In the beginning

Image of a newly-forming star from the James Webb telescope, downloaded from The Washington Post

– En el principio no había nada
ni espacio
ni tiempo.
El universo entero concentrado
en el espacio del núcleo de un átomo,
y antes aun menos, mucho menor que un protón,
y aun menos todavía, un infinitamente denso punto matemático
Y fue el Big Bang. – de Cántico Cósmico, por Ernesto Cardenal, 1989

“In the beginning, there was nothing
no space
no time. 
The entire universe concentrated
in the space of the nucleus of a single atom,  
and before even less, much less than a proton, 
and before still less, an infinitely dense mathematical point
And there was the Big Bang.”
 
(translation by half-fast cycling club) 

James Webb telescope images from UC Santa Cruz

The red spots in the images above are described as newly forming galaxies, one formed 350 million years and the other 450 million years after the big bang. They are about 13.8 billion light years away. The resolution is not as clear as the star above, so the images may not be as awe-inspiring at first glance, but this is incomprehensible…The light we are seeing left those galaxies more than 13 billion years ago.

As Sen Everett Dirksen once said about money, “a billion here, a billion there – and pretty soon you’re talking real money.” If you counted out a billion dollar bills at the rate of one per second, it would take you about 32 years to count them – multiply that by 13.8 and you have about 457.5 years. 13.8 billion is a lot.

Since light travels at about 670 billion mph, it would travel almost 6 trillion miles in a year. This makes thinking about 13.8 billion light years in terms of miles or kilometers pretty much impossible.

This is made all the more incomprehensible when you recall that the universe is only 5783 years old. ; ) Cardenal (a Roman Catholic priest) lets us know that believing in a god and acknowledging science are not mutually exclusive.

Let it snow, let it snow

It was time to remind myself that I’m somebody who rides a bike in all weather. I was afraid I was getting soft in retirement so I headed out today. It was snowing lightly, temperature 25º (-4 C), and windy (windchill 13 F). It was a great day for a ride. Since I no longer commute, getting out involves a conscious decision.

Here in Wisconsin we are strong supporters of the Right to Bare Arms. Despite that, I was pretty well covered up for my ride. Remember that when you ride into the wind, the apparent wind (and therefore the windchill) requires adding the wind velocity to your speed.

GREEN BAY, WI – JANUARY 12: Running back Ryan Grant #25 of the Green Bay Packers bares arms during the NFC divisional playoff game on January 12, 2008 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

There’s no business like snow business

I woke up to fresh snow – not enough to ski, but enough that the door scraped through it upon opening.

This means it’s time to get the winter bike ready. It needed a new rear sprocket. I have written before of the value of a belt drive bike for winter – lower maintenance being #1 on the list. While there is less maintenance to do, when it comes time, the tasks are a bit different than on a chain-drive bike.

The sprocket on top is the old one. Note how the teeth have worn down to sharp edges, unlike the rounded profile of the teeth on the new sprocket below. Changing the sprocket is simple, according to the YouTube tutorial from Gates, maker of the belt drive system. There is an expensive-looking tool – the Gates SureFit Tool – sure enough, I found it on sale for €81.95 or between $133 and $150 US on three sites. It is totally unnecessary. It is for installing the part but not for removing the old one. Installing is the easy part.

While the tool is very impressive-looking, in anodized aluminum with a knurled grip (like the knurled stock on the Official Red Ryder Carbine Action 200 shot Range Model Air Rifle made famous by Ralphie in “A Christmas Story”, or Jean Shepherd in “In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash” for the literary-minded among you) – it is completely unnecessary and would be a waste of your money. You can watch a second tutorial to see how to do the installation with the tool. (Photo from Rose Bikes)

What the tutorial doesn’t show or tell you is that before you pry loose the “SureFit fingers”, there may be a lock ring to remove. In the second photo, the putty knife is wedged under the lock ring. The “round lobes” on the sprocket and the opening of the lock ring are aligned with the indents on the hub shell referred to in the video. My lock ring pliers would not work on it, but it can be pried off fairly easily with a flathead screwdriver (which is also what you use on the “fingers”). The hub in the photos is the SRAM i-motion 3, which has been discontinued. The sprocket is the same used for Shimano hubs, which is what is shown in the video.

While we’re talking products, I don’t know as I’ve yet sung the praises of the seat pack I bought for the coast-to-coast tour last summer. It was the Evoc 3 liter (the large size) with Boa seatpost attachment as well as Velcro straps to the saddle rails.

Photo from Bike Closet

The bag can be rolled tightly and fastened with a clip to hold a few essential tools and spares, or unrolled to hold a complete rainsuit as well. It keeps things dry and takes just a minute to expand or contract to hold the load tightly without swaying. It is wedge-shaped – narrow at the front end so as not to rub on your inner thighs when you pedal and wider behind to increase capacity. To carry even more I used Velcro straps to attach other items to the outside of the bag. When open, things may slide out the back, so check the ground before closing up any time you move things in or out of the pack.

When the trip ended I thought I would go back to a smaller bag but, three months later, it’s still back there. I guess I like it.

While the winter bike is ready to ride, the snow tires did not go on today. There are two starts to biking winter here – the day I bring out the belt-drive bike, and the day I switch to studded snow tires. The latter usually comes at the end of December.

Ever wonder what a woolly bear caterpillar becomes? I did. It becomes an Isabella Tiger Moth. Photo from the Farmer’s Almanac.

Synthesis

Vitamin D deficiency being the diagnosis du jour (whether that’s an actual thing for most of us is subject to debate1), I spent the morning synthesizing it from sunlight.

You might think that’s no big deal, but November in this neck of the woods is normally dank and dreary. It being 65º (18 C) at 9 AM and severe weather in the PM forecast meant it was time to get to work.

You might think that’s no big deal, but synthesizing vitamin D while simultaneously synthesizing ATP as fast as one can, while also beating one’s heart and breathing, leaves little time or brain power for thinking. That may be a good thing, as what passes for thinking in these parts seems to be what has gotten us into so much trouble. As both a bicyclist and a Krebs cyclist, I had a busy morning. By the end of a 40 mile (64 km) ride the temperature was hitting 70 (21 C).

There was a 15-20 mph (24-32 km/h) wind blowing from the south, so I headed into the wind. If I’m riding for exercise, what better than to ride into a stiff breeze? If I’m riding for fun, what better than to ride home pushed by a stiff breeze? Win/win, in my book. As of last night, the forecast was for high winds and large hail by the afternoon. As of this afternoon, the forecast is for possible showers overnight. The temperature is to drop 40º overnight – freezing tomorrow. We’ll see. Was this the last warm day of the year? I noticed the local bike club just listed another ride for Sunday. I think that might be the third ride I’ve seen that was the last one of the season. The season doesn’t seem to want to end. With an overnight low of 22 (-5.5 C) and a high just above freezing in the Sunday forecast, we’ll see about that, too. Of course, those who have followed this blog for a while know there is no such thing as a “season” for riding.

This weekend is the Great Midwest Crane Fest hosted by the International Crane Foundation and the Aldo Leopold Center. That sounded like a great way to spend my Friday until I saw that the $30 registration would not get me into the “Guided Sunrise Crane Viewing Tour” (an additional $50 and sold out), the “Guided Sunset Crane Viewing Tour” (same), “Evening Crane Congregation Tour” (an additional $100 and sold out), or the “Wildlife Photography” workshop (an additional $25). It would let me walk through the prairie of the International Crane Foundation and see Aldo Leopold’s shack.

Photo by Monica Hall, from Madison Audubon Society

I suspect I’ll walk through a prairie on my own and see the Sandhill cranes that wander around freely. (As a retired person not yet on Social Security, I am pinching my pennies. This is not to dissuade others from giving some money to the Crane Foundation and going to the festival. Since registration is required, it doesn’t look like I can change my mind and just head out there tomorrow.)

Sandhills were once hunted nearly to extinction. (In 1936 there were a dozen breeding pairs left in Wisconsin.) That we see them wandering around town seems weird to us only because they were so close to extinction that we never saw them when I was younger. I’m hoping that seeing Whoopers in the wild will come in my lifetime.

1 The link is to the abstract. I can’t grant you access to the full text. The article is by US Preventive Services Task Force and published in JAMA. While vitamin D deficiency is a global public health issue, whether it is actually an issue for the average adult in the US and whether screening is worthwhile is the topic of debate. Vitamin D deficiency is known to cause rickets (a pediatric bone disease). It is a suspected player in multiple other conditions but evidence to support those hypotheses and whether supplementation is beneficial is lacking. I know several people who take vitamin D supplements in hopes of preventing or treating other conditions and have read lay articles recommending supplementation for almost everyone, hence the “diagnosis du jour” notation in the opening sentence. I am not a doctor and nothing in this post should be construed as medical advice. If in doubt about your own circumstances, contact your primary provider. Should you use sunscreen all the time? Expose yourself to sunlight in a controlled fashion to synthesize vitamin D from sunlight (the main natural source), drink milk (which is supplemented with vitamin D), take a supplement? That’s not for me to answer for you.

Mander Wins Big!

Gerald Mander (R-WI) was the big winner in Wisconsin politics in Tuesday’s election. Wisconsin is so heavily gerrymandered that nearly ⅓ of Republican candidates for the State Senate ran unopposed. Republicans won 12 of 17 seats up for election to retain a ⅔ majority.

In the State Assembly, 22 of 99 seats were one horse races (not counting a few write-ins or third party candidates). Republicans won 64 of 99 races to hold a nearly ⅔ majority.

The state is so effectively gerrymandered that Democrats, representing about 50% of the population, are crammed into ⅓ of districts, ensuring Republican control of both houses of the state legislature and ¾ of the Congressional seats. A Marquette Law School researcher calculated that if the overall vote were split 50/50, Republicans would hold just under ⅔ of the State Assembly and just over ⅔ of the State Senate. Surprise! Surprise! 64:35 and 22:11 are the current ratios. Ya can’t get much closer than that prediction.

This may not seem odd if this were a red state, but Wisconsin also elected a Democratic Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, and a Republican State Treasurer.

Ron Johnson, best known for marrying into great wealth, which he has parlayed into even greater wealth since his election to the US Senate 12 years ago, won a third term despite his prior promise not to run. Attack ads called his challenger, Mandela Barnes, “dangerous” for Wisconsin. That’s code for “he’s a young Black man. If he’s not a criminal, his friends probably are.” When, at the end of a debate, each candidate was asked to name one thing he finds admirable about his opponent, Johnson said nice things about Barnes’ parents and then added, “with that upbringing, why has he turned against America?” Johnson is also an election denier, coup supporter, and backer of spurious and dangerous treatments for COVID-19. His Chief of Staff attempted to deliver a slate of fake electors to Vice President Pence’s Chief of Staff on January 6. He was told to stay away. Since Pence refused to accept the fake electors, and Johnson had his chief handle it instead of doing it himself, Johnson claimed the famous “Five Second Rule” to play down his involvement in the coup.

At least I didn’t have to publish what I previously wrote about gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels. We’ll settle for a photo of his $17 million Connecticut mansion. We’re not sure if he planned to run the state from there, or move back to Wisconsin. Now he doesn’t have to decide.

Tim Michels’ Connecticut home, photo downloaded from “Wisconsin Right Now” which obtained it from realtor.com

Up in the air

After a valiant effort, Republicans were not able to propel Herschel Walker to victory and he will face a runoff election next month. Walker is best known as a football player. He campaigned as vehemently anti-choice despite allegations from two exes that he demanded that they abort the fetuses for which he was responsible. Both alleged that he paid for said abortions. In one of those cases, he was married to someone else at the time.

In his own defense, he said, “Everywhere I go, people say, ‘Did you pay for this abortion, did you pay for that abortion?’ How are you supposed to remember every single abortion? This is why people no longer trust the media.” To clarify, he added, “Let’s say you paid for ten abortions, or twenty, thirty, forty. You mean to tell me you’d remember every last one, clear as day? The answer is no, you wouldn’t. There’s no way a man could remember every single solitary abortion unless he kept an abortion journal, and I don’t know anyone who does that.” (The New Yorker 10/27/22. Emphasis added.)

Lauren Boebert’s race is still too close to call on Wednesday night, as is the Arizona gubernatorial contest featuring a former TV talking head turned follower of orange julius.

Stolen?!

Of course the Republicans were right. There was massive fraud and the election was stolen. How else can one explain the elections of Ron DeSantis, Ron Johnson, Marjorie Taylor-Greene, JD Vance, Rand Paul, et al?

This makes much more sense than the allegations of fraud in 2020, when the Democratic party allegedly stole the presidential election but didn’t bother to steal any others.

It makes more sense than to think that we, as the American people, would be stupid enough to vote against our own interests to elect these clowns and charlatans.

Climate change, or weather?

For the first time in my long life, I ended a November bike ride with ice cream. It is not supposed to be 70º (21 C) in November around here. The first place I planned to stop was closed for the season so I had to hold that ice cream jones for another 4 miles.

I rode out to the marsh the other day with my real camera and big lens for some wildlife photography. The only wildlife around was of the human variety. I did get to try the lens out to capture an oak leaf in flight (since the hawk was too far away even for a 500 mm lens). The oak leaf was at 330 mm (f5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 100, for those keeping score at home). At least now we know I can track an object in flight, so stay tuned for bird pix in the future.