Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Review: Pearl Izumi Pro Aero Glove

I tried the Pearl Izumi Pro Aero Glove because my old gloves were falling apart. I'm a size medium, and these looked and feel nice on short (8-20) rides, so I thought I was going to keep them. But what I've discovered is that on long rides, the portion behind the fingers bunch up and cause small discomfort.

It's a pity Amazon doesn't sell Specialized BG gloves, and they're really hard to find. I'm trying out a pair of Giro Jags next (it pained me to buy them, because of the gun thing), because that's what the local shop had, and those feel very much like my beloved Specialized BG gloves.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Review: Autonomous

Autonomous is Annalee Newitz's novel about pharmacological pirates set in a world where reverse engineering drugs has been made illegal. It's had amazing blurbs from famous science fiction authors such as Neal Stephenson and William Gibson on the cover, and the author is an editor for Ars Technica, so she's familiar with technology.

The novel switches between two perspectives, one of Jack the Pharma pirate with a heart of gold, and the mercenary robot/human team that's been tasked with hunting her down after she pirated a drug that turns out to have addictive side-effects.

I think one of the biggest problems with science fiction in the modern era is that humans tend to anthropomorphize everything, including robots. As a result, the robot in the story, Paladin, works at human speeds instead of superhuman speeds, and isn't nearly as sharp as I would expect for an AI with human-level intelligence. (It's also quite unlikely that AI tech would stay at human-levels for any significant period of time, but that's another discussion for another time)

The core plot isn't really interestingly enough to drive the story, though along the way we get a really dystopian view of a society of capitalism run amuck, where humans indenture themselves to corporations or other humans so as to better compete with otherwise autonomous robots, which are required to serve an indenture period to pay off the cost of manufacture. Unfortunately, the morality and movement behind these movements are never explored, and would have been more interesting than the novel we got.

I'm afraid I can't really recommend Autonomous: the happy ending is forced, and some of the technology (i.e., the use of human brains inside robots to provide certain functions such as facial recognition) seems highly unlikely.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Review: Sidi SD15 MTB Shoes

The thing about cycling is that it's extremely fashion driven. The last time I bought cycling shoes, Velcro was still the thing. Then when I wanted a pair of shoes that would fit while wearing my waterproof socks for an upcoming tour (yes, I'm expecting rain, why did you ask?), I found that my ancient SIDI shoes (so old that I'd have to drill out the cleats if I wanted to install new ones, but screws and all sorts of things have already fallen out) would fit nicely, but not my newer Pearl Izumis.

Of course, SIDI no longer had the exact same shoes I bought years ago, so I had to settle for the SIDI SDS15s, which were the cheapest available, especially with the REI 20% off coupon. I didn't look very carefully at the shoe, since REI sold any color you wanted, as long as it was black. I did notice that it had some weird lacing system, but I figured as long as it wasn't shoe-laces, it'd be OK.

I was very surprised to discover that the buckling system was a ratchet that's driven by a circular screw-type latch. It took a bit to figure out, but I discovered that I liked it a lot: just like with laces, it was easy to fine tune the tightness and the fit, but unlike laces, it was impossible for any excess length to get caught up in the chainrings (the bane of all cyclists), and while the toe is still Velcro, it doesn't seem to do much.

I was impressed by how comfortable the shoe is to walk in. Now you don't buy cycling shoes to walk in, but when you're preparing to do a long tour with your 6-year old, it's quite likely that there'll be many times in the day when you're going to walk him around town, or maybe even carry him on your shoulders, so walking comfort is a much bigger consideration than it would be for my adult tours, where the expectations would be that I'd get on the bike and stay on the bike for many hours without  break. The shoes do have a higher stack height than my older Pearl Izumis or SIDIs, to I did have to raise my seat a bit to retain the same fit. But that's an easy adjustment.

The biggest issue with the shoes is that there's definitely lower performance compared to my older SIDIs or Pearl Izumis: the sole isn't as stiff. Again, this is the trade off for improved walkability. As touring shoes go, this is probably the precise amount of stiffness you want: stiff enough for cycling without generating hot spots, but not so stiff that you can't walk in them. I think I'd be a much more enthusiastic hiker during my tour in Japan if I'd been wearing these instead of my older SIDIs. For many of my tours which might have a hiking component, I'd ended up carrying separate walking shoes. From that point of view, these save the weight of a second pair of shoes.

It's general advice not to change equipment just before a tour, but I've already put quite a number of fairly intense hours on the shoes. They work. They're not the shoes you'd want to have for a fast century or an enthusiastic club ride, but for touring, I think they'll be perfect.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Review: The Great Influenza

I've really only had the 'flu a couple of times in my life, both times it's been one of those "knock you down and keep you in bed for 3 days" experience. But yet most people are fond of saying "it's only the 'flu". The Great Influenza describes the influenza epidemic of 1918-1919, and will change your mind as to how serious the 'flu could be.

During that time, the 'flu would kill as much as 10% of the entire population. That's not 10% of people who were infected, 10% of the entire population! Doctors and nurses died helping patients. Nurses would be kidnapped (they were harder to find than doctors). Much like SARS, that 'flu epidemic killed young adults faster than it killed older adults and children because of ARDS.

Whats great about this book is that back then, we didn't know what caused the 'flu, and researchers were led down the wrong path by thinking that it was a bacteria rather than a virus. The 'flu virus killed not just by itself, but through secondary infections, and in the case of ARDS by triggering the immune system into a "scorched earth" attack on the lungs, making it difficult to isolate what pathogen that caused it. John Barry provides the context on what created the medical infrastructure and system at the start of the century, and what the state of medicine was as well.

In addition, the political and military response hurt the public's perception of the pandemic as well: newspaper and posters repeatedly lied to the public about the seriousness of the situation, and the public was much less prepared than it could have been to face the onslaught. Even worse, military policy (this was near the end of World War 1) concentrated young men in large, overcrowded military camps in close quarters, creating ideal conditions for spreading 'flu. There's even evidence that the 'flu infected Woodrow Wilson during critical negotiations, and caused the problems in the treaty of Versailles that eventually led to World War 2.

The big question in my mind is: "Are we better prepared today for such an Influenza pandemic?" The answer appears to be "No."
Consider for a moment that prior to the emergence of H5N1, the U.S. government was spending more money on the West Nile virus than on influenza. While influenza was killing as many as 56,000 Americans a year, West Nile in its deadliest year killed 284. And West Nile will never be a major threat; it is not a disease that will ever explode through the human population. Yet it was receiving more research dollars than influenza. (Kindle Loc. 7432)
 much of the U.S. vaccine supply is manufactured outside the country; in a lethal pandemic, there is a question whether another government would allow its export before its own population was protected. (Kindle Loc. 7453)
To this day, we have neither an effective vaccine for the 'flu (though the author does point out that even a 10% protection  ineffective vaccine is still worth getting), nor do we have a cure. We would do better at the secondary infections, but our hospitals would be immediately overwhelmed:
Hospitals, like every other industry, have gotten more efficient by cutting costs, which means virtually no excess capacity—on a per capita basis the United States has far fewer hospital beds than a few decades ago. Indeed, during a routine influenza season, usage of respirators rises to nearly 100 percent; in a pandemic, most people who needed a mechanical respirator probably would not get one. (Kindle Loc. 7374)
All in all, this is a great book and well worth reading. Recommended.

Monday, June 04, 2018

First Impressions: Fairweather by Traveler 700x32mm tire

To say that I've been pleased and impressed by the Michelin Pro 700x28mm "Endurance" tires would be an understatement. Despite running them on the tandem/triplet for well over a year (including a 350mile bike tour last year), the tire refused the wear out. But an upcoming longer tour this year meant that I should swap in new tires.

The handwriting is on the wall, however: both kids aren't going to get any lighter, and running wider tires is the ideal solution for increasing load that the triplet is going to be expected to handle. Despite the recent fashion for running wider tires, I'm actually not an advocate of it for the simple reason that most single bikes are already designed with too high a bottom bracket: running a wider tire on those bikes makes the BB even higher, a recipe for making the bike less agile on descents and quick cornering. On a tandem/triplet, however, the bike handling isn't going to be affected much.

The big problem with tires wider than 700x28 is that high quality tires in that size are hard to find: most wider tires are designed for European-style "trekking bikes" and heavy dutch-style utility bicycles, not lightweight touring bikes. You can find the Compass-range of such tires north of $60. But it turns out a Japanese bike shop has a tire called Fairweather for Traveler that's made by the same factory (Panaracer) for a retail price of 30 pounds each.

When the tires arrived, I weighed them: surprisingly, the 700x32s come in at 275g each, 5g lighter than the Michelin Pro Race 28s! Mounting them on the rim, they do come out wider than the 28s, so that lighter weight isn't because I was mounting a narrower tire! There's a file pattern on them, which is mostly worthless, but it hasn't had any appreciable impact on handling so far. The wider tire does mean that the Raceblade Pro XL won't clear them, but for just this year's tandem tour I'm rotating the old front Michelin over to the rear anyway. The tread also has a divot that's obviously meant to be a wear indicator: when the divot's flush with the rest of the tire that means it's time to order a new one. In practice, I don't pay attention to wear indicators: I typically only replace tires when I'm about to go on tour, or when I can see the casing beneath the rubber.

One of my big problems in the past with wider tires is that the tandem would blow them off on a descent. The first couple of times it happened it was scary, but I've since figured out that nobody makes tires to mount on Mavic T519 rims any more, so tire/rim compatibility is a must, and the only way to find out is to try. I descended Page Mill road on the tandem with this tire on and had no issues, so I think I'm good to go.

Friday, June 01, 2018

First Impressions: Showers Pass Waterproof Socks

MassDrop was offering Showers Pass Waterproof Socks for a somewhat reasonable discount off the outrageous $36/pair price. While it doesn't tend to rain in California, it does rain in Europe during the summer, and we have a bike tour coming up, so I gave it a shot.

The socks themselves are fairly thick, though not as thick as the SmartWool socks that I've otherwise been using for rainy situations. They add significant width to my feet that aren't bothersome in my well-worn SIDI shoes, but do bother me in the relatively new Pearl Izumis. I've ordered a new pair of SIDIs in case it's a shoe design issue.

At first, the socks felt plasticky in an odd way. It's as though you're wearing socks with stiffeners built in. But after a while, the feeling went away and I found I could ride with the socks on and no issues. The socks are relatively heavy, at 100g per pair.

It's past the rainy season, so I didn't get a chance to try them in the rain. But I ran the shower and walked into the puddles the showers provided. While the outside clearly got wet, my feet never felt wet! I guess it'll take a real rainstorm to figure out whether the squish squish feeling is what I hated most about cycling in the rain, or whether it's the wet feet part that I hated. In any case, these are clearly suitable for touring: even if your shoes don't dry out overnight, wearing these will ensure your feet don't feel wet the next day, so they're probably worth the weight.

The biggest issue with this sock is that they're tough to dry. They definitely don't dry overnight, and you can't throw them into a dryer. My guess is that in some sort of mesh bag out on the back of the bike rack they'll definitely dry while on a bike tour. You'll definitely have to rig up some sort of drying mechanism on your backpack if you're using them on a backpacking trip.

All in all, I think they're worth a shot, but obviously for most day to day riding in California you won't need them. Recommended.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Review: 5 Centimeters Per Second

After the previous bout of extremely heavy going books, I needed a break. Amazon was selling 5 centimeters per second for $1, so I picked it up, not knowing that it was a Makoto Shinkai movie that was then adapted back into a graphic novel.

After the previous books I'd read, this felt like a whole novel about first world problems. The plot is that Takaki Tohno makes friend with a girl in elementary school. Their relationship develop, but one of them moves away. In a highly romantic scene, Tohno takes a series of long distance train to visit her before his family moves to a remote island in Japan accessible only by plane. That journey cements their relationship in his mind, and colors all his future relationships with women.

The novel comes with no deep insights, no quotable scenes, and way too many cliches about relationships. Maybe if you're a teenager living in a first world country the novel would be a reminder that you're not the only one out there who understands that pining away for a lost love is painful. (Not that there aren't enough pop songs covering that topic) I guess the moral of the story is that it's silly to do that. The novel does work better in a context of Asian culture, where much is made of that silent longing, and an antidote to that is needed.

The best thing about the novel is that it doesn't have a made-for-hollywood happy ending. If you read that as damning with faint praise, that just about sums it up for the comic.