one I had a very clear, concise response to.

If you knew where you were going, why did you have the GPS on? It’s stories like this that always amuse me when people complain about technology. “I WAS USING A PRODUCT I DIDN’T NEED IN A SITUATION THAT WAS ALREADY UNPLEASANT, AND IT DID NOT MAKE THAT SITUATION MAGICALLY BETTER. THEREFORE NOBODY SHOULD USE THEM EVER.” If I busted out a lewdly oscillating rabbit vibrator in the middle of a first date dinner, I couldn’t really complain that it didn’t improve my sex life, could I? How about if I re-un-de-fibrillated myself when I wasn’t having a heart attack, and then complained that there was no way this could possibly be beneficial? I’d look like a nut, right?

And I can’t tell you how often when I’m driving I go “JESUS CHRIST WHO DO I HAVE TO TAILGATE AND FLIP OFF TO GET SOME TOPOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION!”. I’m not saying it replaces maps (see: books versus ebooks round 15), I’m saying it’s better for casual usage when all you want is directions to a specific location.

Also, simple skills that have died off tragically due to advancing technology.
Learning how to use a coal bed warmer.
Learning how to bury your infant sister because she died of smallpox.
Using the center of town near the well to bury your dead.
Using a cut-quill pen.
Learning how to kill the lame so they don’t slow you down when the buffalo come.

I think orienteering is keen and all, but you’re making far too big a deal of it, and fetishizing what, itself, was a huge technological break from traditional tracking skills (With all these fancy picture drawings of where things are, when will little Oglo learn that Magnok is where the sun hits the west hills when it’s winter!).

eBooks are a waste of time.
And you’re just going to end up printing some of it out anyways.
Only people who want to steal copyrighted material like them.
Books have been around for years and they’re just fine!
People will never learn how to find their place, or properly credit books.
I was reading an eBook once and it had SPELLING MISTAKES IN IT!
Plus I just can’t read a lot from a computer screen, because it hurts my eyes.

This is a great one because it doesn’t even have a fact in there, not a one. There’s a vague indication that nobody can read on a computer screen for long, because hey, that’s common knowledge. And that somehow the electronic copy of a book with spelling errors is worse than a printed book with spelling errors. And that I’m vaguely criminal for wanting an electronic copy anyhow.

I do a great deal of leisure reading on my computer, and I almost never print anything that isn’t a diagram/exploded drawing or required to be mailed physically. I do, however, read significantly more novel-length works in traditional book form (probably 70% of my novel-length reading is bedtime books), headed down in volume, I do more novel-length consumption through audiobooks than on screen. That said, I read six times more on the computer screen than I do in books, because I read hundreds and hundreds of news articles, blog posts, short works of fiction, poems, missives, and instant messages per day.

I think there is a certain suspicion, misunderstanding, and fear of electronic media that allows many people to ignore the HUGE amount of text they consume from their computer screen, and somehow categorize that volume as lower than their novel reading, because the text on the screen has no heft. This lack of heft also leads to office-printout-wars. A general superstition about the mutability of data on the computer, and poor ergonomic understanding of the computer fill out the trifecta of conspicuous consumption. The office I’m in is a perfect example. Every ticket that comes in is printed. Emails are printed out to be handed out at meetings, PowerPoint presentations are printed out for general perusal. The event calendar is a spreadsheet, and the admin for our group “helpfully” prints it once per quarter to give to all of us.

I do, however, balk at blaming computerized documents for this behavior. If electronic documents weren’t there at all, would all offices need less paper? Would they simply not need this information? Would just one copy in a filing cabinet be enough? Would we mail it around if other offices needed it? Doubtful. We’d simply have a huge electronic filing system instead of a server floor. Rows and rows of racks, and instead of a pair of shoes and tea in my filing drawer, I’d have seventy pounds of cage liner (plus my job would probably suck even more than it does now).

Sadly, all arguments against multiformat distribution are crap. Paper books are a delivery mechanism, nothing more, a good one, a surpassingly effective one (in terms of longevity, portability, repeatability), but it’s no more righteous than any other way of reading, regardless of how much wine you are slogging down while Robert Frost’s upraised print gently buffs your nipples.

A startling realization…

As I stood in PDX this morning, waiting, shoeless, to worship at the edge of the Sacred X-ray Machine, in hopes that my bags would come back out, I watched two TSA seizures in just five minutes. Two men – grim faced, scolded like children – stood with me in awe of what we have created.

With the power of millions, if not billions, of dollars, thousands of employees, hundreds of hours of time: We have created the world’s most advanced toothpaste detection apparatus. We scour a thousand bags an hour, who am I kidding – probably a millon bags an hour nationwide, and with a 95% success rate, we locate and seize every tube of toothpaste that attempts to pass onto a plane. An entire bureaucracy of rules and regulations that amounts, in the end, to a bunch of road warriors having to go hit a Long’s drug on the other side of the nation, looking, bleary eyed, for a tube of mint flavored abrasive to scrape their teeth clean.

A fantastic future, where no teeth go cleaned midair.

Twitter – The service that wasn’t.

About seven months ago, Brad pointed out this bizarre but compelling service. It was “microblogging”. 140 characters or less. And I didn’t really get it at first. But as I started to get some stuff figured out, it kept getting more and more integral to my day. Instant Messenger integration was the first watershed moment. Then using TwitterWhere to find people nearby. Then using Twittervision to locate amusing tweets on the public timeline. It became a beloved pastime, watching the small handful of members I’m getting notifications for scroll past. It’s relaxing. It’s amusing. It’s a great place to vent bile when work is kicking me directly in the cock.

But more and more often, I find myself in the thrall of halfassery. It’s amazing to me, looking at how really basic the Twitter service is (all of the tools I mentioned, aside from the IM integration, are third party), that the fucking service is down three days out of five. It’s almost as if nobody told them about how to run a service, like nobody at Twitter settled down and realized that it’s possible to upgrade and transition and move shit around WITHOUT TAKING IT DOWN. THOUSANDS OF COMPANIES do this EVERY DAY. I do it, for god’s sake, in my own limited way, at my fucking house. There are even sites now, that you can use to FIND OUT IF TWITTER IS DOWN. It would be embarrassing, to me, to have a product that was so broken that others made tools to track my failures. Not internal bugtracking, external fuckup tracking. And more often than anything, the site is half up, half down. Your profile page will show up, but you can’t post. The site will be up, but the IM integration is fucked. Sometimes it will simply eat posts.

The most amusing portion of this is reading their blog. It’s a constant hillbilly doublespeak of backhanded compliments to infrastructure hosts, and then two days later, switching somewhere else. One day they’re going to take a ten hour outage in the daytime (?!), the next, the outage was fine, everything is cool.

There are some alternatives, but so far, I haven’t gotten an invite to Jaiku, and Pownce has no IM integration. I am nonplussed.