I went for my second motorcycle ride in about eight months yesterday. The hiatus was due to a fairly bad accident (seven broken ribs and some bone in my upper back), punctuated by getting my bike back from the shop last October. It was much easier to repair the bike than it was to patch me up!
Years ago, when we adopted our dog Diego, we were told by the pound that he was “70% Pomeranian”. We never quite knew what that meant, or how it was determined. It was in the dark ages, back before anyone was doing genetic screening of dogs.
He looks pretty much like a Pomeranian to our admittedly uneducated eyes…but he’s larger than most Poms, and has a snout (most Poms have pretty flat faces).
I read someplace that war is the ultimate democratic process, because all sides get a say in how it proceeds. I was reminded of this when glancing through a book on the Pacific theater of World War II the other day.
There was a UK TV crime show back in the early 90s that I used to watch. It only lasted one season (1994), and, while it was enjoyable, the theme song was what stuck with me. In fact, I made an audio recording of the theme — manually, as this was l-o-n-g before consumer audio recording and editing software! — which has been part of my music collection ever since. It’s part of my “gym collection”, on my iPod Shuffle.
Yesterday I decided to see if I could find a digital version of the piece. I had, however, long forgotten the name of the show.
I’m a big fan of David Weber’s work, both his series (Honor Harrington, Empire of Man) and his standalone stories.
I also really enjoy his Safehold books, about a human colony struggling to recover after being set up in scientific and technological stasis by its founders. They wanted to ensure the colony, the last remaining human settlement in the galaxy, wouldn’t be exterminated by an alien species that had wiped out everyone else. The books follow the work of a warrior android, set up by a faction among the original starship’s crew who objected to the cultural stasis, who is brought back to life almost a thousand years after the initial settlement.
It’s a great yarn, spanning quite a few books…but those books are getting amazingly, groaningly long. The latest, Hell’s Foundations Quiver, clocks in at 679 pages (plus a hundred pages listing all the major and recurring characters in the books)! I tend to buy books by favorite authors as hardcovers, for my library. But these massive tomes have almost forced me to switch Weber to eBooks just to keep my wrists from being injured.
Worse yet, while there’s plenty of plot development and action in each of the novels, it’s what’d suffice for, say, 300 pages. When spread over more than twice as many words there are pages and pages of exposition and embellishment and recounting of internal musings galore. So much gubbage that I lose track of where I am, who’s speaking, why they’re important, and how they fit into the developing story.
As a result I’ve done something I’ve never done with novels: I’m skimming them. I really want to see how the story evolves, and maybe even ends someday, but it turns out you don’t miss much by just skipping over most of the verbiage. It feels wrong to do it, but at least I’m preserving my sanity.
I suspect this is all because Weber is immensely popular…and hence immensely profitable for his publisher(s). I’ve noticed before that tends to make books get longer. Editors know that if they push too hard for cuts, their company will be cut out of the gravy train. I first noticed this effect years ago with Tom Clancy.
But it’s sad. Weber’s a hell of a novelist. But his books need to shed some pounds, literally, and go back to the fast-paced work on which he made his name.
We had to put our remaining cat, Tiger, to sleep Thursday afternoon. She’d been getting progressively weaker for a while and losing weight. I think the final blow involved a fairly serious respiratory infection. It would not have been kind to her to keep her struggling on.
I don’t normally do a lot of reflection when birthdays arrive. The day is important to me, of course. But it’s just another day on the calendar so far as the real world is concerned :).
But this year is a little different, because it’s one of those Years With a Zero. Six decades is worth a few moments looking back-and-forward.
When I was a kid I remember thinking that 40 was old, and 60 was ancient. Yet while daily experience and recuperating from my recent motorcycle accident are reminders I’m physically not as robust as I was when I had those thoughts, I don’t feel all that old. Which is probably not a bad state of mind to be in.
I still enjoy seeking out new knowledge and insights. And I’m particularly impressed that I can discover long-held ideas and beliefs to be just flat out wrong. Sure, it’s disruptive, sometimes painfully so. But who would want to live in a world where that didn’t happen? Isaac Asimov once said about scientific inquiry that:
The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny…’
If six decades has taught me nothing else, the same is true of life.
Today is extra special because my wonderful kids, Arthur and Caroline, as well as my brother Art, sister (in-law, technically, but I think of her as the older sister I never had) Diane and my sister Ann are all here helping me celebrate. I wish Ann’s husband Gary and my brother John could have made it, too, but travel is challenging for them, and John is dealing with my sister-in-law Gail’s pneumonia.
I am eternally grateful for all the other friends and family I’ve had with me on this journey.
I am continually amazed at how lucky I’ve been to share the majority of my life with my love and best friend, Barbara.
And, being the greedy sort, I look forward to more years of the same :).
Enjoy the day!
One of the necessary skills to be a successful — as in “don’t go down” — rider is scanning the roadway in front of you. That’s true of driving a car, too, of course. But it’s more important on a bike because you have a lot less road grip — two tires instead of four, each narrower to boot — and turning a bike involves leaning — which reduces the footprint of your tires further — where turning a car does not. So you’re constantly looking for stuff which, in a car, you would ignore, or simply hit with impunity.
The other day I was coming back on CA-84 from San Gregorio Beach — a great ride — when I saw a piece of hose in my path. I could tell it wasn’t stiff, like a pipe, because it was in curves. Needless to say I swerved to avoid it.
As I passed by I realized it wasn’t a hose. It was a big, fat, honking snake, sunning himself on the roadway. In fact, I think it was a rattlesnake. Although it might have been a California garter snake, they can look similar enough to a rattler that it’s hard to tell the difference as you zoom by at 55 MPH.
Motorcycle riders have a reputation of being disreputable, law- and convention-flouting people. But in terms of insane, hang-it-out-over-the-edge chutzpah they have nothing on bicycle riders :).
The other day I was coming down into Woodside on CA-84 through the twisties. If you’ve ever driven that stretch of highway you know that it can be a workout. Posted at 35 MPH, I have yet to see anyone hit that speed except perhaps on some of the brief straightaways. I like to ride it to practice skills, and to assess them, too: I’ve noticed that the more experience I get riding, the smoother my handling of the curves and dips is.
I was quite impressed — I think that’s the word — to be coming down the incline behind a bicyclist. Who was going — maybe — a couple of miles per hour slower than I would have gone without him in front of me. In fact, I fell behind him at some points as he flew through some of the transitions. And him with essentially no protective gear on other than a helmet.
So when we finally exited the twisties and I passed him I did something that’s frowned on in the motorcycle world. I gave him a big thumbs up (riders and bicyclists are a bit like cats and dogs; an uneasy peace is generally the norm). He earned it…even if he was nuts :).
It’s one thing to ride on a mostly empty road, even at speed. It’s another thing entirely to ride — even at low speed — in traffic. On the open road the main risk factor is you and your ability to spot road hazards and the occasional vehicle entering or exiting the flow.
In traffic the threats are everywhere, and frequently come at you simultaneously from different directions. Even sedate minivans take on a whole other aspect when they’re bearing down on you, driven by a stressed mom late getting her kids to their next appointment :).
I experienced all this today when I rode out to see how the other half lives, taking El Camino Real south to Atherton. I figured I needed the practice. You can’t always ride on lightly traveled roads, after all. In the end, it all worked out fine; not even any near misses.
Cruising Atherton was… interesting. I’m not used to seeing homes on acre-plus size lots. Nor seeing such a wide variety of architectural styles on the same (admittedly long) block. Aesthetic conflict is probably less of an issue when the homes are spaced that far apart.