A whole lot of cycling

So near the start of this year I bought a new car.  “What’s that to do with cycling?”, you might wonder.

My old car had long established that it was costing more to maintain each year than I would, on average, spend on a new car.  Even tho’ I typically only drive about 6000 miles in a year, I value the convenience of having my own car too much to do without one at this point.  I quickly put 700 miles on the new beast from the initial drive to get used to it and then the drive to visit my parents (and show it off to them).

Yet in July I noticed something.  I noticed that, just before another visit to my folks, my mileage on my bicycle for the year was within 200 miles of the mileage on my car.  And thus a goal was born.  The goal being to have, at some point in the year, more miles on my bike than my car.

It wasn’t a goal I obsessed about.  I started out just curious if I could do it.  But it did motivate me to use my bike more often.  Whether for simple errands, to take part in a couple more cycling meetups, or just to get out more – each time I was on the fence about such a decision, the goal pushed me toward cycling vs. not.

In mid-October I realized the goal might actually be achievable.  But I would have to do it before Thanksgiving, when the inevitable driving for the holidays would more than offset the dwindling mileage I’d be able to add to my bike in the colder weather and shorter days.  So I pushed a little harder, paying more attention to the weather for nice days to ride, and running errands to places farther away just for the extra mileage.

Yesterday, I succeeded!

The margin of success is small,  22 miles out of over 2500.  Tomorrow, while having Turkey day dinner with the in-laws, I’ll still be able to say I have more miles on my bike for the year than I have on my new car – by about 2 miles.  So it won’t be true by the time I get home, and the forecast looks to make it unlikely I’ll flip the advantage back to my bike before my visit to my folks shortly after.

But still, I made it!

I feel a bit more fit than I did in the summer, and my legs are noticeably a bit more muscular.  It’s impossible to know how much of that would have happened without this effort.  But one thing’s certain – it feels great to have achieved the goal.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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We need the immigrants

So there are lots of reports in the news of late about the immigration of huge numbers of children from Central America (or thereabouts).  Many people argue for sending them back.  Others respond by pointing out these are mostly children, that fled here because home is too dangerous, and sending them back home is sending them to death.

Both sides seem to miss one detail that is also important to the future of our country.  It doesn’t matter that these are children, what matters is that they come to make their lives better – just like most of our ancestors did.  By coming here, they are not just surviving, but investing in their future.

So let us invest in their future, and ours, and welcome them with open arms.  Develop public works programs akin to FDR’s New Deal to create the jobs, jobs that will improve the country instead of letting it crumble further into disrepair.  Teach them, hire them, share with them our history.

A history of how this country accepted, and welcomed, people who came here looking to make their lives better.  Let’s not change the very fiber of what made this country great out of fear of losing what we have.  Because acting on that fear will mean we have lost what once we were, a hopeful people looking to make a better future with all who will join us.

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A Big Deal

First, a few quick status updates, if only because my blog as a whole tends to be lacking in that regard.

I’ve been going to the gym for just about 2.5 years now.  I feel better for it, and those of you that actually see me in person have noticed the difference that losing roughly 60 lbs makes.  I intend to lose more, and the big deal that follows will likely help.

A little over a year ago I aborted my attempt to become a math teacher.  My main motivation for becoming one was to increase, if only slightly, critical thinking in our society.  But I ran into multiple examples in my first week of classes of how critical thinking needs to be discouraged in the teacher just to cope with the pressures (of teaching and of taking classes to become a teacher).  I realized that my own capacity for critical thought would be severely damaged if I continued.  Fortunately, Lesley University graciously refunded my tuition and fees.

As to what else I will do with myself after that aborted effort, after several months languishing aimlessly I’ve started an effort to develop my programming skills sufficiently that I might return to work that way, but who knows how that will go at this early stage.

Now for the big deal.

For some time now, my bike has been sitting quietly in a corner next to my computer desk, gathering dust.  The corner was getting more and more blocked by other items, making the bike look more and more abandoned – until a couple of weeks ago when I removed it from the corner as part of an effort to rearrange my desk.  With the bike more accessible, and the weather warming (far too slowly), I decided that today I would take it out for a spin.

So I spent a couple of hours this morning working on the bike, first finding all the bike maintenance kit I’d not used in a long time and, second, actually working on the bike.  It needed the seat replaced (I had a spare sitting around for some reason), the dust wiped off, and the front derailleur adjusted, but then it felt ridable.  And so I took it out for a spin!

I can’t recall when last I rode the bike – it’s likely the first time this decade.  It felt good to feel the wind, and comforting that I still could intuitively pop my foot into the pedal strap without looking.  The replacement seat needed adjusting before it felt close to right and it still feels more solid than I expect.  Also the pedal straps likely will need to be replaced because they catch too easily on my current sneakers.  And while I adjusted the derailleur to get it usable, it still seems slightly out of alignment in a way that I didn’t figure out how to fix.

But overall, the bike works and I used it and I feel good for doing so.  YAY!

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Self generated musing…

The path to wisdom is an endurance race against the sprinters of pride and arrogance, and when you cross the finish line, you lose.

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Scott Brown: Hypocrite, Old Boy, and Proud to be Both

In Massachusetts, our Senate race is between Scott Brown, the incumbent, and Elizabeth Warren, and is too close to call.

Scott Brown’s campaign slogan is “Vote the man, not the party.”

It marks him as a hypocrite because if he truly believed that sentiment, he’d run as an Independent, but he isn’t.  To emphasize this point, his campaign ads almost exclusively talk about his bipartisan record, in clear further attempts to divorce himself from his party in the eyes of the voters.

It also clearly demonstrates gender discrimination.  If he were at all sensitive to the issue, it would say “person” instead of “man”.  Yet he chose to emphasize he’s male instead of go for an alliterative, and thus more catchy, slogan.

He has this slogan on his campaign bus.  It’s about as prominent as a slogan can be.

Would it surprise you to learn that Brown is a Republican?

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Armstrong and doping in cycling

Last week, USADA published their “Reasoned Decision” regarding the Armstrong doping case.  I’ll admit, before reading what little of it I have, my opinion was basically, “Well, if he did, he got away with it.”  Well, it’s more nuanced than that now.

Let me first explain my understanding of the oversight involved – any differences from reality are my own fault.  First off, unless a drug is specifically illegal in the country(s) containing a race, the only prohibitions against using it are the regulations imposed by the race organizers.  To keep things sane for all involved, races affiliate themselves with one or more organizations and adhere to the guidelines from those organizations.  Also, the riders agree to binding terms, likely equivalent to a contract, outlining testing protocols and when race results can be overturned due to various offenses.  Other than that high level summary, I make no pretense of understanding the rules riders must adhere to when racing.

Suffice it to say that while various and numerous medical enhancements are strongly discouraged, the sanctions that can be imposed according to the various rules seem to have some amount of discretion.

For example, Bjarne Riis, who won the Tour de France in 1996, admitted in 2007 to using banned substances for that win – his victory has since been confirmed, but with an ‘*’ due to his offenses.  Yet, Floyd Landis placed first in the 2006 Tour de France, but had his victory stripped due to a positive drug test result.

However, the difference could simply be that in Landis’ case, he failed a drug test made at the time, while in Riis’ case, he did not fail one at the time and admitted his guilt later.  My understanding is that this could be a crucial difference due to the riders’ contracts, but I don’t know for certain.  It could also be due to the time that passed, equivalent to a statute of limitations.

So, with that background, what do I make of USADA’s report?

In short, it’s very damning.

I only read the statement regarding the report and then 5 of the riders’ affidavits (which can be found on the “Appendices and Supporting Materials” tab).  The riders’ affidavits I chose to read were four riders that I felt had good integrity in cycling and Landis’.  To my mild surprise, all of them admitted to doping while on Armstrong’s team (tho’ perhaps it would be more fair to call it Bruyneel’s team).

The affidavits of Zabriskie and Leipheimer are rather mundane, tho’ in Zabriskie’s case, it’s hard to be sure with so many pages failing to scan.  Tommy D’s affidavit drives home just how strong the pressure was from the team for him to accept enhancement.  In his case, he says he rode pure before joining Armstrong’s team, stopped accepting the help while still on the team due to health concerns with the whole process, and left the team as a result.

I read Landis’ affidavit to see what he said about his failed drug test in the 2006 TdF.  I thought if he explained how he enhanced for that, perhaps I might view the rest of his affidavit with equal integrity. But he essentially said nothing of interest about the 2006 result.

Hincapie’s affidavit is, I think, most important because it describes the initial pressure he and Armstrong felt to start enhancing due to their perceptions of how many competitors were already enhancing and the differences they observed as a result.  Also, all of the affidavits make it fairly clear how widespread efforts were among many, but apparently not all, teams to enhance their riders’ athletic performances.

The USADA report makes clear in my mind, Armstrong doped.  Likely too, so did many of his best competitors.  USADA wants to overturn Armstrong’s victories, but it’s not their call.  It’s the UCI’s.  And it’s possible the UCI could be restricted from doing anything about it, other than a notation akin to the one for Bjarne Riis.

But suppose for a moment that the UCI can strip Armstrong of his titles.  My question is this: is it fair to do so?  As a friend said about this earlier today, paraphrased, if all of his main competitors enhanced similarly, or at least had equal opportunity to do so, however unsavory that is, who’s to say the result isn’t fair?  I can’t think of any reason to dispute that point of view.

My take on it is that if you want to be strict and fair, then before Armstrong is stripped of any titles, it’s necessary to examine just as thoroughly every rider who placed after him to find one who didn’t enhance.  Then award that race’s win to that rider.  That’s likely to be a massive undertaking, since I recall reading somewhere, quite possibly apocryphal in nature, that the best placed rider in the 2005 TdF with no doping allegations historically against him finished, as best I recall, 23rd.

Here’s another question: do I really care if Armstrong doped?  A little, more-so because he won’t admit to it than that he did it because that speaks to his overall integrity.  But not at all with respect to my enjoyment of the sport itself, because what makes each race fun to watch is the complex interplay between personal ability, team tactics, physical constraints and emotional desire.  In that light, doping definitely skews the results, but matters not one whit to the thrill of wondering if a breakaway will succeed, or watching a daredevil 70mph descent down mountain roads, or the pain and heartbreak from an accident or bonking (or see here).

Update (10/26): The UCI’s decisions regarding Armstrong and Le Tour’s results.  I think they’re remarkably fair, well-reasoned and appropriate.

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The First Invention?

I’ve been musing about this the last week or so.  I think the most important invention of humans is this: creation, of durable things, for the benefit of others – in other words, making.

Think about it a little.  We humans are not the only species that uses tools, and it’s not just some other species of apes, there are some species of birds (crows come to mind) and I’m sure a few others as well.  But as best I understand current investigation, no other species has ever created a tool for future use as opposed to finding something close enough to the needs of the moment and then perhaps modifying it for the moment.

The closest I think other species comes to making are the construction of birds’ nests, or sleeping nests some apes use in the trees, or spider webs, or maybe prairie dog tunnel systems.  But they don’t have the same feel of creation and invention that I’m picturing. 

And it need not be specific to tools.  Cave paintings count as creation too, creation of something that endures past its initial moment of use for the benefit of, or at least observation by, others.

Somewhere along the way in our long history, someone made a figure in the sand to illustrate something, or put together some sticks and foliage to help carry another, or used a dead animal’s stomach to carry water.  Who knows?  Likely they didn’t even realize they had made something no one had ever made before.  Almost certainly, it was made too by others, and somewhere along the way the idea of making took hold.

Without it, we could never be what we are now.

Whoever that person is, certainly now forever unknowable, who first made something, I give thanks.  By sharing, she or he enriched us all.

Now, just imagine if that first creation had been patented.

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