Wednesday, 24 September 2008

On the fallacy of the first person singular and the necessity of trust

This entry will be somewhat hypocritical of me, but without some massive rhetorical efforts, I don't think I can write it without using the first person singular. Sue me.

As I was having lunch outside my workplace the other day, I saw a cyclist pedaling the wrong way down the busy Cavendish Boulevard. I have often wondered why there are so many people who think it is "safer" to pedal against traffic rather than with traffic as is mandated by law. I had often thought that it was a mistaken application of the rule that you should walk against traffic. However, as I ate my lunch, another answer occurred to me.

The conclusion I arrived at is that these cyclists think that if they pedal against the flow of traffic they will be able to see and avoid "the crazy driver who will schmuck them." Reciprocally, they don't trust drivers will avoid hitting them from behind. In essence, these people are putting more faith in their own abilities (or the "first person singular") than in those of their fellows.

As you may guess from the title of this entry, I disagree with this take on biking. When you are cycling, you can easily be moving too fast to take safe corrective action against an on-coming car. In fact, your actions can provoke a car into making a panic move to avoid you and possibly cause an accident. Also, the fact that the law mandates you ride with traffic means that going against traffic means that biking on the wrong side of the road means interfering with cyclists on the right side of the road.

The "advantage" of biking on the wrong side is that cyclist feels that he or she is in active control of the situation. Conversely, when cyclists obey the law and the practice, they are in a relatively passive situation that requires the cyclists to trust the drivers coming up from behind. Trust is in comparatively short supply these days, especially with the paranoia section of the economy doing as well as it does. The X-Files and The Da Vinci Code are only the tip of the iceberg. At the same time, the ego boosting aspects of society are also doing very well. Unfortunately, this doesn't translate into safe cycling.

I guess my point is that in order to be safe, law-abiding cyclist, it is necessary to submerge the "I" in favour a "we" and a faith in drivers. Yes, there is a danger in taking the "passive", "faith" side of the road. However, there is greater danger in taking the "active", "I" side of the road.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

On a trip to the Townships

Two weeks ago, I rented a car to get Leonardo out to North Hatley for the 2008 edition of the Défi des Cantons de l'Est or Eastern Townships Challenge. On the Saturday, Mummy and I went to Cowansville for the start. Mummy, was quite proud of her new Devinci bike.
Between a semi-sloshed disassembly, a plane ride and reassembly, I think I may have slightly damaged the rear derailleur on Leonardo. In any case, decided not to go too far (only a 100 km) as the bike wasn't performing up to its potential.
This had the advantage of putting me on a very nice (for Quebec) bit of open road.
The horizon just called to brought forth.

The next day, I stopped by to see my niece. She had grown some since I last saw her. More significantly, she has learned to locomote, after a fashion.
When she wants to get somewhere, she will push herself up... and roll over!!!
It seems to be a bit of a challenge for Philip and Dominique to keep her on her play area (an unzipped sleeping bag.) While she can locomote, she isn't very good at getting anywhere in particular. Consequently, she has to be replaced at the center of the sleeping bag every so often.There is a bit of jealousy from Happy the cocker spaniel. Nothing major, but it seems obvious that he isn't 100% happy about the new arrival. He was rather disappointed that I didn't take him for walkies (as I often do) when I was there. I probably should have taken him for a walk, but I had other things to do that day.

It was really special to see her growth. The last time I had seen her, she was a bit of a blob. Now she is really starting to acknowledge her environment. She had started eating "solid" food. She was locomoting (after a fashion). Very neat to watch.

You can see more baby pictures here.

On Bonne Bay, Sailing

The day after the beach party,

...Jason and...
and I went sailing on the Eastern Arm of Bonne Bay. The boat we did it in was the Moonshadow, a 17 foot "micro-cruiser" known as a Siren 17. In case you are wondering, that was the name of the boat when Alice and Mark bought it, so they can't be accused of ripping off Cat Stevens.

Unusually for the "tropical" island of Newfoundland, the weather was very nice with lots of sun and a very suitable amount of wind for the day.
Having biking two thousand odd kilometers to get there, I was relatively loath to do much work, especially as I suspect that my rating in the Royal Navy of Nelson's day would be at best be "common seaman". Also, four adults is almost too much for a siren 17. Consequently, I tried to keep my role to (semi)-mobile ballast and "protect" the fiberglass from the ultra-violet light (i.e. catch some rays).As you can see from this picture, I did need some UV in certain parts such as my upper thighs that were hidden by my bike shorts. I had (and still have) quite the cyclist's tan.

Getting back to naval ratings, we had a discussion about who would qualify as what rating. "Obviously" Alice was a Captain, and Mark the mate. I initially put Jason in the "Landsman" rating given his accounts of being a duffer in boats, until I heard he taught sailing at the school he worked at. I think we ended up referring to him as an "able seaman".

We sailed to some beach whose name I've forgotten but I doubt is truly important. Some of us (including me) went swimming.
The water temperature was actually quite nice. In some respects, this was rather surprising as the Eastern Arm of Bonne Bay has some surprising features to it. Apparently, the lower depths of it feature permanently cold water of an Arctic character. As in, they support marine fauna and flora usually found in Arctic waters. There is some rather interesting physics and chemistry that explains why the deep water of the Eastern Arm hasn't warmed up since the last ice age, but I am unable to repeat it as it is more complicated than I can easily explain. Also, while it made sense to me when I read it, I don't know enough about the subject to say that I truly understood it. The short version is warmish water on top, very cold water beneath.

The bottom of the Moonshadow was relatively foul with marine growth, so Mark decided to careen her. Lacking a proper tool, he used one of his Newfoundland wool socks to do the job. There are a number of disturbing things about this. First of all, I doubt he is the first person to use Newfy socks for more or less this purpose. Secondly, I suspect that the socks were none the worse for wear. Thirdly, it shows a rather odd feature of Mark's personality. If he had been born in this country, it would be very easy to describe him as something of a hoser, given his use of socks for cleaning boats and a tendency to wear boots all the time and drink beer. However, he's vegatarian doctor from the Island of Jersey, for Christ's sake. Something don't add up. (And I say this with all due affection.) ;-)

Anyway, we sailed back and went for supper at Java Jack's.

My take on Java Jack's is that it takes reasonably available ingredients (remember this is Newfoundland after all, you aren't going find a lot of exotic food) and does very interesting things with them. For instance, the menu features yin yang pizza. This is a pizza that is half pesto and half a more conventional tomato. Obviously, the ingredients of pizza dough are something of a given. Garlic, cheese and tomatoes are also fairly obvious. (The basil comes from their own herb garden.) Hence, most of the ingredients are "common". In another restaurant, they might be put together in a very conventional, if not bland manner. However, at Java Jack's, the execution of the dish is very recherché.

I had been tempted to have a Newfoundland Vesper with my meal, after Jason ordered Oyster Bay white wine from New Zealand, I decided to err on the side of sobriety. I still had to pack Leonardo that night. As it was, I think I drank most of a bottle of wine that night, so I was a very good thing that my sister had acquired a bike box that opened from the side rather than the top. It was much easier to fit my bike into that box than it would have been with a more conventional box.

Monday, 15 September 2008

On the beach

Sorry if I have been a bit remiss in not updating the blog and writing more about my trip, but for some reason, I haven't been in the mood. I have also been having a bit of trouble uploading images into my blog that I think I have resolved. In a related note, I have started posting pictures for you to admire on the web at

In any case, there was quite a party on the beach. The beach has a name that I have forgotten. Suffice to say that it is the beach in Norris Point that look out towards the Gulf of the Saint Lawrence. A bit vague but it describes it.

I was surprised to see some moose bones on the beach. I can't come up with any particular explanation for them but I assume there is one.
Jason, Mark, Alice and I kicked off the party with some bubbly.
Alice then got busy baking some cod wrapped in aluminum foil in the fire we built. Un-seen is the potato salad I had made earlier in the day. As the fish cooked, we sat around drinking beer and discussing life, the universe and everything.
Among other things, Jason told us how his lurcher (a type of dog) had caught a baby muntjac back in England. This resulted in a discussion about what a muntjac was (a type of very small deer) and what a possible muntjac-moose encounter would be like. It was that sort of party.Alice had invited any number of Norris Pointers. I can't really recall any of their names, except for Sheldon (who isn't this guy, I think) who worked as some sort of information officer for Gros Morne National Park. If I remember correctly, he designs displays for the park, as well as, keeping track of what the public opinion of the park is. One side effect of the this was that he had known about my moose sighting as I arrived in Norris Point. You see, he has software that picks up usage of the phrase "Gros Morne National Park" in newly posted webpages. As my arrival blog entry used that phrase, he had seen my blog entry. He had been going to pull my leg about it, but someone else had asked me about seeing moose before he could devise a conversational gambit. The Sun went down behind a headland. We drank some more beer and ate potato salad, chips and cod. Some more people showed up so we drank some more beer.
And then some more beer.After a while, the others drifted away leaving the hard core, i.e. Mark, Jason, Alice and myself. After a few more beer and a drunken attempt by Mark to put the fire out, Alice convinced him to go home.

Thing were getting quite relaxed and after a while I felt little inclination to actually sit up and so took photographs while lying down feeling very relaxed. I was half-tempted to sleep on the beach, but it simply wasn't comfortable.
This lead to my close encounter with the mooses.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

On a possible critical mass of cyclists

Sorry if I haven't been writing in my blog lately. I am back at work and all that that entails. In addition, I have been working on editing the photos I took into a slideshow that I would like to have ready for this weekend.

Getting to the title and topic of this posting, I was impressed at the sheer number of cycle-commuters on the road today. The de Maisonneuve bike path was very busy. Unfortunately, it wasn't busy enough for the usual idiot pedestrians to take the hint and use the sidewalk. I sometimes think that Quebec is very close to nearing the tipping point in numbers of cyclists: if we get a bit more, maybe, just maybe, the traffic planners will have to get their act together and increase the priority of cyclists in their considerations.

One change that occurred while I was away on the de Maisonneuve bike path. Where de Maisonneuve crosses Decarie Blvd, there is a very awkward bit street layout that I have had to deal with on a regular, if not daily basis since 1999. As it was, there was no strictly legal and practical way to negotiate the area. In the near decade I have been going that way, I have figured out the best way to deal with this section of road. When I returned from my trip, there were markings on the road indicating that "my" method of geting past that point will be, more or less, the official way to dealing with that section. My pride in having good bike sense is nicely polished by this.