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Monday, November 28, 2022

Review: Energizer X400 Headlight

 I was looking for a headlight on my Roadini, and the Energizer X400 was onsale for about $10, which is even cheaper than my usual cheap Blitzu lights. It comes with a rechargeable tail-light as well, which will be useful for the kids' bike, and a dual-head USB cable - USB-A on one end, and twin micro-USB on the other, so you can charge both head and tail lights together.

The headlight mounts using a rubber clamp, and is easily adjustable, and stays put. I was impressed by how bright the light is --- it's definitely brighter than my old Bitzus, and bright enough that you can do a descent on the road with it. I also appreciate the beam pattern --- there's a cut-off at the top like many higher quality European lights which have to conform to European standards.

The light doesn't charge fast, but it's good for about an hour or so on full brightness, which is enough for any commute, but not enough if you're going to go out at night. On flashing mode it'll last pretty much forever.

The light will not hold a charge for 2 days. That means the best strategy is to keep the light on the charger until you need it. That's not a big deal for this light --- unlike other lights the mount is very quick to use.

I will note that Blitzu has upgraded their lights, and you can now get their USB-C rechargeable light for about $19. (The Energizer is $21 full price but frequently there's a coupon for $5 off, making it cheaper) If you're touring, the USB-C port makes it easier to travel without carrying more cable tips, so I think that's the way to go. But if you can replicate my $10 deal, I think the Energizer has a lot to stay for itself. Recommended.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Review: Spiderlight

 Spiderlight is Adrian Tchaikovsky's high fantasy novel. It's revolves around the small D&D dungeon party (complete with cleric, thief, paladin, ranger, and wizard) who attempts to rid the world of its current lord. The complication, for anyone who knows Tchaikovky's work, is that they need the help of a spider being to do it.

Most of the adventure is fun, with plot twists and unexpected (and expected) events turned on its head, including meeting people in inns, as well as an unexpectedly genre defying climax and conclusion that is a more than competent payoff for making it to the end of the book.

The characters are a bit cliche, and while they do develop a little bit, sometimes it feels as though they develop for purposes of the plot, rather than being organic.

Nevertheless, it's an easy short read that's worth your time. Recommended.


Monday, November 21, 2022

Putting together my Roadini

 After I broke my Ti frame in January, I decided that I should get a backup road bike. Anyone who's broken 2 titanium frames in around 12 years should probably have more than 1 road bike. Or at least, anyone who was completely unhappy about having to ride his mountain bike around for 2 months should have a backup.

I settled on the Rivendell Roadini. Other bicycles that were considered were either a Rock Lobster custom steel frame (and fork), or a R&E cycles Rainier. Both would have cost more, and while a A Homer Hilsen was available in May, I finally decided against that as well, not because of the cost, but because it used 135mm spacing and I only had 130mm wheels.  The Roadini had downtube shifters and I decided that I might as well take advantage of them.  I've had a long history of liking the way Grant Peterson's designs ride, and even though prices went up to $1300, considering the bike came with a headset, fork, and seatpost, I was happy to return to the Rivendell fold, after I'd sold my Heron Touring bike way back in 2008.

While waiting for the Roadinis to arrive, I built up or scavenged the parts:

When the frames arrived, I had a call with Will from Rivendell, and after realizing that I was going to put a drop bar on the bike he decided that the 54cm would work better for me than the 57cm frame. I didn't object --- a look at the geometry diagrams indicated that the 54cm was indeed a better match for my Strong ti frame than the 57cm would be. I would have a lot of seat post showing, but it looked normal to my 1990s-trained eyes.


The frame, fork, and headset weighed 7.1 pounds straight from Rivendell bicycle works. The bike after having built up and hung with a bottle cage and a topeak mini morph pump  (but no water bottle) came to 23 pounds even. By contrast the Strong ti bike was 20 pounds. (The Ti frame with headset and BB is 1540g), so just the frame and fork easily accounts for the 3 pound difference between bikes!

The frame  came without a frame cable guide, so I had to walk down to the local bike shop in the middle of the build to get a guide. To my surprise I had to use 2 KMC boxes of chains (these were the ones with 118 links each) --- I had to extract 2 links from the second box and use 2 sets of quick links to stitch enough chain to wrap around the derailleur and the biggest sprocket. The extra long 45cm chainstay definitely meant that you needed all that chain.

Shimano's 11s Duraace chains do come with 126 links, but I'm boycotting Shimano chains for being directional, which I consider to be an unnecessary burden --- you do not need a chain that can be put together wrong. Rivendell does sell 11s 130 link chains from FSA, but you can easily find SRAM PC-1110 11s chains for about $10 each, so in the long run that's probably cheaper.

I adjusted the stem height and the saddle height, and took it for a ride. The bike rides really nice off pavement, but I spent the first ride on the bike adjusting the seat post as it kept tilting up. It wasn't until I got home and used a really long handled allen wrench that I could torque down the seatpost clamp to the point where it would survive a ride of any length without coming out of adjustment. I suspect that I have to get a Thomson elite seatpost in order to get good behavior out of the bike.

To my disappointment, I measured the 700x30 tires on the front with calipers, and they came out to 27mm wide. The 700x28mm tires on the back did measure around 28mm.

The bike has a long front center, so as a result, even though my saddle to handlebar distance is the same on both bikes, my knee is significantly behind the pedal spindle on the Rivendell as compared to the Strong frame. In practice, this is no big deal, but I'd have to ride hard and compare both bikes to figure out if there's any difference in physiological efficiency.

Steel bikes have a riding resonance that's very different from titanium bikes. I find that when I ride a steel bike, there's a "ring" that emanates from the steel tubes of the  bike in a way that the titanium frame doesn't. It's not a good thing or a bad thing, but if you prefer steel frames that's most likely one of the reasons. Regardless, when I took the Roadini over the dirt road from Montebello over to Page Mill road, there was a surefootedness that definitely wasn't there on the titanium Strong frame. It could be the longer wheelbase or the wider tires. The bike, however, doesn't seem to climb as nicely standing up for short steep efforts --- it prefers for me to sit and spin. This might have something to do with the extra long chainstays.

The Diacompe shifter downtube shifter is responsive. A little nudge and the bike shifts. I have to over-shift a bit when shifting to lower gears. Again, it's something to get used to, but I definitely like how fast the bike shifts. The downtube shifter was a deliberate attempt to make the bike lighter, and to some extent I succeeded. Of course, that means that you have to move your hands low when you shift. Not a big deal, but you will shift less often.

When climbing, the Roadini feels fine. The "ring" I mentioned earlier offsets the heavier bike. Off pavement, the stability of the frame makes even deepish gravel feels rideable. Standing up though, the longer chainstays definitely makes you feel like the rear wheel is further away than on a shorter chainstay. Because Grant switched from a 73.5 head tube angle to a 72 head tube angle and increased the fork rake to 50mm, he was able to get the same geometric trail as my Carl Strong frame with a 73.5 head tube angle and 43mm rake. But the result of that change was that I have no toe-clip overlap. At low speed, I'd have to mount a much bigger tire or turn the wheel more than 90 degrees to get my toes to touch. Not that the toe clip overlap on the Strong frame ever bothered me --- I'm a good enough bike handler that touching the toes of my tire was just no big deal. But the Roadini can handle much larger tires and tighter turns at low speed as a result.

When descending, the Roadini is actually slower than my Strong frame. The extra 5mm of extra BB height doesn't feel as nice, and of course, I'm still not used to the bike so I may not be descending at my full potential.  I would later measure the BB and discover that it was 13mm higher off the ground than on my Strong --- 8 of those mm of additional height came from the tires! There are people who'd swear up and down that it's not humanly possible to feel the difference in BB height but for me the difference is night and day. I would later swap over the wheels from my Strong frame and with a 10.75" BB height the Roadini rides much better, so the increased BB height does affect how the bike feels quite a bit. With 25mm tires, the Roadini rides very nicely, but isn't as plush.

Upon braking, I was prepared for the longer armed Tektro 559 brakes to feel squishier, but they do not. They feel great and no worse than my standard reach caliper on my Strong frame. Part of it could be because I sprung for the super-expensive BC-9000 brake cables. I'd bought those because they got me over the free shipping limit for getting an extra pair of Specialized RECON 1.0 shoes. They were a little finicky to install but fortunately my cable needs were such that I had plenty of spare cable to screw up on. After using the Roadini for awhile I did a back to back comparison against my Strong frame and realized that I needed to do the same thing for my Strong --- the brakes felt so much better!

The SRAM 900 brake levers were great! I was leery at first since the Campy Record carbon brake levers were what were on my triplet and single, and I was worried that I wouldn't like the SRAM 900s. Turned out they're very comfortable. Even the strangely shaped levers that look like they're biased the wrong way turn out to be great.
Over time, as I rode the bike more, I got to appreciate the plush quality of the ride as well as the way it handles. Frequently riding the bike feels like riding on a leaf spring --- the bike removes chatter from rough roads and unpaved roads --- I set PRs coming down Fremont Older. I can definitely see myself riding the Stevens Canyon MTB track with a set of 700x38mm knobbies.

Needless to say, buying the Roadini was a good decision. It's given me sufficient data about how to get similar handling and correct some of the deficiencies of past designs, while giving me insight as to what I really like about bike geometry. After a week of riding I discovered a chip in the paint on the head tube which I didn't know how it got there. It's another reminder that I'm just not kind to bicycles and all sorts of damage appears that I don't know about. I want the frame to be lighter, not need paint, and I would like the BB drop to be lower, especially for using big tires. The chainstay could stand to be about 1cm shorter. But I'm not sure I'd change anything else about the bike!

I frequently have to remind myself that I'm very spoiled. I've ridden/test ridden many bicycles, but had the luck to ride a Grant Petersen designed bike early on, and have essentially been riding a variant of one of his bikes for much of my adult life. If you've never ridden a Grant Petersen design you owe it to yourself to ride one. He's a legend for good reason. The Rivendell Roadini is sure to be sold out completely by the time you read this, but it's worth the wait!

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Nelson Lakes Backpacking Trip

 I'd failed to take the kids camping this year. I actually had one organized the weekend before our Tour of the Alps, but I actually got sick a week before that and was on medication, and when the forecast called for rain I called it off since I didn't want to jeopardize a very expensive upcoming tour. So when Arturo suggested a High Sierra backpacking trip I signed up and so did Bowen and Boen. Boen, of course, is famous for changing his mind at random, so he eventually backed out, opting for a sleepover with a classmate instead. This actually would make my load lighter, so i didn't mind.

On Friday, we picked up Bowen from school, and immediately drove south towards Clovis. It was clear that traffic had resumed to pre-pandemic levels, and the carpool lane didn't help any. In Clovis, it was time to charge his car, and we had dinner at the Pieology next to the Tesla superchargers. We then drove to pick up the ranger permits, and found a campground near the road to camp for the night. The stars were pretty amazing.

The next morning, we drove the rest of the way to the trailhead, and repacked our gear --- we discovered that the 3 of us fit into the MSR Freelite, so Arturo could leave his tent behind. I decided to bring the hammock but not the sleeping accessories for it. This was a good thing because after the first mile it was quite clear that we had complete de-acclimated from altitude after our cycle tour, and would Bowen couldn't carry his sleeping bag and sleeping pad, so Arturo and I had to take those items out of his backpack and onto or into ours.

We had hoped to make it to the upper Nelson lakes, which by all accounts was quieter and had a better swimming platform, but it was clear that Bowen wasn't going to make it. After an hour and a half we made it to the burnt patch, which was ugly but thankfully short and surprisingly well shaded.

From the burnt area it wasn't a long walk to Nelson Lake, but Bowen was whining. Fortunately once you got to the lake it didn't take us long to find an established campground that looked ideal -- sheltered, somewhat shaded, with an obvious cooking area. We pitched the tent, setup the hammock in ideal conditions, and then moved equipment around.



After that, we hiked to Upper Nelson, which as Arturo promised featured a nice granite entry into the lake for swimming.

The lake was impressively warm! I got in and swim hard expecting to be cold like in all Sierra lakes, but halfway across the lake I realized that while my feet were cold my arms weren't! As an experiment I flipped on my back and did a deadman's float and realized that the water in the first few inches of the lake were much warmer! So if you did a breast stroke on your back you could lay back and enjoy yourself. I stayed more than 10 minutes in the lake.
After that, we hiked around the lake and walked back to the camp. Bowen loved campfires and Arturo and he got going on the campfire and gathering firewood while I got to relax and finish the rest of the book I was reading in the hammock.


The next morning was nothing short of stunning when I woke up, with a beautiful reflection in the morning in the lake and mist rising from the water. Even in the cold it was worth it to walk around and take pictures. I made a cup of coffee and enjoyed reading in the hammock again.


After that, we made breakfast, broke down all the equipment, packed it away, and said goodbye to the lake and hiked out.

The hike backdown took about half an hour less than the previous day, but the last bit back to the parking lot was all uphill, and the whining started. Clearly 2 nights at altitude wasn't enough to acclimate us. But we got back to the car and drove back home, eating lunch in a local park on the way. All in all it was pretty good.


Tuesday, November 15, 2022

2023 Book Reviews

Fiction 

Comics/Graphic Novels

Monday, November 14, 2022

Review: The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt

 I checked out The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt from the library because lots of people kept referencing her with respect to the current state of the GOP, but I bounced off every book she wrote. If I was looking for an understanding of why she was so great, I was sorely disappointed.

The book does a good job relating the events of Arendt's life, from growing up, to encountering Martin Heidegger and becoming is lover, to her escape from Nazi Germany, to her time in a concentration camp and her escape to Portugal and arrival to the USA and becoming famous.

The book doesn't explain why she's considered amongst the smartest philosophers of her age, nor does it clarify how she thought about herself as a philosopher or as a political theorist. There's a scene where she meets Einstein, for instance, but there's no followup on what Einstein thought of the encounter.

The art was OK. It's nothing great, nor is it so bad that I'd consider it unreadable. It's just meh.


Saturday, November 12, 2022

Books of the Year 2022

 This year I read about 81 books, which is more than a book a week. When you read this many books, it gets actually pretty hard to choose which books are the best. In the non-fiction category, I really thought A A Brief History of Equality was the most important, in terms of introducing ideas that I'd never thought about, and questioning the existing social orders (for instance, the unquestioning idea that corporations should exclude labor from their controllers)  It's not a fun book to read, since many parts of history are depressing, but neither are many of the books that cover the state of the world today.   For fun, I really enjoyed Self-made Man, a courageous, gender-swapping story of a woman who succeeded in passing off as a man and the observations she made of male society.

Another great book was Crying in HMart. The story was great and the description of Korean culture entertaining. I read it at almost the same time as Himawari House, which is easily the best graphic novel I read this year. If you have to choose, Himawari House is the better novel. But the best thing about books is you never really have to choose between two great books. Read both!

When it comes to fiction, the best book I read all year was Exhalation. That's cheating since it's a re-read. I would say the best new book was Inhibitor Phase. Alastair Reynolds comes back to the revelation space universe and I love it.

Audio Books played a huge part of my year this year. Easily the best production was The Sandman. I am still in awe that Amazon managed to reproduce a comic book in audio format. I have yet to see the Netflix series, but for it'd have to be ridiculously good to top the graphic novel.

Other honorable mentions for the book of the year: Amusing Ourselves to Death, Dying of Whiteness, and Science Fiction as Philosophy all immediately come to mind as being well worth the time.

I had a great year of reading, and I hope you did too!

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Review: The Perfect Predator

 The Perfect Predator is a memoir of the author's successful attempt to shepherd her husband through a horrifying encounter with a multi-resistant bacteria. What comes through in the book is that both the author and her husband are adventurous in ways that make you wonder how they survived this long:

The few mosquito bites on the back of my thigh had started out as minor irritations. Several weeks later they were infected masses the size of golf balls, then baseballs. I kept telling the doctor that whatever it was, it was eating me. I could feel it feeding, especially at night. Occasionally, it hit a nerve and my leg would jump like a marionette being manipulated by a sadistic puppeteer. At such times, I would slap at my bulging thigh and the thing would lie dormant for a little while. The doctor thought I was nuts at first, but when a one-inch pupae with three double rows of epidermal spines suddenly emerged while I was on the examining table, he was stunned. Turns out I had been afflicted with an infestation of Dermatobium hominis, a botfly that ingeniously captures mosquitoes and lay its eggs on their underbelly. When the mosquito bites its host, the newly hatched botfly larvae crawl into the wound, feed on their host’s flesh, and then pupate. Yum (Page 241)

I expected the encounter with multi-drug resistant bacteria to be in some exotic location, and in fact, the Thomas Patterson first ends up in the hospital in Egypt. There, his wife Steffanie discovers that there's a pseudo cyst that's been in his body for goodness knows how long that's finally caused gastronomic distress. He goes from bad to worse and is medically evacuated first to Frankfurt, and then back to San Diego.

There's never a definitive answer as to where he picked up the multi-drug resistant bacteria, but the suspicion was clearly raised that it was likely to be in the Egyptian clinic where he was first diagnosed. What follows is an exercise in understanding what it takes to gain access to these phage therapies. First, you'd have to be capable of reading and searching through research papers. Secondarily, you have to be well known enough (Strathdee is an epidemiologist and is well known to the UCSD hospital system) that when you send e-mail to researchers and various approval agencies for compassionate use of a previously untested drug, the response is quick and in the affirmative. Then you have to get lucky. There were several places in the narrative where Patterson was declining and the doctors had to make a decision as to whether to proceed with phage therapy or to stop it. The decision to stop would have been fatal.

Phage therapy is pretty cool stuff, but it's definitely not a panacea --- the author describes having multiple teams at work searching for viruses that could infect and defeat the drug resistant bacteria. 2 teams came up with two cocktails of 4 phages each, that were then IV'd into the patient's body in various places. But the bacteria eventually became resistant to both cocktails of phages, resulting in another search for more viruses that could do the job. What finally finished it off was a combination of another set of phages along with an antibiotic (in becoming resistant to the first batch of phages the bacteria had lost some of its protection from antibiotics). The recovery still took years. You don't walk out of a 9-month stay in the ICU without consequences, but the authors eventually went back to their risk-taking lifestyle.

The book highlights how bad the post-antibiotic era is going to be. You're probably not socially connected to one of the best medical research centers in the world and get this type of treatment:

A post-antibiotic era. That’s how some of the world’s top health officials, including former CDC director Tom Frieden, describe the global threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). By 2050, one person could die from a superbug infection every three seconds each year, making AMR a more immediate threat to humankind than climate change (page 304)

There are many lessons in this book --- first about how important it is to have someone advocating on your behalf when you're in dire straits in a medical system. Second, I thought that medically affiliated people would be inclined to take less risks in travel. Clearly I'm wrong! Lastly, antibiotic resistant is a big deal. The author admitted to bringing cipro while travelling, and at the end admits that she was contributing to being part of the problem. 

The book is compelling, if harrowing reading. Well worth your time.


Monday, November 07, 2022

Review: Limited Wish

 Limited Wish is the sequel to Mark Lawrence's One Word Kill, which I enjoyed but only remembered to read when it was put on sale. Like that novel, it's written in a breezy style, easy to digest, but doesn't tie up as nicely as the previous book. The book picks up a few months after the events of the original book, and immediately dives into more Time Travel paradoxes while picking apart the happy ending the first book finished with.

The teenage angst and 3-sided romance aside, I thought the author did a poor job of presenting time travel this time, with lots of gobbledy gook and mumbo jumbo and of course, the breaking and entering of a nuclear facility facilitated by an unlikely time traveler.

The best part of the book was the author's depiction of D&D games, but it's not enough to carry the novel. I didn't exactly want my time back but I certainly wished I hadn't spent $2 in Amazon credits on it.


Thursday, November 03, 2022

Review: Arbitrary Lines

 Arbitrary Lines is M Nolan Gray's book about zoning. It begins with the story of Sim City and how it gave the impression that zoning is the be-all and end-all of city planning, and then goes on to explain how zoning was created (and then promoted) by Berkeley California in order to successfully exclude Chinese laundries and other undesirable from otherwise high class neighborhoods. The book has an entire appendix in order to explain of what zoning is, and how it differs about environmental protection laws (on which Gray has nothing to say), or historic preservations.

The book covers the evils of zoning. You've probably lived it --- too few houses being built, insufficient density, urban sprawl, and car dependence. If you haven't lived it, then you definitely should read this book because he covers it better than I could in a summary.

What's most interesting about the book is the section on Houston, which is apparently the only large unzoned city in the USA. It turned out that zoning was put to a referendum there, and voted down not once, but multiple times, each time with the poorer people voting against it, indicating that citizens in a democracy can tell when the rich people are trying to screw them. The adoption of zoning in other cities throughout the nation was only because they were never put to a vote.

Eventually, Houston got out of the cycle of having to have repeated referendums on the topic of zoning by allowing the rich areas that really wanted zoning to have their cake. A district that wanted to impose rules on building could do so with a supermajority vote and then from then on all the onerous restrictions they want to impose on themselves would have to be made known to any buyers of property in that district, and the city would actually enforce those restrictions by refusing to issue permits and fining those who violate those restrictions.

The rest of the book is about how to get out from the culture of zoning. Since it's popular amongst the rich voters who own houses (by restricting the number of houses you drive up property values), it would seem hopeless. Gray suggests things like tying funding to the removal of zoning ordinances. That would definitely get people's attention. I can imagine Cupertino's Asian population (famously non-political until schools are involved) actually voting if education funding was increased in exchange for getting rid of zoning. So things aren't impossible, you just have to bribe enough people to make it happen.

The entire book taught me a ton of stuff I didn't know about zoning, and is short and easy to read. It's well worth your time. Recommended.