Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Live Free and Kill

Libertarians who equate mask wearing with tyranny not only demonstrate no knowledge of public health, but a gross unconcern with the damage they cause to people who have to deal with them. One selectman in a nearby town was not only part of a 21-case cluster that includes his own family, he also cost us the services of one of our employees, who had to quarantine for two weeks after coming in contact with him. Our small business was impacted even though our employee was fortunate enough not to get sick.

If our employee chose to follow the irresponsible example set by the "liberty" crowd he would have come to work anyway because he felt fine, and probably was. Fortunately, this teenage lad is more mature and responsible than a fully adult government official who holds two elected positions. He chose "better safe than sorry" instead of "better sorry than safe."

Last week, the Town of Ossipee instituted a mask mandate in the town offices, but then rescinded it this week under pressure from this selectman and other exemplars of "personal responsibility" who referred to the people calling for the mandate as "the mask-shaming police."

You can't shame people who have none.

The fact that there are people actively working on the side of the disease against their fellow citizens should come as no surprise considering how recently we had an armed insurrection trying to overturn a national election by storming the US Capitol. It's all part of the same package of self-indulgent foolishness among people who consider themselves to be patriots and heroes because they like to wear guns  and present a threat to people around them. But it raises the stakes whenever you go out for a simple thing like groceries, because you know that COVID's little helpers are spooging up the landscape, even if you don't happen to see one of them while you're out.

Along with being obsessed with "personal freedom," many of these freedom fighters also have a short fuse. Because they are careless with their own health, they're automatically careless with yours. They've taken the rest of us hostage, because no one dares to say anything to them when they go into public places with their freedom faces hanging out. Live Free or Die doesn't say that you have to make any effort whatsoever for anyone else's, only that you can be an uncompromising dick about your own.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Bioterror for $5

 With little snow, but moderately cold weather, lakes and ponds have frozen sufficiently to attract ice skaters. Skate rentals are a meager source of revenue, at $8 for the first day and $5 for subsequent days of a multi-day rental, but a little income is better than no income.

A freelance writer from New York rented skates on January 9, and paid through January 13. Days passed after the due date, and her voicemail was full. Eventually we made contact. She said that she was still using the skates and would pay the remaining charges when she returned them. We do this a lot for renters. Just let us know, and pay the difference. You use a product or service, you compensate the provider.

When she finally returned, she owed $25 in accumulated charges. According to the store manager, she stood there with her nose hanging over her mask, and whined, "Twenty five dollars? Can't you give me a deal?"

The manager indicated to her to please raise her mask the rest of the way. According to his account, she refused to cover her nose, snapping abruptly, "No!"

Not wishing to have her exhaling in the vicinity for any longer than necessary, he said, "Fine! Twenty dollars," and moved quickly through the lift gate in our backshop service counter. The bioterrorism gambit had succeeded. The woman got a discount, just for being petulant and irresponsible during a pandemic.

The speed with which the manager emerged from behind the counter apparently alarmed her, because she hastened out of the shop to conclude her transaction by phone. But she still got her discount. She can now add bioterrorist extortionist to her resume. Weaponized breath gives a new tool to chiselers.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Patrick Dempsey loves Maine's water

 Actor Patrick Dempsey, famous for his heartwarming and generous Dempsey Challenge bike rides to raise funds for cancer research, recently signed on with the notorious Nestlé to pimp for their Poland Spring brand of appropriated groundwater. Styling himself as "a Maine ex-pat," he does have a house in Kennebunkport, but his principal residence is in Malibu. And now he wants to show his affection for the great state of Maine by selling the real residents' well water out from under them? That's the wrong side in this conflict.

Nestlé has been actively trying to burnish its image with language to address environmental and social concerns. This does serve to muddy the waters for anyone seeking clarity in the debate. Community Water Justice, a Maine-based environmental group, presents the other side of the argument. 

I work with an environmental group in New Hampshire that protects the watershed feeding a major tributary of the Saco River. We've been observing Nestlé's practices in convincing municipalities to permit wholesale water extraction. We hear more from our downstream partners in the Saco River Corridor Commission, in areas where Nestlé is more active in pursuing the interests of its Poland Spring brand.

If no one lived lived in Maine, Nestlé would only need enough people there to support its water mining operations. Thus the jobs created are in somewhat of a vacuum. Yes, the people thus employed do contribute to the economy, but only because the economy happens to be there already. The people whose wells fail because the aquifer got sucked dry can spend the money they make from the employees of Poland Spring to buy some water to see them through until the situation improves. Corporate behemoth creates problem and sells the solution. Excellent capitalism, but piss-poor humanism. Going further, Nestlé benefits more from Maine's image as a pristine land of sparkling lakes, lush forests, and hardy people in wool shirts than the actual lakes, forests, and people benefit from Nestlé. The image sells the brand far, far away from Maine. That money only comes back to Maine if people there are inspired by the picture on the label to come see "Vacationland" for themselves. And then we have to put up with them as summer folk.

We are moving into a drought right now. It was pretty bad last summer, moderated slightly during the late fall, and now trends in the dry direction again as winter snowpack fails to accumulate. If the storm track shifts slightly, snow will build up in the remaining part of winter, but at this point any snow we get seems to get removed by a following warm spell. We've had two heavy rain events that removed most of the snow that had built up in December. While the most recent storm did bring wet snow to the highest elevations, it did not deliver for large areas that depend on their own snow, not mountain runoff, to build up ground water reserves. Heavy rain in winter has a tendency to run off more than soak in, because even thin to moderate snow cover, and frozen ground, direct it into surface waters and send it downstream. Even in the warm season, heavy downpours will run off because too much water arrives too quickly to percolate through the soil.

In the race for corporate control of global water resources, there's no time to waste. Nestlé knows it has to move quickly to secure its position in a competitive emerging industry. Global corporations probably represent the next stage in the evolution of human government. Government began with local and then regional leaders controlling resources by convincing people to go along with their decisions. In the beginning, it was easily done by busting heads on a larger and larger scale. The method persisted well into the 20th Century. Now it is giving way to economic leverage applied through the most fundamental necessities.

Mr. Dempsey should reconsider the use of his celebrity appeal. It might be a good time to say nothing and get to understand the situation better.

Friday, January 15, 2021

There go my Google reviews...

 When I arrived to start my work week on Wednesday, a set of fat bike wheels waited in the workshop. The customer had tried to mount his own tubeless studded tires, and had failed, so he brought them to us.

I was not intimidated by the challenge, having successfully mounted more sets of tubeless mountain bike tires than I can remember. The number isn't huge, but I do my best to forget them as soon as I finish. I've had my ups and downs learning about the aggravating and overly complicated technology so dear to some riders. On mountain bikes a tubeless system makes a little bit of sense, as long as the rider is willing to put up with the inconvenience of their installation and care.

I laugh every time I read anything that extols the weight savings of a tubeless system on a fat bike. Really? You're on a 30-pound clownmobile and all of a sudden to you want to pare a few grams? I have mounted at least one set of tubeless tires on fat bike rims, but I believe I got lucky when that went smoothly.

Nothing went smoothly on this week's merry romp through technolemming hell. The tires were not new. The rims were very wide. The floor of them was not well shaped to catch the bead of the big, floppy 27.5-inch casing. Yep. Twenty-six-inch tires five inches wide weren't behemoth enough. We had to go 27.5.

Undaunted by what I did not know lay ahead, I did not rush to begin the job, dealing with a few other things first. For instance, the compressor died last week, and the new compressor was still sitting in the dark, dank basement in a box. So first I had to go down and up and down and up and down and up with tools and a flashlight, figuring out what I needed to hook up the new compressor to the existing system of air lines that feed our several outlets. The new one was ostensibly identical to the one that just died, but the master connection was different, requiring me to scrounge in our many repositories of potentially useful bits and pieces to find one that fit. Some time after lunch I went through my normal tried-and-true procedure, getting the beads onto the rim, hanging the wheel on the arm of the workstand, pouring in the requisite amount of sealant, and blasting it with compressed air.

I applied nozzle to valve stem and got...nowhere.

Demonstrating Bernoulli's principle in action, the flow of compressed air into the cavernous bowels of the floppy tire casing actually pulled the beads away from the sides of the rim. Sensing that it was probably hopeless, I tried several different ways to apply circumferential pressure to the casing to get the skirts of the bead to catch just long enough to get wafted on their way, but no luck. I headed to the Internet for guidance.

Lots of suggestions came up, including spraying a volatile aerosol into the casing and igniting it, seating the beads with an explosion. The success rate looked like about 50 percent, with the other 50 percent leading to variously humorous incendiary catastrophes. No one was doing it for a paying customer.

Videos abound, of course, of smoothly edited best-case scenarios that don't feature pyromaniacs, that make tubeless tires look like simplicity itself to mount and maintain. Kiss my ass.

Out of all this I figured I would try the suggestion to install the tire with a tube in it to set the beads, and then dislodge only as much as necessary of one bead to allow me to extract the tube and only have to re-set the remaining bead. This meant, of course, removing the  tire and extracting the sealant that I had poured in when I expected routine success. Time is money, y'all, and when the method works it's pure gold.

We didn't have any 27.5 fat tubes. I figured a 26 would do for this exercise, since girth was of primary importance. Lacking any salvaged fatties, that meant spooging up a brand-new tube with the sealant residue I had been unable to wipe completely from the inside of the casing. I did what I had to do: seated the beads, gingerly unseated the one, dragged the tube out through the gap, and applied the air again. I had already pulled the valve core out, to deliver the maximum volume possible through the dinky barrel of a Presta stem.

The bead looked tantalizingly close, but no matter what I did I could not get it to engage the rim floor and blow the rest of the way out to its proper seat. Lay the wheel on its side, nope. Squeeze it here, there, and there, nope. I tried more positions than the Kama Sutra. I even did some bondage, wrapping a 29er tube around the outer circumference to squeeze everything in evenly.

Closing time came and went. I hung it up so that I wouldn't stomp it into a pretzel. On Thursday morning the battle resumed.

All the tire needed was something to provide momentary resistance so that pressure would build up inside the tire rather than having a rapid stream of air flow through it. I looked around for shaving cream. Various personal care products have accumulated around the shop over the years, so it wasn't too far-fetched. Unfortunately, the can of Barbasol that I could see in my mind's eye remained a mirage. My reasoning was that the foam would provide an ephemeral dam, and the soap would be no worse than the soapy water recommended to lubricate stubborn beads. I wasn't going to schlog the whole casing full of it, although that would be a good joke. I also thought about whipped cream, because the nitrous propellant wouldn't react with the sealant either. But the milk would sour eventually. It might be okay during the cold months, but come spring it would get nasty.

Some mechanics referred to the "split tube" method of sealing a rim. It was conceived to seal non-tubeless rims, but I believed that a variation of it would provide the resistance I needed at very little weight penalty (lol), and without the need to clean and dry the rim to add adhesive-backed tape layers, as many posters suggested. The less I  have to depend on glue, the better.

A 24-inch mountain bike tube offered the ideal circumference and width. That meant that I had to do a treasure hunt to find a couple of punctured ones to cut up, because I wasn't going to butcher new tubes for this annoying project. Then I had to cut my two prizes carefully to get strips that covered the area I needed, no more and no less.

I could shove the rubber strip into the casing of the tire already on the rim, and position it beneath the floppy beads before carefully positioning the beads to minimize the gap. I put the 29er tube on it again before I hit it with the air. No good. Resisting the urge to start wailing on it with a large wrench, I lifted it down from the work stand and bounced it lightly on the floor in a couple of places, while attempting to keep the air flow going into the valve stem. Abruptly the beads billowed outward. The tire gradually seated.

The rubber strip, of course, had shifted so that the edge of it was visible in a couple of places at the edge of the rim. In the official split tube method, the rubber strip is supposed to overlap the rim all the way around. The bead seemed to be sealing okay. I was not going to take anything apart in search of cosmetic perfection.

Having perfected my method, it would be a simple matter to install the final version on the remaining wheel, right? 

First I had to remove the non-studded tire that the customer had left in place when he threw in the towel. It was full of sealant, of course, of a different color and unknown type, so that had to go. I had to get rid of the fluid in the tire and clean the rim bed. Then the studded tire for this wheel -- the rear -- was as dirty and gritty as it had been since it was pulled off the rim last spring. Great. I cleaned things up a bit and moved ahead happily with my assuredly successful mounting technique. Starting from a bare rim (except for the existing rim tape that I wasn't going to fut with), I could lay in the 24-inch rubber strip before slipping the beads of the studded tire into the accommodating middle of the rim channel. So far so good. I was going to set the beads before I poured in the sealant this time.

Everything in position, I applied the air and heard the now-familiar rush of no help at all, charging through the interior at 120 psi. Clearly it needed a little something it wasn't getting. I picked up the bottle of sealant, which needs to be shaken vigorously for an hour and a half before every application, and every 22 seconds during installation, to squirt a bit along the beads to create what I hoped would be enough surface tension to work. That, combined with the 29-er tube around the outside, and strategic floor bouncing, finally did the trick. Then I had to deflate the damn thing so I could inject the sealant through the valve stem. The whole time I dreaded the sight of the beads pulling away from the rim. Properly seated, they're not supposed to, but tubeless tires are from Hell. Setting them with fire is actually fully appropriate.

It was now about 45 minutes after closing time. This is one reason I eat supper at 10 p.m. so many nights. Get home, light the fires, feed the cats, clean the litter boxes, prep and cook my own food, muck out the email inbox. Then it's off to dreamland some time after midnight, to be dragged across the jagged lava fields of morning when the alarm goes off in the predawn darkness. I knew better than to call triumphantly to report success. One or both of these tires would be flat by morning.

This morning, the rear tire, the dirty one, lay shriveled on the floor. Fortunately, its beads were still firmly in place, even though it, too, had little bits of the rubber rim strip showing under the bead line in places. No worries. I gave it a shake and roll to distribute sealant, put some air in it, and danced with it some more. The other tire had held up overnight. I added more pressure and listened to the hissing so I would know how to tilt it to get the sealant to concentrate there. It quieted. I put them both in post-op recovery for a couple of hours.

What to charge for this messy job that monopolized hours of shop time? My formula for jobs that I don't really like is to push the price up until the customer winces, but pays it. That way I know I'm getting the absolute maximum that the trade will support. Once people become inured to it, nudge it up again, unless I've learned either to like it or to streamline it sufficiently that it doesn't occupy too much time and energy. We gain nothing by giving the false impression that a particular category of service is casual and worth little. It's especially irksome to get pushback on pricing when a customer has tried it themselves and seen what a bugger it is, and they still want it for cheap. Specialty shops suffer from a tradition in which the staff are either fellow addicts who do it for the love -- which at times was truer of me -- or co-dependent sycophants who need approval.

Years ago we used to change the dinky little pneumatic tires on a certain brand of roller ski, that came with solid plastic wheels with a bead seat diameter of no more than three inches. There wasn't anything to hold onto, and you couldn't use tools or you would puncture the tube. Our listed price for tire changes was something like ten bucks. One big moose of a guy was bringing in a tire job a week. I'd finally had enough. The next one he brought in I charged $35 per wheel. His wife picked up the wheels. Not knowing anything about the price he'd been paying, she just forked over and took them home. I waited. The phone rang. It was the moose. He was a bit irate.

"What's with that price?" he asked.

"Why do you bring the tires to us to fix?" I asked him.

"Because they're horrible to work on! My thumbs get all ripped up, it's impossible --"

"Precisely," I said. Right through the phone I heard the light come on in his brain. No more complaints about the price. He could fight his own battles, find someone who would do the job for less, or come pay us to take the pain. We were both relieved when split rims came out, ending the bitter battles with the tiny, evil wheels. 

Initially I put a price of $140 on today's tag. Then, checking prices on line, I felt like I might be pushing it, so I dropped it to $120. On a forum I found people complaining about a shop charging $100 to mount a set of tubeless tires. Forum posters love to pour scorn all over bike shops and their service departments. I saw that hundred bucks and went, "damn right! I know exactly where you're coming from." But average prices among the addicts and sycophants run down around $20-$40. They do us all a disservice.

I have no vested interest in tubeless technology working. I see it as a complete pain in the ass for extremely dubious gains for the average rider. But as long as shops are willing to endure the nuisance and riders are willing to learn to do their own work, the tubeless will always be with us. Indeed, I fear that we will soon be unable to buy a decent rim that doesn't have a "tubeless-ready" bead, making regular tube type tires harder to handle for those of us who haven't run off the cliff with the rest of the herd. Is that the right word for a group of lemmings? You could certainly call it a pride. They head for that cliff full of hubris.

The customer made a face when he saw the bill. I didn't stick around while he checked out, but I guess he gave further evidence that he didn't consider it reasonable. Here's the deal: when you get someone to do work for you, you are buying a piece of their life. That's true no matter what the work is.  If it was too hard or too dirty or beneath you, or whatever else compels you to get someone else to do it, you are buying another person's time and effort. It's nice when it turns out not to cost a lot, relative to what you thought it should or would. 

When I adopted the bicycle as a vehicle both practical and pleasurable, its simplicity was a huge part of its appeal. Don't complain to me if fashionable complexity has made it inaccessible, temperamental, and expensive. It was the market's choice to make, and as far as I'm concerned it did not choose wisely.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Shocking TV images, frightful news stories, skis to tune

 As American democracy teeters on the brink of self destruction, we're still renting ice skates and sharpening and waxing downhill skis and snowboards, and working on the odd and occasional fat bike. Potential customers still come in hoping to find snowshoes, cross-country skis, and even bicycles in their size. It's hardly a mob scene since the hot rain on Christmas obliterated three feet of snow in 24 hours, but people are finding things to do. The snowshoes were gone before the end of December, but we've actually managed to put together some cross-country ski sets for lucky Cinderellas who come in and find that our selection of glass slippers happens to fit them.

The contrast is strange. Very little of the violent political unrest seeps through to us, despite the persistence of flag-waving disciples of authoritarianism who still keep their banners aloft. It's been interesting to see some of the really long-stranding ones disappear, though. My middle finger is getting a lot less of a workout on the commute now. Instead I beam a little message of thanks that they finally found a line they wouldn't cross. Either that or the dang thing just rotted from a few years of UV exposure, and they didn't bother to replace it. But that can't be true of one of them, which was brandy new right before the election in November. It actually came down a while ago. I forget which atrocity had just preceded it. The comings and goings of the flag and signs at that house were an enigma anyway.

I don't want to find out how long we would be able to continue our business more or less as usual after the country became a fascist dictatorship. I'm afraid that we would barely notice. The heroes of resistance in World War II faced a different kind of conflict. Weapons were more primitive and the battle space was still somewhat defined. The fight appeared long and dangerous and difficult, but Allied forces were on the move. It was just a matter of holding out and helping out as much as possible in occupied territory. But there have been tremendous advances in killing hardware and sadism since then. Not that sadists have invented anything new, but there seem to be more of them, and they can communicate readily to coalesce in locations that currently do not depend on declared control of territory. No place is behind enemy lines. People who want to start something can just get in their trucks or hire some buses and go. Since their political ideology is founded on ignorance, paranoia, and greed, they offer no plan that can be critiqued, other than short-term plans to do harm to elements of society or specific individuals that they believe threaten them.

Racial justice matters little to communities that are basically all white. It's easy for a business owner in a situation like that to say that he doesn't care who is in office as long as he can take care of himself and his family. I could never understand the virulent racism in lily-white northern New England. What the hell do you people know about having to get along with other races? They rag on French Canadians, too. Frenchman jokes abound. The south hasn't gotten over the Civil War. New England still hasn't gotten over the Seven Years' War.

I wonder how many northerners went to fight for the Confederacy during the first Civil War. Based on the attitudes I see today, I would expect a lot of them would do it now.