Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

1,000 Miles

July 21st, 2014

I’ve had the new bike for a little less than three months, and thanks to modern technology I know that I’ve now pushed it along for one thousand miles. I’ve compiled a list of things I’ve (re-)learned during all those miles in the saddle. Some of them might even be mildly interesting.

  • When approaching a stop, think about what gear you want to be in when you start again. Once you’re not moving it’s too late to change.
  • The last ten feet of a climb can kill your momentum just as quickly as the first ten. Don’t let up your effort when you’re “almost there”.
  • Around here at least, if you demonstrate that you’re fully prepared to stop at the 4-way, most motorists will wave you through.
  • There’s something about BMW drivers, and it’s not something good.
  • Songs that match your pedaling cadence can get really stuck in your head.
  • Fatigue + excited little dog + speed bump = road rash
  • Combining the previous two: If you’re riding for an hour, and you have the “stuck on Band-Aids” jingle stuck in your head, there’s nothing to do but pray for the salvation of an ice cream truck playing ‘Little Brown Jug’
  • On flat terrain, 14 miles per hour isn’t measurably harder than 13, after the first few pumps. Knock it up a gear!
  • I’m getting callouses on my palms.
  • Go ahead, we’ll wait. Done? Good.
  • The two worst things: headwinds and garbage trucks. It is likely that at some point I will go on at length about these scourges.
  • On the way to work, I have the sun at my back and (usually) the wind in my face. On the way home, I have the sun at my back and (usually)… the wind in my face. I call shenanigans!
  • Tomorrow marks two months since I put gas in my car. I have biked to work rather than drive 47 times this summer. By the time you read this, it will probably be 48.
  • I’m lobbying for Apple to relocate its headquarters to Australia for the winter. Already not looking forward to short days and dark rides.
  • Biggest snub from a member of the Spandex Crowd: outside my building, by a guy who works at my company. Ignored me completely. I didn’t think we were allowed to hire jerks here.
  • While riding, I’ve been composing the BOMB manifesto. It was “Bearded Overweight Men on Bikes, but I think I’m changing it to Bearded Older Men on Bikes, because I might not always be the former, but there’s not much one can do about the latter. We will be a legion based on the ideals of Courtesy, Friendliness, and Brotherhood. We Are BOMB!
  • I get a lot of stupid ideas while riding.
  • I’ve lost about twelve pounds, but I suspect several pounds more of fat. My legs are still skinny, but there’s definitely more muscle on them now.
  • By next summer, I might be ready for that Kilimanjaro trip Buggy invited me on fifteen years ago.
  • Mondays aren’t so bad when you have a good ride on rested legs.

One thousand miles! Holy crap! I suspect the next thousand will go more quickly; my stamina is greatly improved. 150 miles in a week is no longer as crazy as it once seemed. Today I actually began to wonder how many miles I could expect on my tires before they were worn out. That’s not something I’ve had to worry about before.

As the novelty wears off, I might not write so many episodes about bicycling, but then again that’s when I have time to think about blog episodes. So, sorry in advance.

Get-Poor-Quick Schemes Get-Poor-Quick Schemes

Rethinking Apertures

July 17th, 2014
For a century and more, lenses have controlled light the same way. It's time to shake things up!

This is filed under the long-neglected ‘Get Poor Quick’ category, but the means of getting poor follows a discussion of camera lenses in general, with an emphasis on bokeh. Follow me and we’ll turn the whole industry on its head!

I was futzing around with the ol’ camera today, playing with my MIR-24, an older lens in which the Russians one-upped the prestigious German lens they were copying. It’s a fun lens when one has the time to manually get the focus just right. Here’s one of the shots I took (click to biggerize):


One of they things I like about this shot is the way the fore- and background are interesting without being distracting. I took the shot with the lens wide open, which narrows the range that is in focus, and makes the foreground and background nicely blurry.

Different lenses will blur things differently; the quality of the blur is referred to with a word bastardized from Japanese, “bokeh”. Good bokeh is often described as “smooth”, while “jittery” is often used to describe bad bokeh.

But neither of those words actually describes what qualities make bokeh good or bad, just how it makes us feel. There is one generally-accepted reason bokeh is good or bad, and two others that are just as important but are not mentioned nearly often enough. I’m here to straighten that all out. You don’t have to thank me, it’s what I do.

So let’s think for a moment about what blur actually is. An image is blurred when light from one point in the subject covers more than one point in the image. Think about pictures where lights in the background turn into little circles. Or, if you don’t want to take the trouble to think, here’s an example:


Note that points of light in the background of the above image are turned into circles. This is a projection of the aperture onto the camera sensor. If you look really closely, in fact, you will see that they are not quite perfect circles, but rounded octagons. The lens I was using has an eight-blade aperture control.

[Side note: When I'm watching TV now, I always take an interest in the shape of distant lights during night scenes. I bet an experienced cinematographer could tell you exactly what lens is being used just by that shape.]

Everyone agrees: the rounder the aperture, the smoother the bokeh. This is mostly true, but it’s far from the whole story. Here’s a look down the barrel of my MIR-24:


The aperture is a hexagon, and not a terribly symmetric one at that. So, as the lens is stopped down (the aperture is closed) the bokeh will start to look edgy, and the dots from distant lights will be hexagonal. (The shot of the critters above was with the aperture all the way open; the blades are pulled out of the way entirely and the aperture is a nice perfect circle.)

Before we go on, let’s have some fun with aperture shapes!

Just because there’s an aperture control inside the lens, doesn’t mean we have to use it! Here I shoot with my beloved 85mm f/1.2, wide open in all these shots. But in the second shot, I’ve added my own homemade aperture in the shape of a triangle. (I wanted to do a fancier shape, but I’m not that good with the x-acto.)

You can get kits with all sorts of fun shapes, or you can get a camera lens with my new idea built right in. (Well, you might have to wait a while for option b.) Read on!

Back to bokeh. We have the generally-agreed-upon axiom that round apertures make better bokeh. But there’s another factor: The structure of the dots themselves. Some lenses produce nice, even dots, while others produce dots with a bright rim around the outside. And you can see that my homemade triangle aperture produced pretty significant ghosting. Both those things will add to the general unpleasantness of the blurry parts of your photos. So don’t assume that that old lens with the 20-blade aperture that’s nearly a perfect circle at any f-stop will automatically give you good bokeh.

Then there’s the one factor that no lens can compensate for (yet…). Sometimes the subject matter just doesn’t blur well. Here’s a picture I like overall, but there are a couple of things about the bokeh that bug me.


The first annoyance is the fungus in the background. It is very structural, but the way it blurs just doesn’t feel natural. Behind the fungus things get muddled but also don’t feel quite natural. To see why the blur came out the way it did, consider the blade of grass that goes diagonally behind the flower. It is blurred into a perfect, straight, well-defined, sharp-edged area of doubt and uncertainty. All the things that go into a traditional aperture to create “good” bokeh sometimes produce a result that doesn’t feel natural. Lines get exaggerated rather than softened. The line of the grass becomes a line of circles, the light evenly distributed.

The big distracting leaf in the foreground cannot be blamed on the lens, alas. You have no idea how many different crops I tried to get that MF-er out of there.

OK, we’ve finally made it to the get-poor-quick part of this episode. You see, I have come up with a way to control the aperture of the lens that solves ALL the above problems: the aperture can be perfectly circular at any f-stop, or it can have any shape the photographer wants.

The blur in a traditional lens has hard edges because the aperture has hard edges. Metal blades close and open to allow more or less light into the lens. But what if the aperture were not hard-edged? What if the hole that let light through tapered off in opacity toward the edges? Those circles projected onto the sensor would taper as well, softening the edges of the circles, and therefore softening the bokeh. It would look fantastic.

All we have to do is get rid of those dang metal blades and replace them with a ridiculously high-resolution grid of pixels that can be set on a continuum from completely transparent to utterly opaque. The rest is software.

I know that is easier said than done, but think about how fast this technology is moving these days. Before long a system like this will be far cheaper to manufacture than a mechanism with servos and metal blades, and it will add a softness to pictures that can only be dreamt of today.

Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

Revenge of the Hoobajoob

July 17th, 2014
The topic is delicate, the procedure was not.

This is likely to be a short episode, for a couple of reasons: one, my memory of the procedure gets fuzzier as the amount of sedatives in my bloodstream was steadily increased, and two, because there are some details that I simply will not share.

About a month ago I went in for a happy-50th-birthday colonoscopy. It was mildly unpleasant, but not terrible. During this probing the doctor found two polyps. Polyps are growths that, if allowed to run amok, can turn in to cancer. Best just to get those bad boys out of there. In the words of the NIH:

Colon polyps can be raised or flat. Raised colon polyps are growths shaped like mushrooms. They look as though they are on a stem or stalk. Flat colon polyps look like a bed of moss.

I had one of the flat sorts, way up at the very end (or beginning) of my large intestine. My doctor didn’t have the proper tools on hand to deal with it, so we set up another appointment at an actual hospital to take care of it. Yesterday was that day.

It turns out, they barely had the proper tools at the hospital. When the alternative is surgery, however, you do everything you possibly can to get the job done using the colonoscopes. Picture three grim-faced auto mechanics trying to get a wrench into a tight spot in a car to free up a seized bolt. If they can’t get it free, they’re going to have to pull the engine to get at the failing part. An expensive and invasive procedure. The mechanics will do whatever it takes to avoid pulling the engine. Now replace the car in that image with me.

“Whatever it takes” in this case includes contorting the patient and mashing down on his gut to push the intestine closer to the business end of the scope. After the third time being rearranged on the table for another go at the just-out-of-reach polyp, all thought of dignity was lost in a haze of discomfort and a feeling of terrible bloatedness as the air displaced by all the equipment up there looked for a place to go. Things got messy.

In the end, they got the damn thing. Probably. I’ll be going back for a followup in a few months. Hopefully there will be nothing to write home about.

Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

Here’s Something I can be Proud Of

July 14th, 2014
I also got an award for not falling over.

I use MapMyRide to track the miles I cover on my bike. It gives me a pretty decent breakdown of how I did, and for certain segments of my rides it compares me to other riders and to my past performance. MMR seems to believe that no accomplishment should go uncelebrated, no matter how minor.

Here’s the lowdown on one of those segments this evening:

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 6.15.47 PM

To save you some squinting, here’s the part of the above I find most amusing:

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 6.18.28 PM

Those colored circles are badges of honor, telling me how awesome my ride was. The blue one with the “G” means I’m the Guru of that stretch of road; I’ve ridden it more times this month than any other MMR rider. Then there’s the other badge, the one that says “5 PR”, meaning this ride was my fifth personal record — my fifth-best time ever on that course. Woo hoo!

Except, well, that would be considerably more impressive were it not for the “Times Completed” number: 5. My fifth-best time ever on that stretch of road is also my worst time ever. Now there’s something to celebrate!

Writing Writing

Coming Home

July 11th, 2014
Lebron takes his talents to Northeast Ohio

I’ve often stated that the NBA is more like Championship Wrestling than an actual sport. It’s more about the personalities than the actual games. And today, the NBA script writers earned their Emmy. Lebron James is returning to Cleveland.

Cleveland management had to scurry to take down the comical comic-sans screed posted by ownership when Lebron left town four years ago. In that manifesto, ownership guaranteed a championship for their slighted city before Lebron got one in Miami. Two championships later, on his return Lebron is saying he’s not guaranteeing anything, but that there’s nothing he wants more than to bring a trophy home to the place he grew up.

His letter to Sports Illustrated has been carefully crafted, vetted by lawyers, agents, PR experts, sycophants, and Lebron’s mom, but you know what? I actually believe it. I think that’s where he wants to raise his kids. I think it’s where he wants to end his career. It doesn’t hurt that no major sports team from Cleveland has won a championship in 50 years; he brings them a title, he’s God in that town. By my reckoning, he has four years.

Meanwhile, in Miami, the Heat will be determined to prove that they can be good without Lebron, that the other highly-paid superstars can carry the team, that Lebron was just a cog in the machine. They will fail. This past year management put the team on Lebron’s shoulders through the grind of the season to rest their other stars, and then in the finals the well-rested other stars vanished and Lebron ran out of gas. I’m no expert on sports, and certainly not on sorta-sports like professional basketball, but I won’t be putting any money on the boys from South Beach this year.

But as a fellow writer, I have to tip my hat to the NBA. Here’s a story that even non-fans in the offseason are talking about. That’s a good script.

Observations Observations

Miles Per

July 10th, 2014

As my bicycle miles per week go up, my miles per hour are going down.

Observations Observations

Actually, You’re Not

July 3rd, 2014
And shame on you for thinking you were.

I just saw an ad for an insurance agency whose tagline was “because you’re different”. Bullshit. The entire industry is predicated on you NOT being different; they profit from the statistical norm. The tagline may as well be “because you’re more attractive than your coworkers”. Blind-ass flattery.

Observations Observations

My Last Thought

June 26th, 2014

I think this is what I want my headstone to say as well.

Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

My Favorite World Cup Moment (So Far)

June 24th, 2014
Stop the clock, FIFA. Just stop the clock.

I was sorta-watching the match between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Nigeria over the weekend. Sorta-watching because I was at work and the game was on my phone. Wee tiny soccer.

Nigeria had a 1-goal lead and time was running out for the Bosnians. Suddenly, a rash of horrific injuries swept through the ranks of the Nigerians, injuries so awful that all the poor men could do was to lie on the turf in agony. Play stops in these situations, but the clock keeps ticking!. The ref adds a bit of time at the end of the game to make up for the stoppages, but when a team really commits to lying on the grass, they will chew up far more game time than the ref adds back on.

One of these terrible injuries occurred right by the sideline. The Nigerian was so blinded by pain he couldn’t even manage to roll three feet to get off the field of play. FIFA officials and doctors hovered around the seemingly-mortally-wounded athlete, wringing their hands. FIFA people are under strict orders not to risk exacerbating the injuries of world-class athletes, and the team doctors had no interest at all in seeing this man to a speedy recovery. Not while he was on the field of play, anyway. Once a player reaches the sidelines the restorative atmosphere suddenly improves to the point where the stricken lad is often able to rejoin the fray in a matter of seconds.

If only there was a way to get the wounded man to the sidelines and the instant relief to be found there! To be so close to the sidelines but still unable to get that last couple of feet must be pure torment.

Happily, the Bosnian goalkeeper was level-headed enough to provide succor to his foe. The goalie ran over, grabbed the Nigerian under the armpits, and pulled him bodily off the pitch, to the alarm and consternation of FIFA officials and team doctors. I’m sure the Nigerian player was grateful, however, because in a few seconds he was completely healed. I imagine that after the game he probably bought the Bosnian goalie a beer in gratitude.

Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat


June 17th, 2014
I agree with Freddy Mercury

Yesterday morning I had my best ride to work yet. I just felt strong, and my time showed it. Yesterday evening I thought I would be tired after the energy expended in the morning, but I crushed the ride, averaging 15 miles per hour over 14.5 miles (not counting time at traffic lights). For many, that’s not so spectacular. For me, it’s huge. 29 quality miles yesterday.

As I was pulling up to the house last night, my bike suddenly started making a funny noise. I thought one of my panniers was rubbing on the wheel; I thought little of it.

This morning I was ready to continue my streak. I had no illusions that I’d be able to repeat my performance of the day before, but the morning air was crisp, my legs didn’t feel heavy at all, and even if it wasn’t going to be a fast ride, it was going to be a pleasant one.

Except it turns out that funny noise was a flat tire. I drove to work today.

I’ve been really fortunate in my cycling career, I guess; back in San Diego I would ride to work a couple of times a week, and I’ve never had a flat before.

Brief tangent: Unpacking all the stuff I’d put in storage from my time in San Diego, I came across a pair of bike shorts. Back in the day, I realized I was overweight and getting worse, so I resolved to ride to work a couple of times a week — 17 miles and three significant hills. I bought the shorts mainly for the padding in significant places. The thought of putting on those shorts right now is laughable. My target weight is what I weighed the last time I started biking to lose weight. Sigh.

Now I just want to ride my bike. I’ve got the newbie enthusiasm and I’m not ashamed of it. In fact I intend to milk it for all it’s worth. First, however, I have to learn how to change a tube.

Observations Observations

Are You Sure You Have the Right Event?

June 14th, 2014
Somewhere the handball championship 2014 is screaming for its logo back.

This is the logo for the FIFA World cup:

One of the F’s in FIFA stands for ‘football’, the more-descriptive name for the most popular sport in the world. It is the least hand-oriented sport I can think of.

Yet… look again at that logo. It’s made of hands! It looks like multiple people grabbing for the ball — something that never, ever, would happen in that game. It’s like using swim fins in a hockey logo. I’m sure the folks at FIFA had thousands of designs to choose from; surely one of them actually represented the game being played.

Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

Day of the Hoobajoob: Prelude

June 11th, 2014

Today I opened the box of Moviprep and carefully read the instructions. It sounds benign enough – something you would use to prepare for a movie, right? And that’s exactly what it is.

There are only two problems: Where the movie will be shot, and what is required to prepare for it. Moviprep requires a prescription, and unless there’s something pretty crazy going on in there, it’s not likely to be playing at a theater near you.

Yep, you guessed it. I turned fifty a couple of months back, an age at which men must become more vigilant, which includes letting strangers stick fiber optics where there is no ambient light.

My doctor said, “I’d like to tell you it’s not so bad, but… It’s pretty unpleasant.” Not as unpleasant as discovering cancer too late, though, so here I go.

Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

Numbers, English, and Lazy Programmers

June 11th, 2014

While doing research for an episode you will likely see shortly, I went to YouTube and did a search. This is what I got back:
Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 10.46.47 AM
Note that it says I got “About 1 results”. Obviously, “results” is incorrect. There’s only one result! And About? What’s the standard deviation on that result?

This from a company that was bought by Google for a billion dollars or so. You’d think they’d have someone who could spend five frickin’ minutes to put in

if (results.count == 1) {…

and to only include the word “About” when the code rounds off the number of results (which it does for very large result sets). Neither of those things should be difficult, and I’d be embarrassed if my program were so sloppy. Yet there it is on one of YouTube’s most oft-loaded pages.

MapMyRide.com made a bit more of an effort, but didn’t test all the cases:
Screen Shot 2014-06-08 at 5.13.22 PM

11st place! The rule that works for 1 and 21 doesn’t work for 11. Crazy English and the words we have for the low teens. I sent off a friendly report to MayMyRide letting them know; the bug was in a new feature, and MMR doesn’t have the resources that YouTube does. We’ll see if they fix it before I fall to 13rd place.

Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat


June 10th, 2014

Yesterday as I was riding to work I was making pretty decent time when I heard “on your left”, which is what courteous bicyclists say when they are passing you. I get passed pretty often.

“Good morning,” the guy said as he breezed on past. “Mornin’!” I wheezed back to the receding member of the Spandex Crowd. Just ahead was another cyclist, one I was actually overtaking, and the man who had just passed me did not wish that dude a good morning. Another data point in my current study of human nature.

You see, when I ride for an hour in the morning and again in the evening, it gives me plenty of time to ponder the loosely-knit fellowship called ‘cyclists’. Under that umbrella there are several varieties of cyclist, including but by no means limited to Asian grandfathers riding purple little girls’ bicycles complete with white wicker baskets (that is a very small group), heavily-laden commuters (I’m in that group), hispanic men on fat-tired cruisers, and at the top of the heap, there is the Spandex Crowd.

Soon after I started my bike commuting regimen, the local Bike to Work Day went off, and I saw cyclists of every description. I watched cyclists interact with each other (myself included – I am inscrutable even to myself), and I observed a few patterns.

For instance, there’s The Nod. It’s a little upward head movement passed between cyclists who make eye contact. I didn’t get nods from the Spandex Crowd. Not because they’re snobs, not at all, but because they’re riding. Their heads are down and they’re locked to their pedals and they’re not at some high-school mixer where you say hi to every stranger who comes close. Heck, the design of the bicycles they ride makes socializing more awkward.

There was one group, however, a subclass of commuter, with whom I exchanged many nods. I have dubbed them Bearded Overweight Men on Bikes, or BOMB. In the days following Bike to Work Day, the BOMB population slowly dwindled, until I rarely see another BOMB anymore. For a while I was a BOMB, now I might be the BOMB.

So how did it come to pass that a member of the Spandex Crowd wished me a good morning? I think it’s because he honestly wanted me to have a good morning. I think he also remembered passing me a few days before, and a few days before that. I think he said ‘good morning’ but also said, ‘Welcome to the brotherhood, Bearded Overweight Man on a Bike. I hope to pass you many more times in the future.”

I’m looking forward to it as well.

Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

E-mail Privacy

June 5th, 2014

Apparently, it is simply not possible for an American company to offer secure email. Sooner or later the United States Government is going to come knocking, and they’re not above judicial film-flams to get what they want.

Google doesn’t want your email encrypted, either. They want to read it and sell what you’ve written to advertisers.

But there’s nothing stopping you from encrypting your own email, except the inconvenience of getting your communication channels set up with your friends. Unfortunately, that’s still a PITA, especially for friends who cling to browser-based email reading.

My perfect world: every email is encrypted. There is no reliance on a central authority for the encryption. No email company or certificate authority that can be hacked or subpoenaed.

My perfect world may be a tiny bit closer to reality: Apple has announced that the next version of the Mac OS will have streamlined email encryption. S/MIME is already supported in Apple’s Mail app, but it’s not nearly as simple as it should be. If I were in charge, setting up your computer would automatically generate your own identity certificate, and every email you send would have it attached. With a single click anyone who got that email would set up a secure, encrypted email connection with you. And that would be that.

We’ll see how close Apple comes. But it gladdened my crusty old heart to see a big company at least talking about the issue.