Inevitable

It’s about the time of year that I should be posting something about my spring long-distance ride, as I did in 2015 and 2016. Unfortunately, though, I won’t be able to do the ride this year, and may not be doing distance rides for some time; perhaps never again.

Last October I rode in the 2016 Valero Ride to the River, which was a full century (100 miles) on Saturday, and then a “short” 38-mile ride on Sunday. I was surprised at how strong I felt that weekend – it seemed that all my training had paid off! However, I was even more surprised a few weeks later when I woke up and couldn’t bend my left thumb easily. When I did bend it, there was a very noticeable clicking I felt in the muscles and/or tendons. A quick search on Google showed that I had a case of “Trigger Thumb” (also called “Trigger Finger”). I saw my orthopaedist about it, as well as a hand specialist, and after several treatments (and several months of exercise and naproxen) the clicking finally subsided, and I regained normal use of my thumb. But unfortunately, the consensus of the doctors was that bike riding was the culprit, since it involves a pressure on that part of my hand in the normal riding position, and is especially bad on rough roads that I frequently had to deal with. Yeah, I know all about recumbent bikes, but that just seems too sad to contemplate now. And hey, if anyone knows a good metal worker who might be able to build a custom set of handlebars, I have some ideas on how to change them to reduce the pressure on the hands.

So why did I title this post “Inevitable”? Because of the underlying cause of the condition: osteoarthritis. I had been first diagnosed with arthritis about 20 years ago, and with each subsequent joint problem, my doctors have pretty much told me to resign myself to it, as I seem to have a natural tendency for my joints to get arthritic. When I was examined for my trigger thumb, the x-rays showed a great deal of underlying arthritis in my thumb joint, which probably made the irritation to the tendons worse. And this wasn’t the first time I got such a diagnosis.

Back in my 20s and 30s, I played a lot of tennis. I was pretty good, too, playing at a solid 4.5 rating. However, I noticed soreness in my shoulder when serving or hitting overheads. As many of my fellow tennis players had rotator cuff injuries that seemed to match my symptoms, I assumed that it was something fixable. But after visiting the doctor, he said my rotator cuff was just fine; rather, I had arthritis in my shoulder. There was no treatment except anti-inflammatory drugs and rest (i.e., not playing tennis). I tried to adjust, but even after some time off it didn’t get better. So I gave up tennis.

Right about that time, my sons had progressed in the soccer world so that they were much better than my ability to coach them. I loved being in the game, so I got my referee badge and did several games a week to keep in shape. I figured that if I could keep up on the pitch with 17-year-olds, I wasn’t too far over the hill!

I had had surgery back in 1992 to repair a torn meniscus in my knee (tennis injury, of course!), but after a couple of years of reffing, I had to have 2 more surgeries, one on each knee. When my left knee started bothering me a couple of years ago, I assumed that I needed yet another surgery to clean it up, but my doctor said that there was no more cartilage left there, and that the pain I was feeling was arthritis. Again, I could take anti-inflammatories to relieve some of the pain, but there was nothing I could do to “fix” this. He advised reducing impact to my knees, so that’s when I started cycling seriously. Now that I have to greatly reduce my cycling, I don’t have a lot of options left. I go to the gym and use the elliptical machine, but that’s not even close to doing some real activity. I did go hiking in Big Bend National Park last weekend, and was pleasantly surprised that my knees and hip didn’t complain very much. Oh, didn’t I mention that I also have arthritis in my hip?

So I don’t know where I’ll turn next. I do know that sitting on my butt is not an option. Maybe knee replacement? And/or hip replacement? Geez, I’m a few months shy of 60, and that seems awfully young to be trading out body parts. So I guess it’s off to work on modified handlebar designs for my bike…

Hertz and the Great Tollway Ripoff

Last Thanksgiving we went on a wonderful holiday in the Florida Keys. We flew to Miami, picked up a rental car from Hertz, and drove away. There are a couple of toll roads along the way, but we had Hertz’s PlatePass, which would work on those toll sensors. I’ve used similar things with other rental companies, where a few weeks later I receive a bill for the accumulated tolls.

Not with PlatePass, however. Not only did I get a bill for the tolls (about $11), but a $25 service charge on top of that! Turns out that Hertz charges $5 a day (up to $25), even on days when you don’t run up any tolls! I’m stuck paying this, but you can be sure that I will avoid using and recommending Hertz in the future. Yeah, I found out that it’s documented on the website, but it wasn’t documented when I got in the car, nor was I given an option to disable it. So yeah, Hertz and/or PlatePass made an extra $25 off of me on that trip, but they will lose so much more than that in the future. This is what happens when businesses are short-sighted and go after the quick buck instead of developing long-term relationships with their customers.

Presidential Prediction

With less than 24 hours until Donald Trump is sworn in as President of the United States of America, I’ve been thinking about how this is all going to play out. So here’s my prediction: he will last in office for a few months – no more than a year – and then resign. Mike Pence will finish the term.

Why? Because Trump has no interest in running a country. His only interest is himself, and he sees being President as an opportunity to have two things: for people kiss up to him, and for him to line his pockets. The problem is that since the Republicans control the House and Senate too, they have their own expectations, and they don’t necessarily overlap with Trump’s. As a result, he’ll start to veto things the Republicans want, just because he can, or because he feels that someone has unfairly criticized him. He’s shown his vindictive side again and again, and that matters more to hin than any party loyalty. Pence, on the other hand, would be more than happy to play ball, since he’s firmly on the side of the Republicans. So in the days following inauguration, Trump will continue to appoint unqualified people, and propose and say outrageous things. At some point, “something” will surface that will force the House to consider impeachment, most likely a business conflict, and rather than face that embarrassing option, Trump will resign and storm off, like a little brat taking his ball and going home when he doesn’t win. He’ll have proven he can beat everyone, and will have become richer as a result. Then Pence will take over, and the real damage will begin.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t like Trump one bit. But I believe that he is going to be so over-the-top that when he leaves, people will sigh with relief, because things will no longer seem so outrageous as “normalcy” returns. People will not even notice that the Republicans are taking away their health care, Social Security, Medicare, financial protections, environmental protections, etc. – all the things that the Republicans have told us they would do for so many years. And since Republicans know that they will likely lose their majorities in the mid-term elections after the Trump debacle, so they will want to get Trump out of the way sooner rather than later so that they have time to get all of this done before they lose the House and/or Senate.

Ride to the River 2016

The Valero Ride to the River is a two-day cycling event to raise money for research for a cure for Multiple Sclerosis. This was the third time I’ve ridden in it, but what made this year different is that this is the first time that Mother Nature didn’t completely wash out one of the days. We had gorgeous weather, with temperatures cool in the morning, and only climbing to the low 80sF (around 25-27C) in the afternoon.

Starting off on Day 1
Starting off on Day 1 (that’s me in the bright green)

 

The ride starts in San Antonio, and wanders east and north until it reaches New Braunfels. This route is about 71 miles, but near the end there is a choice: turn left, and finish your ride. Or, you can turn right, and go up the Guadalupe River for 15 miles, turn around, and return back, making the total ride 100 miles. As I had done a full century on my last ride, I didn’t feel the need to push myself to prove anything. I had told everyone that I was only doing the 71. But as the ride progressed, I continued to feel fresh. This was most likely due to the very mild weather: temperatures never rose very high, and there were enough clouds so that you weren’t baking in the sun the entire time. By the time I reached the lunch rest stop (50 miles in), I started thinking seriously about going for the century, but I told my wife I’d wait until the last rest stop before the decision point.

Lunch after 50 miles, Day 1
Lunch after 50 miles, Day 1

 

When I reached that stop, at around mile 65, I knew that I wanted to do the full century. I remembered the only other time that I did this course, and what a struggle those last 30 miles were, so I braced myself for the ride. I was very surprised to find that, while definitely an effort, it was nowhere near as exhausting as it had been the previous time. Either they smoothed the hills out, or I was in much better shape! 😉 So while I didn’t set any speed records, I finished the century much easier than my previous two. Here’s the record of my ride, thanks to the Runkeeper app.

Enjoying a well-deserved beer after completing the century!
Enjoying a well-deserved beer after completing the century!

 

My well-earned Century Rider armband.
My Century Rider armband.

 

The next day offered a choice of two looping routes: 61 miles or 38 miles through the Texas Hill Country. I had done the 61 mile route a couple of years ago, and remembered how grueling the hills were on that ride, so I chose to only do the 38. For comparison, the route for Day 1 was through areas to the east of San Antonio, which is relatively flat. I had about 4,300′ of total climb (43 ft/mile). This route took us to the northwest of New Braunfels, which is much hillier by far. The total climb was about 2,700′, or over 71 ft/mile! And as you can see from the graph below, most of that climb was in the first half of the ride. There isn’t much else to say about the Day 2 ride. The weather was once again perfect, and while the ride was difficult at times, it felt good overall. Here’s the Runkeeper summary for Day 2.img_1025

Of course, I can’t take all the credit. The ride was extremely well-organized by the MS Society, with well-staffed rest stops every 12-15 miles. They also arranged for police support for traffic management, so that riders didn’t get stuck (or struck!) at busy intersections. My belated apologies to the drivers who were made to wait while 2,000 riders passed through!

I also don’t think I would have been able to accomplish this without the loving support of my wife Linda, who gives me the motivation to stay healthy so that I can live a long life with her! Three years ago I thought it was a pretty amazing accomplishment to complete a century at age 55, but now to have done two centuries this year at age 58 is really more than I ever expected to achieve, and I have Linda to thank for that.

img_8491

Out of the Closet

From the time he was an adolescent, Johnny was always aware that he was somehow different than others. His parents, teachers, ministers, and neighbors all told him things that he didn’t feel were correct. He had thoughts and feelings that were clearly considered evil by the society around him, but try as he might, those feelings never went away. So in public he pretended to be the way they expected him to be. He got pretty good at pretending; so good that no one had a clue as to his true nature. He dreamt of a day when he could stop pretending, and be who he really was.

At first he thought he must be the only one who had to keep such a secret. Sure, there were a few people like him who were open about who they were, but they were reviled among his family and friends, and he sure didn’t want to become an outcast. So he kept pretending.

A few years later things slowly started to improve for Johnny. Many people in the media, and even some popular politicians, began to talk about these things. Not openly, of course – that would never have worked. But they clearly hinted at it, using code words and loose word associations that were understood by their listeners, but which could always be publicly denied as having any subtext. He began to notice that others were responding to these signals. Lots of other people. He began to understand that he was far from being alone.

He also started to think that if people like him were to unite and work together, they could change the underlying culture of society. So he started meeting with other like-minded people. He began to become politically active, and supported those candidates who were clearly sympathetic to his view of the world. As more and more of these candidates for change were elected, he began to feel more confident that things were finally changing!

And now, after years of supporting candidates who spoke about these matters by using carefully-chosen code words, a new, fresh candidate has emerged who spoke openly about the things he always believed! Donald Trump didn’t bother with the polite code words; he said what he felt, and this was exactly what Johnny had been waiting for: someone who represented what those feelings.

For Johnny is a racist. He never liked blacks or Jews, and always thought gays were perverts and should be locked away. He wanted to send all the Mexicans back, and keep Muslims in their countries, where we could bomb the shit out of them. He doesn’t see anything wrong about the Confederate flag, except that people are being too “politically correct” about it. Oh, and the misogyny! He had always felt that only men should be leaders, since women were inferior. He wished that someday women just shut up about equality, and go back to their “traditional” roles of cooking, cleaning, and raising babies, while always submitting to his sexual desires.

Johnny still can’t say those things out loud in public, because he knows that he would be ostracized socially, and would probably lose his job if his boss knew. So he still pretends, but come November, he will ecstatically cast his vote for Trump. And despite polls showing that Trump has nearly no chance of winning, Trump will end up getting millions of votes from people like Johnny who are skilled at acting one way in public, but who secretly long for the days of segregation and male dominance.

Don’t kid yourselves into thinking that people like Johnny are rare. All you have to do is spend any time on the internet and they will use that anonymity to reveal themselves. They are much more common than you think, and if you get complacent reading polls that show Trump as wildly unpopular, you will be in for a shock when he continues to beat the pollsters. Because polls rely on people saying what they honestly think, and these racists may be ignorant, but they aren’t dumb. They will happily report to be shocked by what Trump says when asked publicly, while inwardly smiling and thinking “ah, one of us!”. Don’t fall into that trap. Treat him, and those who support him in the shadows, as the serious threat that they are.

The Second Century

No, I’m not talking about history – this is about my cycling ride on Saturday. I participated in the 2016 Tour de Cure San Antonio, and completed the 103-mile course. I’ve only ridden a century (a 100-mile ride) once before, and my attempts at doing another were thwarted twice: once, a year later, when the entire ride was washed out by heavy thunderstorms, and then again at last year’s Tour de Cure, when they closed the century course early due to thunderstorms.

Start of ride
Lining up for the start of the ride (at 7am)!

 

Well, this year’s ride had its share of thunderstorms, too, but fortunately they were at the end. The day started off overcast and threatening-looking, but nothing came of all those clouds. About 30 miles into the ride the sun burst through, and I was hoping that it would stick around for a while. However, we only got to enjoy the sunshine for an hour or so until the clouds returned. It kept looking darker and darker as the ride progressed, and then at the rest stop at mile 80 there were event officials warning that a little ways up the road it was already raining heavily. They had vehicles that would shuttle you and your bike to the finish line if you didn’t want to ride through the storm, but that wasn’t what I had set out to do. What’s a little water, anyway?

To be honest, I was feeling pretty drained after 80 miles. When you sweat while cycling, the breeze against you dries it quickly, so after a few hours it feels like a salty crust. My leg muscles also felt like they had begun to run out of energy. But I set out to continue the ride anyway, and sure enough, about a mile later the skies opened up. Within minutes I was soaked from my helmet to my shoes. Oddly enough, though, it was actually re-invigorating! And once you’re wet, more rain isn’t getting you any wetter, so I rode on. The loud cracks of thunder sounded great, like music for a film I was starring in. Yeah, it felt pretty dramatic!

So I made it to the finish. The first time I did a century I was struggling – hard. I wasn’t even running on fumes then; hell, I would have loved to have had some fumes at that point. I had to stop several times in that last 30 mile loop to regain enough strength to keep going. So completing that ride was a matter of sheer will power. This year it was different: sure, I was tired during the ride, and a bit stiff afterwards, but when I got within a few miles of the finish, I found another gear and sprinted my way in.

Crossing the finish line
Crossing the finish line after 103 miles!

 

I think that there were several differences this year. I had trained much better this time, so my legs were better able to keep going for the distance. It was also much cooler, with temperatures in the 70s (instead of around 90F). And the rain, while making some aspects uncomfortable, certainly helped to refresh me. Finally, the course this year didn’t have very many severe hills. It had lots of climb, but nothing compared to the earlier course, which featured several killer hills.

posing with medal
Posing with my medal after finishing the ride, soaking wet!

 

There are three sets of people I want to thank: first, the American Diabetes Association, for organizing this event and making it run so smoothly – you’re really doing great work! Second, to the members of the ProFox online community for generously donating to support me. Together we raised $500! And finally, of course, to my wonderful wife Linda, who encouraged me every step of the way, and even drove back home to get my water bottles that I had forgotten. Hey, it was 6 in the morning, and my brain hadn’t caffeinated enough yet!

Linda and Ed
Linda and I, just before the start of the ride

Bias is Bias, Inadvertant or Not

I recently read this tweet storm by Matt Joseph (@_mattjoseph) that made me think. Go ahead, read it first. Read all 30 of his tweets so that you understand his point.

Whether you like to admit it or not, bias is real, and the targets of negative bias end up having to work much, much harder to overcome that bias than those for whom the bias is positive. Want an example? In the classical music world, musicians would audition to fill openings in an orchestra. For such auditions the musical director and possibly one or two other senior musicians who would act as judges. They would listen to each candidate perform a piece of music so that their musical abilities could be rated, and the highest rated musicians would get the job. Pretty straightforward. Traditionally (that is, through 1970) women only made up 5% or so of most orchestras. Now it can be assumed that a musical director would want the best musicians in their orchestra, so they would not have a reason to select mostly men if women played as well. So it was commonly assumed that playing music was both artistic and athletic, and that this athletic component that gave men the edge.

However, starting in the 1970s, auditions were switched to be done blindly: the musicians performed behind a screen, and the judges only had a number to refer to them.

blind_auditionCredit: old.post-gazette.com

It should not shock you that with this change, the percentage of women in orchestras began climbing, reaching 20% by the 1990s. Given the low turnover of orchestras, this is a huge difference! There are only 2 possible explanations for such a rapid, radical change. One is that women were suddenly getting better at playing music, though there is no evidence of any additional intense training programs for female musicians at that time.

So the second, and obvious, explanation is that prior to the blind auditions, the bias of the judges influenced what they heard, and as a result, women would be scored lower. Put another way, for a woman to make it into an orchestra, she had to be much more talented than a man in order to overcome that bias and get a similar score.

That, in essence, is the point Matt was making about the state of funding for tech companies: people of color, like him,

“…had to overcome things that others in the exact same position didn’t have to. That means with equal conditions, we’d be much further.”

The flip side to this is that, given two people of equal talent, you can expect that the person subjected to these kinds of negative biases will have less to show, in terms of any measures that may be used as “objective” criteria. This includes things like grades and SAT scores for kids applying to colleges. The attempt to correct for this bias is commonly referred to as “Affirmative Action”. If you recognize that bias exists, you understand why programs like this are important. Of course, it would be better to eliminate bias altogether, right? Yeah, and be sure to tell me when someone figures out how to do that. I don’t believe it’s possible, given the tribal nature in which humans evolved. This is why devices such as the blind audition are needed, and, if that’s not possible, applying a corrective factor to compensate.

Still not convinced that steps like Affirmative Action are correct? Then please explain why minorities such as blacks and Latinos score lower on average than whites. I see only two explanations: 1) they face many more hurdles in the education system, such as poorer facilities and support systems, that prevent them from progressing as strongly, or 2) they are inherently not as smart as whites. I’m sure that if you thought that option 2 is even possible, you wouldn’t be the type of person inclined to read this far. The proof is in the stats: if a group makes up N% of the population overall, but less than N% in some selected group, you’d better be able to identify an objective reason for this difference, or you’ve got to assume bias is influencing these numbers. And it isn’t something to be ashamed of or try to deny: we all have biases that we aren’t aware of, so it simply makes sense to admit that this is the case, and try to find a way to address it to make things level.

And don’t for a moment think that this is an altruistic, touchy-feely thing to help assuage white guilt. It means that talented people who were previously overlooked will now have a better chance of contributing, making things better for all. Why wouldn’t you want the best people working for you?

Behavior Modification

Over the weekend I saw a retweet from my friend Niki Acosta (@nikiacosta) which stated:

Destroy the idea that men should respect women because we are their daughters, mothers, and sisters. Reinforce the idea that men should respect women because we are people.

While I certainly agree with the latter notion, I don’t think that the former is very wise. We have a problem with men who treat women as nothing more than objects, and that translates into all kinds of hostile and dangerous behavior. First and foremost should be reducing the amount, and therefore the number of victims, of that behavior. So what is really needed is a way to modify their behavior; after that’s done we can think about enlightenment of their backwards minds, but until then, that’s a far-off luxury.

Men who exhibit these behaviors in general do not see women as people, so trying to appeal to them on this will have no effect. These men are brought up in environments where women are not seen as equal. Most come from the world of “traditional” marriage, where a woman was property to be exchanged among men in different families. They exist for men’s sexual pleasure, to bear offspring, and to do the “women’s work” of the home. In that world, women are servants. The notion that a woman is just as much a person as they are, and deserves equal respect, would seem ludicrous to them. But it is likely that they have developed some bonds with female members of their family, and so they can understand that if someone were to disrespect their mother, or their sister, they would feel that that action was wrong, and it’s possible that they might make the relatively small mental leap to seeing that the “objects” they want are indeed someone else’s mother or sister or daughter. It might cause them to think twice about acting on their thoughts.

As the saying goes, Perfect is the Enemy of the Good. It would be absolutely wonderful if we could raise the social awareness of everyone so that people treat each other well simply because of our respective personhoods, but if you strive for that, you’ll miss opportunities to make some incremental changes in the world. Let’s focus on improving the behavior of these problematic men before we worry about raising their level of consciousness.

Comments

There is an electric outlet on one of the walls of our house that is located abnormally high on the wall. Maybe the previous owners had a table or something, and placed the outlet at that height because it was more convenient. In any case, it wasn’t where we needed it, and it simply looked odd where it was. Since I am in the middle of fixing up this room, I decided to lower it to a height consistent with the other outlets in the house. That should be a simple enough task, as I’ve done similar things many times before. I started cutting away the drywall below the outlet at the desired height, and continued upward. The saw kept hitting a solid surface a little bit behind the drywall, so I gently continued up to the existing outlet, and then removed the piece of drywall.

What I found was completely unexpected: behind this sheet of drywall was what had previously been the exterior wall of the house! This room was a later addition, and instead of removing the old wall, they just nailed some drywall on top of it!

hidden old exterior wall.
Note the white shingles behind the drywall!

 

Now I understand why the outlet was at this peculiar height: the previous owners had opened up one row of shingles on the old wall, and simply placed the outlet there. Now, of course, moving it will require quite a bit more work.

This is a great example of where you should liberally comment your code: whenever you write a work-around, or something that would normally not be needed, in order to handle a particular odd situation. This way, when later on someone else owns the code and wants to “clean things up”, they’ll know ahead of time that there is a reason you wrote things in what seems to be a very odd way. This has two benefits: 1) they won’t look at your code and think that you were an idiot for doing that, and 2) they’ll be better able to estimate the time required to change it, since they’ll at least have a clue about the hidden shingles lurking behind the code.