Friday, March 23, 2018

Distracted driver, Uber driver, self-driving car ... pick your poison!

Mary Ward and Elaine Herzberg share something in common.

In 1869, Mary was a passenger in an experimental steam car, in Parsonstown, Ireland.  As the car rounded a corner, poor Mary became the first motor vehicle fatality when she fell out and the vehicle's wheels rolled over her.

On March 18, 2018, Elaine was pushing her bicycle across a 4-lane highway in Tempe, AZ, in the dark, when she became the first self-driving motor vehicle fatality. Story HERE.

There's disturbing video footage.  As the futuristic vehicle zips along the road, suddenly poor Elaine is lit up by the headlights of the guilty vehicle.  (Is the vehicle guilty, since it was driving itself?)  It's obviously an almost-direct hit, at highway speed... Elaine never had a chance.

There's also video of the "Safety Driver" in the vehicle.  Looks like she was probably fiddlin' with her "smart phone," and looked up just in time to see Elaine go flying.  So - her behavior was essentially identical to regular drivers who are distracted by their "smart phones," until the moment of impact.

In all fairness, it's doubtful that a fully-attentive driver would've seen this particular victim in time to prevent the collision.  She's dressed in dark clothes, and no apparent lights, reflectors, etc.  She also seems to be oblivious to the vehicle that's quickly converging on her in a traffic lane.  (What the?!!)  She's at least partially responsible for her own demise.  But it hardly fills one with confidence in all the futuristic technology (laser, lidar, radar) that's spoze to make self-driving vehicles much safer.  FAIL!

The car was an Uber vehicle.  (Imagine being the passenger on the ill-fated trip!!)

Details about Uber's minimum driver standards hardly fill one with confidence.  From the story:
- no violent crime convictions
- no felony convictions in the past 7 years
- no more than three non-fatal crashes (they say "accidents," but they are rarely accidents) or moving violations in 3 years

Would you feel better if you were run over by a self-driving vehicle, rather than an old-fashioned distracted-driver (or incompetent or impaired) vehicle?

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

"Spin" classes - not diverse enough!

Washington Post style reporter Lavanya Ramanathan has noticed that "spinning" class participants are predominantly young, thin, and white.  Yet one more cause for the Social Justice Warriors!  (Her opinion piece can be read HERE.)

I've never been in a spinning class in my life, nor do I understand the appeal.  But I will add a couple of my own personal observations to Lavanya's ...

The girl in those "Peloton" commercials on TV is young and thin! ... Now that I think about it, the majority of (on-the-street) bicycle riders I see in Boise are relatively young... and relatively thin... and most are white.  I always assumed it kinda reflected the demographics of the people who live in the area, and are interested in bicycling.  But maybe more should be done to make it more diverse!

Hey!  And ya know... now that I think about it... when you watch a big-time bicycle race, like, say, the Tour de France... the racers are predominantly young, thin, and white!  What the?!!?

But... before I get too bent out of shape... I think back on last weekend, when I probably watched 10 or more hours of top-level NCAA college basketball.  And in that field of endeavor, the tables were turned!  There are fewer white guys playing college basketball, than there are black guys (and gals) in spinning classes, I'm guessing.  (Granted, us fatties were NOT very well represented, in any skin tone.)

Hockey ... football ... track and field ... marathon running ... volleyball ... polo ... synchronized swimming ... the list goes on and on.  Some seem to attract a more homogenous mix of participants, and some are quite diverse.  Should quotas be imposed or enforced, just for the sake of diversity?

(For the record... there's not a whole lot I can do about being white.  It's the skin I was born with.  BUT - I'm doing my best to skew the participation percentages to OLDER and FATTER!)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Science of Gore

No - I'm not talking about Al Gore, politician, the inventor of the internet, and preeminent self-described "climate scientist."*

I'm talking about Wilbert Gore and his son, Bob (seen in photo, from the Science History Institute).  In 1969, the duo accidentally discovered what is now called Gore-Tex.  It is a micro-porous plastic membrane that can be attached to textiles; it repels water (precipitation) but allows water vapor to pass on thru.  These properties make it a godsend for people who spend time in the wet.  It's probably safe to say that Portland and Seattle would not be recognized as bike-friendly cities, if it weren't for Gore-Tex.  (It blessed me this morning... I don't often need to bicycle in wet weather, but I sure did on this particular morning!  Fortunately I had my trusty Gore-Tex handy.)

The Gore-Tex material has an even more amazing use... I didn't know before today.  According to the Wikipedia, "Gore-Tex is also used internally in medical applications, because it is nearly inert inside the body. In addition, the porosity of Gore-Tex permits the body’s own tissue to grow through the material, integrating grafted material into the circulation system. Gore-Tex is used in a wide variety of medical applications, including sutures, vascular grafts, heart patches, and synthetic knee ligaments, which have saved thousands of lives. In the form of expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (E-PTFE), Gore-Tex has recently been used as membrane implants for glaucoma surgery."  Amazing!

In the 21st century, we can literally be protected from precipitation from head to toe.  I keep Gore-Tex jacket and pants in my box o' motorcycle gear, thus I knew just where to look for it this morning.  I've also got a sweet pair of boots with a Gore-Tex layer.  (A multi-day motorcycle trip is less predictable, weather-wise, than a 1-hour bicycle ride.)

The original patents for Gore-Tex have expired, which means there are alternative comparable products available now.  Some probably work just as well.  I've tried some that look like Gore-Tex, but are very noticeably inferior... they let precipitation thru and/or trap perspiration.

* Al Gore is one of the celebrities who has made a name for himself in the "science of global warming."  Is the globe warming?  Probably. (Based on my non-scientific observations, we sure seem to be getting "weather extremes" like never before.  But that's just personal observation.)  Previous commentary HERE.  I'd be much more likely to take Algore seriously, if his scolding were accompanied by practicing what he preaches!  If human production of carbon dioxide is indeed causing global warming, and it can be reversed, perhaps we should start by forcing Algore, Leonardo DiCaprio, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert Redford to give up their private jet transportation and huge utility bills, and adopt cave-dweller lifestyles.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Surly Long Haul Trucker, Chapter 2

... in which my personal customization is completed.

HANDLEBARS: The bike came with two sets of handlebars - the factory-original drop bars, and some upright bars.  Me being the fickle one, I wasn't wild about either option.  I rarely use the drops... but the uprights were too upright!  And, on a long ride, it's a blessing to have multiple available hand positions.  After considerable research, I went with the Jones bars... and I'm optimistic about that decision.  They seem very comfortable on my aging wrists.

The only other real change since Chapter 1... I installed a Surly "8-pack" rack on the front.  It'll be handy for grocery-store runs, but I envision being able to strap a little bag on there for day trips, with provisions, perhaps the DSLR camera, etc.

The beautiful day beckoned, so I took it out on a test ride.  20 miles, roughly, upstream on the Greenbelt to Eckert Road, and back home via Bergeson and Federal Way.  I also did a test run on the Surly-Bob Train... ran to the grocery store to shop the sales.

(My intention is to keep this bicycle pristine until my impending retirement... which is still a little over a year off.  But between now and then, I'm sure I'll go on the occasional "Sunday Drive" when conditions are really sweet.  And... I'm toying with the idea of another North Idaho adventure in late summer; we'll have to see if that materializes.  If it does, this would be my likely bicycle of choice.)

More photos of today's ride can be seen HERE.