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Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Review: Silca Synergetic Wet Lube

 There all sorts of web-sites that go crazy about chain lubrication, and if you believe the experts, the only way to lubricate your chain is to strip the chain of oil and then bathe it in hot wax. I'm not quite interested in that kind of extra work, so I don't do that. I go for web lubricants and sometimes neglect the lubrication until the chain starts to squeak.

Some of those web-sites will recommend the Silca Synergetic Wet Lube as the best lube for someone who can't be bothered to wax. The claims are hyperbole, as I've discovered the hard way that the lube like all other lubes attracts dirt and gets gunky. What caught my eye, however, was the dispensing bottle. When the lube first came out, the bottle came with a needle dispenser. This lets you get the lube exactly where you want it, especially if you're not lubricating the chain, but pivot points on other bicycle components. Having a needle dispenser also means that you aren't wasting lube --- it's easy to get exactly one drop of oil per link.

Alas, all good things come to an end and if you buy the lube from Amazon at this point it comes with a standard applicator which is much harder to control. Fortunately, I kept an old dispenser and poured the oil over to the new one. (I should have just moved the cap over) So I expect that if I break or lose the dispenser I'm going to hunt around for a new lube.

Does the lube make the chain last longer? Beats me. My switch to 11-speed is relatively recent so I've yet to wear out a chain. And chains are so cheap anyway it's probably not worth spending $20 worth of lube for a $20 chain.

If you can find the old dispenser, get it. Otherwise, I'm not sure this is worth the steep price.

Monday, February 06, 2023

Review: Acceptance - A Memoir

 Acceptance is Emi Nietfeld's memoir about her childhood and tertiary education years, topped with her successful career at Google and Facebook as well as a bestselling author. A childhood where her father decided to become a woman, her mother being described as a "hoarder" (you quickly discover what it means and it's not a good thing), followed by spells of institutions mixed in with forster care but then success at getting a full scholarship as a boarding school.

Many parts of the books are dramatized --- there's a definitely vibe that comes from being a person who's successfully marketed herself to Harvard and other Ivy League schools. For instance, she mentions that she wrote her college applications while sleeping in her car. When you get to that section you realized that she did it only for a couple of days before her pro bono famous college counselor told her to get to a shelter to get evidence for it so she could write a statement of extenuating circumstances. (I had no idea that that was a thing!)

That's not to detract from Nietfeld's achievements --- she did win national writing competitions (including the Horatio Algier award --- which she successfully turns into a skewering of the kind of person who sponsors those kind of awards). It's also a statement about how important a prestigious university like Harvard is --- she claimed to be the kind of student who got Bs and A-s in an institution where due to rampant grade inflation, it would have been an equivalent to be a C elsewhere, but the aura of Harvard was such that she managed to get a $130K/year job offer from Harvard, which she turned into a $200K offer by getting a second offer from Yahoo, where she had interned and been compared to then-CEO Marissa Mayer.

Nietfeld also describes her rape with unflinching detail. It took place in Budapest where she stayed at a hostel where there were only 2 men, a red flag which she hadn't been taught to avoid. It happened to her in between her high school and starting college, which led to her taking a gap year, which incidentally also made some of her sponsors from the Horatio Algier writing competition withdraw their support!

Her description of Harvard reminded me of the time when I went to graduate school and everyone else had an NSF fellowship but I had no idea what one was:

Harvard’s hands-off approach might have been ideal if I wanted to “explore” and “find myself.” But after everything, I mainly wanted to explore lucrative careers and find myself incredibly wealthy. Given my lack of parental guidance and ignorance of elite social norms, the freedom that Harvard offered didn’t feel like freedom at all. Instead it felt like another way other people knew the rules and I was in the dark. (kindle loc 4167)

Right at the end of the book Nietfeld got access to her childhood records and realized that much of what she thought was her fault turned out to be just how the system worked:

I  saw in the records that from my very first therapy appointment after my parents’ divorce, discussions of my mom’s diagnosis and potential treatment took up as much space as my own. Professionals knew she was sick, but they didn’t hesitate to medicate me rather than her. When I found my descriptions of our living situation, I wondered why no one had investigated. A decade after Ingrid first showed up at our front door, she told me she was glad I hadn’t let her inside. She knew Child Protective Services would’ve taken me away: “It would have made a bad situation worse.” One downside of a broken child welfare system is that no one wants to use it. While some families, largely those of color, have their kids taken away because they’re poor, other families who need interventions, like mine, do not get them. Much later, Annette told me she’d filed at least one maltreatment report. They told her there was nothing they could do since I wasn’t in immediate danger. As far as she could tell, no action was taken. (kindle loc 5010)

All in all, I found the book compelling reading.  It's probably going to be used as a defense of how the current systems work, since clearly it's possible for someone to work herself out of the horrible situation she found herself in. But obviously that's survivorship bias. There were probably many kids like Nietfeld who didn't get her successful outcome and we'll never know their story.

Recommended, but you'll need a strong stomach to get through many sections of it.

Thursday, February 02, 2023

Review: Lone Traveller - One Woman, Two Wheels and the World

 I picked up Lone Traveller at the library donations box for $1. When I picked it up I had no idea who Anne Mustoe was, but the first chapter had such a fresh attitude that I brought it home and read it in 2 days.

The book is not a linear travelogue, and so jumps around in time and trips. Mustoe starts off the book modestly, explaining that she always wondered why Devla Murphy chose to set off across Europe in the middle of winter rather than waiting until Spring so she could have good weather. Of course, by the middle of the book you're traversing the great Australian outback with her followed by stories of her traversing the silk road, and then you realize this is one tough cookie!

The big difference between British women writing about their travels and American women writing about their travels is the complete lack of incompetence in the British. They don't go for the self-pitying, I'm in such a mess that I need to do something crazy and totally incompetent in order to make up for a poor childhood, bad ex-husband, or some unsatisfactory relationship with a parent. Even when she is being harassed by the Chinese police and put on a bus and warned that bicycle touring in China was illegal, she would simply accept it, take the bus ride, and then after other adventures of a non-cycling nature, she would just get on her bike to keep going.

Mustoe travels in a much different style than I do. While I wouldn't feel comfortable cycling without knowing how to fix a flat, she flat out asserts that in most places you can find some mechanic who can fix your flats for you for pennies, a small sum for you but enough to make a living for them, and that there's no point learning how to fix a flat! That drives Mustoe to make certain decisions that I wouldn't have made --- for instance, she buys heavy bikes with heavy duty tires to minimize flat tires, and so travels slower while taking more time to do her trips (she quit her job to do her first big round the world trip and apparently her books made her famous enough and sold well enough that she never went back to work). As a result, while I look for mountains and views and try to stay high and cool, she goes for the flattish deserts and historical routes like the Silk route. Her knowledge of history is impeccable, and she clearly does a lot more studying of the history of the land she travels through than I do.

A surprising amount of the travel in the book is her putting her bicycle on buses, boats, and so on to get around obstacles or to get to the start (or finish) of a ride. Like myself, she eschews reservations, doesn't like camping, but carries a tent anyway. In many cases, she starts by asking if she can pitch a tent outside somebody's home and by the time evening rolls around she's invited into the home to stay for a night.

As a former principal of a school, she deals with potential predators with verve. She says she's perfected the icy stare and confident manner with which to scare of would-be harassers. Her stories in this regards are great. I think many people who are put off from traveling solo would do well to read her book. Recommended!

Monday, January 30, 2023

Review: The Peripheral

 I bought The Peripheral back when it was a $2 special.  I bounced off it and put it away without a thought. Then I started watching the Amazon TV show and decided that hey, I can read a book way faster than watching a TV show, so I tried again.

I realized now that William Gibson is actually not a very good writer. He's a great ideas person, with certain characters like Molly Millions which have obviously become iconic and will stick with you long after you're done with the book or story. But the actual writing style is detached, and the characters actually never develop during the story. What it's replaced by is a world-building style where the in-cluing is done densely, at a fast clip, and without long exposition. That style was innovative and unique when Gibson introduced it in the 1980s, but to be honest more modern writers have surpassed even Gibson at this point.

It's a cliche that the book is better than the TV show, but in this case the TV show is actually quite a bit better than the book. So I'm stuck watching video anyway in addition to reading the book. A win for Gibson, not so much a win for me.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Review: Growing up Human

 Growing Up Human is written by an archaeologist. The question behind the book is to ask why childhood takes so long for humans, and how the various pieces of it comes together. The early part of the book is fairly straightforward and no doubt you've heard about how puberty onset is affected by body fat. The details are interesting:

A study carried out by Taipei Medical University researchers found that for every extra gram of animal protein eaten a day, the age of a girl’s first period moved forward two months. This is something of a cycle, it seems, as mothers who hit puberty at an earlier age go on to have bigger children – and they are more likely themselves to have an earlier puberty. Somewhere in us is an insistent little voice telling us to accrue fat – so we can have more babies...Not only do we have critical levels of body fat for reproduction, we need much, much more fat than other primates. Our female rhesus macaques from the lab hover between 8–18 per cent body fat; human females struggle to reproduce with less than 17 per cent. (kindle loc 1054-1064)

There's quite a bit of section devoted to debunking the recent fad behind attachment parenting and all the baggage that goes with it, as well as an interesting factoid about how your teeth effectively have a scar in there which indicates your growth line:

 Being born is sufficiently traumatic that a baby’s body sort of stop-starts normal growth, and that stop-start shows up as a neonatal line, which is a scar through the inside of your teeth where all the little cells had their moment of existential panic. It exists in all of your kiddie teeth and even in ones you have as an adult – the first big chunky adult chewing tooth that comes in was actually forming before birth, so you can see the scar there too. (kindle loc 1933)

Brenna Hassett has a good sense of humor, especially when it comes to methods of baby carriage and how the body wrapping fad doesn't mean much:

 Babies who have gone on to lead full and happy adult lives have been positioned strapped to chests, strapped to boards, hung on walls, in their parents’ arms, in slings or even – and this is a personal favourite – strapped to a board and then hung on a wall. (kindle loc 2068)

There's a huge long section about breast feeding. She debunks all the myths about how easy breast feeding is, and notes that even macaques have difficulty with it:

It’s not just humans – research has shown macaques struggling and many monkeys are just, quite frankly, very bad at babies the first time around. But the rather cruel thing is that human mothers are made to feel particularly bad about it.

Mammal milk maven Katie Hinde and anthropologist Brooke Scelza were able to discuss breastfeeding with Himba mothers from Namibia, where every single mother was able to breastfeed, something that certainly isn’t true in most Westernised cultures. The authors picked out two key factors that accounted for this remarkable success rate: the support of other mothers, and the absence of any taboo or stigma associated with breastfeeding in public. The things that inhibit breastfeeding in other societies – like working hours or social rules that prevent frequent feeding – are simply not a part of Himba life, along with the stress or even the guilt associated with not breastfeeding. (kindle loc 2458-2465)

 I loved the section about the invention of grandmothers:

While male strategies for reproduction appear to consist of both making a bloody mess and captivating primatologists, the more subtle strategies of the female have often been overlooked. Some strategies aren’t even that subtle. While the rest of our primate relatives have been merrily living out the spans dictated them by sensible models of energy in, energy out, and fitting appropriate periods of dependence and maturity into their size-appropriate life spans, humans have been busy developing a world-changing evolutionary female adaptation. Something so radical that it may be single-handedly responsible for our reproductive success and the subsequent overrunning of the planet; something so unlikely so as to be almost unbelievable: grandmas...An incredibly small number of animals live past the ability to reproduce – even our own species’ males maintain some generative capacity until nearly the end of their lives. Here are some animals with grandmothers that are done having babies: Orcas, short-finned pilot whales, us. Here are some animals without grandmothers: every other animal in the world.13 There are plenty of species where some animals don’t reproduce for whatever reason – perhaps they are not the dominant breeding pair, perhaps their mate has died – and continue to live without reproducing, but this is a very different thing to what we (and those whales) do, which is to live past our biological capacity to reproduce. (kindle loc 3001-3025)

There's even a casual debunking of why human males are slightly bigger than human females:

 We might actually be mistaking the reason human males are a teeny bit bigger; perhaps rather than trying to become an ultimate fighting/loving champion, males are just bigger because females are smaller. And females are just smaller because they stop growing earlier so they can put that energy into babies because, as you may have picked up from the theme of this book, babies are important. (kindle loc 3307)

 The last part of the book covers the effects of poverty on childhood:

if poverty was ever classed as a cause of death it would be number one in the world – in every country. Poor children are more likely to suffer preventable childhood diseases, more likely to have growth falter and to die before they reach adulthood. When it comes to childhood, there is just the one real difference to reckon. It is the one that was there between the snarky schoolboys of Aristophanes and the slaves that served them, and it is still present today, and that is the time we give it. (kindle loc 4818)

The book points out that the history of human evolution is our gradually increasing investment in childhood, and the recent trends in American society to de-emphasize education and childhood is an aberration.  I read this book and highlighted many sections of it. It's definitely worth reading.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Review: Existential Physics

 Existential Physics is Sabine Hossenfelder's book about what is or is not scientific. Her beef with physicists is that sometimes they speculate without actually explicitly saying that they're doing so, and that some of those speculations have no evidence in support of them. There's chapter after chapter of this relatively short book where some of these questions (such as what happened before the big bang) are explored, and the answer is probably somewhat boring, but it's very likely that she is right --- there's so much that we don't know, and the scientific evidence only takes you so far. Past that, you get into the realm of religion or philosophy, and Hossenfelder points out that scientists aren't better equipped than the typical lay person to speculate in those realms.

The book is short, and it explores things like AI, quantum physics, cosmology, and math. One interesting insight is that it's kind of pointless to try to translate mathematics into plain English, because if it was easy and possible, then there wouldn't be a need for mathematical notation. So your best bet for actually understanding those topics is to dive into the math. But of course, not everyone has the time or inclination to put in that much time into math, so we end up with these stories that attempt to translate say, the Schrodinger Wave Equation into English, which then has the problems she describes, people stretching those analogies into talking about what the actual science doesn't say.

When I was going through this book, I kept saying to myself, "What she's saying is obvious. Why does she have to write it down?" After I finished the book I realized that what she saying wasn't always obvious, it's just that she said it in such a way that you see the reasoning. That's the hallmark of a great teacher, which makes this book worth reading. Recommended.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Review: Pixel Stand 2

 I've had a few friends buy the Pixel 6a over the holidays using my Superfans code, which grants both them and I a $100 coupon from the Google Play Store. The coupons aren't stackable, so you can't stack 3 of them to get yourself a free phone or anything like that --- they pretty much either get you a Pixel Stand 2 or a Google Pixel Buds Series A for free (or a $100 discount off say, the Pixel Buds Pro).  Unfortunately, the coupon is a discount off the regular price, so sale prices, etc do not apply.

The Pixel Stand 2 comes with a 30W charger, and can charge your Pixel phone at either 21 or 23W depending on whether you have a Pixel 6/7 or Pixel 6/7 Pro. The reason to use wireless chargers over regular wires is that the USB-C port is the first thing to go on most phones, and if you get your phone wet, it's not a good idea to plug it in. The standard Qi charging standard is set at 10W, which means the Pixel Stand 2 charges twice as fast.

In practice, you don't get the fastest charging speed unless your phone is below 50%. But that's fine. Even above 50% it's still faster than my old Qi charger. There's a fan in the stand which spins up to cool the phone (or maybe it's the charger that needs cooling). If you're in an office (for those of us who still visit offices), the Pixel Stand is great --- you'll drop it in for the time between the meetings and your phone charges as fast as when you plug in a wire, but without the hassle.

As a bonus, the stand lets you pick Google Photo Albums to display as a screen saver. Using Google Photo's face recognition feature, you can pick members of the family you'd like to see displayed and you'll get a random selection of those photos. This is especially great for me since I stopped using Google Photos as a data sink a few years ago when Google started charging for photo storage, so my screensaver only shows me pictures of my kids back when they were tiny.

At full retail price of $80, the Pixel Stand 2 is too expensive for my taste. But if you're looking for a good use of the Superfans coupon, I think this one is awesome! Recommended.