Archives for the month of: November, 2012

After a solid year of training and a few big rides in September and October this year, I have wound down the riding a bit in November. But I am already putting on some pudding around the waist and I had enough of it yesterday – so back in the saddle. I picked up a new riding buddy, GE, who is training for a sprint triathlon to raised funds for the Cancer Charity Can Too. GE is an old work colleague who finally got around to attaining a new road steed to add to his stable. He has been off the bikes for a while, so was a bit rusty. But it was good to introduce another cycling buddy to one of my routes – Centennial Park to La Perouse and back.

For those who don’t know both locations have historical significance for Australia. La Perouse was where the French Navigator Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse landed in Botany Bay a few days after the First Fleet of British Convicts entered the bay before proceeding to Sydney Cove. Centennial Park was originally land belonging to the Gadigal people before European settlement in Australia, but in more recent times the park is significant as the site of official ceremony to mark the federation of Australia on 1 January 1901. The pavilion for the ceremony still stands today. While the whole area holds great history for Indigenous Australia, Colonial Australia, and the modern Australian Commonwealth – for me personally the area is great for riding with the two cool bookends.

For this ride I had installed a new piece of kit on my road steed, a K-Edge Garmin computer mount. I had been eyeing this piece of kit up for a while, through fear of crashing while bombing down the hill and trying to look at my Garmin for a speed check. What convinced me was the review by another blogger Alan Thomson over a Scarlet Fire who wrote up this article.

K-Edge out front Garmin computer mount

That is it in the metallic red paint and you can see it is quite a fair way in front of the stem headplate. I left the old mount on the stem as a comparison point and the viewing angle is greatly improved in terms of how far you have to look down (over the front wheel and not the stem). In this new setup, my peripheral vision is over past the front wheel – much safer for speed checks while bombing down hills.

This ride has a good downhill bombing segment that leads to Bare Island at La Perouse. I always conk out before the cul-de-sac at the end that swings around to return back. My goal is to maintain maximum speed all the way down this segment. For this ride with GE I grabbed a PR, but well short of the guys racking up 69km/hr. We were rewarded with a beautiful dawn view of the Tasman Sea and heads at Botany Bay. That is GE’s new Giant steed that you can see in the shot, cool ride.

Botany Bay heads La Perouse

It was also a nice calm view of the bay and airport runways too – in fact nice morning for a ride all round, given that it was sprinkling ever slightly when I left home.

Botany Bay - La Perouse

And I suppose I have to include a shot of me in my riding gear (the cursed BMC kit that I wore for my only road steed stack). I am normally the one doing the shooting, so surprisingly I don’t have many photos with me in them.

CY on the LaPa ride

At the halfway point GE was doing pretty well, as hadn’t done a lot of road riding. We started our return, and unusually there was a bit of traffic for that time of the morning. We returned through Maroubra along ANZAC Parade, and the traffic was really getting busy. I told GE to ride single file on my tail, but as soon as we did so another rider flew past both of us as he weaved in and out of the second lane. The other rider had got no more than 50m in front of us when, as he was sitting in the left most lane, he got cut off by a ute that decide it wanted to turn left – without the driver looking in her blind spot. He nearly got collected and had to come to a pretty much full stop to avoid being hit. In fairness, the rider had put himself in her blind spot, but nonetheless she would have been at fault. The challenge that I have in this case is that even she was at fault, the loser will always be the rider on two wheels. Crash adverted for him – luckily.

We approached the five ways roundabout at Kingsford where some the traffic signals had afforded us a clean run on the road without any cars alongside of us, but as I entered the roundabout with ample space and no traffic a single driver in a car coming from the south into the roundabout decided that he didn’t have to look and sped in on a collision course with me. I was readily anticipating this sort of stupidity and lucky for me there was no other traffic on my right and I could change lanes to avoid him. GE was watching it all from behind my rear wheel and started yelling at driver, at which point the driver finally looked and saw me less than a metre from his open driver’s side window.

Words were exchanged… politely.

He apologised profusely and took off, probably heart in his mouth at the crash that he avoided. At least I saw the “oh sh!t” look in his eyes.

For me this is all too common an occurrence on Sydney. Unlike some of Australia’s other capital cities like Melbourne and Adelaide, there is little acceptance of riders on the road. In Sydney, there appears to be an anger directed at cyclists – fueled by some idiots like Alan Jones on the radio. The focus instead needs to be on how everyone needs to ride and drive safe to avoid accidents and incidents like the one I experienced. Until the road safety situation improves, I will be driving my car to Centennial Park to go for a ride and not risking my life on Cleveland street to get there. The good thing is that young riders like a fellow blogger Alex are thinking about the safety situation, so the future generation and all of us riding now will have safer riding conditions all round.

We finished our ride back at Centennial Park with a few laps to dust out any remaining cobwebs, and apart from the near miss it was a great ride which I will repeat next week. GE is getting some good kilometers in his legs through his training and it can only improve. Looking forward to some good riding this weekend, and it is going to be a swelter on Saturday morning with a top of 38 degrees predicted.

Let’s hope I am not writing another blog about near misses again any time soon.

Most people would take a rainy, windy, night as an opportunity to have a night on the couch in front of the tube. But I like to shoot photos, and I think the rain at night time provides a wonderful opportunity to get out and capture something different. I like night photography a lot, particularly the colours of artificial light and how different this light looks bouncing off reflective surfaces. Illuminations as my wife would say.

My location tonight was a simple one – Jones Bay Wharf. I once took refuge there having been caught out in a storm at the end of a night ride. After catching my breath I noticed the way the wharf caught the night lights and how the rain came through the gaps in the upper deck. I thought to myself that I would have to come back and shoot this with the SLR should the same conditions arise. Tonight presented that opportunity, though I think I lucked out on not receiving a more torrential downpour. What I was hoping to capture was streaks of light bouncing off the rain as it trailed down from the grates. But I got slightly different conditions, and a subject conveniently parked for my point of focus. All the images click through to my larger photos on Flickr.

Rainy Night on Jones Bay Wharf 1

I was hoping for the pale yellow opening to provide the showering from the grate, but the rain had eased up by the time I got there. The motorcycle was positioned perfectly, and I think the older styling suited the aging of the wharf’s skeletal structure.

So this was not quite the photo that I had been planning for. But I thought to maximise the situation, and shoot a few more photos for the evening. I went up a bit further and took the shot in reverse looking back the way I had come, still placing the motorcycle as the focal point. I like this shot better.

Rainy Night on Jones Bay Wharf 2

I prefer the colours exposed by the night lights cast against the stone cutting in the distance, but also the concrete colours of the wall and even the red bin cover. It all adds a bit of depth to the shot, and better reflects the varied activities that occur on the wharf.

So that was the location, but I wanted to get one last shot in. I started walking back to the car and then remembered that the wharf platform would be soaked, offering a perfect mirror to the night lights. I also knew well that I could probably find a location with the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background. Here is the shot, and it offered a good mix of lighting in the cloudy sky, strong diagonals, and a bit of colour thrown into the mix. I am happy with this third one too.

Rainy Night on Jones Bay Wharf 3

I will have to come back to this location when it is properly raining. Here is the location on Google Maps, it is my local area and within easy walking distance from the city.

Jones Bay Wharf - Google Maps Location

I will work on the cropping and exposure settings for next time. I didn’t wash any of the photos through Photoshop, other than the first to correct some of the vertical perspective via the crop tool. Focussing in the dark was challenging as well, and maybe I could extend the depth of field for the shots. I would love to hear from other photographers on how they would shoot the locations differently. Looking forward to the next spontaneous shooting opportunity.

Next clue for my header photo – the building is named after an ex-European Head of State from the late 60s to mid 70s. Time to giddy up and hit the sack.

OK – first thing to set straight – I LOVE LEGO!

Good that is out of the way. Even now as an adult, I achieve the same sense of wonderment from a simple set of plastic bricks. For me it is like building a puzzle, but with no set form and untold number of possibilities (and the most phenomenal statistic that I uncovered was that for 6 – 6-sided 8-stud bricks, the classic Lego brick, there are 915,103,765 possible 6-brick combinations – I have found that statistic out on How Stuff Works).Left to my own devices I could build and build and build, restricted only by the time commitments of being an adult and father.But I have not gone down the path of master builder as this would also probably be the path of divorce for me.

6 Lego BricksBut with the birth of the Pok, I have a new reason to play Lego! I probably pushed it a little too early, buying him way too much and constructing a lot of it for him when he couldn’t possibly interact. I do remember him sitting there in his first year watching me as I built him towers and cranes whose arms rotated above his head. We are not playing with Lego proper just yet, more Duplo, but it is great fun nonetheless. Below is our latest incarnation of a tower building, our Lego rendition of the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world) – not quite the match that we would hope for, as we are stuck with the 90 degree angles that Duplo blocks push you towards. Obviously, the real thing is the one on the right.

Lego Duplo Burj Khalifa - for PokBurj KhalifaLego Duplo Burj Khalifa - Helicopter ViewWhat is funny is that the civil engineers who design these buildings do so to account for huge wind loads. We have to contend with apocalyptic Godzilla like attacks from none other than the Pok. Which shouldn’t really be much of a surprise given that there are not many real play opportunities for a big tower made of plastic bricks after it has been built. Hmmm… maybe a Lego Duplo Godzilla may be next on the cards – Pok would love that.

Lego Duplo Burj Khalifa - CrashHmmm… notice how he looks innocent again?

As he has been growing, I have waited patiently for him to connect two bricks together. You can imagine my joy when I saw him for the first time connecting the bricks, and then over and over again as he discovered a new found dexterous ability. But now our plotting and scheming is lifting up a level in our creations. The Pok has become quite interested in all things mechanical, and Lego is a great avenue for this. We were watching Cars 2 the other day and saw Mater become a secret agent with all sorts of gadgets. That gave me an idea, how about we make a cannon! But not just any cannon, a proper cannon that can target anything in the room. Below is the creation we landed with.

Lego Duplo Turret CannonYou cannot believe that amount of cheeky giggles that we have got out of this contraption. First target of course was Mummy of Pok. We sat on one couch and shot at her on another – 100 times. The beauty of this little contraption is that it has a full 360 degree arc of fire in the horizontal axis and 90 degree arc of fire in the vertical axis.

Lego Duplo Turret Cannon - Trajectory arcs of fireNow he is probably too young to learn trajectory physics just like a little Napoleon.cannon_trajectoriesI will wait until he turns three years old before I teach him this. The creators of Lego Duplo would probably have a heart attack when they found out that one of their customers was building mini projectile weapons systems from the pieces of the Agent Mater set (the cannon), The Deluxe Train set (the blue struts), both the Play with Numbers and Play with Letters (the support bricks for the bridge), the Stone Quarry set (the turntable to support the base platform) the Car Wash (base platform), and the Big City Zoo (the tiger log bridge which rotates on its supports).

Some people would probably call me a bad parent, but I think that every boy (big and small) needs an outlet for these militaristic tendencies. Hopefully I am nurturing a young engineer, let’s hope he doesn’t turn into a fiendish weapons manufacturer – like Tony Stark.

Lego Duplo Turret Cannon - manned by the PokPlus, he has his mother to teach him about cooking, music, and all of that stuff. 😉

Sometimes, it is too much for the little man and he has to do his own thing. More creations another day.Lego Man pondering and Pok asleep

Ever since I was a boy I have had a bike on hand to go on adventures. I was lucky to grow up during the BMX revolution where every kid was out on their bikes riding around everywhere. At the time there was no such thing as Playstation or Xbox, and we had plenty of places to explore as the surrounding suburbs had plenty of vacant lots, parks, and tracks connecting them all. I hope that I can instill that same sense of adventure and exploration in my son because… it’s FUN!

I still to this day remember quite vividly my first ride where my Dad took off the training wheels. I can still see my Dad getting out the socket set and removing the bolts that held the training wheels onto the frame. Then he held the bike with one hand on my handlebars as I gripped on, and with his other hand just underneath the rear of the saddle. Dad released me down the gentle slope of our home’s driveway to make it easy to build up momentum, at which point I promptly veered left as I overcompensated for his released grip on the handlebar. So my Dad picked me and my bike up, and we did it all over again – back on the steed. My steed at the time was this metallic yellow Raleigh bike which was single speed and you pressed the brake by pedaling backwards on the crank – locking up the rear. This would allow me to build up speed on the driveway and then lock up the brakes to cause a skid on the concrete. Little did I know that all I was doing was creating flat spots on my tires  though I rarely got a puncture. It was plenty fast enough, for my age, but I longed to join the BMX club.

I can’t remember which birthday it was, but one year my parents bought me a brand spanking new chrome BMX machine. It was beautiful and had everything I wanted on it! It was quite big for me when I first got it, and I can remember it was quite highly geared. This made acceleration a fair bit harder than what I was used to, but once I got up to speed it hammered. It wasn’t light, but then again I wasn’t that strong at the time either. Like a lot of the BMX bikes at the time it had “pads” – which were coverings over the headset, top tube, and handlebar cross bar. I still have no idea what purpose these served, but all the kids thought they were cool. The frame was covered all over in highly reflective chrome alloy coating that gave it a lustrous look. And it had a cool set of grips on the bar ends, and I had for the first time a brake lever for my front brakes (cool!) but still had the rear pedal backward lock up. Sure I had bike envy back then – every kid wanted a Mongoose, and they were priced with that in mind. I can’t even remember what brand my bike was. I remember looking at the kids who had the fat plastic bladed spokes (usually between 3-6 spokes) and would think “will they help me go faster?”. And maybe I would have put a set of cobra grips on it, but that didn’t really matter. All I knew was that it was my bike and it gave me the opportunity to go adventuring – I was part of the BMX club.

A lot of my memories from that point on were are of “stacks” (i.e. crashes) or “getting up to no good” on wheels. But the strongest memory I have is of a race against my brother that we held around Werrington Lake to settle a score. The score was an interesting one, because when my Bro got his BMX bike it was lighter, smaller, and a bit more lower geared. It felt more responsive in the steering, which was probably a reflection on the width of the bars. More importantly, it was easier to do jumps with over the dirt mounds in the bush behind the park. My Bro was my riding buddy, but we always wanted to know how was faster. So the challenge was set, and the competitive Yardin family had another trophy up for grabs.

The Race

The race was for 1 lap of Werrington Lake, and the winner was first past the post. Werrington Lake has a track that completely surrounds it with a bit of an incline  around a U-shaped bend (the big down arrow) and a bridge over a cascade with few stairs (that have now been removed) that required a dismount / remount a-la Cyclo style (the big left arrow). It isn’t a particularly long circuit, so in effect it was a sprint. The finish line was right before a bridge which crossed the point where Werrington Creek crossed joined the lake (the four pointed star).

Werrington Lake race trackMy Mum and Grand-mère were with us that day, and they walked with us to the lake. We notified them of the planned duel and as soon as we got there we were off. My Bro established an early lead by accelerating quicker than me, at which point I duly slotted in behind him. At this age I didn’t have a clue about drafting, but I remember that just to catch up with my Bro and had to pedal my ar$e off. We hammered along in a counter clockwise direction around the lake as he kept on looking back behind at me and my bike on his tail. As we rushed through the windy tree bit, we had to avoid a couple of pedestrians, which limited my opportunities to overtake. Approaching the bridge we were line astern as we dismounted. I tried to be cheeky and get out ahead of him by running into the remount. But he had my measure and quickly rode across my line to dash any chances of that. Riding on the long straight path approaching the U-shape path that went up the hill, I made an attempt to pass off the track on the dirt – quickly finding I had less grip and no advantage. So the last spot I had to make my move was on the descent from the hill in the final straight. I plotted my move and built up speed and momentum which my bro quickly matched. We hit the apex of the U and that is when I hammered it, passing him and building up plenty of speed. He tried his cut off move again (just like a certain Michael Schumacher – boo hiss boo), but I had already passed him. That was the last straw for him – but to his credit he put in all he had. The positions reversed, and with 100m to go, I kept up the momentum to cruise to the finish. We were line astern with me in front, set to take the palmares. But my Bro was not finished and in the last 20m he pulled out from behind me, put his head down for the final push. I didn’t know, what was going to happen next because I was to busy concentrating on avoiding the looming pylon, and finish line, splitting the path into left and right traffic. I crossed the line only to hear behind me a massive…

Crash!

My Bro had run straight into the pylon with his front wheel at full speed. The bike bounced off it like the ball in a pinball machine and he went flying over the bars ahead. When I retold the story as a kid I would say that he went flying past me, but truth was that he hit the ground pretty hard and the gravelly track decided to give him a bit of a massage. At that point my Mum and Grand-mère were waiting close to the finish line and watched it all in horror. I had mixed emotions. I was elated that I had tactically executed my move in the race, and won. On the other, my Bro had just wiped himself out before crossing the line. He was banged up, in pain, and in no mood for any post-race assessment. We walked him and his bike back home where the Tour Doctor fixed him up. My opportunity for gloating was gone, instead we both got a talking to from our Mum about the dangers of racing. My Dad, competitive as he is, of course provided no such counsel. My Bro stayed off his steed for a while, battered in both body and confidence – and we never had a rematch. But this ride was now forever burnt into my memory.

Thanks to another blogger “women.cyclists” who inspired this blog with her post about the “Best Ride of My Childhood“. Both her and her partner get up to some pretty good two wheel adventuring.

In writing this post, I was trying to find a photo of my old BMX bike and discovered this awesome site BMX Museum. It is a treasure trove of old bikes. I still could not find my bike in there – but a cool trip down memory lane nonetheless.

Last week I was catching up on a few articles on Digital Photography Review (www.dpreview.com), and one article that piqued my interest was this one ‘Roundup: 11 Cool Photography-related Kickstarter Projects’ (http://www.dpreview.com/news/2012/10/19/110-cool-photography-related-kickstarter-projects). There were some cool proposals, and one or two of them might make it on my wish list but the thing that surprised me was the number of photography related gadgets that were proposed related to shooting photos on mobile phones. Pretty much all of them were focussed on the iPhone, which should be no surprise given that as a single device it probably has the greatest market share (versus the fragmented number of Android offerings). Even This is different from the fact that for the OS share of the market Android is definitely king in the smart phone space. But I digress. This irked me a little, because I felt like all this mobile phone photography focus was taking eyes off the prize – how do we make “proper” photography even better.

Now don’t get me wrong, I shoot mobile photos. My weapons of light are my digital SLR, my digital point and shoot, and (as a last resort) my mobile phone camera. But the last one I really don’t like. I asked a fellow amateur photographer friend of mine, who is currently in the closing stages of a photo a day for a year, whether he ever takes a mobile phone photo as his entry. He emphatically answered no! His showed me his weapons of light, which he carries with him daily, being his digital SLR or his top end digital point and shoot. And sometimes he carries both. For him, quality is everything.

So what do I think are the strengths of using a mobile phone camera. We both agreed that the ability to document at any time what was happening was a big strength. You know, pull out the phone and docu-shoot what is happening now. The ability to share the photo instantly on any social networking site, upload to the cloud, or even post to my blog was a big bonus as well. It is the one device that you have on you all the time, regardless of where you are. And the plethora of photo software options that you can install through either Google Play store or iTunes is incredible. But in my opinion there are too many detracting points around my phone camera for it to be a serious:

  1. pocket fluff is always on the glass (lens)
  2. the sensor size is pretty small so regardless of the quality of the glass the picture quality is average at best
  3. proper zoom is just… absent
  4. exposure capabilities are just poor
  5. low light shooting sucks, wit the flash being a bit mickey mouse
  6. the form factor of these “cameras” is just bad.

This list in itself would encourage me to relegate the mobile phone camera to the scrap, but it is probably the most common weapon of light I use to shoot at the Pok – and of course he hams it up for the camera too. Quickly followed by “show me Daddy!”

I trawled my phone gallery to see if there were any photos that I would be proud to post on Flickr, and of the close to 1,000 snaps I have captured in the last few years I was struggling to pick 10. 10 snaps that stood out by themselves as ones that could compete with what I can capture on a dedicated camera. But I think that these ones are cool. I would be keen to see what other people think, and if they have other “phone” snaps that, without photoshopping, they would be happy to blow up and hang on a wall in their house.

Winter sunrise over the CityReal Life Comic LuggageFiery Sunset SilhouetteStar Spangled Banner in LightsTerritorial DogGull on WatchNeon Tree under the OverpassLeaning Glass WallsSandstone SentinelI guess for me, like my photography mate, I am adding to the wish list a top-end point and shoot that I am going to carry around with me EVERYWHERE. Add maybe an eye-fi card to have some wireless capability. And hopefully up my game by shooting more often – maybe even daily. Me thinks the Canon Powershot G15 is my target addition to the light arsenal.

Next clue on my site header photo – the building has appeared in a James Bond film.

I originally thought that the title of this post was going to be “Is My Garmin Evil?”, having only just purchased a Garmin Edge 800 GPS bicycle trip computer earlier this year. Previously I had a crappy old Trek trip computer that kept on losing the link to the cadence sensor. Finally it gave up the ghost and I splurged on a Garmin. It is not the most user friendly interface, and I was surprised how chunky it was when I got it. But what a cool little gadget! After finally figuring out how to configure my custom screens, and setting up a few bike profiles (I have three – ‘Road Steed’, ‘MTB Steed’, ‘MTB Steed + Potatoes’ i.e. Pok), it has brought a level of visibility and tracking to my rides that I never had before. At first it told me to stop eating the pies and pedal faster, but being able to track my routes (or not when the steed is locked into the indoor trainer) has been absolute gold dust.

My Garmin Edge 800

So after getting the device, I set up a Garmin Connect account and religiously logged every ride into the cloud. Even reviewed my rides on the player to great enjoyment – only to get blown away after reviewing a TT ride that Dave Zabriskie did in this year’s Tour of California.

But here is where the devil steps in. I was quite proud of my GPS purchase, feeling like I stepped up into the big leagues, so was talking a lot about it with my fellow cycling colleagues at work. That is when one of them – AC you know who you are – piped up and said “Your ride doesn’t exist unless it is on Strava!” The darkness started descending…

I replied “Strava? What is Strava? Can you spell that? What is the URL?” So now my interest was piqued, in a terrible way. I was busting to get home and jump on the net to check out this “Strava”. The devil now had me hook line and sinker. I created an account, and loved the fact that it called me an athlete. At this point I had no idea about segments and leaderboards, but I was a happy little cyclist. I uploaded my first ride – this year’s 40km Ride Around the Lake (www.ridearoundthelake.org.au) and was pretty chuffed that I was 3rd in my time after setting off in the last group and giving it a good belting. But as others started logging their rides I noticed I finished 5 out of 6. OK not so good.

So I thought to myself, ‘Surely there are routes that I could be the KOM on’. So off I went to discover how bad a rider I was. It is pretty disheartening to see yourself in the lower half of the leaderboard by a good 15km/hr slower than the top dogs on a route that you have belted out and is one of your local rides. Disheartening is an understatement, totally deflating is probably the more accurate description. But the evil that Strava plays on is the competitive nature of every cyclist – I gotta go faster and beat that time!

The good part of Strava is that it has motivated me. Motivated me to keep riding, upping the kilometres, and religiously tracking every one of my rides. The evil part is what it has done to my regular night training rides. I scope out my route, analyse the segments on Strava and then for a short 300-600m or so in the middle of my ride I try to go out and absolutely smash it. Just for a KOM. Of course the Strava trophies will keep piling up, and I get PRs, and my followers give me the kudos. But I reckon I am going to write myself off one day trying to get one of these KOMs.

There is a route around Canada Bay, commonly known as the Bay Run, which has numerous segments marked up on it. I targeted one segment in particular because it is a good indicator of how I am progressing -the N-S route along the Iron Cove duplication bridge. 400m of paved flat goodness. My first couple of feeble attempts were not well thought out, I was hitting the start of the segment at less than 30km/hr, no chance for a Top 10 let alone a KOM. But then I had an ingenious scheme. I had just finished the two day 200km Sydney Ride to Conquer Cancer (http://sy12.conquercancer.org.au/site/TR/Events/Sydney2012?px=1142452&pg=personal&fr_id=1070) the weekend previous – and after months of training with a pretty good hit-out on the ride, I had steel in my legs and bravado in my ride. To add to my scheming, I plotted a new route that dropped me in from the North on Victoria Road and allowed me to get up to 45km/hr at the start of the segment. I got on the route and absolutely buried myself as deep as I could go. I got to about 50m to go and ran out of steam but the momentum I had gained carried me fairly well in my mind at the time. I couldn’t wait to get home and connect up the Garmin to see if I had any success. This is the truly evil part – I rushed home, kicked my wife of the laptop, and plugged in the GPS into the USB slot…. Uploaded new rides… then boom 3rd place! Awesome, 3rd place! 50.3km/hr! Awesome! Quick let’s check out the Leaderboard in more detail – WHAT! The guy who was in first place clocked 100km/hr? How could this be? Is he the spawn of the devil? how could this be? He bettered the one other guy that was ahead of me by 48km/hr.

I was fuming.

I told my wife that this guy had to be a friend of the devil. How could he have possibly logged that fast a ride. He was faster than Cav, Griepel, Sagan, and Farrar all rolled into one. He was robbing me of a 2nd place.

At that point my wife, with the cold hard sense of someone who couldn’t give a sh!t about this website informed me “he must have left his GPS on his bike while he had it connected to his roof racks on his car.” My wife is not stupid. And with that she shook her head and left me in front of the website to suck eggs.

So is Strava evil? Maybe not, because it has motivated me to ride and train. The daily updates I get from all my cycling buddies get me fired up. But listen here Mr 100km/hr Speed Demon, I have you in my cross-hairs. Time to giddy up and spin a bit.

 

Lucifer: Father of Pok – go spend a week’s wages and buy a power meter.

 

One of my old school mates coined a phrase at a poker night that he was at the bottom of the remote control hierarchy. In most regular people’s home life, this is the only pecking order that really matters. And so it is that I too find myself at the bottom of this hierarchy. But I take solace in the fact that I am not the only one.

Jens Voigt was once quoted as saying – “In the hierarchy of the family, I am just above the dog. But I like it that way.” Now he is in a very different situation to me in that he is happily married with five kids and the family dog. Me happily married, one kid (who eats enough for five), and no dog (Pok would eat his food too).

In a side note to the main topic, the Jensie (as Jens Voigt is affectionately known) also has plenty of other quotes in his ever growing repertoire. These include:

  • “Having things organized is for small-minded people. Genius controls chaos”,
  • “If you go (with a break in a cycling road race), you can either win or not win. If you don’t go for it, you definitely won’t win”,
  • “I get paid to hurt other people, how good is that?”, and
  • His most famous quote – Shut up legs! Do what I tell you to do”.

For those who don’t know the Jensie – he is a twitter legend amongst cycling fans and some people reckon that in a bout between the Jensie and Chuck Norris, Walker Texas Ranger would go down! I would really like to live in his head one day, there is some funny stuff going on in there. And if you want to see how tough he is, this is horrific:

But some of the comments about him are hilarious, like – ‘Jens Voigt crashed spectacularly during the 2009 Tour de France. The resulting impact created a mound of earth that is visible to this day. It is called “Col du Tourmalet”‘. It doesn’t hurt that he is a tough as nails, clean, and hard rider who always has time for his fans. But the true mark of the Jensie is captured in this story and you can see why we all love him – A Gift from Jens.

Anyway, back to the hierarchy. Little Pok woke up during the night a few weeks back. As is customary he came charging into the lounge room, with a grip on his pillow in one hand bottle of milk in the other. I was sprawled out on the sofa watching some late night news about to go to bed, and he came up to me and said two words “Mickey Mouse”. BOOM – I was relegated to the bottom of the remote control hierarchy. This happens on a regular basis, whether it is first thing in the morning, when I get back home from work, or late at night when he is restless. The hierarchy as it stands now is somewhat close to:

But you see the hierarchy extends to other aspects of the household as well. Food is the first one that comes to mind, because it appears that my plate and its contents is up for grabs for all higher ranking members. I can’t have my breakfast without Pok coming over to me with those big eyes saying “Daddy, my have some. My have more please Daddy.” What can I say, I am a sucker. Travel hauling is another, where all luggage is carried by me – AKA Sherpa Tenzig, though this one can safely be argued that this is my job. Cycling is probably the other, when we are all out on wheels – I am the rickshaw man. As for the real estate of my bed I was already on a bad wicket before the Pok arrived, now whenever he wakes up in the night and comes into our bed I find myself sleeping with a foot in my face on about 20cm of width at the edge of the mattress.

I suppose like the Jensie, I rest content with my lot. I accept my fate in the knowledge that any (potential) additions to the brood will move me further downward in the standings, and there is really no hope for a reversal in the RC leaderboard. I would just like to, once in a while, switch on the Playstation and shoot something without the possibility of Thomas the Tank Engine or the Food Channel displacing my viewing pleasure.

I guess this is how the RC elite roll. A ride this weekend I think, then perhaps a spot of photography. We shall see – good weekend to all, it has been an eventful week!

It was an early start to the day for this photoshoot. I caught the first train from Town Hall to North Sydney crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge before sunrise. Very quiet ride, and I can tell you I was missing the zzzz’s. My partner in photo shooting crime, Grumpy Burton, picked me up in his jeep to head to the target spot at Middle Harbour. We got there just as pre-dawn hit, and what looked like some interesting cloud formations turned out to be a messy wash of sky. We were greeted to one of the many cruise ships visiting Sydney. The results were a bit disappointing, but I have washed a few of the shots through Photoshop to bring out some of the colour in the clouds. Middle Harbour Sunrise - Cruise Ship entering Sydney Harbour Middle Harbour Sunrise - Sun Peaking through the Clouds  Middle Harbour Sunrise - Sun struggling after its riseAnd it looks like we weren’t the only ones out and about. Middle Harbour Sunrise - PaddlersEven though it was not as striking a morning as we hoped, Grumpy pulled out a handy little camera carrier. Middle Harbour Sunrise - Quadcopter launchingGrumpy built this quadcopter himself, and it is a cool not-so-little flyer. It has four carbon fibre rotors with brushless electric motors and electronic controllers. It even has a GPS to hold its position. But the best mod that Grumpy has installed has to be the Go-Pro HD camera that he has pinged to the front and that you can see in the photo above. He has uploaded the video from this morning on the YouTube, check it out below. You can see me plenty of times in the video on the edge of the cliff at Middle Harbour.

Super cool! Grumpy is a pretty sharp shooter himself, check out his Flickr page – Grumpy Burton Flickr. His blog site is Fotonic Exposure and it is over on Blogger.

If anyone is interested to know where the location for this shoot was, have a look at the map below. The green arrow is the point where we were shoot and Grumpy was flying.

Middle Harbour Sunrise Shoot Map

Next clue for my header photo – the building is located in a large European city. Time to giddy up and plan the next shooting excursion.

It has to be strange being Australian and having an intense fascination in the US election of 2012. But when I look at the reasons why, it isn’t that strange. The USA is the most powerful country in the world, economically, militarily, in innovation, and its culture pervades every corner of the globe. A news site described election watching as the ultimate reality TV show. Though it would have been more fun watching the Republican primaries hosted on the set of Survivor Vanuatu! I have found myself consuming an inordinate amount of election updates. For anyone with an analytical mind – it is like candy. There are statistics, probabilities, scenarios, segmentation analysis, and with it all overlaid on a timeline counting down to today.

I won’t espouse my opinion on who I think should win, because I believe that this is the domain of the American people. It is their election, even though it has an impact on the world. After all the great majority of the outcomes will directly affect the day to day lives of Americans and not myself. Us foreigners are indirectly affected by the outcomes, and our own governments have huge impact as to how greatly we are indirectly impacted (when was the last time the US sent a drone strike into New Zealand?). But the election has driven me to digitally subscribe to the New York Times.

In the past 6 months I have become addicted to reading Nate Silver’s blog on the NYTimes – The FiveThirtyEight Blog. I am now super curious as to whether he has got it right. I’ve been intensely reading the detailed analysis and the cold math that he applies in his blog. And it is strangely non-partisan (Fox News, MSNBC anyone?). It still incites partisan feedback, but he keeps on bringing it back to “look at the math”. But the coolest thing about the blog, and some of the other pages on NYTimes are the graphics. Check out this eye candy from a few weeks ago – FiveThirtyEight Blog – Over the Decades, How States have Shifted. It is a beautifully complex picture that conveys a lot into a simple diagram. The NYTimes on another part of the site laid out the scenarios as they present themselves – have a look at 512 Paths to the White House.

There is other eye candy on other sites too, which are also interactive. CNN allowed me to pick the election via my tips for how the states would fall in the electoral college – CNN 2012 Electoral Map (which is similar to the “Paths” link on the NYTimes). Looking purely at the math, it does not stack up well for the red side.

I like this eye candy, and have often had to employ similar techniques in the presentation of information or concepts at work. A fantastic site that I have referenced many times in the past for inspiration is Visual Complexity – http://www.visualcomplexity.com/vc/. I first stumbled across this site back in 2005. It is pure eye candy, with a real purpose and I could get lost for hours there. And when shooting photos and capturing the world around you, sometimes you get a hint as to where their inspiration has come from.

I just hope for two outcomes from the election – foreign policy remains pragmatic and progressive by bringing countries together, and the American people can bridge the deep partisan divisions that have engulfed the country for over the last decade. After all, without combined ambitions of the USA the human race would still not have landed on the moon – or invented velcro.

Dawn photo shoot photos to come (with a bit of assistance from Photoshop), and a little video surprise from my photo partner in crime Grumpy.

UPDATE

I guess Nate Silver pretty much picked it, though there have been a couple of surprises in the swing states. What did surprise me a little bit was CNN saying how unexpected it was to get such a quick result. The math should have told them that if Ohio and a couple of the other Eastern swing states went blue, red had buckley’s chance of winning. It remains to be seen whether Florida in the final mix stays blue or goes red, but at the moment it has a very azure haze to the count.

I suppose one last note – I couldn’t let this post rest without picking my photo of the election campaign. For me this one captured by Forbes spoke volumes to what is involved in running for re-election.

President Barack Obama alighting from Air Force One on a campaign stop

The coolest thing about two wheels is the exploring that you can do around new places, and going somewhere you haven’t ventured before. Sure most of the roads that you ride through can be driven by car, but when you are going at a third of the speed gripping bars you tend to take a lot more in than behind a steering wheel. I had the opportunity to explore Wollongong on Sunday morning. It was a dreary morning, but the air was crisp and the temperature was right to build up a sweat. The new forks had been fitted onto the MTB Steed and I can’t believe how much more responsive and supple the ride was on the front end. What is great about these RockShox XX SiD forks is the double air cylinders which take a combination of small hiccups along with big suspension hits. Them being 700gm lighter doesn’t hurt too much either. One thing I didn’t realise was how bumpy Wollongong is, 280m of vertical in 26km – and that was me looking for some flat coastal routes as well. But I love the feeling of exploring routes that I have never ridden before, not knowing whether a turn leads me to a bridge, a climb, little bush track, or dead-end. Just me and the bike going for a spin.

The Sydney to Gong ride was going down the same day, but this year I chose to sit it out. Last year I got taken out by another inexperienced rider who blew wide on a corner, panicked while dropping his speed by 10km/hr, to then move across his line without realising that there were 20 other riders behind him – including me with 10 other riders drafting behind me. I went right over the handlebars forward flipping and landing on my right hip, somehow ending up facing backwards. So that has left me with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth for that ride – too many novices just trying to beat the rush of 10,000 other riders. But it was good to see the finish line and then spin south towards the big steel refineries. I have got to figure out how I can bring with me a better camera with me other than the one my phone – the SLR is definitely not the solution. It was an overcast morning, but still a striking start to the day.

North Wollongong shoreline with a cloudy welcome

The low hanging clouds were rolling in off the coast, but thankfully there was no heavy downpour.

The MTB Steed greeting paddle skis returning from their journeys

The fishing marina at Flagstaff Hill Park was the launching point for plenty of paddlers.

The guidance lighthouse into the fishing marina

The entrance for the inner harbour of the marina has a lighthouse to guide the boats through some rocky shores and ocean breaks.

The lighthouse at Flagstaff Hill Park

The main lighthouse keeps watch over Flagstaff Hill.

Lighthouse at Flagstaff Hill

A striking sentinel on the watch.

The challenge for me was that after I did that spin, my wife, aunt, and the little Pok wanted to go for a spin too. Now this is a totally different experience – with what equates to over 27kg on the rear axle which feels like a large rubber band tugging at you whenever you want to accelerate. Up hills? Try climbing with a couple of sacks of potatoes. And the Pok loves it! He does one of two things – he either chatters away with glee or falls asleep. Either way, happy boy who is always keen to go out for a ride. I took a couple of pics from the day before where we rode to the Pyrmont Food Growers Market for some breakfast.

Pok in carriage at the Pyrmont Markets

The equation though is not stacking up. The more he grows, the more he eats, the heavier he gets, the more power I have to put down to tow him. You gotta love being a parent.

Pok being fed second breakfast by his Mummy

Anyways, time to giddy up. Tomorrow I will post some photos of my sunrise shoot with Grumpy at Middle Harbour, not sure how good a morning it will be.

Finally, the next clue to the header photo – the building is a striking example of modern art.

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