Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Of Bikes . . . and Teeth

I don't write a great deal of personal stuff here but this is an exception. Call it therapeutic. I'm a bike nut -- I love 'em. Always have. So, naturally, when I had a son, I had visions of him taking out the sprint at Paris - Tours. He's four-and-a-half now and, so far, his Palmeres include a second place in the kid sprints at the Univest Grand Prix in September (some other kid's training wheels boxed him out at the line). The boy demanded that his training wheels be removed about six months ago and he has powered his tiny little two-wheeler around the neighborhood with confidence ever since.

Well, tonight I coaxed him into taking the big hill -- the one he always walked his bike down. Turns out, he's smarter than me. He got going too fast and, being four, took his feet off the pedals in panic. Not good when you're dealing with coaster brakes. Next, the front wheel started to shimmy in that sickening way familiar to all bike nuts who get going too fast for their gear. I urged him to head for the grass. He almost made it. Almost.

We just got back from the ER. The doctor (well, nurse practitioner -- my wife was none too happy about that) said his tooth didn't need to be replaced and that the adult tooth would come in fine . . . in a few years. He's got the fattest lip I've ever seen and a healthy dose of road rash on his chin and beneath his nose, which will weep bloody ooze for the next day or so. But, in the end, he's going to be fine. We've already begun to talk about the lessons he needs to learn from his first crash. And he finally understands why I am so damn insistent about his helmet.

He's a brave little guy and didn't shed a tear as the nurse worked him over. Though it had to hurt, he even cracked a satisfied little smile when I told him he had almost as much blood as Hushovd did after he was cut during the Stage 1 sprint of this year's Tour even though the boy is more of a McEwen fan. (In truth, it wasn't even close -- a heart pumping at 190bpm can make even a scratch look fatal.) It's easy to joke about it with him but it's my fault for forgetting he's still very small. When I picked him up off the ground and saw his face covered in blood and blacktop with a hole in his mouth, I couldn't believe I had let it happen. Sure, it was an accident, but as a parent even accidents are your responsibility. The boy will be as good as new in about four days (save a missing tooth, which the toothfairy will reward handsomely). It will probably take a bit longer for me to recover. Even so, he wants to get back on his bike the day after tomorrow. We've agreed, though, that we'll stick to the flats and tiny hills for a while longer. The big hill isn't going anywhere and we've plenty of time before Paris - Tours 2022.

Falling Leaves & Dry Heaves

The sun has set on the 2006 Pro Tour. The season finished in storybook fashion for Paolo Bettini, who rode the Giro di Lombardia with the strength of two men. He rode flat out up the final climbs, nearly crashed about six times on the descents, including one amazing near-miss of knee and armco, and finally reduced Fabio Wegmann -- the only rider almost able to keep pace -- to shedding tears of pain. Literally. Bettini cried also, crossing the line with his brother's accidental death a week earlier still weighing heavy on his heart. The Race of the Falling Leaves was, in a word, spectacular.

And now, the dry heaves. The duodenumic duo, Ballester and Walsh, last seen excreting their tidy little duece of character assassination, LA Confidential, in which they accuse Lance Armstrong of doping throughout his seven -- SEVEN -- tour wins, are back for Round Two. This time it's LA Official (my but they are a creative pair, non?). But don't misjudge them:
The book's co-author, Pierre Ballester, said their aim was not a relentless pursuit of Armstrong.

"It's a vital addition to an inquiry which throws the spotlight back on claims which in the past tried to reveal Armstrong's personality," Ballester told AFP.

"(He is) a rider whose career has been characterised by lies and cheating, but who nonetheless left the sport unsanctioned, unblemished and untouchable."
There is, of course, a reason Lance left the pro peloton unsanctioned, unblemished and untouchable: despite being the most-tested athlete in the history of sports, Lance never failed a dope test -- not once. This time around, the "evidence" is straight out of the Journal of Parapsychology. Australian doctor Michael Ashenden flatly states that "There's no doubt: he used doping products." Of course, Ashenden was not Armstrong's doctor, never once examined the man and had frack all to do with USPS or the Disco boys during Lance's seven -- SEVEN -- tour wins. How does Ashenden know what he claims? Well, apparently he just does. A skeptic might say he was full of shit. To Frenchmen, though, Ashenden is something to believe in. I mean, how else to explain the fact that Lance dominated their race seven -- SEVEN -- times when even the greatest Frenchman could muster only five.


Monday, October 16, 2006

Why Is SETI Insulting its Supporters?

Yesterday on Fark, a link was greenlit that pointed to a calendared Major SETI Institute Announcement for today. SETI, of course, is the Institute for the Search for Extraterrestial Intelligence, which lives on tax dollars, donations and leeched processor time. At the time the link was posted, the announcement said merely:

Major SETI Institute Announcement

10:00 - 11:00 am PDT

Date: Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Location: SETI Institute, 515 N. Whisman Road, Mountain View, CA, US

Web Site Address:

Guess what happened. A whole bunch of space nerds, like me, got very excited. After all, what could possibly constitute a "Major" announcement from an institute whose only function is to search for extraterrestial life? Well, duh. As it turns out, it's not a "major" announcement at all but, as an editor particularly given to public jackassery pointed out, a "mundane" announcement:

Editor's update: For all of you out there who have been waving your arms around and speculating, this is not an announcement about finding a signal from ETs, the face on Mars, or anything else. It is far more mundane. Details of the announcement were released - under press embargo - to reporters last week. A press release about the announcement will be issued on Tuesday by the SETI Institute.

Not even this public smackdown of its supporters was sufficient for SETI. Again, it bears noting that this is an organization who lives on your tax dollars, leeched processor time and continuing good will. No, SETI had to go from condescending to downright obnoxious, addressing its biggest supporters thusly:

Editor's update: To those of you who have been speculating about what will be announced tomorrow: The original calendar posting on this page simply had date, time, and location. Nothing else. It was posted here a week ago - on 9 October. A detailed - but embargoed - media alert was sent out at the same time to reporters by the SETI Institute in which no mention is made of signals from outer space. Yet, the announcement is indeed a major one for the SETI Institute.

Please ask yourself this: do you (1) really think that the SETI Institute would issue some sort of major announcement i.e. detection of a signal from another civilization - a week ahead of announcing it formally - and then (2) expect the media to sit on such amazing news - for an entire week? The next time y'all start to whip up a frenzy - out of thin air - use a little common sense before you hit [send].

Okay, Mr. Editor, we get the picture. Now understand this: There is one -- and only one -- potential SETI announcement that qualifies as "Major." Those of us who pay your bills and allow you to leech our processor time don't give a flying fig about re-orgs, dedications, new hires, etc. We care only about the mission. So, get over yourselves. Next time you characterize something as a "Major" announcement, ET had better be on the line. If not, boincs are going to go dark and you can play with your own processor time. SETI would do well to remember that it is not the only organization in the world capable of performing its mission and that what the taxpayer giveth, the taxpayer can taketh away.

One more thing: I'm far less upset about the misleading nature of the original announcement than about the nasty updates telling interested SETI-watchers that they are acting like idiots. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.

So, what is the Major Mundane Announcement? We'll know soon -- in about three hours.

More: Well, here's the Major Announcement:
On Tuesday, October 17, the SETI Institute . . . unveil[ed] a new center to study life in the universe and a fund-raising strategy to counter NASA's proposed budget cuts for astrobiology research. From 10 to 11 a.m. at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, a distinguished panel of institute trustees and staff will announce the formation of the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe. The center's activities will focus on astrobiology and be dedicated to the memory of planetary scientist and astronomer Carl Sagan. The panel will explain a new emphasis on fundraising from private sources to offset a proposed 50 percent budget cut by NASA for astrobiology research.
So, a center to study all that life we've found. Okay, that's not fair. An astro-biology center is a necessary step. Given all we've learned about extremophiles here on earth and all the unexpected environments we've discovered in just our solar system, including Europa, Enceladus and Titan, it's not that far-fetched to believe we will find extraterrestial life -- or convincing evidence thereof -- in our solar system within the next few decades.

But. Is astro-biology SETI's job? Especially in view of the budget cuts it references in the very same release? There is plenty of interest in astro-biology out in the profession and considerable thought and work is already being invested. The search for extraterrestial intelligence? Well, not so much. For my money -- and it is just that -- SETI should spend what it gets on its mission and not worry about what it will do if funding for that mission ever drys up. Diversifying the mission as a long-term survival strategy may be great for bureaucrats but it's undertaken at the expense of the . . . um . . . seti.