Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What We Learn From Traveling Extensively

A few nights ago, I listened to a speaker who was introduced as having "traveled extensively". Very interesting phrase, I thought, and a phrase that I do not think has ever applied to me. It's not that I have never been away from home, but more like I "moved extensively" instead of traveled. And now I realize I have not moved for 19 years since I lived in this house, and before that I lived one block over for another thirteen years. Looks like my days of extensive moving are ended.

But now about the extensive travel. There is something about extensive travel that does not appeal to me, but I could never put my finger on it until I read this blog. "Left Turn at Albuquerque", the entry titled "Europe Eon".

A quick read through the blog and all my worst nightmares of travel are made real. Waking up at 6:00 AM every morning to get in a bus with a class full of teenagers to see another tourist sight. Being herded around in a group all day long until you are wiped out. It's like having a job, except you don't get paid.

Don't get me wrong, the person who is on the tour actually loved it. But as for me, I would rather go for a walk through Kitchener (25 minutes from my house) than spend two weeks on a tour of Europe like the one described in the blog. You may call it apples and oranges, but objectively, what is the difference between Paris and Kitchener? I have actually talked to people from Paris visiting Kitchener, so it can't be all that bad here. Frankly I don't know what attracted them to Kitchener. They stopped me on the street (many years ago) to ask if I could recommend a good restaurant. Back then, Kitchener didn't have any good restaurants, so I could only suggest they try some other town. I am generally not the most helpful person to ask for directions, because I don't think fast enough respond to the strange questions you often get from tourists. I am more the type of person who would give up and say "You can't get there from here".

The mind can be broadened from travel but often it doesn't happen in the rush. There is a very interesting quote from the author's mother. Upon being told it took 200 years to construct Notre Dame cathedral, she said "How do you care after 200 years?". Exactly the right question. Our present governments (Canada and the USA, I mean) are facing the prospect of climate change and running out of oil over the next 200 years. And really, why are we doing practically nothing? The real truth is because we don't care about anything that goes on for that long. Parisians, many years ago were willing to take 200 years to build a cathedral that none of the designers would ever live to see completed. Today, we are willing to let our entire planet be ruined through our wasteful use of fossil fuels, and climate change, because 200 years is too long for us to even care. There's a lesson in there somewhere, but I don't think it is getting through to most people, even the ones who travel extensively.

You would think that the lesson best learned from visiting Europe might be to appreciate that human civilization was not built in a day, and that one short-sighted generation does not have the right to put an end to it. It is no excuse that 200 years is apparently inconceivable to us. The lesson is there, in every cathedral, in every building dated before 1800 A.D. But was anything learned from this travel experience? I don't think so. Instead they were more concerned about their asses going numb sitting in the bus.

Well so much for the joys of learning from traveling extensively. The author notes, possibly with thinly veiled irony,
"...from the second we landed in our first destination, Paris, every spare second was completely scheduled.) Traveling with this company is about achievement, not appreciation-—you must have completed as many tasks as possible, who cares if you remember them. If you ask me, you want to see more stuff? Come back. Many times. Lots."
When I was 22 years old, I spent a week in Paris pretty much on my own, and simply wandered around the streets whole time. Forty years later, what do I remember? That there were five flights of stairs to my cheap hotel room, and a standing toilet with raised foot islands and a hole in the middle. And I remember asking for coffee and getting "cafe au lait" which I never heard of before. I was corrected a few times for saying things in French with a French Canadian accent. I learned that Parisians are very fussy about the pronunciation of French. I climbed the steps to the first floor of the Eiffel Tower, which was free, but the trap door was closed at the top, so that was disappointing, but at least I got the view. My other most exciting experience was trying to cross the traffic roundabout to get to L'Arc de Triomphe. Afterward I found out there was a safer underground passage.

Picture: Imagine running across all that traffic. I got the pic from this website because you need to see it from high up to appreciate the wonder that I am still alive:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Coalition is not a Dirty Word, Steve.

Canada is going to have a federal election, and why exactly? For the last several years we have had a Conservative minority government. It looks like we are going to get another one. But wait! I see a strategy forming here on the part of the Conservatives, led by Stephen Harper, to consolidate his position by making sure that no coalitions can ever form against him. To do that, he is spreading the message that coalitions are un-Canadian, that they would undermine everything that we hold dear, that they would destroy motherhood, apple pie, and the pursuit of happiness. Sorry, I'm taking that a bit too far up the backside of America. But for sure, Stephen wants us to think coalitions are bad.

Nobody would ever form a coalition with the Conservatives anyway, and not because Stephen didn't try. It's because the Conservatives are the only right wing American corporate/religious based party in Canada. All four other parties are busy splitting the left wing moderate vote.

On the other hand, a good solid coalition could defeat the Conservatives. So it's best for the Conservatives to spread the idea that coalitions are unfair and treasonous.

Now we come to the part that I find very frustrating. Liberal leader Ignatieff decided to counter this tactic by declaring that he would never seek a coalition, and repeated it very loudly in a "read my lips" kind of tone. I consider this to be a blunder, especially since almost half of Canadian voters now think Ignatieff is lying. In baseball, this is called an "unforced error". I don't think that even Stephen expected this good luck to fall in his lap.

In my opinion, as well as the opinion of the majority of Quebecers, coalitions are good for the country, not bad for the country. They are part of our heritage and tradition. It is the American two-party system that loathes a coalition, not the Canadian multi-party parliament.

Ignatieff did not need to say a thing about a coalition, although I suppose he could have stated that it was part of Canada's tradition, and that he was not presently interested in one. And then explained why Harper was so scared of coalitions, and moved on to why we should vote Liberal.

Picture: From this blog "Proroguing Parliament and Conservative Crime Legislation: A Cagey Stephen Harper Takes Two Steps Back" at

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Buying a Handbag is Not Like Buying a Motorcycle

I like to examine my motivations in buying a motorcycle, which goes a long way toward explaining the type of motorcycles I buy, but also how many and how often I buy them. I need to know this, because buying motorcycles could easily become an obsession for me. I have spoken to people who said they owned more than 50 motorcycles. If they were lying, their stories held up well under cross examination.

I think of it this way. Do I buy a motorcycle because I need one, or want one?

Let me break it down further. Do I buy a motorcycle for the same reasons a woman would buy a handbag? These reasons, as I understand it are:

- because putting stuff in pockets makes her look fat
- because it goes with her (current) outfit
- because it is the latest thing
- because everybody wants one
- because it is made by the most popular French fashion designer
- because it will make her the envy of all her friends
- because owning one will make her the centre of attention every time she enters a room
- because people will notice her with it on the street.

Or do buy a motorcycle for all the reasons a woman never buys a handbag, which again, to the best of my knowledge are

- because it holds the stuff she wants to carry with her
- because the bottom fell out of the last bag or the hand strap broke.
- or, because the last one was stolen

So one of these sets of reasons would be practical, and the other set is wishful thinking. The wishful thinking reasons are promoted in all advertising, whose main goal is to part me with my money. If this is why I am buying a motorcycle, no price is too high, and I must have a new one at least every year.

But because I think of myself as a practical person, not easily duped, I try to think before I buy (usually). I think about whether I need this motorcycle or not. And by thinking this way, I usually manage to avoid having more than six motorcycles in my garage at any one time.

Picture: One more reason to buy a handbag, to wear it on your head. From the Isaac Mizrahi Fall 2009 Fashion Collection. Women do not usually like to be told to wear a bag on their head, except by famous fashion designers.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

University of Guelph Economics Department Spreads Corporate Propaganda

My title may be a little unfair, as I have only really heard the opinions of two of its professors, and maybe there are many more who do not spread corporate propaganda. But still, something is going on at the University of Guelph Economics department. For the second time this year I have found out that one of the professors is committed to the anti-global warming cause. A month ago, I wrote about a lecture I attended by Glenn Fox (also a professor in the University of Guelph Faculty of Economics), this blog:

Now I read an article by Ross McKitrick in the Vancouver Sun, about Earth Hour "Why I will leave my lights on".

He also wrote a book "Taken by Storm" skeptical of global warming.

So at least two outspoken critics of global warming or use of green power sources on the UoG faculty of Economics.

Here is McKitrick's CV page at UoG

And, in case you could not predict, it lists him as Senior Fellow, Fraser Institute, Vancouver B.C.

I find McKitrick's piece in the Vancouver Sun "Why I leave my lights on" to be about as offensive as the drivers who tell bicycle riders "Good thing you ride a bike, it leaves more oil for our Hummers." By the way, I am not accusing McKitrick of saying that, because that would be a "straw man argument" and unfair to him.

But McKitrick did say this: "The whole mentality around Earth Hour demonizes electricity." Now that is straw man argument. In fact his entire argument against Earth Hour is one long straw man argument, that people who turn off their lights hate electricity, instead of showing respect for our resources. I have never seen one single person who turns out their lights for Earth Hour who "hates" electricity, or is trying to demonize it.

Such arguments are not only illogical, but unworthy of university professors. The University of Guelph is letting itself become a source of corporate propaganda, instead of an institution for learning.

And in case you were wondering, I can tolerate debate and discussion. But neither of these professors seem to stick to logic, nor do they seem to consider both sides of the issue. That's why I think they are propagandists.

The First No-Fly Zone Was In 1776

This is a comparison of the Libyan No-Fly zone to a similar policy in the American War of Independence.

Back in 1776, the navy was like the air force today. There was no such thing as an air force back then. The equivalent force would have been the navy. A navy was able to move freely, and relatively speedily across water, was able to bombard cities and carry troops and supplies.

Think of how the Libyan struggle is like the American War of Independence. The obvious parallels (though unflattering I suppose), the British forces in 1776 as the equivalent of Gadhafi's forces, and the American forces as the equivalent of the Libyan rebels. The Americans would have been less professional, and would not have had a navy for support, while the British had a professional army, and naval support. The Libyan rebels are less professional, and have little or no air power, though I suppose they have popular support.

Another similarity would be that some Americans, possibly one third of the population, supported the British, like some Libyans (I don't know how many) support Gadhafi. The fact that many Americans supported the British is not well known to Americans today, however it is very well known to Canadians. One of the founding groups in Canada was the Americans who were forced to flee after the defeat of the British in the American War of Independence.

So now we come to the philosophy of the no-fly zone. There was no United Nations in 1776 to declare a "No Sail" zone. So the French decided to send in their navy to neutralize the British navy off the coast of the colonies. In a sea battle called "The Battle of the Chesapeake", the French navy drove off the British navy, and allowed Washington's army to force the surrender of the British army at Yorktown. Shortly after, King George signed a deal to allow the American colonies to go free.

If this history is anything to go by, Gadhafi will eventually step down. But the rebels will show very little gratitude to the people who stepped in to help them, just as the Americans largely turned their backs on the French, once independence was achieved.

Picture: Battle of the Chesapeake from Wikipedia, with my own red circle superimposed in Photoshop.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why There is a No Fly Zone Over Libya

Is there any way to make sense of Canadian and US actions in Libya?

A few nights ago, I watched a panel of experts discussing Libya on TV Ontario, "The Agenda" with Steve Paikin. A serious question was asked. Why take the trouble to bomb Libyan forces and ground installations, when we are not doing the same in Yemen or Bahrain, where protesters also have been killed? And why do people who opposed the invasion of Iraq support this? From what I heard not one person on the panel had the obvious (to me anyway) answer.

If the question is "why are we bombing Libya, but not Yemen and Bahrain", the simple answer is "Because Libya is the only government using the air force to bomb their own cities." To me, it seems fair and even reasonable to deny the dictators the use of air space when it comes to bombing their own people. But that is only the first part of the answer. Second part, possibly even more important, is that the United Nations agreed to a no-fly zone to protect the Libyan people from their own air force. It is very difficult to get the UN to agree on taking forceful steps. In Iraq, the UN did not agree. For Libya, the UN agreed. Of course, if you hate the UN, as many conservatives do, this approval means nothing.

Now, if the uprising in Libya fails, it is at least going to fail on a more level playing field.

To summarise, the two main reasons are: 1. Libya is the only government bombing its own people using its air superiority. 2. Libya is the only country that the UN placed in a no-fly zone.

Both these reasons carry a huge amount of weight with me, I cannot understand why most commentators in the US and Canada downplay them. Even Jon Stewart, on the Daily Show, who I normally agree with, seemed to ignore these reasons for bombing Libyan facilities.

If only one country, or one isolated group of countries tries to attack another country despite widespread disapproval at home and internationally, that smells of warmongering. That's what happened with Iraq, and it was a big mistake, regardless of excuses.

If just about every country in the United Nations, (including in this case Libya, but that would not be typically necessary) agrees to use force on Libya, to establish a no-fly zone, this attack is not warmongering.

Now for the people who said Obama did not act fast enough. I never heard any mention of the many US and Canadian citizens working in Libya when this protest broke out. What do you think Gaddafi would do to those people if air strikes were called before they could be found and evacuated?

With this type of discussion going on on TV, its no wonder people can't make sense of anything.

Just another example of what I call mindless babble on TV. I saw an ABC news show this morning, with a picture of the downed US jet, and the News Anchor commenting that "when you see the pictures there, of just the damage from the crash, the fact that these two pilots are OK this morning, that's just incredible." Given that the crew bailed out, what does the condition of the plane after it hit the ground have to do with their survival? Then the expert, Martha Raddatz, talked about how the crew knew very well how to eject. Exactly how much training is it supposed to take to know how to hit the red eject button? I'm thinking the tricky part is knowing *when* to eject.

Once we used to say "You know it's bad when the Comedy Network does the best news reporting on TV." Now, "You know it's a lot worse when even the Comedy Network News can't get it right."

Picture: F15 from the Internet

Friday, March 18, 2011

Howard Stern vs. Amanda Peet

By The Lost Motorcyclist, March 2011

Amanda Peet is an American actress.

What caught my attention was a youtube video posted where Howard Stern blasted her for several full minutes. After listening to the rant, I was curious as to the reason or the context of the rant.

Early on in the speech, Howard says "They go on there and they clearly have nothing to talk about". An ironic statement, in my opinion.

In case you don't know who Howard Stern (the radio Shock Jock) is,

"In May 1987, Stern recorded five television pilots for Fox when the network planned to replace The Late Show hosted by Joan Rivers.[65] The series was never picked up; one executive having described the show as "poorly produced", "in poor taste" and "boring".[66] Stern hosted his first pay-per-view event on February 27, 1988 named Howard Stern's Negligeé and Underpants Party."


"In February 1991, Stern released Crucified by the FCC, a collection of censored radio segments following the first fine issued to Infinity by the FCC over alleged indecency.[69] He released a third video tape, Butt Bongo Fiesta, in October 1992 that sold 260,000 copies for a gross of over $10 million."

Howard's approach is soft (or hard) core porn mixed with racist hatred, and a determined campaign to say things that normal people keep to themselves. He also feels that he is some kind of crusader for free speech, and a supporter of lesbian rights. Most women who appear on his show have to get naked and do things to him. So that's a sum up of Howard Stern.

Now why does he take offence at Amanda Peet's appearance on Letterman??? It seems that his own beautiful model wife appeared on Letterman earlier, and didn't do so well. So Howard decided to attack another person appearing on Letterman and Amanda Peet was at the wrong place at the wrong time. For one, apparently her parents were rich. Obviously that would not be enough for a rant like this, lots of people are born rich, and I don't hold it against them. I don't even hate Howard for making $10,000,000 of "Butt Bongo Fiesta". But the key point for Howard was when Amanda got into a fit of giggles and could not clearly state the concept of the movie she was promoting at the time. When Letterman asked her to set up the clip from the movie, she said "Now sell, Amanda, sell" and "Clearly I don't belong here". Then got into a fit of giggling, where Dave tried to fill in the background for her. So actually in a way I kind of see Howard's point, that she did not do a very good job of "selling" the movie.

But here is the point of view of a guy who lives in a more real world than Howard Stern. In Howard Stern's world, famous movie actresses take off their clothes when he tells them to and act out his fantasies on TV and radio. This, so far anyway, has never happened to me or anyone I know. I personally would be OK with being in the same room as Amanda Peet, and if she were to giggle uncontrollably at one of my jokes, I would not be offended. Even if the giggling was totally fake. And I bet a lot of guys I know would be the same way. But then I never have been paid ten million for doing a tape called Butt Bongo Fiesta, either. So my standards are pretty low.

Now let's assume I am the typical guy going to see a movie. How do you, as an actress in the movie, sell that movie to me? Well for starters, forget about telling me that the movie is about "An old Grandmother that people are waiting for her to die so they can get her apartment." There is no way you can say that to make me want to see that movie. On the other hand, if Amanda Peet is fun to watch on Letterman, and is laughing and maybe a little nervous, I might be tempted to go, especially if Mary Ann (who would never want to hear Howard Stern in a million years) want to see it too.

So I have watched Amanda Peet in a few movies, example "Saving Silverman" where she is truly a quite unlikeable person, and maybe Howard is confusing her character onscreen with her own personality. Or maybe she refused to appear naked on his show. Or maybe something else set him off.

Howard makes his fame by saying whatever comes into his mind, and his combination of profanity laced, hate filled rants, mixed with his profanity filled sexual musings seem to appeal to a lot of Americans, and many Canadians too. But I would not call it "having something to say" as much as it is simply pushing the boundaries of good taste. On David Letterman's Late Show, you have to appeal to a wider audience, and do it with taste and style. It seems to me Amanda Peet is about as entertaining as anyone, and way more entertaining to me than Howard Stern's own appearances on the talk shows to promote his satellite radio network.

Here is the offending video, (Peet on Letterman) and the selling of the movie starts at 4:40

And as a counterpoint, here's Howard's wife on Letterman, probably the original trigger for Howard Stern's hate filled rant. Somehow, Howard does not come off sounding as good as he thinks he is. Anyway, that's what I think. His wife also happens to look a little bit like Amanda Peet.

Picture: A frame grab of Amanda Peet's face from My Damn Channel featuring comedian David Wain in a Wainy Days sketch.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Form Follows Function (Sometimes)

By The Lost Motorcyclist, March 2011

There is an old quote that most people have heard "Form follows function". It's famous and has been argued about often. I want to discuss this idea only in relation to motorcycles, but you can go to Wikipedia for the long version.

This idea came about in the 1800's when technology changed so much that it no longer made sense to design things to look like they had always looked. The particular case was the skyscraper, made of steel beams rather than historic stone.

People have always been reluctant to accept new technology unless it looks like the old. For a thousand years after the invention of pottery, most pots were designed with a fake basket weave molded on the outside. Actually, I see in Google that such patterns are still popular today. Now I always thought this was just because people liked the look of the primitive technology of basket weave, but apparently at least one expert claims it was because early pottery was made in basket molds.

Anyway, to bring this back to motorcycling, if we were to get serious about "form follows function", we would stop putting cooling fins on the engines of water cooled motorcycles. My Kawasaki Vulcan 900 is one of many examples of this, but I will confess that I like the look of the cooling fins. So maybe I am not a really hard core FFF'er.

At it's most extreme level, even a colour other than black would be non-functional. So money could be saved by painting every bike black, like Henry Ford did with the Model T. His phrase was "You can have any colour you like as long as it's black". And many motorcycle enthusiasts claim black is the only real colour for some motorcycles, and all motorcycle clothing.

One of my pet peeves is the disappearance of the fenders on motorcycles. We all know the function of the fender is to control the spray off the wheels. But what if you live in a place where there is no rain, like California? Even in Canada, if you never go out to the donut shop when it's raining, you don't need fenders. In either case, you may want a bike with no fenders. Also, manufacturers are very quick to pick up on any styling trend that saves them money, such as providing bikes with no fenders. This annoys me because I do end up riding in rain from time to time, and many bikes have fenders that are too short or narrow. On bicycles, fenders mostly disappeared some time in the seventies, but motorcycles are covered by laws about much of their design, including the need to provide fenders. Now the manufacturers are pushing the limits of these laws in two ways. The law usually only says how far down the fender needs to go at the back. So a tiny fender is mounted at exactly that height, but it does not cover the upper part of the tire. BMW GS bikes often use this trick. Another trick is to simply make the fender as narrow as possible, much narrower than the tire. One example of the narrow fender is the Kawasaki Versys, but I'm sure there are others. Back in the sixties, this argument about fenders was already starting, and Honda made bikes for the American market with smaller fenders than in the European market. (Example the original CB350.) That's because Europeans tended to use motorcycles for transportation, while in America they were mostly for recreation.

Another FFF issue, but much less controversial is the "Soft tail" look. Motorcycles with rear suspensions, including springs and shock absorbers, became popular in the fifties. But long after rear suspensions became universal, Harley Davidson decided to build a bike that looked like it had no rear suspension (like the old ones). By this time, old bikes with no rear suspension were starting to be called "hard tails". So the Harley model with the hidden rear suspension was called the "soft tail". Kawasaki also picked up this idea with my Vulcan 900.

When discussing function, we often disagree on what exactly the function is supposed to be. For example, the law might say the function of a muffler is to make the motorcycle quiet. But the owner might say the opposite, that the function of the exhaust is to wake up drivers and save lives. To the manufacturer, there is no real function to a muffler, and I'm sure they would like to drop it all together to keep the price down. If form really did follow function, then the motorcycle would come with no muffler, and let the owner add whichever one they want. But the law (which serves the wider public) is written to prevent this. It is impossible for you to order a new motorcycle from the dealer with your choice of muffler on it. However, the way the law is written now, as long as you pay for the original quiet muffler, the dealer can put on any muffler you like. But still, the the law is written well enough that the manufacturer cannot put on a cheap muffler just to satisfy a noise test.

Picture: New Ducati Diavel with rear fender according to "Form Follows Letter of the Law". Arrow points to gap in the rear fender coverage that was not specifically mentioned in the law. The front fender is also too short to be of much real use. (preventing spray in front of the headlight and riders face)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cornering Clearances Again

By The Lost Motorcyclist, March 2011

Another critique of cornering style, this time a sportbike. In an earlier blog, I mentioned that sportbikes usually test their limits on a track. But apparently there are places where sportbike riders gather to test their limits on paved public roads. This particular corner is on Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles, and it looks like a well equipped film crew has set up shop to capture the freaky moments. The filming is steady, sharp, well centred, from an excellent angle. Although I am not a pro myself, filming live action like this is not easy, so I think the film crew really know their stuff.

I am not a professional rider either, but it seems to me the rider once again has made several mistakes. One mistake is testing the limits on a public road, although this time he was lucky to not hit an oncoming car. Also, when you know you are testing the limits, jeans are not the best pants to wear, and I don't know about the workboots either - I guess most of the budget went on the bike.

I wrote about scraping floorboards on cruisers in this blog.

The point I was trying to make was that the Harley rider was leaning one way, the bike leaning the other, which forced the bike to run out of ground clearance earlier than if the rider had been leaning with the bike. (or more than the bike)

It looks like this sportbike rider has done the same thing in a sound video that you can follow almost frame by frame.

In the video, I think trouble starts with the body position, the rider is leaning right, forcing the bike to lean more to the left to make the corner. Although the sport bike actually has a lot of clearance, he is going a bit fast on a slow corner. Apparently a lot of videos of crashes are filmed here, which apparently does not slow down the riders much. If anything it makes some of them go faster.

Just before the bike gets out of control, you hear a little scrape. It's not too bad and the rider gets it back under control, and leans the bike back into the corner, and then there is another louder scrape, but this time the rear wheel is being levered off the pavement, and you can hear the engine speed up when this happens. Now traction at the rear is lost, and the back end begins to slide. But almost immediately the bike comes more upright again and the back wheel rubber hits the ground a bit sideways, then gets traction. This stops (or slows) the sliding, but by now the top end of the motorcycle is not leaning over far enough to remain in balance and centrifugal force, or momentum keeps the top of the bike and the rider going, while the bottom (the rubber and wheels) are slowing down drastically.

A motorcycle flipping over like this is called a "High side". That's where the rider is thrown over the top of the bike. A low side happens when the rider simply falls to the ground on the same side that he is leaning. The nice thing about a low side is that you don't fall very far, and I don't think you would slide as far either. I'm not sure about that, never seen any scientific studies, my reasoning is that with a low side, the rider slows down with the bike as the rubber slides away, with highsides the rider departs kind of like a catapult without benefiting from riding the slowing bike to the ground first. Quite often, you can get the rider lowsiding first, and after the rider gets off, the bike itself may still highside (or flip over) as it skids along with no rider.

If you want to see a movie where there is absolutely no possibility of a low or a high side, check out this humorous short film. "Vicious Cycles"

Picture: A frame capture from the Mulholland video, just before losing it.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Prosperity Lake, Fish Lake Controversy in Cycle Canada

Although I have writing this blog from the point of view of a motorcyclist, you can easily see that I have not restricted myself to writing only about motorcycling. Because I do not believe that motorcyclists should stick to talking only about motorcycling, and should sit down and shut up about everything else, such as the environment, hypocrisy, lies, and deliberate distortions in the news media. I could have separated the the blog into two, one for only motorcycling and one for everything else, but I did not, and of course that somewhat restricts my readership. Not that it makes much difference to me as it is a non commercial blog anyway.

Today I was quite impressed that Cycle Canada seems to agree with that attitude. In my new April 2011 issue, it came to my attention that Cycle Canada had written an opinion about the environment in March 2011, because one of their readers, John Northey of Port Moody, B.C., wrote in to complain about it. Forgive me, I did not notice it when I read the March issue last month, or if I read it I sure don't remember. John Northey wrote a letter to the editor, complaining that Neil Johnston (the author of the Cycle Canada piece about Prosperity Lake) "broke away from a ride experience to create a political polemic, which has no place in your publication. I am certainly not averse to controversy in Cycle Canada, as long as it relates to items about motorcycles and motorcycling. Johnston may have some experience with mining, but that does not give him latitude to make judgments when others with vastly more technical capability remain hard at work to resolve environmental issues in the Prosperity and Fish Lake situation."

This was the answer by the editor (Neil Graham)

"It stuns me that, as a man who expresses great affection for B.C. wilderness, you would so easily leave the region's future for others to decide. To have written a piece about Fish lake and not to have delved into the controversy would be a sacrilege - as well as shoddy journalism. And these "others" that you speak about, with "vastly more technical capability", wouldn't happen to be members of the Liberal Party of B.C. or employees of Taseko mining, would they? Before we are motorcyclists, we are citizens of this land, and sometimes it means standing up and exposing hypocrisy and double-speak. --Ed."

I say thumbs up to Cycle Canada on two counts. One, the courage to stand up and speak on a controversial issue, that is not normally covered in motorcycle magazines. Second, for the judgment to speak out on something that is worth speaking out for. I would actually not be very pleased if they spoke out against the environmentalists on this. I feel that we are already getting an overdose of right wing corporate propaganda in the media.

But that does bring us to another issue. If Motorcycle Magazines (or blogs) are going to start giving opinions on politics, religion, and the environment, which opinions should they give? Wouldn't it be better if they left it up to right wing or left wing bloggers, or the National Post or MacLean's magazine? In a perfect world, where we were not bombarded with propaganda from corporations and hatemongers, I would think that motorcycle magazines should avoid anything but motorcycling topics. But in a world that is gradually slipping into the corporate mindset (example, believing the mining company's promises that there would be no pollution), we need more and more people willing to take this kind of action, before it's too late. Already, large numbers of people have their heads in the sand about out economy slowing down, about oil resources depleting, about overpopulation and pollution, and global warming. I don't want Cycle Canada to become like my Greenpeace magazine, but say enough for us to know that they don't have their head stuck in the sand too.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Short Trips vs. Long Trips

I am wondering if short, local trips can be as interesting as long trips to faraway places. I am going to qualify that as motorcycle trips, because that's the kind of trip I like the best.

It's easy enough to say "it's all in the mind", and you can be just as interested by any place you go, near or far. While that's true enough if you can convince yourself, what does it sound like to other people you talk to in everyday life?

I like to hear about travel stories, and I like telling my own stories when the opportunity arises. I have found a few websites on the internet that have collections of motorcycle adventure stories, such I can spend quite a bit of time reading through these stories, even though they are typically amateur efforts with no professional editing (like a published book or magazine might have). I also have to wade through quite a bit of back and forth commentary by other forum members, and although that's not too bad by itself, some people repeatedly repost the same pictures and text along with their replies, and sometimes have very little to add to what has been said (except for their long rambling signatures that tend to resemble the Gettysburg Address.) After a while you sometimes feel like it's hard slogging to follow the original story.

I don't mind telling my own motorcycle travel stories. Occasionally I find a person who has some interest. But most of the time it's not something other people are interested in, even for other motorcyclists. Travel is a broad topic, and most people are not that interested in adventure travel. I think it usually comes down to "Where are you planning to go, or where have you been recently?", to which you name the country or whatever, and the other person says "Been there, nice place." (or) "Need to go there." (or, more rarely) "My God why would you ever go there???", and the conversation is over.

I'll admit I am a bit like that myself. I like to hear stories especially about places I would like to go, or have been to. I prefer to hear about places further away or more difficult to get to. Although I have a little more patience than the average in hearing details about the trip, I also sometimes find travel stories a bit boring.

While most people are probably not interested in how you hacked your way through the Darien Gap, I can assure you there are even fewer who want to hear about your trip to Simcoe, Ontario. Well, not just Simcoe, any place less than 1000 km away is thought to be unworthy of telling about. So in that way, local trips will never be as inherently interesting as longer trips, barring some kind of amazing event, like being abducted by aliens in Burford. The fact that Tim Hortons' in Port Dover has a new kind of donut will bring only the slightest spark of interest, probably feigned anyway. Even if you are the most amazing, hypnotic, mesmerizing story teller.

But putting aside the patronizing attitudes toward your adventurous ride to Port Dover, can you have an experience similar to riding on the Baja Peninsula of Mexico? In Mexico, the flora and fauna will be different, the climate will be different, the language will be different, let's face it, a lot of differences except the sun and moon in the sky and the level of oxygen in the air you breathe.

But do many people pay any attention to the different birds and plants? There are birds right here in Ontario that are pretty amazing, if you happen to spot them. Granted, most people can tell a saguaro cactus or a palm tree from a pine or maple. Other than that, knowledge is a bit thin.

What about landmarks like the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty? Mostly I just look at them and try to take a picture like the ones in the post card, except with me in it. Increasingly this is possible in Photoshop without ever visiting the places.

What a lot of people really like about travelling, if they would admit it, is not having to prepare meals (Obviously I'm not talking about campers and motor homers.) And the excuse to do something stupid: "I need to do this, because I'm on vacation!". Well there, I can assure you that you don't need to leave the country to go to restaurants, even Mexican ones, or to do something stupid. Although, if you desperately wanted to stick your arm in a shark's mouth, you may have to go south for that experience. And if you do end up in jail, you can't beat Canada for a warm, welcoming experience.

Picture: That's my Honda CD175 "Every ride's an adventure", in Ontario last summer with some weird giant grass beside the road. And that's also a Honda CD175 forty years ago in Sierra Leone with some weird giant grass beside the road.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Long Distance Motorcycling Without Too Much Pain

By The Lost Motorcyclist, February 2011

I had started to write about long distance riding comfort, but then I realized the topic was too big for a single blog. So I'm going to deal with just one aspect of comfort, which is avoidance of body pain. So I'm not dealing with staying dry and warm, which is a huge topic all by itself.

I am actually writing about normal motorcycles, although the picture is of a special home built recumbent, which may or may not be comfortable, since I never tried it. Offhand, I would bet it is not as comfortable as a well set up regular bike for 1000 km days. Also you should wear a helmet.

There are many forms of pain, some of which only affect certain people. For example I found out that riding with certain types of bladder stones can cause severe pain every time you go over a bump. And different people have various aches and pains that can be made worse by some types of motorcycles. Obviously I can't deal with all the individual problems, so I am going to hit the most common forms of motorcycling pain. Butt burn being the most well known.

Butt burn, as the name suggests, is a burning sensation in the butt that you get from sitting on most motorcycle seats. The best stock seat I ever had was my '92 BMW K1100LT. I could sometimes go 1000 km before it started to hurt. Other bike seats might go only about 200. But I have no idea why it worked so well. It wasn't particularly big, or soft or anything. It just felt comfortable for a long time. One idea I had was that maybe because my knees were pressed tight against the fairing, my rear end didn't try to move forward or back over bumps in the road, but I never was able to confirm the "zero butt shear force" hypothesis.

You can prolong the comfort of any seat by moving around to different positions. It's better if you start doing this before it hurts, because moving around doesn't seem to cure butt burn once it starts.

I don't have a lot of scientific data on this, it is more of "seat of the pants" idea, but wearing leather motorcycle pants seems to help a lot in prolonging rear end comfort. They may be worth up to an additional 200 km over whatever seat comfort range you normally have.

Aftermarket seats cost a lot of money and I don't know how good they work, but an Airhawk air-filled seat pad can help too. I would rate mine as an additional 300 km. over the bare seat. That works out to about $0.50 per kilometer, on your first long day. (They cost about $150)

If butt-burn is under control, the next item for me is wind noise. A lot of people don't care about this too much, but if you do ride long distances on motorcycles, without earplugs, sooner or later your ears are going to start getting sensitive to loud noises. That is a permanent condition, unlike butt-burn. So to avoid it, you might want to try some good foam ear plugs. These days they are available all over the place. In Canada, Mark's Work Wearhouse has them quite cheap. Just be aware that you will tend to ride faster with ear plugs, because they make you feel like you are going slow when you first start wearing them. Watch the speedometer.

I guess this next one is not exactly pain, it's kind of the opposite. Vibration in the handlebar can make your hand go numb. This is very hard to predict, I didn't know from one ride to the next if it was going to happen. But the BMW four cylinder motor did not have a counterbalancer or rubber mounting, and that bike made my hand go to sleep more than any other bike. By comparison, it has only happened two times on my Vulcan 900, which is a twin but has a front rubber engine mount, and a counterbalancer. By counterbalancer I mean counterweights on a shaft that rotates in the opposite direction to the crank. Apparently this is the only way to cancel primary and secondary vibrations, short of building a straight six engine. These counterbalancers, if the bike has them, are always mentioned in the brochures under features.

If you already have a tingling handlebar and a numb hand, you can try taking one hand off the bar and shake it out. Or you can try shaking it out while holding the bar. Both remedies are equally dangerous as far as I'm concerned. Manufacturers try to smooth the bars with bar-end weights. These are fixed weights and only work at specific frequencies. You may want to try changing the weight (either a bit heavier or a bit lighter to see if it helps your particular situation. Even my 6 cylinder CBX had bar end weights, although the engine itself was very smooth.

Now for back pain. This is usually for older people, but who knows? Back rests are not such a great idea because motorcycles pitch forward and back like a rocking horse, and if you didn't know that already, you will once you install a backrest. On a smooth road they are OK, though. Another solution is a kidney belt. I'm not sure why they are called kidney belts, unless they stop you from drinking beer. But usually they provide some lumbar support, and that really helps the lower back, without the disadvantage of slamming you in the kidneys over a rough road, like a backrest would. Anyway, on a rough road, you should be able to lean forward and avoid contact with the backrest.

If you have neck and shoulder pain, it could be because your helmet is too heavy or poorly balanced on your neck. Or it could mean you have a windshield which is directing a reverse current of air onto your helmet (also called back pressure), forcing you to use a small group of muscles on the back of your neck and shoulders. I had this pain for years, and now it's gone. I cured it by getting a windshield that I could retract until I had wind in my face again. Now I have a different bike with a non-retractable windshield, but for some reason the pain has not returned.

I know other people who have pain in their wrists, and pain in their knees. I can't say much about that, because I seem to be OK there so far. But I imagine the solution there might also be moving around a bit, if you can. I generally like to find at least three comfortable and safe alternate seating positions that I can take occasionally to give the standard position a break. And usually I will do this with no traffic around on straight roads.

I wear a full face helmet with a visor, which prevents the pain of bugs, rocks and raindrops on my face at 100 kph. Goggles may also work if you don't hit the bee right on your nose. By the way, I also have been hit by rocks on the foot and leg and knuckles, and had a bee go up my sleeve and sting me. There is also the pain of going down and sliding on the road, but I don't call that "long distance motorcycle riding".

You may have a motorcycle that is simply not designed for comfort. I would be concerned about extremely low handlebars and high footpegs on some sport bikes, for example. Although I see some people with bikes like this that do ride long distances. It just goes to show that comfort is an individual thing.

Finally, your clothing, boots or helmet may cause pain. If they do, you have bought some bad clothing, because they are not supposed to hurt. Get rid of them, or fix them. What's that you say? You can't, because comfortable clothes are not stylish enough? If that's what you think, you are probably not the type of person who rides motorcycles long distances. And I mean that in the nice way.

Picture: recumbent motorcycle, AKA Feet Forward or FF from

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

America is Rich: So Simple a Caveman Could Understand It

I have found a right wing forwarded email explaining why America is rich. I thought it was worth examining, because so many people have wrong ideas about wealth inequality. It is titled "So Simple a Caveman Could Understand it."

Since the Caveman version is really kind of long and rambling, I will try to edit it down to a manageable size, and then explain it so that a Teabagger can understand why it does not work.

Basically, this is a forwarded email explanation of why America is great and rich, in a way that it is easily understood by the conservatives or libertarians that have not taken a degree in economics. This explanation is not so easily understood by liberals, especially those who have travelled abroad and/or have some further education in how a country's economy works.

By and large, the answer given in the email is that America is capitalistic. Every other economic system is doomed to failure. And anything but pure unadulterated capitalism is also doomed to collapse. To quote from the forward:

"So we're off on a little all-American road trip, this time to figure out why our economy, when sick, is stronger than anyone else's, when healthy. To see if we can figure out how 300 million strangers, all the troublemakers and upstarts from every nation in the world, can come to one vast continent, be given more freedom than any people before or since, and manage to become the most prosperous, powerful, tightly-knit nation in history. And how come we invent everything, too? Must be something in the water out there."

I have to take issue with two things here: One is that some of those strangers were brought over unwillingly to the USA and forced to work under the lash, for no pay, to make the white slave owners rich. Two: is that the land the slave owners forced the slaves to work on was stolen from the Indians. And please, Americans did not invent everything, there were also trains, guns, and sailing ships. Invented by non-Americans. But that last point is not that important, so go on.

"I believe that there are three elements -- just three -- that we mix in just the right ratio to perform our national alchemy. Look around you at the rest of the world. Those who use none of these ingredients are disasters, basket cases, failed states where misery and poverty crush the life out of what is almost an indomitable human drive to create, to nurture, and to prosper."

"Stop guessing. Sorry, but it's not God, Guts and Guns. The Arabs have God, the Russians have Guts and the Colombians have Guns -- you want to live there?"

The first of these three pillars has several names: private property, the free market, enlightened self-interest. But the first essential element of the American Trinity, and the hardest to come to grips with, is Capitalism.

"Where you stand on the political spectrum, what you think of rich and poor people, and what you think about rich and poor nations and how they should act in the world, comes down, in my mind, to one single issue, and one only: Can wealth be created, or can it only be redistributed?"

So this is an interesting question, I suppose. What is wealth? Is wealth gold, or paper money? Or is wealth land, or is wealth natural resources such as oil, water, buildings, tools, weapons ????

If you believe, as I do, that wealth can be manufactured out of thin air, then there is no limit to the amount of wealth you can amass. And since you are creating it out of thin air, there is no moral onus on making money -- you work hard to create it and have stolen from no one. There is an expression for this: you earned it.

OK I got that one wrong. I found in Wikipedia that

"wealth is is context-dependent and there is no universally agreed upon definition. Generally, economists define wealth as "anything of value" which captures both the subjective nature of the idea and the idea that it is not a fixed or static concept."

Now obviously there are different ways to define value. For one thing, anything that is a necessity of life has value. Its exact value is determined roughly by how important it is to life, and by how scarce it is. Next, a more loose definition of value is "whatever people are willing to pay you for what you have". Obviously this is harder to pin down. Just try to auction off Justin Bieber's hair on eBay, and you'll see what I mean.

I am not that keen on things that only have value because of what other people are willing to pay (Bieber's hairs, diamonds, gold bars, paper money, GM Stock) and I have a lot more faith in things that have more inherent value (farmland, real estate, a house, tools, an education). Mind you, even for things that have inherent value, we often determine that value simply by what others are willing to pay. But if the entire economy was to collapse, which would you rather have? Survival skills, or Bieber's hair? Real Estate, or shares of Bank of America?

I suspect that most wealth that can be generated out of thin air has little or no real inherent value. Even if it is a really good idea like the wheel, or fire, or sliced bread, the idea itself is unlikely to reward the inventor. For sure any wealth generated out of thin air is not going to be stuff like tools, land, or shelter. So now lets continue with the right wing economics lesson for cavemen.

"Wealth can be created from thin air by human ingenuity and hard work."

I guess this was written before the 2008 global economic meltdown that debunked derivatives, and mortgage back securities. They were classical examples of wealth being created out of thin air. Unfortunately when wealth is created out of thin air it sometimes goes poof back into thin air. This happens so frequently in economics that there's even an economic term for it. It's called a "Bubble". Apparently every generation has to relearn this lesson again. Returning to the other lesson>>>

[The anger of Anti-imperialist protesters can be attributed to].. having chosen to believe that there is only so much wealth in the world, and that rich people and rich nations gain and maintain wealth by stealing prosperity from the weak.

This is so idiotic, so demonstrably false, that you really have to wonder why we are having this discussion.

The idea that the United States can steal 10 trillion dollars a year from dirt-poor nations that don't produce anything of value is absolutely insane, and yet, and yet, we hear it again and again and again from the professionally outraged who must be obtuse beyond human understanding to keep making such an absurd lie the basis of their entire philosophy.


Wait a minute, did I read "dirt poor nations don't produce anything of value"??? Isn't oil valuable? What about diamonds, gold, bauxite (aluminum ore), iron ore, rare metals, cocoa, coffee (second largest world trade item after oil), bananas, beans, hardwood trees, fish, and many others. All of these things are produced in dirt poor nations, and wind up in rich nations without the common people in the dirt poor nations seeing much benefit from it. It even seems like the more valuable resources that are found in dirt poor nations, the more the poor people actually suffer (environmental degradation, wars for the resources, toxic air). Then what about the sweat shops producing Nike running shoes. You may consider their work to also be of no value, just like you ignored the work of the slaves, but it has value in a way. It is human effort being expended into an enterprise where there is no reward, just work for survival. There are so many questions that can be raised about this inequality of pay between rich and poor countries. But the lesson is not over yet, so for the sake of argument let's go on with "wealth is produced out of thin air":


If we can prove that our core tenet is correct, that wealth is limited only by imagination and the desire to work hard, then not only does the left's economic theory come crashing down like a Statue of Lenin, but their entire view of US power has to be fatally flawed, as well.

Get this through your heads, you socialist ninnies! There is not a big, limited pot of wealth that is filled with the Magic Sweat of Authentic Third World Laborers, that America uses its military to steal from when we run out of wealth here at home.

Here's something even the dimmest hippy protester / poet should be able to wrap his mind around:

You buy a legal pad: $1.29
You steal a Bic pen from the counter at Kinko's: free.
You write the script for Weekend at Bernies 3: Bernie's Revenge!: free.
You hire someone to type it: $30.00
You have Kinko's print 5 copies: $62.20
You mail the 5 copies: $7.82
5 idiots in Hollywood love the idea: free
They enter a bidding war: free
You get a check for: one... million... dollars!

So let's see... that's $1,000,000, minus the $101.30 in expenses... uh... that means... You, the village idiot, have just raised the Gross Domestic Product by, uh, one million freaking dollars, and have made a personal profit of $999,898 dollars and 69 cents.

Where did the $999,898.69 come from? It came from thin air! You created it, out of nothing. You added value to the stock of paper and ink you started with. From the monumental talent you possess, the gift of intellect, the pen that made Shakespeare weep with envy, you have created WB3. You've given millions of people two hours of side-splitting hilarity, for which they will part with $8.00... and you have created wealth. What's more, when you go and blow it all on the pointless material crap that makes life so much fun, you'll be bringing in a little extra for the Sea-Doo distributor, the BMW dealer, the girls at Cheetahs in Las Vegas, and all the others. Not to mention putting -- I dunno -- maybe half a million freaking dollars into welfare, Social Security, Medicare, the National Endowment for the Arts and the world's first fusion-powered, laser-armed, flying stealth submarine, the USS George W. Bush.

You did not have to steal $999,898.69 from a farmer in Angola.


OK Here's where the lesson starts to get a little heavy handed. I don't know about you, but this is not the tone that my teachers took with me when I was in school. And I hope that I do not take that tone to others.

So to go over the business case that proves wealth is unlimited: I write a script to a movie, and it sells for one million dollars. Forget the price of copies at Kinko's, obviously these costs are so small we can just forget them. However there may be some costs that are substantial, that we have neglected to mention. What are they? An education, where you learn to write properly. And the leisure time to absorb all kinds of interesting ideas, that you can then translate into a clever script. (Do not expect a kid who has worked in a sweat shop all his life to write a movie script. OK maybe if it was a movie about sweat shops???) The education, and the leisure lifestyle, do they have a value? OK, more. What about a legal system that protects your copyright, and forces the big studios to pay you what the script is worth. Any value there? And what about the luck of being born in a country where millions of people can pay $8 each for a movie, and have the time to go and see it.

I suspect that first of all, the movie script is not something with real inherent value, it is more of a "Bieber hair" type of thing, the type of thing you cannot base a real economy on. It's a sideline, a quirk, an amusement. I'm not saying some people don't get rich through this kind of luck, just that it is in fact a zero sum game. Money comes out of other people's pockets (the ones who pay to see the movie), and into yours. This type of transaction also happens when you win the lottery, but I would not base my national economy on it. Because this type of transaction is the very definition of "redistributed wealth". Voluntary redistribution, to be sure, but still redistribution of the same total amount wealth. Yes, it may count toward increasing the Gross National Product, but if it does (I'm not sure about that), it is only because of the way that the GNP is calculated. Your million dollars has in fact made the movie goers a million dollars poorer (all together).

So, core tenet remains unproven. Time to stop, and we have not even found out what the other two pillars of wealth are yet.

By the way, writing a script for "Weekend at Bernie's III" for $1,000,000 does not count as working hard. I just wrote 600 blogs in three years for a total sum of $0.00. Per dollar, I bet I worked a lot harder at writing, but no riches.

Picture: 1982 Far Side panel by Gary Larsen from this blog about cavemen:

A Right Wing Email Repository

I recently came across a blog that answers a need on the internet. I know of no other website that attempts to gather together all the right wing forwarded emails in one place. (Although it also has a few left wing forwards!).


The header on the site says

"Welcome to the Right-Wing Forward Museum is a museum dedicated to following the course of American history through a unique lens -- the emails "Red-America" forwards worldwide. Take a look around the archive using the keywords below, and leave a comment or two.

This museum displays unedited, often offensive and untrue material with no endorsement intended by curators or contributors."

Scanning through all these forwards I learned a few things. First is that there are currently about 1575 (minus about 4 left wing forwards = 1571). That averages out to more than one right wing forward a day being archived, and from the steady rate, I assume that at least one right-wing forward is being generated every day. Apparently, so far only a very small sampling of the total body of work has been forwarded to me. I don't know whether I should be relieved, insulted, or scared. Second, I have not been getting the most racist themed emails. I also saw one email that gave me hope for the future, headed "If you only forward one email today, this has to be it!!!". So apparently some right wing dads are getting tired of hitting the forward button on the emails, and are limiting themselves to only one a day.

I have often used Snopes to debunk right wing emails, but lately it seems I am getting more right wing forwards in the form of "jokes". Snopes does not address the issue of "Tasteless Jokes" that incidentally insult/poke fun at liberals, environmentalists, educated people, "the government" etc. However, this blog also includes all the right wing humour, and lets readers make any comments that they like. (Often funnier than the original joke)

As a father and grandfather myself, I don't like the idea of this blog blaming Dads for the emails, but I can understand where they are coming from. I think us Dads tend to be more conservative than younger people, and many of us are fond of giving advice to our kids. For Dads who have discovered the "Forward" button, but have no interest in, or ability, to fact check, it's a very addictive combination.

Pictures: Copied from the right wing blogs.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Let's Do Something About Winter, For Next Time

In my opinion, the world is not perfect. I know, I may be accused of being a "cup half empty" kind of guy, but I can't help it. I have this habit of looking for ways to make things better. That means motorcycles, of course, and in this way I'm like a lot of other bikers. But it also includes toasters, garages, lawns, clothing, and, yes the entire universe.

It's fun for me to "improve" things. Recently I added a backrest to my motorcycle, and now I think I have a better bike. But I realize that with more money, time, skill, I could do even better. Ultimately I could create the perfect motorcycle. Well, maybe not me, but someone could.

But now I'm getting carried away, I need to stop and consider. I have added a backrest, but is that really what a motorcycle is all about? What exactly do I want from a motorcycle? If I proceeded logically, one improvement after another all for comfort, the final product may end up being a car. If so, why waste all that time when I could just get in the car, instead of riding the bike?

Let's look at something else that needs improvement even more than my motorcycle does. Yes, I'm talking about the weather. Instead of buying cold weather gear, heaters and windshields, I would much rather improve the weather, in other words no more rain, cold, or ice. Here are some ideas:

The weather changes from day to day, so if you want good weather, simply go out when the weather is good, stay in when it's bad. Although this works in three of our seasons, it still leaves a long gap in the winter with no riding. And it also makes pre-planned group rides more difficult at any time of year.

Second cure for the weather, move to some place with better weather. I did that, too. I moved from Baie Comeau (Latitude 49 Deg. North) to Kitchener (Latitude 43 Degrees North), which is almost as far south as you can get in Canada. This has resulted in much shorter winters, and winters which generally have warm spells from time to time. But still uncomfortable to ride in. The Pacific coast may have been a better choice, it's farther north, but has warmer weather. Unfortunately it also rains a lot there.

Third cure is to drive somewhere south. But then I have to deal with border crossings, health insurance, a big lake blocking my way, and still some cold weather right near my home. I suppose a truck with room for a motorcycle solves some of that, but there we are again, coming full circle.

Fourth cure, get a snowmobile, or cross country skis or whatever, and get out in the beautiful winter wonderland that does exist somewhere. This is easier to do as you get further north, and away from population centres. This appeals to some people. But I happen to know by now, it does not appeal as much to me as warmer weather. But it does have the advantage of no mosquitoes or black flies (or people) - always look on the bright side I say.

But the best way of all to deal with winter, is to eliminate the tilt of the Earth, which is what causes the seasonal pattern in the first place.

Pictures: Mary Ann sitting on the beach in winter, taken near Sept Iles in February 2007, on the Gulf of St Lawrence. This is a nice view of winter because there is no slush here.

Picture 2: Slush This is what we see a lot of of winter. Slush is cold, wet, heavy, dirty, and salty. Cars and trucks spray you with it. It's hard to walk in. And it may freeze solid when the temperature drops. It usually occurs on roads and sidewalks.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Port Dover Chronicles

By The Lost Motorcyclist March 2011

I have been going down to Friday 13th in Port Dover for many years now, and one question keeps popping into my head. Why did all these other people decide to come here? I know why I did. Because of all the other crazy people. But it's actually quite easy for me, I live just 90 km away. In Port Dover I see licence plates from all over, even California! So today I came across a story on the Internet written in French by someone who lives in Quebec, which I will relate in English here. (the Google translation is too silly to get the actual meaning) The link to the original version is here

He rides a Harley, no big surprise there.

"Thursday, October 12 a day like many others in my life. I get up as usual. That sounds like a song. I take my coffee as usual, I walk my dogs as usual, I read my emails as usual and the rest of the day goes on as usual. Chantal goes to work as usual, I am left alone as usual! Night falls as usual, anxiety grips me as usual, At one A.M., I am preparing to go to bed as usual, I turn on my computer to see if I have friend(s) as usual. There the usual stops!!!!!

On a biker site I rarely visit is an article that'll change my usual routine. What happens every Friday 13? A mega gathering of bikers in Port Dover. I never heard that name in my life. Where is it? How many km.? These are the first questions that crossed my mind, a simple mouse click here I am on the site. In two minutes and 30 seconds my decision is taken: I am going for sure, I have to see this! ! From a look at Map-Quest I am now informed that I have to knock off more than 800 km to Port Dover, That's nothing, I say to myself with an air of assurance. We are in autumn, nights are cool, but properly dressed it'll be alright, why worry. Here I go checking my stock. A quick inventory of what I need: camera, gum, chocolate bars, cloth to clean the bike, and a map. All this is already in my saddlebags. More importantly what am I going to wear to be comfortable? Voila: I'm dressed and ready. All that is left is to inform Chantal of my plan for this weekend. A phone call and I am knocked flat on my ass! "Where are you going? Are you crazy? Leaving in the middle of the night with this cold weather?" Queries fly at me, but my answer is clear and determined: Well yes I'm going, I just decided that about 45 minutes ago and nobody will make me change my mind!! Ok she says,, but at least wait until I get home from work. Of course, I will finished preparing and when you arrive I'll take off. I was completing my preparations, 2:30 Chantal arrives, I put on my suit, my balaclava, helmet and a big kiss and vroummmm the engine starts. We're off. A strange feeling comes over me, I'm alone with my bike on the road and I feel FREE. After a few stops for petrol and pee, and coffee to keep me warm, and having already encountered wind, rain and snow, I finally arrive in Port Dover and another strange feeling of satisfaction and inner peace, yes I did it. I did it, sometimes under the bewildered looks of people wondering who is this crazy guy wandering around by motorcycle when they are all wrapped up in their cars with the heater in the carpet! I get a certain pleasure from it of course. I love the bike, it is what keeps me going, what makes me push myself ahead, and sometimes nothing else. I met some wonderful people there. I lived full, beautiful emotions. I charged myself up with energy transmitted from these people I never would have met without this decision. A little crazy for sure. But I experienced this weekend some very special things that I have not the words to express. I had to do it, to live it in person, in order to know what I could feel on this trip! I cannot wait for the next one. Do it at least once in your life, you will surely not regret it."

OK so there is one answer. Now I wonder why the other 99,999 bikers went to Port Dover.

Picture: My own picture of Aug 13th, 2010 in Port Dover.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Finally, Going for a Motorcycle Ride

This morning, I found a good rider backrest pad for my luggage roll. It was at Wal-Mart for $15. I normally avoid Wal-Mart to spare Mary Ann's feelings, but this morning I wanted to take a walk for the exercise, and Wal-Mart was the right distance for me.

After walking home, I chopped the ice away from the garage door and fit the backrest on the bike. Soon after I decided to test out my new backrest, and for that I had to take the Vulcan out for the first ride of 2011. Although there is still a lot of snow, during my morning walk I noticed that the streets were mostly bare and dry, and the sun was out with a temperature of 0c. I usually try to go out for about an hour, on these early springtime rides, to recharge the battery and to get the engine hot.

I forgot to put in my earplugs. That's because my last ride was back in November 2010, and I got out of the habit. I stopped at a mall parking lot, put in some spares (I always have spare earplugs), and I continued on to Stratford, using a route that had a minimum of wet roads. I did go through a bit of water at a roundabout, so I slowed down quite a lot for that. Roundabouts are very slippery at this time of year. The rest of the road to Stratford was dry.

A one hour ride at this temperature, and in the sun, does not require an electric vest. When I got back home, I was only starting to feel a bit cool. The main problem is that on a bike you are sitting still, which lets your metabolism slow down after about 40 minutes. When skiing, you are moving your body enough to generate some heat. Even when snowmobiling, you generate more heat than on a motorcycle, as steering the skis and leaning the snowmobile needs a lot of muscle activity compared to motorcycling.

So first ride over, lots of good riding days still left in 2011.

Picture: Just before the ride, with the backrest mounted on the luggage roll. Almost looks like it cost more than $15.

Bird Designs and Intelligent Designs

Last night I was at the monthly meeting of the Kitchener Waterloo Field Naturalists Club (KWFN). I am a member of the club mostly because of Mary Ann's interest in bird watching and nature. But I have to admit that I am not as highly interested in birding as she is. However last night three people from "Wild Ontario" did a presentation at the monthly meeting that even got my attention.

They brought four live birds to the meeting, a Kestrel, a Broad Winged Hawk, a Great Horned Owl, and a Turkey Vulture. These birds had been rescued, but because of permanent injuries it was not possible to release them back into the wild. So the group has a public education program that uses the birds to teach people about nature. I certainly learned a few things from their talk, which seemed to be geared to hold the interest of anyone from five years old up, and I'm thinking even the most avid birders at the club meeting must have learned a few things too.

Some of the things I learned?

I was especially interested in the adaptations that give the birds advantages in finding food. For example, the Peregrine Falcon is the world's fastest living thing at 349 kilometers per hour.

Peregrines use their dive speed to catch flying birds. And no it is not considered "cheating" to achieve this speed in a 45 degree dive. In nature there is no cheating, there is only catching food or not being caught for food.

The Kestrel uses its ultraviolet vision to see vole tracks. I never heard about this before, but apparently this discovery was made in about 1995. The Kestrel can also hover in one place, which not many birds can do.

The Great Horned Owl has three dimensional hearing and binocular (or 3D) vision. Humans also have 3D vision (useful for going to movies like Drive Angry 3D), but many birds have eyes on each side of their head which give a wider field of view, but give up binocular vision to do it.

The Turkey Vulture has quite a few adaptations that allow it to feed on the intestines of dead animals. While the Owl has no sense of smell, and therefore can feed on skunk, the Turkey Vulture can smell ethyl mercaptan, a gas produced when bodies begin to decay. This ability has been used to test gas pipelines for leaks, as vultures will gather if the line leaks and ethyl mercaptan is being pumped through it.

This presentation was an extraordinary opportunity to observe close up some birds I would rarely be able to see in the wild. Staring face to face with a Great Horned Owl, guess who blinked first? I have to admit that standing outside in the cold hoping to see a Spotted Wood Thrush a hundred meters away is not as much fun for me as having these birds inches from me in a warm, well lit room. I am obviously not a natural at birding.

But during the talk, my mind was wandering a bit. I was also thinking about comments I have seen on the Internet about "Intelligent Design". I'm sure many Fundamentalists would consider these birds further proof that it would take God's own intelligence to design all these wondrous abilities. I see it as quite the opposite. If God designed these birds, I would give him an A+. If he produced the bible, that would be about a D-. Unlike studying the bible, when you are studying nature, the more you learn, the more impressed you have to be. And sooner or later, I hope this could result in humans starting to have more respect for the environment than for an old book.

Picture: A Turkey Vulture. This is not Socrates, the one-winged Vulture from the show, it is a picture from this site. Socrates lost a wing in a car accident 23 years ago, and was the original bird in the Ontario Wild program.