Thursday, November 11, 2010

bicycle naming conventions

So you have a new bicycle and are wondering what to call it? Or if you should call it anything at all? Some have said that to avoid the inevitable loss that accompanies a destroyed or stolen bicycle, you should refrain from loving the bike, just love the ride. I am not of this opinion and so I offer here some "guidelines" on how to name your bicycle.
  1. Ignore all conventions including these. It's your bike. Name it what you like :-)
  2. Follow convention 1.
  3. A bicycle is not a ship, you do not need to name it by conventions for naming a ship.
  4. Choose a name that somehow suits the bicycle's character.
  5. Have a theme that you can carry through all of your bicycles from the time you are born to the time you die. For instance, mythological creatures, birds, insects, cartoon characters... just don't name them after cats or Apple may sue you.
  6. Bicycles can be masculine or feminine. Look at the bike, ride it a bit. You can tell its gender if you listen carefully.
  7. Take your time in naming your bicycle. The name is important.
  8. When you are happy with your bicycle's name, head down to the newsagent and see if they have some Letraset transfers so that you can embellish your machine's top tube. Alternatively, a professionally made sticker, although expensive, can look terrific.
Here are some examples from personal experience. I have thus far named only a few of my bicycles:
  • Reynolds 531c, custom road racing bicycle built by Doug Gould: Bandersnatch
This is a name taken from Lewis Carroll's poems and "Through the Looking Glass". Says the White King, "She runs so fearfully quick. You might as well try to catch a Bandersnatch!"
  • Reynolds 853, custom road racing bicycle built by Kevin Wigham/Paconi (bright yellow and black): Wasp
The bike really is very black and yellow. A wasp was an obvious choice being a powerful insect with a nasty sting in the tail.
  • Columbus EL Oversize, custom track racing bicycle built by Kevin Wigham/Paconi (deep metallic red): Vampire
A fascination with all things macabre, the rich paintwork, a jersey worn by Russell Mockridge and my plan to suck the wheels of the big guys before finishing them off on the line inspired this name.
  • Pinarello, mass-produced carbon road bike (red, white and carbon): ???!
This bike, despite two years of consistent riding, still doesn't have a name. It is as bright as a fire engine, fast as a Ferrari, muscular as Mr. Universe and curvaceous as... well, you have the idea! :-) My wife has suggested "Maximilliano" but it doesn't quite ring true. I like the Roman approach though. Maybe "Lucilia" is better? Lucilia was the wife of Lucretius (the Roman philosopher). Apparently she gave her husband a love potion so powerful it destroyed him. Given the number of k's I have ridden on the Pinarello I suspect something similar has been slipped into my bidon!

Good luck in naming your bicycle, happy riding.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

a selection of cycling's sunglasses and weirdness

Was there ever a more strange and ubiquitous item than the frames of eye glasses? They range from the minimal wires that hold the lenses where they need to be, to the extravagant eye-enlarging shades of the seventies and recent revivals. Fashion clearly has a lot to answer for. Some of my favourites are the sunglasses sported by cyclists since the 1980s. These are amongst the most ostentatious designs. Why would that be? Surely in the case of athletic eye wear function must take precedence over fashion?

Fortunately not. Whilst function may originally dictate the form, this becomes the fashion and from there the designers seem keen to push things to extremes, especially the Italians. Thank goodness for the Italians! Certainly there are an abundance of sleek visor-styled lenses that protect the wearer from glare and dust whilst smoothing the airflow over the eyes. But these are often so dull. The best designs make a statement that, despite (or perhaps because of) their weirdness, represent an era. These are to me the most interesting.

At the start of fast mechanised transport motorists, motorcyclists and aviators were certainly in need of eye protection. Tour de France cyclists' goggles resembled these in style. Of course when riding a bike things tend to fog up a bit. How long would it be before specialist eye wear was designed for this activity?

I guess it was somewhere in the early 80s that I first saw a pair of cycling specific sunnies — on the eyes, actually on the face, of Phil Anderson. At first glance these looked quite bizarre. But there was no discouraging a teenager mad keen to emulate Anderson. The wide field of view, the sweat band across the top, the large single lens, and the fact that Skippy himself was wearing a pair, all made these highly desirable. As far as I know, from these Oakleys springs the weird world of cycling specific sunnies.

There were various forms of these glasses and lots of imitations for the next few years. I know. I could only afford the cheap imitations :-(

As far as I am concerned it was the Italian Briko manufacturer that next defined an era... the 90s. Cipollini and Pantani, two of the most colourful members of the peloton at the time were both seen sporting Briko Stingers and Jumpers. The Stingers remain my favourite glasses of all time for both their visual appeal and functionality. Stingers transformed the clunkiness of the 80s into a very Euro-cool but equally bizarre, alienesque face for the times.

At one stage or another Pantani sported a pair of Briko Zen specs which are reminiscent of the earliest goggles, only with a much wider wrap-around lens. These were not as iconic as the Stinger but distinctive nonetheless.

And then nothing much happened for nearly 10 years. Various companies experimented with snap-in lenses, including many from Taiwan, but none was a notable or particularly distinctive design.

Maybe the last couple of years have seen the introduction of the next classic: the Oakley Jawbone. They are competing against Oakley's other popular design, the Radar which I feel lacks any innovative features over and above those offered by the myriad of other blade-style lenses. They just aren't wacky enough to make an impression.

The Jawbones also feature interchangeable lenses, but more importantly, the bizarre frame form with multiple components whose colours may be mismatched as garishly as desired might be just what is needed to define the next classic. Peripheral visibility is not nearly as good as the old Stingers. The lens quality is great though and they hug the face to keep out dust and debris. Slots around the side of some lens models allow for a little ventilation in steamy conditions, hopefully to keep the fog at bay. Will these define the era?

If the 2010 road race world champ sports the Infrared Jawbones... will they help the rest of us ride faster? No. But we can all look just as silly ^h^h^h cool!

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Grid and The String in Music

[Image of the Tenorions from]
Yamaha has a pretty looking device, Tenori-On for fans of MIDI-triggering LED grids. I have been a fan of portable LED grids since I discovered Maywa-denki's Bitman in Tokyo. Tenori-On is a 16x16 grid... four times more little LEDs than Bitman ;-) OK, seriously now... The Tenori-On's LEDs act as push buttons, much like the buttons on the old Novation Nova synths, another favourite of mine. Incidentally, Novation have their own LaunchPad controller which also plays on the pixel grid idea. This has been a common theme in this area over the last few years. In the Yamaha product, the grid is used to control a sequencer in various ways. In some modes the hardware acts like a step-sequencer, in others more unusual metaphors are employed to trigger music events, for instance a bouncing ball metaphor is employed to trigger an event when the ball (a lit LED that moves across the grid) hits an edge for instance. The user then controls the distance the ball moves between bounces to shorten or lengthen the delay between triggers... in discrete steps.

And this is the thing about "the grid": Whilst beat-based, typically 4/4 music is so seductive, popular, easy to make and therefore marketable to teenagers with home studios and greying electronic music buffs alike, it would be nice if these new tools enabled the subtlety of a string on a fretboard when it came to placing notes in time. For experts maybe a fretless fingerboard is better... no need for the guidelines, place the notes in time by feel. But no, even after all these years of computer-hardware and software based music production the "new" instruments by the big manufacturers return us to our neatly discretised rhythms (and pitches). They can't afford to venture into the territory that brings us an instrument like a violin or the shakuhachi because these are just too hard to master. Even a recorder which, despite its regular finger holes offers the player a chance to over-blow, stutter, tongue, tremolo and shriek their way through a piece, merging notes, individuating notes with staccato punctuation, placing notes wherever and whenever they darn well like, is more subtle.

A drum-machine? Well, I absolutely love the new rhythms that have been moving into electronic music since Kraftwerk, through 80s synth-pop, jungle, drum'n bass, techno... right through the 90s and 00s up to the stuff so popular even on mainstream radio today. It has really transformed the way I think about rhythm. Most of it I could never have hoped to play live on a drum kit (even when I practiced). But a lot of it is just sampled old drum loops. I know this is a little tired. We have heard all this before. But every new instrument that comes out is a chance to revitalise electronic music. Every new instrument based on the grid is a chance lost. All the complexity of which music is capable is being missed by a generation of music makers.

The Tenori-On looks like fun to play. And don't get me wrong, I love a range of electronica based around the grid. But really Yamaha's sequencer/instrument is just another toy with a pretty pixel grid. Funny then that there is a pop-group (well, it is surely OK nowadays to call a group of 3 sexy girls who make music and dance around a bit on stage a pop-group right?) called the Tenerions. From what I have heard of their music it sounds pretty much like the product demos on the Yamaha website. Not particularly exciting.

Although I haven't played with my poor dusty synths for years, sometimes I am tempted to look longingly into my cupboard, dust off their cool metal surfaces and twiddle the knobs... analogue knobs. Knobs that spin smoothly and continuously. And then I remember that I waved goodbye to my last truly analogue synth well over a decade ago. Even the boxes I have with knobs are analogue emulations. The knobs might spin, but the values they represent are discrete. And so it goes. In the name of suplesse (a cycling term... grace? suppleness? elegance... on a bike) I have given up many things. Music-making was an early casualty. Who am I to complain about grids? Maybe count me as a concerned music-citizen who would like to hear the newcomers make something different, sometimes. I guess the best of them do and I should just listen harder and more widely. No disrepespect to the Tenerions. The fact that I have even heard of you means you must be doing something right!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

the laser pointer and the cursor

For some years now I have wanted to comment on the "cursor". Now is the time! Having just sat through a conference almost entirely dictated by powerpoint-style slides (my own talk included) it was interesting to note the role of the laser pointer and its digital analog, the cursor. Once I noticed it, the pointer seemed to sit upon the surface of the content, hovering over slides like an invisible elephant hovers over a dinner table.

For many of the talks speakers employed the supplied green laser pointer, whether they needed to or not. This green dot-making device was brandished with abandon, sometimes on the side walls of the auditorium as speakers forgot to release the switch, once or twice into the audience, but most often, in a jumpy-skippy fashion across regions of the projector screen. It is very hard to hold such a fine point steady from a distance, a phenomenon which is made more apparent in large auditoria since here the speaker stands far from the projection screen. By and large the pointer was not needed for indicating details on the slides. Instead it was used as a crutch, perhaps giving the speaker something to focus on apart from the audience.

The worst case I saw was of a speaker using the laser pointer to hop from word to word of his bullet points as he read the text from his slide... "follow the bouncing ball and sing along". Oh dear. The talk was otherwise very interesting, but it was hard not to giggle at the invisible elephant. Was I the only one who could see it?

Of course slide presentation software typically allows the speaker to use the mouse cursor. A few speakers did take advantage of this. This technique has the advantage of allowing the speaker to position the cursor, then leave it steadily in place. However laptop trackpads can be a fiddly means of positioning this cursor under pressure. One amusing episode ensued when a speaker attempted to operate the controls of a movie player on the trackpad, whilst looking behind him at the large projection screen on which the movie was being displayed. It took him awhile to negotiate the reverse mapping and trackpad sensitivity!

The mouse cursor's continued presence onscreen after its relevance has been removed is seldom a source of frustration for speakers... although it should be! Some software has the cursor vanish after a period of inactivity. This can be helpful, or it can be problematic depending on the speaker's needs for a specific slide.

It is interesting to note people's ability to see "through" a cursor. A number of presenters had beautiful images to show, and they left the cursor positioned right in the middle of them, unnoticed. I have seen Skype sessions, artists showing their imagery, movies being viewed... all with the cursor smack bang in the middle of the screen. It is amazing how readily we are able to see past this visual obstacle. This is akin to my experience of (for instance) Melbourne's suburban and city streets — I can often see past the tangle of power lines, tram wires, advertising signage and other visual pollution to admire a "beautiful" street (see Robin Boyd - The Australian Ugliness). This experience is also the norm when viewing Japanese temples and gardens. They are typically surrounded by old rubbish, blue tarpaulins, pipes, taps, wires, fences and signs but tourists come to admire their beauty and manage to turn a blind eye to all of this.

"So smarty pants. What did you do?", I can hear you ask. Well, I just added slides with arrow markers pre-placed to highlight the sections of slide I wanted to discuss. These appeared and vanished as I hit the space bar on the keyboard — something that is easy to do in an instant, without error. It mostly worked. Except I once forgot to use the arrow and pointed with my hand. Then when I tried to progress to the next slide I of course made the arrow appear at the point I had just discussed... a glitch. But not catastrophic I think and worth the improved pointing I achieved elsewhere in my talk.

...thank goodness for selective attention. Without it we have already polluted most of the world's potentially "beautiful" views. Anyway, feel free to leave the cursor on my nose when you Skype me. I know that you can't see this invisible elephant :-)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

moral sustainability and cycling - robert nelson

(Moral sustainability and cycling: an ecology of ambition for a hyperactive planet. Published by St. Andrews Sustainability Institute and Ellikon, Melbourne 2010.)

Although I was aware that the author of this text frequently commuted by bicycle and that he was an active art critic, the discovery of his new mini-book on the links between cycling and our current environmental predicament was an exciting surprise. In this essay Robert investigates the reasons many people make uncomfortable cyclists, in particular why many are unwilling to cycle-commute despite recognising its health and environmental benefits. So, why do people buy themselves a shiny new steed on which to commute to work, and then after a few days hide it in the spare room to gather dust and cobwebs?

As well as dealing with the obvious discomforts associated with vigorous activity in the outdoors, the author addresses a number of seldom considered aspects of the daily pedal to work. He reveals several reasons that have little to do with the availability of bike paths, the extra time that might be involved or the danger of mobile-phone wielding mothers in 4WDs. One reason explored was the disparaging high-speed, lycra-clad bunches of athletes and their portrayal in the media as “real” and glamourous cyclists. Cyclists outside of this context are perceived in the Australian psyche as inferior and sub-human. There are of course exceptions. For instance cycling helmetless down a country lane with a basket of bread, cheese and wine is acceptably Euro-romantic and a “simple” pleasure that even advertisers legitimise. Commuting when a car would do? Holding up peak hour traffic by occupying a lane? Never would cycling in this way be seen as desirable or marketable in our country.

It is here that I find one significant issue that the essay misses, the “fixie phenomenon”. Countless teenagers, university students and some alternative lifestylers here and in many major cities hostile to cyclists, have, in the last ten or so years, cottoned on to the New York bicycle couriers’ preference for track bikes. They carry messenger bags slung over a shoulder and hefty bike chains are worn as bodily adornment. Melbourne now has fleets of NY messenger impersonators heading brakeless into traffic. They run red lights, skid and skip their rear wheels through pedestrian crowds, before heading like bicycle salmon against the flow of one-way streets.

I have even witnessed a student at my university driving his fixie to a nearby hotel carpark, removing it from the boot and cycling the last few hundred meters to university. I can speculate on the reasons for this: (i) It is too far and too hilly for him to ride his fixie’s one gear from home to university; (ii) The fixie is cool, a geared bicycle is not. He would not consider riding geared; (iii) He saves himself the cost of the permit required to park his car at university and has the added bonus of impressing his friends with his lovely bicycle upon his arrival.

I have also seen a different student call out to another as he rolled past on his way to class, “Yeah, sweet bike. Fixie mate!” The bike was not actually fixed, it was a single-speed with a freewheel. It was not "sweet" either. It was a crappy 1980s ten-speed conversion. But these subtleties were lost in the excitement of the pedestrianian's proclaimation of his identification with the rider.

This phenomenon has made commuting by bicycle cool, even here in the motorcar’s second homeland. It contributes to providing a solution for the middle-aged commuter who understands the sense in having brakes, mudguards and panniers. I have seen cyclists aged between 14 and 80 riding fixed gear bikes, with and without mudguards, lights and panniers. The mere fact that a bike is fixed gives its rider the credibility that many crave. Maybe, just maybe, this removes a few cars from our roads. It certainly raises the visibility of cyclists on our roads. For this I am thankful.

As Nelson indicates, as soon as you can afford a car it is barely socially acceptable for you to ride. Our society is set up so that there is no prestige associated with making your appearance at the office bathed in sweat. Physical activity in this context is uncouth. Are you too poor to afford motorised transport? Nelson proposes the electric bicycle to be one machine with the potential to remedy these problems.

Unfortunately, as he notes, electric bicycles have one major drawback — they are seriously uncool. Whilst the fume-spewing 50 cc Vespa has euro-café-style and Audrey Hepburn, Roman Holiday sophistication, none of this washes off on the humble electric bike, despite its better environmental credentials. I agree with Nelson that these are marvellous pieces of engineering. But as he knows too well, they are not sexy artefacts. I am not sure how this might be rectified, if at all. Maybe a manufacturer could convince a supermodel to pose naked on one?

A valid engineering solution to a recognised problem may stare people in the face, yet it may be overlooked for purely social reasons. The consequences of this type of human stubbornness have often resulted in a needless struggle for survival. This has sometimes been followed by extinction of entire cultures. Colonial societies for instance have carried the ways of their homelands to new horizons. Rather than adapting their behaviour by mimicking the successful lifestyles of the locals, they have stubbornly clung to inappropriate agricultural practices, poor hunting and gathering choices, incongruous architectural styles and scarce but familiar building materials. The results include malnourishment, starvation, decimation of local ecosystems and, as Jared Diamond discusses in his book of the same name, Collapse. As a planet we are headed this way via our momentum-propelled reliance on fossil fuels and unsustainable population growth.

Nelson’s book is entertaining, slightly rambling but always insightful. This style suits me perfectly. A diversion exploring the eroticism of the bicycle saddle was amusing but, I felt, unnecessary. This tangent in particular seemed to confuse the book’s main drive to detail our relationship with the bicycle in all its engineering simplicity and marketed complexity, and to explore its socio-environmental credentials. In these latter respects the text is informative and original. It has stimulated me to think more deeply about why I ride so often and why I seldom commute.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

soy-sauce fish

Declaration: I will not use any disposable soy-sauce fish with my take-away sushi if I am given the choice at the time of purchase. I have nightmares about an ocean choked with millions of these little red-nosed fish floating belly-up, empty of sauce. Wherever I sit down to eat I see the tiny little red noses peeking at me from between blades of grass, or scattered amongst the gravel beneath my feet. I will not contribute to this! We should be using packaging that is bio-degradable... or a large recyclable container of sauce at the point of purchase from which sushi-lovers can help themselves.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

natalia goncharova & lill tschudi

I just stumbled on the image at left, The Cyclist (1913) by Russian futurist (amongst other things) artist, Natalia Goncharova. I love the palette, the graphic text and the subject matter but as an image, well, it is not a favourite. The cyclist isn't moving — it is more like I am looking across from a vantage point on my own bike at a fellow rider as the two of us struggle along a section of pavé – the viewer is being jiggled around.

Still, it is terrific to find such an image by a female artist. I am aware of another image by a woman on which I am more keen. It is the Tour de Suisse (1935) linocut by Swiss artist Lill Tschudi.

Whilst it contains static elements the overall effect is of dizzying, sweeping curves. Tschudi's image captures the craziness of a descent. She has forced the tight bends and insane cornering forces into a tiny space as if the riders and their machines are threatening to miss a turn and careen through the edges of the paper. This latter image is quite terrific and, I think, superior to the earlier work by Goncharova.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

jack mcgowan handicap - tips for punters

[Image © Mal Sawford] I rode the Jack McGowan handicap on Saturday... what a disappointment! Last year over the same course I finished a pleasing seventh (or eighth?)... and then in my excitement forgot to claim my prize :-( Alas, what a dill! This year was a bit of a disaster... lots to learn and remember for next time:

(i) I learned my lesson about warming up in the rain at last year's 1:20 Hill Climb: don't do it! You end up wet and cold, not warmed up at all. Luckily I remembered this lesson and my warm-up, although short due to the showers, did have me ready to go at the start time.

(ii) But then the race started a half hour late and we were all left standing in the rain waiting whilst the organisers fixed a non-compliant printer in order to procure the start list and times. I know this frustration — on races I have run we have encountered similar problems. Luckily I found a dry spot under a friend's umbrella... thanks Mic (and Will)!

(iii) My mark was the same as last year... middle marker. Unfortunately, this year the group was dreadful for the first 20k's. Despite the lovely bikes, people would skip turns right from the get-go. Wheels were being dropped and huge gaps were opening up and needed continual closing as we lost valuable seconds that built into minutes to our pursuers --- all the gear and no idea! Guys... don't do this. Ride smoothly and take regular turns. Work together or you will lose.

(iv) We were caught by a pursuing bunch only 1/2 a lap into the 2 lap course. What a disaster. I darted around the front of our group in time to slide into the passing bunch. Next time I will wait at the back. I wasted too much effort (not much, but it was unnecessary all the same).

Shortly after this we were caught by yet another bunch and the hammer came down...

(v) I moved through the bunch taking a few turns then figured the bunch was so big and the workload being shared so unevenly that I would slide towards the back and sit on for a bit. MISTAKE! Gaps started opening in front of me. I closed a few... and then the guys at the front hit the gas and the speed picked up. As we turned a corner I was left in the slight breeze and dragging along in the gutter.

(vi) Next MISTAKE, don't close gaps one at a time. You will wear yourself out. What I should have done is close all the gaps at once with a big push up to the working riders at the front, then sit and do turns. What I did was close the gaps as they opened. I ended up in the gutter with no legs left and a gap open in front of me as a rider dropped off... ARGH! I couldn't close the gap. Bad, bad riding Alan.

(vii) From here I worked turns with a few stragglers until then end of lap 1. Then just one other guy and I worked turns for the next 10k's until we caught another little bunch... just in time to be caught by scratch. Somehow I did manage to sit on the back of the scratch bunch in the rain with the grit being spattered into my teeth... for a time. Until a gap opened that I couldn't close. These guys are quick.

I limped home with 5 other guys to the finish... well, at least we made it!

TIP 1: use your strength wisely and judiciously!
TIP 2: A bit of extra speed work would help for races like this too ;-)

Friday, June 18, 2010

algorithmic compositions for the vuvuzela

Here are some ideas for algorithmic compositions for the instrument of the season, the vuvuzela. These ideas were generated during a lunchtime discussion with Peter Mcilwain.

Mexican wave
Sound a note if somebody to your left is playing a note.

Splitting wave

Sound a note if somebody to either side of you is playing a note.

Sound a note if the ball is at the point on the pitch nearest to you.

Sound a note at an intensity proportional to the distance of the ball from you.

Team kicker

Sound a note if a player on the team you support kicks the ball.

Sound a note if any player kicks the ball.


Sound a note whenever you feel like it.

We take no responsibility for the din that will ensue!

Friday, June 11, 2010

earthstar decay

The rain has brought the fungi. The diversity of those living in our small patch of garden and nearby is extraordinary! Most recently discovered is an Earthstar (Geastrum pectinatum) right outside the front door. A round shell of tissue splits open along lines of longitude forming a multi-pointed star with a spherical centre that (apparently) contains the spores. I am waiting for rain drops to cause this to explode in a puff.

Dozens and dozens of shaggy ink caps are forming miniature castles before distintegrating into the telltale black goo that sticks to your shoes if you inadvertantly brush past one. A huge mushroom (well, it was perhaps 10 inches in diameter) sprang from the mulch, no doubt growing on the remaining roots of a recently removed tree. It was tempting to BBQ it but I am no expert at identifying these things and don't wish to end my days writhing in pain from a toxin-laden winter's supper! In a nearby garden perhaps a dozen Fly Amanita, the infamous red toadstools with white spots, form a garden fit for a faery rave. Winter is a terrific time to be looking at your feet. True, the wildflowers are in hiding, but their "opposites" are well worth investigating. As always, decay and beauty go hand in hand. Nature's amazing organisms provide the ultimate display of ingenuity and diversity.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

swallowed (w)hole

Do my eyes deceive me? This is (apparently) a real, unadulterated image [Reuters, see The Age]! An entire building has been swallowed by this sink hole in Guatemala City.

I don't really have much to say about this. Gosh! What will the "owner" of the block of land be thinking?

cycling capital rides the bandwagon

Judging by the many hundreds of cyclists I see trundling down Beach Rd. on a weekend morning, the dozens on Kew, the huge turnouts for races, mass participation rides, the slow and the speedy climbing the 1:20 and the amount of lycra to be seen in our cafés, Melbourne's cycling "scene" is in magnificent shape.

Now at last, the city has its own bikes for rent. Compulsory helmet law and all, the scheme is under way. Good luck! I am hopeful that the local vandals have the sense to leave unattended bicycles alone. Please!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

green roads

This morning's jaunt along Mt. Pleasant Rd. was green! At first I thought this an illusion brought on by my tinted lenses but no... the recent rain has brought to life the moss that lives between the stones tarred into the road surface. A strange garden on the road. Is each a tiny ecosystem? I took it gingerly on the descents but didn't notice conditions being any more (or less) slippery than any other dry ride out this way.

A kangaroo bounced around in the trees beside the road. A flock of currawongs played in a ditch. A squawking flock of sulfur-crested cockatoos wheeled overhead. No wind. Still, cool air. A few hardy souls spinning up the brutal slopes. What a gorgeous ride!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

archaic icons

In a recent lecture it occurred to me how many of our current icons are actually unknown objects to many younger users. Here are a few that depict items that are no longer in everyday use.

The floppy disk hasn't seen regular action for many years but it is the universal save icon nevertheless.

When was the last time you saw a telephone with a rotary pulse dial? This is one of a couple of common symbols still used to indicate a telephone.

Funny that my mobile telephone call and hang up buttons show green and red icons that look like traditional phone handsets. The mobile phone itself (of course) looks nothing like an old handset.

A pencil for write... come on... we live in the world of the paperless office. How did you get more tip? With a pencil "sharpener"? What?! The clutch pencil is certainly an improvement! Does anybody actually write still?

Incandescent bulbs are on their way out of light sockets around the world. It will be awhile before they are gone from the collective memory as representative of ideas though.

Until recently a popular digital photo application still used an icon (and text label) for a film roll when importing pictures from a digital camera. Slide shows in that same application are still represented with an icon that depicts couple of old 35mm slides.

...I am sure there are plenty of other traditional icons for modern concepts. Keep me posted if you find any more...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

hirame pump head

For years, and years (and years) I have stood by my trusty Silca Super Pista track pump and fumbled with its brass head trying not to let air escape as I removed it. Trying not to separate the valve stem from the tube as I wriggled it.

Could there be a better way to inflate tyres? ...a Silca Super Pista with a Hirame pump head! The best of Italian and Japanese technology combine to make tyre inflation a (200+ psi) breeze.

Really, this device is worth its weight in gold. It slides on easily and locks on tightly. It is beautifully finished and should last as long as you. The head size is small and fits into the valve cavities on the HED 3s and my HED disc. Brilliant.

Friday, March 26, 2010

hed 3 track use - review

For some reason Hed3s are not popular on the track here and I found it difficult to find any information/postings by people that have tried them. As a community service announcement I am therefore posting this message about the wheels.

For the record I am very (very) light, not a big sprinter. I am a masters level rider. The wheels I have raced are the clincher, aluminium-rimmed version.

Build quality: The carbon work on these is very sexy, no two-ways about it. An ugly carbon-weave immitation sticker at the hub disguising the interface between the fabric and the hub body was poorly applied. The hubs spin very smoothly although the non-drive-side rear hub outer shell is not quite round. This does not effect the rolling in any way but it shows poor manufacturing tolerances. The wheels are not quite true but they are very nearly so – good I think for this kind of untruable wheel!

Conditions: I have raced them front and rear on an outdoor concrete velodrome with Vredestein Fortezza tyres (700x23) and latex tubes in a couple of scratch races, 500m ITT, flying 200m, and a single match sprint.

I have also raced them front and rear indoors on the boards with Continental Supersonic (700x20) tyres and latex inner tubes in the team-sprint, 3000m individual pursuit, 3000m team pursuit and in one very fast scratch race.

Speed: These are fast wheels! They have a terrific runaway-hell-train feeling when they are up to speed.

Wind: Outdoors in the wind these wheels are much easier to handle than a full disc. If it is blowing a gale, leave them at home, but a breeze is no problem as long as you concentrate on holding your line.

Flex: I never noticed any flex under power or at speed through the bends indoors or out. The front wheel took a little getting used to though – I was not well prepared for my first team sprint run indoors on the wheels and as I hit the bend at full tilt the steering of my bike was not quite as I expected it – practice on these before racing on them or you won't hug the measuring line ;-)

Weight: The clincher version especially is not the lightest wheel on the track. This might be a problem in getting up to speed, but the aerodynamics might overcome the disadvantage. That is a tough call to make! I suspect that the longer the race, the more the aerodynamics will be of assistance. Conversely, the more rapid accelerations you must make, the more the weight will be a hindrance. Whether or not these are suitable for a particular race will depend on your racing style as much as anything else.

I find these terrific. At the price (compared for instance to the Mavic IO) I think these are fantastic.


Before gardens there were garden gnomes. As they couldn't be proper garden gnomes without a garden, they invented one, the garden of Eden. The gnomes filled it with all manner of flora so that they would have somewhere to sit in the shade. As well as various animals, they put two dullard giants in the garden. The first was made from earth, Adam, and the second, made from his rib, Eve. Adam and Eve then misbehaved and were kicked out of the garden to live in a world where they had to make their own gardens. Nevertheless, to this day the gnomes keep watch over them and their offspring from various vantage points around suburbia.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


A sunny afternoon was smothered by a billowing black blanket this last Saturday. What a downpour ensued! Massive hailstones punched holes in cars, windows, roofs and smashed vegetable gardens across Melbourne. The wind drove torrents across the velodrome in pursuit of those who only seconds before had been dashing for the line... a sprint that was called to a halt as the canvas gazebo, uprooted by a violent gust, was sent collapsing across the finishing straight. Riders scampered clumsly from the track through the gate, shouldering their bikes and clambering in cleats for shelter.

This morning's ride down the bike path in the aftermath was something of an obstacle course. The icy canonballs have of course melted. Still the evidence of their visit is everywhere. Trees appear to have been whipped through a blender. Roads, gutters and paths are covered in a shredded litter of leaves and twigs. Drifts of mud set traps for narrow tyres and dam puddles of black. Riding through them creates artistic café latte patterns as the mud is stirred... and destroys them as the rear wheel follows the front. My bicycle needs a wash!

All this gave me cause to check the maps available on the Bureau of Meteorology website. Here I discovered a map type I hadn't seen previously (see above). This map indicates the percentage of the mean rainfall that has fallen in a particular month. Pretty good! It clearly depicts the areas of above and below mean rainfall. I am very pleased to see they didn't just run through the usual (ugly) range of hues available whilst maintaining a constant (usually full) saturation.

Monday, February 22, 2010

ultimate wheel?

Start with a bicycle. Remove one wheel. Remove the saddle. Remove the frame and handlebars. Remove the brakes and drive-train. Jam the pedals into the rim and what have you got? A penny-farthing with only the farthing?

I just watched a student attempting to ride one of these a few metres. It was the most inelegant thing I have seen for quite some time! Darn funny though. I wonder how long before somebody tries to cross the Nullabor plane on one unsupported.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

acmi : independent games festival and hand dryers

Today I visited the Australian Centre for the Moving Image to see (and play) the "best of" the Independent Games Festival 2009. There were a few games simple enough even for me. My favourite was Machinarium (illustrated), a click-and-drag Flash interactive game by Amanita Design. This had me puzzling over discarded pieces of junk, climbing power-poles, crossing draw-bridges dressed in disguise... all to enable a cute little telescopic rubbish-bin android to explore a lusciously illustrated industrial planet. I was hooked! Sadly I had to relinquish control of the game after I became stuck on a puzzle and a queue of onlookers gathered. I will download a copy for home^h^h^h work use.
Osmos (Hemisphere Games) was visually striking although not as rich as Machinarium. The game play was reminiscent of asteroids... pilot a ship (well, in this case a biological cell with a little "rocket" thruster) around an asteroid field (well, in this case a soup of larger and smaller cells) and attempt to collide only with smaller cells. When any two cells collide, the larger one sucks the smaller one dry for nutrients. Your aim is to grow (really big) by consuming cells smaller than yourself, without being sucked dry by larger cells. Simple, fun, lovely to look at (for awhile) but not particularly deep.
Being an old man, I couldn't quite master the controls of a couple of the other games, as enticing as they looked. Blueberry Garden by Erik Svedang was lovely to look at and fun to play... as far as I got (not far!)... but I see it is available for download from his website.
Upon leaving the screen gallery I visited the toilet. After washing my hands, I dried them... using a wall-mounted blow-dryer with a built in screen!!!! The screen unfortunately played an advertisement for a soap company and blared horrible distorted music at me over the sound of the fan. An amusing, appropriate (and slightly annoying) thing to find at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.