Sunday, 25 October 2009

Exhausting day, part 2 - Unicycling Makara Peak

Two epic cycle rides today: the first with two wheels and the second with one wheel. Here's part 2:

After a big lunch, I still had plenty of energy, so I took my 29-inch mountain unicycle and caught the bus up to Makara Peak mountain bike park. I've been up there once before on a mountain bike, and ridden to the summit, but this was the first time on a unicycle, and also my first 'real' offroad riding on a unicycle. I don't think riding around Waitangi Park (which I often do after work) really counts.

I went up the Koru track, had a look at the skills area and stopped to drink a lot of water and recover, then rode back down via the Lazy Fern track.

On a mountain bike this would be a pretty easy ride, since the average uphill gradient of Koru is quite gentle, it's easy to control your descent of Lazy Fern since you actually have brakes, and it's easy enough to balance when riding slowly down sloping switchbacks.

On a muni though, for a complete beginner at least, it's a real challenge! Many many falls and dismounts. Overall I guess I was pretty rubbish, but I had a lot of fun and got a bit better as I went on.

On the uphill part, my ability to retain balance and control at low speed over uneven uphill gradients and bumps is a bit of a work in progress, so instead I often end up relying on just standing up and powering through, trying to maintain enough speed and momentum to carry me over the bumps. This only works for short intervals, because it gets me seriously out of breath quite quickly. I gradually started to improve, focused on keeping more weight on the saddle, trying to maintain smooth wheel revolutions, and anticipating the changes in balance better, but I fell off a lot and had to stop and catch my breath frequently. After some weeks of hurtling home from work on the uni, up the steep hill of the Terrace (with shopping), my leg muscles can now mostly keep up with the demands, but my aerobic fitness doesn't yet.

On the downhill, I did better - still plenty of dismounts, but less frequently than on the uphill. The thing that repeatedly got me was the switchback turns, which are steep enough to make it hard to slow down on a muni, at least on a 29-inch wheel with 150mm cranks. (My unicycle doesn't have brakes, though they are certainly available. I have a long way to go in terms of balance and control before I could make practical use of them.) The trick then is to quickly plan the line you're going to take, and lean the right amount, riding round the corner smoothly while leg-braking as well as you can. This is going to take some more practice.

Something I did learn: it's worth paying for some leg armour, and I will be doing so shortly. I have several nice bruises, cuts and general pedal bites on my left shin from various falls and failed mounts - one of the downsides of grippy metal pedals. And that was through trousers. Nothing serious or painful, but it could easily have been worse.

One day I hope to be able to reach Makara Peak's summit on the uni, but besides improving fitness and balance, I will probably need to learn to hop / jump the unicycle too, since the trails to get there are a bit rougher.

Exhausting day, part 1 - Round and round the bays

Two epic cycle rides today: the first with two wheels and the second with one wheel. Here's part 1:

I joined Alex and Jaro from work, and 40 or so other people, for the "Round and round the bays" ride around the Wellington coastline, organized by Cycle Aware Wellington as part of the climate action movement.

Besides enjoying the beautiful scenery of the round-the-harbour route, the idea of the ride was to promote cycling in Wellington, raise awareness of the need for a more cycle-friendly road network, and provide a public and media-visible show of support for action on climate change, in advance of the upcoming United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in December.

There were some amusingly dressed folks along. We were supposed to dress colourfully, and someone took this to mean wearing a one-piece all-over white lycra body suit - it covered absolutely everything including hands and feet, head and face.

There was also a family that managed to fit all four on one cycle - a tandem with a child seat at the front and a child's bike attached with a "tow arm" at the back.

Here's a map:

View Larger Map

The ride started from Island Bay at the bottom left, followed the coast road around all the peninsulas to the right and top, and finished at the waterfront Odlins Plaza in the city centre at top left.

I'd considered doing this on the 29-inch unicycle just for entertainment value and for the benefit of the photos; but decided it would be too slow and too far, especially with my new 150mm cranks, and rode my mountain bike instead. I was right: it was about 30km by the time I'd ridden home afterwards, and even with small kids in the group, we (well, the front of the group at least) near-effortlessly averaged around 17kph for the time we were moving, which I would not have kept up with on the unicycle. We made 42kph on one downhill bit without really trying - a unicycle would be left way behind since it can't freewheel. Keeping up would probably be possible with a 36er though - except the 42kph bit; maintaining even 30kph on a unicycle (even a geared one) for any substantial period will get you a world record.

The weather was just perfect for this ride - comfortably cool, hardly any wind, and some sunshine relieved by patchy clouds.

On to Part 2...

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Using a laser to create false memories in flies

Philip K. Dick would have loved this.

I wonder if it is a pink laser?

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Unicycle comment of the day

From some guys on the balcony at a bar in Oriental Bay:
Hey, disco one wheeler!
This was on Friday night as I went for an epic (by my beginner's standards) 15-20km ride around the Wellington coast past Evan's Bay then back over Mount Victoria. I was wearing my Exelite flashing light belt, so was very noticeable in the dark, much to their amusement.

They were still there and shouted much the same thing when I came back past nearly 2 hours later!

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Amazingly fast and robust cockroach robot

DASH is nearly as indestructible as the real thing.

How many mechanical devices have you seen that still work after falling over 25 metres onto concrete? This one not only walks away from such a drop, it scuttles away.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Quote of the day

...if you want to please people who are mistaken, you can't simply tell the truth. You're always going to have to add some sort of padding to protect their misconceptions from bumping against reality.
Paul Graham

More iPredict My Portfolio tweaks - adding persistent Notes field

Following on from my previous hacks, I've made another addition to my Greasemonkey script to modify iPredict's My Portfolio page, this time inspired by a forum post by ORACLE.

He requested that iPredict should add an editable Notes column to the portfolio. I've wanted this feature myself, so I figured this would be a good time to experiment with DOM Storage, since this allows local persistence of data like this, without requiring support from the server.

My updated script now adds a 'Notes' column next to each line in the portfolio, which lets you enter freeform text which is stored permanently (in your Firefox local user profile) for when you come back to the page.

The DOM Storage API for globalStorage seems to work fine in Greasemonkey (in Firefox 3.0.14), providing you tunnel through the Greasemonkey wrapper using 'wrappedJSObject' to access the globalStorage object, like this:
window.wrappedJSObject.globalStorage[window.location.hostname].setItem(key, noteText)
(I've used the older, non-standard globalStorage object, rather than the HTML5-standardized localStorage, because I'm still running FF3.0 which doesn't implement localStorage; when I eventually switch to 3.5 I may change it.)

As before, to get the script, download the current ipredict-portfolio.js from my repository on github here, and install in Greasemonkey - then just use iPredict as normal and enjoy the new stuff. See the previous post for more info.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Police car makes its mark on tattoo parlour

A police car crashed into a tattoo parlour in Auckland.

Reportedly their insurance may not cover this, because it's an act of plod.

Saturday, 10 October 2009


Another quake today that we felt at home - a jolt, then slight shaking of the building.

This one was magnitude 4.8 and just off the west coast of the Wellington area.

GeoNet report

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

The ideal religious fanatic

Sarah Vowell on Jon Stewart... with bone dry delivery:
He believed that those who didn't share his Puritan beliefs would burn in hell for eternity, and he thought that was punishment enough... on Earth we could all live together.

If there were more religious fanatics like that, maybe there would be fewer car bombs.

Video (if it deigns to allow full episodes in your area... else there is currently a shorter excerpt on the front page)

Friday, 2 October 2009

Photos - World of Wearable Art Awards

Great photos from the Dominion Post of the World of Wearable Art Awards.

Unicycling seen from wheel level

This guy has a video of what offroad unicycling looks like from a camera mounted near the wheel.

I'm not quite sure why he has done this, but it's amusing to watch anyway.

He manages to go insanely fast because that machine has gears. Well, two gears anyway. that's not something I'm likely to be attempting, given the $2500 price tag for a geared hub (if you can even get one). Maybe they will become more commonly used in future, but so far I think I much prefer the smoother ride of my larger wheel anyway - wouldn't want to go back to the 24" even if it was faster.

Unicycle comment of the day

From some dude unlocking his bike near the library:
Hey, matey. Nice craft you've got there.
And that was my old 24" unicycle. New one is far more impressive.