Thursday, April 17, 2014

Rivers Running in My Bike Lane


Salt River, Verde River, Colorado (via the SRP/CAP interconnect) water, diverted, pumped, carried, siphoned and directed to this spot, now running in the street down the drain, and then to where? Not sure.

Sure that it's a sign, a symbol, a warning of waste in the desert, of wanton disregard of the environment, the future, the anti-frugal usage of a scarce resource in high demand. You can see that here, and I cannot argue.

I also see more, today, history, and tomorrows.

Today: what we can do, what we might do, hydropower and solar power too that runs my lights and cools my house and runs my Internet. I think about water chemistry, the salt of the river, the carbonate-silicate cycle, CO2 and C4 photosynthesis happening in a blade of Bermuda grass watered by the freight of three distant rivers inside a major city. My bicycle has fenders. I dive it into the running water which it slices through and sends sheets sideways. It's cooler when I enter the rivers' running.

History, recent and distant: the politics and dollars behind this flow within my lifetime. The pioneers who scratched out the farms that became these neighborhood in my great grandparents' lifetime. They followed the same canal routes as the Hohokam a thousand years before because the ancient ones knew where the water flowed, how it wanted to go, and what would grow best here.

Tomorrows: will the water hold? Will my children have this hydropower, too, will the rivers still run in the bike lanes here for them? I'm reading Five Billion Years of Solitude currently, which says it's about SETI but it seems like it's about more, about us in the cosmos, where we are, how we got here, understanding those being key to understanding exoplanets and space telescopes, and filling in the Drake equation with something different from SWAGs expressed in powers of ten. Canals on Mars.

We'll look in the direction of those distant rocky spheres in the habitable zones of their suns (noise-like delta-vs) and ask questions I'm asking about the rivers running in my bike lane in the light of my own star blazing my route: where's the water, what's going on with the CO2, how much oxygen was, is, and will be there, what will grow, what will live, what will thrive, and what will die, under those conditions?

I'm riding along looking up, down, out, back, and forward. My childrens' names whisper through my thoughts, along with possible lives on possible distant worlds. Drawings on rocks by Hohokam. Sun-powered wind farms running my Internet. 

I draw in a deep breath. The rivers running in my bike lane smell like forever.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Cyclist You Are Amazing Just the Way You Are

Purge. This. Crap.

I am sick of being bombarded with advertising proclaiming how inadequate / fat / slow / outdated I am. That all of us who ride bikes could be SO MUCH MORE if we would just spend a few thousand dollars regularly, specifically allocated to a narrow group of prominent advertisers.

Marketers know that when a mind is bombarded with the same words and images a certain number of times, the message will sink in even if it's nonsense or unwelcome. 

GET LEANER: you are not lean enough.
GET STRONGER: you are not strong enough.
TRAIN SMARTER: you are currently a training moron.
FULLEST POTENTIAL: you are wasting your potential currently.
TRANSFORM: you require transformation in your entirety.
IS IT SAFE??? you are constantly on the brink of death and/or dismemberment.
STIFF: your current frame is floppy.
COMPLIANT: your current frame fights against you at every bump.
LIGHTWEIGHT: your current [insert anything] is TOO DAMNED HEAVY / FAT / BIG.
PHOTOSHOPPED GIRL: she is way out of your league.
PHOTOSHOPPED GUY: he is Superman and you are Jimmy Olsen (on your good days).
(TO GUYS) GET BIGGER: you are way too small
(TO WOMEN) GET SMALLER: you are way too big
WATER IN A DISPOSABLE PLASTIC BOTTLE: is way more valuable than from the faucet

It's a battle for mind and eyeballs. Therefore, I am throwing it all out. Any media which attempts to instill in me inadequacy, want, desire, need, by raising doubts, activating fears, throwing sloppy innuendo my way in order to get me to purchase something, goes straight into recycling. All TV commercials go on mute and I look away.

Here are some alternative messages which I prefer:

Cyclist, you are amazing just the way you are
Girl you are beautiful
Dude: you are the net result of three billion years of biological evolution
Potential: in your every movement and thought you demonstrate realization of it

My eight year old bicycle takes me everywhere I need to go

My mind is my own. My dreams belong to me, not advertisers and marketers. I would rather make something or see something than buy something I don't need. Teaching, learning, moving, these are hugely more important to me than consuming or jumping on the latest trendwagon to be pseudo-cool.

Everyone is different. No one can tell you how lean, strong, fast, or even hydrated you should really be, particularly not advertisers who don't have any idea who you are or what you really need. I am not going to listen to them. I'm throwing them all out of my mind. I am imposing a global ADBLOCK on my Internet, my eyeballs, my ears, and as much as possible on my household. I need to go find that Internet proxy program (Privoxy? Squid?) that I can set up where the net enters my house and try to filter them all out. 

You are strong.
You are amazing.
You are cool.
You are perfect the way that you are.
You are beautiful.
Banish marketing nonsense from your mind.
Go for a ride.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Take the High Road: Arecibo On My Mind

Sunshine cactus bicycle miles: the rolling perspective machine

I probably should have been a radio astronomer. Child of the space age, rocket-obsessed, late-night TV moonwalk insomnia, obsessive grade school consumer of science news and science encylcopedias and anything I could get my hands on, shortwave radio listener kid tuning in to Radio Tirana etc, proud nine year old owner of a reflecting telescope which was deployed on cold winter nights to look at the stars. Penzias and Wilson stumbled upon the cosmic background radiation the year I was born. I was primed to don headphones to listen to whispers across the light years piped to me from structures the size of football fields aimed upwards to gather up picowatts of cosmic RF in search of data, patterns, symbols, even a relative perspective to anchor meaning.

The emblem, the hope, the symbol, the nexus of all my young aspirations was the huge radio telescope at Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Other kids my age dreamed of going to an NFL football game, or of spending the afternoon at the video game arcade, but I always wanted to visit Arecibo to listen to the stars. Yes I jumped head-first into science fiction, too, but I didn't require those stories to fuel my imagination or to fire my dreams, since I already had engraved on my brain the image of the dish at Arecibo.

Second item of deep background to support this post, in the days when I was both suffering from chronic back pain + knife-like sciatica and commuting by car to work each/every day, when sitting in one place was about the worst thing I could do for the muscle cramps and rampant crazy inflamed nerve signals, some mornings not even the pills would help much. (Chronic pain is terrible for the brain, by the way. I should have dealt with it more aggressively and with professional medical assistance earlier. Lesson learned.)

Surgery and physical therapy ultimately fixed the back situation. What took me away during my drive in was cranking up the music on a good stereo and singing along in the car. One of the songs which helped the most was Puscifer's Momma Sed. It's a song which sounds like it's about getting over a lost love, of which let's not underestimate the acute distress that can cause, but which broadened in scope can cover most of the painful, perspective-robbing challenges that life throws at us inevitably. The lyric "Take the high road / take it like a man," came to have specific and encouraging meaning for me well beyond what it sounds like initially. Yes it's certainly about being tough and strong and possibly even macho, but "take the high road" also pointed me toward the intellect rather than brute force, to the stars rather than the fists.

So, combining those two items of deep background, it's clearer why the image projected on the giant screen behind the stage during the Puscifer concert I saw in Mesa at the end of Momma Sed had such a powerful impact on me: Maynard standing in front of what I believe was an image of the radio telescope VLA in Socorro, NM. He turned around and gazed up at the giant antennas, having just finished singing the closing line: this pain will pass away. We are tiny specks of immense potential gazing upwards at a vast universe but capable of learning so much more about it, if only we focus our curiosity and technology effectively, out of an openminded perspective which grants both how much we could do and how little we actually know so far. 

I have to know. I must find out. I want to discover. What's out there? How does it work? Gravity waves and pulsars. Black holes and quasars. Photons relativity and quantum mechanics. The unknown wed to the pinpoint possibility that life exists out there, too. This pain will pass away. A cosmic perspective for seeing long and far through agony. 

That flagship symbol of the Sonoran Desert I live in, the saguaro cactus, snaps me into that long/far perspective when I see it on a bike ride. Spiny, stoic, strong, persistent through heat and dessication, also providing delicious fruit and home for cactus wrens, it is both minimalist and essential in its approaches for surviving and thriving. Drenched in desert light from the nearest star, warm and spinning, this too shall pass away like rain.

Riding along on the surface of the bluegreen marble planet, I'm rooted in a caveman beast mind and body easily distracted and even overwhelmed by the sensations of the moment which can be both good and bad, but always HEY HEY HEY seek to grab the attention and burn away time until I'm all out and am no more. But I'm also looking up, out at the stars, listening for waves of a longer, slower, deeper time. Lean my bike against a saguaro, set my bare hand gently on a patch of its green skin to feel the warmth emanating from it. 

Solid, heavy with stored water, vertical, when they die they first expose their inner supporting spines, then turn to dust, like us and everything else. This too will pass away. But, pause a moment longer here, and look: spiny arms point upwards. The cactus wren calls WRACK WRACK WRACK in the summer heat. He too is soaked in picowatts of RF broadcasting quietly from a billion other stars. I tell him: take the high road. Take it like a man.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Me the Artist of Myself

Maintaining the striders** against the wind, waves, and currents: ongoing

Whatever I may be, currently, feeling/doing etc, it must have been caused by something I've done, thought, or felt myself, now or in the past.

This is the obvious, but seldom observed, fact of who's really responsible for me. After the mystery of how I became to be in the first place, of which I have concepts and notions but cannot personally attest, and after that unconscious first few years of semi-dependency, and setting aside scenarios of power and control*, well, that would be me.

The consciousness of that, the minute deconstruction, analysis, understanding, and construction of the next moment with clear understanding, is the art.

The engineering, from cinder blocks to ropes, to electronics and metal fabrication, of twelve foot long green canal bugs

Minute deconstruction, what do I mean by that? Nothing fancy. Just asking: where am I? What am I doing? Why am I doing it? Where did that purpose come from? Who taught me that? Where did they get that idea? My ancestors, in both their successful biological propagation and their teachings, must've played a pivotal role, tracing back, since they made it possible for me ask these things and to consider the answers carefully. So what did they do to make these possible? Why did they do those things, and not others? Where did they get those ideas? These are biological questions, but also artful: why did they make what they made, do what they did, think what they thought, believe what they believed, and pass it on? 

I note in passing this intriguing concept from I think Richard Dawkins: for me to be here asking those questions about them, all my ancestors have to have been successful ones, both in the biological and artful senses, since "failed ancestor" is an impossible concept. The ones whose genes and ideas failed to be passed on to offspring are not ancestors.

Pre-maintenance, the striders got shoved around the canal by winds and currents

What does this have to do with the bicycle? Directly, for better or worse, these words grew from seeds planted in my mind by seeing the strider being pushed around by the winds and currents, then later watching the SRP guys fixing them, and then by mulling it over while riding home. I worried, by the way, about potential problems of twelve foot long green bugs floating around the waterfront unmoored, but they appear to have been both relatively stable in their movements, and benign in their meanderings.

As we generally find ourselves, here and now, both profoundly free and equipped with tools, technology, and opportunities beyond the wildest imaginations and craziest dreams*** of any of our ancestors, who within many of their living memories lived lives, employed tools, and followed ideas which would have been familiar to medieval city-dwellers four hundred years earlier, these inquiries appear vital to me, along with the careful and sober consideration of their answers and the implications of them. Those may lead us onwards, but first we must ask them. It just happens that I am both comfortable, and enabled, to consider them on my bicycle. That's the connection, while spinning and relaxed, that I make with me, the artist of myself.

*scenarios which I in fact mulled over quite thoroughly, yielding some intense emotional reflection and rather dire memories which I omit here due to essential blog filtration rules. Believe me, I have personal understanding of this, and also have what I think would be cogent and valid reflections on it, but don't think that would be very appropriate to go into here. Perhaps another time.

**Canal Convergence 2014, Water Striders by Jeff Zischke.

***except for Asimov, Clarke, Robert Anton Wilson, PKD, etc, who are not, unfortunately, my biological ancestors  

Friday, April 4, 2014

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

We Who Bungee the Trunk Bag

Relaxing beside the lake, a beautiful lugged frame...hey wait, bungee around the trunk bag?

I came here to acknowledge that I, too, have been known to bungee a trunk bag or two. I could say it was because I was carrying stuff on top of the bag and wanted to hold it firmly, or that I have it just in case I find something larger that needs to be bungeed down for transport home. A plausible excuse would even be that without it, the bag tends to rattle or bounce a bit, so I add the bungees to keep it still and quiet. No one likes a rattle; no one likes the gratuitous bouncing bag.

But I have a hunch that it's actually just there for backup. Extra. A second layer of fastening, in case the first fastening system fails. Once something like this happens:

Results of my leather u-lock carrier test: primary attachment failure!
You tend to want to have a backup fastening system in place just in case the primary fails. I wanted to nod knowingly at the guy, and share a moment of mutual recognition: ah yes, the extra fastening system, a backup if you will. But we who bungee the trunk bag, we also like our tail lights to face straight backwards and not at the ground, or up at the sky. But that's nothing that a little bungee adjustment couldn't make right.


Monday, March 31, 2014

God I Miss Commuting in a Car!!!

Good times

As I was toiling away riding home on my bicycle on a sunny, warm spring day in the face of a light breeze and the scent of a billion flowers, I fondly recalled being confined inside an idling metal box stuck in a traffic jam at rush hour, squinting through the glass which was fogged on the inside with a haze of volatile plasticizer residue, surrounded with faux leather and wood, the air saturated with the musty funk pouring from the AC that was set to high and recirculating in order to battle the heat and monsoon humidity. 

I wiped away a tear as I remembered my excellent fellow motorists honking at me for doing nothing wrong in particular. 

My heart missed a beat as I remembered the countless happy times approaching the gas pumps to fill up weekly, and noticing that the price had gone up again, or stayed high for no apparent reason except to fill the snow shovels that the oil executives and owners must use to shovel all the cash around.* Hey those tax-sheltered offshore investment vehicles don't finance themselves. 'Merica!

And so many things missing that once I enjoyed when I commuted by car rather than riding 3,000 miles a year to work on my bike. The joys of mandatory insurance! Monthly payments! The thrill of taking the expensive machine to a repair shop and wondering what amazing things they were going to find wrong with it this time, and what ruinously expensive parts and labor would be required to return it to working order! The yearly emissions tests! Oil changes! And the two times in a row that the certified dealer mechanics failed to tighten the oil plug after the oil change, resulting in a spill on my driveway and me having to crawl underneath, tighten it myself, and clean up their mess!

Going out to the car parked in the street to find that someone had smashed the window to take thirty-seven cents in change, and the excellent work the police did to locate and punish them, or lack thereof! Then wondering, for weeks afterwards, if the brazen thieves would return to take the whole vehicle, since obviously there were no negative ramifications of breaking in and theft.

License and registration! Weekly washing! Fluids, tires, belts, batteries, filters, AC service, and wipers!

Being cutoff by vehicles which by their very form and size embody "strong powerful fertile virile desirable male," and being in fear for the car in which I rode as well as the lives of those within it

What fun it was to guess at strange mechanical quirks. Like the day I was driving home on the freeway and my car just shut itself off at 75mph. Sudden silence. A bad sensor caused the computer to panic.

Or the puzzle of parking, how I miss it: circling to find a spot, fellow motorists slamming their doors into  your paint out of their blind bottled-up rage in the supermarket lot, or coming out after a long work day to find that a disgruntled employee keyed your car by mistake.

While I can't say I enjoyed the moral challenge of joining a herd responsible for so many deaths around the world every year, I can say that I sometimes exercised my mind trying to justify it to myself as I did it. I have places to go, appointments I have to make, fast. Isn't that worth it? The danger, I mean, the statistical inevitability of the deaths of thousands as a result of what I'm doing? I don't know, something about evading individual responsibility with collective blame seems questionable to me, but it must be OK if so many millions take part in the gamble and for the most part make it through, right? Everyone does it, and I have to fit in, right? If I rode a bicycle or something I would stand out, wouldn't I? Make waves? Question the norm, and demonstrate nonacceptance of moral numbness by my very actions and being? Suggest to everyone that driving as little as possible and taking alternative forms of transportation has many benefits, won't I be seen as a troublemaker?

With nostalgia I recall getting cutoff in the passing lane by a single driver making for the HOV lane at rush hour. So many swerves and near-misses I don't experience any more. The cat-and-mouse game of looking for police measuring my slightly high speed prepared to pounce on me to issue a ticket.

Most of all, though, it's the stress of the twenty-five minutes of driving in traffic each way each day that I miss the most. Sometimes trying to conduct conference calls while driving, late for the first in-office meeting and stuck in traffic, unable to understand half the callers who are also in their phones, in traffic, and don't all have very good equipment or connections or quiet cars or effective rush hour conference call etiquette.

That's all gone now, though. Sometimes, on blistering hot summer afternoon bicycle commutes in Phoenix when the monsoon rains return, the skies open and soak me me with cooling water, when I feel like all the actual and metaphorical grease and exhaust of automobiles washes off and out of me, along with the dust of the day and the residues of life's inevitable and ceaseless compromises, baptizing me with a cascade of nature's purity and remaking me into a new man riding almost naked into the night, I think: god I miss commuting in a car.

The type of shit we would have to put up with if more people rode their bicycles

*note: slightly against the tone of this post and the blog in general, but highly appropriate and authentically felt: oil and gas companies and producers who feel they have working Joes and Janes trapped in a corner because they have to drive their cars to work and therefore have to pay you whatever you want to charge for oil in order to drive your profits through the stratosphere while crushing the economy and enabling ruinous fracking at too-high a price both instantly and long-term: KISS MY TONED UP BIKE COMMUTING ASS.