Bicycle Commuting

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28 Year Old Schwinn Hybrid

I started acclimating myself to bicycle commuting at least four years ago.  About two years ago I committed to doing it as my primary means of traveling to and from work. I have two bikes. Not pictured is a Jamis Aurora touring bike I occasionally ride to work, but the Schwinn’s my choice for everyday riding.   I purchased this bike at Walt’s Bike Shop here in Columbia, Missouri around 28 years ago.  I still have the receipt.  It came in right at $400.  Labor is free for servicing any bike you purchase from Walts, and I take it in once a year to get it tuned up and ready for another year.  I would estimate this bike has a good 7,000 miles on it.  I switched the pictured Banjo Brothers saddle bag to one of my  Ortlieb Back Roller Classic bags. By the way, the Ortliebs are worth every single penny you pay for them.

I am lucky in that I have about a mile to ride to the trailhead from my home.  I get on  a nearby recreational trail maintained by the University of Missouri, and then on the MKT trail which is maintained primarily by the City of Columbia.  I get off in downtown Columbia, and have about a half mile ride through downtown until I get to work.  Door to door it takes 33 minutes all things considered, and it is right at five and a half miles.

I will be adding some future posts regarding equipment and experiences, but now I want to talk about something else – how vital, and important it is to me to be able to use a bicycle for transportation. Also why you should consider it. My wife has a car since her job requires her to drive all over town.  So she has a good car. A Toyota Rav.  I have an old beater car I bought for $1,000 late last year, and the air conditioner doesn’t work. Some friends had it, they were willing to sell it, and we knew the car since my daughter we had been borrowing it for three months for our daughter to drive.  Before that I car pooled with my wife. My car is just a backup and I will be giving it to my other daughter when she comes back from New York.

I like not being dependent on an automobile, and spending all the money having a car requires.  My bike seldom has mechanical issues, and when it does I can fix them myself or get it done relatively cheaply at the bike shop.  My most expensive repair so far was for a new back wheel which was just a bit over a hundred dollars.  Remember, this bike is pushing 30 years.  Also, it has never left me stranded. I carry at least two tubes and everything I need to repair or fix a flat to get back on the road.  The most expensive upkeep is tires since I use Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires.  I have about three years on the current set, and will probably be replacing them sometime this year.  By the way. I have never had a flat on those tires.

A bike helps me stay fit.  Everyday I get over ten miles of aerobic exercise just by riding to work.  I am outside, and ride along some very nice scenery.  I don’t like using a tread mile, and it seems kind of silly for me to drive to a gym to workout when I can just get on my bike and get a fairly decent aerobic workout for nothing while I am actually saving money.  By the way, the drive to work takes fifteen minutes, and riding the bike only adds another eighteen minutes.  I am fortunate in that I have very little road riding to do, and I have some friends that have such bad traffic where they live they are afraid to ride their bike.  This brings me to my last point.

I think staying active, saving money, and doing something environmentally positive such as riding your bike is important enough to actually plan around it.  As my wife and I  downsize, now that the children are basically out of the house, I won’t move someplace where I can’t ride my bike to work, or where I am more than a mile from the trail.  Besides, I like being different, and I like doing it in a meaningful, and positive, way.

I would be remiss if I did not say that safety is an issue. I am very careful as to where I ride. I ride as if every car door will open up into me as I pass, that nobody sees me, that everyone will pull out in front of me. I wear a helmet and a very conspicuous safety vest.

Strike Three, Your Out: “Robots” to Replace Umpires

Who’s Next?

Technology has a way of inevitably working itself into the nooks and crannies of our life regardless of if we want it there or not. Or if it is ultimately a good idea or not. In February Major League Baseball announced an agreement where the Atlantic League would, among other things, be a test platform for the use of robot umpires. This should not surprise me, but somehow it did. Call me old fashioned but there is something special, something uniquely American and apple pie, about baseball. But even baseball is not immune to our insatiable appetite for technology. As a matter of fact, according to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2015 the first “computerized strike zone,” using a contraption called the Pitch F/X, was employed for the very first time in a professional baseball game over four years ago. . In other words the move to replace the human umpire from behind the plate has been in active development since before 2015. I would classify the Pitch F/X as a mature technology by now which has passed the proof of concept phase, and is being readied for deployment. An outstanding commentary about this issue was written last year (2018) and can be found at Belowthebeltsports.com. I share the sentiments of the author. Doesn’t stop there.

Think driver-less cars is not a thing? Or that it will not effect you any time soon? Well as of this date four people have been killed by driver-less cars (see this list which is acitvely updated and likely to have increased since this was written), and the United States Department of Transportation even has a plan to implement them:

The continuing evolution of automotive technology aims to deliver even greater safety benefits and Automated Driving Systems (ADS) that one day  can handle the whole task of driving when we don’t want to or can’t do it ourselves. Fully automated cars and trucks that drive us, instead of us driving them, will become a reality. These self-driving vehicles ultimately will integrate onto U.S. roadways by progressing through six levels of driver assistance technology advancements in the coming years.

In principle I think the safety benefits would, eventually, be great with autonomous vehicles. Also, since muscle cars have gone the way of all flesh, for me driving an automobile is more a chore than something fun to do. I bike commute by the way, and will be writing more more about that. However, I would prefer other means of mass transportation instead of individual autonomous automobiles which we probably will not own but lease or subscribe to making us perpetual customers on the never ending subscription model being aggressively pushed by many companies such as Microsoft and Adobe.  Then there is the issue of loosing even more jobs in an economy that is rapidly shedding them. According to the American Trucking Association there are approximately 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the United States, and that does not even count people who drive for UPS, FedX, the USPS, cab drivers, pizza delivery, etc. I would imagine the number of people who drive as a major part of their job to be well over 7 million. But it is the principle that is at work that is troubling.

Supporters of the robo umpire complain about the missed calls that umpires make. Fair enough. But what about all the mistakes the players, and the manager make? We already have pitching machines that are capable of pitching fastballs consistently faster than any human and do so without tiring, injury, or asking for more money. Just an occasional software update is all they will need. Artificial intelligence will soon be capable of taking the place of managers using highly refined and evolving algorithms. If we can make robotic pitchers why not other players? Then we wouldn’t have to suffer through injuries, player strikes, stupid player errors, and all the other things which, well, … make baseball what it is. Baseball. That may happen now that I think about it. Where does this stop? Maybe we will devolve to the point were we are nothing but spectators and consumers. Maybe machines will start running things, and do so with flawless sterile efficiency.

What is the point of this essay? Maybe there is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to technology. Especially in how it is deployed Or at least some iterations of it. Maybe we need to retool the term efficiency which could include a place for people. We also need to remember that technology is amoral. Yet, we allow it, and greed, to define what is allowed as we bow down to the god of profit, and the goddess of efficiency.

Employers seem to dream of a business that runs itself autonomously with robotics, and artificial intelligence. No messy personnel issues. No maternity leave, or benefits to worry about. Just capital investment. So, that is the bottom line. People are an unwelcome cost, and not a capital investment. The less you have to have of them the better of you will be. Of course this begs the question of where we will get consumers if a massive amount of the population is either not working or working at low wages or the gig economy (sort of the same thing).

Proponents of driver less cars, and robotic umpires all have the same argument.  Humans make too many errors. Yes we do.  And there is something profoundly inhuman, and inhumane, in thinking we can create a world were machines will do for us what we are so woefully inadequate at. We are beginning to see a severe form of mission creep in our use of technology. Umpires today. You tomorrow?

By the way don’t give me the line that technology creates more and better jobs.  That is proving not to be true.  Technology always replaces more jobs than it creates.  More on that in a future post.

The Will Power Instinct by Kelly McGonigal: A Review

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Photo by Ash on Pexels.com

Do you have a hard time resisting what  you see in that picture? You’ve come to the right place.

One of the best self-help books I have read in a long time is The Willpower Instinct: How-Self Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal. It is so good I bought the audio book after I bought the digital version, and I am seriously considering buying the print version. I think this is a must read.  Self-control, or will power, is a must for staying fit – eating right, working out, and living a more direct life.

What is self control? Here is a great definition from Wikipedia:

Self-control, an aspect of inhibitory control, is the ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behavior in the face of temptations and impulses. As an executive function, self-control is a cognitive process that is necessary for regulating one’s behavior in order to achieve specific goals.

“Self-control.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Jul. 2018. Web. 4 Sep. 2018.

Here is a description of the book from the publisher:

Informed by the latest research and combining cutting-edge insights from psychology, economics, neuroscience, and medicine, The Willpower Instinct explains exactly what willpower is, how it works, and why it matters. For example, readers will learn:

  • Willpower is a mind-body response, not a virtue. It is a biological function that can be improved through mindfulness, exercise, nutrition, and sleep.
  • Willpower is not an unlimited resource. Too much self-control can actually be bad for your health.
  • Temptation and stress hijack the brain’s systems of self-control, but the brain can be trained for greater willpower
  • Guilt and shame over your setbacks lead to giving in again, but self-forgiveness and self-compassion boost self-control.
  • Giving up control is sometimes the only way to gain self-control.
  • Willpower failures are contagious—you can catch the desire to overspend or overeat from your friends­­—but you can also catch self-control from the right role models.

What is apparent to me is how connected self-control is, with mindfulness although the two are closely related. I think that a high level of self-control is necessary for mindfulness, and that mindfulness is a natural pathway to self-control although the two have very different skill sets.

Over labor day my wife and I went out of town to visit relatives. We had the audio version to listen to during the drive, and we  both loved it. We would often pause it to discuss certain points that were being discussed.

McGonigal is a prolific writer and I highly recommend this book, and I will be reading a good deal of her other works.  Note:  I am making a rare cross-posting with my other blog.

Review: You Can’t Go Home Again

This is a sister review to my review of Max Perkins Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg.  When that book was finished I had a list of about five books I wanted to read, and the first one that I managed to get at the library was You Can’t Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe.                                                                                                                                                                                         First of all a disclaimer. I don’t review books negatively.  If I write a review here, or elsewhere, I only write positive reviews. If I can’t write a positive review I say nothing. I got into that habit with poetry. There is a lot of poetry I just don’t get and there are a lot of people who don’t get the poetry  or prose I write. I have a spreadsheet full of rejections to prove that. But, some do like what I write.  I refuse to be critical of another writer on a public forum because it may be a work that just doesn’t resonate with me.

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Thomas Wolfe photo by Carl Van Vechten Van Vechten Collection at Library of Congress

Now to Thomas Wolfe and his book. As to the author I will be brief, and refer you to A. Scott Berg’s biography of Max Perkins, or to one of the many biographies (which I have not yet read) of Thomas Wolfe who lived a short life from 1900 – 1938. He was a big man with big appetites and was rather notorious for writing novels which were essentially, fundamentally, chapters out of his own life.  My opinion is that all writers do that, including me, but he was more blatant about it than most, and wrote when the world was a wee bit less litigious than it is now. If you read A. Scott Berg’s biography of Max Perkins you will recognize many of the people mentioned in that work.

The book itself is fantastic. A rolling, rollicking, ramble of stories connected together. I have never read anything like it.  A little bit like stream of consciousness, and a bit like Faulkner only with shorter sentences. But it works. It reads to me like life is. It reads to me like the way life comes at us is as we live it.  There is a plot,maybe, but often it is not all that clear exactly what the plot is.   I see my life like that.  As  one scene after another loosely connected which from certain vantage points manages to have a certain coherence, and perhaps even develops a certain meaning.

In the book the characters are so sharply defined, and undoubtedly taken from Wolfe’s own experiences.  One of the most compelling, in kind of a creepy way, is Judge Bland who is now blind but manages to “see” what is going on all around him. He was a person of some promise who unexpectedly turns into some kind of  malevolent creature. Reminds me a little bit of Gollum from The Hobbit. But I digress.

What is the story line?  The main character, I won’t use the word protagonist since this is not an English Lit class, becomes a big city New York  writer who pens a best seller using the backdrop of his hometown and it’s citizenry for material. Place and persons are only marginally disguised.  Yes. He really did do that.  It is magnificent. However, there is a price to pay not only for fame, but for writing a very public best selling novel which is in essence a gossipy tell all of your hometown.

You can’t go home again.  Not really. But you can revisit your version of what it was like in your mind, or you can put it on paper like Wolfe and every other write does. Highly recommended.

 

Review: Max Perkins Editor of Genius

If you are a writer, or if you aspire to be one, read this excellent biography. If you are a lover of good literature, or a history buff, read this book. In my opinion Maxwell Perkins was the most influential editor in American literary history. In case your English literature class was woefully deficient, thankfully mine wasn’t, he was the editor of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe (the first one not the one who wrote Bonfire of the Vanities), Ernest Hemingway, and James Jones. A pantheon of American literature the likes of which we have not seen since. And that is just a partial list. More than editor. He was in essence an essential collaborator to writers who might not have been as successful without him.

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Max Perkins Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg

This book provides a lot of inside information on the writing and editing process. That itself made it worth my time. Knowing how to take a jumbled inchoate manuscript from the scribbles of someone like Thomas Wolfe and help the author turn it into a piece of genuine literature is a rare art. Back in the day an unknown writer could waltz into the Scribner building on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan with their manuscript, and had a much better than even chance of seeing the man himself. Many were asked to tea. Compare that to today when charlatans abound in the publishing business and most publishers want to see an edited manuscript before they will look at it.

A. Scott Berg’s work takes us deep inside Scribner’s publishing house (which started as a publisher of religious books), and the storied rise of Max Perkins and the writers he worked with. The book starts slow, because the author takes his time in building the foundation. It picks up steam as it goes along, and I finished the last half of it today because I couldn’t put it down. I had tears in my eyes the last few pages. I cannot ever remember when I have been moved so powerfully by a biography. I suspect never.

Time Travel, Letters, and a Poem

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This week I found three brown plastic file boxes. Inside my garage, and unopened for years. A literal treasure chest of stuff. Much of which I had forgotten about, or thought I had lost.

I found my press pass from when Ronald Reagan came to town, Kodachrome slides, my discharge certificates from the Army and the Navy, and letters. A huge pile of letters I had written to my Grandfather at P. O. Box 261, Sturgeon Missouri. I am actually thinking about writing and seeing who answers.

The letters were unbelievable. Evidently while stationed at Ft. Riley, and living in Manhattan, Ks., I was dating a “cute girl,” named Debbie who was under five foot tall, and we went to a Buddy Rich concert.

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I went to a Buddy Rich concert?

I don’t remember her or the concert. I do remember watching Buddy Rich play the drums on the Johnny Carson show. The letters cover all three years from my first days in basic training at Ft. Dix, to medical training at Ft. Sam, to my permanent duty station at Ft. Riley, Kansas. There are even some letters from Germany when I went there for training. There were also some letters to my uncle Bruce who lived with them. As you can see they were written on the stationary they used to sell at the PX.

In honor of my Grandfather, and all of my family members that have passed – especially my father. I offer it as a tribute to those “working class” people who lived decent lives and worked harder than they should have, for less than they should have made. A tribute to the struggle of the working person. I offer up this poem written in August of 2013 and published by The Poet’s Haven in December of that year along with another poem called Flight.

All My Relatives

I see them
in the small
secluded places
outside of office buildings
alone or
in small groups
smoking
listening to music
on their phone
or even reading a book
taking a break
whatever it takes
to escape
from their waged
slave labor
where they must
comply
with a smile
and a thank you
to the humiliation
of being
captured
and incarcerated
in a system
where they are used
and then discarded
at will
when they are
bent and broken
but before that
they stand
they stand on
the small corner
of the tiny
nation state
of their existence
where they can
enjoy
the diluted freedom
allotted to them
I see them
in the still small
secluded places
outside of office buildings
all my relatives
living on the reservations
of capitalism

It is sad that nobody writes letters anymore. Or reads poetry. When my two youngest girls went to camp I wrote them, but they never wrote back except to ask for money.

A poem, perhaps a dirge, for our times.

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The Children of Hegel

Whoa...

I need to catch my breath
as I look out the window of an ancient childhood
take inventory of the moment ponder the question:
what is this world we have become?
as we wound our way through
the serpentine flow of history
which started as a clear stream, with direction
only to slow to a trickle
then halt in a moribund morass of sludge
which has ground we the people to a halt, and history no longer flows free
but threatens to backup like a sewer
and we the children of Hegel are stranded stuck
stuck
in an eternal synthesis
in a fused bipolar cycle which is the
worst of both worlds
no thesis, and no antithesis
Marx, Hegel, and Fukuyama never saw it coming
the sucker punch of technology - Heidegger’s enfolding
and we have become the slave of it
what we failed to envision
is the possibility that good might fail
and that in the end, before the end of times
that evil would prevail
fed fat on the cancer of malignant capitalism
we descend anew into the Dark Ages
the questions remains...

Will we emerge or destroy the very foundation 
of the earth we stand upon?

Two issues. Heidegger warned that technology might not be what it seems.  He sensed something sinister in it, and wrote about it in The Question Concerning Technology. He called it an enfolding. I hope to have a lot to say about that later in future posts.

The second issue.  A nation of vision, strength, and no little amount of moral integrity has become a debauchery of greed and indulgence, and we are ruled by a plutocracy.  Reagan’s light on a hill (say what you want at least he was no cynic and believed the rhetoric) is now a dim, and flickering, flame.  We are fading, and the grand experiment in democracy is in peril.  Oh, I know, we were never perfect.  Far from it.  But we thought we could be. We had that audacity.  God bless us for that.  We believed we could become something good, and better all humankind.

I must say a word about capitalism.  Note I used the term malignant capitalism which I want to define rather narrowly.  The one lesson America has not learned is moderation. Everything is supersized, everything is breaking news, everything is over the top.   Capitalism in and of itself is not malignant.  But, when it becomes the focus, and when the business of America is business (or making money – there is a difference and that is our present state) something bad happens. Unchecked, and monitored it becomes grotesque, and the traits of it that were virtuous become a vice. Just like the hunting rifle of old has turned into a weapon, and dangerous parody of what it once was.

 

 

Time

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Funny thing about time isn’t it?  We enter time  from eternity and then return to the infinite when we are done here.  In time are all born, and we all die.  Also, here in Missouri the Indian people lived before the time when white men came and drove them out.  I knew I was Native American on one side of my family, but was surprised to find out, from a surprisingly detail genealogy, that I was native American on both sides. I am 1/16th to the tribes reckoning, and they think I  had a great grandmother who was “full blood” but they couldn’t prove that at the time. 

These poems are from the time in my life where I was searching the nooks and crannies of my Native American relations. Time for some poetry with a little Indian flair!

My Death Song

as I face death
I ask You 
the Great Mystery
grant me the kindness
of no fear
that the final moments
are not seized by terror
but grace and good will
with someone to hold my hand
that is not paid 
to be there
and that my relations 
come quickly 
to greet me as I
step out into
the next journey 

Going to Water

(based on the practices of Cherokee Medicine Man Rolling Thunder)

my favorite way
to go to water
is when it is raining lightly
just above a drizzle
then the water is more powerful
the medicine quicker
as the current foams white
upon the higher rocks
in the small creeks and streams
that are common here in Missouri
you wade shoeless into the water
and face downstream
then will pray to the Great Mystery
that the water will carry away
the debris 
I like to raise my hands as I begin
but that is optional
just watch the ripples and currents
carry your burdens away 
leeching the salt 
from you wounds
you will feel
the water pulling away
what you don't need

A Picture & Two Poems

UntitledPoetry, at least in large part, is about the sound.  Years ago I started a poem that consisted of words that just felt good when you said them.  They are also words which are a bit dusty from lack of use.  That is the first poem.

The second poem is about the semi innocence of youth.  Awkward moments learning the dance of love, feeling your way through, and around, relationships.  I am still kinda working on that.

As, is so often the case with this blog, the photo has little to do with the content. Or does it?

 

 


Words That Feel Good to Say That You Do Not Get to Say Often Enough

Thingamajig
Fandango
Scintillating
Imbroglio
Magnanimous
Thingamabob
Gizmo
Gargantuan
Geranium
Whirligig
Lollygagging
(this is a work in progress)

Sixteen

In the yellow incandescent light
of your back porch
we were semi innocent

What is our function?

More and more I’m convinced that we are creating people for whom there is no economic function. This doesn’t mean they’re bad people, or that there’s something wrong with them. What it means is that they have no job possibilities. There is a myth that technology creates more jobs than it takes away, but that is a myth. I make my living teaching but I wonder if that profession is going to survive the upcoming technological upheaval that we are facing. It’s clear that many service jobs,  jobs like driving, will be replaced in the near future.

Already there is talk of creating some kind of economic system where people will have a guaranteed income regardless of if they work at all. What happens to us when we’re basically consumers and not producers?

That brings us to this poem. There’s another major economic change that’s happening to us.  It amazes me that everything is turning into a utility, everything is metered, and things we used to buy or now subscriptions. For example, Microsoft Office is moving to a subscription service.  Soon it will be that we can never really own Microsoft Office or even the Microsoft operating system. Even now when you buy the Microsoft operating system it pushes advertisements to you. Imagine that. You pay for software, and it spams your desktop environment  One of many reasons I use Linux whenever I can  -which is most of the time. Like now.

Think about what’s happening to us. You buy a house and you pay on it for the next 30 years. And then you’re forced to pay taxes on it forever or the government just comes and takes it away. You go to college and take out student loans and then you spend the rest of your life paying that off. It seems that the American Consumer is nothing but that, not a citizen, but a perpetual customer. I wonder if we’ll be turned into utilities as well?  

Utility

we are tethered to
wires
pipes
lines
and radio waves
all of different lengths
that pulse, dance, and live
a separate life
vestiges of raw resources
energy
and information
transmuted
which is metered out to us
pimped, pumped and transmitted
woven
above
around
below
and through us
and these things
have a secret life
like demigods
with their own attendants
who serve them
as house slaves
while we heed
the demand for tribute
or face
disconnection