Aug. 10th, 2013 10:37 pm
beige_alert: (tree)
I got another message the other day from the assisted-living home where my mother is living, informing me that she had another extremely minor non-event sort of fall.  I'm sort of used to that now, but the first time they called me and the woman described, at length and in detail, a very very minor fall that if it happened to me would almost not register as an event at all, I was waiting nervously for the actual news about what happened in the end.  I mean, in my life, I have speed skating crashes involving fairly violent impacts into the pads after sliding across the path of some other guy with sharp blades on his feet, or tumbles down the hill in the snow while cross-country skiing, or occasional bike crashes (I've had a fall on ice that was much like the speed skating crashes, a long slide with no injury from the sliding because ice is slippery, but instead of other people on skates I was at risk of being hit by someone in a pickup truck) and trail running stumbles and even road running trips (probably the worst injury I've had in years was a trip while running on the road, which aside from the risk of being hit by someone making a left turn while eating a sandwich while on the phone, doesn't seem like an activity with a lot of crash hazard, but I tripped and fell at roughly 12km/hr and on pavement that can tear up the skin.  I was actually bleeding a bit.  But, again, not a real injury.  Healed totally in weeks, at this point I couldn't even tell you which hand was scraped up, there's no hint left of any damage.)  No one called my mother or my girlfriend to tell them what happened, because, hey, not a real injury (that speed skating crash above actually didn't even hurt at all, not even a minor bruise).  The standards for what constitutes an incident than should be reported are evidently different at an assisted-living center than at an Olympic training facility, which I suppose is as it ought to be, but it's an adjustment.  (At the oval we joke about the falls that look cool but don't hurt:  "Only a physicist could fall like that!") 


Jul. 21st, 2013 06:28 pm
beige_alert: (beigeland)
"[Thumbs-up gesture] Yeaaaah!"

I'm not sure if she was trying to tell me that there is just no one cooler than someone geared up and heading out for two hours of trail running in what in southeastern Wisconsin counts as very hilly terrain, or if she was telling me that no one looks like more of a turbo-dork than a trail runner.  Honestly, though, I'd guess the latter. I'll submit, though, that it is not correct that no one looks like a bigger mega-dork than a trail runner.  Oh, sure, I looked pretty dweebtastic in my orange-and-gray shoes, shorts that are technically a bathing suit (nothing better than jumping in the lake after a run, also, women run in similar pants all the time, so why not me?), a lime-green compression-fit tank top, black and yellow sweat-absorbing headband, and, of course, Amphipod belt with the bright yellowish water bottles.  I'm just saying that I'm also a speed skater, and truly no one looks more dorktastic than speed skaters.  Not only are our skin suits typically in a color combination that could only be the result of a violent high-speed collision with a rainbow, but when we're standing around between races, we half-remove them and add some other utterly random clothing to keep warm as the skin suit sleeves and hood dangle.  We make triathletes look like a sharp-dressed bunch.
beige_alert: (Bike)
I went to the beach today, and found myself pondering various things.  Among them, clothing fashion as exhibited by beach-goers.  Now, first off, if some people want to wear a lot of fabric, that's fine and they should feel free to do so.  It is interesting, though, that women will wear everything from full-coverage to teeny-weeny-bikini, but men seem to range from baggy shorts to stupendously baggy shorts.  Plus me wearing something in a style that, as women's bottoms in a two-piece, would be well over on the more-modest end of that category.  But not so much compared to the other men.

Like, you might imagine "boy shorts" would be popular with "boys" given the name, but no!  Not at all!  The boys prefer "tarps."  Pants that come down well past the knee but stop well above the ankle are capris, right?  Previously, at least around here, it's a style I've seen nearly exclusively worn by women, but now evidently it's the latest thing for the boys on the beach.  On the one hand, it's good to see new flexibility in what's considered acceptable for men or women to wear, but on the other, it's downright amazing that the trend toward ever-bigger, longer, baggier bathing suits for men has actually reached the point where some of them are not even technically shorts anymore.  Mark my words,  the next logical step in the trend to baggier men's bathing suits is the bell-bottom bathing suit.  You just wait. 
beige_alert: (Bike)
I've been watching the Tour de France and noticed that many of the names of the teams sound a lot like military code names.  I mean, yeah, that's the name of the sponsor, but the sponsors tend to be French companies, or Australian companies, or whatever, so if you live in the United States you need google to have any idea who they are.  Thus inspired, I present the following challenge:

[Poll #1922967]
beige_alert: (tree)
Saturday was the third running of the Summerfest "Rock 'n Sole" race in Milwaukee. They had a 5k, the rather unusual distance of a quarter-marathon (10.55km), and a half marathon. I was in the half. The day started with cold rain, which wasn't super encouraging, but by race start at 7 in the morning it had diminished to a sort of cool intermittent drizzle, and the rain pretty much stopped an hour or so into the race. The roads were wet but not to a particularly dangerous or even unpleasant degree. It was surely not such a pleasant morning for the roughly 1023 volunteers (or so it appears, there were many of them and they were awesome!) to stand around in, but it was a good temperature for a long foot race.

In past years I didn't take this event very seriously as a race but mostly wanted to enjoy the very rare chance to see the city from up on the Hoan bridge, part of Interstate 794 where normally enjoyment of the view is prohibited, only driving fast in a car is allowed. This year I wasn't sure if I was really in shape to set a new personal best, but I was taking it seriously enough to not bring a camera along to waste time getting photographs (plus it was raining). I had the virtual pace in my Garmin set to my previous best, last year in Madison. When I first looked at that screen, somewhere between a quarter and a third of the way into the race, I was over a minute ahead of that pace, which seemed quite encouraging. Throughout the race I maintained a pace faster than my PB pace, I felt pretty good, and I seemed to be pretty fast on the downhill segments.

The race was super-organized (totally unlike the fiasco the first year, when a different company was running the event), the vast number of awesome volunteers ran the aid stations smoothly, and in the end I set a new personal best, 1:40:29, 3:37 faster than my previous best last August in Madison. I finished 278th of the 3583 people running the half marathon, 229th of the 1508 men (as usual in running, there were more women than men, 58%. It seems hard to imagine that not that long ago they wouldn't let women even enter races, when now everyone knows women are supposed to be more than half the participants), and 20th of 174 men age 40-44. When you are in around 300th place it doesn't exactly look like you are near the front, but I did notice when we turned around at the south end of the Hoan bridge and headed back that there were kilometers of people trailed out behind us. Keep in mind that before getting anywhere near the turnaround we saw the actual leaders headed past us on the other side, already kilometers ahead of us normal people.

I had another thought at the packet pickup / expo on Friday, which I'll just repost from Facebook:

I did buy a few items at the expo while picking up my race packet for the half marathon tomorrow, and vendors attempted to sell me even more things. As I passed the vendor of aloe vera based creme, a woman working there told me I had to try their product, asked me to hold up my hand, and squirted on a bit of their creme and then held my hand and did a thorough job of rubbing the lotion onto my skin while explaining, at length, the many benefits of their fine product. Speaking as a straight dude, I'll agree that this is a fairly effective way to encourage straight dudes to hang around and listen to your sales pitch. The other thought I immediately had, having some experience with the way many men often behave, is that this woman has got to be on the receiving end of an *immense* quantity of that sort of thing that women get all too often from all too many men. Dudes! She's selling moisturizing lotion! If you were thinking of saying, well, *anything* not directly related to a lotion-purchasing business transaction, just don't. Seriously. Don't.

Gloriously detailed Garmin GPS and heart rate data
beige_alert: (Bike)
I was shopping at REI (as usual...) and found some shorts (in the Kühl brand) that actually pretty much fit. They don't cover my knees, they aren't stupendously baggy. There seems to be some kind of double-standard out there. I commonly see women wearing actual tights when they are clearly not running or cycling, just as normal clothing (a fashion I don't object to in the least), and yet all men's clothing is vast and baggy, like we're wearing tarps with pockets. (Men do get pockets, there is that.) I try to compensate by spending as much time as possible dressed like I'm just briefly off the bicycle, or just popped in after a quick 5km run, which is, actually, very often the case.

Next toy?

Jun. 4th, 2013 09:04 pm
beige_alert: (Bike)
I visited my sweetie down in Louisiana where she has space to string up wire antennas for high-frequency ham radio and also where they like their guns.

I had the chance to play with her high-frequency ham radio rig, which was fun. I have an extra-class license but my old HF radio broke years ago. It was fun to use a relatively-modern radio with an accurate frequency readout. It took me a few days to realize that most people choose a frequency (on HF you usually use any random frequency you feel like within the proper range) that is an integer number of kilohertz plus/minus a tiny bit of imperfect calibration. My old analog radio couldn't even read out to better than maybe plus or minus tens of kHz so it was always a matter of manual fine-tuning, now I realized I could use the coarse-tuning control and then only sometimes touch up the exact frequency just a hair with the fine knob.

We also went to the shooting range she's a member of, with a few guns. I have very little shooting experience, she was a rifle instructor back in the day. She gave me a recurve bow and I live just a kilometer from an archery range, so I do some archery now and then. Target shooting is just like target archery only much, much louder. The .17 HMR bolt-action rifle was lots of fun. The old .303 British, well, that was the first full-power rifle I'd ever fired and it does give you the impression that you are really sending some metal downrange. (BANG!!! [lurch back under recoil] Holy crap! ... Give me another round!) (Also: BANG! "You're buying me dinner after shooting all my ammo, right?" BANG! "Sure!" BANG! BANG!)

So, do I need a new radio or do I need to get my first rifle? Or do I need more long-track speed skating stuff? These are hard decisions!
beige_alert: (Science)
I went to a ham radio swapfest on Saturday morning. It was a fine event, and I did buy a few items, of a sensible sort. Unlike my girlfriend who tends to end up buying kitchen appliances at ham swapfests, I got some radio stuff. I picked up a few adapters between SMA, BNC, and PL-259 connectors, and a little cheap magnet-mount antenna for car use. Lots of interesting stuff for sale. The really antique-y stuff isn't really the big thing I'm interested in, but it is fun to see some of it. Lots of people selling random-seeming vacuum tubes. A few old tube testing machines. I remember that back when I was a youngster, I saw tube testing machine in a store that was still in actual service, although by then it was a bit past the peak of people bringing in their tubes to test to try to fix their radios or TVs or whatever. I got to see and play with a few Vibroplex bugs, the mechanical Morse code keys that can send a string of dits with a mechanical vibrating thingie. My Morse is rusty as can be and learning to use one of those would be interesting, but it's a very cool mechanical device.

I did notice something about the people there. I've been lots of places, done lots of things, but whether it's a long track speed skating race, casual running, an organized marathon, a mass spectrometry conference, a show primarily oriented toward hunting and fishing, seminars in the biochemistry department, kayaking, trail running, gatherings of musicians, a room full of people soldering blinkies together at a con, or darn near anything else, the only place I can think of with a similar ratio of men to women is when I have to pee and pass the sign saying "men" and enter the room with all the urinals on the wall. On some rare occasions, even that room has a more equal balance.
beige_alert: (Bike)
Amateur radio operators have all sorts of diverse interests, and there are contests and various awards for hams who have the persistence and skill (and equipment) to achieve some goal. As one example, there is the Worked All States award for making contacts with people in all 50 of the states in the USA. I was just thinking, though, that not everyone shares the goal of demonstrating skillful and cooperative radio operation. Some people have other interests. After scanning the local repeaters(*) yesterday afternoon, I propose the Kerchunked All Repeaters award, for people who kerchunk(**) every single repeater in a three county region a minimum of fifteen times each in a single afternoon. I'm confident that lots of people would pursue a Big Lid(***) Award eagerly!

(*) A repeater re-transmits on its output frequency everything it receives on its input frequency. Normally it has a good antenna way up high in a good location, enabling people with less impressive antennas or hand-held radios to communicate over the entire city through the repeater system.

(**) Kerchunking the repeater is the practice of transmitting a few seconds of silence—and not giving your callsign, the sending of which is mandatory under the rules. This causes the repeater to fire up its transmitter, and then, when the few seconds of input is over, you get the burst of static, it sends a beeping sound, shuts back down (another burst of static), and sooner or latter it starts back up to transmit its callsign and possibly other info. A certain amount of this happens just by accident—when you have two different push-to-talk buttons and a tangle of wire stuff happens—but it pretty clearly isn't all accidental.

(***) Lid being ham radio slang (****) for an unskilled or rude radio operator.

(****) Hams have a lot of slang that sounds like the kind of slang that only an elderly white man would use. Um, probably just a coincidence...
beige_alert: (tree)
You can buy anything these days by mail-order over the Internet. Behold! Something you'll never see hanging on the rack in a store! A shirt in size Extra Small:

a photo plus more rambly text )
beige_alert: (skates)
During the weekend of January 18 through 20 the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee hosted the Icebreaker indoor running races and the national and North American speed skating marathons, as well as some hockey events.

long... )
beige_alert: (tree)
It's time for the traditional Retroactive New Year Resolutions, things that I'm highly confident I'll have done last year:
  • Spend a week living in a tent with my girlfriend and remain friends :)
  • Enter speed skating races, set lots of new Personal Best times
  • Spend enough time at the oval to become a better skater, and build the endurance and skill to skate a 3000 and like it
  • Run a thousand kilometers
  • Reset and reset again my half marathon PB, and run a marathon (first time is a free personal best!)
  • Vent an Orbitrap Velos and pull off the top cover and take out the multipoles and lenses to clean everything, and put it all back together such that it actually works better than before messing with it.
  • No high-speed crashes other than entertaining my fellow speed skaters with the usual long track no-harm-done-but-looked-really-cool falls and long slides on the ice. (They were teasing me for *days* after my last fall)
  • Don't take up smoking.  (But keep up with the drinking)

PB (no J)

Oct. 21st, 2012 10:18 pm
beige_alert: (skates)
Apparently skaters like the term "Personal Best" (PB) while runners tend to favor "Personal Record (PR) for their best time in an event. Call it what you will, I set one in the 1500 meters yesterday at the long track speed skating time trials at the Pettit. My best 500 was at the very end of last season, and I was 0.07 seconds slower this time, at 48.81. My only other 1500 was also at the very end of last season, and I beat that by 1.9 seconds, with a 2:44.72.

There were a lot of skaters this weekend, which makes things go slower, but that's not necessarily bad. This is, after all, also something of a social gathering of like-minded crazy people. I had a chance to have some nice chats in between events with some people who I've known to varying degrees for a while but don't necessarily have much time to talk to. We see each other and wave and say hi, but generally people are busy working on whatever they are working on, or else are talking to their coach to find out what to do next.

You can't spend any time speed skating in Milwaukee without meeting coach Bob "Yelling Bob" Fenn, or at any rate, I guarantee you'll become familiar with the sound of his voice. He's a friendly guy and we chat now and then, and he can't resist giving out some advice from time to time. He asked me on Friday if I was racing, and he gave a few pointers and something of a pre-race pep-talk, which, since he is after all a professional at that, was nice. At the finish of the 1500 our announcer Jeff noted over the PA system that that was a PB for me, and as I glided from the finish around the turn to the back straight where Bob was sitting he called out "See! I told you you could do it!"

Also, I'd like to note that the very young man who was paired with me in the 1500 took a moment to introduce himself and shake my hand before the race, and congratulated me afterward. Also, he was faster than me. His parents and coaches should be proud.

random photo )
beige_alert: (skates)
My second long track speed skating time trials of the season went much smoother for me than the first, as you'd hope.

You know, my first thought, driving in the pre-dawn darkness in the rain, is that someday I'm going to start the Early Afternoon Sports League, where we will hold our competitions in the early afternoon after the sun has fricking risen.

I had a minor bobble in my first few steps starting the 500, which happens. One of the Real Athletes I know says that he wants to practice starts so much that he can do every practice start perfectly and thus save up the screw-ups for the actual races. Me, you should see some of my practice starts! Anyway, first 100 meters in 12.87 seconds, the flying 400 meter lap 36.18 (that's 39.8 km/hr, which feels mighty fast on ice, yet of course if I did this paired with one of the Serious Athletes he'd disappear into the distance. The young kid I was paired with was faster than me, too.) Total time 49.05. I did a 48.74 at the end of last year, so not too bad considering my start.

My 1000 was a new personal best, 1:44.33, 0.07 better than last season's 1:44.40. That's why we have all this timing technology, to measure those hundredths. First 200 in 23.44, first full lap 38.77 and second 42.12 (yeah, tired...). This was another example of how the smoothest, best laps you do are not the ones where the timer is running. Still, new personal, that always feels great.

The other thing I was thinking, while wandering around between races dressed pretty much like everyone else—brightly colored skin suit half off, the top half dangling from my waist, shirt and jacket on, yellow and gray shoes, hat—is that for those of us who have an impaired sense of fashion and who maybe dress funny, this is the perfect sport. You just literally cannot stand out as dressed funny among this group. We make runners look normal. You never see a runner with sleeves and a top with hood dangling from his waist. (The skin suit is cut for the skating position and isn't so comfortable standing around, plus you have to peel the thing down to pee—men too, the zipper doesn't go down that far.)

gratuitous photos )
beige_alert: (Bike)
Tanita and Garmin

Both of these devices can produce a lot of numbers for you to record and graph and calculate exponentially-weighted moving averages of. The Garmin, in particular, can export numbers in bulk quantities to your computer, which you can then upload and plot and share on Facebook so your friends can "like" your workouts and so on. Neither of them can calculate your worth as a person. You need to look inside at other things. Are you filled with seething hatred for nearly everyone else? Do you drive people away from you with your burning desire to make others miserable? Those are things you might really need to work on.

Your weight, and if you have one of these Tanita bioelectrical impedance analysis scales, the approximate composition numbers, have their uses. It can be handy to have an early heads-up that the trend isn't going the way you expected before you get to the point that your pants don't fit anymore and realize that that might be a sign of something.

The heart rate data is endlessly interesting, for sure. Especially when you start turning into and older person and are happy to see you can still reach the upper-190s—in a good way, not the other way!

If you are the sort who enters races, the number that counts is the one on the stopwatch (or, you know, in the timing system). The number on the scale does not get you extra credit. Complying with weird and freakish notions that your thighs should be tiny won't get you a good time in a speed skating competition. (If you are a speed skater, having huge thighs will either intimidate the other skaters or cause them to have happy thoughts, or possibly both, depending...) You know what, though? You can still be an obnoxious jerk who has a really good time. The fast time can't compensate for that.
beige_alert: (skates)
My first long track skating race of this season was this morning's time trials at the Pettit. The waking up before dawn on Saturday morning aspect isn't so fun, but other than that it's a fun experience and it's great to be back in the skating season.

I would describe my 500 meter experience as "wow, it's been a long time since I last did this!" After the false start...my start went OK, but somehow I ended up settling into a really high position, so much so that it was obvious to me during the race (I must have basically been standing up straight) but, you know, 500 meters goes by pretty fast, and I didn't settle into a better position. My 1000 time was pretty poor, but it went a lot more smoothly for me.

Overall, between this being my first race in a bunch of months and that I've only been skating two weeks this season, it went well enough, and it's always a learning experience.


Sep. 14th, 2012 09:37 pm
beige_alert: (Bike)
I have this smallish, but not too small, bag, that I can use to carry things. Among the things I use it to carry, depending on what clothes I am wearing and thus what pocket space I have, include my keys, wallet, phone, Kleenex, Chap Stick, and possibly Kindle and little camera. So, what do you call a bag like that?

Well, according to the manufacturer, this is actually a "Technical Lumbar System." It has a big Mountainsmith logo and actually has a pretty subdued color scheme as these things go, being mostly black recycled plastic fabric with just some bright, bright yellow zipper pulls and yellow elastic "rigging" with retro-reflective stripes. It is festooned with straps, buckles, clips, and rings, to compress or expand the pack, or on which I could, as the manufactures always word it, "lash" additional gear. It's got "low profile" water bottle pockets and a "Delta Compression System" load-adjuster. I can strap it to my waist, sling it over one shoulder, or replace the plain shoulder strap with a complicated double-strap and wear it like a weird low-riding backpack.

So, yeah, it is a purse, but I'm hoping the masculinity patrol will let me pass.
beige_alert: (honk)
I ran in the Rock 'n Sole half marathon this year in Milwaukee, and the organizers of that event also do the Madison Mini-Marathon and had a M2 Challenge "Rockin to the Capitol" thing with an extra finisher medal for people who ran both races. It sounded like fun.

I'm not a highly experienced racer, but I can say that these guys can organize the crap out of an event, at least compared to certain other event organizers. These were smoothly functioning events.

This was my first race away from home. Madison is only an hour and a half or so of car driving away, but far enough away for me to spend a night in a hotel, certainly so given that packet pickup was the day before. This was one of the "official" hotels and they were prepared for a bunch of crazy people planning to get up at four in the morning on Saturday.

Madison may be a smallish city but it is also a college town, and obviously it's basically not a place you can drive around and park a car in easily. It's worse because the city center is squeezed between a bunch of lakes and so unlike the usual Midwestern big-flat-region where you can just lay out a grid of streets intersecting at right angles they have a weird square crossed by diagonals, with every street one-way and every intersection a weird mix of mandatory or prohibited turns with some random number of streets intersecting. Really, I'm there to run 21.1km at maximum speed, just parking the damn car a few km away and walking would be perfectly fine, but unlike my own home city I have no idea where to go about doing that or how to get there. (In Milwaukee I pretty much have my own personal downtown parking spot in a location that I think is quite convenient but which for some reason no one else seems to want to park in.) I drove round and round and round again Friday night trying to figure out where I might be able to park a car in the vicinity of the packet pickup location. Race morning was easier since I just stuck the car in the first parking garage I came upon on the way toward the start, which was plenty close enough. Also, these days I have the benefit of the Google navigation app in the phone, which helps tons in a maze of one-way-left-turn-only streets.

Race morning! What can be better that waking up at 04:40 on a weekend? The hotel, being ready for the event, had their breakfast rolls and coffee and whatnot ready at 4:30 but I brought my own breakfast of familiar items. It's best not to try interesting new foods before a 21km run, really. Once you get within a few blocks of the start of an event with five thousand participants, it's pretty easy to tell that you've found the right place. All those hundreds of people with numbers pinned to their shirts is a pretty good clue. They had loudspeakers set up, an announcer announcing, music playing, and I'm sure the people living on each side of the starting line were thrilled about that at six AM. It was a cool morning with clear skies and minimal wind. The start was at 7:00. It's a pretty course, which went past the capitol building, past lakes, and through the arboretum. Every one of the numerous aid stations had rows of tables with mobs of volunteers cheerfully handing out cups of water or Gatorade from their massive supply of ready-to-hand-out pre-filled paper cups. Did I mention this event was organized?

I run with a Garmin GPS (Runners: You will recognize them by their giant GPS-heart-rate-wristwatches. You can see my data from the race on Garmin Connect here), but there were also pace groups running, holding up signs with their target time and wearing even-more-brightly-colored-shirts than most of the rest of us. I caught up with the 1:45 target time group pretty quickly and ran with them for a while, then got ahead of them. I finished in 1:44:06, which is 2:10 faster than my previous best time, set at the indoor half-marathon this January at the Pettit Center. That's just over 12.1 km/hr, just a hair faster than 5 minute kilometers or 8 minute miles.

At the finish they had a highly organized process to hand you water, a washcloth with a sponsor's logo on it, granola bars, cookies, and, of course, the finisher's medal. Then head for the beer table for your free beer. As I always say, normally, if you are drinking beer before 9AM, that might be a warning sign that you have issues, assuming you aren't working some sort of night shift. Here, we'd already been up for four or five hours and had run 21.1km, so, really, good time for a beer.

The timing crew has progressed beyond the old-style eventual taping-up of printouts of times, and now you go to the time tent and they type in your number and print out your time and the intermediate splits (5 miles, 10 miles, and time for the last 5km, in this case) for you. Next to them those of us in the M2 Challenge got checked off the list and given the medal for that. Highly organized.

Overall, it's a fun event and I recommend it, as well as the Milwaukee Rock 'n Sole now that it's organized by this highly organized crew.

Oh, and how do we know that we're in Wisconsin? That finisher's medal also can be used as a bottle opener. Around here, we need to be able to get our beer bottles open. It's actually a pretty good bottle opener: Photo here.
beige_alert: (skates)
I grew up in a suburb of Chicago and naturally we got around by driving around in cars, and I've had my own car since I graduated from college and got a full-time job back at the end of 1995, so I really am used to driving around in cars. I'm not some frequent-flyer air-traveler, but I was out of the country twice as a child and have been around a bit as an adult, too. Still, just these last few weeks I found the long-distance travel I've done pretty interesting to think about.

I traveled to Vancouver, British Columbia, by way of first flying to Toronto, which is pretty much the exact wrong direction to travel. I've driven my car to Toronto (for FKO), and it took me two days, one very long day to get to Port Huron, Michigan, and then about a half day to get to Toronto. Starting in Chicago some people consider Toronto to be doable in one day, most likely with more than one person trading off driving duty, but Milwaukee is at least two more hours of driving, and I was alone. You would never choose to drive to Vancouver with a stop in Toronto if you had no reason to go to Toronto, that would be completely crazy. But by regional jet, Toronto is just a one-hour flight from Milwaukee. It almost seems like the shortest distance it makes any sense to bother flying-time airborne is less than the time you'll spend in the airports-yet it takes two days in a car. It took about five hours to get from Toronto to Vancouver (against the wind) and about four hours the other direction with the wind and in a slightly faster airplane.

I was looking at the maps and the speed and altitude displays on the entertainment systems of the A320 and the 777, and just thinking in terms of running and cycling. The altitude in cruise of the various jets I was on varied from about FL330 on up to FL390 in the 777-200LR. The Flight Levels are effectively air pressure in funny units and the height above mean sea level varies with the weather, and the ground out west juts up into the sky by an amount that seems amazing to us flatlanders, but it's close enough to say that at times I was some 11 kilometers above the ground. It depends on how hard I'm working at it, but in general my 10km run time is in the general neighborhood of 50 minutes. Our altitude was a distance that would be roughly an hour of running on level ground, but the climb isn't really the long part of the journey.

When you get used to 11km/hr being a pretty good speed (running) or think 40km/hr is huge speed (on a bicycle), or end up planning commute times on the basis of a 10km/hr running average or a 20km/hr cycling average (traffic lights and stop signs are a killer compared to what you could do in a race on a closed course), getting out on the Interstate and cruising for extended intervals at 88km/hr (55MPH) seems very fast, and the airliner speeds over 900km/hr are really just amazing. Crossing Lake Michigan in a seemingly trivial amount of time was a delight. It is just a whole different thing. A thing that involves burning fuel on a scale very different from burning through "bars" and "gels" on a day-long bicycle journey. A US gallon of gasoline is worth something like 31,500 kcal. An elite athlete can burn 8000+ kcal in a day. A very fuel efficient car driven somewhat slowly can burn a gallon of gasoline in an hour, and something like a Subaru station wagon can burn as much as three gallons an hour. A pickup truck much more. A jet burns through fuel at an amazing rate, but it also has a lot more than one person on board typically. If filled up, on a per-person basis an airliner is closer to a single-occupant Prius than a single-occupant SUV, though it is very much faster. The air is thin up high in the flight levels.

I drove to the southern end of the Chicago area this weekend. It was a hot weekend with a strong wind out of the south bringing us the warm air. You feel the wind running, and generally appreciate it in the warmer months. While cycling the wind is a very obvious thing, aiding or hindering you. In an airplane you cruise at a more-or-less set airspeed and the wind speeds or slows you. In a car, in contrast, you cruise at a set ground speed and have power available far in excess of what you need for any legal speed, so you set power as needed to maintain speed in whatever wind you have. My car has a display of miles/gallon available, and I found it interesting to see it reading only down in the low to mid 50s MPG (at 55 miles/hour) on the trip south, and then returning north mostly well up in the 60s, dragging the trip average up to 61. (This display is a few MPG optimistic compared to the figure you get from the odometer divided by the gas station pump display). You can't feel the wind the way you do under human power, but you can see it in the numbers! Again, being used to working fairly hard to maintain 30 km/hr, doing 88 km/hr for hours while resting, with the air conditioner blowing cool air at a temperature controllable with the press of a button with my left thumb, really seems amazing. I think people get very jaded about car driving, but in about seven hours of physical comfort with generally minor mental effort I traveled a distance that would take days on a bicycle, and burned fuel that cost under $20.
beige_alert: (Science)
I went to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, for the American Society for Mass Spectrometry conference. This was, naturally, business-related travel. I know that people who travel for work all the time mostly hate it, but I very rarely get sent on business trips, so it really does remain a fun adventure for me. Mostly, actually, I go to someplace in the Chicago area, the next big city over, which isn't so exciting because I grew up there and travel there for fun frequently, but it also isn't very hard to do, just two hours of driving, or 90 minutes on a train to go to the actual city center. Trips far away are much rarer and, as I say, are a fun adventure even if the actual travel is something of a nuisance.

lots more )


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January 2015



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