Tuesday, 26 October 2010

On how bicycles and moose shouldn't be combined

There was an article on the CBC News website describing how one Newfoundlander is combining moose and bicycles. Namely hunting them on his bike. I am not sure if this is entirely legal, let alone fair.

There are laws against hunting from vehicles, though I don't know if they apply to bikes. Furthermore, hunting is rarely done from horseback (except in some cases) so I have serious doubts about the legality of the whole business.

Part of the rationale of not hunting from vehicles is to give the prey a sporting chance to bugger off before the hunters get in range. Using a bicycle would therefore be unsporting and potentially upset the balance.

Also, the article doesn't describe how he carries his rifle while cycling. I wonder how safe that is. Come to think of it, what are the rules and laws about transporting a firearm by bicycle?

For the record, I am not against responsible hunting. I won't say I am for it, as I am not pro-hunting. Rather, I have better things to do than weigh the pros and cons of responsible hunting, let alone try to go out and change the status quo. I am prepared to enjoy the benefits of hunting in the form of the very occasional bit of moose meat that comes my way. Before anyone points out that I shouldn't be eating my totem animal, I would like to say that it is my spiritual-value system and I can live with its apparent hypocrisies quite happily!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

On a decison, of sorts

I have come a decision regarding going to Australia. Not an irrevocable decision, nor a definite one. But a decision nonetheless. Barring the unforeseen, I will go there in the next vacation/fiscal year i.e. May 2010 to April 2011.

I still haven't decide where I will go in Australia (and where influences when), but I will go. A long time ago, I sort of promised myself I would get there some day and as there will be a "0" in my age come next birthday, I think it is appropriate.

On some gems from a conversation

Last week I was chatting on the phone with Mummy about my possible trip to Australia and matters arising therefrom. The maternal unit was looking at where the various places I was talking about in her atlas (bought for her by yours truly). The process, she looked at the map of Niue and commented that it would be an easier country to bicycle around, even having a circumferential road. Given the Niue is only slightly larger than Jersey, that isn't very hard! My comment was that it might even be possible to bike around the country in the time it would take to refuel the plane!

Also in the conversation, Mummy facetiously asked how would the Aussies react to me walking into one of their hotels after day on the bike, i.e. all hot and sweaty. I replied that I didn't think it was much an issue as Australia as a whole is 1. a fairly hot and sweaty place and 2. the Aussies are a very laid back bunch of people, as whole. Also, given that Aussies backpackers are nearly ubiquitous in most places around the World, I don't think they have much to complain about. Furthermore, the "hotels" of which I spoke are in fact outback pubs, and therefore rather less formal.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

On 2nd and 3rd takes on biking in Oz

Thanks to Margo or Chris pointing out the advantages of Expedia, Australia is back in the running as an option for next year. I have also done a bit more research that suggests earlier in the year might be desirable, at least if I do the Alice-Darwin run. May would be the target month.

Using a combination of Google Earth and Google Maps I was able to identify a number of places to stay along the Stuart Highway, as well as the distances involved.

Biking day





Alice Springs





Barrow Creek



Barrow Creek





Tennant Creek



Tennant Creek

Renner Springs



Renner Springs





















Pine Creek



Pine Creek







This is only a very preliminary breakdown based on the concept of credit card touring and does not include rest days, etc. I have no idea how realistic the distances per day are. In point of fact, I am particularly nervous about the first two days given the significant distances and the learning curve of starting to bike in an unfamiliar country.

It also doesn't take into account a rather significant detour I might take. From Pine Creek, I would hang a right for 212 km to Jaibiru in Kakadu National Park and then go 255 km to Darwin. This side trip would involve camping.

In the research process, I noticed that the speed limit on the Stuart Highway is 130 km/h, enforcement is minimal as are the shoulders. All this makes me a little nervous about the suitability of the Stuart Highway for biking.

Given that Oz is a fairly big country, I still have the option of looking somewhere else for a trip, possibly in slightly more populated areas. I should ask Louise who did some biking on the East Coast of Oz a few years back about what she did.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

On a librarian's perspective on some poor fictional use of information

This post does not conform with the standard types of entries for this blog (i.e. biking, mooses, nieces and nephew.) Sue me.

As my readers know, or should know, I am a librarian. I also studied history. This means I have a well developed sense of how information works in the present and over time. In turn, this means I have a certain intolerance for when writers ignore how information works.

Centuries-long conspiracies à la Dan Brown make me gag as information will leak out. You simply can't maintain a functional veil of secrecy for that long unless the organization is absolutely tiny. (Then the danger is that the knowledge will simply be forgotten.)

In reverse, big information sticks around for a very long time. Especially when this information is widely published. Several months ago, I was reading The passage by Justin Cronin. Overlong, boring and poor structured in the guise of being clever, his post-vampire-apocalypse tale has many indications that he doesn't understand how information works. To begin with, the cause apocalypse is a hyper-secret, yet massive, U.S. government research project that unleashes vampires. (This is actually wrong from the preceding point.) After the dust settles, the tale concerns a small group of descendants of survivors in the American Southwest some eighty years or so later. According to Cronin, it takes less than century for people to forget major cultural artifacts such as Christmas! Despite the fact that there are all kinds of books lying around describing it. A copy of A Christmas carol is found but nobody really understands the context. Likewise, Christianity seems more or less unknown. The Bible is the most widely printed book, ever. And I wouldn't put A Christmas carol that far behind! That type of knowledge would survive.

I also don't like The passage as the protagonists burn a library with nary a second thought. Come on people, if nothing else, a library would provide masses of reading material to occupy your bleak existence.

In a slightly different vein, I went to see the movie Red this afternoon. At two points, two different characters enter the ultra-secret file vault of the CIA (kept by a librarian type character played by Ernest Borgnine). These files are of the really, ultra, top, I-could-tell-you-but-then-I-would-have-to-kill-you, secret variety. This is the one place (in theory) this information is supposed to be kept.

Except that both files looked at have been heavily redacted. That is to say, all the useful information has been blacked out.

The whole point of keeping such ultra-secret information in the first place is so the organization can refer to it if the issue comes up at a later date, if only to know which set of lies to use. Redacted documents are copies you give to politicians and journalists. You still have to have an accurate original somewhere.

While the filmmakers probably thought it would be topical and prevent the truth coming out too quickly in the movie to have the information redacted, to me it just looks stupid. I think one of major problems with Hollywood is that most filmmakers knowledge of the world comes from watching other movies, which unfortunately, isn't real.

On one of more annoying bits of my trip from Britain

Just after I returned to London, I discovered that the removable accessory bar for my 2008 Topeak Compact Handlebar Bag was missing. Doubtless, it was pinched by a hairy, shifty South-American I saw in the railway station. ;-)
The piece in question is the hollow tube on top the mounting bracket that allows you to attach accessories like bells to your bike despite having the bag mounted. Topeak sells a replacement mounting bracket which unfortunately isn't compatible with the bag I bought in 2008. I am half tempted to get a whole new bag as the new, incompatible mounting bracket is said to be easier to use. The old system led to pinched fingers.

Monday, 4 October 2010

On the issues of biking in Oz

The problem I most feared is reality. I did some poking around on the 'Net today and was rather startled that a round trip ticket to Alice Springs is on the order of $3500 CAD or more, plus possible charges for bikes. Somehow, I didn't think it would be quite that expensive. When I went to New Zealand in 2002, the ticket was something like $2400 CAD, if I recall correctly. Of course in those days, I still used a travel agent!

It is also tricky to get logical routes as Air Canada and Quantas belong to different airline groups. Air Canada is Star Alliance whereas Quantas is One World. (Air New Zealand is in Star Alliance.) It also means that the routes generated aren't as short as they might be. For example, Air Canada proposes Montreal-Vancouver-Sydney-Alice Springs. This implies taking a great circle route North to Vancouver before heading South to Sydney then North again to Alice Springs. On the Sydney to Montreal leg, Quantas suggested LAX (ugh)-Chicago (eeek!)-Montreal on its American partner (aieee!!).

This is also important as you can't get an accurate quote out of Quantas for flying from Montreal, as my city isn't in their database. Or something.

I looked into using an around-the-world ticket to get a lower fare but found it was A. more expensive and B. took more time, on account of mandatory layovers, etc. (My sister used one to get to New Zealand, but now that I think of it, she also had brief visits to Switzerland, India, and Canada (she was living in Belfast at the time) on that trip.)

I also poked around a couple of third-country carriers in the region namely Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines. I didn't even bother with Garuda ("Retro vadis, Satanico!") as I am not sure they are even allowed to fly into North America. (Though you have to hand it to the world's largest Muslim nation to name their airline after a Hindu deity!) to see if there was anything to be gained. Alas, none of them will admit to flying into Alice Springs (not surprising) or Darwin. The latter was somewhat surprising as it is the northern bit of Oz, and therefore closest to Asia. (So close that the Japanese bombed it repeatedly during the Second World War.) It took a lot of very direct probing of route maps before I found an actual international flight out of Darwin International Airport. Even then, it doesn't work.

Prevailing winds
From my research, the prevailing winds in the Northern Territory are pretty much East-South-East. This means that Alice Springs is better as a starting point from the wind perspective. It is also better from a psychological point of view as you are heading "towards the sea" rather than some "fly-speck" on a map. No offense to Alice Springs intended.

I'd had the mistaken idea that winter was the wet season in Oz. Not so, or at least in the Northern Territory. Summer is the rainy season, at least near Darwin. The average heat and humidity levels make the thought look like a very uncomfortable idea. Therefore, my take is that the good biking window is probably the fall and early winter (before it gets too dry). In practical terms, May, June, July.

The road
When I looked up the distance between Darwin and Alice Springs on Googlemaps, the directions amounted to "putz around on local roads in Darwin for 5 km. Get on the Stuart Highway. Drive 1350 kms. Take the Alice Springs exit!" There is effectively only one road between Darwin and Alice Springs. This means sharing it with all the traffic including road-trains. My mental image of Aussie highways is fairly good, but ultimately boring compared to, say, the back roads of Spain. I wonder if even Bikemoose the Montrealer could tolerate several weeks of being buzzed by trucks on the same damn road!

Potential biking companions
Margo and Chris are in the planning stages of biking in South America from January to June-ish. This will likely be taking up pretty much all of their biking resources for next year. Hence, I doubt I will have them along for the ride which makes camping less attractive and therefore the trip as a whole less attractive, especially given the price of the airplane tickets.

My financial situation
While I earn a very comfortable income as a librarian, what with various things I really don't have the cash lying around to spend on something like this. I haven't been saving, and I doubt I could have enough saved for a trip next year.*

In summary
Oz ain't in the cards for next year. Maybe the following.

(* Not unless the Union comes to a collective agreement with the City in the next few months and the retroactive is large enough.)