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Monday, June 29, 2020

First Impressions: Garmin Edge 830

Last year in June, Bowen saw me, Mike, and Arturo use "GroupTrack" during our bike tour in the Shasta region. After he saw that, he asked for a GroupTrack capable bike computer. I contended that he didn't need one, but he kept persisting, so I told him there were only a few ways he could get one: give up his other birthday presents, get one of his friends to go touring with us, pay for it out of his own pocket, or ride his single bike to school every day for a year.

Well, he rode his single to school every day, rain or shine, and then in March COVID19 effectively ended the school year for him. I could have gotten him an Edge 520plus or 530, but I figured if I was going to get him something it might as well be a navigation-capable unit for backup when touring, though who knows when we'll get to do that, so the Edge 830 it was.

The main reason is that the Edge 830 was faster (which is a big deal if you want the GPS to do the navigation and routing), and also the trail forks integration, which is useful potentially for mountain biking. (Though around here, it'd be rare that I ever got lost on a mountain bike ride!)

The unit is indeed super-fast. It does everything far faster than my Fenix 5X, which was already too fast for me to keep confused. It pairs to a smartphone for GroupTrack, which is as reliable as you can imagine (not very), but sometimes does do a passing job. It does require that your phone has a data plan, etc, so some of it is that I'm not spending big bucks on Bowen's data plan.

Unlike his older Edge 25 (which now goes to his brother), the Edge 830 does a fabulous job sync'ing rides up to Garmin Connect even over WiFi. The Edge 25 despite its claim to doing bluetooth sync'ing, never actually did so and I'd always had to plug it into a PC to get ride data out. It also links to power meters, which is kinda funny on a triplet.

All in all, if you had to buy a navigation-capable bike computer today, this is the one to get. It's a huge improvement over the older units, and worth the money (especially since I managed to use a 20% off coupon on it). Recommended.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Review: Godox TT350P

I've been using the Ricoh GR3 on many of my adventures recently, and the lack of a fill flash on the camera started to bug me. Without a fill flash, many daylight pictures turn into a mess of shadows, which is only partially rescuable using Lightroom. Almost as importantly, the catchlights in eyes look which I love can't easily be achieved as well.

All the official Pentax flashes were too expensive and/or heavy for what I was trying to do, so I went looking for an unofficial solution. The Godox TT350P seemed to be extremely good value: it comes with a stand and a diffuser (something I've always had to buy for my Canon flashes separately), a case (which is useless), and a fully rotatable head (for bounce flash). The flash is heavy, however, about the same weight as the camera it would be attached to.

My first experience with the flash was disappointing, however, with clear flash artifacts that I wasn't happy with.  The results were inconsistent, occasionally over-exposing the photo, and occasionally looking as though the flash wasn't on. It's quite clear that Pentax/Ricoh's TTL integration isn't even close to what I was used to with Canon's, where simply dialing in a -2/3 or -1/1/3 flash exposure compensation would get you picture perfect results. However, the Lightroom "Flash" auto-correct setting did the right thing on occasion, and while the artifacts are still there if you know how to look for it, they're not completely unnatural:
And I got the catchlights back:
After using it on a few hikes and bike rides, I decided that the flash was just too big. If I'm doing a difficult trip, I'd rather use the weight budget on carrying more food, water, or the hammock. If I'm doing an easy trip, then I might as well carry the EOS M6 instead of the Ricoh GR3 and the flash. I reluctantly returned the flash.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Reread: Dune

I found myself rereading Dune, and years after my first reading of it in my teenage years, it's still and astounding novel. Things jumped out at me this time that didn't in my first reading. For instance, it's astounding how for a science fiction world how medieval the institutions in the novel are. Even the position of a planetary ecologist is via inheritance, rather than merit. All the major characters are characters born into privilege with a huge amount of attention given to eugenics, and training is only available to those of a high born class.

It's also amazing to me how much various parts of the book affected my psyche through the years, even though much of it was forgotten. I remember driving home from the hospital with Bowen and Xiaoqin, suddenly aware of how every careless driver was suddenly a threat. I didn't realize it then,  but that feeling came almost directly from the book: "They have tried to take the life of my son!" Similarly, I'd forgotten that one of the most poignant quotes from the book also featured in my memory:
"One of the most terrible moments in a boy's life," Paul said, "is when he discovers his father and mother are human beings who share a love that he can never quite taste. It's a loss, an awakening to the fact that the world is there and here and we are in it alone..." 
And of course there's more. There's the subtle teaching about ecosystems and ecology, and the inspirational long term view of terraforming a hostile environment taking 300-500 years. Of course, it's taken us far less than 50 years to start turning our own planet into a hostile environment. There's the deliberate evocation of the Arabic desert nomads, the constant impingement into our consciousness all through the book about the preciousness of water, something that Californians are only starting to become aware of.

There's so much that makes this a great book. The rest of the series degenerated somewhat from this initial grand novel, and it was definitely well worth the re-read. Recommended.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Review: Tales from Earthsea

Despite loving The Wizard of Earthsea and most of the series, I bounced off Tehanu pretty hard, so wasn't going to consider it but then read the reviews (due to an Amazon sale) and realized Tales from Earthsea was a collection of short stories, so even if I bounced off one or two of them it would be OK.

The collection of short stories vary a lot, from the founding of Roke by Medra (which unfortunately never explains how it went from a collection of men and women to becoming a school where women are excluded, to a very quiet sequence about Ged chasing down an errant wizard. (Ged barely features in it) The final story, "Dragonfly" takes place after Tehanu but you don't really need to have read Tehanu to appreciate it. The story about how Ogion held back an earthquake is finally told. The book ends with the "series bible" so to speak that Le Guin used to do her world building. It's not pleasure reading, but is short.

LeGuin's prose is beautiful and flawless, which in itself makes the book a pleasure. Recommended.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Review: House Again Tea Infuser

In an effort to reduce caffeine (and also to break the palate monotony), I've occasionally drank tea. If you're going to use loose leaf teas, an infuser will make much less of a mess. I first tried the Finum Mesh Brewing Basket, but discovered that it was far too fragile: holes would develop in the mesh and then well, you'll have leaves in your mouth when you drink.

The House Again Tea Ball infuser turned out to be a much better choice, with a chain to wrap around the handle of the mug and a studier pocket that neither leaks nor breaks. It also comes with a handy saucer so you can take it out and reuse the tea leaves or just not have too strong/bitter a brew.

It doesn't seem to infuse any unwelcome flavors, which is all I can ask for it (other than the durability)..

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Review: Panaracer GravelKing tires

Now that the local parks are open to Mountain Bikes again, we've been resuming our almost weekly cadence of mountain bike trips. My wife's Cheviot was not quite a mountain bike, having come with 33mm nifty swifty tires which aren't actually particularly swift.

I looked for wider tires and bought some Panaracer Gravel King tires. The product managers idiotically created several sizes and types of tires but gave them all the same name, so you have to be careful when you order tires what to get.

I started with the Gravel King SK+ 1.90 tires. These have knobbies and barely clear the Cheviot frame and brakes, but made such an awful noise that my wife asked for them to be removed and replaced with the nifty swifty because she'd rather put up with poor traction on the mountain bike trail than listen to those tires.

Upon switching to the 1.75 version of those tires, all those complaints disappeared, the tires cleared the frame better, and the rolling resistance was also much better. Get these, and not the knobby versions for an all-round bike.

Review: Voler Shift Terrain Pro Short

My Pearl Izumi Elite Shorts are now starting to be ragged (after 4 years and several bike tours), and the Quest shorts are also gone. They tend to die in ways that slowly become more and more uncomfortable. Pearl Izumi, of course, has since renamed the "Elite" the Pro and their stuff is now well over the budget I typically allocate for clothing ($170/pair!!), so I was at a loss.

The scuttlebutt seems to be that the Performance Brand Ultra shorts are actually pretty good (and Eric House says they refused to die on him). Then another internet source compared them with the Voler, and I skipped over to the Voler web-site and discovered that their Shift Milano Elan Pro short at $50 was quite a bit less than the Performance branded ones.

Upon first wear, the shorts felt a bit stiff, but less than 3 miles of pedaling on the triplet and they melded into my body. Subsequent washes and wear see no degradation of performance. Obviously, touring is out of the question for the foreseeable future, and we'll see how long they last, but I'm happy enough with them that as my older shorts become unbearable (or my sons start poking holes through them), I'll replace them with these.

I was so impressed that I spent an extra $5 each when they gave me a memorial day coupon and got the Shift Terrain Pro Short. These are so amazing that I'm glad I bought 2! I'm no longer dreading the day my Pearl Izumi Elites finally bite the dust.

Highly Recommended.

Monday, June 08, 2020

Review: Tides

Tides is appropriately written by a sailor. The book taught me several things that I didn't know, even though I was taught how to sail in the San Francisco Bay Area, where a tide table consultation is required before leaving the slip --- with currents exceeding 10 knots through the golden gate, a sailboat will not make it in or out of the gate except during slack tide.

Things I didn't know:

  • A tide coming up or down a river is called a bore. The largest tidal bore in the world is in the Qiantang river in China. (The pictures are impressive)
  • I'd long assumed that tides are small in places like the Mediterranean was because of restricted flow through a funnel. This is false. The reason tidal variation is small in certain places (e.g., the Carribean) is because tides actually vary around various centers in the oceans, and the further away you are from the center, the higher the amplitude.
  • The earth itself (not just the ocean) is also affected by the same gravitational forces that creates the tides:  

If the moon can cause such a stir in the ocean, wouldn’t it also affect the solid earth? Do our bodies, made of 70 percent water, have a tide? Yes and no. The earth is as rigid as a steel ball, but it does distort under the gravitational influence of the sun and moon. High tide on the solid earth varies from half a foot to three feet and spreads over such a large distance—about ten thousand miles—that it’s not perceptible. For example, a high spring tide might raise the sidewalks and buildings of New York by a couple of inches. You could never detect this as you walk down Broadway, because everything rises and falls together over a six-hour period (unlike on the coast, where the ocean rises and falls relative to the beach). The tide’s daily squeezing and releasing of the earth has long been known to affect water wells too. A Wisconsin well, about eight hundred miles from the nearest ocean, has a two-inch tide. An inland well in France increases its flow from sixty to ninety gallons an hour during spring tides. (kindle loc 1883)
The book itself is written English-major journalism style. Sometimes I get very impatient with this style, because all sorts of "color" that might be interesting to an English major is uninteresting when I'm in a hurry to learn information. Similarly, I roll my eyes whenever he does something English-major like, for instance, visiting the British Library to examine Newton's manuscript for "Principia" and then writing things like: "The equations didn't mean anything to me." He does this several times in the book, which had me wondering why he was bothering to burn all those fossil fuels getting to those exotic destinations just to throw his hands up at a little bit of math.

All in all, the book was interesting in the concepts and for its visual imagery of some of the places he visited. It probably could have been 50 pages long if he'd just condensed all the technical information into concise, easy to understand form, but I guess that wouldn't get a publisher interested.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Review: Betrayal of Trust

I read Laurie Garrett's The Coming Plague in the 1990s but in the intervening years the USA always managed to avoid a major epidemic, so I assumed that her warnings had done the right thing. Then COVID19 happened and I realized we were just lucky. Which meant that her other book about public health might be similarly prophetic, so I checked out Betrayal of Trust (electronically) from the local library.

The book goes to great pains to separate public health from medical provision. The former is about prevention, and the latter is about treatment. She chronicles several major disasters that could have been mitigated (or even prevented) by a solid public health system: a bubonic plague outbreak in India,  the Ebola epidemic in Zaire, the rise of antibiotic resistant diseases (notably TB) in the former Soviet Union and the shift away from public health in the USA due to the perception that the big causes of mortality (cardiac problems and cancer) are non-contagious and therefore public health did not have to play a role.

Early on, Garrett points out that the big gains in life expectancy in the West were achieved long before antibiotics and other miracles:
Vital statistics data from England, Wales, and Sweden show that in 1700 the average male in those countries lived just twenty-seven to thirty years. By 1971 male life expectancy reached seventy-five years. More than half that improvement occurred before 1900; even the bulk of the twentieth-century increases in life expectancy were due to conditions that existed prior to 1936. In all, 86 percent of the increased life expectancy was due to decreases in infectious diseases.15 And the bulk of the decline in infectious disease deaths occurred prior to the age of antibiotics. In the United Kingdom, for example, tuberculosis deaths dropped from nearly 4,000 per million people to 500 per million between 1838 and 1949, when antibiotic treatment was introduced. That’s an 87 percent decline. Between 1949 and 1969 the TB death rate fell only another forty million cases to 460 cases per million, or 9 percent. (kindle loc 281)
During the Ebola epidemic, she notes that the requests for materials are very similar to what we're seeing during the COVID19 outbreak:
“Send respirator masks, latex gloves, protective gowns, disinfectant, hospital linens and plastic mattress covers, plastic aprons, basic cleaning supplies and cleansers, water pumps and filters, galoshes, tents …” It was not the high-tech equipment popularized in science fiction movies that would halt Ebola’s spread, Kiersteins knew. What Kikwit needed were the basics: soap, gear, and safe water. (pg 67)
She charts the rise of public health in New York City, which pioneered the initial systems that reduced the incidence of epidemic disease in the city despite the opposition of many to vaccines. But because circumstances were so dire, the public health department was authorized to use force. The trust in the public health system reached a high during the Polio epidemic:
In the fall of 1953 more than eighty thousand six-to-eight-year-old New York City schoolchildren rolled up their sleeves for shots of either Salk’s vaccine or a placebo. In 1954 and ‘55 tens of thousands of children nationwide enlisted as Polio Pioneers to serve as willing guinea pigs for the vaccine.185 And though every aspect of the Salk vaccine effort was mired in politics, ethical debates, and production and distribution snafus, there were never shortages of schoolchildren lining up for polio shots. The fear of polio was far greater than any parental concerns about the experimental nature of the vaccine.(pg. 315)
We can see the decline of public health occurred decades ago, during the shift in the late 1960s and 1970s:
Instead of emphasizing collective health and disease prevention, the path now would lead to further medicalization and individualization. Sadly, the data would later show that America was thereby exiting the period of her greatest health improvement since the Biggs era. Between 1968, when LBJ’s programs were in full swing, and 1975, when budget cuts had whittled such programs to the bone, the overall U.S. annual death rate had dropped 14 percent.323 Every health indicator had shown remarkable improvement. Cardiovascular deaths: down by 23 percent. Infant mortality: dropped 38 percent. Maternal mortality: plummeted an astounding 71 percent. That was the legacy of an aggressive war on poverty and expansion of health services for the poor. It occurred in a period that was denounced by the AMA and American Hospital Association as “regulated,” a code word meaning “very bad” or even “socialistic” in the New Right circles of rising political superstar California governor Ronald Reagan. (pg. 349)
The question is whether the USA still has the capacity to rebuild a robust public health system even after the obvious need for it. Garrett points out in a final chapter that a strong public health system is quite possibly the best protection against bioterrorism or genetically engineered bioweapon attacks. Unfortunately, she doesn't provide much hope as to whether such a system is politically feasible: the book was published in 2011, and there's no sign that in the intervening years much has been done.

Nevertheless, for a great discussion of the issues and lots of stuff I didn't know before, this is a great book. Recommended.

Monday, June 01, 2020

Review: Usagi Yojimbo - Yokai

Usagi Yojimbo - Yokai was an amazon giveaway. I haven't ever read any of the series before. The story revolves around Miyamoto Usagi, a dual-sword wielding samurai who apparently wanders about doing good deeds. He encounters a woman who has lost her daughter and agrees to help.

All is not what it seems, however, and soon he's embroiled in a supernatural battle and meets an old friend. The art is pretty, fully painted, but nothing that strikes me as being awesome. The story is kinda meh, but Boen was happy enough to have me read it to him. Typically, giveaways are intended to get you to look for more books by the same author/artist to read, but this left me cold.