Monday, March 26, 2012

Back To The Sixties

Interesting to see a return to some sixties-era scientific exploration with one going low and one going incredibly, incredibly high.

James Cameron took Deepsea Challenger to the literal (littoral?) bottom of the ocean; the Mariana Trench.  

This was, as we have all heard, the first time since 1960 Piccard & Walsh in the Bathyscape Trieste dove there.  Sure there were some differences; Cameron filmed it all in HD whereas Piccard and Walsh barely saw their own wake and a couple of flounders, but this was the first human presence that deep in forty years.

At the other end of the planet, quite literally, Felix Baumgartner is trying to break Joseph Kittinger's parachute jump from the edge of space, some 20 miles up.  Kittinger's original jump was also in 1960.  

Baumgartner has already jumped from 21 kms, or a half-marathon straight up, in what was the third highest parachute jump ever and, in keeping with the tone of this blogpost, the first in 40 years.  Of course, like Cameron, he's going to film the whole thing in HD.

Why now? 

Shortly after there achievements the space-race went into top gear.  As Tom Wolfe argues in The Right Stuff, as soon as people, well men, started to be launched into space, all the old height and speed records became superfluous.  Even the guys flying the X15 into actual space were relegated to having just flown really high and really fast.  It's not like they sat on top of a rocket or anything.

Maybe we, in the broadest sense of humanity and the scientific community, have gone as far with space as can be gone for now.  Maybe one can even detect a sense in these recent achievements a backlash to the virtual world we all live in to a greater or lesser extent.  In our daily lives we can, and we do, interact with people without ever meeting them face-to-face.  The great scientific discoveries of the age appear to be computer-enhanced Hubble images or inference: if we see a wobble in a star's rotation there must be a planet there.  The one thing that unites both Cameron and Baumgartner, going to opposite ends of the planet, is a been-there-done-that attitude.  They went there, in person, touched the void, and brought something back.  Pure human experience, no extrapolation required.  Veni, vidi, vici indeed.

What next can be resurrected from the golden age of sixties exploration?  A moon-base perhaps?  Please let it be a moon-base!


Saturday, March 24, 2012

News in socks

I know, I know.  It's called Socksnob but in reality it's been Moansnob.  In fact, unlike my choice of hosiery, it appears that I'm not really that picky about what I moan about.   I don't really blog as often as I used to and when I do get the urge to log onto Blogger it's to whinge about something.  It reminds one, surely, of that line that depression is anger without the enthusiasm.  Not that I'm depressed, the DSM-IV criteria have not been pinged and besides labelling oneself as "depressed" when one is just mildly and temporarily unchuffed with life does a great disservice to those who really are depressed and dealing with Churchill's black dog every day in an effort just to get out of bed.

Anyway with the temporary return of the nice weather this week it was time to get out the short trousers, and with them, to open up the sock drawer, shoo away the moths and see what was lurking in there.  Although I believe in the flamboyant sock, there are degrees of flamboyancy and when in long trousers, one should sick to the zeroth degree of flamboyancy.  It's not the eighties any more, we don't need fluorescent flashes every time your hem hitches up slightly.

The albiet transient return of the sun meant we could finally eschew the sober sock in favour of something a little more fun.  I plumped for this one

The Crash Test Dummy sock.  It matches my Crash Test Dummy l/s jersey from Evans' Cycles I got a couple of years ago.

Is it tempting fate to ride a bicycle in traffic wearing the internationally recognizable sign of the Crash Test Dummy?  Perhaps yes, but also perhaps, is there something of a reverse psychological argument at work too?  If one is ordinarily a de facto crash-test dummy when riding whilst not wearing the crash-test dummy kit (in the sense of every car drivers is trying to see if their air-bags and crumple zones work during a low speed, low mass impact with a cyclist) then does dressing in the crash-test kit render you immune?

Sound logic or arrant nonsense I don't know, but I do know this.  When riding with la belle she constantly berates me for riding semi-aggressively i.e. a couple of feet out from the near-side curb whereas she has an almost fetish for riding in the actual gutter (great bike-handling though, she should ride the track!). I also know that at the end of a ride she will also comment how she was getting constantly cut up by drivers who didn't see her whereas I didn't.  I'm sure some of it is because she's tiny and I'm huge but is any of it due to our respective road-positioning?  Discuss.

In other sock news, Pat McQuack and the UCI just passed another tranche of "if it doesn't look like Eddy Merckx's then it shouldn't be" rules.  The lawyer-tabs thing is odd.  With all the crashes and, yes, deaths in pro cycling recently I've never heard anyone say an errant, independently mobile front wheel was at fault.  There's another one in the eye for bicichicular progress or as it's better known, just a regular day in Aigle.

Camelbacks, however, look just plain strange on the front or the back.  Finally legislating socks though, now that's a stroke of sartorial genius.  Will this herald a return to the short, white, ankle-high sock of the seventies?  We can but hope.  I know there are fanboys out there who will say this is directed at HWMNBN with his penchant for ridiculously high dress-socks on the bike, but I think we can all agree, this one is purely to protect our eyes.

In this respect. triathlon has been a world-leader, getting a ban on below-the-knee attire on the books several years ago. Never mind protecting the integrity of the sport, an unintended consequence has been to protect the integrity of our eyes.  Now all we need to to is run the gauntlet of getting on  plane with triathletes, 75% of whom are wearing compression socks/shinguards with shorts and sandals.  Arghh.

Socks, equal prize money for women, earphones, triathlon really nailed the rules when they first codified them in the eighties.  There was however one, rather obvious, omission which I'm glad to report has just been fixed.  That's right, in time for the 2013 season you need to be aware that this has just been placed in the books

"2:10 a) A race will be won by the athlete who has the shortest time from the start signal to the moment when the athlete finishes the race as defined in 6.2 a) and 17.8 a).

b) All the athletes will be ranked according to their times"

Any protests or appeals for last years' events concerning your rankings in the absence of such a rule will not be heard as the 15 minute window for lodging a protest or appeal has closed.  For further information, please contact the Executive Director: she has all the answers.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Upright Standing.

So I exercised my evolutionary imperative to run and ran to work this morning.  In fact I've been exercising my evolutionary imperative quite a lot recently, but more about that in a bit.

I mention evolutionary imperative because David Suzuki's "The Nature Of Things" (TNOT) documentary last night on the evolution of human running is likely on many of your minds.  I watched it, against my better judgement, knowing that David Suzuki can't seem to pick a subject and remain neutral.  Be it climate change or farming he has to take a stand; it's almost a pathological iconoclasticism. Sometimes I agree with him, sometimes I don't.  What worries me is that when I don't agree with him; fish farming for example, it's because I know something about the subject and know that what he says isn't backed up by the data.  I had this conversation with a nice lady from the Alberta Cattle Association (or some-such) on a plane once; he'd just rubbished her industry on prime-time CBC but misreported everything he could.  This a couple of weeks after he did the same to fish-farming.  Is this the same with every subject he covers?  Is there is a small core of people who know he's wrong but he sounds utterly convincing to the other 29 999 970 Canadians?

What's worrying about Suzuki is that he is a trained scientist; hell, he wrote the genetics textbook for my generation.  As such should know when to equivocate and when to acknowledge the other side.  He doesn't and I find this highly irresponsible behaviour from someone of such note.  Some of this note, of course, came from him making the CBC's Greatest Canadians short-list a couple of years back, which has given him a gloss of infallibility with the Canadian public not even accorded the pope!   When it comes to Dons turned to Documentary makers, give me Darwin's 21st century bulldog, Richard Dawkins, any day.

I was hoping the TNOT doc would give us a nice (ahem) run through human evolution and anatomy, as per Bramble & Leiberman's 2004 review (Nature 432; 345-352) of the adaptations that make us, Homo sapiens, great runners.  I loved their concluding statement "(endurance running) is primarily a form of exercise and recreation but its roots may be as ancient as the origin of of the human genus" or as I think it was summed up elsewhere (and I'm paraphrasing here) "the current fad for marathon running owes less to fashion than it does to 5 million years of human evolution".  TNOT accorded such sentiments (and data) mere lip-service, a two minutes explanation of the unique role of the achilles tendon and plantar arch in human locomotion.  The rest of it was people running and the inevitable Suzuki screed, this time it was against Big Shoes. I don't think that was strictly necessary.  The same point could have been made by talking up bare-foot running and five-finger style minimalist shoes rather than bashing the Saucony Stabil.  

Enough whinging.  I also like the phrase evolutionary imperative because it reminds me of the dirtiest Darwinian chat-up line of all time.  Nowhere near the subtlety of "I have what you want; matching genes for your beneficial but recessive alleles" and more direct than "I want to give you a Cambrian explosion between your strata".  I am, of course, referring to the timeless classic "will it subvert our reproductive imperative if you let me come on your face?" Did this ever work?  Could this ever work?  "'ello darlin', grab your coat, you've pulled" indeed.  Regardless of it's efficacy, after the Big Shoe denunciation that was TNOT I needed cheering up and if you're a runner (highly likely if you're reading this) then so do you.

My evolutionary imperative (but not my reproductive one, just so we're clear on that) has been getting quite the work-out recently as I train up for my spring's marathons. 

I've really been getting the miles in.  My shoe of choice for the winter is the Mizuno Ascend.  It has been for many years: here's my Ascends collection from a couple of years ago

The collection is much larger now.

The Ascend essentially uses the same last as the Mizuno Precision and Wave Riders I've been running since I started running seriously again in 2004.  The sole is more aggressive, which is why it's my winter shoe of choice.  Unlike the Precision or Wave Rider, it has a mild medial post whereas I use a neutral shoe.  In the short term this is of no importance.  In the long term, however, as the sole breaks down, the posted medial side breaks down more slowly than the non-posted lateral side, leaving me running with a supinated foot, which in turn will do funny things (funny-peculiar not funny-ha-ha) to my knees.  Long story short, I need to swap these shoes out every 500km or so, rather than the rather slovenly 1000km kickings I give my regular shoes.

So I got these Ascends in the new year and immediately ordered the second pair so I could pick them up when needed.  Then, I promptly forgot to keep my training logs properly.  I still logged daily mileage but geeked out on Garmin Connect instead of compiling my stats as I used to. 

They don't look too bad do they?  Nowhere near broken down.  Then last week I thought "wow, I haven't looked at my stats properly".  So I sat down and punched the numbers into Excell.  Oops, I thought, that can't be right.  so I did it again, same number.  Then I rang Aerobics First and asked Dana when I got the shoes.  "Yeah man, you got 'em January 13th brother".  

Double oops.  Over 600kms on them. No wonder my knees were starting to ache.  So I got the second pair straight away.  


A smart pair of shoes; and I've put 100 kms on them already!  In one week!  I'd better slow down a bit before I lose a knee or worse.  You know what they say: flying in March, toast by June!