Friday, August 20, 2010

YAAU (Yet Another Alternative Universe)

Some time ago, a distinguished colleague of mine proposed an alternative universe, in which bicycles and cars have swapped places. I'd like to propose another one. In this one, the personal automobile is yet to be invented. Otherwise, the universe mostly resembles the one we happen to live in.

People get around by means of public transport (underground trains, overground trains, aeroplanes, boats, buses, trams, what have you) and personal transport (walking, rollerblading, bicycling (electrically assisted or not), horseback, canoes, what have you). Urban areas are much nicer to live in than in The Actual Universe, as you probably can imagine. There's not nearly as much noise, pollution and traffic jams even in very densely populated areas.

Suppose, then, that a bright young engineer, Pentti Automobile from Suomussalmi, invents the personal automobile. Almost immediately, a group of people forms, calls themselves The Group Of People For The Cause Of Promoting Personal Automobiling (not very catchy, is it not?) and writes a manifesto. (The group is fronted by this guy, BTW.) The manifesto reads, in its entirety:

"We, The Group Of People For The Cause Of Promoting Personal Automobiling, demand that
1) anyone, regardless of talent, IQ, acquired capability or ability for temperance, must have the right to own at least one personal automobile
2) the said personal automobile can weight several tons, even without having a practical reason for that
3) the said personal automobile can have a ridiculously excessive maximum speed, even without having a practical reason for that
4) the said personal automobile can have excessive noise levels
5) the said personal automobile can emit toxic substances into the environment
6) anyone must have the right to drive their personal automobile into any place they want (e.g. into the heart of the most crowded area in any city)
7) anyone must have the right to park their personal automobile for indeterminate period of time even in the heart of the most crowded area in any city
8) the personal automobile shall have an implicit right of way over lighter traffic
9) all traffic arrangements must immediately be changed to favour personal automobiles over other vehicles
10) fear of personal automobiles shall be instilled upon the young, the elderly, the bicyclists and the animals."

Of course, the public largely ignores such manifesto. The authority responds to the manifesto shortly: "Hell no, that's dangerous. And absurd."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dead end... or is it?

I commute through this street each weekday. On most days, I tend to ignore this:

Whenever I continue to strive northward, despite being informed that it's futile by that rather unwelcoming, depressing traffic sign, I soon see this:

Clearly, for me, a bicyclist, the dead end sign signals false information. Had I not chosen to disobey that particular traffic sign one day, I would never have found out that there is a better route between A and B. My one way commute would take two minutes longer. By using a faster route I can now save some 20 minutes each week. That makes nearly 18 hours a year. I get an extra day each year! Choosing to ignore dead end signs clearly pays off.

Now, my question is: as a bicyclist, what other traffic signals can I choose to disobey? Or perhaps, should I just regard all traffic signs as more of recommendations and hints than actual orders and regulations?

Monday, August 16, 2010

HCM 2010

On Saturday, I experienced the most pain I've experienced in a sporting event. I ran the Helsinki City Marathon 2010, and it was painful. Pain pain pain. For nearly half the distance, or some two hours, I was going "ouch ouch ouch" in my mind. It wasn't that I was that exhausted, it was my legs that were killing me. They felt like two blocks of wood, that somehow still were very much capable of feeling pain. They were clearly underprepared for the shock of traveling 42 km at about the speed of 5 ½ minutes per kilometer. I should have practiced more.

Last year I wondered about the number of participants walking in the latter half of the distance. This year I was one of the walkers. Now I understand them. It can happen. Well, anyway, my run went well, because somehow I still managed to improve my time 8 minutes from last year. And the feeling was, and still is, great afterwards. And, besides, the pain wasn't that bad, when compared to some of the hangovers I've had. At least there was no horrible mental suffering (just a slight fear of collapsing).

During the four hour run I tried to keep my mind off my legs, so I kept watching the other contestants. I find it interesting how the age, height, weight and body shape varies from one marathon runner to another. It's clearly a heterogenous group of people. Sure, there aren't that many morbidly obese ones, but the crowd isn't dominated by lanky, tall long distance runner stereotypes either. There doesn't seem to be just one recipe for being a succesful runner. Some people have the power plant in their calves, some in their thighs and buttocks. Some people have no ass to speak of, and yet run just fine.

In cycling events the group of participants, in general, seems to be dominated by young, athletic males, but on a marathon, you can see lots of those same athletic youngsters having a hard time, going relatively slow, or walking, while tough 50+ women and grey haired old geezers bypass them at an even pace, knowing what they're doing. The marathon is the event of the Pitchy Stump. I'm just a newbie in their race, and will be, until gaining some 30 years of marathon experience.

By the way, I must mention one thing. Lately, I've become rather annoyed at the way certain right wing politicians have been gaining publicity, and probably, popularity, by appearing as patron saints of nearly every f**king sporting event arranged in the country. Sure, they are allowed to do that just like any politician, and partly, I'm annoyed that politicians of other parties don't defend their right to suck up to voters by appearing in sporting events enough. But, dammit, Alex Stubb is being paid copious amounts of money, by the Finnish people, to advance the causes of the Finnish people, not his own career as a politician and an athlete! How can the guy do that, when he seems to have a full time career running, bicycling, swimming and writing sports articles and books.

Anyway, in HCM 2010, the right wing finally gave something back to the people. The Minister of Finance, Jyrki Katainen, was firing the starting shot. The announcer was doing the countdown, when Jyrki got a bit too eager: 10... 9... 8... 7... 6... 5... 4... *BANG* and thus, Mr. Katainen generously improved the final result of each participant by some three seconds.