miscellaneous commentary

Archive for April 2014

Spring Cycling

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Viet and I took advantage of the fine spring weather last weekend to get out on the trails, cycling through George Wyth and Big Woods Lake. Didn’t make it to Black Hawk Park… next time. I noticed my odometer wasn’t recording miles property. Either the computer that clips to the handlebars is going wonky or the sensor strapped to the fork is going bad. I tried repositioning the sensor, and the spoke magnet, but that didn’t help, so I suspect the computer… which means the only way to accurately record my miles would be to buy a new odometer. Meh.

I’m not sure I care enough anymore about how many miles I log to invest in it. I cared in years past, like in 2010 when I put in over 1,700. Last year was a far cry from that… I probably logged 250 or 300. Hard to tell, as Viet used my bike on occasion when his was left at his apartment. Since he’s not much for long-distance riding, the only way I’ll get in many 20+ milers this summer would be get out the door on weekend mornings.

While decluttering bookmarks these past couple weeks I found some articles about cycling that struck a chord with me. Here’s a description of a situation I know all too well:

I continued across the intersection as the SUV bore down on me, giving the driver a hard stare; he responded by braking momentarily, then he simultaneously accelerated and swerved toward the curb, squeezing by me with a half-dozen inches to spare and nearly clipping me with his rear-view mirror. I got an up close and personal view of a middle-aged driver in a button-down shirt, his face contorted as he screamed for me to get out the hell out of his road. I hollered back with succinct instructions involving his junk and an adjacent orifice.

Most motorists in the Cedar Valley are polite enough to stop and allow cyclists and pedestrians the right of way, so this is more the exception to the rule. But when it does happen, it tends to nag at me for a while.

What bothers me is how cyclists are expected to either restrict themselves to only riding on trails, or if they must ride on roads, to hug the curb. This is dangerous, as Peter Walker of the Guardian details:

There are all sorts of reasons for taking the lane. Often, a cyclist might ride centrally to keep at least a car door’s width from parked vehicles. … It could be to pass the message to those behind: this is a narrow (or twisty) road, there’s no space to squeeze past, you’re going to have to overtake me as you would a car.

It’s pretty simple stuff, but it’s amazing how many drivers cannot grasp it. … I can just about forgive some drivers for not knowing the rules and reasons for cyclists taking the lane. … What I can’t forgive are the dangerous maneouvres that sometimes follow. Squeezing past a cyclist carries a clear message: not only do I believe you are in the wrong, but I believe my righteousness is justification for putting your physical wellbeing in danger. I believe my right to reach the next red traffic light about five seconds earlier than I would have otherwise trumps the rights of your loved ones to welcome you home tonight in one piece. It sounds dramatic, but that’s what it amounts to, and it appalls me.

I found that article on Jake Mohan’s blog, who has previously written with wit and eloquence about the frustrations cyclists face from the general population:

I might also point out, as a corollary, the complete absurdity of the hypothetical bargains that I’ve heard people (in newspaper comment sections, social media, and real life) express a magnanimous willingness to strike with us monolithic, uniformly miscreant and socially aberrant cyclists:

How about we stop using our tax dollars for cycling infrastructure like bike lanes until all bikers [always BIKERS] can follow the rules of the road and ride safely

I’ll start passing bikers with three feet to spare and giving them the right-of-way when they extend the same courtesy to me.

If bikers are going to get special treatment like bike paths, we should make them get licenses and pay user fees, just like motorists. 

To which I always reply, silently, in my head, my cerebral arteries threatening to occlude with impotent rage:

1. By that same logic, we should not spend another penny on motor-vehicle infrastructure until all MOTORISTS also follow all the rules of the road and ride safely.

2. You get to decide whether you put my life in danger because you have the advantage of weight, horsepower, infrastructural privilege, and state-of-the-art automotive safety technology. I don’t have any of those things. Even if I wanted to somehow hurt or kill you on my bike, I don’t see how I possibly could without the aid of heavy artillery.

3. Licensing programs and user fees don’t exist for cyclists in most cities because they flat-out don’t work. They don’t really work for motorists either, in practice: licensing is designed to keep dangerous and unlawful drivers off the road, but so pervasive is our belief that driving is a god-given right that a person has to do a hell of a lot of drunk-driving, maiming, and killing before they get their license permanently revoked. And again, bicyclists aren’t capable of doing that kind of damage.

4. For the billionth time, cyclists pay more than they should to maintain our transportation infrastructure, seeing as how a) many are also tax-paying home and car owners; b) they pay sales, state, and federal taxes, which heavily subsidize our roads; c) they aren’t even allowed to use interstates, which are among our nation’s most expensive and maintenance-intensive infrastructure, but they still pay for them; d) their vehicles inflict an infinitesimal amount of wear and tear on the roads compared to cars. How many of the potholes now emerging from the melting snow and ice on our streets do you think were caused by bikes? Whole thoroughfares are out of commission for months at a time so they can be upgraded; do you really think cyclists are the ones causing that inconvenience?

5. I strongly doubt that if, starting tomorrow, cyclists miraculously and monolithically started being perfect human beings and following all the rules of the road and riding perfectly safely, the people who hate us would begin showing us even one iota of respect. After all, they’ve amply demonstrated that they barely understand the “rules of the road” and have such a warped perception of reality already, why should we expect that to change?

Right on cue, my blood pressure has been successfully raised… time for a jog.


Written by camcarlson

April 27, 2014 at 3:40 PM

Posted in Bicycling

Digital clutter

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Some years ago I embarked on a comprehensive decluttering project [I interchange the word declutter with unclutter, though the latter is not recognized by my spellcheck], purging unwanted and unneeded books, clothing, household items, various trinkets and baubles, as well as scanning all my photographs and paper documents and culling both down to the bare essentials. A couple years ago I swallowed hard and purged my DVD collection. I’ve embraced a minimalist way of living, not only in the things that I own but also in my daily activities, taking part in only those things that bring me the greatest sense joy and fulfillment (aside from work, naturally).

Yet I’ve allowed my computer to harbor an ever-growing collection of digital data, and it’s reached a point where I often spend so much time attempting to retrieve a quote or a photo that I either forget why I was looking for it or lose interest altogether.

Digital clutter is easy to accumulate as it does not take up space in our lives the way a book or a piece of clothing would. Storage space is incredibly cheap, both in disc/SSD format and in the cloud, and most of us will never come close to filling up our computers’ hard drives. But the point is that, just because every file we ever create can be saved forever, doesn’t mean they should be.

Over the next few months I’m going to review and purge three main areas on my MacBook. The month of May will be devoted to the six thousand-plus songs in my iTunes library, while June will be focused on my nearly four thousand pictures in iPhoto.

April will be spend on Safari, my web browser of choice. I have a knack for saving bookmarks to sites I will likely never revisit, and over the years I’ve created folders within folders to tame them. But the bookmark zoo has grown far too large. I have 20 main folders, covering topics such as movies, employment/resumes, simplicity, nutrition, exercise, computers/technology, places/travel, habitation and (everyone’s favorite) “random”. Most of these folders contain several dozen sites; my exercise and random folder have well over a hundred, as does my employment/resume folder if I count the sub-folders for resume-writing, interviewing and recently-unemployed. Whew.

So my first task is to go through each folder and sub-folder, open up every bookmark in a separate tab, review the site, see if it’s something I still want to reference, then either keep it or delete it. Having done this to several of my folders, I have already found somewhere between a fourth to a third of all bookmarks are dead links! Of the live links, I’ve tried to delete multiple links to the same web site, opting to keep just one link to the main page if possible. I’ve probably already eliminated a couple hundred bookmarks already, and I’m not even halfway done… I’m saving the two biggies (exercise and nutrition) for last, as they’ll correspond with folders cluttered with various clippings on my hard drive.

Once I’ve purged my bookmarks, I will move on to the Reading List, a neat little feature built into Safari, like a Netflix queue for web articles. It’s insanely easy to save a page in the Reading List to read later… and then forget about it completely. Such is life. But I dislike having so many unread articles out there. It gives me the feeling of having unfinished assignments hanging over my head, a feeling I came to dread when I was in college.

I made a cursory review of the list last weekend and deleted about a third of the one hundred or so articles saved therein. What’s left will be read, consumed, contemplated, then either referenced on this here site or deleted. I’m going to resist the urge to simply transfer saved articles to my bookmark folders.

Thinking about my to-read pile reminded me of this article in Unclutterer about handling the flow of information in our lives. There’s a lot of shit out there on the internet and not enough hours in the day to consume it. I can’t read every article or watch every video posted to my Facebook feed (note to my family and friends — PLEASE stop posting links to Facebook on a daily basis!). As Chris Miller is quoted in the article, “my time and attention are the most valuable things I possess.”

Upon reflection, I think I save so many bookmarks and Reading List articles because I want to learn, to stay informed, on as many topics as possible. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that life is just too damned busy for me to keep up with every topic of interest. I have to develop an ability to cull from the monstrous pile of information, to seek out what really benefits my life and focus solely on those things, and be at peace with leaving the rest of it behind me. With that said, I’ll close with this gem of a comment from the Unclutterer article:

EVERYTHING is interesting when you have a curious mind but we can’t read everything, can we? Why are we becoming so afraid of missing out on the latest post, article, whatever? Why do we have to follow so many feeds or “friends”?

I am just as guilty in some of these areas as everyone else and I have been asking these questions of myself lately, so this is not intended as just criticism for all of you and not me. I realized that in my quest to remain “informed” about so many things, I was actually learning less by becoming distracted and scattered. I am trying to turn that around now but it’s not easy!

Written by camcarlson

April 14, 2014 at 9:55 PM

Posted in Apple, Simplicity

The depth of the problem

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Posting this in part because I like infographs. [Courtesy of the Washington Post]


Written by camcarlson

April 9, 2014 at 9:45 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

The history of the movie trailer

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Well whataya know, something I didn’t already know about the history of the cinema! Watched this video this afternoon and found it rather informative.

Written by camcarlson

April 6, 2014 at 7:58 PM

Posted in Cinema, video

Changing the channel

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You know what’s odd? YouTube began several years ago as a website for amateurs to upload low-def videos taken with digital cameras and smartphones. Over time they’ve been relegated to the back burner by the likes of Beyoncé, Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga, who gobble up millions of page views with their slick music videos, because MTV isn’t in the business of airing music videos anymore. MTV is too busy plugging “reality television” and turning idiots into celebrities.

How about this: let’s get MTV and YouTube to trade content. MTV can take back the musicians and YouTube will accept Jackass and Jersey Shore and their ilk.

(You know what else is ironic? I never really cared for MTV when I was growing up, aside from their 90s animation shows like Aeon Flux, The Maxx, Daria and Beavis and Butthead.)


Anyway, I got to thinking about television programming earlier this week after reading about CFU dropping Viacom channels from their lineup effective April 1st. No, this was not intended as an April Fools joke. To make a long story short: Viacom was asking for a 60% hike in their fees, CFU surveyed their subscribers to see if they were on board with a $3/month increase, the subscribers said no (by a 2-to-1 margin), and CFU and Viacom have since parted ways.

I really don’t care what channels CFU offers. I haven’t had reliable access to cable television for several years, since before I moved into the Mandalay. But as a matter of principal, I’m glad CFU took a stand against content providers jacking up prices for no reason other than pure greed. Here’s a primer on the current state of television content bundling and why a la carte channel-buying won’t be available in the near future, barring action from Congress.


…but let’s pretend I could subscribe to individual channels. I can think of a few channels I wouldn’t mind paying for… TCM, Ovation, AMC, Discovery and BBC America. I like the programming on the FX-spinoff channel  FXX (reruns of Arrested Development, Parks & Rec, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Simpsons). If I were subscribing through CFU, I would hope they’d given me access to CFCT so I could continue to watch city council meetings (though I can already do that through the city’s website for free).


Living without cable television (and television in general) has been rather liberating. I will confess there are a few shows currently being aired that I enjoy, such as Parks & Rec (mostly for Nick Offerman’s brilliant character Ron Swanson), Brooklyn Nine-Nine (for Chelsea Peretti and Andre Braugher) and the revised Cosmos series with Neil deGrasse Tyson. Hulu allows me to catch the latest 5 episodes of each of those programs.

There are other online options as well, which I hope to explore later this year. A streaming Netflix subscription would grant me unfettered access to the X-Files, the West Wing, Sealab 2021, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Portlandia and other shows I miss. I wonder if they offer the Joy of Painting with Bob Ross?

Not watching television on a nightly basis means I don’t waste my evenings and weekends in front of a screen. I can direct my time and attention towards more creative pursuits, like writing, reading (hey, remember books?!?), bicycling (weather permitting) and being outdoors in general. It saddens me, though it no longer surprises me, that most people fill their evening hours with television programming, as if it were their nightly duty. To each their own, I guess. All I know is I won’t go to my deathbed wishing I had watched more television.

Written by camcarlson

April 3, 2014 at 11:09 PM

Posted in video