The Benefits of Exorcising

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Nov 302011

Recently, I was a bit critical of Lululemon’s corporate crusade to find John Galt. Not to be outdone by little old me, the Catholic church, barometer of all right and wrong, has just declared yoga to be Satanic–or, more specifically, former Chief Exorcist for the Vatican, Father Gabriele Amorth, has reiterated the Papal stance on the matter. Though I’d grown up Catholic, I had no idea we even had a “Chief Exorcist” on the team, let alone one whose favorite movie is The Exorcist and who’s apparently seen people “vomit shards of glass and pieces of iron.” Given that Father Amorth declared both Yoga and the Harry Potter franchise Satanic while introducing a new movie about exorcism starring Anthony Hopkins, one has to wonder what other rockstar demon-battling superstars the Vatican has had on board all these years. I’d like to think that the few dollars I put in the collection basket all those years went to the development of some bitchin’ bladed throwing crucifixes!

Speaking of all-powerful nation state institutions, Specialized Bicycles seems to have run afoul of Bell Sports, the crew who owns Giro, Bell, and Easton, after perhaps one too many mandates that a shop not sell Bell products or risk losing Specialized dealership status. In case you missed that, Specialized actually does not permit retailers to sell certain other brands. In fact, it’s extremely common. Trek has similar policies in place as well. As the co-800lb gorillas in the retail bike market, these two companies have been left largely unchallenged for years while dictating to helpless independent bicycle retailers just what their inventory is supposed to be. Understanding how this can happen begins with understanding that, in the bike business, “independent” doesn’t mean “free” so much as “without any representation or protection.” Similar parasitic relationships have gone on in this industry for many years.

The irony here of course is that the red-blooded Assos wearing free market capitalist just now taking delivery of his $18,000 Specialized McLaren Venge is usually completely oblivious to the fact that the small business owner who sold him the bike did so with a gun to his head.

But who cares? It’s good business for a company that can leverage its market share to do so every way possible, and why would Specialized and Trek sit on their hands and wait for randy upstarts to engage them in hand-to-hand sales combat when they can carpet bomb the whole industry with regulations from 30,000-feet and keep the competition off the battle field to begin with? It really is better to avoid competition than to take any chances. Especially when you’re producing a superior product–and who can question the superiority of your product if nobody gets a chance to ride anything else? Fair market competition is obsolete once you’re proven you have a superior product by ensuring there is no fair market competition. All the Chosen Ones need to do now is send out some promotional “Who is John Galt, Baby?” bags to their hamstrung retailers.

Alas, one major problem with maintaining a monopoly these days is something called the Internet, which tends to distribute information to people, and has proven extremely resistant to the kind of control guys like Specialized can exert over independent retailers. Though you can buy visibility with flashier web sites and ads, even the largest company ultimately can’t keep people from finding out about competing products on the internet, and, regardless of what anyone tells you, this is one of the reasons you won’t find retailers offering Trek and Specialized products for sale on-line. As long as there’s a virtual monopoly still in place with the antiquated sales structure of bicycles, the guys on top are going to stay on top, and the status is going to stay plenty quo. Now more than ever, though, the Internet is disrupting that model, and the cycling industry is scrambling to adapt to the shake-up. Consumers are researching and buying their products on-line, and that’s going to be increasingly true in the coming years. There comes a point at which ignoring e-commerce will begin to dismantle companies like Trek and Specialized, and we’re almost there.

Consider that Specialized is now selling some products on their web site, and, regardless of what half-assed “payment sharing” plans such direct e-commerce sales claim to offer local dealers, you have to be a complete idiot not to see moves like this for what they really are: attempts to embrace e-commerce without ceding any control to the front-line retailers representing your brand. The much touted line that independent bike shops are completely safe because nobody will ever purchase an expensive bicycle on the internet is a pacifier, stuck in the mouth of the independent bicycle dealer by that brands that don’t know how to handle sales of their products on-line. Ask Competitive Cyclist whether anyone buys high-end bikes on-line. Or any of the other on-line retailers banking over $20M in yearly sales. Does anyone really think a Competitive Cyclist-built custom bicycle arrives at a guy’s house looking like an unbuilt Ikea desk, and that the company has experienced off-the-charts sales growth over the last handful of years because they keep disappointing customers? I owned a company that sold bicycles on the Internet, and I’ve personally exchanged over 80-emails with a single customer regarding a bike purchase–plus those products don’t put themselves up on your web site and if anything customers have far more questions for which they expect real-time answers, even at 2:00am, so the argument “these web guys” have “no overhead,” is a myth perpetuated by the same guys forcing you to increase your pre-book by 10% next year. The IT spend alone is staggering. These places have extensive overhead; it’s just a different type of overhead, and one that some of your brands don’t want you even sniffing around at. In fact, the industry has been so turned around that many retailers see the Internet only as an enemy, not an opportunity. Long term, that will prove to be tragic. Am I saying the e-comm guys have it all figured out? Not at all. Many of them don’t have a clue, and that’s why it’s important for local dealers to at least understand e-commerce as an opportunity. Local brick and mortar dealers have been fed a load of bullshit about the Internet for years, and when the guys who keep you from selling their products on-line start selling them on-line themselves, it’s time to wake up.

By the time you’re throwing up glass and iron, even Father Amorth won’t be able to save you. Might as well open a yoga studio.

Thanks Giving

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Nov 282011

At some point during my turkey-induced lethargy over the past few days, the notorious Dirty Dozen took place in Pittsburgh, an event wherein cyclists seek out the most absurd climbs in the Pittsburgh area and ride their bicycles up them. Once upon a time, I sponsored a talented young man named Montana Miller, and this year he broke course records for running a 36×17 gear combination for the event. I’ll let you contemplate that for a while as you stare at this photo, taken by Jon Pratt, of Montana taking care of business.

36x17, bitches.

Montana is a fine writer, and little bit like a real-life action figure, which makes following his adventures worthwhile.

Speaking of poets and super-men, if only Friedrich Nietzsche could have lived long enough to see his work help Kanye West side-step a lawsuit. For me, the most interesting part of the entire article is that another rapper rhymed “stronger” with “wronger” and referenced Kate Moss, but the Nietzsche assertion that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is also pretty fun to imagine as the meme du jour for corporate and wanna-be corporate pop stars.

And what is it that guys like Kanye and other corporate Movers and Shakers are made stronger by enduring? Why us, of course. Mediocrity.

And you know who else grows stronger just from having to tolerate our pathetic existence? Chip Wilson, the founder of yoga retail powerhouse Lululemon, whose company has begun printing the catchphrase from my girl, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged on the company’s shopping bags.

I don't know, but I'll bet he looks good in yoga pants and an overpriced hoodie.

The funniest part of all of this is the dippy, new-age self-empowerment spin Lululemon’s trying to put on Rand’s decidedly un-zen-like philosophy of personal gain at all costs. The company’s blog page has this to say about the bags.

Our bags are visual reminders for ourselves to live a life we love and conquer the epidemic of mediocrity. We all have a John Galt inside of us, cheering us on. How are we going to live lives we love?

Yes, how? Surely not by thinking about others–or even acknowledging the existence of others–but rather, by being really fucking thankful we were born into enough privilege to afford $68 yoga mats and dime store philosophy, easily digestible by the Kardashianic masses.

Well, almost. I have to admit that, as positive self-affirmative aphorisms go, I don’t get this one–and yes, this is really something that’s actually written on one of their bags: “Children are the orgasm of life. Just like you did not know what an orgasm was before you had one, nature does not let you know how great children are until you actually have them.”

Holy shit.

But as frankly tone-deaf and disturbing as whatever-the-fuck that was supposed to mean might be, Lulu’s recent evocation of the Great Capitalist Virgin/Whore Pin-up Girl, Rand, is just a touch more disturbing still, because it confuses Rand’s philosophy with innocent snake-oil self-empowerment nonsense. The almost beautiful irony here is that Chip Wilson’s philosophy for Lululemon is to “elevate the world from mediocrity to greatness.” Granted, that’s probably as much bullshit as his sea-weed powered fabric, but it does fit within the bounds of Rand’s philosophy. The part that nobody likes to talk about with Rand, though, is that there are losers. Lots of them. Probably about 99% of the world. And still more important: at the end of the day, Rand is writing a justification for spoils that went to a victor for, well, some reason–that’s where fiction can be really convenient. One guy is really good at copper mining, which is clearly a skill one is endowed with at birth, and like Galt’s magic engine that runs on virtually nothing, Rand doesn’t care to go into details about how these people came to acquire this knowledge.

Presumably, there were just born that way. Better. And preternaturally disgusted by the stink of mediocrity all around them.

See where this starts to build some friction against the idea of self-empowerment? Like enough friction to power a magic engine its own self? The joke is that it’s a caste system. It’s closed to most of us. Who is John Galt? Not you, pal. In order for Rand’s philosophy to work at all, the whole concept of self-improvement has to be eliminated as an option.

Me, I want to be a guy who finishes designing a suspension system for a bicycle, and I believe Malcolm Gladwell’s right about proficiency requiring about 10,000 hours of energy. Why? Because I believe whichever intellectual has better hair, and Malcolm’s mad genius thing absolutely smites Rand’s “the logical purpose for hair is to protect your head from the sun, even if you never go outside” vibe.

But the most amazing thing of all is that we live in a world where a guy who made his fortune selling overpriced yoga clothing can claim to be “elevating the world from mediocrity to greatness.” That such an idea can exist–even as marketing–suggests our whole scale is off. It suggests, ladies and gentlemen, that the people flying Rand’s flag are not, in fact, the doers and the makers of the world, but those looking to explain their absurd success to themselves.

People like Dean Kamen and Dick Proenneke can make and do things, and maybe there are even some Ayn Rand fans out there who can actually do something, too. Here’s how I can usually tell: someone capable of actually doing something may talk about him or herself, but seems to really be speaking about everyone; someone who’s never truly created anything–maybe not since sixth grade–tends to talk a lot about everyone, but always seems to really only be talking about himself.

Anyway, still working on shock rates. I’ll leave you with a photo of my other favorite Lulu, which pretty much exemplifies life inside your own privileged bullshit bubble.

Survival of the Unfittest

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Nov 262011

After a few days eating turkey and banging my head against my keyboard, I realize I’ve officially entered the “negative obsession” phase of work on my suspension frame, wherein there is nothing even remotely enjoyable about the process and yet I keep working on it pretty much relentlessly. In some ways, the 2007 me who developed the concept for this and put through the patent on the design did 2011 me a huge favor: I have a cozy little intellectual property bubble within which to work away refining things. Nevertheless, I’d very much like to punch 2007 me in the throat for making that bubble really little and apparently out of steel, which makes for a design that’s apparently impossible to finish. All I need now are some acceptable shock rates and a slightly less Dr. Seuss shock position, but that’s seeming hard to come by. Many times, I’ve come really close, only to hit a brick wall and have to redesign everything from the ground up.

Endless revision makes for a lot of lines.

So I called a time out today, oranged up to reduce drawing friendly fire, and took the ‘cross bike out for a while–and I’m glad I did, because I actually encountered an exotic species of Mountain Hipster, a smiling guys on lugged steel bikes, one wearing a plaid cap in place of a helmet. They’d just climbed the back road up the mountain and had four miles of poorly graveled road to look forward to before heading down the sketchier Route 30 descent back into town. I’ve seen bear, porcupines, rattlesnakes (too many), foxes, giant-ass-snapping turtles, and turkey vultures up here, but I’ve never seen anyone on a lugged bike with a jaunty cap. Good day.

Halfway down to the spring where I was filling up the water bottle before heading home, I passed Brian, a friend, dedicated racer, and owner of many nice bikes. He had the titanium Indy Fab ‘cross bike out, and we ended up riding back up the mountain together. This was a complicated process for me because:

  • I am fat and weak
  • Brian is insanely fit–fit way beyond just racing bicycles fit. Fit
  • We had plenty to catch up on, which meant talking while climbing
  • See #1 above

Before getting back to a batch of tech questions I need to answer for Dirt Rag and the next 1,000 hours I need to spend trying to design a bicycle, I’ll share a tip I have for climbing while having a conversation with someone approximately seventeen times more fit than you are: the key is something I call asymmetric conversing, and it goes like this:

Superfit Racer: “Have you talked to George lately?”

Fat Weakling: “No, no [with feeling].” (Note: minimum syllables and air required to produce those sounds, and the “with feeling” part says, “But have you? Please tell me about it?”)

Superfit Racer: “He’s doing pretty well. I usually talk to him about once a week.”

Fat Weakling: “Wife good?”

Superfit Racer: “Yep, they’re getting situated in their new house. Have you had any bites on the building in Laughlintown? Is it still for sale?”

Fat Weakling: “No, no [again, with feeling].”

Superfit Racer: “So anything you’re working on right now?”

Fat Weakling: “No. Do you believe in God, and why?”

See that? The key is to breath as much as possible by keeping the fit friend talking as much as possible. Think tennis: the more time the ball spends on the other side of the court, the better off you are. It’s simple survival.

And speaking of survival, I’d previously mentioned my idea for a truly tough, Tough Mudder event, but having found out about a guy named Dick Proenneke, I’d like to revise that. Keep your sissy heart rate monitors and tribal tattoos: my newest idea for a competition is to see who can build his or her own cabin in the Alaskan wilderness and live there alone for thirty freaking years. Anything less, and you’re a pampered little bitch.

I call dibs on producing the series, and the celebrity version, so no funny ideas, Mark Burnett.

Suspension Design for Dummies: Chain Growth vs. Long Chainstays

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Nov 222011

I haven’t been producing all that much hairy pseudo-engineering frame project dilemma blues lately, have I? Mostly psycho-socio-politico rants. As it turns out, I’m still trying to make a bicycle frame, and it’s still a lot like having a super violent bar fight all by yourself. Geeks, this one’s for you.

Ah, life’s timeless questions. Like how much chain growth is acceptable at full travel?

Designed for 29er wheel tire clearance and short chainstays at full travel, my original design was a near vertical axle path. I mean really near vertical. We’re talking a few millimeters. Vertical.

That all adds up to one thing: crazy short chainstays, a characteristic I’m pursuing in a big way on this design, but the trade-off is potential “pedal kickback.”

Depending on which suspension guru you’re talking to, and which side of the bed he or she got out of that morning, pedal kickback is either a nominal concern or the holy-freakin-grail. What is it? Well, there’s this line of torque that drives your bicycle. When you do your mad flailing attempts at pedaling a bike, the energy of your legs rotates the crankset and thus chainring, and at that point, power runs across the top of your chain like a group of magic little elves. It’s that top of the chain–the path that runs from the top of your chainring to the top of your cassette–that’s under tension and is propelling your bike along for you.

Well, when you add a rear wheel that can go up and down relative to the bottom bracket on your bike, you’ve done some strange things to the length of that line. What exactly you did to it depends on where your bike’s pivot center point is (most of those center points or centers of curvature are “virtual” or move around, though it’s easy to find the center point of a single-pivot bike: it’s just the pivot location). That center of curvature point created by the location of the pivots on a suspension frame determines the shape of your axle path.

Red line represents pure vertical, but the arcs of actual axle paths are determined by the center of curvature.

So as your rear wheel goes up and down, the magical “power line” connecting your chainring gear and the gear driving your rear wheel tracks along with the arc of your axle path–the one that’s being created by that center of curvature.

All this just means your chain gets long and shorter as the suspension moves through its travel. How much deviation in chain length you have affects whether or not your bike’s suspension system tugs backward on your chain (which sucks if not moderated effectively) or slackens your chain (which also is no fun). Usually, the point at which your suspension is the most compressed is the problem, as that’s the point at which the distance from your chain’s engagement on your chainring to its engagement point on a given rear cog is the greatests. That hurt my head even to type, so here’s an image. Check out the gray numbers. Those represent the length of the chain when the bike isn’t compressed (494.76mm) and when it’s compressed all the way (495.63mm).

Note the gray numbers: 494.76 (uncompressed) and 495.63 (fully compressed).

In order to get those numbers so close to one another, I had to redesign my frame, and what I traded was approximately 8mm of chainstay length.

So here’s my question to hardcore bike nerds out there: Which is more important, minimizing that chain growth at the end of the bike’s travel, or having really short chainstays?

I’m really only concerned with end of the axle path (full compression). If you have a vertical axle path, your chain grows a good bit (like up to 10mm), but if you arc your axle path inward slightly at the end, you can all but eliminate any chain growth. During the rest of the axle’s path, I’m still going to have very little rearward axle movement. It’ll be there, but it’ll be minimal. So the big question is how far forward to eliminate chain growth do I let the axle roam at the end of the bike’s travel? The further it moves in to maintain consistent chain length, the less clearance between the rear wheel and the frame’s seat tube.

Anyway, that’s what I’m working on right now, instead of sleeping.

Death Cab for Cutie

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Nov 212011

Earlier today I received an email from CEO and Founder of executive job search site, Marc Cenedella. While each piece of spam mail I receive from Marc is special to me in its own way, this one was particularly awesome because it featured a video of him in a cab, being authentic at a woman who appears to have been forced into the cab after losing a bet. Here’s the first part of the letter and the video, exactly as I received them, so you can experience a few seconds of my afternoon and marvel for a minute at my exotic, unemployed executive world:

I’m taking my career advice to a new format, folks. I’ve been writing this newsletter to you for the past eight years, and now we’ve decided to take it to the streets!

So I hopped in the back of a New York City taxi and dispensed career advice to professionals like you across the boulevards of southern Manhattan. We’ve filmed the results and I’m pleased to share with you… “CareerCab”!

Here’s the first episode, in which Megan needs help with her elevator pitch:

Like you, my first thought after seeing this was, Rapid cutaways set to spunky rock and roll just always works, but try to fight past being entertained long enough to take in the real wisdom going on here. Megan initially claims to be looking for “a position in healthcare consulting,” and “also looking to work for an academic health center in finance, on the finance side,” but notice how quickly Marc calls her out of such pompous bullshit. By reminding her that they’re in “Career Cab” and then at a backyard barbecue (true business men are adept at disorienting their subjects), Marc instantly disarms Megan, extracting the truth like a valuable incisor. Turns out, she actually wants to work “in finance in healthcare.”

Holy shit.

Check the before and after photos of that transformation, and see if you can notice any similarity whatsoever. Not possible. But hang on, Megan, ’cause clearing those cobwebs was just the beginning. Now Marc’s about to blow your mind. “Why?” he asks. Why do you want to do what you want to do? Did you see that one coming, Megan? Hell no you didn’t, not all tangled in your fancy memorized phrases like “a position in healthcare consulting.”

Clearly rattled now by just how at ease she’s been put, Megan feels around for an explanation, sending words out in “Career Cab” like a bat throws out sonar. “It’s an industry where you help people on Monday,” she says. That’s the stuff. “You don’t, it’s not an intangible–like you go to work and, no matter what, you come home at the end of the day, and you’ve helped a bunch of people. But, so I want to help the doctors be able to do their job better, and I feel like, in finance–operations gets a little hairy, so I think finance is a little, would be a little more hands off, but still facilitate, you know, them being able to care for patients.” While Megan’s soul is slowly being teased right out of her verbal britches, Marc offers increasingly brusque, “Uh huh”s before descending into more urgent “Yeah”s.

Megan’s problems thoroughly diagnosed and solved, Marc stands in awe at her transformation. “Whatever that was you just said,” he tells her, “it was beautiful and it was, like, authentic, and it was really you, and like, nobody else on the planet can say that, because, like, you really believe, like, that’s actually you, and it shines through.”

Now Marc turns the wisdom hose back on me, his unemployed ex-CEO leader, and returns to his letter:

“Somehow, we’ve all tricked ourselves into believing that sounding incomprehensible makes us sound smart. And that’s just simply not true.”

No it’s not, Marc. I hired many people in my time, and anyone who came in spewing shit about motivation and skills never moved me as much as those who told me they mostly liked to sniff glue and watch reruns of “Three’s Company” because they were really passionate about those things. My only critique of Megan is that I’m still not sure she was being completely honest about her passion. Few people are born with a dream to help doctors. If she’d said she wanted the job for the money, so she could go home at night and dream of riding a unicorn to the end of the rainbow where she could hold a leprechaun at gunpoint until he gave her gold, then we’d know Megan was finally being honest with us.

Marc tells me, “When you speak clearly and passionately about what you love, people want to help you more.” Or you are pepper sprayed and arrested. It’s a fine line.

Marc closes (as he often does) with a challenge for me:

So take your story — the story that only you have — and share it with people. It’s the best (and easiest) way to get ahead! I’ll be rooting for you every step of the way,

Marc Cenedella
Marc Cenedella, CEO & Founder

So here goes: I want to revolutionize e-commerce, build the world’s best pedaling bicycle suspension system, and ride a unicorn to the end of a rainbow where I can make a leprechaun give me some gold.

Who’s with me?


 Bikes, Swine  Comments Off on Frack!
Nov 182011

Just returned from a community meeting. Not normally my idea of a good time on a Friday night, but turns out our humble (and not so humble insanely wealthy) townsfolk have noticed explosive charges and seismic recording equipment suddenly appearing all over the place. More than one company is in town doing 3D seismic testing so they can start drilling for natural gas, a process otherwise known as “fracking,” which has some interesting side effects.

Apparently, that video’s just a misunderstanding, and what they’re doing is entirely safe, despite the fact that nobody seems to know what chemical they’re pumping into the ground. They reassured us tonight that it’s like over 90% water and sand (which is great, because if 90% of my jar of peanut butter doesn’t have salmonella, those are pretty good odds!). I guess I’ll have to go ahead and hope all that sand and water and secret sauce really are safe, because they’ve come in and started drilling before most of us even knew. Once helicoptors started dropping orange bags in your neighbor’s yard and small explosions start going off around town, it’s time to realize you’re getting fracked.

Speaking of which, I’ve hit another wall in my attempt to make a bicycle. The good news is I’ve found a potential builder; the bad news is that I need to rebuild the design in Solidworks before they’d be able to create the bike. I’d really been hoping for more of a partner with the development, but it’s looking like I’ll have to create more of a finished product before I can hand it off to a builder.

I need totally rebuilt.

Unfortunately, this is a problem.

See, I only taught myself enough Solidworks to build the suspension system, and I don’t have a sense of how many more hours it would take me to really dial in details like how to show tubing wall thicknesses, or properly spec internal head tube details, or structurally analyze machined pieces.


My goal was to build that suspension system, not to learn Solidworks. I did the same thing when I built web sites for Speedgoat while answering customer phone calls and building bikes back in the day: I learned how to do something in order to accomplish a specific goal. I sucked it up and adapted and accomplished something. Yay for me.

But that’s a stupid way to do things.

One personal criticism of my previous entrepreneurial adventures is that I did too much myself, and here I go again. It feels very wrong–just at it did to be developing pretty complicated data-driven web pages–but once again I’m failing to see the alternative. I’ve invested enough money into the patent process that some more money invested to see a proof-of-concept bike created makes logical sense, but a lot more money doesn’t. And even assuming I had a trust fund to burn through, I seem to have trouble finding people willing to do that little bit extra, even if you’re paying them to do that little bit extra. Part of this is probably my location, as it was in the past, but finding someone to take over a project is impossible. I end up taking my eye off the business because I’m too busy making the product.

It’s really important for me not to be stupid like that again. But I am.

This is going to require some thought. More than anything, I just want to see this frame created so that I can finally see what it can do. Preferably, before my fracking house burns down.

Relating and Shutterstalking

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Nov 162011

I might’ve taken my particular brand of nerd gonzo a bit far in that last post, but that’s the effect being forced to do excessive amounts of math (that’s with an “a”) tends to do to me. Speaking of nerd gonzo, if you grew up loving bicycles and virtuoso prog rock power trios, Rush drummer, Neil Peart wrote a nice little piece for the Cleveland Plain Dealer about his first century ridding on back roads in Ohio. It’s fluff, but Neil is one of the few people in the world I just go ahead and love unconditionally. Growing up a geek and a drummer, I couldn’t avoid respecting the hell out of a guy who grew up on a farm, clearly practicing paradiddles something like ten hours a day and clearly reading classic literature in every other free moment. That he rode bicycles, too, arrived like a confirmation that my life was on the right track. It wasn’t, but how could I hold that againt him? He’s even reclusive and largely freaked out by people.

He also wrote some books, including one about cycling in West Africa. Respect.

I felt I had some things in common with Neil, but nothing compared to the eerie things I seem to have in common with Internet advertisers. I visited once, and decided I wasn’t interested in their services, but now they’re not only following me everywhere I go, but also targeting my interests (hipster triatheletes with bright t-shirts and soul patches).

The truly creepy thing? I hadn’t searched Shutterstock for cycling photos–I was settling a bet about whether or not a certain picture of Jesus was in the public domain, OK? (I have so many hobbies you know nothing about.) Anyway, I’ve been in retail, and I know the companies that offer cookie-tastic ads that chase users around the interwebs, but ones that track me down, figure out I like cycling, and then use that to market to me? Holy shit. That’s as technologically cool as it is personally terrifying.

But it makes sense.

The recipe for real marketing combines one part interest and one part ridiculously asinine bullshit. I like bicycles, for instance, so I’m just a hop, skip, and a jump from buying a brightly colored extremely expensive leather bag that also becomes a saddle cover.

Yes, Brooks has found a way for anyone interested in transporting a single container of Proofide or a small wallet (but not both) to maintain a keen fashion sense. Click through the image to check out the full details. Bonus: there’s a Shutterstock ad wired to appear on that page sometimes, so, chances are, in just visiting the site, you might get a glimpse of something you actually like being used to try to sell you something you don’t. And they say privacy’s dead!

Nov 142011

Well, those bastards at Kickstarter failed to approve my perfectly reasonable $12,000,000 wedding project, so it’s back to the dozen or so drawing boards for me. Tough to say if I’m still an entrepreneur or just unemployed at this point, but as long as there’re still more ideas than time to put into them, I’m hoping my membership in the corporate DIY club’s still valid. By some standards, I might be a permanent member. I mean, I sold a company to a billionaire. I didn’t make any money, and clusterfuck doesn’t begin to describe what I walked into, but technically, at least, I think I lived the American Dream there for a second. If it ever happens again, I plan on paying very careful attention to the experience, though, because I still don’t think it’s supposed to feel like inserting a disco ball up your ass while putting your hand in a running garbage disposal.

So one wonders if I’m going to try to launch a new company that sells bikes, and by “one,” I mean “me.” One wonders what the hell I’m going to do next. Always so tough to say with me. What I can tell myself is this: making bicycles–I mean really making bicycles–is tough. I wish I was the type of fucker who could just point to a carbon fiber 29er frame in a wholesale catalog from China or Taiwan, spend a few days deciding on decals (I’m sorry, “graphics”), then put that bitch on my crappy, outsourced web site with a picture of me looking sham-wow successful. There are people doing that right now, and they always seem so happy to be living a life devoid of geometry and javascript. One wonders why I tend to do all of this shit myself. Boy, does one wonder.

But if any of you are still playing along at home, I’m eyeball deep in shock rates right now, and the semi-crushing realization that the orientation of my upper link seems to be limiting my shock position options.

Please ignore the actual shock in the photo. I’ve been locating possible areas all over the place, trying to balance shock rate with a position that doesn’t suck. I absolutely, positively hate bikes with shocks that T-bone the downtube at like a 90-degree angle. You can get away with it (particularly if you’re dealing with titanium or steel), but it’s the design compromise equivalent of throwing up in your mouth. Carpet’s still clean, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a problem.

So that’s where we are–and I have a possible fabrication shop. We’ll have to see how that goes. If I don’t come to my senses or find myself properly employed by the end of November, I may very well be doing something stupid again. And it bears mentioning that, if I end up starting up another company, it won’t be because I’m a wealthy job creator with low taxes, or because of a government subsidy or grant.

I found two interesting pieces on NPR today. Each was fascinating in its own way, but, taken together, they sort of floored me. The first, was a report from Andrea Seabrook regarding the pervasive undercurrent of Ayn Rand’s “Objectivism” in current political rhetoric. In case you’re still not sure who John Galt is, here’s a quick refresher on Rand: she believed man’s “highest moral purpose is the achievement of his own happiness”, and that those who can do were under constant attack from those who can’t. Into the God-shaped hole, Rand’s philosophy inserted Reason, which sounds pretty great to me. But she didn’t stop there. More frequently on display these days is Rand’s assertion that the ideal world consisted of a tax-free, purely capitalistic economy (as icons go, she specifically replaced the crucifix with a dollar sign), and it’s that part of Objectivism that’s current wailing and knashing its teeth at the injustice of making the wealthy “job creators” pay more taxes or stop buying politicians or stop dumping toxic shit into the environment.

Rand grew up in Russia, and I don’t doubt she believed passionately in her clunky characters and teared up over her own ice cold prose, but in the end, the two-packs a day girl who thought critics of nicotine were perpetrating a hoax found herself taking her government social security payments. The idea of Ayn Rand, though, is something guys like no-tax pledge architect Grover Norquist enjoy dressing up in when all alone and clopping around in front of the mirror to see. Government is bad, and it’s killing the real prime movers of our economy–the Randian heroes, the Roarks, Galts, Taggarts and Reardens–men (generally–gender’s another story entirely in Rand) who use their sweat, their minds, and their hands–modern day embodiments of Atlas, whose inventions and brilliance are doing more than just creating jobs; they’re supporting the world.

You know, guys like Grover Norquist, who, as near as I can tell, have never had an actual job. These are salt of the earth hard workers, born into adversity, like being the son of a Vice President of a large corporation, or having to attend Harvard (on what we can all assume was an academic scholarship, destitute and disenfranchised as the sons of corporate VPs tend to be). Like Galt, Norquist came from “out of nowhere, penniless, parentless, tie-less,” except that he was the opposite of each of those things. Yes, John Galt, humble genius inventor, certainly is eerily visible in today’s Washington hanger-on or billionaire hedge fund manager, or any of the 1%, persecuted by the ignorant masses out of jealousy of their clearly superior intellect and work ethic. Food for thought. Food that’d give you cancer if the Food and Drug Administration weren’t around to stop it, but food nonetheless.

Rand’s resurgent popularity fit nicely with the other interesting thing I overhead today on that liberal hippie-fest, NPR, because who in our modern society compares to a guy able to invent an engine that runs on static electricity? No, not Steve Jobs. Too artsy-fartsy for Rand, to be frank. How about a guy whose invention can turn any water pure?

Dean Kamen, that inventor and entrepreneur who created stuff as diverse as the Segway (not sure we can score that one a win, but bear with me), to high-tech prosthetic arms was being interviewed by John Donvan. Kamen’s theme was America’s current state, and how government emphasis on jobs is missing the point. We’ve lost our drive to innovate, was his point, and we urgently need to address that loss. The interview included this exchange:

DONVAN: The big question in all of this: If you’re correct and we let this happen, why would we let this happen?

KAMEN: I don’t think it was intentional. I think, you know, a rich environment leaves you – you know, people get a little lazy. When you’re a rich country – I think we’ve enjoyed, you know, generation after generation, always doing a little better than their parents. And I think people started to think it’s simply our birthright to have high quality health care and high quality education and…

DONVAN: So – but what did we stop doing? What did – and I’m not sure which we I’m asking about, but let me put it this way: What did we – we just did a show with people about losing work and they want to work. What did we, the workforce, do wrong to contribute to this?

KAMEN: I’m not sure it’s the workforce. I think we as a culture, we as a country lost our edge. We stopped investing in all the leading-edge stuff. The work ethic of your great grandparents and your grandparents – as I said, when you become a culture that seems to be born and you know the water is drinkable and the – you flip the switch and the lights go on and life is good and you have security, maybe you don’t work as hard as they work around the world to pick themselves up out of poverty. But we pick the worst possible time, the worst possible generation to sit back on our laurels because the rest of the world has figured out that the model that worked so well for a few hundred years in the United States, namely highly motivated, highly educated, incentivized innovation – let the government do everything it can to create an atmosphere where entrepreneurs and innovators will risk their life and their resources and their money to create great, new things.

You know, that makes it sound like we have a complicated problem on our hands. Not one that government alone can solve, and–most importantly–not one that our current wealthy seem able to, or interested in, fixing with their god-given superior intellect and work ethic. The “inventions” of our modern American billionaire heroes are credit default swaps not airplanes, housing market bubbles not telephones. “Who is John Galt?” I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure he lives in China now. Grover Norquist picked up his old house in a short sale.

Really Big Announcements

 Bikes, Swine  Comments Off on Really Big Announcements
Nov 112011

Reading yesterday’s post from BikeSnobNYC confirmed a suspicion I’ve had about myself for some time now. Unlike NiCole “COLE” Robbins, I actually believe in producing some sort of good or service in order to be paid. And that’s what’s wrong with me.

I believe I’ve fallen out of step with America’s move to a “service economy.” For a while, I understood it. During my early years running my e-commerce business, I answered consumer emails and even picked up some phones at all hours of the day and night. Had I known how much better off my family would be now if instead I’d done crunches all day and focused on being a narcissistic asshole in hopes that MTV would syndicate my “project,” by now I’d have my own line of cologne made specifically for the mentally challenged. Another mistake: my wife and I had a pretty quiet and understated wedding. I realize now that I should have at least called some local news agencies and intimated that the affair involved maintaining the bloodline of Jesus and the real reason Dick Cheney shot that guy in the face. How much do you have to charge per admission to make $18M on a wedding?

To that end, I’m announcing three initiatives today:

First, inspired by NiCole “COLE” Robbins, I launched my own Kickstarter project today. It’s still in the approval stage, but I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be permitted, as it seems to violate far fewer policies than NiCole “COLE” Robbins’ project. There may be some slight waffling on the part of the Kickstarter staff regarding the subtle difference between a mere “wiseass artistic statement” versus the more genuine “opportunistic phony cause” that begat it, but that wouldn’t be very cool of them.

What is your project?

I’m looking to raise $12,000,000 to fund a lavish ceremony to remarry my wife (our first wedding was relatively small, and we’d not thought to monetize it). Market research suggests the return on this investment could be $18,000,000 or more, a 50% return on investment, if my math is correct, realized almost immediately. I understand that merely renewing vows may not be sufficiently dramatic, so I’m willing to divorce and remarry this woman, in order to make this work. In supporting me on this exciting journey, you will also be supporting and promoting Love (both the sentiment and the burgeoning new American industry).

What rewards would you offer?

Provided we hit our target goal, relatively high quality digital photos of the wedding, our outstanding children, and our extremely photogenic dog will be provided to all investors. Those contributing more than $500,000 each will also receive an artisanal cupcake–probably one of the really cool “cupcake-pop” style ones that come on a stick. Those are awesome.

Second, I’ll also be launching a new and different web site to track my progress in this endeavor, among other things. Probably.

Oh, and the third thing: maybe I should start a bike company. I mean, I have a strong patent, I know some stuff about bicycles, and I like acting entrepreneurial at parties. I’ve seen people start bike companies with less. So I’m taking votes. Comment or email me. Maybe I could fund it with Kickstarter, now that I’m soon to be a Kickstarter “power user” and return each investor’s total amount as a discount off a frame. That’s starting to sound a little too “old America,” though, where I actually have to make something.