June 12, 2008
A recent conversation with my friend Ken touched on the astonishing drama that fills the lives of many of the students at the community college at which he works and how starkly this contrasts the lives of his own milieu. I described my view of the opposite regime: the middle-class suburb where the safe standardized environments of home, school, church and neighborhood enforce strict bounds on thought and behavior and indoctrinate their own narrow values and aspirations to produce a homogenized, neutered humanity. Later the same day I happened to read the following passage in Thomas Bernhard’s memoir that addresses the same issue but in Bernhard’s dazzling prose.
Background to the excerpt: Thomas Bernhard, was a sensitive child and had a mostly very unhappy childhood which spanned WW2. His family was impoverished but essentially middle-class in values, behavior and ambition. Shortly after the war, living in Salzburg, Bernhard was attending grammar school, which he hated, when one day while walking to school he took the opposite turn on the Reichenhaller Strasse from the direction to the school and instead visited a labor exchange where he got a position as apprentice at a grocery store in the blighted Scherzhauserfeld Project.
The excerpt is from Gathering Evidence by Thomas Bernhard, chapter 3: “The Cellar: an Escape” pp192-194 in the David McLintock translation published by Vintage in 2003.
What I was seeking was something different, something I had not known before, something that might be stimulating and exciting, and I found it in the Scherzhauserfeld Project. I did not go there out of any feeling of pity: I have always detested pity, and especially self-pity. I did nor permit myself to feel pity; my only motive was the will to survive. Having come so close co putting an end to my life, for every possible reason, I had the idea of breaking away from the path I had taken for many years because I was too stupid and too unimaginative to choose another, and because I had been set upon this path by those who brought me up to fulfill the dreary ambitions they entertained on my behalf. I did an about-turn and ran back along the Reichenhaller Strasse. At first I simply ran back, without knowing where I was heading. From this moment on it’s got to be something different, I thought—in my excitement this was the only thought in my head—something that is the very opposite of what I have done up to now. And the labour exchange in the Gaswerkgasse was exactly in the opposite direction. Under no circumstances would I have turned again and gone in any other direction. The farthest point in the opposite direction was the Scherzhauserfeld Project, and it was on this farthest point that I set my sights. The Scherzhauserfeld Project was the farthest point in every respect, not just geographically. There was nothing there to remind me even remotely of the city and of everything in the city that had tormented me for years and driven me to despair, to thinking of scarcely anything but suicide. Here there was no mathematics master, no Latin master, no Greek master, and no despotic headmaster to make me catch my breath whenever he appeared. Here there was no deadly institution. Here one did not continually have to keep oneself under control, keep one‘s head down, dissimulate and lie in order to survive. Here I was not constantly exposed to the disapproving looks I had found so deadly. Here no outrageous and inhuman demands were made on me. Here I was not turned into learning and thinking machine. Here I could be myself. And all the others could be themselves. Here people were not constantly being pressed into an artificial mould as they were in the city, in a manner that daily grew more sophisticated. They were left in peace, and from the very first moment I set foot on the Scherzhauserfeld Project I too was left in peace. One could not only think one’s own thoughts: and one could express them, when and how one liked and as loudly as one liked. One was not in constant danger of being attacked for being headstrong. One‘s personality was suddenly no longer suppressed and crushed by the rules of the bourgeois social apparatus, an apparatus designed to destroy human beings. In towns where stupidity reaches such alarming proportions as it does in Salzburg, human beings are constantly tweaked and shaken, constantly hammered and filed into shape, and they go on being hammered and filed into shape until there is nothing left of the original human being but a revolting, tasteless artifact. In towns of medium size (I will say nothing of small towns, where everything is grotesque) every effort is directed toward turning human beings into artifacts. Everything in these towns is opposed to human nature; even the young are nothing more than artifacts from A to Z. The human species today can preserve itself only in the unadulterated country or in the unadulterated big city—only in the unadulterated country, which still exists, or in the unadulterated big city, which also exists. In such conditions one still finds natural human beings—beyond the Hausruck or in London, for instance, and as far as Europe is concerned one probably finds them nowhere else. For in Europe today London is the only genuine big city; admittedly it is nor on the continent, but it is in Europe all the same; and beyond the Hausruck I can still find the unadulterated country. Everywhere else in Europe one finds only artificial human beings, people whom the schools have turned into artifacts. Whoever we meet in the rest of Europe turns out to be an artificial human being, a tasteless replica of the real thing. The number of such products runs into millions and—who knows?—will perhaps shortly run into billions; and all their movements are controlled by various educational systems, which are in reality pitiless, insatiable, man-eating monsters. All the time our ears are assailed, if we are still capable of using them, by the sickening din of mass-produced marionettes with not a single natural human being among them. It is possible that in the Scherzhauserfeld Project I experienced the Hausruck or London effect, but I was not conscious of this at the time. I had obeyed my instinct and gone in the opposite direction.
June 8, 2008
Since I published my fairly optimistic May 27 2008 post on this topic, I’ve a few observations and thoughts to add.
1. It takes considerable discipline to keep up with my drinking, especially now the hot weather is here. (I don’t like to use the central AC if i don’t need to. I just strip to my shorts when it’s hot.) For a couple of days I attached a 45 min timer to a pint bottle, and that worked, but…
2. It seems to be quite easy in hot weather to wake up dehydrated. I have a pint every time I pee at night but I guess you can evaporate quite a lot during 8 hours in bed. Don’t really want to
3. I’ve had several long rides and it seems quite feasible to maintain hydration. If I drink at least 1.5 oz/mi or 2+ in hot weather then I don’t seem to be dehydrated at the end. I have the impression that the kidneys take a break on their polyuria craze while exercising.
4. I’ve had some very good rides and no really bad ones since I upped the drinking. But there have been several on which it seemed as though I was staring at the end…
If a well rested and prepared cyclist goes out for a ride, she or he can ride very hard for a couple of hours. After that, things slow down and effort level (as monitored by heart rate) diminishes as though approaching a steady state of roughly 65-70% of max heart rate as the limit of what can be sustained. After many hours riding, huffing and puffing up a hill and enduring considerable muscle pain, you can get it a little bit higher than that. But that compares with taking a similar hill at the start of the ride much faster and with ease at 90-95% max HR.
The difference, as I understand it, very roughly, is that at the beginning you have the glycogen reserves available which can be metabolized quickly and anaerobically. At the end you have to rely on metabolizing fat aerobically. Some of your muscle cells are the type that burns glycogen, other fibers burn fat, and some others can do a bit of both. So at the beginning of the ride you can use all your leg muscle as both fuels are available, at the end only the fat burners are working.
I figure effort level using heart rate. There’s a lot you can read about on the web about why that’s reasonable. The graph shows my best guess, based on experience, how my sustainable heart rate depends on ride duration, which is on a log time scale from 10 seconds to 100 hours (assuming I’m well warmed up for the short rides).
I’ve had several rides recently when I felt like I was starting at the end of a ride. The heart rate I could sustain at the beginning of the ride was around 145 to 155. There were no other issues. I recently rode, for the fifth time overall, the Boston Brevet Series 300 km in 12:24, 16 minutes faster than my previous best. So I’m riding fairly well but it’s definitely different.
It feels and seems as though I’m starting my rides with depleted glycogen reserve. And I think this may be the case. My suspicion is that lithium produces chronic dehydration which, among other things, cripples the glycogen recovery between rides.
June 6, 2008
I was much impressed by the Nakaya Urishi fountain pens when in early 2008 I first saw them on the web site of Classic Fountain Pens in Los Angeles. I have a thing for writing instruments, fountain pens, paper, writing and calligraphy and have, on and off, for a long time. The Nakaya Urishi pens, particularly the Cigar and Writer models, less so the Piccolo and Decapod, continue to stand for me as about the most elegant and desirable pens imaginable.
Nakaya also use these pens as the basis for all kinds of special order pens with decorations specified by the customer. These one-of-a-kind pens are really something. Nakaya, whose slogan is “For Your Hand Only”, has on their web site a gallery of an astonishing variety of the special order pens they have made. Even if you don’t care for pens, it’s worth a look. I spent some time studying them. Admittedly, the majority of the designs are not to my taste but the quality of work is remarkable, as is the breadth and creative imagination of the designs.
On August 31 2007 my mother died. She had been ill for two and a half years. In the end her death was peaceful at the excellent Cowal Hospice in Dunoon, Scotland. She was 69. According to her will she was cremated with a humanist funeral. Her ashes were scattered in her garden on the shore of Loch Fyne near where one of her dogs was buried in a corner of the large garden.
I live in Boston, Massachusetts and Scotland is a long way away. There is no gravestone to visit and for a long time I didn’t know what would become of the property or if I would be able to even access the garden in future. So I decided that I would like to memorialize my mother here in my own personal way.
At some point the idea came that I could memorialize my mother for myself with a special order Nakaya pen. A pen that I could use regularly, decorated in a way that would signify her so that every time I use it I would have a chance think about her.
The design I chose was based on a well know Wild Strawberry motif that is used to decorate (among other things, I assume) certain Wedgewood porcelain pieces. [Macy’s has a good image of the set: here, also here. Thanks, Macy!] My mother liked this design and she liked strawberries. She also grew wild strawberries, as well as more commonly cultivated varieties of strawberry, in her garden. She gave me and my wife a pair of the Wedgewood coffee mugs some years ago, which we still use.
I like the design too. And I thought it could well be adapted to a design for a Nakaya pen. The stems can wind around the body and the leaves, berries and flowers can be located wherever.
But I didn’t want white pen and I did want the deep, deep red Aka Tamenuri base. First I thought of using the Yakoh nuri technique of the Hagi “Bush Clover” pen in the Nakaya special order gallery. It is possibly my favorite of the pens in the gallery. My correspondent at Nakaya, Yoko Kono, correctly pointed out that this would result in a very subtle, dark pen when the original design is so beautifully colorful. After some thought I suggested another idea, inspired by looking at Nakaya special order, “A frog with a cherry”: take the original Yakoh nuri idea but additionally express a one flower, one berry and one leaf in color. Yoko Kono liked that idea and sent the specification to a craftsman to develop a design.
The craftsman produced a design with one flower, two berries and a cluster of three leaves in color, and one more flower in black gently highlighted. I approved the design as-is. The black stems, flower, berries, leaves and veins are black Tsuke-gaki (which I think is sticky Urishi painted on and the sprinkled with pigmentation). The colored flower has pink Raden (mother of pearl from sea shells) for the petals and gold Maki-e for stamen and pistils. The berries are red Raden with gold seeds and green Urishi stem ends. The leaves are green Raden with gold leaf veins. The dark flower has stamen and pistils in gold Bokashi.
I wanted a name on the pen in Kanji maki-e but not my name. The four characters mean “hunting goddess” and in Roman mythology, the goddess of the hunt was Diana, which was my mother’s name. The idea of a goddess protector of woodlands and wild animals suited me. Artemis was the equivalent Greek god.
I chose the Writer model, that is, with clip on the cap, in the portable size because I wanted to use the pen regularly and not only at home. Despite this being the middle sized of the three lengths of Nakaya Urishi pens, it is still very large; longer than a Pelikan M1000. I considered the two-tone nib but decided against and chose the plain yellow gold nib and thus yellow gold plated clip. The two-tone nib would look good on a plain pen or with some decorations but this pen needs a quiet nib to let the body do the singing. Gold is not normally my choice but on this pen a silvery metal color would not have worked.
I’ve had it now for a few days and I really like it a lot. It is a beautiful pen and I am extremely proud of it. There is a difference between having something nice that’s valuable, such as a standard or limited edition fountain pen, and having something that is completely unique and ones own in some sense of its design or creation. Last year I took two photographs in Scotland that I had printed and framed and I hung them on the wall. Three years ago I ordered a custom Mercian Super Vigorelli bicycle frame with a geometry I designed around some specific but odd components that I had chosen. I don’t remember exactly when but some time back I ordered a very large L. J. Peretti freehand tobacco smoking pipe to a shape spec that I wanted – I’m fairly sure it is the last hand-made pipe that Robert Peretti made. In these items I have a pride that goes beyond what I have in stuff that I just bought. It’s a very nice feeling.
I chose a standard firm broad nib. It writes a line width like a Pelikan medium. I may have the nib reground as a stub or oblique but I’m in no hurry. I like writing with line width variations very much but I also like the idea of keeping this pen a pure Nakaya pen with a standard Nakata nib. It writes excellently. It glides as a good FP nib does. This very large pen is not feather-weight but at 22 grams it is at the light end of the pens of its five and three-quarter inch plus size. It does not post very well; it feels obviously wrong when you try because the cap contacts the tip of the strawberry at the rump end which is slightly raised. This is fine with me because posting on this pen is sure to leave a mark on the barrel eventually and the pen is big enough to obviate any need. The balance and feel in the hand seems ideal, it feels delightful, though this, I find, not at all unusual with good fountain pens.
For accessories I got a bottle of Platinum Carbon Black ink (as it’s not available in the US), a pen pillow (a rest for an open pen) that is also dark red Urishi and a Chirimen pouch that I think of as the pen’s pajamas despite that it doesn’t work well with the pillow. For protection in transport I put the pen in its pajamas in a leather cigar case designed for two Churchills.
It took about a month to-and-fro before I approved the design an then three months and 10 days between payment and arrival of the pen. I think that’s a really good turn-around for something like this. Yoko Kono, my sole correspondent throughout, was great to deal with. I have great respect for Nakaya and the artists they use.
The first book I read by Thomas Bernhard was Frost, after reading a review of the new English translation by Michael Hofmann that came out a couple of years ago. I really like the book. The language is thrilling, the subject matter is relevant, I am generally sympathetic to the points of view which are often presented with such force that just reading them can be a release. Here’s one excerpt to illustrate my point.
Strauch, the story’s hero, was a fine-art painter in the Vienna scene, presumably around and after WW2 times. He quit art and went to live in a backwater village in a valley deep in the mountains where he walks around a lot and fulminates over the state of things. Here he comments on artists:
“You know,” the painter said, “that art froth, that artist fornication, that general art-and-artist loathsomeness, I always found that repelling; those could formations of basest self-preservation topped with envy … Envy is what holds artists together, envy, pure envy, everyone envies everyone else for everything … I talked about it once before, I want to say: artists are the sons and daughters of loathsomeness, of paradisiac shamelessness, the original sons and daughters of lewdness; artists, painters, writers, and musicians are the compulsive masturbators on the planet, its disgusting cramps, its perpetual puffings and swellings, its pustular secretions … I want to say: artists are the great emetic agents of the time, they were always the great, the very greatest emetics … Artists, are they not a devastating army of absurdity, of scum? The infernality of unscrupulousness is something I always met with in the thoughts of artists … But I don’t want any artists’ thoughts any more, no more of those unnatural thoughts, I want nothing more to do with artists or with art, yes, not with art either, that greatest of all abortions … Do you understand: I want to get right away from that bad smell. Get away from that stink, I always say to myself, and secretly have always thought, get away from that corrosive, shredding, useless lie, get away from that shameless simony …” He said: “Artists are the identical twins of hypocrisy, the identical twins of low-mindedness, the identical twins of licensed exploitation, the greatest licensed exploitation of all time. Artists, as they have shown themselves to me to be,” he said, “are all dull and grandiloquent, nothing but dull and grandiloquent, nothing …”
June 4, 2008
The magical power of LEDs induces in the hearts and minds of engineers and the technically minded an unequivocal knowledge: The product needs to have LEDs. The understanding of this truth arises at a deep, almost emotional level in ones being and develops into, at the cognitive level, an unshakable axiom. Few will notice that they have become gripped by a mystical alien force but all have experienced it.
The pressure of this knowledge that the LEDs are needed is all but irresistible. A weaker engineer will simply add LEDs without much thought. But in a stronger, more disciplined engineer it can lead to difficulties brought about by a cognitive dissonance between the magical knowledge on the on hand and, on the other, the widely held belief that a product’s features ought to bear up to rational justification.
The uses of LEDs that we see in the products that surround us are all examples of the various resolutions of this cognitive dissonance. Occasionally an actually useful function can be found – a rare and happy outcome. Sometimes the designer seems to have accepted ornamentation as sufficient excuse. But the more common outcome is a contrivance of utility. On the one hand it can be a plainly pathetic apology for function, as exemplified by the entire category of “debugging by LEDs” applications (see diagram). At the other extreme it can be a truly brilliant contrivance that succeeds in creating the illusion of a purpose; an outcome that reflects an uncommon creative talent of the designer. Nevertheless it remains a contrivance – a fig leaf concealing an ineffable.
In organizations the cognitive dissonance can become collective. The scenario is not unfamiliar: certain stakeholders advocating utility, others hiding behind tradition (i.e. standards) but none challenging the authority of the magical truth that the LEDs are needed. The time spent searching for a compromise acceptable to all can run into years.
And who has not experienced the classic cop-out of a hardware designer who, unable to find a plausible pretext on his own, passes the buck by placing the LEDs under software control? It is in this situation that it has been know to happen that a lowly programmer might inadvertently utter the taboo question “What are these LEDs supposed to be for?”
You may wonder but you may not ask.
June 4, 2008
People who still like and use vinyl are probably aware of this already but just in case, here’s how CDs make you immoral.
Most LPs, and sometimes other vinyl disks, ask their owners to cherish them. They can wear out and do so very fast if not looked after. The sleeves can get dog-eared. But they reward loving care by being a delight to hold, admire and use. They are tactile. They actually sound like the touch of a touch of that tiny rigid finger caressing their shapely grooves. And this sound reflects the users’ physical relationship with them over time. LPs report to you on the care and love given them as they were mastered, pressed and previously owned. They are entirely submissive, tolerating abuse with graceful degradation that measures but does not judge their treatment. And they respond passionately to a new owner’s loving restoration.
LPs are large enough to offer satisfying presentation for a wide spectrum of sleeve art.
Most CDs ask you to regard them as disposable consumer ephemera. Molded plastic disks that hurt you fingers and molded plastic cases that crack, chip and break, usually before you can get the CD into a player. Their inserts can’t be extracted without bending, scratching or kinking, are nearly impossible to put pack. Handling them, you risk a paper cut or getting them under a fingernail.
The measly little space available for CD artwork allows only miniatures, a constraint that, judging by most covers, frustrates the cover artists.
And CDs, being digital, ask you to back them up, store the music files elsewhere, mutilate them with MP3 and other compressions, and use the data other than for listening. Thus they ask for the medium to be regarded as irrelevant.
So they force us into the morally murky realm of how we should reward artists for their efforts while we copy, share and modify the bit streams. So far we mostly don’t. How this will resolve itself is unclear but I doubt that musicians will be the winners. Cover artists are in mortal danger. CD users are complicit in these crimes.
The only thing a CD can do to redeem anything from this situation is to turn our attention away from itself with packaging. The more effective this stratagem, the more the CD itself is devalued and made irrelevant by its precious container. But this is a fetish — a perversion of the art and aesthetics of recorded music. Not even a gatefold LP with pages inside can be seriously accused of such falsification. Redemption demands equilibrium between disk and cover that engenders enduring love for the music as object. Mere arousal over an aestheticized prophylactic enclosure is no substitute.
So LPs encourage love and CDs selfishness. LPs espouse corporeal longevity and integrity while CDs are a mere throwaway delivery envelope for bits of information as durable and significant as an email.
Certainly there are exceptions on both sides. Some LPs are genuinely not worth a damn while some CDs are. (The 4CD issue of Toshi Ichiyanagi’s “Opera From The Works Of Tadanori Yokoo” comes to mind – but this, like so many nice CDs, is a sort of homage to LPs.) Nevertheless, the preponderance of the evidence overwhelmingly supports the thesis: Compact Disks make you immoral.
June 4, 2008
Recent disks from the NCP library at WZBC 90.3 FM in Newton MA that were popular with DJs in the week ending June 1 2008.
- Burning Star Core, Challenger, Hospital Productions/Plastic
- Gas, Nah und Fern (Disk 1), Kompakt
- Lithops, Mound Magnet Pt. 2: Elevations Above Sea Level, Killer Pimp
- Motorpsycho, Little Lucid Moments, Rune Grammofon
- Potpie, Potpie Plays The Classics, Ixnay Records
- Conrad Schnitzler, Consequenz, Captain Trip Records
- Conrad Schnitzler, Contempora, Captain Trip
- Various artists, Vol. C: Zelphabet, Zelphabet
- Sutcliffe Jugend, The Fall of Nature, Hospital Productions/Ground Fault Recordings
- Claude VonStroke, Beware of the Bird, Dirtybird
- Oren Ambarchi and Z’ev, Spirit Transform Me, Tzadik
- Various artists, Volume A: Zelphabet, Zelphabet
- Autechre, Quaristice, Warp
- Belong, Colorloss Record, St. Ives Records
- Various artists, Buddha-Bar X, George V Records
- Aaron Dilloway & C. Spencer Yeh, The Squid, Hanson
- Ellen Fullman and Monique Buzzarte, Fluctuations, Deep Listening
- Gas, Nah und Fern (Disk 3) Konigsforst, Kompakt
- Keiji Haino & Masami Akita, Pulverized Purple, Victo
- Hanne Hukkelberg, Rykestrasse 68, Nettwerk
- Jack Dangers, Music for Planetarium, Brainwashed Handmade
- Various artists, Reptile / Insect Split w/ Band of Pain, Dirtier
- Various artists, Nigeria Rock Special, Sound Way
- Charlemagne Palestine, From Etudes to Cataclysms for the Doppio Borgato, Sub Rosa
- Asmus Tietchens, Teils teils, Swill Radio
June 3, 2008
In office life, people do strange and mysterious things — things clearly not directed towards the goals of the organization. Examples:
- convening completely unnecessary meetings
- counter-productive business development projects, mergers and acquisitions
- long carefully written emails when a short phone call would work better
- micro-management of perfectly competent workers
The Worster Principle can help us understand such strangeness and mystery. It is provides a straightforward explanation that can be stated thus:
When an obstacle prevents somebody from doing what he or she ought, the person will do something else instead – and the person will normally do something that he or she knows how to do and that looks approximately like work.
So the Worster Principle separates real-work, what the person ought to be doing, from not-work, the strange actual behavior that approximately imitates work. It also isolates the obstacle that impedes the real-work.
Thus the three key elements to look for when applying the Worster Principle are:
- real-work – what the person ought to be doing
- obstacle – what prevents the person for doing real-work
- not-work – what the person is actually doing instead
The principle can apply regardless of what each of these are and only requires a little bit of strangeness and mystery in order to work correctly. In particular, it works regardless of the obstacle. Incompetence, laziness, organizational blocks, lack of motive, lack of needed tools or resources, or almost anything else can all be valid obstacles in a case of the Worster Principle.
Further, the principle says nothing about the connection between real-work and not-work. In fact, there is usually no direct link. The specific not-work is determined much more by factors intrinsic to the person and by his or her circumstances than it is by the specific real-work that isn’t being done.
Let’s practice using the Worster Principle in a few example cases.
The first example is the easiest: the endemic problem of micro-management. Competence in management is rare and managers often don’t have the skills needed to manage sensibly. So incompetence can be an obstacle that prevents some managers from doing their real-work. And many of those will choose micro-management as their not-work. It’s easy to do, it has the approximate appearance of work, and corporations typically supply role-model micro-managers for newbies to learn from.
In the next example the obstacle is more mysterious. Most people in corporate life experience unnecessary meetings or unnecessarily protracted meetings without resolution. Since these are clearly examples of not-work—activities that look approximately like work but are in fact not what anybody ought to do—the Worster Principle may apply. If so, you can sometimes be lucky enough to identify the obstacle. In practice, it can be very diverse. Boredom with real-work is not uncommon. Personal insecurity is another possibility: a manager might organize meetings aimed at the diffusion of responsibility for decisions that he or she ought to accept individually.
Another endemic problem in business is inappropriate mergers and acquisitions. Studies from reputable authorities consistently show that the vast majority (probably around 80%) of M&As lead to net destruction of business value. So very likely most of them are not-work. The reasons why this particular kind of not-work is so popularly chosen over the others are probably not hard to guess (try machismo, braggadocchio, add your own Latinate words). But more interesting, assuming we’ve decided that the Worster Principle probably applies, is figuring out the real-work and the obstacle. More often than not, the real-work is the old-fashioned way of making your business more valuable, e.g. expanding sales, increasing operational efficiency, reducing costs due to quality problems, keeping customers happy, etc., blah, blah, yawn,… all that tired old advice filling so many sleepy-making business manuals. But why are these important things not being done? First it’s because they are difficult, require considerable insight and honesty, involve a lot of hard work that’s not much fun and they attract very little attention to an ambitious executive. Moreover, if one succeeds at the real-work, one is normally punished by budget reductions reflecting the cost savings achieved and/or setting of bold “stretch goals” for next year based the metrics of the recently achieved successes.
Try applying the Worster Principal yourself when things in the office seem more silly than need be. It’s very simple at one level, but it really does help one understand real world situations. We sometimes tend to focus on the manifest problem, i.e. the not-work, and the Worster Principal helps redirect our attention back to what should be happening and why it isn’t. When the obstacle to real-work can be identified, you may find a practical way to remove it.
Mr. Worster has been enjoying office life since 1987. Surprised that the principle described above appears not to be a standard chapter in the mighty cannon of management studies, he gave it his own name hoping that, once publicized, acknowledged for its truth, acclaimed for its breadth and depth of utility, and installed in every respectable MBA curriculum, it will afford him a measure of immortality.
June 3, 2008
A great deal of discussion, both enlightening and occluding, envelops the topic of nutrition for long distance cyclists but you can take it from me that it is a very good idea. There is a bit of a tendency for the discourse to become rather technical. Even the word “nutrition” borders on the esoteric. I think we can more usefully call it “eating and drinking” instead. And again my view is that both are highly advisable.
That advice, I suppose, is already in the domain of controversy. Some cyclists choose only to drink and shun eating. There are a good few magic potions on the market (if their sales blurbs are to be believed, enchantment has to be involved) purporting to be a good replacement for food. If you happen to dislike eating food then this approach – soluble pulverized energy bars, as far as I can tell – might be for you. But it seems a bit too much like watered-down baby food for me. We all make sacrifices for our sport but why should good food should be one of them?
So what then to eat? Breakfast! Pancakes with blueberries, waffles with strawberry compote, corn muffins, bagels with marmalade, English muffins with jelly, scrambled egg with home fries, corn flakes and toast, oatmeal and, with any or some combination of these, a big mug of coffee. The best long distance routes are designed to take you past a suitable diner, café or other eatery at least once every 25 miles. With luck and some planning you can have breakfast for breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack, dinner, bedtime snack, midnight snack and middle-of-the-night snack. If the brevets you’ve been riding have been designed according to some criteria other than the locations of breakfast, have a word with your RBA to see if that can’t be fixed. Suggest a few of your favorite breakfast joints.
“Fast” “food” has some convenience advantages: there’s a lot of places selling that kind of substance and sometimes the service is indeed quite rapid. But there are serious risks. A lot of cycling can alter one’s tastes to a remarkable degree. I once had a yearning for a Coca-Cola soda-pop half way through a hot hard 600 and it tasted good to me under those conditions. More than once I’ve heard rumor of healthy civilized people having eaten a Hamburg sandwich from MacDonald’s on a long ride and reporting that tasted good and was very satisfying! So clearly we have to be extremely vigilant to avoid this kind of catastrophe. I find Shaw’s comment helpful: “You can get used to anything, so you must be careful what you get used to,” (and not just in regard to cycling). I recommend careful planning of the fast food strategy in advance, preferable during a period when you aren’t cycling for a few days, writing it down and swearing in front of all your acquaintances that you have the will power to stick to it.
My strategy for the fast food is of course, breakfast! Cycling mostly in North East USA, I can take advantage of Duncan’s Donuts. I read recently that the specific stem cell mutation responsible for the metastatic growth of this orange/pink phenomenon with the Hello Kitty logotype has been identified. Perhaps that knowledge will lead to their cultivation elsewhere.
But anyway, these establishments have bagels, cookies, pastries, muffins, etc. and can even quickly make you a “breakfast sandwich” from a bagel or croissant (très chic) with egg and, if you like, sausage, designed to be eaten with one hand. Let’s go over that one more time: they have sandwiches that contain breakfast, indeed are breakfast, that can be eaten while riding a bicycle. Splendid! Moreover, they also serve, and this is of considerable importance, a perfectly respectable cup of coffee (unlike that coffee retail pestilence with the green circular logo).
Here’s a suggested routine for a stop at Duncan’s:
1. Dismount (not required if you choose the drive-through).
2. Use the bathroom (wash your hands before eating).
3. Order food you can eat while riding.
4. Now this is the tricky part: order a medium cup of coffee in a large cup. The clerk may stumble over this request so I have taken to saying the order, as Shakespeare might have endorsed, three different ways one after the other. For example: “I’d like a medium-size coffee in a large cup, please.” [Pause to assess the degree of blank stare you engender.] “So that’s your largest cup but with just a medium coffee in it.” [Pause again, if necessary.] “So there’ll be lots of space above the coffee in the cup.” Once, the clerk and I needed the mediation of the duty supervisor but that was before I perfected the three-ways order.
5. Discard any food packaging and accessories you don’t want.
6. Move the water bottle in your seat-tube cage to a jersey pocket or your saddle-bag (fits neatly in the side pocket of a Carradice, I found).
7. Put the coffee in the freed-up cage. Check the lid is secure.
8. Put the food either between your teeth or in a pocket or handlebar bag.
9. Ride off.
10. Eat the food.
11. In three to eight minutes the coffee will be at the right temperature. By this point, only a very small amount will have splashed out of the cup, if any. You may want to alternate this step of the process with the previous one.
Warning: as far as Duncan is concerned, a cup of coffee has cream and sugar in it unless otherwise specified. This sometimes catches me out. On the last leg of a recent 300, I inadvertently got a cup of their so-called “regular” coffee. I chastised myself for carelessness, drank it, and a couple of miles later I regained my strength, stride and rode like a daemon to the finish. Moral: don’t be a snob – the most exalted of gelati also has cream and sugar in it.
Helpful tip for right-handed cup-holders: use a crank with triple chain-wheels. You can comfortably ride for miles on rolling terrain shifting the front derailleur with your left hand with a cup of coffee in your right. Lefties should be all set already.
Aside from breakfast, fruit is worth mentioning. It is the other pocketable convenience food and its a whole food without the value-add manufacturing, packaging, brand name and scientific-sounding marketing copy of the so-called energy bar. The banana is popular among cyclists, for good reason, but it is fragile when properly ripe for eating. Dented, it soon becomes unappetizing and there is the problem of the peel. In a jersey pocket it stands a fair chance, if you’re not careful, of festering there until the garment goes into the wash, or possibly even beyond that point. But tossing it into the hedgerow, regardless of its rapid biodegradability (which is exactly the problem of carrying it with you), is, ipso facto, littering. Don’t be a litter lout cyclist!
So I’d like to make a few of other suggestions you might not have thought of. First, for a refreshing astringency that foils the gallons of water you’re guzzling, a pomegranate is hard to beat. These stimulating and convenient rations are very durable in pocket or bag and the peel won’t turn to mush before the end of even a 1200. You might want to practice one-handed peeling using your teeth at home beforehand. Another excellent choice: succulent and delicious, bursting with energy and tropical goodness, is the pineapple. This handsome fruit tucked in a jersey pocket will garner envy and admiration from your fellow riders. Lastly, but I warn, this is not for the beginner cyclist, is the coconut. It can be opened with a firm bonk on the cap of a steering tube or top of a quill stem. Be careful where you place your cycle computer and cue sheet in case of dribbles. This maneuver, deftly executed, will bring you respect, awe even, especially from those drafting you at the time.
I mentioned coffee already. It is in the top three of the endurance sports drinks. It is good hot or cold, satisfying and stimulating – simply one of the best drinks ever invented. I’ve already mentioned the trick of putting one of Duncan’s large cups, filled with a medium coffee, in the bottle cage on your seat tube. But there is another technique not every one knows: filling a Camelbak with iced coffee. The Camelbak was designed for effective insulation to keep your beverage cool on a hot day. If you fill it with ice (which is cheap and widely available and is free on-tap at some stores and gas stations) and then top it up with chilled coffee then you’ll have a refreshing supply of iced coffee for your ride. The larger Camelbak models can keep you in iced coffee for several hours, long enough for a hot stretch between even remote breakfast stops or contrôles without putting a foot down.
Number one on the sports drinks list is of course water. It is does the job like nothing else, it is widely available and remarkably inexpensive if you can find my favorite variety which is named “Tap Water”. (The evil absurdity of brand-name water needs no repetition here.) Many people mix their food into their water with the afore-mentioned pulverized soluble substances. When I was a beginner brevet rider I experimented with these products. I admit their marketing can be really quite persuasive. But I found that they all had one crucial property in common: they are the only food I know that becomes less palatable with the miles, rapidly and dramatically so. On Boston-Montreal-Boston 2006 I was sick of whatever enchanted Perpetuum Mobile I was imbibing by the middle of the first day. By the second, the stuff was nauseating to me, all other foods conversely having become more attractive, some perilously so (I swear I could have eaten at Taco Bell without expecting a large sum of money in compensation).
The third in the triumvirate of perfect sports drinks is beer. That this beverage becomes profoundly attractive on a long ride has a solid biological basis. It is watery and cold (at least outside of the UK), which is a great start. It has lots of carbon dioxide in solution which stimulates the heart and blood flow. And the alcohol, if taken with some food (breakfast, preferably), enters into the glycolysis pathway towards its end thus efficiently producing adenosine triphosphate or ATP which is the chemical energy source your legs use to push the pedals. Alcohol actually yields cycling oomph with less digestive effort than does breakfast. In moderation and dissolved in sufficient volumes of water (as in beer) the negative effects of alcohol are, in my experience, not perceptible.
I’ve noted that some American riders are a bit surprised at the idea that beer is a sports drink, perhaps even a little taken aback. But it’s on tap at every stop on Paris-Breast-Paris for a reason. (I had one at every stop and made very satisfactory progress as a result!) In Germany they have a drink called radler which is available everywhere. It is half beer and half lemonade (the European kind of lemonade, which is a soda-pop much like 7-Up), giving it about the same alcohol content by weight as American lite beer. The word radler means cyclist! I don’t overdo it with the beer but a little bit helps me go a long way.
So there’s my contribution the complicated, ever evolving debate on nutrition for long distance cyclists: breakfast (preferably six times a day), fruit (pomegranate, pineapple and, for the advanced rider, coconut), coffee (medium in a large cup or iced by the half gallon in a Camelbak), water (of the variety paid for in your taxes), and beer. Zum Wohl!