Monday, June 22, 2015

Preservation Pedal: A Very Wet Half-Century

This past Saturday, the leftovers from tropical storm "Bill" found their way up the Ohio River valley and got northern Kentucky more than a little wet.  This had some effect on me, as Saturday was the day of the Preservation Pedal, heading out from Frankfort, Kentucky.

Friday night at the packet pickup, the ride organizers from the Bluegrass Cycling Club told us that the 102-mile century route would be closed by the weather, with its attendant possibility of local road flooding.  So how do you "close" a hundred miles of small public roads?  They don't, of course; what they did was simply to not support that route with rest/food stops and SAG.  The club elected to shift their volunteer force over to the 30-mile and 51-mile routes and support them.  Century riders could get 102 miles in by the simple expedient of making two laps of the 51-mile loop.  The Kentucky Century Challenge folks also announced that people participating in the Challenge, who has already registered and paid for the Preservation Pedal, could elect to ride another century of their choice at any time before July 26 for KCC credit, and also that those already-registered and paid riders could ride the Preservation Pedal in whatever conditions occurred Saturday morning, and that a good-faith effort would also receive KCC credit, regardless of the distance covered.  Fair enough, thought I, and went to the luxurious Baymont Inn to put my head down and sleep.

So, Saturday morning.  It was raining steadily, and the forecast wasn't good, calling for afternoon thunderstorms.  At 8 o'clock, however, we (and it was a very small group, on the order of a hundred riders) set out from the Plaza Hotel in downtown Frankfort and began the process of stringing ourselves out over 51 miles of wet roads.  It didn't take long to get lonely, either; after the first rest stop, in Millville, I was usually not within sight of any other cyclists.  This meant that I was totally responsible for my own navigation, which consisted of following the red pavement arrows (since my cue sheet had very quickly been reduced to wet pulp in my jersey pocket).  With no one to follow in lemming-like fashion, I paid very close attention to those markers and succeeded in never getting off-route, although I did cast about in some confusion after leaving the stop in the town of Stamping Ground, where the markers were scarce and hard to see on the water-covered pavement, leaving me without much confidence for a while.

You've probably already noticed a lack of photos in this report.  In view of the downpour conditions, I left the camera that I carried around last month's Horsey Hundred locked in my truck back in Frankfort.  I was carrying my mobile phone, of course, in case of emergency, but I wasn't pulling it out of the zippered pocket of my hydration backpack in that much of a rain.  I did pull it out after I got back to Frankfort, and that's coming up.

Riding in a hard rain was a new experience for me.  We had rain at this year's Redbud Ride, and it was a pretty chilly rain at that.  But this was serious rain, hard and fast.  By the time I'd completed my first mile, I was as wet as I was going to get, so I figured it wouldn't get any worse.  I was mistaken.  My bike shorts are the kind that have a loose, baggy outer shell, making them suitable attire for an over-aged and over-nourished cyclist like me.  When those shorts got and stayed soaked, that outer shell plastered itself to my legs and I got some chafing just above the knees.  No big deal, but uncomfortable.  Also, there's the rain in your face.  Grinding slowly up the long climbs, at seven or eight miles per hour, the rain on my face troubled me not at all, and was even welcome as it helped me stay cool; but on the downhills, sometimes at or above 30 miles per hour, those raindrops felt more like small pebbles, and they also made it very hard to see.

I have battery-powered lamps on my bike: a red taillight, which can be set to blink obnoxiously, and a white LED headlight which can also blink stroboscopically.  The headlight worked fine in the rain.  But the taillight ... after a while, it got partly filled with rainwater and worked only intermittently.  In the gray, low-visibility surroundings, I wasn't liking that; it seemed like a substantial safety issue.  I also didn't feel good about how few riders were participating.  In a large, organized ride with one or two thousand riders, you always have more than a few in sight, and there's a "critical mass" of you on the road that makes you safer, as the drivers pretty much have to be aware that there's a cycle event underway.  But on Saturday, there were so few of us that each rider was like an eccentric individual.  For each car that passed me, I had the feeling that there was a good chance I was the first cyclist the driver had seen that day; and if I was hard to see, well, that's potentially not good.

So, a little before noon I re-entered downtown Frankfort.  The major food for the whole ride was located there, at the Church of the Ascension, the home of a Greek Orthodox congregation founded, according to a banner I was admiring, in 1836.  I ate my lunch standing up (the chairs in the fellowship hall were upholstered, and I didn't feel like sitting my dripping-wet butt down on one), and listened to the talk around me, and it seemed nearly unanimous: no one was electing to ride a second lap.  Someone had seen a radar map that showed an intense thunderstorm cell in Louisville that was heading our way.  I thought about how the course would be if, instead of a hundred riders stretched out along it, there were only ten or twenty.  I thought about my now non-working taillight.  I thought about the possibility of upcoming thunder and lightning.  And, yes, I must admit that I thought about the cyclist who was killed last month in the Horsey Hundred, not so far from here.  Then I joined the discretion-is-the-better-part-of-valor crowd, checked in my 51 miles at the KCC table, and started to leave.  Then I thought: wait a minute, I should dig out my cell phone and take a picture of that gorgeous stained-glass window.  And I did that thing.

Somebody did some awfully nice work.  Sorry I kind of cut the top off.  I should've backed up another few steps.
You know, most days, it doesn't rain.  I'm going to appreciate those days more, going forward.

An Occasional Ray of Hope

A couple of years ago, I purchased a custom bumper sticker online from Cafe Press and put it on the rear window of my pickup truck's cab.  At the time, I assumed that my truck would quickly be keyed, and that I'd see many fists shaken, and many one-finger salutes, from the Real, Red-State 'Murkins among whom I live.

Oddly, none of that has happened.  Perhaps I should say "that I know of" ... you see, the rusty paint on my truck is such that I'm not apt to notice a "key" job.  Somebody would need to use a chainsaw or a hammer and cold chisel, in all likelihood.  And I did have one lady pull up next to me at a stoplight and yell across to me that she liked the sticker, which was encouraging.  But this past Friday morning, I came out of the YMCA and jumped in my truck, and then noticed that someone had put a note under the wiper on my side.  Climbing out and retrieving it, I saw:

Is that good, or what?

By the way, I have to say that, based on an extensive sample size of two, the women seem to be the ones who have some sense.  My hat's off to you ladies.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Goodbye, Facebook

I followed a link the other day to an interesting piece of writing -- where "interesting" includes a substantial element of "horrifying," that is.  As a result of my reading, I'm trying to do a few things to decrease my exposure to online surveillance, both governmental and corporate (not that there's any meaningful distinction between the two, of course).  Concerning Facebook, the author says:


Why: Many people in this world are lonely. “Free” social networks like Facebook are designed to capitalize on this. In return for helping you feel connected to others, they study you like a lab rat and turn you into a product. I’m not exaggerating. As the founder of Facebook said, “They ‘trust me’ – dumb fucks.” Meanwhile he surrounds his home with empty lots and hundreds of acres of undeveloped land.
Facebook’s “like” system is designed to reinforce whatever your existing beliefs are. Facebook is engineered to be a giant echo chamber which figures out what you like to hear so it can feed it to you. That’s how it hooks people.
It’s also the ultimate propaganda system. Recall Facebook’s notorious social engineering experiment which proved it could manipulate the mood of over half a million people by altering their feeds. The experiment received funding from the US Army Research office. The military funds research on the mass manipulation of a population’s mood? You don’t say.
As with Google, Facebook’s core business is mass surveillance. You’re the product, not the customer. Facebook collects and stores an insane amount of intel about every facet of your life. It not only tracks everywhere you go, it lets others track you too.
Facebook has developed software as accurate as the human brain to reveal your identity in any photo you or someone else uploads. And yes, even 4 years ago Facebook was tracking you and assembling hundreds of pages of intel on you even when you weren’t logged in. Now it’s thousands of pages, and the surveillance and analysis are much more sophisticated.
Every time people post photos of themselves and others to Facebook, Instagram (owned by Facebook), Twitter, Google, or other surveillance-based services, they are unwittingly building mass surveillance databases containing the details of people’s appearances, who they associate with, what they do, and when and where they’ve been.
A single innocuous photo can reveal a lot of information. Trillions of photos is a frightfully vast surveillance database to be exploited by regimes, corporations, and free agent bad guys. Mass surveillance depends on social media as a primary data source.
Every American technology mega-corp has backdoors. Snowden made it clear: Tech giants are surveillance proxies for the government. The government’s own top secret slide is worth repeating here as it just says it all.
NSA PRISM mass surveillance-industrial complex
The mass surveillance-industrial complex
To put it plainly, Facebook and other “free” social media services are mass surveillance roach motels. Free is the bait to get you in the door, and surveillance intel is used to hook you on the service so you can become a forever profitable product. Yes they are slickly marketed, convenient, and ultra-popular. They are also a trap and indispensable to the mass surveillance scaffolding. Check out of the roach motel.
In several ways, I'll miss Facebook.  It enabled me to re-connect with more than a few people with whom I hadn't communicated in decades.  But, with a "patriotic" pseudoholiday (Memorial Day) just being over, I'm aware of a side benefit of leaving the Facebook world: there's a great deal of crap that some of my Facebook friends love to "share" that will no longer be making my newsfeed a burden to me ... now that I no longer have a newsfeed.  Many, many exhortations to honor The Holy Troops.  Lots of people's convictions that the very existence of Muslims somehow victimizes them.  An astonishing number of people sharing waspishly-political crap from something called "I F--king Love Science" (and, you know, I really greatly doubt whether these folks have even so much as mild affection for actual, it-takes-work-and-mathematics-type science, sexually active or not).  Yes, kicking the FB habit will have its compensations.