Saturday, July 30, 2005

Blink, by Malcom Gladwell

An interesting book about how split-second decisions get made, how we are trained to use them, and how certain conditions (such as autism) might be due to the loss of ability to make those gut-level decisions. In the end, however, Gladwell does not succeed in tying all the threads of his explorations together, so the book feels quite disjointed.

When interviewing, in particular, it's important to not yield to the impulse to make a hiring decision based on first impressions --- those can be particularly misleading, so in interviewing, the scientific admonition to do your best to prove your intuition wrong is to be best followed.

How long, for example, did it take you, when you were in college, to decide how good a teacher your professor was? A class? Two classes? A semester? The psychologist Nalini Ambady once gave students three ten-second videotapes of a teacher --- with the sound turned off --- and found they had no dificulty at all coming up with a rating of the teacher's effectiveness. Then Ambady cut the clips back to five seconds, and the ratings were the same. They were remarkably consistent even when she showed the students just two seconds of videotape. Then Ambady compared those snap judgements of teacher effectiveness with evaluations of those same professors made by their students after a full semester of classes, and she found that they were also essentially the same

Friday, July 29, 2005

More thoughts on the American trade off

While musing about yesterday's topic, I realize that most of my truly life long friends (like Scarlet), are the ones who:
  1. Write back when you send them e-mail
  2. I've taken vacations with
Note that Scarlet & I don't get along on holiday, but that's besides the point. The shortage of vacation in America means that vacation time is precious and is to be spent only with family. The idea of taking 2 or 3 weeks with friends exploring a foreign country, even amongst the affluent, is something almost unheard of for anyone not in their 20s.

It also partly explains why Europeans feel that Americans treat their relationships as superficial. If you haven't really experienced things together as friends, you're not really great friends, no matter how much you pretend like you are when you see each other.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Krugman points out the American trade-off

The typical American argues that it's better to have to work more than to have more vacation. The typical American doesn't even use all the vacation to which he is entitled, preferring to cash out those vacation days at the end of his tenure with the company. To what extent is this productive behavior, and to what extent is this leading the "life of quiet desperation" that Thoreau alludes to? Do Americans really value their families so much less that they would rather be in the office than spend time with their family?

After my recent trip in Europe, I had a few Google employees say to me that they wish they could have done something similar. To which, I said, "Why don't you?" The answer was invariably that they didn't have enough vacation. One of these employees was fully vested, so he was a multi-millionaire and could take unpaid leave if he wanted to. Others had other commitments with friends that meant that they would only spend a week or so in Europe, which I've explained is a very bad idea.

Google is one of the more generous employers when it comes to vacation time, but if even Google employees feel this way about vacations, what does that say about how less fortunate employees feel?


...according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, productivity in France - G.D.P. per hour worked - is actually a bit higher than in the United States.

It's true that France's G.D.P. per person is well below that of the United States. But that's because French workers spend more time with their families.

Because French schools are good across the country, the French family doesn't have to worry as much about getting its children into a good school district. Nor does the French family, with guaranteed access to excellent health care, have to worry about losing health insurance or being driven into bankruptcy by medical bills...
Perhaps even more important, however, the members of that French family are compensated for their lower income with much more time together. Fully employed French workers average about seven weeks of paid vacation a year. In America, that figure is less than four.

So which society has made the better choice?

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

One of Friedman's better columns

But we did get the government we deserve. We voted the Republicans into the Congress, Senate, and White House. Who do we blame but ourselves?


And if you were president, and you had just seen more suicide bombs in London, wouldn't you say to your aides: "We have got to reduce our dependence on Middle East oil. We have to do it for our national security. We have to do it because only if we bring down the price of crude will these countries be forced to reform. And we should want to do it because it is clear that green energy solutions are the wave of the future, and the more quickly we impose a stringent green agenda on ourselves, the more our companies will lead innovation in these technologies."
Shimano's new generator hub is dreamy

How do I describe it. It's got that smooth, slightly pulsing feel at low speed, but what I'm really impressed by is how quiet it is when rolling with the lights on. I've used generator lights before, but mostly bottle generators, and they all make this little whine when spinning up. I had no idea how much of an impact that had on me psychologically! Even though resistance is higher when the light is turned on, with the generator hub I don't feel like it's slowing me down at all! (It costs about 1kph or so at most)

I have a nite rider light that's brighter at 6w, but the Shimano generator with the Lumotec light is more than bright enough, and doesn't burn out a $45 battery every year. So at $90, after 2 years it pays for itself (if I was willing to live with a 32h hub, I could have paid $60, but I had 36h rims sitting around and didn't want to stock more rims). There's also something nice about never having to plug it in, never having to charge it, and being able to just always leave it on the bike.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Mammoth, by John Varley

Another book about time travel and pre-determination, yet despite what seems to be an upcoming obvious ending, has a twist to it that I did not predict, yet in hindsight should have seen coming. Very well done. Light entertainment --- don't expect deep thoughts to come out of it.

Howard Christian was not physically suited to being the only thing he had ever really wanted to be: a superhero. He knew it was childish and so he had never told anyone of his ambition, not even when he actually was a child. What he really wanted to do was swing through the conrete canyons of New York on fibers of mutated spider silk, or grow steel claws like his faborite X-Man mutant, Woverine.

The only thing that had ever been super abouat him, however, had been his brain. During one of the periods he had been in school he had been given an IQ test and the teachers had been soimpressed with the result they had sent hijm to another testing agency for a more accurate one. He scored 185. The man giving the test told Howard it was the highest score he had ever seen on that test. For years he had treasured that number 185, and had almost convinced himself it was the highest score ever... but eventually he learned of higher scores, of students who aced SAT tests on which he had managed only a 1540. So even in that he was not the best, not a true mutant, not superhero material.

But what was the Green Lantern without his ring, or Batman without his gadgets? Just guys in spandex suits, that's what. When he finally convinced himself of that he set about playing to his strengths instead of bemoaning his weaknesses. He began building his own Fortress of Solitude, his Bat Cave in the sky.
The difference between you and Joe Sixpack is the same difference between you and Lance Armstrong

When Mike and I climbed Alp D'Huez, we discovered how big the difference was between us and Lance Armstrong was. We climbed the hill in 89 minutes, while he did it in 39 the year before. (Of course, I have the excuse that I'm a few years older than he was when he did it, but age itself doesn't account for more than a minute or two, if that --- the fact that my touring bike weighs more probably accounts for another minute or two as well)

This article confirms it. My peak is probably around Lance's bottom. He will probably never get fat and overweight, and I would never ever make even Cat 3 as a bike racer. I remember when a friend of mine bought a bike in March and was winning races by June --- it was amazing. Fortunately, the benefits of exercise cuts across genetic boundaries.


Mr. Armstrong's numbers may not be much different from other elite racers, but he has the average cyclist beat by a mile. A good recreational rider could generate about 4 watts per kilogram, which would translate to a speed of about 20 miles an hour on a flat road. Mr. Armstrong, Dr. Coyle said, would be traveling at 34 miles an hour.

"The average recreational cyclist could not get up to 34 miles an hour and if you launched them at 34 miles an hour, let them latch onto a car, say, and then let them go and said, 'O.K., keep it,' they could not hold that speed for more than 5 or 10 seconds," Dr. Coyle said.

Mr. Armstrong's VO2 max is 85 milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute. An average untrained person has a VO2 max of 45 and with training can get it to 60.

"Lance would be 60 if he was a couch potato and never trained," Dr. Coyle said. "For the average person, their ceiling is Lance's basement."

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Gut the South

Yea, verily, I say, gut the south. May they lose their industrial jobs due to poor education and lack of healthcare. May they lose their call center jobs to India due to outsourcing and lack of protection for workers. Unto their 7th generation, may they lose their health to global warming and air pollution. For their sins in electing George W. Bush, for their idiocy in supporting the Republicans, may they and their kin suffer for the next hundred years the way the slaves they once held suffered.

What made Toyota so sensitive to labor quality issues? Maybe we should discount remarks from the president of the Toronto-based Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association, who claimed that the educational level in the Southern United States was so low that trainers for Japanese plants in Alabama had to use "pictorials" to teach some illiterate workers how to use high-tech equipment.

But there are other reports, some coming from state officials, that confirm his basic point: Japanese auto companies opening plants in the Southern U.S. have been unfavorably surprised by the work force's poor level of training.

There's some bitter irony here for Alabama's governor. Just two years ago voters overwhelmingly rejected his plea for an increase in the state's rock-bottom taxes on the affluent, so that he could afford to improve the state's low-quality education system. Opponents of the tax hike convinced voters that it would cost the state jobs.

But education is only one reason Toyota chose Ontario. Canada's other big selling point is its national health insurance system, which saves auto manufacturers large sums in benefit payments compared with their costs in the United States.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

I was right, I was absolutely right!

During our tour of the Alps, Mike & I had a discussion about why French women are so thin. I theorized that it's the smoking that depresses the appetite and make them so skinny. Lo and behold, today's New York Times has an article about precisely this pheonomenon:

Experts blame factors ranging from urban sprawl to junk-food-laden diets for the increase in the number of Americans who are obese - defined as having a body mass index of over 30.

But smoking, or the decline of smoking, may also play a role. Nicotine is a stimulant, which means that smokers burn calories faster. And it's an appetite suppressant, which means that smokers eat less. Consider "French Women Don't Get Fat," the best selling book. Some critics said that the real reason chic Parisian women stayed trim while gorging themselves on croissants was that they smoked more than their American counterparts.

Indeed, conventional wisdom, soundly rooted in the personal experience of millions of former smokers and in several studies, has long held that short-term weight gain is the price to be paid for quitting smoking. But economists are increasingly applying their tools to measure the way monetary incentives, or disincentives, affect all sorts of human behavior - and hence the ability of government policy to alter it. And they've been wondering whether high cigarette taxes, which are intended to encourage people to quit smoking, may have the unintended effect of redirecting them from one form of unhealthy behavior to another....

...Over all, they found that "each 10 percent increase in the real price of cigarettes produces a 2 percent increase in the number of obese people, other things being equal."

Friday, July 22, 2005

I'll stop complaining about how expensive bikes are

I took my car in for a 75,000 mile service today. It needed new spark plugs, a new distributor cap, new plug wires, new transaxle fluid, new transaxle fluid filter, an oil change, an oil change filter. Worse, the intake manifold had to be removed to get at the spark plugs, so that cost me extra in labor. I was not happy at the $800 charge at the end, but what can I do? New cars cost a lot more.

The $200 I'm paying for a new Phil Wood rear hub (which will last well over 25 years) now seems really cheap by comparison. The Fuji Team SL doesn't seem too expensive, either.

And gas? Pah! They need to double the price of gas.
A disaster in the making

With those credits to his name, there's no way V for Vendetta's going to be a decent movie. Sigh.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Why I will never be an electrician

I bought a Shimano generator hub, built a wheel around it (Torrelli Master rims, Wheelsmith DB15 spokes, 36 holes). I then bought Lumotec light from John Bayley, cut off the spade connectors, and wired them to the lights. Or rather, I first connected them to the wrong lights! They were wired to the secondary instead of the primary. OK, no problem, I wired them to the primary. The lights worked great on the truing stand, but failed to light when I attached them to the bike. Later investigation showed that if I touched the dynashoe attachment to the truing stand, the light would fail as well, indicating an insulation problem. (Or so I thought)

Well, I tried every insulation trick I could think of: I tried electrical tape, I tried paint, I tried electrical tape and paint. Nothing worked. Actually, paint worked for all of 3 seconds, and then when I tightened down the bolt, it stopped working again. I gave up, and posted onto the Rivendell mailing list that I was selling this because I just couldn't solve the insulation problems.

Alex Wetmore asked me if I had tried swapping the wires. I tried it and indeed, that was the problem all along. That was it! So now I'm happy... All I need to do is to tape up the exposed wires and I'm set!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Bottom bracket creak?

For the last few rides, there as been an extremely annoying creak coming from the bottom bracket of my Fuji Team SL. Try as I might, I couldn't figure out where it was coming from. In frustration, I took it to the bike doctor to see if he could diagnose the problem. Well, he traced it to the quick release on the rear wheel, of all things! So he gave me an old quick release and so far, the problem seems to have completely gone away. Amazing, just amazing.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Tour of the Alps Trip Report

It's not complete, but good enough to post for readers of this blog.
No more SD500

It got smashed on the sailing trip, so now I am once again a film man! To be honest, it's a relief not to have a digital camera. One feels obliged to carry that darn thing around all the time, since it costs nothing to shoot. A film camera forces more deliberation, and that's always better if you want better pictures, as opposed to just more pictures.

Monday, July 18, 2005


Lea, Larry, Piaw, Dan Posted by Picasa

Dan Hill Posted by Picasa

Vianna, Lea, Larry Posted by Picasa

Piaw describes something amusing Posted by Picasa

Eric Case Posted by Picasa

Dan stands with the Golden Gate Bridge behind him Posted by Picasa

Dan & Larry cope with lines Posted by Picasa

Vianna & Dan Posted by Picasa

Eric Case behind the wheel Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 17, 2005

10 speed chains are evil

Why use chains that require connecting pins? Buy an SRAM with the power link instead. No chain tool for assembly means you don't risk making mistakes even professional mechanics make and ruining your ride. For touring cyclists it is even more imperative that your parts be reliable, and hence I recommend 8-speeds and 8-speed chains.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Initial Tour of the Alps Proposal
(Originally sent Oct 30th, 2004)

Ever since Lisa & I did our Tour of the Alps in 2003, I've wanted to
go back and do more riding there. Since Lisa is in school and can't do
any long tours I've determined that I'll have to do it on my single in
2005, which will open up possibilities for longer days and more
cycling. If you're interested in joining me on such a tour, read on!

The basic idea is to start around the second or third week of June
(when most of the passes open) in Google's Zurich office. I'm thinking
to spend about a week or so riding the French Alps and riding the
classic climbs of the Tour de France as well as many of the more
interesting ones that have been charted by the British OCD
(http://www.ocd.org.uk/) in their French Alps guide. While we'll visit
many classic Tour de France climbs this is NOT a "follow Le Tour"
ride. My intention is to get into the French Alps early and be out of
France by the time the Tour visits the Alps. I don't really want to
deal with the traffic and crowds.

I'd also like to revisit many of the classic Swiss passes that so
captivated me last year --- Sustens pass, Oberalp pass, Nufenen pass,
and St. Gottard pass. This will take another 5 days to a week or so.
Then with the remaining time, we may visit the Austrian Alps, which
are very pretty as well and significantly cheaper. I've found that on
a 21 day tour, if you plan about 14 days, you'll have room for
unexpected events (such as a fantastic B&B that makes you want to stay
an extra day) and weather while still having the flexibility to do
extra exploring if that moves you.

I'm expecting to ride about 60-80 miles a day. (Lisa & I managed 45
miles a day and 3800' of climbing a day on a tandem, so on a single I
expect to be able to put in another 20 miles a day and another 2000'
of climb) If you've done a century with about 6000-8000' of climb
before this should be no problem --- I'm a fairly slow rider. Costs
would be around $75 a day a person for double-occupancy, depending on
the level of accomodations you want and how much/where you eat, and
whether you take any trains. (Trains were by far the most expensive
part of our trip, so I'd really like to avoid that as much as
possible, especially in France, since French trains aren't very cycle
friendly --- and if we succeed then the costs might be reduced, but
the Euro has also gone up since our visit in 2003, so it'll probably
be a wash) There'll be no SAG support (those tours cost $200 a day
minimum), so expect to fix your own flats. Accomodations wil be found
as we go (no reservation until we hit the ground in Switzerland,
except for the first day's accomodations), so if you're the kind of
person who can't deal with adventure or uncertainty, don't even
consider coming along --- my experience in 2003 was that we always
found some place to stay, even though there were two days (both
weekend days) when we had to backtrack a bit before we found
accomodations. I know enough French and German to get rooms, etc.

If you've read this far and are still interested, e-mail me. I have
maps, extensive information from the OCD and pointers to web-sites,
and a (non-digital) slide show of our 2003 trip so you can see what
it's like. You'll have a say in where the trip goes, of course. I have
a maximum group size of 4 in mind (including myself) but won't be
disappointed if nobody else wants to come along. Plane tickets are
cheapest around December/January, so if you wait until the last minute
to buy those, you may not be able to get them or you may find them
prohibitively expensive (hence I'm planning the trip now).

Oh, if you want to read my description of our tour from 2003, the URL
is http://www.geocities.com/piawandlisa/trip2003.html)

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Tour of the Alps photos

Mike Samuel, Steve Purcell & I did a 3 week tour of the French & Swiss
Alps, and the photos are now up at:

http://www.mikesamuel.com/alps2005/photos/

A full trip report on my side is forthcoming (I just got back on
Monday, so it'll take awhile), but Mike's writeup is available at:

http://www.mikesamuel.com/alps2005/

We had a fabulous time!