Archive for 2006

Check out my night time ride!

Tuesday, December 12th, 2006

I know I posted a picture of my new velomobile a few weeks ago, but I’m starting to get it set up the way I really like it. I’ve ridden it to the grocery, hardware, and local discount stores a few times, and I especially enjoy taking it out when the weather’s miserable.

It’s not often that people in cars are jealous of the guy on a bike when it’s stormy. However, when I pull right up to the entrance of a store when it’s windy and pouring rain, I see a lot of eyes wishing they could stay as dry as me.

Most recently added features to the velomobile — front lighting and a garage door opener. There’s no reason why pedaling in the rain should require the rider to get wet…..

Velokit at night

When the news doesn’t inform

Saturday, December 9th, 2006

Lately, there’s been an enormous amount of news coverage about a guy named James Kim. He was driving home with his family and got stuck in deep snow on a remote mountain road. They waited for help in the car, but when no one found them after a few days, James went out looking for help dressed only in a jacket and tennis shoes. His family was rescued shortly afterwards, but he got lost and died of hypothermia.

I think reporting personal tragedies in the media is generally in poor taste. My general position is that news outlets should not profit off peoples’ misery or pander to voyeurism. Pointing a camera in someone’s face when they are in despair does both of these things.

However, there’s more to it than that. It occurred to me that when Brezhnev died, there was a surprising outpouring of grief in the Soviet Union. It’s easy to dismiss the coverage as communist propaganda, but having talked to people who where there, I think the sentiment was real.

The funny thing is that Brezhnev was not well loved. He was unremarkable as a leader and as an individual. Yet people who had never met him and didn’t even like him were crying. Since the vast majority of people who were upset to learn of James’ fate never knew him, I’m thinking a similar dynamic must be in play now.

I can only come up with two explanations for this strange behavior. The first is that humans are empathetic creatures. That’s why people become deliriously happy after seeing an athlete or musician overcome with emotion after delivering the performance of a lifetime, and why people fall to pieces after seeing someone grieving at a funeral. Feelings are contagious.

Empathy alone can’t explain the whole story. For one thing, it doesn’t explain why people get weepy at sad movies. Why should people get upset about something that didn’t even really happen to an actor pretending to be someone who doesn’t exist?

Which gets me to the second reason. I think that even when a stranger dies, it puts people in touch with how they feel about being deprived of life. In effect, they mourn their own mortality. Likewise, for other sad or happy events, people naturally reflect on how that same event would affect them. Whatever the case, I feel bad for James and the Kim family.

Communication, vanity, and reality

Saturday, December 2nd, 2006

Comments I’ve received about what I post here have gotten me thinking about why people create or read blogs. My best guess is that it’s because people are naturally curious and like to know about each other. The internet allows people to constantly be in touch, but it’s impractical for everyone to actually be yakking with each other all the time. Blogs allow a low intensity way for people to know what others are up to.

Those who blog because they believe others really want to know what they think are kidding themselves. People want surfing the internet to be fun. Few will read pages that are depressing, boring, full of controversial statements that upset them, or that can’t be digested in a minute or so. Also, you have to use some discretion because you never know who’s listening or what they’ll do with the information.

That might sound pretty restrictive, but it isn’t really — the rules that have governed society for millennia are virtually identical. No one likes to be around someone who’s always a party pooper, jabbers incessantly about things no one is interested in, intentionally provokes arguments, insists on turning every idea into a philosophical treatise, or introduces inappropriate topics. There’s no reason to expect that basic social rules depend on specific technologies.

Neither blogs nor any other new technology changes things as much as people imagine. To illustrate this point, the library world has been going nuts for the past few years over how “virtual reference” will transform services forever. Basically, the hullabaloo is about using instant messaging to answer questions.

It’s not a bad idea, but even most librarians seem unaware that virtual reference has been widely available for many years thanks to a fabulous peer to peer network technology. This technology is called the “telephone.” Gotta keep things in perspective…..

Potential new job redux

Friday, November 24th, 2006

Last week, I wrote a post about a job I was considering applying for. A couple of people suggested that I delete the posting because they were concerned it would negatively my bargaining position in the unlikely event I get an offer. The logic is that if the prospective employer knows I consider it a dream assignment, they’ll pay me less.

I’m not worried about this at all. First of all, a place that rewards indifference and punishes enthusiasm has questionable priorities and probably won’t be able to provide a stimulating, challenging environment. If I’m really hurting myself by saying that I think the job sounds interesting, it’s not the sort of place I want to work. Call me crazy, but I want to be where people are excited about what they do, where communication is open, and where people try to be fair to each other.

As good luck would have it, it is easy to identify good employers — they have the same qualities as good employees. They do the right thing when no one is looking over their shoulder. They go the extra mile. On the other hand, crummy employers act just like crummy employees. They only do what they should when you hold their feet to the fire. It’s usually obvious which ones are good and which ones are not.

I look at a job as a partnership. If employers and employees are open about their needs and perceptions, it’s easy to engage in productive conversations that benefit everyone. On the other hand, if one or both sides withhold information for purposes of taking advantage of the other, everyone winds up butting heads. Fooling your business partners is not a good idea. It’s only a matter of time before they figure out what happened and adjust their strategy for dealing with you.

Even if that weren’t the case, it’s going to take more than an ideal job description to convince me to leave my current situation. When I talked about this opportunity with my boss, he told me that he wants people to work at the State Library because it’s the best place to be. He felt that the only way for me to know if this is true is to apply and see what happens. No tricks, no bribes, no threats. He helps make the State Library my kind of place.

Also, as strange as it may sound, giving up my commute would be a major sacrifice. I’ve been riding my bike to work every day for years. It’s about 36 miles round trip, so I’m in good shape. I’ll need a really good reason to give up a huge chunk of my favorite hobby and a small part of my health.

I’m going to give this job opportunity my best shot. Regardless of what happens, I’ll be happy. If I am selected and it appears to be a better place to work than what I have now, great. If not (or I don’t survive the interview process — statistically the most likely outcome), that’s fine too because I’ll know that I’m still working at the best place possible.

The car of the future

Sunday, November 19th, 2006

Just a couple hours ago, I just put the finishing touches on my new experimental vehicle pictured here. For those of you who aren’t up on cycling lingo, this gizmo is called a velomobile — basically an enclosed tricycle.

I’ve been obsessed with designs like this for years, but the cool thing about this one is that it cost a fraction of the price of a normal velomobile, and it can easily be disassembled and put in the trunk of a car.

It’s a blast to ride, but what I’m really looking forward to is a long organized ride in the coldest, wettest, windiest weather possible. It will be fun watching everyone freeze while I tool around in comfort :)

This thing was designed and built by a guy named Krash. He’s quite an interesting character and I hope his company does well. He produces an excellent product, the price can’t be beat, and he’s great to work with. If you’re into recumbent trikes, I’d definitely recommend checking him out.

A real dilemma

Friday, November 17th, 2006

The old adage of “beware of what you wish for” has finally come to bite me in the butt. Like everyone else, I have my idea of the ideal job, and that ideal job isn’t quite the one I have now.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a great job and I am treated well. The work environment is excellent, I like my coworkers, and I think my boss is outstanding. I’m not just saying to be a kiss up on the off chance the managers read the rubbish that I post. I really believe it, and it makes my job ten times more fun.

There’s a job I’ve been thinking about for years. It didn’t exist, but I was sure it would someday. Well, today an announcement for that job came out. This opportunity won’t come again for a long time and it’s the chance to do exactly what I’ve always wanted to. I believe I would be a competitive candidate.

The problem is that experience has taught me that status, responsibilities, and pay have practically nothing to do with how much I like a job — it’s all about how the place is run and who I work with. I fully expect the new environment would be pretty decent, but I can’t imagine it being as good as what I have.

However, I think it is good for people to do different things. I also think it is good for organizations to take on new people even though the ones that are currently there are fine. I’ve always believed that regular turnover promotes exchange of ideas and prevents intellectual inbreeding.

At the same time, the idea of applying for this job offends my sense of loyalty. The State Library took a risk on me years ago, and they’ve always been good to me. On the other hand, I’ve always promised both them and myself that I wouldn’t stagnate. This might be my best chance at preventing that.

Whatever the case, I have a couple weeks to decide. Normally, I make up my mind very quickly, but I could really use some time for this.

Home again….

Monday, September 18th, 2006

The night before last, Shirley and I returned from a 3 week trip to England and Scotland. Both of us had been looking forward to the trip for a long time, but for different reasons. I studied at Leeds 18 years ago and wanted to see how things had changed. Shirley had never been before and just wanted to see what it was like.

England and Scotland are English speaking countries, but they are very different from the US. One thing that immediately jumps out at you is that you get a real sense of history just about anywhere you go. Although it is true that most parts of the United States have been inhabited for thousands of years, practically all traces of the original inhabitants and their lives were wiped out long ago. Besides, today’s dominant culture has little in common with that of the people who were here more than 500 years ago.

a brand new building occupied by an insurance company and the Tower of LondonIn contrast, the culture of today in the United Kingdom descended directly from that of the people that have been there for thousands of years. It’s not hard to take a picture of a skyscraper next to a thousand year old building. For example, this picture is of the Tower of London (a thousand year old fortress) and the “Gherkin,” (a building primarly occupied by an insurance company). Even Windsor Castle — one of the Queen’s official residences — has been occupied continuously for about 1000 years.

Rather than write a post that goes on forever, I’ll add information about this trip and time I’ve spent in other European countries to my travel pages as soon as I find the time. If you want to see pictures of the trip in the meantime, just click on the “Photos” tab above and type in the searches “England 2006” and “Scotland 2006” and you’ll see every picture that was taken.

I wanted to make one quick observation before ending this post. As you would expect in a country that has produced many monarchs as well as people who have made great contributions to the arts and the sciences, the United Kingdom is full of monuments, statues, etc honoring various people.

History judges us by our deeds rather than inherited or purchased status. One of the most popular monuments I saw on the entire trip was a statue of a dog named Bobby. Bobby’s claim to fame is that after his owner died, he stayed by the gravesite for 14 years until he also passed away. I passed by his monument many times, and it is clear that Bobby’s loyalty and devotion really touches a lot of people. There was always a line of people waiting to take pictures of him. There were always fresh flowers on his grave even though he died over 100 years ago. The inscription on his grave is one of the more impressive that I have seen — “May we all learn from his example” — an epitaph that few of us can hope to be worthy of.

Greyfriars BobbyBobby may only have been a dog, but he clearly inspires more people than most kings, queens, or nobility. I’ll square with you — I’m not a big fan of the monarchy or hereditary aristocracy. Although there are many good individuals in those groups, my impression is that most of them spent their lives throwing money around to show how important they were. Fortunately, people know the real article when they see it.

Rising to the occasion

Friday, August 11th, 2006

This past weekend, I went with Terry to ride the Mt Shasta Super Century. The course is pretty tough — it’s 135 miles in the mountains with 16,500 feet of climbing. The scenery was simply outstanding and I’m not sure if I’ve ever had so much fun at an event ride.

The final miles were the most interesting. I’d expect that peoples’ spirits and strength would be lifted and they’d catch their second wind knowing they had just a few miles to go. However, the exact opposite was the case. Peoples’ bodies were rebelling and forcing them to abandon the ride in the final stretch. I saw a guy fall off his bike because of massive cramps less than 100 yards from the finish line. He never did complete the ride, and I heard about other people who experienced similar catastrophic failure just as the goal appeared to be within grasp.

I’m not sure what the connection between the mind and the body is, but it seems like when the mind thinks critical milestones will be reached imminently, the body quits making extraordinary efforts to perform whatever task needed doing. I suspect this is why people who need to go to the bathroom feel increasingly desperate as they approach the door and practically explode as they turn the knob. However, I digress…

Whenever something difficult must be done, there are a few things that always seem to happen. Some people give up as soon as things get unpleasant. Others are forced to quit because they encounter a surprise challenge that is too great to overcome. There are always people who are well-equipped to succeed and do. A surprising number ordinary individuals rise to the occasion. And then there’s the people who lack the tools or ability to succeed but somehow do anyway because of sheer force of will.

It’s the people in this last category that I find the most inspiring. I’m not sure why because they actually don’t do as well as the others. On the other hand, there’s nothing I like better than seeing someone do the impossible — it helps remind me that we shouldn’t settle for only trying things that others think we can accomplish.

A good ride

Monday, July 17th, 2006

This past Saturday, I rode in the Seattle to Portland (STP) bicycle classic with Terry Reese and Bryan Miyagishima. If you’re not familiar with the STP, it’s a major cycling event where 9,000 cyclists ride just over 200 miles starting at the University of Washington and ending in downtown Portland.

As far as long rides go, the STP is a blast. Most people ride the STP in two days, but we did it in one this year. Shirley thinks it’s a macho thing, but that’s not it at all. Terry, Bryan, and I are decent cyclists, so it’s fun to go for a ride where training actually comes into play. The whole reason for training countless hours in miserable conditions and spending thousands of dollars on nice equipment is so you can enjoy challenges and experiences that would otherwise be unattainable.

Besides, most people enjoy watching others do something they’re good at. Even if all someone is doing is nailing shingles to your roof, it is a pleasure to watch a master at work. On major rides, people who have no idea who you are get excited and cheer as you pass. Kids like to slap your hands. Even motorists who ask you where you started and where you’re finishing smile when you tell them — if you don’t bike much, the idea that someone could pedal 200 miles in one day is pretty cool.

People like to watch the riders, but they also like to see all the fancy equipment. You should see all the attention Bryan attracts with his custom built titanium highracer. I don’t have a good picture yet, but let’s just say it’s one cool bike.

Finally joined the 21st century

Wednesday, July 5th, 2006

Just in time for the 4th of July weekend, we finally got broadband installed — we went from a 56K modem (that normally connected at 44Kbs) to a 5MB/s fiber optic connection.

I like not having to wait forever to download photos or updates for my computer but I’m leery of making life too convenient. When ready made food is everywhere, people eat too much and forget how to cook — paradoxically causing everyone to be overweight even though there’s nothing good to eat. Email and instant messaging have altered the way people communicate so profoundly that many people don’t seem to be able to write a coherent sentence.

Although I think the internet is basically a good thing, it is also harmful if used excessively. One of the advantages of a crummy connection is that there’s no incentive to use the internet unless it’s really important — this forces me to live in the real world rather than in cyberspace.

Although the internet has allowed the world to share information at a level that was never possible before, it has also allowed society to fragment into zillions of tiny subcultures. Each has its own conventions, and it seems like too many people rarely venture outside the virtual groups they associate with. As a result, they prefer relating to machines rather than people have trouble dealing with those who are different from themselves.

The good news is that the internet allows you to contact almost anyone anywhere anytime and maintain contacts and friendships that would otherwise be impossible. In that sense, cyberspace is a good place to be so long as too much time is not spent there.

Disorder du jour

Friday, June 23rd, 2006

Today when I was riding home, some guy in a white van yelled at me to get off the road and tried to scare me by racing the engine as he buzzed me. If you ride bikes very much, that’s just something that happens to you.

I don’t quite understand what makes people do things like this. In this particular instance, I wasn’t slowing anyone down and I was obeying all traffic laws. I sympathize with the fact that people don’t like to be impeded by cyclists, but the reality is that bikes aren’t what’s gumming up the roads. Most drivers think nothing of slowing an entire lane so they can turn left across a busy lane, get into or out of a parking spot, start really slowly after the light turns green, or a number of other things. Besides, I figure that if these vehicles that have one person in them took only quadruple the space I take on the roads, they wouldn’t even need to shift in the lane — they could zip right by without slowing down and a lot more of them would fit on the roads and parking lots.

Recently, a number of stories have been circulating in the news saying that scientists are now labeling road rage as a disorder. Technically, it’s called “Intermittent Explosive Disorder” and people who suffer from it exhibit bouts of rage that are triggered by minor events.

I can accept that some people have screwed up body chemistry that makes them react severely with little provocation. However, I find it interesting how this disorder afflicts Americans so much more often than it affects people in other countries where living conditions are so much more difficult than in the US or even the other parts of the industrialized world that I’ve seen. It is also interesting that the epidemic seems to be getting worse with time.

Nowadays, it seems like people justify the most ridiculous behavior simply by claiming to be victims of their environment and body chemistry. While I think it’s important to be sensitive to these factors, it makes me wonder what makes a person human to begin with. If bad behavior is caused by circumstances rather than free will, it would follow that good things people do also are purely a result of factors beyond anyone’s control.

There are some people with bona fide mental problems, but I suspect that the vast majority of the people who yell at cyclists are simply immature and self centered individuals who think they should be able to fly off the handle just because the world isn’t just the way they want. Normally, I wouldn’t whine since drivers do this to each other all the time. However, I think that anyone who doesn’t have better emotional control than the typical 2 year old has no business guiding a 3500 lb hunk of metal near people at high speeds.

Wandering the desert

Sunday, June 11th, 2006

Despite the fact that I’ve lived in Oregon for over 10 years, there are still many parts of the state that I’ve never had a chance to see. However, my parents have been in town for the past week, so I used the occasion as an excuse to take a few days off and visit the Warm Springs Indian Reservation among other places.

I’ll spare you my ruminations about indian reservations. However, I would like to make one observation before continuing with this post. Where I live, people often use the expression “native Oregonian” to refer to a person who was born in Oregon. In common usage, the term implies that the person has more right to be here than those who moved in from other states (especially California) and countries. However, Oregon is a very new state. In fact, it is so new that many people alive today have met individuals who took part in the Indian Wars that displaced the inhabitants of lands that were populated thousands of years before Christ was born or the invention of the wheel for that matter. I’m not suggesting that we try to turn the clock back — historically, solutions that attempt to right perceived wrongs of the past by assigning entitlements or punishments based on genetics or geography have not worked well and in extreme cases have led to devastating wars and genocide. I just find it interesting how often people develop a sense of entitlement based on factors that reflects no effort on their part such as where they were born or who their parents happen to be. However, I’m breaking my promise to not yammer on I’ll get off my soapbox and continue with the post….

If you’ve never been there, Warm Springs is worth the trip. There’s a great museum, casino, and resort, but frankly my favorite part was just hiking in the high desert. Shirley couldn’t come and my folks didn’t feel like taking a long hike in the high desert, so I went by myself. I didn’t see another person the entire time I was out.

When you don’t have to worry about anyone else, it’s much easier to feel your connection with nature. Even the desert is full of life. Insects look for mates and meals. Small mammals and reptiles wait motionless or quietly move away as you approach. The wind rustles things in its path and makes a sound I could never tire of.

By the time I’d climbed a mesa a few miles from where I’d started, it made me remember why I enjoyed camping so much when I was growing up. Shirley doesn’t like camping because you spend a lot of time hungry, roasting, freezing, and/or getting eaten alive by insects. I know there are ways to camp without experiencing those things, but for me it just wouldn’t be the same. I like to camp to get away from my normal creature comforts.

Having said that, I must admit that I really enjoyed taking a nice long soak in a hot mineral bath the day after going on the hike. Aside from the fact that the heat really felt nice on sore muscles, it helped relieve the itching from all the many things that had stuck me as I wandered along my path and climbed the mesa. Next time, I think I’ll wear hiking boots rather than tevas.

Vegas baby!

Thursday, June 1st, 2006

Just before 4am yesterday, I returned from a trip to Las Vegas so that I could serve as best man in a wedding. I’m the type of guy that sometimes likes to burn the candle at both ends, but when that alarm went off at 5, I was thinking that maybe lighting the middle as well might not have been the smartest thing to do.

Despite the fatigue factor, I’m glad I went. Weddings may be an industry in Vegas, but these things are what you make of them. There were only 3 people in the wedding party (bride, groom, and myself) but the cermony was as moving as any I’ve seen and the sheer amount of energy in the room was incredible.

While we were having cake and champagne afterwards, the bride commented that she felt as if the wedding had 100 guests in attendance. Curiously enough, I had the same sensation.

Experiences like that help me maintain my faith in humanity. I am under the impression that many people treat marriage like a business transaction. They basically figure out what they want, and if the deal turns out not to be what one or both of them bargained for, they bail. Even if things turn out OK, people wind up feeling unfulfilled.

While I was talking with the bride and groom after the ceremony, all 3 of us agreed that we never would have done the most worthwhile things in our lives had we been told in advance what we’d have to go through to achieve them. The value comes from what people invest in the process, not in the end return.

It’s very possible that this marriage will also work out that way, but given the attitude of the bride and groom, I think they are doomed to succeed. I wish them the very best.

My first post

Wednesday, May 24th, 2006

I’ve decided to join the 21st century, so I mounted a blog which I hope to keep up to date. I’ve thought about doing this before, but didn’t largely because I figured that anything interesting that I had to say was likely to lead to trouble.

However, I’m also seeing people do some pretty creative things with blogging software so I thought I’d take a peek and see how it works.