The Influential Life

The Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas has always had opinions, and she is rarely shy about expressing them. For this reason, she has always been diligent about reviewing the products she buys online. It is important to recognize the good products (and especially the good vendors), while warning folks away from the crap. It is simply a matter of good online-retail citizenship.

Plus, she likes to be creative with her reviews. Tell a little story.

Apparently sometimes being a good retail citizen pays. Some unknown robot at Amazon flagged her reviewing prowess and (I assume) some human subsequently decided that the OSoMR&HBI would be a good person to become a professional giver of opinions.

That is, it turns out, a real job.

It works like this. You select things from a giant pile, they send you the things, and you review them. And keep the things. “Influence” has now become a transitive verb where we used to use “buy”. As in, “I just influenced these jeans and they fit perfectly!”

It’s a good time to be turning half the garage into a workshop. Yesterday my new laser level arrived. Today it was the laser tape measure (that will calculate area and volume and do trig and save up to 50 measurements) and the bike torque wrench. The blocks for calibrating table saw cuts came yesterday; the router table equivalents arrive tomorrow, along with the rounded-edge router bit for my window sill project. The lamps for over the new workbench arrive soon. All for the cost of an opinion. (And income tax on the retail value of the item.)

It’s kind of hard for me to wrap my head around. I didn’t fully understand at first — it didn’t really sink in until the Official Sweetie showed me the new light fixture she was considering for the hallway. Sputnik! I saw the retail price and asked, “are they seriously sending that to us?” I kind of felt like the first time our little protector dog Lady Byng was barking at the intruder at the door until she realized he was BRINGING FOOD! Mind-blowing! The fixture arrived today, the bulbs arrive tomorrow, and I’ll put it up on Saturday. And help write the review.

We are required to either send an item back, use it, or keep it for at least six months before giving it to family and friends, so you guys are safe from being inundated with LED flashlights and solar-powered LED patio string lights and more solar-powered LED patio string lights and LED bulbs and rechargeable LED under-shelf lights and multi-color LED strip lights and LED wall wash light strips and LED flashing red hazard lights (with bottle opener) in your Christmas stockings this year.

If you would like to follow the Official Sweetie and learn of her many, many opinions, you can do so here. Does having more followers benefit us? Probably. Not sure. But probably. If you find any of those reviews helpful, go ahead and say so! Do more “helpful” votes benefit us? Not sure, but again, probably. Don’t perjure yourself. Who really knows what’s happening in the Amazon Artificial Intelligence. (Seriously good opportunity for crossover speculative fiction there…)

If there is something you are curious about — more a general type of product than a specific item, as there are about 45,000 items available for review at any given time and there is no search function, just filters to select for broad categories — let us know! If either of us are remotely qualified to render an opinion, and we can find an example, we’ll give it a shot. It you’re waiting for the verdict on a pneumatic drain clearing tool, we’ve already got you covered!

Apparently, I’m still a Padres Fan

In sports news today, the San Diego Padres traded away a bunch of players — and who knows, one of those players might one day be as good as Juan Soto — for Juan Soto.

To KEEP the kid, the Pads will have to pay him a lot of money. I think they will.

Do you remember the movie Moneyball? In that story the bean counters show that with advanced statistics they can find players that produce more value than is revealed by the traditional RBI and whatnot. The good guys in that story found new ways to measure the value of a player, and used that knowledge to build a world series team on the cheap.

The team in that story was the Oakland A’s. Since then, the ownership of that team has discovered an even more efficient way to run a team: lose. Pay as little as possible to stay in the league, and soak up the shared revenue from the TV deals. They don’t even pretend to be building for the future. Trying to win would cut into profits.

San Diego is one of a handful of teams that is actually trying to win. At some point in the post season they will go tooth-to-claw with the Dodgers —another team trying to win it all — and the odds on that outcome shifted today.

That’s all fun, but it seems like these mighty players the Padres have accumulated — Tatís, Machado, Soto, and many others — it seems like they enjoy playing baseball. Like if you gave them a day off from playing baseball, they’d spend it playing baseball. Guys like that are fun to watch.

And that’s my team. I seem unable to change that. When I heard they got Soto today, a thrill went right through me. A thrill I thought I was above after all this time, but that excitement for the future is the payoff for fandom. Hope lies dark and insidious inside you, a hallucinogenic vision of the future, and given even a glimmer of light will turn you into a gibbering idiot.

Go Padres!

3

Hot Times in the City

The temperature went over one hundred degrees here today, as it does sometimes (more often lately, but we all know that). At about 2pm the guys who messed up our ducts came back and fixed out ducts, and life was good — the best cooling this house has ever known. Until about 4pm. That’s when the AC shut down entirely. Hopefully it’s just a matter of replacing (again) the ridiculously huge fuses on the unit. (Although huge fuses mean huge power and BLOWING huge fuses means maybe it’s time to replace the damn thing.)

It’s warm in here right now. Warm enough that my laptop, already prone to run hotter than one would think necessary, essentially shut itself down to prevent it from burning itself up.

My laptop is a MacBook, and they are not generally considered good gaming machines for two reasons: one, the hottest games don’t run on Macs, and two, because Macs aren’t built to dissipate the heat that comes with the massive processing in a modern computer game.

But today I wasn’t running any graphic-intensive game. I did play NetHack for a while, but that is the opposite of graphics-intensive. And because I was playing on NAO, even that processing was happening in a data center somewhere (or perhaps, a linux box under someone’s desk).

MacBooks, when overheating, use a process to simply block out all other programs part of the time, to reduce the load so the computer can cool down. I reached a point today where the safety program was taking up all the time.

I quit any program that was even using the slightest CPU and the situation did not improve. I shut down the machine, waited a few minutes, and started it back up to the slowest reboot since DOS was on floppies, because the kernel task went straight to maximum protection.

Finally, I went to the freezer and pulled out a cold pack I use on my knee. I put the computer to sleep, and set the thing right onto the cold pack, and when I woke it up the machine was happy. For a little while, at least.

I have now used a second cold pack, which is why I’m able to write this right now.

If you search for “Refrigerated Laptop Cooling Pad” or any of a hundred permutations, you will get lots of hits, but none of them are actually refrigerated. They just have lots of fans. And while I’m sure that helps, I’m a little surprised that there’s no active cooling. The top-tier game machines have liquid cooling built directly into the enclosure. It doesn’t seem a stretch to extend the heat sink of a metal-hulled laptop with a refrigerated system to take the heat away.

I’m filing this episode under Get Poor Quick because this is such a golden opportunity for the right person. Get on that, right person! Make the Chill Spot. I’m tired of my laptop shutting itself down!

2

Pod Life

It was in late 2001 or early 2002. I was on an airplane, and I pulled 1000 songs out of my pocket, was navigating to find the album I wanted, when a man in the row behind me leaned forward and asked through the gap between seats, “What is that thing?”

It was an iPod. Until its release, there had never been anything like it. The mechanical click-wheel of those early versions was just so satisfying and intuitive, navigating through a large collection of songs was simple, even with the tiny black-and-white screen. “It passes the blonde test,” a blonde friend of mine said after a few seconds with the device.

Part of the iPod of course was timing. Suddenly it was possible to fit a hard drive (yes, an actual spinning-disk drive) and a battery into a little case with enough storage to play music. But on top of that was the design. Anybody could make a music player, but only Apple could have made the iPod.

And only the iPod could save Apple. There was a huge battle inside Apple over whether the iPod would work with Windows computers. Steve Jobs was absolutely against it. Steve got his way most of the time, but in this case ultimately other voices carried the day, and while Steve was not the least bit gracious in conceding, he was later able to recognize that decision as a turning point for the company. It was the moment the gadgets were allowed to grow independently of Macs, and eventually the gadgets became the center of the Apple ecosystem. And here we are now.

Today (or, recently at least, I don’t pay close attention) Apple announced that they will not be making any more iPods. It’s just as well; the iPod is now just an iPhone without the phone. The iPod nano was probably the pinnacle of the “thing that plays music” Apple offerings, although it was not as viscerally satisfying to use as its clunky ancestors. I have one of those around here somewhere as well.

The only surprise I felt at the announcement was that the company I work for was still making iPods up until now. It seems like once the pod had to play video it wasn’t really an iPod anymore (says this grumpy old man).

But… the headphones I wear could fit a click wheel. A million songs in your ear. Anyone want to make that real?

4

Breakfast of Champions

Green Chile Cheesy Bagel!

Featuring “Some guy in Albuquerque with a roaster in his garage” brand chiles! The best!

5

That Reply I got From Aptera

If you follow this blog you might recall a while back I wrote about a car company called Aptera. I got super-excited about the product, tried to ask more questions, and hit a brick wall. The wall wasn’t so much about the company hiding things, as it was about the people fielding the questions not being trained on how to refer them to the people with the answers.

I ended that episode, and the following updates, promising that if I heard from Aptera again, I would let you know. Then I did hear from them, and I didn’t let you know. Not cool on me.

In fact I later got a very nice letter back, that specifically addressed my core questions. Well, maybe not fully answering, but framing expectations. I have to say, the use of exclamation points really helped to sell me. They’re excited!

I’m going to put the whole message below. I expect I’ll fail to match the well-formatted text I received. Just the look of the message indicates that some care was put into creating it. You will have to take my word for it.

Does this restore my faith in the venture? To be honest, it does, at least a little bit. My desire for an outfit like this to succeed has almost nothing to do with my own transport, and everything to do with making cities in the western United States less carbon-awful.

Anyway, here’s the full reply that I promised before.

Hi Jerry,
I sincerely apologize that they were not able to get your questions answered! We are more than happy to assist. To give you some clarity into the situation, we are required to use a third-party platform/company to accept investors’ funds and work with the SEC to ensure compliance. This is not directly managed in any way by Aptera. So when you email [email protected], it does not go to anyone on the Aptera team, it goes to an outsourced support team that specializes in financial inquiries related to the investing process.
Please find answers to your questions below: 

  • Strangely, the Gamma body was due in Q3, and supply chain sorting-out for Q3 and Q4. /  Gamma production in Q4.

We had aspired to make a production-intent vehicle by the end of this year. We think we’re pushing that into next year, but hopefully not too far into next year. We’ve signed some significant agreements that we think will provide us parts in 2022 at a greater scale than we were anticipating before. So we think once we pull the trigger on manufacturing, we will be able to scale rapidly, and really start to crank out vehicles. But getting to that start of production is later than what we had expected at least a year or two ago. In addition, we do not have any plans to change pricing at this time. 

• Have the “Betas vehicles” been built?

The Beta builds are underway! We have a new 80,000 sq. foot assembly facility which is complemented by two additional spaces nearby for beta development, R&D, and solar composite manufacturing. We look forward to sharing our progress with you as we continue this phase of testing and development. Please stay tuned for video updates on our social channels such as YouTube. Betas are in progress! Here is our November update:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GK-aamqGZS4.

• How is test validation going?

We look forward to sharing this with you over the next several months as we make more progress in the beta stage! We recently stepped into this phase and as progress is made we will provide updates directly from our CEOs Chris Anthony and Steve Fambro. We’re looking forward to announcing more information to our supporters. We are having all the betas being completed for the development vehicles to send to suppliers and validate production parts. The path to production did not happen as quickly as we had originally anticipated, but nevertheless, we are making great progress and cannot wait to launch. 

Please let us know if you have any questions. We are more than happy to assist. We are committed to moving mobility in a direction of sustainability and innovation. We cannot thank you enough for your support.  

The message was signed “Aptera Team”, and had a bunch of links to various social media.

At this point, with this message that really had very little of substance, I’m all excited again. Maybe this actually can be the car that breaks oil. Maybe this is the car that an inner-city grandma can afford to operate, and not have to worry about gas prices. It could be a game-changer.

Maybe it won’t be, but tonight at least, with all the things and whatnot gong on, I’d like to see this as part of a carbon exit strategy.

4

I Have No One to Discuss this With

It’s a wacky footnote in sports history. I learned about it a few weeks ago, and I’ve kept the WikiPedia Page about it open in a tab ever since, so when I stumble across anyone around me who might find it interesting, I would be ready.

But even when I regularly interacted with other human beings, there was no one in that set that would find this story interesting. So I’m just going to tell you about it. You don’t have to thank me; it’s what I do.

It was a soccer tournament for the Caribbean Cup. The rules for the tournament had an odd twist, sanctioned by FIFA: If a team scored a winning goal in overtime, it was a “golden goal” and counted as two goals for deciding tie-breakers. So it came to pass that Barbados was playing Grenada, and Barbados needed to win by at least two goals to advance to the next round. Grenada could be content to lose by only one and it would be they who proceeded in the tourney.

Barbados was up 2-0 for quite a while, but then Grenada scored. As it stood, Grenada would move on to the next round, leaving Barbados behind. Barbados attacked, but Grenada pulled everyone back into a defensive shell. With Grenada on full defense, it was looking unlikely that Barbados would get the goal they needed.

So, with time running out, Barbados kicked the ball into their own net, tying the game, to try for the “golden goal” in overtime.

But here’s where things got really weird. At that point, the ONLY thing that could prevent Granada from advancing was a tie. It didn’t matter who won, as long as the margin of victory was only one point. Granada had only to put the ball in either goal before overtime started to move on. So they were attacking both goals, while Barbados was defending both goals. I like to picture this moment, as the structure the athletes usually play under broke down completely and the heads of the fans in the arena exploded one by one.

In retrospect, it seems pretty certain that if Grenada were the least bit prepared for this situation, they would have managed to score, even in the limited time. Hell, on one end, there’s no offsides! But who prepares for that? They did not, in fact, put the ball in either net during regulation play, and it was on to overtime.

Barbados got their golden goal, and moved on to the next round of the tournament. Grenada, unable for a couple of terrible minutes to even put the ball into their own goal, went home.

The golden goal rule was scrapped the moment the tournament was over.

2

Apple’s Little Monster

I used to post about techno-gear fairly frequently, but I’ve tailed off, largely because since I began to work at Apple it would be easy to accuse me of homerism.

Today, as I was preparing to leave work, I got a message from the Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas, asking for a friend about the Mac Studio Cube. That was how I learned about the new hardware my company announced today. Maybe I should have watched that presentation. At any rate, do not waste your time coming to me for any inside information.

The word “cube” immediately conjured images of the original Mac Cube, one of which sits, in its metal-wrapped-in-polycarbonate elegance on a shelf in the Muddled HQ compound.

The new Cube not as pretty, even if it is more recycled (100% of rare earth metals are recycled), but that’s not what got my attention. This little computer is a fuckin’ beast.

Not that long ago, Apple bailed on Intel and started making their own chips. The first generation of the M1 processor was a ground-breaker. Fast and incredibly power-efficient. The reason turns out to be pretty simple: a lot of power and speed is lost to the places the disparate chips in your computer talk to each other. The answer: put everything on one chip. Processor cores, memory, GPU, I/O, and all the rest. The result is much faster computers that use a lot less power.

Apple has rapidly expanded the line of processors—literally. The name “M1 Max” is not just an empty marketing name, the chip is literally the biggest single chip that can be made in quantity with current technology. To extend this idea any further, you either have to improve the silicon die technology to make bigger chips (which obviously everyone is doing), or you have to incur the cost of having separate chips talking to each other.

But what if you built your chip so that you should just sorta… glue it to another one? Today we heard about the M1 Ultra, a gigantic chip that is literally two times maximum. And the connection between the chips is so efficient that the scaling is almost linear.

It has been a long time since I followed the chip-fabrication press; back around 1986 they were still talking about optical computing (using lasers for logic gates to get to extremely high clock rates), and gallium arsenide was still the next big thing. Remember gallium arsenide? Of course you don’t. It was not the next big thing.

Which means while I have an interest in this stuff, I have no idea whatsoever whether anyone at Intel or AMD did a spit-take when Apple announced the M1 Ultra today. Probably not, unless it was the speed at which Apple brought the idea to market.

I wonder, honestly, if Intel is even able to compete here. System-on-a-Chip (SoC) constrains versatility; if your chip has to work in many places, it can’t optimize for any.

But I raise my glass tonight to the silicon people at Apple. They are punching the rest of the industry in the face right now. Maybe I’m a homer, but what they have done speaks for itself.

2

Rocket7 and Happy Feet

A while back I published the episode that was meant to be a preview for this one.To save you the trouble of remembering anything or reading any more than you have to, here’s a brief synopsis:

My feet are different sizes, very wide, and have really long toes and very high arches.

For everyday life, I can just get soft shoes from companies with a skateboard heritage (they run wide) and accept that I will blow them open sooner or later. When I was a kid, my sneakers would always fail around the balls of my feet, leaving my socks in the wind.

But on the bike, the shoes were becoming a real limiting factor. As my rides approached forty miles, my feet approached rebellion. Bike shoes are very rigid, and if your foot isn’t in the right place in the shoe, then your foot is also not properly positioned over the pedal.

I started doing research. By “research” I mean I put “custom bike shoes” into Duck Duck Go and found my way to Rocket7. Once I found a place that could make my feet happy, I stopped searching. I didn’t seek out competitors, or anything like that.

I didn’t place an order right away; if you know me you know that there must be the requisite period of overthinking. After long rides I would go back to their site, and ponder: There is semi-custom, where they find the best match for each foot among their standard templates and tweak it, or for quite a bit more money, you can get full-custom. I wondered: my feet are a little extreme in many ways, but EEEEE width and long toes and high arches can’t be too uncommon, right?

Finally, after literally months of thinking myself in circles, I brought it up with the Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas and she asked, “This is for your health, right? Then it’s worth it.”

She is smart, and understands what is important. And so I sent in a deposit for Full-Custom shoes.

Instantly, knowing that someday I would own shoes that fit, my current bike shoes seemed more uncomfortable than ever. I’ve done a few thousand miles in these Shimanos, and they were always a discomfort to be endured (the left foot angry after too many hours pedaling in a day; my right little toe very angry after too many hours pedaling in a month).

Relief was not swift in coming. It is a complicated process, getting shoes tailored to your feet, when the tailor is in a different time zone. But while it was not a swift process, honestly it was kind of fun; and the discrete stages of the process served to increase giddy anticipation.

So the process goes like this: They send a bunch of stuff to make molds of my feet. We make the molds and send them back. The good people at Rocket7 then create casts of my feet from the molds, and build shoes for those casts.

First, the kit arrived:

The package from Rocket7, clearing customs.

The kit included a carefully sculpted platform to put the feet in the correct position, some other measuring tools, and three of these crazy plaster-infused socks that you use to create the mold. Included are special scissors and other odds and ends necessary to make things work.

The first hitch: In our communications, I had not mentioned the size of my feet. One is small, the other is smaller. The magic socks in my kit were extra-large. (I suspect that most clients are actual athletes and those people tend to run big.) So then the wait began for smaller socks, and welcome to supply chain. The wait dragged on.

Finally the smaller socks arrived and it was time to do the magic. But of course to make sure you do things right, an expert at the company needs to be on video the whole time. Bad foot molds mean shoes that don’t fit and anger enough to go around. Setting up that appointment proved to be a challenge as well, as first our modern plague and then ventilation failures at the shoe factory (lots of solvents when working with carbon fiber) made things tough for them.

This is a small company, and I like those. One of the reasons I like them is that when, as was the case here, I had a question, I got an answer. (This is not automatic for small businesses, I’ve met more than one who try to ghost you when things are rough, but Rocket7 is all that’s good in a cottage industry.) When I asked a question, I got an answer.

Finally the day came to meet KC (the boss of all this stuff) and cast my feet.

Casting my right foot. Yes, this photo is cropped to include the dog.

What I unfortunately staged badly for this photo was that KC (who, by the way, holds a few speed skating world records), is on a laptop directly behind me. It was a fun afternoon! All the time he reminded me, “keep your knee out over your foot” and in the following weeks I was like “oh fuck what if I didn’t keep my knee out over my foot? My shoes will suck and it’s my fault!”

Still life with my feet

I was glad for the third sock. We started with my left foot, then did the right, but after KC had gone on to deal with other stuff I was worried that I’d curled up my toes on the left mold. They’re always curled up in shoes so I wanted a mulligan there, to give them the space they deserved. Also, we hadn’t really paid enough attention to my arch on that first go. So we used the spare sock to get a new left foot.

We sent them back, and there was another wait. More supply chain issues, Olympic training, the usual stuff.

And then:

The best shoes ever

Behold the magnificence! Gasp in awe at the way the toe boxes bulge on the sides! Honestly these seem kind of like cartoon shoes, stumpy and wide and bulbous and perfect. But they are the first shoes in my adult life (using a traditional definition of “adult” based on the calendar) that actually fit. For forty years and more my left foot has been in a much-too-big shoe, and my toes have always been crushed.

My feet are no longer a limit to my endurance. There are many other limits, but those are my problem to solve.

Now I want all my shoes to be like this. I want all my shoes to fit. There’s an outfit up in San Francisco that will make custom hiking boots, using a similar process.

But there’s already a set of casts of my feet, proven to be good. An iPad with LIDAR could model that, and any custom shoe maker in the world could print my feet and make the shoes. (Of course, I would be able to decide where my foot models went.)

Before I veer too directly into “Get Poor Quick”, I’ll come back to this: I love my new shoes. I’ve got a few hundred miles on them now, and every one of those miles has been with happy feet.

10

Fundraiser Raffle! With Sweet Prizes!

Harlean over at Poetic Pinup has assembled a great lineup of prizes that she will be giving away soon. There will be up to 500 raffle tickets, and there are 14 prizes, so your chances are pretty good! Proceeds will be split between Toys for Tots, whom you’ve probably already heard about, and Next Door Solutions, which is a group of caring people who provide shelter and resources for people fleeing domestic abuse.

The prizes are products of independent craftspeople and small businesses that we love to support. Some you will not find anywhere else, and at least one of the items is out of print.

Each ticket is only five American dollars, and there is a code you can enter on the site to get 5 for the price of 4.

Here’s a little collage with the prizes:

There is fun, and there is literate, and there is just plain nice. You can get a better look at the prizes over on the Raffle page. Most important of all, every ticket you buy will improve the life of other people. Here’s a link! https://poeticpinup.com/product/2021-holiday-fundraiser-raffle-tickets/

The drawing is Friday, so quit dithering and click the link! Seriously! I see you dithering! Knock it off!

Even if this is not for you, please consider sharing this post with your circle. We all want those tots to have their toys!

3

Rocket7: Prelude

This is the story of a new pair of bike shoes, but it starts with the old shoes.

A few years ago, I was killing time in a local, family-owned bike shop (as one does), and I found myself in the corner where the closeout items were piled. I had been thinking about upgrading from my toe clips to shoes that click into the pedals, and there was a pair of Shimano’s at deep discount, in Euro size 42, which is as close to “my size” as you’re going to find. So I bought them.

It was a while later when I actually bought the pedals to match. I had done absolutely no research on the types of pedals and the shoes that match them, and purely by chance I had bought shoes that work with the SPD pedal system. SPD was developed for mountain bikers, and had two key features: muck tolerance and a sole built up around the cleat on the shoe, which makes walking around easier.

You’ve probably heard the clack-clack of a bicyclist walking in their bike shoes. That clack-clack is not only uncomfortable for the walker, it also contributes significant wear to the cleats on the bottom of the shoes.

So it turns out that although designed for mountain bikers, the SPD system is also ideal for commuters, where there is often an amount of walking around to do once the destination is reached, but before a good shoe-change opportunity.

A fine pair of shoes, looking good after thousands of miles

I have put thousands of miles on those shoes. (It’s not as impressive as it sounds; unless you are impressed by consistency – which is actually pretty impressive.) By the looks of them, with new laces and eventually new straps, they have a few thousand more miles on them easy.

I have come to dislike those shoes. However, as has been said in many a break-up, it’s not the shoes, it’s my feet.

When I ride too many hours in a month, my right foot starts to hurt. When I ride too many hours in a day, my left foot becomes very unhappy. With my fancy bike, longer rides are becoming more common and Lefty has had a few things to say about that.

My feet are different sizes, you see, and while the longer one is very wide, the smaller one is ridiculously wide. I didn’t take the above shoe picture with this in mind, but if you look at the left shoe above you can see that it is pushed out wider just past the strap. That’s where the ball of my foot lands in that shoe, way up on the meager arch support. That also means that the pad of my foot is behind the pedal, and I’m actually pushing the pedal with my toes. It is my toes that get pissed off after 40 miles.

My feet

You know how after you break up you can look back and remember the good times and still be glad that you’ve broken up? Today the new shoes arrived. After less than 15 miles it’s all over. The new shoes are sexy and comfy and made just for me. The next episode will be that story, but I wanted to create the setting first, and pay a little respect for a pair of shoes that have been with me through good times and bad.

2

Still Searching for the Electric Roadster

Before I go too far down this rabbit hole, we should all make note of the fact that it is entirely possible that I will never buy another car, and that the roadster I currently own (a 1999 Miata) almost never leaves the garage. I have the battery hooked up to a trickle charger and I use my bike pump to keep the tires from going too flat.

But still, every once in a while, I go looking for the “electric Miata” — a simple and spirited little car made for top-down fun. I want this vehicle to exist. There was a time known as the 1980’s where no one thought there was a market for a fun little two-seater, and then Mazda introduced the Miata and bang the genre was reborn. I’m looking for the company that does the same thing, but electric.

It’s a challenge, to be sure. Batteries are heavy, and weight is the last thing you want if your goal is a nimble little car. That fact alone is probably why my dream has not already been realized. I get that. But I dream.

“What about the Tesla Roadster?” you ask. I will not go into detail here, but the original Roadster has value only as a collector item and the fabled new roadster is a preposterously expensive supercar that isn’t actually a roadster at all. What about Detroit Electric? Audi? BMW? The list goes on. All preposterous supercars and not a ragtop to be found.

Part of this, again, goes back to the weight. If it’s going to be heavy, is has to be powerful, and it has to stay very low to the pavement if it wants to turn corners at any speed. I get that. But I dream.

MG, the famous British company whose name is synonymous with “fun (as long as it isn’t broken)”, is now owned by Chinese giant SAIC, and the badge adorns SUV’s over there. But apparently some guy in that company remembers what MG used to mean, and MG has been working on an electric vehicle to pay homage to that heritage. Here at last, I thought, would be the electric that captured the true roadster feel.

Dubbed (I kid you not) “Cyberster”, the MG concept absolutely does NOT capture that feel. It is just another electric two-seat supercar in a market with about as many offerings as customers.

Mazda has now said they will “electrify” the Miata by 2030. But they probably mean hybrid, because, well, batteries are heavy. I’ve long wondered if the Wankel Rotary is well-suited for turning a generator; maybe we’ll find out.

Perhaps what I want is not possible with current technology. In fact, go back and remove the “Perhaps” from that statement. But I still want it! And let’s face it; a battery-encumbered Miata would still out-corner the 1974 Alfa Romeo I used to love to drive.

And there’s the thing. I get the weight. But the people choosing what cars to build don’t get the feeling of being out on the road on a chilly night, top down, heater blasting, moon washing the landscape. They don’t get the drives across the desert where sunscreen is a constant activity. They don’t get that the vanilla smell of ponderosas is part of the magic of weaving up a mountain road. They have never looked straight up and seen the sun shine through the feathers of a golden eagle coasting over the baking blacktop.

They do not love the road as deeply as I do. The motion, the air, the adventure. Someone should put me in charge of a car company (actually, they really shouldn’t). Then my company could make the car we all want.

For symmetry with the start of this episode, also note that in the unlikely event that I actually buy another car, it better drive itself so I can take a nap before I get where I’m going.

A Helping Hand for Vets

We love the official little dogs of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas — even though Guilfoyle is a pretty major a-hole — and we love the people who have dedicated their lives to helping us keep the ODoMRHBIs healthy, even as their muzzles turn gray and their legs don’t have the spring they once did.

Lady Byng with blep

People who gravitate to that calling do it out of love, and let there be no doubt that the pups in this house are much better off for having a good doctor. And therefore I am better off as well.

I was surprised, and then not surprised, to learn that the suicide rate among veterinarians is awful. That job has some tough, tough, days. In fact, even the easy days are tough. So this month I’m riding at least 400 miles to raise awareness (and cash, of course), for an organization dedicated to giving these kind people some of the mental health resources they need.

If you have a caregiver for your pets whom you appreciate, or if you just think maybe mental health needs a bit more attention, then please consider joining the fundraiser yourself (you can even be on my team!) or simply donating and letting me do the work. Either path can start at my page over there.

My circle of friends is small, and not all y’all are living as comfortably as I am. So I want you to know right from the get-go that while I plan to do more to raise money for causes I believe in, there is no way in hell I expect any of my friends to answer the call every time. We all have to choose our battles. So thank you for reading this far, and if this is not the cause for you, that’s fine. (But if you know someone…)

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Bicycling’s Ultimate Wingman

It was a hell of a day on the bike today, but I’m not ready yet to tell that story. So let’s talk about the Tour de France instead.

Today, a rider named Mark Cavendish tied the record for most stages ever won in the Tour. The Manx Missile once seemed to be on track to shatter the old record, then injury and misfortune almost ended his career. After a brutal few years, he got his last chance on a major team, and likely because of internal politics he was selected to ride for that team in the Tour.

There are a lot of different ways to win at a stage race like the Tour de France. The most-remembered winner is the rider who completes all the stages in the smallest aggregate time. But there are also awards for the best in the mountains, and the fastest in the sprints, and each day is a mini-race; winning a stage is a great accomplishment. winning lots of stages, over many years, makes you a legend.

Cavendish, with his come-back story, adds an element to this year’s Tour that would not be there otherwise. He is crafty, knows just what he can do, and especially knows how to work with his teammates.

One of those teammates is Michael Mørkøv, my new favorite rider. Yesterday he did such a good job pulling Cav through a confused and chaotic 100 meters to the end line that he nearly won the stage himself. But his job is to get the main guy to the line, and he does it well. I looked today and in his long career he has won exactly one stage in a major race. But his teammates have won many.

If you watch a stage race that ends with a sprint, you will see the star of the show about four wheels back, behind teammates who are creating a draft the star can ride it, saving energy. In the last few hundred meters those teammates will peel off, and other teams will make their moves, driving their own trains toward the line.

If you’re that sprinter, having ridden 100 miles already that day just to get to this moment, as your crew peels off one by one and the pace of the final dash to the line builds, there is no one you want in front of you more than Mørkøv for those last few meters.

I have oversimplified the role of the leadout rider; there is a lot of strategy involved to set up your teammate for the last dash. Wind, the tactics of the other teams, the strength of the rider you are pulling, of course the terrain — all of that matters.

Cavendish has a burst that no one else on the tour can match. Those same twitch muscles that put him across the line first in the sprints are actually a liability through the mountains. So let’s not forget the rest of the team that kept Mark Cavendish in the race (those too far behind the lead are mercifully eliminated). It was the effort of many that even put Mark on the road today.

It has been the effort of Michal Mørkøv that allowed him to make history. Let us not forget that.

They are Not Like Us

Clearing out the email today and found one from Strava, the bicycle-centric performance-tracking app. It turns out that some of the riders on the Tour de France are sharing their rides with the rest of us.

Poking around today, I got the data for Ben O’Connor, the rider who won Stage 9 today, and I also found the data for a serious contender who today lost concentration for a second and went off the road. The full list is here.

O’Connor doesn’t share his heart rate data, but some of the others do. There was one guy who I can’t remember the name of whose heart rate almost never broke 150. Another guy climbed a near-vertical road for a minute, pushing his heart to a casual 149, before it dropped right back to 108 a minute later, while coasting downhill.

I’m only starting to appreciate the power numbers, as on my rides power output is a very rough estimate based on slope and speed (I could buy toys to give much more precise power readings, but I don’t think I would actually benefit from that information.) Here we see athletes who can sustain more than 400 watts of power for half an hour, and then do it again on the next hill, and then be able to get back on the bike and do it all over again tomorrow. The riders, even the ones with no hope of winning, are capable of producing crazy amounts of power pretty much forever.

But while all that’s impressive to me, it’s all quantifiable. That changes when it’s about going down the mountain. I will tell you right now, despite the hardship, I prefer going up to going down. I was watching a repeat of last year’s Giro a few months back and a Slovenian kid got his first stage win by smashing up the mountains and then barely not crashing on the way down the other sides. There were times my heart went up into my throat as his rear wheel skidded on the winding roads. He is a beast, but a crazy beast at that (I think I was watching Tadej Pogačar introduce himself to the world, and who has in the last three days turned the Tour de France into a race for second place, but there’s another Slovenian kid who is also a monster.)

It should come as no surprise that the riders who qualify for one of the world’s most prestigious athletic endurance events are superhuman. It’s extra-fun for me, though, because when I look at one of those riders, Strava helpfully puts my recent and career stats next to theirs. (But please note that my post-return-from-Prague career miles are roughly twice what is shown there, since I didn’t start using Strava right away. So it’s not really so different, right?)

By the way, here I’m being compared to Ben O’Connor, who won Stage 9 today. I suspect that his longest ride is much more than 160 miles, so maybe only half his work is showing up in Strava as well. Even from what we see here, he’s closing in on one million feet of climbing. If he did that all in one climb, he’d officially be an astronaut and then some, but he wouldn’t quite reach the ISS. It would be a hell of a ride back down.

I couldn’t find any names on Strava that I knew to be sprinters. They are bigger-legged riders who can put on amazing bursts of power (and therefore speed). I’m really curious what their numbers look like in the final meters of a closely-contested sprint. If I find anyone in that category, I’ll let you know.

Meanwhile, I’ll push the pedals, and while I will never produce huge power numbers, I am about 120% of a climber right now — I just need to shed 20% of me to be in good trim for a romp up a mountainside. I’ll leave the descent to someone else.