Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Life, the Universe, and Everything

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a scientist. (Bare with me this gets a little convoluted)

Not quite as cool as the infamous line delivered by Ray Liota in "Goodfellas," but true none the less. My mother had a book called "School Daze" where every year (until I was of a certain age and didn't care anymore) I would put in my pictures, and fill in all kinds of questions like, who my best friend was that year, what I learned, and what I wanted to be when I grew up. Well even before I can remember, apparently in the first grade I wanted to be a scientist.

So now I guess I am. I have a physics degree.

This curiosity about things was always with me. I would take apart old VCRs and was a very quick learner when the first computer entered our house. Within a week or so of my dad teaching me how to use it, I was teaching him how to do more, and more importantly how to fix stuff on it. Now a days I'm what you would call a tech head. I build my own computers and install everything myself. I play video games such as Half-Life, Team Fortress 2, and Call of Duty. I use linux (and windows) and love it.

I never really fit into a mold, at least I didn't seem to. Never really had a close group of friends. I got called a fag and gay a lot high school because that seemed to be the default thing other guys would call you if they disliked you for no reason.

It is for this reason, as well as common sense and human rights of course, that I am extremely pro-gay rights, in every respect. I am not gay, and I had to deal with all that discrimination and segregation. I can only imagine how hard it is for someone discovering their homosexuality at that age, and having to deal with the ignorance of youth. Many people use religion or ignorance as excuses for hating people for who they are. As MLK said "...will not be judged by the sex they love, but by the content of their character." Or something like that.

Speaking of religion. I am a very strict and outspoken atheist. I do not apologize for this, nor do I "respect" other peoples religion. I respect that people are free to do and say as they please within all confines of the law, but that doesn't mean I have to agree with them or take them seriously. As a scientist I cannot say with absolute certainty that no such thing as a god exists, mind you. "Ahhhh," you say, "So you're an agnostic!" No. No I am not. As Richard Dawkins put it, I'm as agnostic about god, as I am fairies in the garden. Just because I cannot disprove gods existence (one could argue by definition), doesn't mean I don't think it is utter nonsense. Any good scientist should come to the same logical conclusion. Proving something doesn't exist is a pretty challenging thing to do, deity or not. Now, I don't hate you because you are religious, in fact I have some good friends who are devout Muslims, but I do hate the institutions along with the intolerance and ignorance they and their source texts propagate. I enjoy having rational friendly conversations with religious people especially on religious topics, however it is my experience that there are few "believers" that can have a friendly rational conversation on these topics without turning into the Hulk, but they do exist.

The Hulk of course being the big green strong angry man from Marvel Comics. I'm more of a DC fan myself (these segues are going great tonight). Another fun fact about me are some of my hobbies/interests other than bicycling and science. Comic books, being a big one. I started collecting comic books last year sometime. I was always captivated by them at the grocery store news stands, and was very rarely allowed to have one. As the years went on I always had an interest in the lore and myths of comics, but it seemed such a daunting task to jump into. I slowly bought some of the more famous trade paper back collections of comics such as The Dark Knight Returns, Kingdom Come, Batman: Year One, Batman: The Killing Joke, and Crisis on Infinite Earths. I was hooked (as you can see, I am a Batman fan). So I jumped right into buying single issues and have been reading ever since. Lots of great stuff, and a good chunk of just okay stuff, and almost a full long box!

Another crazy hobby I was into for a while was yo-yoing. Not so much anymore, but I still pick them up every now and then.

So to summarize and expand in point form:
-Pro-Gay rights (last big civil rights struggle in my mind)
-Comic book geek
-YoYo geek
-Self proclaimed movie buff (can quote movies for hours)
-Hobby photographer
-Interested in tattoos (have 2 want more)
-Been in a very happy relationship with my best friend and partner Alanna for almost 4 years
-Currently doing a M.Sc.
-And I like riding my bike

So now you have the background.

I come to the conclusion of my masters program in December (hopefully). I've been working with colloidal suspensions in electric fields. It's all a little complicated unless you have a background in soft matter physics, but it is essentially little spheres in a liquid and pump electricity into it and see what happens. The plan has always been to go right through and do my Ph.D. and some postdocs and try and get a faculty position somewhere. Start my own research group etc. As the my bachelor degree went by, and now my masters degree I realize looking at my supervisor and other professors, I am totally not cut out for this and do not want to be. They live for their work. When 5 O'Clock rolls around I am ready for some me time, or some me and Alanna time. Not go home and think about what papers to read tomorrow, and what projects to start. This means for the first time in my life I'm not really sure what I'm going to do.

After four years of living in a city apartment, I'm back living with my parents just outside of St. Johns. An attempt to save money to buy touring equipment, and start paying off a $5000 credit line. This has been relatively unsuccessful, Since November I have acquired a good chunk of touring gear, still would like some more stuff to cross the country though, and have paid nothing on my credit line. My idea for my Cross Canada Trip requires me to pay off that credit line, get a job from January - May 2011 and save enough money for the trip. At this point I see no way I can pay off 5 grand and save a whole bunch of money for a trip of this scope. As such I am CANCELING MY 2011 CROSS CANADA TRIP. It is very sad for me to do this but I do not see a choice.

So what to do what to do. Five months left to do most of my experiments, and write a thesis, then what? I suppose I will try to find some work. I don't know if I can stand another four years of school. I have 7 university years under my belt now. Work will probably take me away from Newfoundland, away from Alanna. I hate to do that, we could survive long distance but I would hate to be away from her. But maybe if I find a job that pays me enough money, I could save up, fly home often to visit, pay off my credit line and student loan quickly, and when I'm ready quit, travel and live off savings until they run out.

I don't know. I could end up doing an Ph.D. in physical oceanography yet... we'll see.

So that is me, and what is going on in my life. It may be boring and most of you probably didn't get this far, but this was probably more for me than it was for you guys.

Oh yeah. 42.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Lightening the Load

It is hard to break habits.

A habit of mine is over packing, over doing, and over thinking things. As such when I go for a bike ride, I usually end up with at least half a pannier full of stuff. First aid kit, snacks, way to much clothes for if it gets hot or if it gets cold, a bike lock when I really don't need one, etc. etc.

This past Sunday I attended the Bike the Street NL group ride to find some more performance oriented fellows had shown up. They were older guys but in very good shape and on very nice bikes. Lou and Rex in particular. Rex had a really nice steel Marinoni Sportivo. I love steel bikes. Any way the 40km-ish ride was nice but those two guys were moving! I really beat the crap out of myself trying to keep up, which I did not succeed in doing. I did go a good bit faster up the hills than normal and passed a few guys but I didn't even get to see the dust that Lou and Rex had left in their wake.

(From left to right: Keith, Mike, Rex, oops don't remember, Wally, and Lou)

So there are a couple of things.
1) I realize I'm in no where near the shape of these two guys, not to mention being 6" taller and probably 30lbs heavier.
2) But I think I could be considerably faster if I trimmed down the weight.

On this particular ride, I had my huge bike lock and my full DSLR kit in an Arkel GT-54 pannier. Not to mention my rarely used Surly Front Nice Rack. So last night I decided to trim down the weight a little. I removed the front rack and switched back to an MEC World Tour 50L pannier (25L for just one) for commuting and only use the Arkels for touring or hauling larger loads like groceries or stuff for spending the weekend at Alannas house. I also mounted the bottom water bottle cage (I ran out of water on Sunday) and a new mount for my Planet Bike Superflash on my rear rack.

Tom from Click-Stand saw my make shift light mount and emailed me to ask me if I would like one of his design! He sent me up one chop chop and I just got it yesterday. Thanks a lot Tom! Tom is super friendly to deal with and his products are AWESOME! If you don't have a clickstand and are tired of your bike falling over in the wind or laying it down in the dirt, go buy one, you won't regret it. I did have to change the mount around a little as my rack is really low, but it does the job (which is lucky cause my light fell off my makeshift mount the other day, lucky it didn't break).

So anyway, I have the front rack taken off for now (feels so different!) and I have my commuting load lightened slightly. What else? I am also thinking about switching seat bags. The people over at Rivendell Bicycle Works have some really nice bags, in particular the Sackville SaddleSack XS,

as well as the Brand V Seat Bag.

Both are a little over sized compared to regular saddle bags (2.3L and 2.9L respectively) in accordance with the form and function of traditional bicycle bags that Rivendell follows. Right now I just have a Topeak bag that holds a small tool kit. But with one of these bags I should be able to store a jacket, and a snack, tool kit, first aid, and my cell phone and perhaps more! This would be great for those long recreation rides when I just really don't need a pannier and want to go light. Couple that with a handlebar bag (already have an MEC one but might upgrade to Arkel eventually) for my DSLR and I'm set. On top of that I think I might go to a thinner tire and store my 37mm contis for touring. This also might limit my ability to ride on the tracks depending on how thin I go, which is unfortunate. Any suggestions on a tire size and model?

I'm thinking of riding a 90km fundraising ride for the Newfoundland and Labrador Lung Association called Bike Trek. It is a 90km ride, which is more than I've ever done in a sitting. But I think with the amount of riding I do, and the distances I've done with large loads, it shouldn't be a big deal. I'd like to have that seat bag so I can remove my rear rack temporarily, to travel real light. It is not a race, it supposedly leisurely and has mandatory rest stops. I think it could be a lot of fun. Will keep you posted.

Basically, I want to go faster. I love my Surly Long Haul Trucker, and wouldn't trade it for the world. I just have to lighten the load a little. That is pretty much it on the bicycling front as of late, haven't done a whole lot. Have been busy with school.

Maybe I will make a personal post tomorrow, and really introduce everyone to me and what is going on in my life right now.

Thanks for reading.
Keep riding.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Vlog+Plog+Blog = A long update...

Last week my bike computer passed the 1000km mark on the Surly Long Haul Trucker. It's actually more like 1150 because I put some miles on it before attaching the computer. Anyway, it was a pretty cool thing to see being new to riding. It also makes me happy to know that almost all of that was commuting. I saved a lot of money and a lot of CO2 from going into the atmosphere by doing that 1000km. So for me it was a big deal. Still have the whole summer to go yet, and with the weather getting better should have no trouble putting on the miles. About 150kms after this I replaced my chain.

They say if you replace your chain every 1500km you'll save yourself from having to do a drive train replacement (chain rings, cassette, rear derailleur) for a long time. So that is my plan. I sauntered over to Harolds (my LBS) yesterday after work and slapped on a Sram PC-971 chain. Will do another replacement in another 1500km or so. Then I went to the comic shop for this weeks pull.

And then I commuted home.

Now for some fun riding stuff!

Sunday I went to a group ride. First one I've been to in a while. This one started a bit early, 10am on a Sunday, but I was game. but only two others were. Matt and Wally. We had a route planned but Wally pipes up, "We could go to Cape Spear!" Wally is a little older than us, and not as an experienced rider, but great guy and really interested in riding. Me and Matt, having done this ride kind of looked at each other and said, "um...are you sure? It's not easy." But he wanted to do it so off we went. From our start point in Bowring Park to Cape Spear (the most easterly point in North America) and back is only around 30km out and back. It's not the distance that gets's the terrain. Notice the Elevation (m) vs Distance (km) graph (thank you HTC Legend!).

View Cape Spear Ride in a larger map

We all struggled. Wally had to walk a couple of the hills but I must say he did a fine job for his first Cape Spear ride. The up hills are brutal, but speeding down the other side almost makes it worth it. (I hit 75km/hr going down into the last hill, fastest I've ever gone!)

When we rode down into Cape Spear we had an interesting encounter! There was a group of antique car owners from all across the country starting a cross country ride from Newfoundland to British Columbia! I whipped out the phone video camera to get as many of them captured as I could.

(England is over there somewhere...)

On this ride I was informed that Freeride, a downtown bike shop, actually had some Surly's in stock! A Long Haul Trucker, a Steam Roller, a Cross Check, and even Pugsley build! Only having seen these online and being a huge Surly fan boy I vowed to go see them. I also wanted to get a good GPS track of the old railway bed I have previously mentioned from start to finish (and by finish I mean to where the track is no longer maintained). The track starts downtown, so today I left work a little early and headed down to Freeride to take a look.

Much to my dismay all of the Surlys he had were gone! Except one, but I was already a little familiar with this one...

Truckaccino looks much nicer than I thought it would in person. Regardless I chatted to the guy a bit about steel bikes, touring, and Surlys. Good guy and a nice chat. They have a crazy special on Steamrollers for $750 right now. If I only needed another bike, or a single speed/fixed gear, or had $750. That is a lot of if's. Haha.
So then I headed out of the main downtown area to the Costal Railway Museum to get on the tracks and head home.

View Downtown & The Tracks in a larger map

Caution Bad Dancing Ahead?

The Start of the tracks

Neat Monument/Info about Newfoundland Rangers right on the tracks!

Oh T'Railway...I get it. In Paradise the trail gets a little more...urban.

Good to know, but why do I see trail bike track marks then?

The "end" of the trail. Lot's of signage.

The long steady incline in the center corresponds to the trail right until it peaks. So it is a slow steady incline the whole way with a couple of flat spots. I still averaged 18km/hr. It's a nice ride. I say that is the end of the trail, because I explored a little past that point last week and it wasn't very pleasant on the Surly. I mean she took it, but it wasn't comfortable, especially when it started raining. The gravel is a much coarser grain left over from the original train bed, and full of bumps from erosion.

It gets much worse further in.

Well that is about it for ride stuff. I'm still waiting for Harold to put through the order for my new bar, brakes, and levers, but I am in no rush. Also have to place another order for touring/camping gear soon so I can get out and enjoy the summer with the misses. I'll leave you with some of my photography since getting the Nikon D50 and just some encounters with friends.

Research Group Meeting (the guy with the "is he taking a picture?" face is my supervisor)

I Love BBQ

Not much of a steak dinner...

That's better. Did I mention I love BBQ?

BBQ at my friend Marks house...

With Marek...

After Gyp-rocking Marks basement ceiling.

Now for my attempt at fancy shmancy picture taking...

Trying out my ND 8 Filter at Bowring Park

Bowring Park

Thomas Amusements (if you can't tell, I like long exposure stuff)

Mmmm, International Flavours. Thanks Talot!

Memorial University of Newfoundland Campus

And last but not least, the view from my front door.

Good night everyone.