Friday’s Time Travelers and Blood Suckers

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Feb 102012

My hair is rich and full.

So the Court of Arbitration for Sport has decided to ban retired cyclist Jan Ullrich for two years, a shocking blow to Ullrich’s hope of contesting the 2012 Tour de France from a large, comfortable chair at his home in Germany, but also making use of their new time machine, the CAS Doping Offense Win Negator (CASDOWN), to “annul” Ullrich’s results from May 1st, 2005. This move follows the recent reshuffling of race results from 2010 following Tour de France and Giro winner Alberto Contador’s retro-active disqualifications for doping, and begs the question, “Does anyone actually win races anymore?” The newfound ability of the CAS, while honorable and necessary, creates forms of higher math and alternative realities traditionally only found in the study of quantum physics. In a bizarre twist, an engineer at Google today announced that, using a combination of advanced algorithms, urine samples from the past five years, and a brief financial analysis of personal debt levels of the current pro peloton, it’s now easier to predict the 2012 winner of the Tour de France, than to predict the winners from the past ten years.

Critics, of course, are already arguing the CASDOWN system is nothing more than a marketing campaign to try to make professional cycling more popular in places like the U.S. where cycling is currently seen as way more boring than football (real football, the kind played with hands, not feet), but where sports betting, revisionist history, and fleeting celebrity are wildly popular. In addition to wondering who’ll win each of the Grand Tours in 2012, now we can all put money down on results dating back at least into the 2000s. (Personally, my money for the 2005 Tour is on Servais Knaven from Quick Step.)

Many donut-enjoying, rarely-standing-while-climbing “power” riders, myself included, were fans of Ullrich, though, so I’m not insensitive to the human aspect of this result. On that front, I’m happy to report that Ullrich has capitalized even on this setback, by–and I’m not making this up–becoming a spokesperson for a German hair stimulant marketed as “Doping for the Hair.” Sadly, while it appears riders like Ullrich and Contador aren’t obligated to return any prize money or other gains acquired while “not really winning,” it does appear that the riders must be declared legally “non-existent” during the retro-active period of their ban from sport. While the scientific community is still unsure what this actually means for the racers, it seems clear that some form of “undead syndrome” may be occurring, which would partially explain some of the otherwise inexplicable behavior of Floyd Landis, as well as this statement, released by Ullrich yesterday (italics mine):

Shortly before the 2006 tour, I was hit: Suspension, headlines, ostracism, house searches, criminal complaints. I felt abandoned, fallen like a leaf. The whole world wanted to put me against the wall and then I went instinctively to ground, and eventually retired. As I said, I will not complain that not everything was warranted. Shortly after my suspension I wanted to explain my actions publicly but my hands were tied. On the advice of my lawyers, and as is usual in such cases, I have been silent on the allegations. Ultimately, this issue has polluted me for years so much that I was sick and I eventually broke down.”

Did you catch that? While I can’t be certain, I’m pretty sure Jan Ullrich just admitted to being a vampire. In and of itself, it’s a pretty shocking revelation, but like most things in pro cycling these days, it still raises more questions than it answers. While long-term, congenital vampirism would certainly cast a new light on the whole blood doping thing, it seems more likely, in Ullrich’s case, that blood sucking is a result of the ruling by the CAS, not the cause. Clearly, being forced out of existence for a few years by the CAS, and then having to go on living as a spokesperson for German hair stimulants, was really the last nail in the coffin.

Jan Ullrich in human form.

Zeitchrist: Discount Nihilism and Fuzzy Killer Robots

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Dec 152011

A neighbor drove up next to me as I was walking the dog yesterday and asked if I was home from Chicago and if I was working. It went like this.

Me: Yes, I’m home. I’m not with the company any more.
Neighbor: So you’re just hanging out?
Me: Until I can find work, yes.
Neighbor: Are you looking for something?
Me: Yes.
Neighbor: You’ll do anything?
Me: (a bit nervously now) Well, maybe not anything.
Neighbor: You shovel snow?

Let me just here point out that this is no ordinary neighbor. He was one of the first people to walk into Speedgoat back in 1997, he’s previously owned a bike shop in Pittsburgh, and he became my landlord of many years. He let me borrow a bike stand, which I returned to him fourteen years later (actually, I couldn’t find his, so I ended up giving him a new one). He’s generally a sweet and relatively harmless elderly gentleman who happens to own not one but two original Chris Chance-built Fat City bikes.

But it always seemed to me that he didn’t understand what we really did at Speedgoat. He never seemed to see the significance of all those computers and people we had around, and I never had the impression that he understood what I did for a living. I guess now I’m certain of it.

So what did I do as CEO of an e-commerce company? Every day was a little bit like this:

Difficult to say exactly what that makes one qualified to do, though lately I’ve been thinking about going into politics.

Fortunately, I may not have to pick up a paper route or shovel driveways for a living, as humanity’s infatuation with self-destruction seems to be in high gear. For one thing, we seem to all be getting much more religious–or not necessarily “religious” in that cheesy “love one another” kind of way, but more “smite-happy” and insular. Certainly those without that lizard-brain add-on, “critical thinking,” have long since retreated into their respective god-holes by now, with only rifle barrels left sticking out. Already we missed a few rapture predictions, but that can’t stop the faithful from hoping for annihilation to be visited upon us all soon. And even among the secular, is it just me, or does it seem like we’re collectively hoping for a zombie apocalypse at this point, just to break up the monotony? Certainly, the Center for Disease Control is.

If vampires were the analogy-du-jour for the financial crisis, nothing seems to sum up the current state of the American economy quite as well as a sea of zombies, slogging through the day, unfit even for very basic janitorial duties. At this point, we’re for whatever makes us want to live again, and apparently run and scream. And maybe we’ll get lucky. Given the cost of health care these days, probably better to just let the kids go feral zombie as opposed to trying to afford anti-zombie meds. Lord knows there are plenty of people who could use a good brain eatin’, though I don’t think it’d be a very satisfying meal.

For what it’s worth, though, I think zombie is just the flavor of the week. We all really know it’s going to be killer robots that take us out.

Instead of the gleaming invincible army we’ve been led to believe is on the way, though, our robot overlords are going to be adorable!

OK, maybe not adorable, but they’ll have hair and the ability to turn their “eyes” into hearts (as they’re dismembering us). Apparently the DragonBots are all cloud connected through web connections and as one “learns,” so do all the others. Though I’ve never seen one of these and am not nearly as amped up about them as Gizmodo seems to be, I sure do hope the world ends in a sea of mass-produced tiny plastic claws. You have to admit that it’d be sort of be fitting.

Chain and Cassette Replacement

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Aug 282011

I recently had a mechanic tell me it is a good idea to replace my chain before it wears down my chainrings and cassette. I don’t know how many miles I have on it but I’ve had the bike for three years. Is this the case, and if so, how do you know when it is time to buy a new chain?

Your mechanic is mostly right, but it really depends on how much you ride, and your overall maintenance philosophy. There are really two different maintenance philosophies when it comes to bicycles. By way of example, let’s consider vampires.

Subject A–let’s call her “Sookie”–has a bit of a thing for vampires. Let’s just say she’s “known” them (in the Biblical sense). A lot. And because she “knows” vampires a lot, Sookie’s made a commitment to certain things the average Joe might not. She stays up really late, battles witches, and runs and screams a lot. She probably takes vitamin supplements, gets checked for hepatitis and lyme disease. That sort of thing. The Sookie level cyclist “knows” bikes, and is willing to make sacrifices in time and money to keep them performing. He or she usually owns more expensive parts, and wants to maximize the lifespan of those parts. For the Sookie style rider, starting with three or four new chains and alternating them throughout the lifespan of a single cassette is a trick that’s carried over from racing teams, and the logic is pretty simple: cassettes generally cost more than chains (sometimes much, much more) and drivetrain components all tend to wear out together. Chains undergo something called “stretching,” which is really just a loosening of the pins and plates over time that effectively increases the spaces between pins. Once your chain is worn and those spaces have increased, the teeth of the cassette will try to accommodate the slightly different distances between pins on the chain. A cassette adapts to a stretched chain by reducing the amount of material around each tooth–in other words, by wearing out. By keeping a fresh chain on the bike, the teeth of the cassette don’t have to go through that adaptation, and instead get to retain their original shape longer. It’s all about the teeth.

Subject B–let’s call him “Bieber”–wouldn’t know a vampire if it came up and kissed him on the forehead. For him, Sookie’s life seems strange and unnecessarily complicated. The Bieber biker buys a bicycle, rides it, and replaces parts only when it becomes necessary. This person usually puts in fewer miles, and has less expensive parts, so isn’t as concerned with preserving the life of a cassette. Once the whole drivetrain is worn, the whole drivetrain will be replaced. It’s a lifestyle that just works for Bieber, and a lot of us. Alternating chains frequently is a commitment most people aren’t willing to make, even if it does lead to a longer cassette life. For the Bieber, it’s all about avoiding messy complications.

Regardless of which one you most resemble, you can use a simple chain tool to determine if your chain has stretched and needs replaced. Park and nearly every other tool manufacturer offers one of these cheap and simple tools, which is basically a cross between a business card and a ninja throwing star. It fits into your chain and lets you know if it’s still in an acceptable range, or if it’s stretched and needs replaced.