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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Review: Century Rain

Century Rain is Alastair Reynolds' time travel science fiction novel. (Yes, I'm on a Reynolds kick right now) If you want to be a hard science writer, but you want to write a time travel story, what would you do?

Reynolds' answer is to use space travel. Unfortunately, he has to resort to another artifact. Someone somewhere has made a file-system-like snapshot of Earth back in the 1930s, and hidden it behind an astronomical structure where the inhabitants can be blissfully unaware that they're not actually orbiting a star.

In the meantime, the real Earth has turned into a dystopia due to a nano-machine holocaust, and different human factions are now fighting over the ashes of the planet. Verity Auger is an archeologist, digging through the remains of old Paris to recover long lost records. When she makes a mistake and is sent to a tribunal for it, she's offered a chance to redeem herself by exploring the parallel Earth, where a previous archeologist was sent but has gone missing.

In this parallel Earth, a private detective, Floyd, is engaged by a landlord to investigate the death of a tenant that the landlord had become fond of. The two plot lines then converge and we get reveal after reveal of the various machinations that are tying together the real Earth and the parallel one.

As is usual with Reynolds' stories, the characters are wooden, and his attempts at portraying a romance is incredibly unconvincing. The world building is excellent, though it still left unanswered questions in my head --- at the end of the novel, I still felt that Reynolds had dodged a few intriguing questions that would have made the novel better if he had answered them.

All in all, this novel is pretty mediocre Reynolds, but still more than acceptable airplane material. Recommended if you can get it at a cheap price or if you check it out of the library.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Cranks, Bottom Brackets, and Upgrades

Pardo was on my case about my cranks for about a year or so, ever since he built up my custom frame. His reason was that the pedal eyes of the Mavic 631 cranks had a reputation for cracking eventually, and that I didn't inspect the cranks frequently enough to catch any cracks. I resisted it for a year or so, since I was in Germany, and I figured that since those cranks had survived all of my bike trips since 1998, it would be fine.

Well, after I came back from Germany, I discovered a creak in the Phil Wood BB, and there was also a bit of chain rub when I pushed hard while climbing. I had The Bike Doctor look at it, but neither he nor I could get rid of the creak. Furthermore, while he had the cranks off, I felt the Phil Wood BB, and it felt rough to my hands.

After much consultation with Pardo, I settled on the Ultegra SL triple. Pardo thought that the bearings would hold up better than the Phil Woods, and he didn't think the design sucked. In fact, the Shimano Hollowtech cranks are a copy of an old Bullseye design, with an integrated spider and spindle, and a pinch-bolted left crank arm. Shimano had simply adopted it after both Octalink and Octalink II had demonstrable failures in the field and the Bullseye patent had expired. It seemed strange that Shimano bothered to wait for the patent to expire, when skipping the Octalink/Octalink II system might have saved them from those fiascoes, but such is life.

Original Bullseye Crank with Pinch Bolt (See entire gallery)

The most expensive bike shop in the world likes numbers, so we started by putting together a spreadsheet with all the components weighed. We noted a few things: first of all, Shimano's chainrings are now heavier than the same equivalent chainrings from 1992, even though the ones from 1992 were uncut, and had no ramps and pins while the latest and greatest stuff is pre-worn out from all those ramps cut into it! Maybe the steel pins pushed into it added some weight, but still, one would expect such small pins to make little difference to overall weight. Secondly, Shimano's assembly is shoddy. First of all, none of the bolts were installed with any grease in the threads! This is a big no-no. Secondly, for the middle and big chainrings, 4 of the bolts were aluminum and one was steel, indicating that the assembler had reached into the wrong bin for the bolts when assembling the crank.

The old Bullseye design had an axial loading bolt that protruded from the spindle. Shimano improved this by using a recessed bolt so your heel won't strike it. They did, however, make you use a special tool to loosen and tighten it. We guessed that they did so to avoid having folks over-tighten it, which could add too much preload onto the spindle and cause early bearing failure. However, the tool they provided had no way to apply a torque wrench to it, which left us scratching our heads. Pardo's solution was simple and elegant --- he drilled a hole in the middle of the recessed bolt, stuck an allen head onto it and a bolt behind it, and now I can tighten and loosen the pre-load screw, and even apply a torque wrench on it with a hex head. On top of that, I won't have to carry a special tool, since I carry a full complement of Allen keys anyway when I ride!

Modified Ultegra SL center knob (See entire gallery)

The installation went smoothly, and Pardo and I borrowed a torque wrench from Roberto and we proceeded to tune our fingers to how tight the pinch bolts should be. It turns out that while the axial bolt only needs to be finger tight, the pinch bolts needed to be pretty tight, as in, I had to use my entire wrist strength, but it would have been wrong to use body weight on it. Needless to say, we installed the lighter chainrings on the crankset before installing it, with my 24t steel chainring (lighter than Shimano's 30t aluminum chainring), my old 39t and 49t aluminum rings from circa 1993.

Incidentally, when we pulled the Phil Wood BB, once it was out of the retaining rings without any preload on the bearings, the spindle spun smooth as butter. So despite treating the bike as a submersible in the Tour across France last year, and numerous rain rides, the Phil Wood is still good for at least another 15000 miles. So if your Phil Wood feels rough in the retaining rings, maybe it's just the preload. You won't be able to tell without pulling the entire BB. Pardo thinks that the roughness when preloaded could also be due to grit in the seals (entirely possible, given that I treated the bike to some pretty wet weather in France last year)

Enough with the geeky stuff, how does it ride? The answer: it is nothing short of amazing. It was obvious from the design that the result would be stiffer. If you were Miguel Indurain or Mike Samuel (200 pounds) or Roberto Peon (also 200 pounds), you would feel it, but skinny me? (149 pounds) I'm sure I don't put out more than 250 watts on a good day.

My first impression when getting on it was, WOW, this feels STIFF. And not in a bad way. There's absolutely no budging at all, no matter how hard I push. But most importantly, all drivetrain noise went away! No creak, and more importantly, no rubbing of the chain against the front dérailleur! Pardo examined the Mavic 631 crank, and found that the spider, while it covered a huge surface area, was really thin --- this makes a difference because beam stiffness is the square of the cross section, so that explains the increased flexibility. Pardo didn't think I was in danger of cracking the spider before the pedal eye gave way, however. So I was flexing the entire spider, causing the chainrings to move towards and away from the frame on every pedal stroke, and if I was riding hard, that would cause my crank to twist so hard that I could not provide sufficient trim on the front dérailleur to keep the chain from touching the dérailleur!

Mavic Starfish 631 Crank (note the thinness of the spider). Full Gallery

Is there a performance difference? No, not that I can tell. (I rode a familiar road at my standard hard pace, and the speedometer showed no difference) But the entire assembly is about 230 grams lighter, and the noise has gone away, and the bearings will last longer (and when they fail, they'll be easily serviced, unlike the Phil Woods, which you'd have to get a special tool to press the bearings out of). Clearly I shouldn't have resisted this upgrade for so long. Highly recommended!

Anyone want to buy a used, Phil Wood BB + Retaining Rings? Or a Mavic 631 crankset?

P.S. The 2010 Shimano Ultegra cranks have been restyled so that non-Shimano chainrings don't look right when mounted on them, so if you want to avoid that "feature", you better buy up the 2009 Ultegra crankset!
P.P.S. I found out years later that the creak was because of a frame that was cracking!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Review: Zima Blue And Other Stories

Zima Blue and Other Stories is a surprisingly uneven collection of Alastair Reynolds' short stories. As you might expect from Alastair Reynolds, the science in each of the stories is excellent, so it's the execution of the stories that are at question.

The title story, Zima Blue, is haunting --- a story about an artist who seeks his roots, and discovers to his surprise that he is not what he thought he was. Understanding Space and Time is similarly excellent, about the last human in the Universe, and what he chose to do after an unlikely resurrection.

I disliked his two Merlin stories, however, and seeing that they were published in Interzone reminded me that I did not renew my electronic subscription to the magazine for good reason. However, most of the other stories were good enough that I enjoyed reading them. Worth buying at the used prices indicated by the links above, or checking out from the library.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Review: Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days

Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days is two novellas joined together by a tenuous link set in the Revelation Space universe.

The novellas are well-written and a quick read, as you might expect from Alastair Reynolds. The first one, Diamond Dogs, is about an expedition to explore an ancient Mayan Ruin. Oh wait, no, an alien monolith, apparently designed and built to challenge humans by the means of mathematical puzzles. What's interesting about this story is that while it is a typical horror piece, the true horror is in the psychology of the expedition leader.

Turquoise Days explores the Pattern Jugglers and what they are. It is a much weaker piece than Diamond Dogs, but nevertheless does explore an interesting application of the Pattern Juggler by political entities. The characters are a lot weaker, but I'm glad to see Reynolds at least attempting to write his way around what is his traditional weakness.

As quick reads, this novel isn't quite worth the $6 Kindle price in the store, but is definitely worth checking out of the library or reading a borrowed copy. Or perhaps if you have a short domestic flight it would be perfect reading.

Purissima Creek Hike


From Bay Area

This turned out to be a very pretty hike! I was impressed. Shyam and I got started late around 10:00am, but the fog that was around yesterday was mostly burned off, while we still had a cool breeze that made the hike a great pleasure. The views were nice, though it was still a bit hazy, so we didn't get to see that far --- just all the way to half-moon bay, which is rare enough.

Trail conditions were a little muddy near skyline, but past that it became very clean and sweet. The hike had lots of variety, including Redwoods, as well as flowery little paths. Highly recommended.
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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Tour of the Alps 2005 Pictures Redux

Tour of the Alps 2005

In 2005, Mike, Steve Purcell, and I did a Tour of the Alps, Jobst-style. That was my first foray into digital photography, and it was surprisingly (to my eyes at least) successful. Web-hosting for photography at that time was sadly primitive, though Picasa had a great system for generating HTML and pictures from a photo album. It wasn't until 2006 that Picasa Web Albums launched. The tools for stitching were not as advanced as they are today.

So I reworked the photo album, creating new panoramas, and going through and reselecting pictures all over again. I do enjoy seeing how fast everything is on my new machine as well when doing it a second time!

Review: The Outskirter's Secret

This is book two of Rosemary Kirstein's Steerswoman series, and is out of print but can be bought as part of an omnibus collection.

The story begins slowly, with Rowan and Bel heading towards the location of the guide-star that they knew to have fallen. As readers, we think we know what the guide-stars are, so the first half of the novel goes slowly, exploring outskirters' life, tribes, hazards, food, and all. I was hoping the plot moved on quickly, but it showed no signs of doing so until about halfway through the novel, when suddenly everything happened at once.

Not only did everything happen at once, Kirstein suddenly went into fast forward mode, skipping weeks at a time near the end, and we get an unsatisfying finish, where we've learned enough to be intrigued, but not enough to get a big picture. Clearly, Kirstein's suffering from a sophomore slump of sorts. Hopefully the next novel will be better.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

New Zealand 2000: Flying Kiwi

New Zealand 2000

In February 2000, I went to New Zealand. It wasn't a spur of the moment trip, but I decided to go with Flying Kiwi Expeditions because I'd read about them on Philip Greenspun's Website, and thought they were a match. Well, it was a mistake. It's not that the tour was incompetently run, or that I didn't enjoy meeting the people I met there. It was that the tour tried to do too much, so you got too little cycling, too little hiking, and too much time sitting in a bus.

Nevertheless, I did get a 3 day Routeburn Track hike, which was fabulous, a little bit of cycling, and a number of day hikes that were quite enjoyable. The folks on the trip were also incredibly nice, and I made many contacts that sadly, were never renewed. Nowadays, travelers will just use Facebook to stay connected, and it's definitely a much better way to maintain a contact list than my PDA was --- over a lifetime you accumulate thousands of contacts and have no way of matching faces to names. Even worse, when women get married, they frequently change their names, so searching on Facebook, for instance, doesn't do you any good.

New Zealand is a gorgeous country. Compared to Australia, it's much smaller, but ironically is much more of a microcosm of the world. Traveling through New Zealand, you also get the sense that American vacations are pathetic. 3 weeks is considered a long time by American vacationers, but the Israeli were there for 3 months. The French would visit for a year. The English would be traveling around the world for a year. And the Germans --- I met Charlotte Michel, an 80-year-old grandmother hitch-hiking around New Zealand by herself. I've met many 25-year-old Americans who wouldn't imagine doing that. The spirit of adventure seemed much less rare in New Zealand than in Silicon Valley today.

I never forgot how gorgeously beautiful the country was, and now, looking at these slides again, I'm glad I became a decent photographer before visiting.

One word: if you're thinking of doing a cycling trip in New Zealand, don't. The cycling is OK, but not great. Go there as a hiker, backpacker, kayaker, and mountain biker, and it's a great country. As a road cyclist, it's not really worth your time.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

This year's bike trip...

... is in its planning stages. Right now, I'm thinking of Hokkaido, in Japan. Why? Because Japan is a mountainous country with polite drivers and good roads. And it's about time I visited a country where I sort of know the language for a change. If you want in, let me know and I'll supply the details.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Review: Defense Grid, The Awakening

Defense Grid: The Awakening is a member of the Desktop Tower Defense genre. When I first stumbled upon the flash based members of this genre, I spent almost a week playing it. The "just one more try" part of it was incredibly addictive, and the puzzle based yet strategy-oriented approach tickled the part of me that always wanted to excel at Real Time Strategy games but couldn't ever find the time (or perhaps the innate ability) to get good at.

Defense Grid is a variant of those flash based games, but with fun PC graphics and 20-levels. If I were asked to pay the retail $19.99 price for it, I wouldn't have considered it, but Steam ran a $5 special and at that price, I thought what the heck.

To my surprise, the game wasn't just a rip-off of the free games, but actually had some meat on its bones. For instance, the levels are quite well thought out, and some of the new monsters are fresh and new (one of them breaks apart into smaller monsters, which is something quite horrifying the first time you encounter it). There are also a couple of new towers that I enjoy, such as the command tower, which enables faster recovery of resources as well as sighting of stealthed monsters. On top of that, each level is individually designed, and has its own quirks. In particular, the game gives you interest on resources you don't spend, and in some levels that makes a difference!

In standard difficulty, the game is playable straight through without any particular hassle. In the challenge modes, however, you have to exploit at least one or two quirks of the more challenging maps. (I will admit to needing to look on YouTube for levels 18 and 20 in challenge mode. In addition, some levels of additional challenges, such as having a fixed number of resources, or only a certain number of towers.

All in all, I ended up spending way more time on this game than I should have. Recommended if you can get it discounted at $10 or less, but I wouldn't pay full price for it unless you're addicted to this genre (as it seems I am).

Netgear Fail

2 years ago in July, I bought a Infrant ReadyNAS NV+ on Dan Wallach's recommendation (it helped that my brother in San Diego was running his office on it as well). At that time, Infrant was a startup and had fabulous customer service, an active web forum where its engineers hung out, and lots of fans.

Almost right after I bought the product, Netgear bought Infrant. Netgear, by contrast, has a reputation for horrible customer support. After I came back from Australia this year, my NV+ corrupted its own root partition. Well, some of those tech support folks must have hung around, because the efforts made by the tech support was heroic. They ssh'd to my machine over a period of a week and eventually fixed the problem, though not without some lossage (I had to rebuild the user accounts).

Then last week, the power supply on the ReadyNAS blew! Fortunately, the unit came with a 5 year warranty, and 2 years is good as far as the warranty is concerned. Unfortunately, they replaced my 1GB box with a 256MB box. I called Netgear, thinking that this must have been a mistake. Unfortunately, Netgear's reputation came to the fore. After 2 hours of back and forthing with them, I finally got to a customer service manager who told me that since that none of their units came with more the 256MB of RAM, I must have bought the unit from a 3rd party (well, I did, I bought it from Infrant!), and therefore I was out of luck. A 1GB stick of RAM is $50 on Amazon, so if it was critical I'm not out a lot of money, but this is definitely likely to cause me to build my own RAID array or buy one of those Windows media servers and reformat them to run ZFS the next time I look for a RAID box (which is another 3 years from now).

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Tuition and Alumni Giving

Someone over at friendfeed pointed me at this New York Times article about Harvard students having a new and innovative loan for going to school. As far as whether supporting Harvard is a good thing or not, I'm going to side with Brad Delong. My Alma Mater has done an amazing job of educating the most students possible for the lowest price. When I went to school in the late 80s, I paid $3000 a semester. 17 years later, Berkeley's fee schedule has risen to a paltry $5000 a semester. This is an incredible bargain, and this despite the state continuing to short change higher education whenever it can find an excuse to do so. The administrators of the UC system definitely can hold their heads high when comparing themselves to other elite institutions.

Yet, whenever Berkeley has asked me for money over e-mail, they've always pointed me at an alumni page where I needed to remember my 17 year old student ID to be able to log on. With such stupidity, it's no wonder I haven't gotten to giving them any money at all.

New England 2000 Bike Trip

New England 2000

In September 2000, I flew to Manchester, New Hampshire, photographed Scarlet's wedding, and then rode my bike to Portland Maine, where Patti had rented a car to drive up to Acadia National Park for another wedding.

I met Patti Ordonez on one of my many pigeon point trips, and she impressed me with her sense of adventure, backpacking through South America by herself, so I invited her on this trip. On the day of Scarlet's wedding, when I was done shooting the wedding, she hadn't shown up by the appointed time, so I assumed that she had had a change of heart. I packed off onto my bike and rode off to a campground 30 miles away. It turned out that her plane was late and she caught up to me by evening.

Patti turned out to be a great traveling companion. We'd find a campground that rented canoes, and she'd turn out to know how to manage one. She would find us a B&B on my birthday! As someone who'd usually camped out on bike trips before, that was a luxury. I was sad when she had to leave after attending her friends' wedding.

Soon enough though, I met cycling author Marty Basch, who was not only generous with his time (we shared a campground together), but also offered me his home as a place to stay on my way back to Maine. I took him up to the offer, especially since the weather had suddenly turned cold!

Patti is now getting a PhD at the University of Maryland.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

South Africa, February 2001

South Africa 2001

Lisa and I visited South Africa in 2001, starting in Cape Town by visiting a Jana, Radek's sister. Her family kindly put us up, and we were off on our very first tandem touring adventure. I got the route by writing to a CTC tour leader, and he was kind enough to provide not just routing and long stay information, but contacts on the ground as well while we were touring.

While flying to South Africa is not cheap, touring there is still incredibly cheap. For $20 a night you get a B&B for two, and frequently the hostess will do laundry for you. Tandems are rarely seen in South Africa, so every where you go you get treated like a celebrity --- kids would chase you as you ride down the street, farm workers would wave at you while they were in the fields. When we rolled into a B&B, the hosts, the dog, and the kids would run out to greet us. It was definitely an adventure to remember.

What was bad was that the roads were not frequently cleaned, and there was a lot of glass. We got so many flats that I ran out of patches and spare tubes! Finally, we got to do the Cape Argus Cycle tour in Cape Town at the end, which was a lot of fun, as they closed down the freeways so we could ride on them for this 100km tour. With 35,000 riders, it was the biggest timed cycling event in the world. It was so big that the tandems get let off in two waves: one wave for the competitive ones and a second one for the social tandems. When we were let off, the speakers blared, "Daisy Daisy".

I never did do a full on write-up for this trip because of a personal tragedy. Soon after I got back from the trip, I was hit by a car on the way home from work. That put me in hospital for 3 days and out of commission for months. By the time I was fully operational again, I had other things on my mind.

Review: The Age of Entanglement

I loved the concept behind The Age of Entanglement. Rather than just explaining the physics behind Quantum theory and the impressive improvements in our understanding of entanglement and other issues, the author proposes to explain the persons involved, how they understood the problem, and even recreate (in an enactment sense) the conversations and circumstances under which their ideas came about.

The execution, however, was a miserable failure. It was quite clear that Ms. Gilder doesn't quite understand her subject well enough to explain it clearly, and as an apparently aspiring novelist, she found her subjects' poetry or musical likings to be just as important as their physics ideas. Well, unfortunately, physicists aren't usually famous poets for the obvious reasons, so all she left me was a failure to appreciate why she picked a particular poetry. She also left out important folks, for instance Peter Shor.

Despite the brevity of the book (some 300-odd pages), it took me weeks to finish this one. Not recommended.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Miscellaneous Collection


Sooner or later, if you shoot enough, you'll find perfectly good photos that don't fit into any other category. Like most other photographers, I tend to just stick them into a slide tray just so they don't get lost among all the other photos that don't quite make the cut.

Normally, when I scan photos from a slide tray, I don't bother doing much more culling. After all, if I bothered to stick them into the slide tray, they met some prior standard. But because this tray saw so much evolution over the years, I made an extra pass just to throw out stuff that I never would show others at this point, when my standards are much higher than when I first started out.

Review: The Graveyard Book

I somehow never got to the Graveyard Book last year. It wasn't just because I was in Germany (I had a Kindle), it was that for $9.99, the book just didn't seem to have that much reading material, so I put it off until I had access to the library copy.

Gaiman's novels, I find, are a mixed bag. There's Stardust, which is a delightful story told really well (make sure you get the correct edition to get the delightful Charles Vess illustrations, which tell at least half the story), and then there's lackluster novels like American Gods, which left me cold. (I did find Anansi Boys to be fun, however) By contrast, almost all of Gaiman's comic books are worth reading.

The Graveyard Book is about a boy who survives a grisly killing of his family and is raised in a Graveyard by ghosts. It pays homage to Kipling's The Jungle Book, and there's definitely some form of patterning after that effort. Unfortunately, as stories go, it's not all that interesting --- I did not feel any sense of wonder, just a bunch of one contrieved situations after another. By the time I was finished, I was just glad to be done with the novel.

Not recommended. Pick up The Sandman instead.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Tour of Hokkaido Solicitation Letter

My doctor has said that I will be done with my thrice weekly physical therapy sessions by the end of July, and I might even not be fat and out of shape then, so it's time to start thinking about a tour. The Yen is not expensive right now, and apparently, neither are plane tickets to Hokkaido or Narita Tokyo.

If you don't know what a Piaw trip is like, visit

I expect Japan to be easier than previous trips (I'm not in stellar shape) physically, but challenging both culturally and mentally --- my Japanese is really rusty, I've never been to Japan before, and worse, I'm Chinese so I look like the Japanese to the Japanese and they'll be shocked that I'm not. :-) Nevertheless, who knows how long the Yen
will stay (relatively) cheap.

The idea would be to fly or somehow make it to Hokkaido, which is supposedly the place to go for cycling. Japanese drivers are supposedly really polite, and because of their economic stagnation for the last 10 years, they have really good roads that are rarely used. The proposed dates are: August 22nd to September 13th (I could move it forward or back by a week or so).

If you're interested, let me know, and we'll make sure to ride together so we're compatible (similar pace, ability to handle unexpected things like unpaved roads or destroyed tire levers), and make an exciting trip out of it.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Dead Kindle


My Kindle just gave up the ghost. As you can see from the image, the failure mode is a strange one: it's not that I cracked the screen or did any physical damage, the screen just locked into a big black section and a black band, and nothing I could do would unwedge it. Even Amazon's tech support was stumped.

To be fair, this Kindle lived a hard life. It sat in my saddlebag as I rode across France, and got used extensively all through our two month Australia trip. I've dropped it (and there's a chip on the side where it landed) on cobbles in France. Portable electronics don't last very long under the best of conditions, and what I put it through, while not a torture test, is still pretty harsh. That's no excuse though, my Blackberry survived pretty much all the same trips plus a few more, and was still going strong when I replaced it because my employer switched providers.

Amazon's replacement policy for out-of-warranty Kindles is that you pay $180 for it. Given that used Kindle 1 units still sell for around $300, and an estimated of Kindle 2's manufacturing cost comes out to $185, $180 is a very reasonable replacement cost. I asked if I could pay an upgrade fee and get the Kindle DX, but no dice, despite the fact that at the time, they didn't project having a Kindle v1 in stock until July! (The DX ships on the 10th)

Needless to say, I didn't even consider the Kindle 2, since I consider it an inferior product to the Kindle v1, given the lack of an SD card slot and the non-user-replaceable battery.
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Monday, June 01, 2009

Pictures from my first bike tour in Europe

Tour of Languedoc-Roussillon (Southern France) 1998

In 1998, Paul DuBois and I joined a retired history Professor, his wife, and two other cyclists for a tour of Languedoc-Roussillon, in Southern France. That was my first bike tour in continental Europe proper, and I thought it was a good idea to travel with someone who knew the area, and knew the language was a good idea. In particular, I thought it would be interesting for someone versed in history to tell me all about the area.

The professor had a lot to teach me, but none of it was about history. He found routes by using a Michelin map, but didn't do a great job of research, so we had several days of riding straight into a headwind, which was no fun at all. He found restaurants by using the Michelin guide, which was OK, but I've since learned that it was't necessary to even use one. His wife drove SAG and went ahead and got us hotel rooms every day, which was very nice, but it added quite a bit to the costs, though a side benefit was I got to borrow the car every so often to run out with my tripod and shoot cityscapes at dawn or at night.

Ultimately, though, what I really learned was that having someone else pick your itinerary for you is nasty, unless you really like doing what they like doing. We traveled through lots of historical places, but without the kind of context he had, I couldn't appreciate it. At least the cycling was very nice, but I had great days when I broke away from my group and met up with other random tourists who would introduce me to folks and we'd have conversations, short and shallow as they were, since my French was (and still is) no good.

Back then, I traveled with an EOS Elan IIe with a 28mm and a 50mm lens, and Fuji Sensia 100. Those pictures don't scan too badly, and having a tripod meant that despite being a better photographer now, there are many pictures I wouldn't be able to get today since I've given up traveling with a tripod for my light and fast tours.

One friend of mine mentioned that the best slides in this collection were the images of people. Looking back at it now, I have to agree. Enjoy!