Thursday, August 31, 2023

Ken Wilson

Corrie Vaus, a professional videographer and producer reached out to me yesterday in an email to request permission to use an interview of Ken Wilson I posted on my YouTube channel, informing me that Ken had passed away.

He passed away earlier this summer in June.

The news left me deeply saddened. I had no idea.

In February 2017 I was very fortunate to participate in an Oyster Tour, a Vespa tour ranging from Tampa Florida to the town of Apalachicola in the Florida Panhandle, so named by Ken Wilson and Bill Leuthold in honour of an iconic little oyster bar on the Gulf coast.

I now know that Ken succumbed to a very aggressive cancer that manifested as significant back pain in January of this year, claiming his life in June.

Bill dedicated his participation in this year's cross-continental Cannonball scooter rally in Ken's honour. Corrie Vaus' husband was also participating, and Corrie went along to record the event including its dedication to Ken.

I very much look forward to seeing the film. 

Ken Wilson was a remarkable individual. He was outgoing, inquisitive, adventurous, genuinely kind and welcoming. He had recently bought a Vespa 300 GTS that he lent me so I could ride with him, Bill and Jim Mandle on the Oyster Tour. I learned from Corrie that Ken left that Vespa to Bill, and that Bill rode it on the CannonBall Run.

As I rode my Brompton on yesterday's weekday ride, I found the flag at half-mast.

It was as if the familiar landscape of my morning ride sensed and was manifesting the grief I felt.

I can do no better than to repost my interview with Ken following that Oyster Tour, recorded in Ken's driveway in St-Petersburg. Ken gets the last word. 

Monday, August 28, 2023

Too old to ride?

 At 71, I don't think so.

Marc is my very dear friend. Susan and I went to Montreal last week to surprise Marc on his birthday. He is now 82 and he has been exploring his neighbourhood on the West Island on his bicycle for as long as I can remember.

Marc still rides his bike.

Yesterday I was on YouTube nosing around and I watched a delightful video on Susanna Thornton's channel that I am sharing with you here. Susanna's dad took up cycling at 60 and cycles roughly twenty minutes each day. Now he is 87. Have a look to see how well he toured with his daughter along the Welsh borders, in Herefordshire.

I truly feel that Susan and I are riding our bikes on the right path to longevity and happiness. Buying our Bromptoms was definitely the right decision.

I encourage you to take the time to explore Susanna's channel. You will be inspired by her singular courage, her humility, and amazing adventurous spirit. I would like to propose Susanna for a British honour for her strong character and amazing poise in the face of the challenges that life brought to her doorstep. It's not easy. So far I don't have enough information to support the application that I received from the the UK Cabinet Office.

Flat Monday

 It was my second flat.

Having already repaired one puncture, this morning I had the benefit of experience, and some excellent patches. I didn't want to give up or postpone my weekday morning ride though.

A simple alternative was obvious. I rode Susan's Brompton.

It's fascinating.

The bikes are absolutely identical other than my bike has:

  • a saddlebag holding
    • a Gerber multi tool
    • a high pressure air gauge
    • a little emergency cash
    • a rag, and
    • a packable back sack
  • a water bottle holder bag
  • a telescopic seat post
  • a RAM X-type cell phone holder
  • a loud bell, and
  • a Brompton tool kit
Individually none of those items are heavy (to be honest the seat post and the Gerber tool are not feather-light). Combined they clearly add weight to my bike. Susan's bike felt... leaner.

Her bike also feels very different. The angle of the brake levers is a little different, and even at maximum extension, the saddle is lower. I understand the saddle height test to be whether, with your bum in the saddle and your left heel on the pedal, you leg is straight. At maximum extension on Susan's bike my leg was not quite straight.

I opted for my short ~7 km ride.

Oddly, I have been having some discomfort I can only describe as tendon pain in my right leg. With the saddle in a lower position, I felt no discomfort. I suspect I have been riding with my saddle a touch too high. I plan to experiment a little in the coming days and weeks to see if lowering the saddle a little might eliminate that discomfort. 

When I got home I had breakfast and tackled the flat.

This time I didn't remove the wheel. I pumped up the tire, found the puncture site, deflated, extracted about six inches of the inner tube at the puncture site, scuffed up and cleaned the inner tube at the puncture site, applied the patch, tucked in the tube, pried the tire back on, pumped it up, and voilĂ  my Brommie is as good as new.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

I did it!

Actually, I did 'them'.

The 'it' happened on Friday, August 18, 2023. I rode exactly 11 kilometers and that brought my kilometers logged to 3,000.03 kms. 

I wouldn't say it was a goal, it's just a milestone, yet well worth celebrating.

The other thing I did was much more complicated, very boring to many, but once done, something that came with quite a bit of satisfaction.

It’s computer-related. So if that has you rolling your eyes and stifling a yawn.  Maybe stop here. 

Oh, right… it’s all about my Apple iMac. I’m guessing a bunch more of you are already off to TikTok.

I’ll just jump in. I used to run two iMacs, with the older Mac doing double duty serving music and acting as an external monitor for my Big Mac. The older Mac died last fall. 

I bought a used Thunderbolt display, upgraded the Big Mac to 40 gigs of RAM, and soldiered on with the one computer doing all the work. 

In the last few months the Big Mac would occasionally freeze. What  pain. 

All my data is backed up to the cloud and to a local backup drive. So while there might have been cursing and much colourful language, there no tears.

Still, it’s frustrating, a waste of time, and a risk to my data. It needed to be  assessed, and changes needed to be made to tame the beast. 

I will immediately confess to being what I call a ‘RAM pig’.

I love the Mac because in addition to all the other nice features like continuity, I can have multiple desktops. Each desktop is like a separate computer.

I like to use 13 desktops. One is devoted to music, one to my activity tracker, one each to Outlook and Apple Mail, one to my browser, one to my Apple calendar, one to brainstorming and planning, one to managing my records management process, one to managing accounting and billing, and the remaining four to client work.  Technically, the Thunderbolt monitor is kind of another desktop. Photos run there, when it’s not being used as an expanded desktop. My Excel workbooks chew up the most RAM. Followed by Outlook. 

I had concluded, whenever the Mac crashed, that it was because I had basically depleted the available RAM and left my poor computer with too few resources to do my ridiculously demanding bidding. You see, I basically never shut the poor beast down. I do put it to sleep nightly but... sleep mode doesn't refresh the RAM. This became clear once I discovered the MacOS Activity Monitor. The other thing that became clear, is that my habits gobble up increasing amounts of RAM. The RAM does increase and decrease, but applications I use remain in memory when I close their windows, unless I take the trouble to actually quit them. Which I rarely did. Until things would seem a little unstable. By then it was typically too late. CRASH!

Knowing what I know now, I have changed my habits.

I now reboot weekly, whether the available RAM is below 32 GB or not. If it hits 32-33 GB I reboot. Simple.

The only issue with rebooting is setting up my 13 desktops. The fiddly bit of that is finding and opening the five Excel workbooks in desktops 12 and 13. The tricky bit to saving time and effort for that was building shortcuts in an application called Better Touch Tool. The interface is complicated and takes getting used to. It's complicated because the app can automate pretty much anything. So there are a lot of menu items. In the end, with a little bit of trial and error, I set up a one-finger press to the top right corner of the trackpad that launches all those workbooks. Cool.

And now I am back to a nice and stable, very productive work environment.

In spite of the fact that I'm definitely a RAM pig. RAM hog?

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Reasons to ride

Here are the reasons I love to ride. As it happens, they appear below pretty much in the increasing order of their importance to me. 

1. Exercise - That has to be a very popular reason, if you were to conduct a survey. In fact, it was that article in the New York Times that got me riding again "For Successful Aging, Pick Up the Pace or Mix It Up". 

Exercise all on its own, is definitely not the reason I love to ride. It was just the prompt that got me back on the saddle, pushing pedals.

2. Physics - This is the thing I love most about the act of riding. Not necessarily, or even primarily speed, but kind of that, but not really. It's hard to explain to someone who doesn't ride, and completely unnecessary to explain to anyone who does ride, or has ridden. 

The joy is rooted in the circularity of the wheels and pedals, and the friction of the ground and the brakes. It's the same thing on a motorbike... except for he pedals, but the motor performs the same magic as the pedals on a bicycle by allowing the rider to modulate the force rotating the wheels. That inexplicable feeling emerges as the two-wheeler turns, and it changes with speed. Weird things like counter-steering (press the handlebars left to go right - yes, not a mistake or a fantasy, but an actual fact) that happens at speeds mostly attained only by motorbikes, and other mystical things that happen at very low speeds, always as the bike turns. With a bicycle that has direct drive pedals, it's amazing that the rider can actually stay in the saddle with the bike upright and only moving in small tiny ways, basically at a full stop.

At normal cruising speeds, bikes handle turns by an intricate interplay of centrifugal and centripetal forces. The rider feels those forces in their body, because the rider is one with the bike.

To witness what that very complicated formula looks like, you need look no further than right here, literally mind-blowing feats. If it's speed you like, watch how motorcycle grand-prix riders handle the corners on the race track.

3. Exploration - Bikes take you places, and allow you to see things, to experience things, that walking and driving just never seem to. In fairness, walking certainly offers pleasures driving doesn't. The fragrance of freshly mowed lawns, of flowering lilac or gardenia, and the sounds of birds, insects, dogs, seagulls, and geese, to name a few. 

Bikes offer that as well. So how are bikes different?

They let you cover more ground and they are nimble.

On a Vespa you don't hesitate to explore lanes and alleyways that you would just never do in a car.

On a bicycle the range of experiences is much greater, including walkways and trails where all motorized vehicles are forbidden. When you have a Brompton, taxis, buses, subways, trains and planes also become options, opening opportunities for exploration to pretty much anywhere in the world.

4. Sights and experiences - Riding allows me to see and experience things that I am pretty sure I would not otherwise have. I can't possibly attempt an inventory here, because it would be endless, and I feel it would ultimately be pointless.

Perhaps the best I can do is share my most recent experiences in no particular order. These things stand out from my weekday rides in the last few days and weeks.

  • The hawk on Flaming Rosewood
  • The Unicyclist
I saw him in the distance on the Finch Trail last week. The way he seemed to be moving was strange. It seemed for a moment that he was prancing, his legs making exaggerated up and down motions. As the distance between us slowly closed I finally understood that he was riding a unicycle. A serious unicycle, with what seemed to be a 24" or 27" wheel. I hadn't seen a unicyclist in... to be honest I can't remember when. Was it in a circus...? The new-fangled electric unicycles, now I have seen quite a few of those in the recent past, but an honest-to-goodness human-powered unicycle? Never saw him before, haven't seen him since.

  • The Morning Tai Chi sessions

  • The corn cowboy
In the last few weeks I saw crude hand-scrawled cardboard signs in the parking lot at the southeast corner of Finch and Bathurst: "Sweet Corn". But it was always before eight o'clock, so it was just the few signs. A few days ago, on Monday, my usual morning schedule got messed up and my daily ride postponed to just past 10 a.m. When I got to that parking lot there was a guy with a pickup truck and a ton of corn in the back, selling corn. How could I not pick some up? I knew we had four ears of grocery store corn in the fridge, but this was fresh off-the-farm corn. Corn doesn't agree with Susan's Crohn's, so I am the only ravenous corn-eater. I picked up three ears. The fellow selling the corn had an English accent I couldn't quite make out... Australian? South African? Nope! He said he was originally from Nottinghamshire. "Robin Hood" he said with a smile. I asked if I could pay with my phone. He said sure I could, just do an Interac bank transfer "let me know when you're ready and I'll give the email address" he said. Finally, I was ready. "".
  • The roller-blade acrobat
A young woman, coming down the trail on rollerblades, but her long confident strides were punctuated by amazing graceful pirouettes. As our paths crossed she was rolling backwards down the trail. "Nice moves" I said.
  • The early morning sun
  • The fog

In the kind of serendipity, coincidental, totally unpredictable way that things are known to happen, the last word on this topic goes to someone else.

I was speaking to my friend Peter the day before yesterday, who, like me, is a former Vespa, motorcycle, and sports car addict. Peter, also like me, has most recently taken to riding a bicycle. He told me that the previous evening he had an errand to run. He rode to the grocery store along a bicycle path that passes through some woods. On the return trip through the woods, the canopy of leaves forming a lush green arch over the path made everything extremely dark. It was then that Peter had to stop and stare. The woods were awash in fireflies. Peter was stunned. He said it was amazing, surreal, and astonishingly beautiful, that while he had seen fireflies before,  it was the first time in his life he had seen anything remotely like this. He added, without any prompting from me, that but for the fact that he chose to ride to the store, he would never have had that experience.

For a delightful view of that incident from Peter's perspective, see his blog... [ed.: so sorry, Peter dissolved his blog.]

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

20230817 - The last word almost went to someone else. What are the odds? This morning, Thursday, August 17, 2023, I crossed paths, in the following order, with i) unicycle man, ii) corn cowboy, and iii) rollerblade acrobat. Go figure. Jamais deux sans trois... let's see if that old saying holds.

The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.