27 February 2011

A good birding day

Yesterday (26 Feb 2011) I accompanied birding buddies Dave and Bob on a walk around Tommy Thompson Park, in the hopes of seeing the pair of juvenile King Eider reported there.  Which we did, with good stable views with the birds on the water in the open sounds in East Cove.

Resorting to on-line GPX viewers (because today is not a good gpx-viewer software day), I get:
Length: 11.25 km
Duration: 4 hours, 3 minutes, 8 seconds
Vertical up: 172m
Vertical down: 108m
Average Speed: 2.74 kph
And no, I don't know how we managed sixty more metres up than down.

In total, there were 19 species:
  • american coot
  • barrow's goldeneye -- see that "walk out the peninsula between Cell 2 and Cell 3"?  There's a small aread of open water at the end of it, and it was full of ducks, which I managed to flush.  One of them was the Barrow's.
  • black duck
  • bufflehead
  • canvasback duck -- courtesy of Dave, who picked it out of a haze of common goldeneye, mergansers, and misc. mallards in Cell 2.
  • common goldeneye
  • common merganser
  • common redpoll -- much looking at a flock of about 30 could not pick out a Hoary Redpoll.
  • gadwall
  • greater scaup
  • hooded merganser
  • king eider -- right where they were supposed to be in East Cove, swimming, eating fish, and spending enough time on the surface together that they might as well have been posing.  Several excellent views of the pair together via Dave's scope.
  • long-eared owl -- courtesy of Norm Mur, who pointed out we'd walked right past it.  (I will now expect owls perching at knee height and check that level, too.)
  • long-tailed duck
  • mallard duck
  • mute swan
  • northern shrike  -- courtesy of Bob's "what's that in the tree?"
  • red-throated merganser
  • saw-whet owl -- courtesy of a birder named Alvan, who pointed it out in a tree we'd already looked at.  There are times when "if they were easy to see, they'd be extinct" is scant comfort.
A very good day for the end of February.

24 February 2011

Libertarians aren't rationalists

There's been a remarkable amount of commentary about a Volokh Conspiracy assertion that it is immoral to tax[1] to build defenses against an expected, humanity-eradicating, asteroid impact.  I'm firmly on the "barking mad" side of things, but I think takes such as Brad DeLong's are missing something.

Libertarians are the sincerely Creationist wing of the American Right.  The fundamentalist wing of said Right is almost completely atheistic; they lack all evidence of religious awe (or indeed any other kind of awe.)  They may back positions associated with religions. They may use religious language, in the interest of preventing rational or quantified discourse about anything where actually measuring results would not support their position (such as the quantifiable economic and social benefits of a non-patriarchal society, or the observable fact that an economy can EITHER permit greater concentration of wealth in fewer hands OR provide general prosperity, but not do both) but they have no actual observable belief in a higher power, no moments of awe or transformation.  (Which, to my mind, makes their expectations about how people with no belief think or would act disturbingly illustrative, rather than laughably deluded.)

The Libertarians, though; they have a God, carefully constructed out of selfishness and string.  They have a rigid, never to be questioned, never to be permitted the least exposure to empirical testing, set of axiomatic beliefs, and they BELIEVE.   They believe that they are special, and deserving, and that no one has any right to ever tell one of them what to do, because their privilege and everything in terms of power or the suffering of others necessary to maintain their privilege as the only possible means by which the world can or will function is likewise ordained, and that it is only through the machinations of evil that these things are not immediately and materially apparent in this world that their God has made for them.

Libertarians have an internal status contest for who can most vehemently adhere to the purest beliefs.  The beliefs involve denying everything we know about how humans evolved, from what we evolved, and how groups of humans derive competitive advantage by co-operating; it is simply not possible to hold Libertarian views and accept anything about evolutionary biology.  (It's all connected; you can't have parts of it.)  But because they take pride in being rational, they can't acknowledge this; it just... doesn't exist.

So attempting to argue based on facts, what people are actually like, or outcomes is pretty much pointless; anybody declaring themselves Libertarian[2] is declaring that they disdain all works, reason, and numbers because their faith alone produces virtue.

And, yes, Brad's willingness to argue—or, as in this case, assert that there is crazy here—is a virtue of rationalism, but I'm really surprised he hasn't noticed that the Libertarians are a (nasty) religious movement.

[1]paying your taxes is a duty of citizenship, from back when it was repairing bridges, building forts, and serving in the fyrd in the time of Alfred born in Wantage.

[2]in the American political movement sense, though the term is starting to become useless for any other meaning.

19 February 2011

Attempting to learn something

Last weekend I went to Guelph to take a weekend Park Tool School course from Winterborne Bicycle Services, without knowing all that much about what would be involved.

As it turned out, what's involved is an absolute minimum of theory (mostly of the "threads are left or right handed" sort), then taking everything (except the seat) off a mountain bike sort of bicycle and putting it all back on again.  No changing of inner tubes (on the theory that anyone taking the course could do that already; I suspect the seat falls half into "you clamp the bike by the seat tube" and half into "yeah, if you're here, you can do that") but we took shifters, brakes, derailleurs, wheels, fork, cranks, and even one of the headset cups off the frame and put it all back on again, re-stringing and resetting everything that uses cables in the process.

I found this really useful in a "OK, now I've done that" way; working a class bike was also a big emotional help, of the form "well, dozens of other people have managed not to break it, just how hard can this be?"

Major side effects seem to include a determination to get a better variety of greases ("if it has threads, grease it; if it doesn't have threads, clean it" was something of a mantra) and some torque wrenches (I don't have anything carbon, but I certainly do have the "stainless bolt in soft aluminium threads" case).  I might also go back and take the wheel-building course, time permitting.  (I have no intention of getting extensively into building wheels, but I'm hard on wheels, and I want to understand them.)  I'm also going  to have a better idea of what kinds of things I should have in a spare parts kit while touring.

The instructors (Rick and Jay) did a good job of being thorough while remaining low-key and non-threatening to a class (12; larger than they usually run) with a very broad range of experience and ability.  I was especially impressed with the straight-pull caliper brake setting (there is a consistent way to do it!) and Rick's story about greasing replacement brake cable with sunscreen while touring in Africa.

Oh, and I've got the Park Tool Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair, which is certainly blue, not plausibly big, and looks to be very, very useful in future.

The X90 doing its small-sensor best in a dim shop space with fluorescent lighting.  This is the blue (by the colour of the electrical tape; kinda hard to see on Park Tool tools...) bench, which is the one I was working at.  There are six benches (plus an instructor bench); if they go to more, they'll need more colours of electrical tape, and I'm not sure there are more colours of electrical tape...