Monday, June 22, 2015

Preservation Pedal: A Very Wet Half-Century

This past Saturday, the leftovers from tropical storm "Bill" found their way up the Ohio River valley and got northern Kentucky more than a little wet.  This had some effect on me, as Saturday was the day of the Preservation Pedal, heading out from Frankfort, Kentucky.

Friday night at the packet pickup, the ride organizers from the Bluegrass Cycling Club told us that the 102-mile century route would be closed by the weather, with its attendant possibility of local road flooding.  So how do you "close" a hundred miles of small public roads?  They don't, of course; what they did was simply to not support that route with rest/food stops and SAG.  The club elected to shift their volunteer force over to the 30-mile and 51-mile routes and support them.  Century riders could get 102 miles in by the simple expedient of making two laps of the 51-mile loop.  The Kentucky Century Challenge folks also announced that people participating in the Challenge, who has already registered and paid for the Preservation Pedal, could elect to ride another century of their choice at any time before July 26 for KCC credit, and also that those already-registered and paid riders could ride the Preservation Pedal in whatever conditions occurred Saturday morning, and that a good-faith effort would also receive KCC credit, regardless of the distance covered.  Fair enough, thought I, and went to the luxurious Baymont Inn to put my head down and sleep.

So, Saturday morning.  It was raining steadily, and the forecast wasn't good, calling for afternoon thunderstorms.  At 8 o'clock, however, we (and it was a very small group, on the order of a hundred riders) set out from the Plaza Hotel in downtown Frankfort and began the process of stringing ourselves out over 51 miles of wet roads.  It didn't take long to get lonely, either; after the first rest stop, in Millville, I was usually not within sight of any other cyclists.  This meant that I was totally responsible for my own navigation, which consisted of following the red pavement arrows (since my cue sheet had very quickly been reduced to wet pulp in my jersey pocket).  With no one to follow in lemming-like fashion, I paid very close attention to those markers and succeeded in never getting off-route, although I did cast about in some confusion after leaving the stop in the town of Stamping Ground, where the markers were scarce and hard to see on the water-covered pavement, leaving me without much confidence for a while.

You've probably already noticed a lack of photos in this report.  In view of the downpour conditions, I left the camera that I carried around last month's Horsey Hundred locked in my truck back in Frankfort.  I was carrying my mobile phone, of course, in case of emergency, but I wasn't pulling it out of the zippered pocket of my hydration backpack in that much of a rain.  I did pull it out after I got back to Frankfort, and that's coming up.

Riding in a hard rain was a new experience for me.  We had rain at this year's Redbud Ride, and it was a pretty chilly rain at that.  But this was serious rain, hard and fast.  By the time I'd completed my first mile, I was as wet as I was going to get, so I figured it wouldn't get any worse.  I was mistaken.  My bike shorts are the kind that have a loose, baggy outer shell, making them suitable attire for an over-aged and over-nourished cyclist like me.  When those shorts got and stayed soaked, that outer shell plastered itself to my legs and I got some chafing just above the knees.  No big deal, but uncomfortable.  Also, there's the rain in your face.  Grinding slowly up the long climbs, at seven or eight miles per hour, the rain on my face troubled me not at all, and was even welcome as it helped me stay cool; but on the downhills, sometimes at or above 30 miles per hour, those raindrops felt more like small pebbles, and they also made it very hard to see.

I have battery-powered lamps on my bike: a red taillight, which can be set to blink obnoxiously, and a white LED headlight which can also blink stroboscopically.  The headlight worked fine in the rain.  But the taillight ... after a while, it got partly filled with rainwater and worked only intermittently.  In the gray, low-visibility surroundings, I wasn't liking that; it seemed like a substantial safety issue.  I also didn't feel good about how few riders were participating.  In a large, organized ride with one or two thousand riders, you always have more than a few in sight, and there's a "critical mass" of you on the road that makes you safer, as the drivers pretty much have to be aware that there's a cycle event underway.  But on Saturday, there were so few of us that each rider was like an eccentric individual.  For each car that passed me, I had the feeling that there was a good chance I was the first cyclist the driver had seen that day; and if I was hard to see, well, that's potentially not good.

So, a little before noon I re-entered downtown Frankfort.  The major food for the whole ride was located there, at the Church of the Ascension, the home of a Greek Orthodox congregation founded, according to a banner I was admiring, in 1836.  I ate my lunch standing up (the chairs in the fellowship hall were upholstered, and I didn't feel like sitting my dripping-wet butt down on one), and listened to the talk around me, and it seemed nearly unanimous: no one was electing to ride a second lap.  Someone had seen a radar map that showed an intense thunderstorm cell in Louisville that was heading our way.  I thought about how the course would be if, instead of a hundred riders stretched out along it, there were only ten or twenty.  I thought about my now non-working taillight.  I thought about the possibility of upcoming thunder and lightning.  And, yes, I must admit that I thought about the cyclist who was killed last month in the Horsey Hundred, not so far from here.  Then I joined the discretion-is-the-better-part-of-valor crowd, checked in my 51 miles at the KCC table, and started to leave.  Then I thought: wait a minute, I should dig out my cell phone and take a picture of that gorgeous stained-glass window.  And I did that thing.

Somebody did some awfully nice work.  Sorry I kind of cut the top off.  I should've backed up another few steps.
You know, most days, it doesn't rain.  I'm going to appreciate those days more, going forward.


An Occasional Ray of Hope

A couple of years ago, I purchased a custom bumper sticker online from Cafe Press and put it on the rear window of my pickup truck's cab.  At the time, I assumed that my truck would quickly be keyed, and that I'd see many fists shaken, and many one-finger salutes, from the Real, Red-State 'Murkins among whom I live.


Oddly, none of that has happened.  Perhaps I should say "that I know of" ... you see, the rusty paint on my truck is such that I'm not apt to notice a "key" job.  Somebody would need to use a chainsaw or a hammer and cold chisel, in all likelihood.  And I did have one lady pull up next to me at a stoplight and yell across to me that she liked the sticker, which was encouraging.  But this past Friday morning, I came out of the YMCA and jumped in my truck, and then noticed that someone had put a note under the wiper on my side.  Climbing out and retrieving it, I saw:



Is that good, or what?

By the way, I have to say that, based on an extensive sample size of two, the women seem to be the ones who have some sense.  My hat's off to you ladies.


Saturday, June 06, 2015

Goodbye, Facebook

I followed a link the other day to an interesting piece of writing -- where "interesting" includes a substantial element of "horrifying," that is.  As a result of my reading, I'm trying to do a few things to decrease my exposure to online surveillance, both governmental and corporate (not that there's any meaningful distinction between the two, of course).  Concerning Facebook, the author says:

STEP 8 – SHUN SURVEILLANCE-BASED SOCIAL MEDIA

Why: Many people in this world are lonely. “Free” social networks like Facebook are designed to capitalize on this. In return for helping you feel connected to others, they study you like a lab rat and turn you into a product. I’m not exaggerating. As the founder of Facebook said, “They ‘trust me’ – dumb fucks.” Meanwhile he surrounds his home with empty lots and hundreds of acres of undeveloped land.
Facebook’s “like” system is designed to reinforce whatever your existing beliefs are. Facebook is engineered to be a giant echo chamber which figures out what you like to hear so it can feed it to you. That’s how it hooks people.
It’s also the ultimate propaganda system. Recall Facebook’s notorious social engineering experiment which proved it could manipulate the mood of over half a million people by altering their feeds. The experiment received funding from the US Army Research office. The military funds research on the mass manipulation of a population’s mood? You don’t say.
As with Google, Facebook’s core business is mass surveillance. You’re the product, not the customer. Facebook collects and stores an insane amount of intel about every facet of your life. It not only tracks everywhere you go, it lets others track you too.
Facebook has developed software as accurate as the human brain to reveal your identity in any photo you or someone else uploads. And yes, even 4 years ago Facebook was tracking you and assembling hundreds of pages of intel on you even when you weren’t logged in. Now it’s thousands of pages, and the surveillance and analysis are much more sophisticated.
Every time people post photos of themselves and others to Facebook, Instagram (owned by Facebook), Twitter, Google, or other surveillance-based services, they are unwittingly building mass surveillance databases containing the details of people’s appearances, who they associate with, what they do, and when and where they’ve been.
A single innocuous photo can reveal a lot of information. Trillions of photos is a frightfully vast surveillance database to be exploited by regimes, corporations, and free agent bad guys. Mass surveillance depends on social media as a primary data source.
Every American technology mega-corp has backdoors. Snowden made it clear: Tech giants are surveillance proxies for the government. The government’s own top secret slide is worth repeating here as it just says it all.
NSA PRISM mass surveillance-industrial complex
The mass surveillance-industrial complex
To put it plainly, Facebook and other “free” social media services are mass surveillance roach motels. Free is the bait to get you in the door, and surveillance intel is used to hook you on the service so you can become a forever profitable product. Yes they are slickly marketed, convenient, and ultra-popular. They are also a trap and indispensable to the mass surveillance scaffolding. Check out of the roach motel.
In several ways, I'll miss Facebook.  It enabled me to re-connect with more than a few people with whom I hadn't communicated in decades.  But, with a "patriotic" pseudoholiday (Memorial Day) just being over, I'm aware of a side benefit of leaving the Facebook world: there's a great deal of crap that some of my Facebook friends love to "share" that will no longer be making my newsfeed a burden to me ... now that I no longer have a newsfeed.  Many, many exhortations to honor The Holy Troops.  Lots of people's convictions that the very existence of Muslims somehow victimizes them.  An astonishing number of people sharing waspishly-political crap from something called "I F--king Love Science" (and, you know, I really greatly doubt whether these folks have even so much as mild affection for actual, it-takes-work-and-mathematics-type science, sexually active or not).  Yes, kicking the FB habit will have its compensations.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

In Which I Need Write Not a Single Word of My Own, After This Title

CONCORD, N.H. — Former New York Gov. George Pataki is the latest Republican to get into the race for president.
In a video posted Thursday morning on YouTube, Pataki says America needs to recapture the spirit of unity that spread through the country in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He was in his second of three terms as governor when the attacks struck New York and Washington, and Pataki highlights his role in New York and the country’s recovery in the video.
“We are all in this together. And let us all understand that what unites us is so much more important than what might seem superficially to divide us,” Pataki says in the video, which includes a logo that reads, “Pataki for President.”



From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
For the original version of the ideology developed in Italy, see Italian Fascism. For the book edited by Roger Griffin, see Fascism (book).
"Fascist" redirects here. For the insult, see Fascist (insult).
Fascism (/fæʃɪzəm/) is a form of reactionary authoritarian nationalism[1][2] that came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe. Influenced by national syndicalism, fascism originated in Italy during World War I, in opposition to liberalism, Marxism, anarchism and traditional conservatism. Fascism is often placed on the far-right within the traditional left–right spectrum, but some academics call that description inadequate.[3][4]
Fascists identify World War I as a revolution. It brought revolutionary changes in the nature of war, society, the state, and technology. The advent of total war and total mass mobilization of society had broken down the distinction between civilian and combatant. A "military citizenship" arose in which all citizens were involved with the military in some manner during the war.[5][6] The war had resulted in the rise of a powerful state capable of mobilizing millions of people to serve on the front lines or provide economic production and logistics to support those on the front lines, as well as having unprecedented authority to intervene in the lives of citizens.[5][6] Fascists view World War I as having made liberal democracy obsolete and regard total mobilization of society led by a totalitarian single-party state as necessary for a nation to be prepared for armed conflict and to respond effectively to economic difficulties, such a totalitarian state is led by a strong leader as a dictator and a martial government composed of the members of the governing fascist party to forge national unity and maintain a stable and orderly society.

Monday, May 25, 2015

In Which I Make My Peace With the Horsey Hundred, and Get My Perspective Restored

You may remember me complaining about last year's Horsey Hundred.  Oh, I was a bitter boy.  I failed to complete the ride, and thus failed to complete the Century Challenge.  Yes, I was ticked.  I was sure that I'd have made all 102 miles, instead of the 72 I did complete, if I'd been properly supported with food and water.  And so on, and so on.

I went back this weekend, and I did complete the 102 miles.  Actually, due to my peer-pressure weakness and some random foolishness, I completed 111 of the 102 miles.  I took an unprecedented 10.5 hours total elapsed time to do it, of which slightly over eight hours were spent in the saddle with the bike moving.  (The other 2+ hours were spent at the rest stops: eating, drinking, stretching, and so on.)  I learned a few things.  One is that the Horsey is the most difficult of the Century Challenge rides, and certainly the toughest ride I've done so far.  I learned to appreciate the Bluegrass Cycling Club, as they bounced back convincingly from their embarrassment of last year and demonstrated that they do indeed know how to put on a first-class major ride.  I learned that, of the couple of thousand riders that participated in the Horsey, only 84 completed the century route; apparently, most everyone rides one of the shorter tours (distances of 25, 42, 62, 82, and 102 miles were offered).

And then, before I left Georgetown this morning, I was talking with a BCC club officer and learned something else: that everything about the Horsey, and the Century Challenge, that had seemed so important to me was actually quite trivial.  Sadly, that lesson cost the life of a fellow cyclist whose name I don't know, who was snuffed out by a drunken redneck and his pickup truck.  As the news story shows, not only did this maniac cross to the opposite side of the road to hit the cyclist head-on, catapulting him over the cab and landing him on the bed cover, Mr. Drunk decided to head back to the trailer park where the cops caught up with him.  God only knows what he planned to do with the body, but it wasn't just a body -- yet.  The cyclist died at the hospital.  Maybe if Mr. Drunk hadn't tried to escape, a critical few minutes, better spent, might have saved his victim's life.  Or maybe not.  Still, compared with that, nothing that comes after this point is really worth my writing, or your reading.  I'll write it anyway, because that's what I do.  Whether you read or not is, as always, up to you.

I got to Georgetown on Friday, having elected to stay in one of the Georgetown College dorms.  This was so inexpensive an option that I chose to stay two nights, so that I could sleep there after the Horsey and travel back, rested and refreshed, on Sunday.  At the packet pickup, I immediately appreciated that many riders were doing the Horsey.

The packet pickup line in the Georgetown College gym was ... ample.

Once I'd picked up my dorm room key, I saw that I'd been assigned room 304 in Flowers Hall.  My keen powers of observation soon told me that Flowers Hall is occupied, during the academic year, by female-type students.  I could tell this because the bath (and shower) room was completely lacking in urinals, and each stall had a little mailbox-looking thing that I decided not to investigate further.  It was a fine place, though.

My Georgetown College home-away-from-home, Flowers Hall.
The Horsey had made it clear, both on their web site and in an email, that people staying in the dorms had to provide their own bedding.  I must have had more important things on my mind, because I didn't remember that notification until I saw the beds in the room.

I thought about sleeping this way.  For a few seconds, anyway.

Fortunately, my phone and Google Maps showed me that Wally World was seven minutes away.  It probably took me ten, but there was some traffic.  I'm sure my wife was happy to see me bringing home a set of cheap sheets, a cheap blanket, and a cheap pillow for a twin-size bed.

Ahhh, that's more like it!

Saturday morning was cool and cloudy.  Later, the sun came out.

As it gets close to eight o'clock, the crowd of riders moves into the street.  Yes, I remembered to start my GPS bike computer this time.

The first stop was in a small town called Midway.  This would be the most crowded stop, as it was common to all routes, and early enough in the day that the riders were mostly in one body, more or less.  The BCC arranged for many port-a-potties, which is good.  But the line was still quite long.  Lucky for me, I typically don't need to urinate make Number One before about the 50-mile mark.  By then, there tends to be little or no line.  Sorry, I know ... Too Much Information.

Lots of people needed to use the facilities.  It took 'em a while, too.

In some ways, Kentucky seems like a much older place than does Indiana; I'm thinking now of the prevalence and apparent importance of cemeteries.  When I've been riding in the London area (Redbud and Thriller rides), I've noticed that half the roads seem to be named for the cemeteries that they lead to.  The one at the Midway stop had an informative marker:

There was a street on the Georgetown College campus that seemed to have been named for this same E. Dudley Brown.

At the town of Switzer, we had a rest stop, with another picturesque cemetery adjacent to the North Fork Baptist Church.

Too many cemetery pictures?  Maybe so.  But, creepily enough, I kind of like cemeteries.  Especially pretty ones like this.

At the Switzer stop, we also had live music, made by The Giants Across the Water.  They played bluegrass (how else?), and also some bluesy sorts of songs, including one about some "people from the northeast" who came in and told folks they'd "pay 'em for their min'rals."  That's when they found out what it meant that there was such a thing as coal, and it didn't seem to have ended very cheerfully.  True dat.  The young lady played her violin part of the time, although here she was singing.  Not pictured is the mandolin player, who was taking a break.  I enjoyed them.  I probably enjoyed them for too long, in terms of finishing the century in a timely manner.  But, you know, sometimes you got to stop and smell them roses just a little bit.

The mandolin player's on break, but you can see his instrument atop the boxes at right.

In Frankfort, the state capital, we rested at River View Park.  (The "river" in the name is the Kentucky River, which our route followed fairly closely for twenty miles or so.)

There was a boat-rental business here at the Frankfort-area park that seemed pretty busy.

I saw a couple riding a tandem at this stop.  When I saw their jerseys, I just had to photodocument.  They were in a "Cat in the Hat" motif, and the couple were identified as Thing One and Thing Two.  Just right for a couple on a tandem, I thought.

The jerseys did not specify who of the couple was Thing One, and who was Thing Two.  Probably smart not to.

Shortly after Frankfort, I extended my century.  As you may be able to see on the map generated by my Garmin, I made a left turn that meanders off for several miles before dead-ending.  This occurred when the front riders in a local pack that I was part of for a while made that turn with shouted comments of "wow, we almost missed that one!"  I didn't see any route marker calling for a turn there, but I also turned, thinking I must have snoozed past it.  Somehow, though, my gut was telling me that I shouldn't have turned, but I was being a herd follower.

My ride grew a couple of side spurs.  About nine miles' worth.
Eventually, those same lead riders met me coming the other way, reporting that they had reached a T intersection where a turn was necessary, and there were no route markers to say which way -- thus, we were definitely off-route.  This was bad news, especially since those wasted few miles (which get doubled, as one retraces the path) had included a lengthy, punishing climb.  So, we had lost time, added distance, and added even more fatigue.  It was a little disheartening.  I should have had the courage of my convictions and listened to my gut (it's big enough!).  Well, you live and learn, and pay the tuition.


At Millville, the stop displayed the Time Sign of Doom.

As I photographed this sign, I was there, and it was nearly 1:30.  I blew it off.  After all, it didn't say "pretty please."

As it happens, I accidentally obeyed the sign, out of stupidity.  Note the route markers in the photo above.  When I left the stop, I somehow forgot that I was following the green markers for the century route, and followed the orange ones (the 82-mile route) where they diverged.  It took me about a mile before I realized that the markers I was seeing were not  green.  So, I again reversed course and headed back to the place where I should have turned right, and did so this time.  As we sometimes say in golf, "that  isn't going to make this hole play any shorter."

As I remembered from last year, there are several climbs after Millville that are quite challenging.  The Horsey doesn't have any hills that are very steep ... but it does have climbs that more than make up in length what they may lack in steepness.  Example: on the Redbud Ride, one encounters Tussey Hill, with its 22% gradient.  That's a climb-off-and-walk-the-bike kind of steep hill.  But it's over and done with pretty quickly.  I was just looking over my Garmin data and saw that one of those post-Millville climbs gains 337 feet in altitude over a 1.26-mile distance.  That's a rather modest 5.1% average gradient.  But it lasts a mile and a quarter.  Then you give back all 337 feet in one scary, whistling downhill that doesn't rest you at all -- just heats up your brakes -- and then you start the next interminable climb.  The road will snake around, left, straight, right, left again ... the one constant is that every time you see another piece of it, it's still  going up.  That's the stretch where last year, without food and water, I bonked and cramped my legs.  That didn't happen this year.  But it did drain my gas tank pretty extensively.  At no point did I walk my bike, as I saw some others doing.  But I surely considered it, a few times.

I won't dwell extensively on the rest, which was a pure survival exercise.  I'm going to acquire one of these cloth liners I've seen others wearing under their helmets, because I had a lot of trouble with sweat being collected by my helmet and being perversely channeled down into my right eye -- the left, somehow, was untroubled.  Sweat is salty and stings, when enough of it runs into your eye.  I had to stop several times and use my water bottle to rinse out that eye.  Another lesson learned.

Late in the ride, I got a chance to get up close and personal with some Horsican-Americans who were hanging out at their fence.

I explained to this fine individual that he or she was the finest horse in all the world, but that I had no apple or sugar cube to offer.  He or she was graciously willing to put up with some face-stroking instead.

I hadn't been there at that fence more than 30 seconds before I began to acquire company.  Those horses are chick magnets, believe me.

After I apologized to "my" horse that I had no treats to offer, this lady spoke right up and said that she did.  I didn't see what she dug out of her bag, but it seemed to generate some equine enthusiasm, whatever it was.  She collected a modest crowd of Horsican-Americans.

Just as I was getting into Georgetown, on Lemons Mill Pike, with about 108 miles showing on my Garmin, two things happened.  One was that my right leg began some tentative cramping.  I knew I only had a couple of miles to go, so I told it to shut up and keep working, which it did.  I also rode past a small forest of flashing blue lights on police cars.  The only thing going on that I could see involved somebody with what appeared to be a surveying instrument.  I remember thinking that it didn't make much sense that anybody would be doing survey work on a Saturday after 6 pm, where there didn't seem to be any construction, especially with a bunch of cops standing around watching.  Sunday morning, all became clear: that was the investigation of the scene of that drunken redneck hitting and killing the cyclist.  Of course, I don't know what route that man was on, but no matter which one, he was within a couple of miles of finishing when his career was suddenly ended.

It does make you think.

At the Century Challenge check-in, I was doing a different sort of explaining about the mileage on my Garmin.  I'm hoping that, at the Preservation Pedal next month, I simply do it right and show the correct mileage.

I suggested to the check-in lady that she could maybe give me ten miles' worth of credit toward the Preservation Pedal.  She was kind enough to pretend amusement ... but no advance credit was forthcoming.

I suppose there's any number of lessons available from the cyclist's death, and I don't know that I can say what the One Big Lesson is, nor even whether there is  One Big Lesson.  I toyed with the notion of concealing the event from my wife, who sometimes tends to fret about these things, but I didn't, and she handled it with commendable aplomb.  I think she evaluates risk well enough to know that the most dangerous part of any of my bicycle trips is the trip, driving there and back.  But I do remember talking to her a couple of weeks ago about how I thought cycling was kind of an ideal way for me to spend my time, since it offers me all the cardio conditioning I can use, and also gives me a tiny little chance of leaving this life nearly instantaneously, on the front end of someone's car.  That seemed, and still seems, to me to be a better alternative to handing in my lunch pail at age 85 or 90, drooling and crapping myself in a nursing home and consuming megabucks of basically futile medical care.  Still ... I imagine how that must have been for the man who was killed, and what I feel is pity.  Even assuming the best for him -- instant unconsciousness until his actual death -- he must have had a second or so before the actual impact in which he saw it coming.  And what a terribly-bad second or so.  No doubt, there are worse deaths.  But every death is theologically offensive.  We weren't made to die; we all do, but it is always a shameful and pitiful thing.  The sin of Adam, echoing down through the millennia.

I'm very glad I went back to the Horsey.  Not the most enjoyable ride; the toughest one I've done, and I now feel that I have a close idea of what my limit is, physically (I'm guessing I could have made maybe 125 miles in that terrain, if I'd had  to, and given a few more hours of daylight).  Still, I'll be proud to remember having done it.  And please, Preservation Pedal ... I won't complain if you're an easy one this time.  It'll be okay.  Really.


Friday, May 08, 2015

Anatomical Voting Considerations

I just read something on the James Bovard blog that made me laugh out loud:
Wear gloves on Election Day!
“Fat-O-Sphere” author Kate Harding announced plans to “vote with my vagina” for Hillary Clinton. Harding said  her voting was guided in part by her difficult menstrual cycles. I wonder who she would vote for if she was suffering from hemorrhoids. (Coincidentally, Mike Huckabee entered the presidential race this week.)
Excellent!