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Thursday, November 14, 2019

Review: That Wild Country

That Wild Country is a memoir of Mark Kenyon's various trips in the backcountry, hiking, camping, fishing, and hunting, along with a minor history of the wilderness in the USA. It's a short and easy read, which is about all the virtues of the book.

Kenyon was a marketing person at Google. You can tell, because there are all sorts of places in the book where he exaggerates for effect. For instance, he'll take up how tough a hike is, or how "he'd never been camping before", and then later on in the book he'll mention in an aside that his parents had taken him to Rainier National Park and the Hoh Rainforest in the Olympic National Park as a kid, and then you realized that some guy who's been hunting all his life cannot possibly be incompetent enough for an easy hike on a marked trail in a US National Park to be challenged!

The history, some of which I've heard before, is less obscure, but again, it's very shallow, with little detail about how the Wilderness Act got enacted, and even less detail about how the Koch Brothers keep trying to get the public lands as a gimme. He talks a lot about how the Hunters and Fishing enthusiasts were the ones backing the #KeepItPublic movement, but again, no statistics, no history, and no evidence. I might believe him, but again, why am I reading your book if you're not going to give me evidence and reason to believe me, especially after your attempt at "incompetence literature" destroyed your credibility? There's no mention of how (for instance), the MTB community had to get a seat at the table by threatening to join the "Wise Use" movement after continuously being marginalized by the Sierra Club, something I still don't forgive the Sierra Club for.

I do believe that public lands are a virtue, and obviously I'm raising my kids to enjoy and use that heritage. But the book's shallow approach and exaggeration isn't doing the cause any favors.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

How to Teach Your Kids to Mountain Bike

I'm writing this article because amazingly, there are only classes that teach girls how to ride a mountain bike, and all I have are boys. I have no idea why this is. Maybe boys are just supposed to learn by crashing, which is not a good way to learn at all!

  1. Get a decent bike! This is way obvious, but a surprising number of parents buy a Target/Walmart/Costco bike instead of a decent bike. It's pretty easy: your 30 pound kid shouldn't be riding a 30 pound bike. We choose the Woom, but there are other good manufacturers as well. It's just that Woom's owner's been good about taking feedback from me (and acting on them --- their bikes actually improve year over year), and I'm not about to start over and teach some other manufacturer about my issues.
  2. Start at the local BMX park. Here in the Bay Area, Calabazas Bike Park is great!  It's free, and if you think it's just kids stuff show up there with an adult bike and see how the really good kids can smoke you!
  3. Once they've had a few rounds at the mountain bike park, take them to a local mountain bike park and do the easy trails. Have them repeat the easy ones as much as they like to gain confidence. Teach them to stand up over bumps, and to be courteous to other trail users. Gradually increase the challenge.
  4. Bring food and water. Keep their bike as light as possible. Don't be afraid to push them uphill. Kids bikes don't have as wide a gearing range as adult bikes.
  5. Bring a hammock. I like to arrange one way bike rides with my wife, and then ride back to fetch the car. A backpacking hammock is light enough to bring on a MTB trip, the kids love it and never worry about waiting for you as long as mommy's there to keep an eye on them.
You notice that I'm short on skills. I'm actually a lousy mountain bike rider, so I don't know how to teach people how to do things like jump logs, ride teeter-totters, or ride up stairs on a bike. Which means that yes, I'd be happy to sign my kids up for a mountain bike class or summer camp, but darn, the only ones I've found only cater to girls. Don't ask me why that is. If you find a co-ed or boys only MTB class in the Bay Area let me know.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Review: Schwinn 20x1.95 MTB tire

Since Bowen started riding his bike off-road, I decided to buy some real MTB tires for him. A search on Amazon showed up the Schwinn 20x1.95 ATB tire. An e-mail to the owner of Woom bikes confirmed that his Woom 4 would take 1.95" tires. The owner couldn't help sending me a link to the very intriguing Woom Off series, but Bowen was so closed to being the next size up that we decided to wait until he grew into that size.

Schwinn has a pretty bad reputation for churning out heavy bikes that I wouldn't give my kids to ride, but since Amazon has a great return policy, I decided to try it and see. To my delight, the tires showed up and were easy to install. There's an appreciable improved traction compared with the 1.4" tire that came stock with the bike, though obviously for riding on the road the bike will feel heavier and slower.

Off-road, the improved grip has helped Bowen maintain control even on challenging terrain, and I saw him hop rocks and run over tree roots with confidence, if not grace. The price at under $14 is great too. Because the tires are so easy to install, I don't hesitate to swap the tires in and out for Bowen whenever he asks (it takes about 10 minutes to do both wheels), which means that they'll see more use than otherwise.

Recommended.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Review: G-Form Pro-X Elbow Pads and Knee Pads

Bowen got it into his head that he wanted to do mountain biking. (I swear it wasn't all those Danny MacAskill videos I showed him when he was small) Now you can buy MTB tandems, but I draw the line there. Off pavement, where there are no hostile motorists waiting to run you over, I'm a big believer that kids will learn how to do appropriate skill assessment, and become better bike handlers if they ride their single bikes.
Of course, Bowen is particularly accident prone, and crashing hurts, so I went shopping for elbow pads and knee pads. By far the most highly recommended body armor for MTB use are the G-Form Pro Elbow Pads and Knee Pads. These are astonishingly expensive, running around $50 a pair on Amazon, and I tried but didn't find any place selling them for less. If there's anything I've learned as an outdoorsman over the past 25 years, however, is that when it comes to outdoor equipment, there's just no point trying to save money.

These are incredibly flexible, and to be honest, Bowen never crashed while wearing them, having perhaps learned (finally!) from his years of crashing bikes that it's not fun. But since his brother started wanting to come along, we gave them to Boen instead since he was still crashing. We finally tested them on Long Ridge, where at one point Boen crashed hard down a gravel road. He cried and screamed as though the sky had fallen on him, but when I turned around and walked him down, I found that he was tapping those pads, surprised that he actually wasn't hurt. (Yes, the little guy was screaming and crying out of habit!)

People who don't have boys keep telling me how girls are more expensive. That's not true. Boys just spend money on different things, such as coast guard rescues and hospital bills. These $50 crash pads might end up saving you $300 on hospital bills, and obviously sparing your kids from pain because they had crash pads that they'll actually wear are a plus for any parent.

After writing this review, I realized that given how bad I am at mountain biking, I bought a set for myself. After all, unlike my kids, I'm unlikely to ever outgrow mine. As you can imagine, that makes this product something I would heartily recommend to anyone.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Review: Tile

I bought a set of 4 Tile Mates at the start of the year because Boen and Bowen would misplace everything from tablets to the PS Vita. The device turned out to be a dud, but worked well enough at the start that I kept it past the return date, which was a mistake. I hope this review keeps you from buying one.

First of all, the Tiles don't come with any easy method to attach to anything other than a key-ring. I've long transitioned to a keyless household for everything except car keys, and I don't normally drive, so the keyring compatibility is a worthless feature to me.

I tried the adhesives, but those didn't work too well either! They wouldn't properly stick to a Kindle case, or a tablet case, or anything at all!  I tried those screw-type rings, and those would work for a PS Vita (barely), but nothing else.

OK, so it's great for the Vita, right? Well, for the first few weeks they would work, but after about 9 months, I tried to use it to find the device, and nope! Zero response. Only recently did the app start warning me that the battery might be dead. Well, that's not useful. Before it goes dead you need to tell me so I can replace the battery.

This thing is a worthless piece of junk. Save your money!

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Review: Superman - Earth One

Superman - Earth One is a series of 3 graphic novels written by J Michael Straczynski. Straczynski's been credited with several good TV shows, none of which I've watched, so I was interested to see his take on Superman, easily one of the most boring superheroes.

Being freed from having to write a continuing series meant that Straczynski could take a completely different approach to classic villains like The Parasite, General Zod or Lex Luthor. His take on the latter is by far the most interesting, and I was sorry that he ended the series on that reveal, indicating that he didn't actually have any further ideas on how to proceed on what was an excellent hook.

The rest of the story is surprisingly free of the common symbology associated with Superman, the comparisons with the the bible, and even the classic motivations that you would associate with the character. Not even the classic relationships are retained, though not without throwing plenty of red herrings one way or another.

Overall, I thought the books were short and worth reading, though perhaps I might not have felt that way if I'd paid real money for them instead of checking them out of the library via my Kindle Fire tablet. It's not up to the quality of superhero comics written  by Alan Moore, for instance. Mildly recommended. I hope Straczynski's fans will tell me that this is the worst writing he's capable of producing!

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Review: Lost in Math

Lost in Math is a book discussing something that was also discussed in Not Even Wrong, which is that lack of progress in theoretical physics, mostly because it's actually very difficult to design theories that are testable while still fitting in within the framework of everything we already know. In particular, after a decade of the LHC, there haven't been new particles discovered (though the Higgs Boson was confirmed) that were predicted by some of the super-symmetry models.

A lot of the problem apparently is that the experiments generate so much data that much of that data gets thrown away if it's not explicitly looked for. That means that you have to know what to look for in advanced, something theoretical physicists get to help out with. But how do you know what to look for? Well, you have to have a theory, and that theory has to make predictions, and you have to persuade the community that they should look for the data that your theory predicts.

With an infinite number of theories to potentially look at, how do you decide which ones are most promising. Sabine Hossenfelder's book is a critique of the idea that mathematical beauty is the most criteria for selection. She asks various physicists what their idea of beauty is, and of course, finds that every person has a different idea of what that beauty entails, as well as what's important in terms of producing a good theory. In particular, I enjoyed her interview with Xiao-Gang Wen who discussed Qubit Field theory with her.

The text of the book is not heavily mathematical, and is full of self-deprecating sentences. It's easy to read and some of the ideas are fun to contemplate. Many of her metaphors for the mathematics behind a field of study are awesome:
To appreciate how bizarre this is, imagine you visit a website where you can order door signs with numbers: 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on, all the way up to infinity. Then you can also order an emu, an empty bottle, and the Eiffel Tower. That's how awkwardly the exceptional Lie groups sit beside the orderly infinite families. (Kindle Loc 2634)
The book ends with an exploration into math in Economics, which as she mentions is full of disaster. The question then is obvious: is there any particular reason to believe that nature is going to be simple and easy to describe with math, any more than human societies are? What's wrong with those "fined-tuned" constants anyway? Why should you consider those constants ugly?

It's interesting food for thought. Recommended.