Monday, November 21, 2011

This Thanksgiving, let's talk about the economy

My fellow Americans [that's how one is supposed to begin these things, no?],

This Thanksgiving, we will gather with our families and give thanks for the many good things that we have. The first thing we always put, with varying (and not necessarily related) levels of piety and sincerity, is each other. Then we enumerate, or mention, or ponder, our stuff. But while we're all here, let's have a talk. There are some folks missing Thanksgiving because they're camped out in public parks and various other public places across the country.

I don't know what to make of them. But I do know that they want us to think. And they want us to act. It's probably fair to say that they don't exactly know what action they want. But if we're to have high-quality action, we've gotta talk. You'll be sitting down at the table with those who love you, despite the fact that you each think that each others' politics are absurd. Now's the time to have a few drinks (we're tipping back the pinot noir with our turkey. Probably some white wine before, and bourbon after) and open up a conversation.

Resolve to bring up the economy. Because it sucks; we can all agree on that. And we can't vote in a new government (regardless of our politics, I'm sure we can all find someone representing us that we'd rather not), so let's start getting out of the gridlock at the grassroots level. Bring up the economy with someone you know disagrees with you.

Get past the frustration, and ponder that the person you're talking to has some rational or emotional reason for the opinions you're hearing. The explanation is not just "they're frickin' nuts." "They want to end the economy as we know it." "They're just jealous." "They're just defending the status quo."

Lefties: recall that it took the modern economy for "dignity of the individual" to have any meaning. Read Deirdre McCloskey's Bourgeois Virtues.

Righties: recall that it takes respect for the dignity of others to make the modern economy work. Read Matt Taibbi's ongoing reportage series. Here's a good spot to begin.

Everyone, be thankful for the things that make this country great. Here's my favorite from the past couple of weeks: a bagel shop in New York, about to go out of business and getting white-knight investorship--from a pair of Pakistani cab drivers..

We come together at Thanksgiving--putting aside our differences is great and all, but how about resolving some of them?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

On growing up...or not

A friend invited me to a bike race today. It's a big bike rice, a mountain bike relay race out west. Right off the bat, let me tell you, I am STOKED. This is going to be a little mini-vacation, or maybe an extra-large weekend. What's a little funny about it is that it simultaneously has me feeling like a little kid, too excited to sleep. And a Big Important Adult: I have the grown-up freedom to take a weekend off.

So you grow up, in order to be a kid again.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Peasant Riding: An Invitation

“The Americans never use the word peasant, because they have no idea of the class which that term denotes; the ignorance of more remote ages, the simplicity of rural life, and the rusticity of the villager have not been preserved among them; and they are alike unacquainted with the virtues, the vices, the coarse habits, and the simple graces of an early stage of civilization.”

--Alexis de Tocqueville

This is the way I ride my bike: like a peasant. I aim for simplicity, and even rusticity--the fresh air of the country (to be found, for sure, in the city) and the rustle of trees over the road, the society of acquaintances associated with the village. The virtues I seek an acquaintance with? Self-reliance, hardiness, strength, bricolage, to name a few. The necessarily attendant vices? Miserliness, impatience, mistrust of the new(fangled)... I'm sure I'm missing many others. Coarse habits we have aplenty: Excess drinking, public urination, the stench of sweat. The simple graces, which I confess I'm still aiming for: An easy pedal stroke at high RPMs; a consistent line and pace in a group ride; a demure changing from sweaty and skin-tight clothing after a ride; a welcoming attitude toward strangers.

The early stage of civilization we aim for? England or continental Europe in the middle of the 20th century. An idealized version, to be sure, with no world wars or polio, no intra-club discord, flat tyres, rolled tubulars, or concussions. But a culture where commuting and training and riding-to-the-race ran together into riding somewhere. Where winter was the season not for boredom on the trainer inside, but for sloggingly spinning (or spinningly slogging?) a fendered fixed-gear in the snow. Where your racing bike + fenders and racks = your bike.

So I ride like a peasant, in the city, in the Information Age. I commute. Resistance on my training ride comes from hauling the kid-trailer. Or the kid. Or both kids. Or the dog. I sneak out in the morning or late at night, so as to have clear roads, clear mind, and a clear moment in the hectic schedule. I ride with friends; if they're faster, I struggle; if they're slower, I ride on the dirt or grass and let them ride on the pavement. Or I spin like mad. I do training rides to a bar (and recovery rides home?). I change out of my lycra (or at least pull on some warmup pants) when I get there. I get dirty with glee on a cyclocross course. I fiddle with my equipment constantly--but with secondhand parts. I have little patience for "data" (but it's so tempting for the going faster). I race, to challenge myself. I commute, for fun, thrift, and exercise. I ride like a peasant. Join me.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Run (!?!?) report

Just got back from a lunchtime run, with a few observations.

The park is overrun with adolescent ducks, about ready to head south for their first winter, the squirrels are all quite fat. The birds are slower than usual, too; I think they're putting on weight (insofar as creatures made mostly of feather and air are able to).

Discovery of the day: You can run under the Clarence Darrow Bridge (on the west side of the lagoon). Odd to realize that you've been in a place for years before finding something like this.

I've been running as a second (or sometimes only) workout for the past week and a half, as it's a quick way to get the heart rate up; more cardio fitness in less time than biking. (At least, that's the idea.) Did my "speedwork" on one of the bird trails, so as not to subject myself to embarrassment at how slow I am (instead, I'll talk about it on the internet so the whole world can laugh at me, with the exception of those--Hi, Mom!--who think I'm being charmingly self-deprecating). Realized this may have backfired when I was doing my recoveries at an even slower pace, with all the gasping and wheezing of maximum effort, in front of the golfers and fishermen.

Photo by Urbanrules, used, with thanks, under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license

Friday, September 23, 2011

Race Report/oddball chain-drop issue

Here's the situation: Cyclocross season started up yesterday* (How do you say, "Whoo hooo!" in Belgian?) and so I, being the larkity fool that I am, built up my bike on Saturday night for racin'. The frame is a vertically dropped-out Lemond Poprad--yer basic CX frame. I (in my usual spirit of cussed bricolage) decided (rather a long time ago) that I'd build it up (and race it) fixed if at all possible. I tried out a pile of chainring and cog combinations with a length of chain and found that 41 x 17 was the sweet spot: no fiddlin' needed and perfect shain tension. I procured a new chain (and a needed half-link), and a 17t cog (I'd been testing gearing on multi-speed freewheel), and went to assemble the whole thing.

No dice; chain too short. Okay, not a hard problem; it's the difference between a new chain-and-cog and an old one; I'll just grind a flat onto the axle so that I get the 1 or 2mm of adjustability I need to get into the dropout. Piece of cake; I didn't even need to grind past the threads to get it into the dropout.

And all was well; I raced in the Masters 30+; with a bit of rain sprinkling the course and for just a taste of mud and wet leaves, and performed embarrassingly as expected (hey, I was just getting my bearings back; I'd not ridden fixed in a year or two, not raced in two years and, oh, yeah, not trained either). All was well, my focus was on the 4's (beginner) race in the afternoon.

By the start of the 4's, it was really raining. Ahh, a mudfest! I remember I used to do well in these! (And my chain felt a bit loose. But how loose could it be? It was brand new, cog was, too, and I knew that the whole thing was pretty tight to go together. Besides, I was in the staging, and I damn sure wasn't going to lose my starting position in the race I had a chance of finishing in the points in.)

But I started almost as tentatively as the Masters race; where was the aggression? Then, maybe 500m in, it all clicked again: Not winning? GO FASTER! Not passing someone? GO FASTER! Braking? STOP BRAKING! I was really feelin' it; the virtue of riding fixed in the mud---rather than front-braking in the corners, skidding the front wheel (at worst), understeering, and scrubbing a ton of speed, I started challenging myself to take all the turns with no handbrake; slow as needed with the rear wheel to feel the slip in the mud, to carry more speed, to slip for oversteer rather than understeer…. It was going great.

Something had to go wrong. And it did: Chain drop, coming out of corner (I'd been resistance-slowing into the corner). I knew it was a bad sign; I could crank the chain back onto the chainring like a derailleured (derailleurisé?) bike. It was bound to happen again. And while it was fun to pass the same fifteen people, drop the chain, and repeat (twice more), when my rear wheel started falling off (and falling off again), I knew it was time to DNF.

But a blast was had by me--anytime you have to come straight in the basement door, undress next to the washing machine, and rinse your legs in the utility sink before entering the house, you've had fun.

How did my brand-new fixed drivetrain go from sweet-spot tight to chain-droppingly loose in the course of 10K on roads (on the way to the race) and maybe 10K of racing on dirt, grass, and mud?

My first theory was initial chain stretch, maybe wear-in (it's a KMC chain, IIRC); my second theory is that the cog (a black Eighth-inch brand cog) was powdercoated all over, and I've worn the powdercoat off the teeth. I've since readjusted the wheel back in the dropouts, maybe 1 mm back, and it seemed nicely snug again--but it reared its ugly head on Wednesday morning again.

New theory, suggested by an iBOB: unround chainring and unround cog combining to give loose spots. Maybe a slightly bent chainring, too, with a tooth coming up outside the sideplates all on its own.

Other new theory (also via iBOB) is that the powdercoat on the sides--the clamping surface--of the dropouts is letting the axle slip forward.

Last new theory (home-grown) is that the axle is slipping up as I go over the bouncy ground, and into the middle of the dropout, no matter where in the dropout I start it out.

(New datapoint is that the chain is pristinely new-length (12" per 24 links).


*wrote this a-Monday; late posting to the blog since this is my last venue for readership.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Fun with English.








Thinking about this is what started this whole table.





Here’s a nice complete version.




Variation of -ch and -k. All would have been like a Scottish or German ch back in the day (where BITD means late medieval period mas o menos).




(I’ll note here that “ought” seems like avoir in the French to have become merely an “ending” as a modal verb.)




(Is this why Microsoft picked “Bing™” as their search engine name? Get that subliminal “Buy! buy! buy!” message in there.) I’m having trouble envisioning a semantic connection between “bight” and buying. Anyone?

vie (fie?)







I suspect that an original -in- shifted to an -ee- , lengthening in compensation for dropping the n, but I may have it backwards.



Aha! Why draught is spelt as it is!



Mining on the brain?




Here, the -ink has softened into an -ing.



I would love for these to be connected. Too good to be true?







Knights kneel to be knighted. “Kinn-nigget” isn’t a bad approximation of the BITD pronunciation.

[free???] fray




“Freak” is speculative because it’s awfully nouny, and everything in its column so far is solidly in the verb camp.

Blue indicates speculations. Red things that on semantic grounds don't seem to belong. I came up with this before (while?) falling asleep the other night. Its sense may be naught.

Friday, May 27, 2011

This post was going to be a two-line pointer to Godin's and Anderson's posts, referenced below. It became too long for a tweet, then too long for a Facebook post, and most likely, too long to read. If you survive it, thanks.

Seth Godin has written an interesting and provocative post on the future of the library, and more particularly on the future of the librarian. In brief, he argues that librarians, who should be the Vergils for future Dantes, are now seen not as expert guides in a sea of overabundant information, but rather as the people who manage that place where all the books are at. Libraries, he avers, are keeping librarians back. Excellent piece, and thought-provoking, and I thank Kent Anderson at the Scholarly Kitchen for bringing it to my attention.

One question (and one comment below): What about Europe, where the relationship between librarians and patrons--and, indeed, between readers and library books--is very different? I can't even try to fathom the different political processes by which European universities, university libraries, and other public libraries are funded, but I have heard many many accounts* of the use of a university library or archive, and the theme that comes up again and again is that the librarian or archivist figure is more of a Kerberos than anything else---not with respect to patrons but with respect to books: Kerberos would happily take you in, but he wouldn't let you out! When you use a library in Europe, your relationship to the books is much more heavily mediated than here (where the librarians are like bloodhounds snoozing by the fireplace; no interaction with them is needed unless or until you ask them to help track something down). The big distinction is whether the stacks are open for browsing or not, of course: may the patron wander among the books, or do you have to request something specific and await it? (This leads to my thought, but let me continue the query.)

I could see this relationship working out in several possible ways as more and more direct access to more and more information becomes more and more normal. Either the habit of putting requests to people continues, and librarians "hard power" by means of exclusive access becomes "soft power" by means of higher-quality access. OR the difficulty and cost (in time and effort) to use libraries (because of that mediation) makes a shift to electronic direct access all the more appealing.

A lot depends on politics and funding, of course, but more, I suppose, on whether the mediated relationship brings more or less value to the access. When you ask a librarian for, oh, G.E.M. de Ste. Croix's The Origins of the Peloponnesian War, does the librarian raise the issue of its Marxist slant, its flaws and its virtues, and suggest some important interlocutors one would do well to read as well? Or do you have to deal with a grumpy librarian to read something that some fusty old professor (we have only young and attractive professors here in the U.S.) told oyu you should. (See Sandy Thatcher's comments on the Scholarly Kitchen post; we in the publishing industry, must perforce think in economic terms of "Where can I add value?" and "How can I get paid for it?")

Now, the thought: One of the great virtues of libraries as "book warehouses," is browsing. Andy Abbott theorizes browsing thusly (starting in the last lines of p. 17):
random inspection of a local knowledge vicinity for items with a high probability of payoff, particularly in terms of taking one to productive new localities. It is crucial to recognize that this happens at many different levels in library research, not just at one: within books as one turns pages, on shelves as one searches for a book, in the stacks as one walks by unknown call numbers, in bibliographic indexes and other research tools as one glances through topics, and so on. In all these cases, the power of browsing is great.

Andy goes on, and I have to quote him at length:
Browsing has two requirements. First, the materials being browsed must already themselves be highly ordered either by virtue of their internal structure or by their places in an indexing or cataloguing or classification system. Otherwise, adjacency has no meaning and browsing can't work. Second, the browsers must have broad knowledge that primes them to recognize likely connections. This is the rationale for general exams, for example. (Note that by this argument, one can even think of conversation with other scholars as a form of mutual browsing.)

This insight provides us with a first reason why much of library technologization doesn't work very well. The assumption is that give "the right indexing system," you can replace the expert browser, and any college freshman will be able to write good scholarship. But this can't be true because such an indexing system would only work if it encoded the expertise of all the possible expert users. But in that case it would reproduce the confusion (of all the different possible associations to a given item) within itself, giving the novice no more guidance than the old tools. What technology usually offers, in fact, is the expertise of only one user - a hard-coded set of hyperlinks - which is obviously vastly impoverished from a computational point of view unless you can assume that there is one (or a few) right expert(s), which is seldom true in the areas that employ library research.

I emphasize browsing because such random search in pre-organized localities, although important in the natural sciences (it is after all Pasteur who said that chance favors only the prepared mind), is by no means as important as it is in library research. Library research as currently practiced is unthinkable without browsing. It is quite often the case that library researchers do not know exactly what they want ahead of time; indeed one might define skill at library research as the ability to recognize, when we have found something, that it is in fact something that we ought to have wanted to find. To be sure, library researchers are sometimes quite focused in their needs. But even during tasks like coding and focused retrieval, browsing goes on in the background. It is for this reason that artisanal researchers do not often subdivide their work and give brute force tasks to others; they worry about the loss of browsing.

Browsing in this extremely broad sense and at all these many levels is thus one thing that absolutely must be protected in the research libraries of the future. It means keeping materials ordered and in a setting where they can be effectively scanned in the random fashion that browsing demands. Since, as we have noted, browsing involves many levels of organization, all of these levels need to be preserved, not just the order of books on shelves.

The question, now in 2011, is not just "What is to become of librarians?" given the changing role of libraries, but "What is to become of browsing?" --- Is browsing in this precise sense, possible on the internet? Is anything else possible? (Or are we fooled by terminology--"web browser"?) I've complained before about some of the vices of Google books, for example, but Google actually does attempt to look at the organically-developed relationships amongst sources, and then present a list of possibilities--is that a (precisely) browsable list? But Google Books also assiduously ignores meta-data; the self-organizing instructions of scholarship--and I'm not sure it's started to parse things as simple and structured as footnotes.

Ah well. I've overstayed my mental welcome, and I've got work to do before the weekend.

*I think immediately of Umberto Eco's opening essay in Candida Höfer's luscious book of photos, Libraries, as well as an account, source long forgotten but perhaps in The Chronicle of Higher Ed, of an American scholar's experience using Interlibrary Loan while on research sabbatical at Trinity College, Dublin. I may be generalizing over-much from tales of the Vatican Library, whose staff and policies are legendarily, erm, protective.

Monday, May 23, 2011

What makes a good e-book

David Pogue reviews Al Gore's latest here.

The key point: "Thanks to all of the smoothly integrated multimedia, the book engages more parts of your brain than just the one that reads prose. As a result, Mr. Gore goes much farther in his mission — persuasion — than he could on the printed page alone." Abraham Lincoln, when he wanted to study a text, would read it aloud as he copied it, on the logic that he would not merely read it that way, but write, speak, and hear it as well. It sounds time-consuming--but, then again, so is immersing yourself in a multi-media project with "over an hour" of narration.

Thursday, May 19, 2011