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Monday, July 04, 2022

Review: Now

 Now is Richard Muller's physics speculation about the nature of time. Richard Muller's an experimental physicist, so his opinion carries quite a bit more weight than the typical man in the street. Also, most other books about such speculations are written by theoretical physicists, so his is quite a different view, especially since he covers much of the experimental work that other books don't.

Since it's partly a speculative work, Muller doesn't abstain from providing discussions about what is or isn't physics and his quotes are frequently quite pithy:

Physics is arguably that tiny subset of reality that is susceptible to mathematics. No wonder physics yields to math; if an aspect of existence doesn’t so yield, we give it a different name: history, political science, ethics, philosophy, poetry. (kindle loc 3559)

He also points out several interesting things about say, the nature of black holes:

 Recall the calculation showing that it takes infinite time to fall into a black hole. A similar calculation shows that it takes infinite time to form a black hole, measured in our time coordinate. All that material has to fall, effectively, an infinite distance. So unless the black holes already existed at the moment the universe was created, unless they were primordial black holes, they haven’t yet reached true black-hole status; there hasn’t been enough time (from our outside proper frame) for the matter to fall the infinite distance that characterizes a true black hole. And there is no reason to think that any of the objects are primordial (although some people speculate that one or more might be). (kindle loc 1229)

Muller also doesn't hesitate to talk about how he's willing to consider things that are not provable by physical laws true. Ultimately, he provides his own speculation, that time is created by the expansion of the universe, similar to the expansion of space. He proposes experiments that might falsify his explanation one way or another, but doesn't discuss whether or not we're coming close to a conclusion. He dismisses many other approaches to the consideration of time, such as using the second law of thermodynamics, considering them not even wrong, since the use of such mechanism doesn't lead to any useful predictions.

All in all, I enjoyed the book and considered it well worth the time spent reading it. At the very least it's got an unusual, experimentalist bent that will be different from other works written by theorists. 

Thursday, June 30, 2022

A transition to 1x Drivetrains

 For a couple of years now, I've been hearing a creak and clack on my bicycle whenever I pedaled hard, but would disappear when I stood up. I replaced the chain, and the problem persisted. I looked for a crack in the chainstay, and didn't see any. Then one day at the end of January, I looked at the seat tube, and there it was, a crack around the seat tube just above the front derailleur clamp. I conferred quickly with Carl Strong, shipped the bicycle up to him, and he confirmed that yes, it was the derailleur clamp that cracked the tube, but that there was no way a clamp should have done that. He searched through his records and discovered that the seat tube and top tube were from a defective batch where heat treatment had not happened. He promised to build me a new frame, putting me near the front of the line.

I called around to see who could build me a frame. Rivendell didn't have any frames my size handy, and the closest that came was R&E cycles in Seattle, who could build me a new frame in 6-8 weeks, they thought. Grant loaned me a Charlie Gallop prototype for a week, but he wasn't going to sell me that bike, and while it was a fun enough bike, it wouldn't have been a good substitute for my custom touring bike, though I decided that I would place an order for a Roadini whenever Grant got a new batch in. Having cracked 2 titanium frames I think I can justify having a backup road bike!


Since I had the frame stripped anyway, I decided that now was a good time to try a 1x drivetrain. The problem with 1x12 was that they all needed a new wheel or a new freehub body for my white industries hub. Those xD/xDR drivers for the T11 hubs were not to be found for love or for money, so I gave up on that idea. The NX Eagle 11-50t cassette was one possibility if I wanted 12 speed, it wasn't compared favorably to the Deore groupset. The M5100, however, was available and reasonably priced, if on the heavy side. The Shimano 12-speed MTB groups all require a wider wheel spacing (135-142mm) and so weren't even under consideration. What is surprising is that the 11s MTB cassettes fit onto 10s wheels without any modification --- it turned out that the only reason Shimano introduced 11s road specific groups was because the racers would disdain running any cassette with as big a sprocket as 30t, and with smaller big sprockets the chain would rub against the spokes of a 10s wheel!

I did the analysis on the weight and to my disappointment it would come up to be a wash. Sure, I'd lose the left shifter, 2 chainrings and the front derailleur clamp and cable, but the increased weight of the m5100 11-51 over the 11-36 was 314g, and the total savings of all the other parts was only 340g. Nevertheless, after Pengtoh mentioned how much he disliked his front derailleur, I realized that there were many occasions when I would avoid shifting the front simply because I didn't want to risk dropping the chain, and the few times when I did drop the chain it was annoying.

I ordered the m5100 cassette 11-51, the m5100 SGS rear derailleur, an ultegra 11s chain, and a microshift 11-speed MTB bar-end shifter. You need the MTB specific bar-end because Shimano increased the pull ratio of the 11 speed MTB rear derailleurs, so my old 10-speed silver shifters wouldn't be able to shift the whole range of gears. I eschewed getting even a barrel adjuster because experience has taught me that the way I ride and the places I ride will simply get the indexing out of adjustment faster than I can keep it adjusted. I considered getting the DiaCompe 11-speed downtube shifter, but when I mentioned that to Carl, he thought that a braze-on on the thinnest part of the downtube wasn't a good idea, so I stuck with a bar-end shifter. I also got new bar tape. I also splurged and got the RX810 GRX crank, since I wanted to save the triple for the Roadini, which did have downtube shifter bosses for my Silver downtube shifters. In retrospect, I should have just ordered a Wolf-Tooth 38t chainring for the Ultegra triple, since after trying the 1x for a few weeks I cannot imagine going back to a triple chainring setup.


It took 2 months for Carl to deliver me a new frame, and I got very bored riding my MTB everywhere, though I did find a few interesting trails around my neighborhood to tide me over. When the frame arrived, I put it together, learning the hard way that it's easy to put together the 11s cassette's 11t sprocket in wrong. Then I learned the hard way what the B-screw was for, and how you have to adjust it carefully or the derailleur would move too close to the cassette in the middle gears and interfere with upshifts! It took a few rides to get the headset/fork all settled in, but once I got it together I quite enjoyed it. There are shifting challenges since I'd gotten used to shifting 10-speed on my triplet and on my previous singles, but a few days with the bike made me realize that I hardly ever used the 13t sprockets on my bikes with multiple chainrings, and that indeed I had frequently stood up and stomped on the pedals to get over steep sections rather than gear down because I didn't really want to bother with the shift to and from the granny --- the extra lower gears don't come into play unless you plan for it and are willing to take the hit because you know it's going to be that steep.

My initial rides with the new low gear were grindy --- in low gear the cage would rub. But after adjusting the B-screw that grind went away and now the bike is quiet in all gears. In the extreme range the chainline definitely looks funny, but so far it's been perfectly functional and quiet. And of course, the bike no longer makes that creak/clack when pedaling hard since the frame isn't cracked! I discovered that it's possible to install the Shimano Ultegra 11s chains wrong --- the logo needs to face away from the bike, and the words are supposed to read right side up on the upper side of the chain. Trust Shimano to make something that used to be idiot-proof something that's easy to get wrong. After 300 miles I fixed the reversal, and to my surprise the drivetrain became more noisy. I had it checked at a local bike shop, and the employee said I did it right. The answer is to stop buying Shimano chains and switch to non-directional chains like KMC and SRAM.

Looking at the gearing, it looked like I could get a Wolf-Tooth 36t chainring for the bike for touring, and get a 19inch gear, which was what I had back when 11-34 cassettes were the norm rather than 11-36. When touring, I'd be restricted to an 88" high gear, but when I toured with Arturo, the only time he missed a 100" high gear was one day in Austria when we had a tailwind and a downhill. I could definitely live with that.

When putting the drivetrain together, I thought the 11-51's top gear would hardly ever gets used: to get to use the 40/11, I'd have to be riding at 30mph at 100rpm. To my surprise, I found myself doing that far more often than I would back when I had a 3x setup --- I simply never thought to shift to the big chainring/small sprocket because it was too much hassle, but when it was easy to just slam the shifter to the small sprocket I'd do it all the time! 

To my surprise, I discovered that I was a little faster over the local climbs than on my triple. What happened was that on the triple, I'd get down to the 39/36 (29" gear), and not bother trying to get to the 24/28, 24/32, or 24/36 unless I was anticipating steep stuff. On the 1x drivetrain, I could go from the 40/39 (28" gear - just slightly lower than the 39/34), and if it got a little steeper I'd just shift down to the 40/45 or even 40/51 on dirt before bottoming out. I took the bike over all the steepest local hills I could find: Montebello RoadBohlman-On-Orbit Bohlman, Black Road, and Rapley trail. Sure, my low wasn't as low as the 24/36, but making the shifts convenient and not risking chain drops meant that I actually used more of those gears. As usual, the engineer in me got confounded by the human factors, which turn out to be much more important than numbers on a spreadsheet. And all this despite lots of studies showing the 1x has more drivetrain friction/drag than 2x or 3x, because of the extreme chain angles in lower gears! It turns out that running a 24t chainring is much less efficient than a 40t chainring, and I bet that means the actual frictional drag difference is a wash for someone who was running their 3x drivetrains out of spec anyway (officially, Shimano would only have supported 30/39/52 on my Ultegra SL). As usual, the default Shimano gearing works only if you're a strong 25 year old but wouldn't work at all for anyone else. This default position explains why SRAM has been steadily gaining market share --- the 1x setups are actually far better and more easily customizable for only moderately strong cyclists.

I think left to my own devices I probably wouldn't have switched to a 1x gearing, but now that I have it I can see why it's taken off --- with 11 speeds at the back and a wide enough range, there's no need to put up with the additional issues of having a front chainring or derailleur. During this testing period I did an aggressive ride with Bowen on the tandem and dropped the chain no less than 3 times despite having a chain watcher installed. The unreliability of triples definitely means that I will do my best to ride only 1x from now on. This is one of those technologies that the tourists will adopt long before the racers will do so. In fact, I think I should consider it on the triplet, where a chain drop is very disruptive (and it's hard to coordinate easing off on the pedals when shifting), and I care even less about the high end! When I build up my backup road bike this summer I anticipate going all in on 1x as well. That's how good it is! All in all, I think the 1x11 and 1x12 are good enough to justify the expenditure and hassle to switch over.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Review: The Next Great Migration

 The Next Great Migration is a book about migrations. It's written by an immigrant herself, and starts off with a great story:

My grandmother used to cry when she heard that, in America, her son washed the dishes after dinner. In the flat she’d raised him in, dishwashing was a job for the day laborers, who crouched on their haunches on the slimy tiled floors of the common washing area and slept on thin rough mats on the terrace. (kindle loc 359)

I remember my parents telling me that their family would visit the USA and then nix any thoughts of moving there when they realized that domestic help was so expensive that essentially nobody had any. 

To my surprise, the book covers animal migration as well as human migration, with large chunks of the book about the historical view of migrations as expressed by scientists. I learned that Carl Linnaeus, the inventor of the scientific naming convention of science used since the 1800s, fundamentally considered migration impossible --- he viewed that God created all species in situ, and that migration was an aberration.

As a result, scientists had a blind spot regarding long migrations, and it wasn't until the invention of radar before scientists realized that long distance migrations were a reality, and happened frequently:

Dragonflies migrated from the eastern United States to South America, flying hundreds of kilometers every day. Tiger sharks, assumed to be permanent residents of the coastal waters around Hawaii, turned out to travel thousands of kilometers out into the sea. Scientists’ assumptions about their provincialism, a shark researcher from the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology said, “were completely wrong.” (kindle loc 3685)

Similarly, of course, we know a lot now about human migration and how the Polynesians colonized the islands of the pacific using skills that are pretty much lost today.

 What the book doesn't cover in detail is in its title, about how climate change will drive the next great wave of migrations. That migration is alluded to, and the author definitely is pro migration, and frequently laments that treatment of human migrants and refugees. I'm an immigrant myself, so I understand where that sympathy is coming from. On the other hand, democratic societies that ignore the desire of existing citizens to limit the influx of people can end up being unstable, and it's beyond the scope of the book to cover that, so she doesn't cover the much more important political story, except to state:

The researchers found that the antimigrant politician found his greatest support among people living in places experiencing a rapid influx of people who’d been born elsewhere. The states that Trump won were not especially diverse. The diversity indexes in those states were lower than the national average, ranking in the bottom twenty of the fifty states. But in the counties that Trump won, the low diversity index is changing rapidly, rising nearly twice as fast as the national average...In the United States, nearly a third of us are less than one generation removed from an act of international migration. Every year 14 percent of us move from one part of the country to another, crossing borders into states with different laws, different customs, and different dialects, some of them as distant from each other as New York City and Casablanca or Cartagena...Almost 25 percent of people in France, nearly 20 percent of those in Sweden, and 14 percent of people in the United States estimated that immigrants receive twice as much government support as natives—which isn’t true in any of those countries. (kindle loc 4629-4692)

All in all, I enjoyed and can recommend the book, but it left me mildly dissatisfied.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Review: How to Take Over the World

 I checked out How to Take Over the World hoping to find some true villainous schemes to take over the world that might work. To my disappointment, this book turned out to be rather pedestrian. Rather than taking over the world, most of the book seem focused on "How to Satiate Your Ego."

For instance, there's an entire chapter on shooting sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere as a counter to global warming. That doesn't seem very supervillain to me. There's another chapter on how to be remembered millions of years into the future (the author proposes effectively recreating the voyager spacecraft and putting your own dead body in it rather than instruments).

The chapters on creating your own secret base (floating geodesic domes) and creating your own country (seasteading) turn out to spend a lot of time explaining how people failed doing it instead.

If you take the attitude that the book's really using the supervillain theme as a way to get you to read about the various facts Ryan North has shoveled into the book, then it makes a lot more sense. There's lots of stuff about how the internet works, as well as anti-aging technology that's just coming down the pipe.

Overall, the book's written in a humorous, friendly style, much like What If?. I would recommend it as an ideal follow up to that book if you enjoyed it!


Monday, June 20, 2022

Kudos to Swytch Bike customer service

 We bought and installed our Swytch bike in December 2020 which meant it was well out of warranty when one day in the middle of our ride, the battery pack stopped delivering power, I didn't actually expect them to grant us a repair. Yet when I contacted their customer service, they readily provided a new Tour battery. That battery worked for exactly one ride, and then the battery stopped providing power again.

This time, they scheduled a video call to diagnose the problem. After the diagnosis of a bad controller, they declared that this was a bad battery pack, but they had no more battery packs to give us, so this time, they sent us two Pro packs, each with a range of approximately 30 miles, so together they would provide 60 miles of range, at the inconvenience of having to cycle between the batteries to charge.

To my surprise, the Pro pack actually seemed to provide the motor with more kick, and while swapping between batteries is not ideal, the lighter single pack meant that it's more practical for use around town or for commuting, etc. I installed a rack on the bike so that a second battery can be carried.

One of my biggest concerns with buying a Swytch kit was the potential lack of customer service. These folks proved my concerns unfounded. I'll heartily recommend the kit for anyone!


Thursday, June 16, 2022

Re-read: Black Orchid

 While rummaging through my collection of comics for Boen, I found Black Orchid, one of Neil Gaiman's first graphic novels. It's mostly been forgotten in recent times, and in the re-read, I found several interesting foreshadowing of what Gaiman would write.

For one thing, this was the first instance of Gaiman using his signature, "build up to a climax for you to expect a massive combat scene, and then deflate it with a whimper." He would use this repeatedly later in his career, including that infamous scene in hell where the lord of dreams goes to hell prepared for a fight and then gets handed the keys to hell instead.

There are lots of holes in the work otherwise: the characters aren't well developed, and his use of other DC universe characters are weak. We get some idea of what Black Orchid can or cannot do, but no clear understanding of where it all comes from. We get a tour of the DC universe's plant-based characters (Swamp Thing, Poison Ivy, the Flouronic man) but nothing that really ties them all together.

The art is nothing short of outstanding, with Dave McKean's paintings and mixed media work reminding me a lot of Bill Sienkiewicz at his best.

Overall, it's a good book, but nothing that indicates that Gaiman would rise above all this to become one of the greats. Worth reading.


Monday, June 13, 2022

Review: Park CC-4 Chain Checker

 If you read Pardo's overview of chain checkers, you'll understand that the only accurate chain checker ever made was the Shimano TL-CN40/41/42. The two pin design measures pin-to-pin wear and doesn't over-estimate chain wear. It was also not made any more and I simply made do with CC-2s, CC-3s, etc because that's what I could find. I knew I was probably replacing chains prematurely, but it wasn't a big deal for 10-speed chains.

Well, for 11 and 12 speed chains, not only are they more expensive, you also have to replace them when the wear reaches 0.5% elongation, instead of 0.75%. My less accurate tools were going to start increasing my mainteneance costs significantly. Dan Wallach told me about the Park CC-4, and one look at the design showed me that it was a reincarnation of the TL-CN40, but with a detent, so you could use it for both 10 speed and 12 speed chains. I immediately bought one, and low and behold, a chain that the CC-2 said was at 0.5% elongation actually wasn't elongated at all!

At $15, it won't take 2 years for the cost savings in chains to pay for the cost of the tool. If you ride 11 or 12 speed chains, you need one. Even for 10 speed chains, it'll probably save you money, just not as quickly. Recommended.