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Sunday, July 31, 2016

July Critical Mass (Don't Blame Me)

I keep getting asked if I'm in charge at Critical Mass. It's because I'm always taking lots of pictures and for seven months running I've made and handed out spoke cards commemorating each one.

According to Wikipedia, which knows all and is never wrong, Critical Mass is a xerocracy. According to me, and I consider this one of its virtues, its anarchy. I realize a lot of people don't see anarchy as benign or even noble, but it's beautiful when the real thing (which is not a bunch of violence, as enemies of freedom try to make it out to be) manifests itself.

And it manifests itself on the last Friday of the month whether it's a pleasant 80 degrees or a nasty six degrees. Critical Mass goes where the rider out front goes unless the rider behind decides not to follow. In some instances, this causes a schism, though a peaceful one. Sometimes when the weather is foul, a contingent stands around at Scumfresh until around 7:00, then rides to Buzzard Beach, effectively tailgating a ride across the street.

The ethos varies widely from city to city. I hear when Daley was mayor of Chicago, he rode it, and they'd get like 700 riders, and there was a police escort corking the intersections because the goddamn mayor was riding. I'll bet whiffs of reefer were pretty scarce on those masses. And I've heard of cities where the cops got a hard on to make it go away and effectively killed the party. Kansas City's Critical Mass has tendencies to the wild side but not so much that people don't bring their kids, and I mean young, young, kids. I can't remember a fair weather mass that didn't include some diaper changes.

And there is an alcoholocaust element to be sure, there's a bit of Animal House to all the Critical Mass rides I've enjoyed. And that's where I get a little antsy when someone mistakes me for being 'in charge.'

I'm like, dude, this was not my idea. I barely take responsibility for my own choices this evening, let alone the rest of these clowns.

So no, I'm not in charge. I make spoke cards because I like spoke cards (just look at my bike, it's like aero discs at this point), I like Critical Mass, and I'm a graphic designer who works in a print shop. Spoke cards are a snap. And the back side is an easy way to promote the upcoming Post Modern Pentathlon, an event I regrettably must claim responsibility for since it was my idea, but if you're competing I'm making you sign a waiver—coffee is hot, ice is slippery, drivers are maniacs, it's not my fault or the fault of our sponsors.

Speaking of which, the whole Pentathlon thing is coming together. B-Cycle is letting us use their rental bikes gratis, and I think there's a beauty to racing these things: the Olympic Pentathlon makes you ride a horse that's not known to you, B-Cycle fulfills that, plus the bike is totally unsuited to racing. It's just a matter of who knows the city well enough to route smartly and who can generate watts, if you can mash pedals you're in it, no matter what you can afford in the way of a bike. And there's four other events you can win points in even if your slow old ass can't compete at bike racing. Velo+, Family Bicycles and Midwest Cyclery (three of my favorite bike shops) have all ponied up generous prizes, so there will be prizes for men's and women's divisions, and for winners of the five sports as well as the overall.


And as usual I had fun taking pictures of the folks I'm so not even remotely in charge of at Critical Mass.

And that's not me being in charge, that's just me documenting the beauty of these people, the gorgeous anarchy.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

More 105mm Fun

I was going to bike to work today but that 4:30 alarm, I didn't even hear it. I woke up about time to get on the bike, snoozed another twenty minutes and ended up putting my bike on the car figuring I'd ride home and back in tomorrow. But then the round trips, I started to figure out the remainder of the week, and I realized I could either drive home this evening, or one of the other two evenings I planned to ride, and both of those seemed to be worse options. So I drove home, utilizing the car to close gaps faster to scout a few spots to take test shots with the new long lens.

I picked up a second hand (and pretty old I think), 105mm f2.8 prime lens for my D7000. The car actually kinda sucks for scouting shooting spots. Bikes get into places cars can't, park places cars can't, and your approach is slow enough to pick up on details and options you just miss in the car. But if you're going to predetermined locations, the car does cover the ground between faster.

The lighting wasn't great, either, this time of year the sun is still too high during rush hour. And of the 68 frames I shot, I have this little dribble to share. This lens, like my Tokina 11-16mm ultra-wide, is one of those lenses that's perfect for a few situations, and kinda useless for everything else.

As bad as I think some of my photographs turn out, I have to say, they are a vast, vast improvement over the 'major' parties' conventions, the supposedly 'two' parties we have to choose from when I could quickly list three others who would be better right off even if I disagree with a lot of their core values. Jill Stein, infinitely better than Hillary Clinton. Gary Johnson, no contest, better than anyone you've heard of and at least 30 you haven't. Vermin Supreme, hell, he's better than anyone. The Constitution Party, the U.S. Peace and Justice Party, even the Prohibition Party, any of these guys are preferable to Hillary or the Hairpiece Who Must Not Be Named (we've had lots of good jokes about why settle for the lesser evil, vote for Cthulu, but Trump has kinda called our bluff on that gag).

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

New Glass (Well, New to Me)

I've been wanting Nikon's 105mm Micro f2.8 for, oh, since I got my D700 a little over four years ago. And a used one is finally mine. I think of it as new, but it's really just new to me. It's old enough it doesn't have the gold lettering Nikon uses these days, but it's new enough it works with my camera as far as autofocus.

It's a macro lens (though Nikon calls it 'micro') for shooting up close and personal and getting super detailed shots. I haven't played with it much yet in that role but I shot a few 'product shots' this evening with some Tank 7 I was about to drink and some Mineragua I was also about to suck down.

So I had fun playing with my new glass. New to me. I'm pretty sure this lens is actually like 20 years old but it's in perfect working order and crystal clear, maybe the clearest I have in my stable so far.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Tandem Ride/City Market Run

What with the primary (we do a lot of political printing where I work), by bimonthly freelance thing, I worked like twelve days in a row, most of those days ten hours or a little better. Whipped? That's not even a start.

And I'd done a lot of driving. As in, during this period, I didn't ride my bike to or from work, not even a bike & bus. One thing and another, I just lacked the time and energy to do it. So when I finally got to a weekend, and Corinna suggested I make a City Market run with our guest, Phil, I was all about that. What about Mo? Well, the tandem. She'll generally say no to almost any choice that's not YouTube or going to the movies, maybe a garage sale store. So Corinna asked her if she wanted to tandem bike to the garage sale store.

We went by Side, also, which Phil was keen to visit. He's an O.G. Recovery Movement guy, and he had a lot of fun talking shop while we soaked up some air conditioning before Corinna and Mo went to the thrift store, and me and Phil went to City Market get get pickling cukes and such.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Might Have to Get a Bumper Sticker Done

When the Trump-Pence logo was unleashed today, FB started going with the Cornholio jokes: TP for my bungole. Which is, I guess, apt, if ever a presidential ticket was for wiping your ass on, it's this one. But what jumped out at me when I first glanced at it was the swastika-ish impression I got from the blue inter-locking T and P (I guess depicting Donald penetrating the jerk from Indiana).

So I whipped this up. Might have to get a run of bumper stickers made, the question is whether to sell them, give them away, or covertly cover over Trump bumper stickers I find out in the world. Because Hillary is bad news, but she's basically the same bad news as Obama, maybe not quite as bad as W., probably about on par with her husband and the elder George Bush. Which is to say, she sucks. But while she's been raked over the coals for supposedly flaunting the law, Trump has actually said that if he gives an illegal order, he expects it to be followed because once he gives the order, it becomes legal. I know, he's said a lot of things, but that's not an attitude we can have in national politics, that's Nixon all over again.

I'm a little surprised at the choice of Pence. Pretty vanilla, not quite as shitty as Sam Brownback, probably a little shittier than Chris Christie (who, being a third rate gangster at heart, was actually the most logical choice). The biggest worry I have is not so much that I'll miss the Republican Party once it's been utterly destroyed by Trump and his shenanigans, the GOP is awful. But Democrats are pretty odious, too, especially when they don't face competitive elections that make them at least lie about what they're all about.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Indiana Brewers' Cup

Back when I got into homebrewing and beer judging, I started out traveling to judge a bit. But this was also right around when I started having babies with the artist formerly known as Frau Lobster and it became evident pretty quickly that I'd be luck to just judge local competitions. Which for a few years meant two or three a year, as Kansas City was a regional site for the National Homebewers' Conference, plus the Bier Meisters competition, and for a while there was a pretty good small competition at Renn Fest that got me in to that carnival for free.

I know what a lot of people picture when I say I'm going to judge beer. They say things like, 'I'm gonna judge a few beers tonight myself, and I know exactly what score they're getting.'

It's fun, but it's not the scene people picture. I suspect it's very similar to judging a barbecue competition. If you're just eating a slab of ribs or powering down some burnt ends, that's dinner. And an awesome dinner, at that. But if you're judging at the American Royal, you're examining how the bone pulls away from the meat and looking at the smoke ring and doing a bunch of stuff that basically takes that dinner and makes it into an academic exercise. It's not about what you like, it's about whether the target, as defined, was hit, and if not, they why not and by how much.

This was the first competition I've judged that had a professional section. KCBM is a biggie, but it caps at 600 homebrew entries and calls it a day. Indiana Brewers' Cup allows 850 homebrew entries and 650 professionals. They're segregated, of course. But a couple of the flights I judged were professional brewers entries and it was really interesting. Because one of those flights was American IPA, a genre I'm generally fond of. But judging isn't about my personal preferences, it's did the brewer hit the style as defined in the BJCP guidelines? And to sum up a 'no,' I think the highest score I gave on that flight was a 41. There were plenty of beers I'd drink buckets of given the chance, but as far as the way they squared up to the style, meh.

For the uninitiated, these things are judged on a 50 point scale. There's a fixed number of points available for aroma, appearance (which gets only three points), flavor, mouthfeel and overall impression. I used to split points up, give 2-1/2 for appearance for instance, until a registrar unloaded on me. And he was right: I was saying my palate is so refined a 50 point scale is inadequat: I need a 100 point scale so I'm scoring this beer a 27.5.

Fuck off, your palate ain't all that.

But anyway, those 50 points. I can't take them home with me, they're not really good for anything else, so your entry, homebrew or pro, I try to approach it with a presumption of greatness: you have 50 points, when I find flaws and deviations from style, you lose points. A lot of times an entry will smell fucking spectacular, and I'll give it maybe ten or eleven of the points available for aroma, finding maybe one little detail to ding it. It'll look great as far as appropriate color, head/head retention, etc. Maybe hazy, so two out of three on that one. Then I take a sip and holy cow, did you use a donated car as an adjunct? I know I've filled out score sheets with an 11 of 12 on aroma and a 7 of 20 on flavor. It happens.

And of course, in the homebrew entries you sometimes have a brewer who is competitive, is playing to win, and another who is going like, Dude, I fucked up but I don't know where, why does my beer suck? In the pro categories, there's no such doubt.

Though the reasons a pro brewer would enter a competition like this, well, if you medal you have free advertising than your Bo Pils or Dark Belgian Strong or whatever won a medal. And the judges you're trying to impress are the nerds who freak out about beer and their family and coworkers ask them for recommendations, look in their fridge to see what you'd buy if you cared about good beer, etc. So that score sheet is research into both a targeted demographic and a demographic influenced by that target demographic, so why not enter?

So if my assessment of those American IPAs was harsh, the Belgian Strongs I judged the next day, again pro category, damn. Usually you get to a mini-BOS (when there are forty entries in a category, you have four pairs of judges evaluate ten beers each, then the senior of those four pairs sits down and comes up with a first-second-third among the winners of the sub-flights.

So at the after-party, which looks a lot more like what people envision when they think 'homebrew competition,' there were tons of beers, brewers, etc. Including, after the awards ceremony, I got to meet the brewers who took bronze in the Belgian Strongs. I'm like, dude, usually there's eight beers at the mini-BOS and three or four of them are obvious clunkers and get kicked straight away. That category, there were eight beers on the mini-BOS that deserved to medal. If you think third place sucks, the second place beer got a 48/46 in initial judging.

I said you have 50 points until you give me a reason to take some away. I've given a 50, I think two times in my twenty years of judging. When you smell, examine, taste an entry and really can't come up with anything they could do better relevant to the style, that's Fifty Point Entry. They are rare. A 48, that's almost as rare, and for such a score to wind up with a silver, I just gotta say WOW.