Monday, May 30, 2011

thoughts on today

On the group ride today, a woman younger than I (Hrmph! Like that cuts down the numbers much!) said she was planning on getting married in August. To her, best of luck, but it has me thinking about my marriage. My wife is the best thing in my life. I tell her that from time to time; I tell other people that from time to time, and now I've told it here.

I'm also thinking of veterans, and of those dead in wars. Quakers don't hold with "the war system", but to me, it's inescapably true that in some cases, force has brought about desirable outcomes that were not possible in any other way. Other times, force has shortened and limited suffering. It is also true that force has spread and prolonged suffering. It would be lying to look at either side of this issue without acknowledging the other.

I'm sorry that people have had to die in wars, especially in cases where suffering was prolonged. But I am grateful for the rights and freedoms I have, that others have earned for me. I try not to take them for granted, or to minimize their importance, or cost.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

on buying local

Last week, on the Anchor House training ride, I met and rode with a fellow rider, who buys his bike stuff from a local shop. The local shop in question (let's call it Walter's) is the one that's most convenient to my house, but I've taken a resentment against the owner (he always seems to be trying to sell me stuff that's more expensive that the stuff I think I need). In response to that, I've taken to using another local shop (let's call it Tim's), where they always treat me like they're glad to see me, and frequently give me small discounts.

Now, everybody I speak to about Walter's loves the shop. I'm the only one I've ever met who seems not to like them, so I'm willing to believe that the fact that I don't like them is my problem. Nobody I know uses Tim's, partly because it's far away from most folks I ride with, partly because some of their stock is old, and partly because it's hard to get to (it's in the middle of a not-great area of New Brunswick) and parking sucks.

But this fellow rider person made the point that if we don't buy from local shops, there won't BE any local shops, and there are some things (like specialty services, wheel trues, headset insertions, measuring, &c.) that you can't get from internet vendors. In fact, the only two things you get from internet vendors are large selection and good prices. These are big advantages, but if you know what you want, you can probably have a local shop order it for you... and if they know the price, they may not be able to beat it, but they may be able to make it worthwhile. For me, I also give up the satisfaction of knowing I solved my own problem... but the advantage of having a few local shops may be worth letting this go.


With that in mind, I went to Tim's today. I had installed a new chain, and i like to keep one in the garage. The last chain I bought was a Shimano, which installs in a slightly different way from the SRAM's I usually like, and when I used my chain tool, it almost didn't work; the chain tool pin (which is a wear item, like a replaceable saw blade) had gotten too short. So I was also in the market for a new pin. Tim's had both the pin, and the SRAM chain (a lower grade than the one I usually get, but the correct brand). And when I bought the chain, the clerk threw in the pin for free.

Now the pin is about a $2-3 item thrown in on a $35 purchase. Nonetheless, they are doing what they can to keep my business. Drat. I like the cheap prices on the internet... but I also like the local shops. Grumble, grumble.

(In other news, the fellow rider alluded to above said that he also doesn't like dealing with the owner at Walter's, but he just deals with the head mechanic or another clerk, instead. So maybe I'm not wrong about the fellow in question... but maybe avoiding the shop entirely is breaking eggs with a sledgehammer.)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Short ride with a hill, and a hot date

Not enough time to get in a group ride today, for reasons that will appear later in this post, so I did a quick 20 miles, including Coppermine Road. I remember when The Coppermine was a real challenge; now, after twice up Federal Twist in two weeks, I'm not even shifting down to my lowest gear to get up the hill. Respectable, if not record, speed, but on the other hand, it was before breakfast or coffee.

(Whatever happened to the 45-lbs.-overweight guy I was a couple years ago? The guy whose idea of exercise was parking at the far end of the parking lot so I could get 60 extra steps to the office door?)

Then took my honey in the car and went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for the Chagall show; he's not one of my rockstars, but he is one of hers, and she was just thrilled with the show (it was undoubtedly a good show). While we were there, we decided to drop in on a heavily-advertised-but-apparently-sparsely-attended show of an Italian fashion designer, which we quickly discovered was not our thing. The first few garments were attractive, fashionable, and reasonably functional, but then they became sculptural. It was clear that the women wearing the dresses wouldn't be able to do anything but wear the dress: they wouldn't be able to move - in some cases, they wouldn't even be able to put their arms down. The designer had obviously given up on designing clothes for women; instead, it was apparent that he was designing sculptures that required being wrapped around women to work. Based on his later designs, it looked like he wound up not liking women much.

From there to the Reading Terminal Market, which is about a mile walk from the Museum, a walk full of nifty Philadelphia historical sites, architecture, and street theater. There may be other places to eat lunch in Philadelphia, but I doubt we'll ever check 'em out, because the Terminal Market has great food and, in its patrons and staff, better entertainment.

Then a ride to the Germantown neighborhood of Philly, a pretty, upscale section with a Penzey's store, where we got to use up some gift certificates we got for Christmas from my thoughtful sister. Since my wife is (as I have so frequently told her) a wizard of domestic finance, instead of spending up all the gift certificate today, we signed up for the coupon mailers, knowing that we'd be going back to the Art Museum for the Rembrandt show... which will make an occasion for another visit to the store.

And then, home again, for some vegetables and doin' of the chores. Good day.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

update on fedora 15 update

Fedora 15 came out on May 24, so I downloaded the DVD file, verified it, and burned the DVD to install it. I tried three times to do the installation, and the DVD faulted each time. So my system was unrecoverable.

I don't install new without doing a backup of all the important stuff, so I went back to my Fedora 14 install CD, and reinstalled that, then did the upgrades, then used the "pre-upgrade" procedure to update to Fedora 15. I lost all my settings, of course, and had to go and install all the software that's not included on the CD (and the "preupgrade" procedure to update is not intuitive; I had to interrupt the boot process to get a menu that allowed me to actually do the update). After that, I had to:
  • figure out how to get the printer going again (my Winprinter requires both hplip and hpijs);
  • figure out how to set my keyboard shortcuts and "compose key" in Gnome 3 (which is much-maligned, but some of that is probably because it's so new, although some is because taken-for-granted functionality - like screensavers - are not available);
  • figure out how to get the non-free stuff working, like DVD's and .MP3's (hint: it helps to read the instructions when you get a GPG-key error);
  • figure out where my backups were stored. They weren't where I thought!

(Sigh.) Well, it's all working now, and I found the backups, and I'm changing the backup system so I won't make the same mistakes. What this probably means is that I'll make newer, better mistakes for the next upgrade.

Monday, May 23, 2011

anchor house update: last email

Below, the text of the last update email I sent about my riding in the Anchor House ride:

This will be the last update on my Anchor House Ride training before the actual ride. If you hinted that you wanted to be taken off this list, and I missed doing so, forgive me and be sure that you won't get any more of these emails! If you intend to donate, please do so soon; I am only credited for donations received before an All-Rider meeting in early June (while Anchor House will still accept your donations, they will not be credited to my efforts).

While I have been cranking up the bike miles (I passed 1,000 since the first of the year yesterday, on May 21), I have been on two official Anchor House training rides in the past two weeks or so: the first on the day before Mother's Day, and the second today. Both rides had the same route: a 62-mile tour of Mercer and Hunterdon Counties, including two wicked hills: Federal Twist Road in Stockton, and Lindbergh Road in Ringoes. Lindbergh Road is famous for the house from which the Lindbergh baby was kidnapped, and it's known among local cyclists for its mile-and-a-half unrelenting climb. Federal Twist, however, is harder: although the climb is short, it is steep: about 400 feet in about a mile (the grade is divided into two sections by a comparatively flat section, and the upper part is steeper than the lower; a local bicycle writer has referred to this climb as “rude”). As I was riding up the upper hill, I had to lean over the front wheel to keep it on the ground; it was lifting off every time I came down hard on the pedals. There are other hills on the ride that are barely worthy of mention (Quarry St in Lambertville, a total of 3.2 miles, but with some relieving flats and brief downhill sections, is an example), although I assure you my aching thighs and calves remember all of them.

The weather was not ideal today: while we didn't have to worry about overheating (with temperatures in the high 50's and low 60's), there was fog and drizzle. Fog is not a bicyclist's friend: a few of the roads we ride are highly-trafficked, and it's difficult enough to share the road with SUV's and pickups when you're sure you can be seen. I have an annoying blinking red light I hang on the back of my saddle for this type of occasion, and it was going all day today! I also noted at the breaks that the straps on my helmet were soggy. I expect that from sweat on a hot day, but I don't think I was sweating enough today – could it have been condensation from the fog? (I don't think we were high enough to go through actual clouds... but I don't know!) While it was cold, more than once I heard veteran riders remarking that the kids in Anchor House had tougher stuff to go through than the weather we were experiencing today – and that seems representative of the attitudes among the riders, especially the veterans.

62 miles is about 100 kilometers, and I was on another 100-kilometer ride yesterday. Yesterday we had glorious weather: warm but not hot, clear, and little wind; on the high points of the ride (literally; we skirted Sourland Mountain), we could see for miles. The day was so nice that I got a bit of sunburn on my shoulders right through my jersey (but not on my arms and legs: Wegmans sells a spray sunscreen that is both effective and persistent enough to stay on – thank you, Danny W). I'm glad to say that I now know I can do two 100-km rides back-to-back and still have enough energy to, for example, run a load of laundry (the bike clothes are in now) and write an excessively long email!

One of my favorite things about cycling, besides the speed, the ability to play with the bike, and the very cool people I get to hang around with, is the fact that it burns a LOT of calories: at my rate (a little over 15 mph on today's ride) and weight (about 175 lbs.), one estimate says I'm burning about 600 calories per hour. At about four hours of riding, that almost justifies the two bagels for breakfast, the chocolate-chip supercookie from the first rest stop, and the excellent cinnamon scone at the second (as well as the odd Gatorade and sugar in my coffee). I can't eat like that the rest of the week (or at all in the winter, more's the pity: that is, after all, when the big-eating holidays appear on the calendar), but I enjoy it while I can!

Thank you for bearing with me, and for the words of support so many of you have sent, and thanks to those of you who have sent donations in my name. If you would still like to make a donation, please do so soon. You can do it in any of these ways:
  • You can make an online donation through the link below. Anchor House has set up a PayPal link, and you can make a credit-card donation whether or not you have a PayPal account. The link will take you to a page with secure, 128-bit encryption, and will make sure I get credit for your donation:
  • You can send a check to me at 38 Sassafras Court, North Brunswick, NJ 08902. Make the check out to Anchor House Foundation, and put the words “Rider Jim Brittain” in the memo section. I will deliver these donations at the All-Rider meeting to which I referred above.
  • Or you can send a check directly to Anchor House Foundation:
    Anchor House Foundation
    P.O. Box 2357
    Trenton, New Jersey 08607-2357
    Once again, please make the check out to Anchor House Foundation, and put the words “Rider Jim Brittain” in the memo section.

After the ride in July, I'll be posting a report on my blog, and I'll send out an email to let you know it's posted. Some of you have said you can't get to the blog; I've noted that, and I'll send you the text, with links (including to pictures).

Thank you again for all your support – and thanks to those of you who have made, or will make, donations: from me, and from the Anchor House kids.

Monday, May 16, 2011

sitting on my disappointment

My cheap saddle isn't great. It was OK, but on long, hard uphills I slide into a position that winds up being painful after several minutes; the pain goes away once I am no longer on the hill, but it takes time and cuts into the pleasure of the ride. I decided to look for a better quality saddle.

I don't give a skinny rat's patootie about light racing saddles; the riding I do is long and medium-paced. I can afford weight in a saddle. I've looked at saddles by Brooks and Velo Orange, but the leather on both of these needs to be protected from the weather, and both need breaking in. The Selle An-Atomica supposedly needed no breaking-in period, their "Watershed" leather needs no care according to their directions, and they have a long page of recommendations from riders.

Since I always shop for price, I looked for a good one. I found a site selling this $179 saddle for over 20% off, and ordered from them. Selle An-Atomica decided they didn't like the discounted sale, and initially refused to ship; I got the saddle, but, apparently, only after negotiations from the principal of the vendor. The shipment, therefore, took a while to come. (I have other problems with the vendor: I'd like to buy more from them in order to pay them back for going to bat on this, but the lack of sub-categories in their shopping-cart system makes it difficult to find and compare specific things they sell.)

The saddle came. It requires setting up, and then much adjustment to find the perfect "sweet spot" (this is not a problem; in fact, it makes sense to me). I put it on, and it really is flexible under my posterior. The slot allows the two sides to flex independently, although at a level of tension that feels correct, the slot needed to be cut wider (the instructions that came with the saddle said this might be the case and suggested how to do it). I put the bike on a trainer, and started playing with fore-and-aft, rotational, height, and tension settings. It felt pretty good - not as good as my no-longer-available BG2 at about 1/5 the price of the Selle An-Atomica, but pretty good.

On Saturday, I went out on a group ride. At about mile 25, I started getting pains inside my right thigh as if I were getting electric shocks. I lowered the saddle and made it home, and over the next 24 hours, I researched the problem.

It turns out the Selle An-Atomica Titanico (the only model still sold, as far as I can see) is wider than any of the other saddles I have except for my gel-heavy cruiser saddle, and the edge of the Titanico is cut to an edge that was digging into my thigh. The instructions say that pain in the thigh might be reduced by lowering the saddle... but to avoid the edge, I'd have to lower the saddle by over 15 cm or 6 inches. That would be ludicrous.

In my researches, I had found this thread on the Mountain Bike Review forum, where a member/reviewer made a mod to the saddle by punching holes in the side and tying the side together. Another member posted that “the flare has created the queen mother of all saddle sores”, which is similar to the problem I described. In the opinion of the first poster, this mod should fix that.

So I punched some holes in the side of my saddle and used, first nylon string, then zip ties to pull in the ends. The zip ties work (and have the advantage of locking and not loosening; I could not get a consistent tightness with the string). They’re not pretty, but they work. I can loosen the tension bolt so I get the benefit of the separate flexing of the two sides (although I still need to cut away more of the slot), and I can keep the saddle high enough so I get the maximum power from my pedal stroke. The leather does appear to be waterproof, at least on top; I rode in wet shorts yesterday while I was testing the mod on the trainer (the underside laminate layer does not appear to be weatherproof; water soaked into that).

We’ll see how this works. I have another metric century training ride for Anchor House this Sunday, so it will be clear whether or not there’s an improvement (and there will be a SAG driver to pick me up if it does not!).

I must say, I’m disappointed with Selle An-Atomica. They will not allow discount sales… but the supposed “most comfortable saddles” need this kind of modification to avoid “the queen mother of all saddle sores”. I probably can make it work (and, since I want a flexible saddle, I will probably have to), but with their demands and advertising, I would think such modifications should not be necessary.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

the place of religion for an atheist

I went to usher for my old choral group this weekend (it was gratifying that they asked if I were coming back, but I'm not eager to return to being yelled at on Monday nights until 10pm). There was a lot of jazz in the concert, which was held at a local Catholic church. So my eyes were full of the crucifix, and the Virgin Mother, and the stained glass, while my ears were full of diminished thirds and musical puns. It was initially jarring, and then somehow, it was suitable.

I went to meeting for worship this morning, and heard a fellow member talk about how life-affirming was the period of April and May in the Delaware Valley; another spoke about the need for justice. And it came to me that religion is the place we take the stuff that makes us most human, whether it be compassion, art, gratitude, or sorrow for sin, or the hunger for justice. I was moved to speak on that. Since I don't believe in God the Father, Son, Holy Ghost, or whatever, I've been hard put to come up with a reason why I've been moved to go back to church... but I think this is it; it's that church is the place where we respect, celebrate, honor... whatever verb fits... that about us which is human. It is hugely important, and at the same time it is very nearly nothing at all.

I got the impression from another member's response that he didn't think that my thoughts, or most of the others in the meeting today, fit with his idea of religion. I'm sure they don't. I've not found another place to take them, however, and, until I'm told otherwise, to meeting is where I will take them. (Another member indicated privately that she thought I had spoken her mind, so I'm sure there are more sides than one in this discussion... and the Quakers pride themselves on inclusiveness, so I'm not worried about giving them a bit of a stretch.)

The concert was great, by the way. You wish you had been there.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

the only criterion

I'm reading James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds. He's writing about how groups of diverse non-experts come up with better conclusions than either individual experts or groups of experts:

This seems like an eccentric conclusion, and it is. It just happens to be true.

Well, what other criterion is there?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

a teaspoon of ptsd

It's been hard to get on the bike after the accident referred to in the previous post; it's been hard even thinking about it. I've gone around the neighborhood a few times... a route I used to do in my street clothes. I still do it in my street clothes, but I put on a helmet now. And I've been swearing at drivers who come closer or faster than I'd like.

It's better than it was a couple of days ago, and I'm sure it will continue to improve.

Nonetheless, some of my anxiety-disorder thoughts are returning, and I'm back to the basic stuff I was doing when I was seeing the shrink last fall. PTSD and my other anxiety disorder are related, and the thoughts and images of the accident are causing the other stuff to leak through.

It's supposed to rain this weekend, and I can't really say I'm unhappy about that; I won't be expected on a group ride.

Monday, May 9, 2011

a fellow rider hurt

A friend from the Princeton Freewheelers was leading a ride I was on yesterday when he was hit by another rider. The other rider appears to have a shoulder injury and some road rash. My friend appears to have had a head injury.

My thoughts are with him. I have gotten no information about him yet. I don't believe in prayer, but my thoughts are with him and his family.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

feeling tired, but tough

Three years ago, I weight 45 lbs. more than I do now.

Yesterday, I turned 56 years old. I also volunteered for several hours at our library book sale, standing for all that time on a concrete floor.

Today, I did a metric century (100-km) training ride for the Anchor House ride, including climbs of both Federal Twist and Lindbergh roads.

To quote Cyrano (Brian Hooker translation; accept no inferior substitutes):
“I-I am going to be a storm-a flame-
I need to fight whole armies all alone;
I have ten hearts; I have a hundred arms;
I feel too strong to war with mortals-

good birthday

Yesterday was, as I've been saying to anybody who'll listen, the 17th anniversary of my 39th birthday. Instead of a regular workday, we had a training on ethics and law (from an excellent trainer; we had her 2 years ago, and I hope we get her again when the requirement is due). My voice can be described as Stentorian, so I'm called upon to call the meeting to order; I did it yesterday by getting all of the assembled co-workers to sing happy birthday... to me!

In the evening, wife and I went out for a quick pizza, the to volunteer at the North Brunswick Library Book Sale, which this year is a three-day event. I'll be too busy to go for the other days; today is a metric century (100-km) training ride for the Anchor House Ride, and tomorrow is Mother's Day (although I hope to get a quick 40 miles in before lunch).

After the library gig, we went to Rockin' Joe's, a nifty coffee shop in South Brunswick, for which my excellent wife had (of course) a coupon. We'll definitely return when the occasion calls for it and our calorie allowances have the capacity.

Good day. Happy birthday to me!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

easy upgrade

After my problems upgrading to the new Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal on the desktop computer, I was a bit hesitant I updated the netbook (an already-overcommitted Acer Aspire with the outmoded 8" screen that dual-boots Windows XP and Ubuntu). But the upgrade went smoothly: several old Linux images were automatically cleaned out, the switch from OpenOffice to LibreOffice appears to have gone without a hitch (although, of course, I lost all my specialty settings), the wireless card still works. I had to go reinstall all the Medibuntu specialty stuff, but that has to be done after any upgrade. And Opera and Chrome were still there (although I had to re-enable the repositories).

How come on my big, bad desktop, I had such trouble, while on the stupid little netbook it went so smoothly? (Actually, I suspect the reason is partly the NVidia drivers for the desktop video card, and partly a less-than-ideal match between the video card and the aging monitor... but Fedora is working smoothly, and the live CD of the Fedora 15 Beta seems to go, so I'm planning on keeping Fedora on that computer.)

far left?

From Best of the Blogs, I came across this post on "What, Exactly, Is Far Left?" For too long, people on the right have complained that lefties are against everything without being for anything (which is probably a talking point from a few years ago that's been around so long it's part of the water supply now). This poster tells what he's about. Some of his points:

  • I believe that no one should die, or lose everything they own, because they get sick. That doesn’t seem like such a radical idea to me, and even people like Nixon toyed around with making this a reality in America.
  • I believe that profits are worthless if the air and water are screwed. For that reason, I believe in strong environmental controls, and I believe that any trade policy should take into account the environmental rules of any trading partner, since it’s all one world and the filth tends to find its way back to us, once there’s enough of it...
  • I believe that a living wage is an essential part of a functioning democratic society. History shows us over and over again that people kept in miserable poverty have no interest in the perpetuation of a society, and they eventually cast it off. ... I believe the capital-gains tax needs to be at least doubled, since someone who earns an honest living through work is penalized far more heavily via taxation than someone who does nothing but sits around and figures out ways to run up a stock price, or creates some new financial scheme like derivatives...
  • I do not give a damn what your color is, or who you love, or what holy book you read from, as ling as you’re holding up your piece of the society and leaving me alone. This particular belief used to be a bedrock principle of Conservatism, but it now belongs to the Bolsheviks. How did that happen?

There's more. I don't agree with everything he says (of course; lefties won't team up for ANYBODY!), and I think he leaves out the idea that everybody ought to be expected to contribute to the common good. But it's a good article, and much of it speaks my mind. Check it out.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

100-mile weekend, and unintended, but not unpleasant, outcomes.

Yesterday, April 30, was the Princeton Freewheelers Spring Fling: rides at all paces at 9:30 am, then lunch, and awards and announcements. I did a 40-mile-or-so ride with Our Lady of Perpetual Headwinds, with her usual combination of decent hills, pretty vistas, and a good place to stop for coffee. There was a fellow rider in that group, who had been thinking of moving up from his "B" pace to a "B+"... but the B+ rides have a reputation for pacing faster and faster, especially as the season progresses. I was able to tell him about a leader who does Sunday B+ rides who maintains a B+ average pace, and I think I'll see this new guy on some of those rides; he appeared interested.

Today was the Tour de Franklin, and I went for the 62-mile metric century, my first of the season. The weather was great, which, I'm sure, affects my attitude, but it's also true that this ride was pleasant and well-organized; I'm planning on doing it again, and seeing if we can get a team. I'm disgustingly proud that, even though I got lost twice and did more like 64 than 62 miles, I turned in a not-shabby time of 3:44:16, with an average speed of 17.1 (and a top speed of 37 on a screaming, long downhill!). I didn't eat enough, and was sufferin' by the end of the ride, but as luck would have it, I found a companion along the way...

Shortly after the 30-mile SAG stop, I saw a rider stranded by the side of the road, and asked if he needed help. In heavily-accented, barely-understandable English, he asked if I had a chain tool. I did; I carry the Crank Bros. M-19 multi-tool (it comes with a flask, but throw that away; it's just another thing to carry). I lent it to him, and he tells me he'll find me at the end of the ride, but there's no need for that: I can wait for it (besides, how do I know he'll really give it back?). In a matter of moments, he's fixed his chain, and we're riding together. Of COURSE he's Polish (people who know me know that my wife's family is Polish: frightening work ethic, feed-you-until-you-can't-move Polish). In fact, he's part of a group of four other riders who are all Polish: they only ride on Sundays, because they all work a gajillion hours per week (well, DUH!) His English is bad because he works in a machine shop where everybody speaks Polish, and goes to Polish masses in Manville. I tell him about my wife, and we have a bit of difficulty because of the language barrier, but he decides her family is from Lublin (I don't know, but that's where she's going to a language-immersion-experience this summer) and we talk about things Polish and bicycle all the way back, including the last 10-12 miles when I was starting to sag. When we got back to the start for lunch, there are his companions: one wearing the current Polish team jersey, another wearing the Polish Postal jersey, and he points out that he's wearing another version of the Polish team jersey (how proud they are of their heritage!) He promised to email me a picture; I'll post it if it comes.

I'm home now, and eating everything except the curtain rods. I gotta remember to eat more when I'm doin' these long days. But today was a good one. Tomorrow, back to work to earn cash and time to enjoy days like today.