Tuesday, March 31, 2009


1966 Topps Earl Wilson cardSuccess is simply a matter of luck. Ask any failure.

-- Earl Wilson (2 October 1934 - 23 April 2005), Major League Baseball pitcher

Monday, March 30, 2009

Wife, Kids, And A Mortgage

National Hero Award of GeorgiaA coward is a hero with a wife, kids, and a mortgage.

-- Marvin Kitman (1929-), author and media critic

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Killer Economy

US Whig poster showing unemployment in 1837For over 30 years, Dr. Harvey Brenner, a sociologist and public health expert at Johns Hopkins University and the University of North Texas Health Science Center, has been carefully studying the link between economic fluctuations and the nation's physical and mental health. Based on the experience of the last half century, he has even estimated how many more deaths, suicides, heart attacks, homicides, and admissions to mental hospitals we can expect when unemployment rises.

After crunching the numbers, Brenner calculated that for every one percent increase in the unemployment rate (an additional 1.5 million people out of work), we can expect an additional 47,000 deaths, including 26,000 deaths from heart attacks, about 1,200 from suicide, 831 murders, and 635 deaths related to alcohol consumption.

-- Peter Dreier, E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics at Occidental College, "This Economy is a Real Killer," Huffington Post, 10 March 2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Devil's Corporation

PiruCorporation: An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.

-- Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914), The Devil's Dictionary

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Corporate Conscience

Crayon portrait of Henry David Thoreau as a young manIt is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience. But a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience.

-- Henry David Thoreau (12 July 1817 - 6 May 1862), American author, poet, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, historian, philosopher, "Civil Disobedience" (1849)

Monday, March 23, 2009


Horacio VerbitskyJournalism is publishing what someone doesn't want us to know; the rest is propaganda.

-- Horacio Verbitsky (b. 1942), Argentinian investigative journalist and author

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Dawes SST-AL Pictorial Review

Click any image to view it full size.

On Friday the thirteenth of February I received my tax refund. At 11am that morning I placed my order for the Dawes SST-AL (52cm) from bikdesdirect for $359.99 USD delivered. I was looking for a way to rekindle my interest in cycling, which had fallen off some in the past couple of years. I figured riding fixed could do the trick. Since it had been 10 years since I last bought a bicycle (my road bike), I was pretty excited about getting another bike. At 11:40 I received a UPS tracking number. Bonus points for the quick shipping!

My budget for the bike ran about $500, so right after ordering the Dawes I went to ebay and picked up a Cateye Strada wireless cycle computer, and a cheap pair of Wellgo 823 clipless pedals. The bike comes with clips and straps, but since I already ride a pair of Wellgos on my road bike I decided to get the same for this bike so I could be sure I could use my only pair of cycling shoes with both bikes.

Dawes in boxI had it shipped to my office. I ordered it the Friday of Presidents Day weekend, so with their 5-day shipping estimate I figured it would be at best Thursday or Friday of the following week when the bike arrived. I was stoked when it arrived at my office on Tuesday(!) morning at 9:30. That's a little under 4 days for delivery, across a holiday weekend. The bike got to me so quickly that I had to wait a few more days to get my clipless pedals and cycle computer. The box was in pretty good shape, so I wasn't worried about the condition of the contents.

Open boxThe thing felt pretty light. Opening the box was a pretty good wrestling match; once it was open, I could see everything tucked tightly into place.

Seatpost and saddleThe seatpost is a Kalloy Micro Adjust 27.2x300mm in black, mounted with a nondescript black saddle. Since I already had a Fizik Pave' saddle on hand, I've been using it in place of the stock saddle while riding.

Unloaded boxThe wheels looked nice, and the packing job was thorough, with cardboard, foam, and clear plastic taped or zip tied in place to protect all the shiny aluminum of the frame and the black components. I admit that when I placed the order I was concerned about the level of care that would be used in packing. Everything came through just fine. There was the seatpost and saddle, a parts box, and the mass of the frame and wheels. The rear was already installed, while the front was zipped in place. Interestingly, the front also had the left crank slid in place between the spokes. It made for a solidly packed mass with little room to move around. That's good, since there's no one to inspect the bikes between the factory and the customer.

Parts box contentsThe parts box had the pedals, the 17-tooth freewheel (the 18-tooth fixed cog was installed), and a rear brake and brake lever with cable and housing. Also included was a laughable "owners manual" with a few pages of (very) generic content.

Rear wheel, bottom bracket, and crankThe welds are not especially pretty, but that's something I was willing to accept for the deeply discounted price at bikesdirect. The axles were covered to prevent them punching through the sides of the box. I took a good look at the rims and other components before beginning to assemble the bike.

Cane Creek HeadsetThe headset is a Cane Creek -- I was glad of that, though I'm sure it's low-end Cane Creek. The whole head tube was loose on arrival, but there was no apparent harm in that. Contrary to what you may have heard on the web, the Dawes stickers are all under the clear coat. The only sticker on top is that "Made in Taiwan" sticker on the head tube.

Side shot of head tubeHere's a shot of the welds where the top tube and seat tube meet up with the head tube. Keep in mind that this is a 52cm, so everything pretty much runs together here.

Handlebars installedWith the handlebars in place and the headset tightened down it was starting to look like a bicycle. Initially I left in the full complement of spacers. I've taken about half of them out while adjusting my fit. The handlebars are 44cm C-C, which is a full 6cm wider than the bars on my road bike, and likely too wide for anyone who buys a 52cm frame.

Ready for the first rideI bolted on the front wheel and installed the seatpost and the clips and straps, and voila, it's a track bike. There's no toe overlap at this frame size, and there's plenty of clearance in back for fenders, with braze-ons for racks and two water bottles. I didn't put on the rear brake right away, but of course this bike has cable guides on the frame, so I was sure I would install it soon. In this picture everything is still stock. At this point I was ready to go for my first ride.

The clips and straps took me back to my high school days. Everything on the bike was pretty tight. The only thing that slipped was the rear cog when I backpedaled to slow down. For the rest of the ride I stuck to the front brake for stopping. We're a little too close to winter here still, so the 30F temps and light drizzle meant the first ride was short.

Saddle and seat bagSince I didn't have any track-bike specific tools yet, I tightened the cog by standing on the pedals. I carefully used a hammer and nailset to tighten the lockring, which tightened about a quarter turn. The crank and all other parts were already all the way tightened down. Since I bought the bike mail order, I've been trying to be nice to my LBS by going there to buy a lockring tool and a chain whip, as well as a Topeak bag mounted under the saddle to carry my spare tube, 15mm wrench, and multitool.

Complete bike, with some upgradesI have a day job and the days are still short, so I can only ride on the weekends, but right now I have about 70 miles on the bike, including a couple of rides of 20 to 25 miles. This picture shows my bike as it looks now after a few modifications. The provided rear brake is installed, and a few new components have been swapped in. As I mentioned before, I already had a Fizik saddle I intended to use, and my clipless pedals and cycle computer arrived from the land of ebay. I knew the handlebars were silly wide, and after I road it a few times I realized that I missed the hand positions afforded by brake hoods. So I returned to ebay where I picked up a 40cm Nitto Noodle handlebar, some Tektro R200 aero brake levers, and Cinelli macro-splash cork tape. My LBS had the 38g Bontrager composite water bottle cage. Now the bike really felt like it was mine. I was amused, after I thought about it, to realize how closely the setup of the Dawes mirrored the setup of my regular road bike. So far I'm pretty happy, but I'm still making adjustments to the fit to find the most comfortable position.

Bikeforums.net logoMany thanks to the fixed gear folks over at bikeforums.net where I lurked for about 6 weeks prior to ordering the Dawes, and where I continue to find inspiration.

I need to put some more miles into this setup to be sure it's right, but I find it more comfortable than the stock parts. I'm a roadie by nature, and most of my rides are 20-40 miles on flat to rolling hills. My only shorter rides are tooling around town with my kids.

Riding and working on the bike has been an education in fixedness. On my road bike my cadence is generally 90+ ... on the fixed gear, particularly on hills or into the wind, I'm forced to generate a lot of force at lower cadences. It's a different kind of workout.

Track endsAs delivered, the rear wheel fits at the tight end of the track ends. There's some kind of black, protective plastic on the right chainstay.

StemThe stem is solid but uninspiring. It's 110mm; I may swap that out for a 90mm soon.

Closeup of the right aero brake leverAnd here's a closeup look at the Tektro R200 aero brake levers I switched to. They're heavier than the cross levers that came with, but I like riding on the hoods. Since I'm on a budget I wanted cheap, and I knew the Tektro levers would work with the stock Tektro brakes. A note for anyone else considering this upgrade -- I needed new brake cables and housing because the existing ones weren't long enough. The hoods mount far enough out on the bars to make both cables several centimeters too short. I did keep the stock rear brake cable and cut it down to use as the front brake cable so that I only had to purchase (again at the LBS) a new cable for the rear.

Complete bike, grain elevator in the backgroundI live in a town of 1800 people in the middle of Illinois corn and soybean fields. All of my riding is on blacktop chip and seal roads. I don't ride in the winter, so I'm just getting used to being back in the saddle. This makes it hard to compare the comfort of the Dawes vs. my road bike, which I still haven't ridden since early December.

Bike closeup from below frontThe 48x18 gearing is good while I'm learning to ride fixed, but I may knock that rear cog down to around 16 teeth to increase my top end. I haven't made up my mind yet whether that will cause me trouble in the open on a windy day. Give it a couple of months and the corn will be over my head on both sides of the road, and that will help some with the wind. Bikesdirect states that the crank length varies based on frame size; these cranks are 170mm. If a future edition of this bike comes with a carbon fork, that would be a nice enhancement over the current design. I hesitate to add an aftermarket carbon fork due to the cost.

Feel free to ask questions in the comments; I'll try to answer them. I'll also come back with an update that gives the full list of changed components with their costs.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Shortness Of Time

Clock machine in Museum of life in Burgundy, Dijon, FranceWe all sorely complain of the shortness of time, and yet have much more than we know what to do with. Our lives are either spent in doing nothing at all, or in doing nothing to the purpose, or in doing nothing that we ought to do. We are always complaining that our days are few, and acting as though there would be no end of them.

-- Seneca (BC 3-65 AD), Roman philosopher, dramatist, statesman

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Even Trash

Trash and skyscrapers, ShanghaiEven trash has become worthless.

-- Tian Wengui, who collects refuse for recycling in Beijing, New York Times, 12 March 2009

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Little Worried

National Emblem of the People's Republic of ChinaWe have lent a huge amount of money to the U.S. Of course we are concerned about the safety of our assets. To be honest, I am definitely a little worried.

-- Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, New York Times, 14 March 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009


Mug shot of Charles PonziAs the years went by I realized this day, and my arrest, would inevitably come.

-- Bernard L. Madoff, pleading guilty to a Ponzi scheme allegedly involving $64 Billion, New York Times, 13 March 2009

Friday, March 13, 2009

Spam Nation II

No Spam logoA year ago today I complimented Google for their ability to filter spam, and griped about the roughly 350 pieces of spam that went into my GMail spam folder on a daily basis. At that time, I had 10,251 messages in my spam folder, and I was receiving spam every 4 minutes, 12 seconds.

I don't know whether we're winning the spam wars, or perhaps Google is doing some upstream spam filtering, but my spam folder currently stands at 1324 messages, an average of just over 44 messages per day, or one every 32 minutes, 37 seconds. That's about an eight-fold improvement, and now I can actually check my spam folder for false positives again!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

donald appleman / cerl

PLATO IV terminal displaying Paul Tenczar's lesson on geneticsThe following events all occurred on March 12, 1974 --

* Donna Gail Manson, 19, disappeared from the campus of Evergreen State College, the second of "Son of Sam" Ted Bundy's 28 murder victims.

* John Lennon got into a tiff with a photographer at The Troubador in LA.

* Goldie Hawn was filming "Shampoo".

* Lt. William Calley was freed on bail pending an appeal of his convictions for murdering Vietnamese civilians at My Lai 6 years earlier.

* Paul & Susan Newman were spotted in Beverly Hills at Dan Tana's.

* NASA's Mars 6 spacecraft reached Mars where a descent module broadcast the first data returned from the atmosphere of Mars, for 224 seconds, before crashing into the surface.

* My first PLATO signon, donald appleman/cerl was created for me by Bill Golden.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Competition Of Ideas

Arm WrestlingThe problem of freedom in America is that of maintaining a competition of ideas, and you do not achieve that by silencing one brand of idea.

-- Max Lerner (1902-1992), American journalist and educator

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Public Opinion

George F. KennanPublic opinion, or what passes for public opinion, is not invariably a moderating force in the jungle of politics. ... I also suspect that what purports to be public opinion in most countries that consider themselves to have popular government is often not really the consensus of the feelings of the mass of the people at all, but rather the expression of the interests of special highly vocal minorities -- politicians, commentators, and publicity-seekers of all sorts: people who live by their ability to draw attention to themselves and die, like fish out of water, if they are compelled to remain silent.

-- George F. Kennan (16 February 1904 - 17 March 2005) American advisor, diplomat, political scientist, and historian

Monday, March 09, 2009

Loyal Opposition

Raustadt photo of John McCainI'm the, as I said, loyal opposition. And both words, I think, are operative.

-- Senator John McCain (R-AZ), New York Times, 7 March 2009

Friday, March 06, 2009


Newspaper vending machinesThe media should be the first line of defense against charlatans and con artists. Instead, they are the conduit for every claim that activists dream up.

-- Terence Corcoran

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Captain Asphalt

Asphalt laying machineI'm Captain Asphalt.

-- Timothy J. Gilchrist, newly appointed stimulus czar for New York State, NY Times, 5 March 2009

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Money Talks

That money talks
I'll not deny,
I heard it once:
It said, "Goodbye."

-- Richard Armour (1906-1988), American poet and author

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


Infant looking at shiny objectEvery intelligent child is an amateur anthropologist. The first thing such a child notices is that adults don't make sense.

-- John Leonard (1939-02-25 - 2008-11-05), American literary, TV, film and cultural critic, "Books of the Times", The New York Times, 23 September 1982

Monday, March 02, 2009

True Value

Apple and Orange - they do not compareYour true value depends entirely on what you are compared with.

-- Bob Wells, American editor for Windows and .NET Magazine