Sunday, September 30, 2012


The general intent of this post is to discuss the rules we live (and play) by....who makes them, are they fair and just, etc etc. I ponder long and hard about this very topic on my long solo rides (which is when I do most of my 'deep' thinking). Of course the underlying factor for my thoughts is the ongoing Lance Armstrong Affair, and in general the doping in sports dilemma.

Doping in sports is seen as "cheating".. But my question is WHY is it considered cheating? The easy answer is because it's against the rules. You break the rules, you are a cheater. And cheaters should be caught and punished, of course.

Here is where it quickly gets into the gray area. Anybody our there NEVER speed in their car? (and I do mean NEVER). Never gone above the STUPID 55mph speed limit? (the one that is STILL with us in SO many places...sheesh, once something becomes a law it's VERY HARD to get rid of!) Never gone 37 in a 35 zone? 18 in a 15mph school zone? 70 or more in a 65 zone? If you HAVE, then you should be punished. A guy I once worked with claimed he always stayed at or under the speed limit. AND, (now THIS is scary), he TRULY believed that anybody who passed him or came up fast behind him about to pass was trying to kill him, and HE should be allowed to shoot and kill THEM. Rather extreme, yes. But he has a point. Those people ARE breaking the law. He just thinks that HE should be allowed to be the judge/jury AND executioner. Thankfully that will never be the case (I hope and pray anyway).

But consider that under the current 'system' (that we are seeing in cycling first and foremost), that might include one day using some amazing new technology that allows the enforcement side to go back in time and see if you EVER broke the law (rules), and then punish you for ALL those offenses. You see, if you've been speeding for a while, (possibly all your life), then it's now a conspiracy, which is WAY more punishable than a single offense. You have a habit of speeding you see, and as such should have your privileges of driving a car taken away for you for the rest of your life. You are a very bad person. The devil. Your speeding isn't fair to those who don't.

But isn't speeding in some instances warranted? WHY is the rule there in the first place? Well, I'd assume (you know what that means) to protect the public. Someone going too fast in traffic could be a danger to other drivers. But what if there are no other drivers? What if it's just you and the open road? Isn't then the speed limit somewhat intrusive? We are blessed with human will, a thinking reasoning brain (AND opposable thumbs), and we can make decisions for ourselves (some better than others). Sometimes we can see that a rule is good, and sometimes not. It's a judgement call. We can decide if it's important enough to obey, in the circumstances that are upon us at that moment. If it's just me and the open road, then doing 70+mph in a 65 zone is not dangerous at all, and I have decided that I can disregard that stupid law. Should I still be caught and punished for that infraction at some later date, even though I wasn't caught when I was doing it?

And besides, WHO makes all these rules? Typically in society, it's just a few people, sometimes one. Well, who died and made THEM king? Sometimes WE did (elected officials), sometimes they are appointed, sometimes they could literally be BORN into that position (think royalty), and sometimes they just somehow end up with the POWER to make rules. But just what is a rule? In a nutshell, it's someone using THEIR morals, values and OPINION as to what is right and wrong, and imposing that upon others without their consent, theoretically for their own good. Is this always the case? I'd say not. But THAT is just my opinion, which is EXACTLY what a rule is in the end...someone's opinion on how things should be.

I've noticed that in most cases, the people who MAKE the rules typically aren't bound by them (not to get political, but take our US Congress for instance). That is one strange conflict of interest. Making rules for EVERYBODY ELSE that doesn't apply to you. And as to rules in sports, they are typically NOT written by the participants themselves. Which I always find interesting....someone who DOESN'T do the activity under scrutiny is making the rules for that activity. How on earth do THEY know what's best? My job is in electronics. I hold various certifications that are required for me to do my job. I have a NASA cert in soldering and fiber optics, and Lockheed-Martin aerospace certs in crimps, wire wrap, wire-harness assy, connector mate-demate, and many more. If I do say so myself, I'm pretty darn good at my job. In some areas I'm quite exceptional. For someone to come along and make a rule pertaining to my job that DOESN'T do my job, well...that would be ridiculous. HOW on earth would that person know what's required? They DON'T. That's the simple answer. Which is quite maddening, because in our society we have people making rules that have no real idea what they are talking about. They are imposing their values, morals, judgements and opinions onto a topic in which they are not experts.

But Matt, where are you going with all this? Well, I'll tell you. Over at Rants a commenter there recently made the comment that long ago in the TDF it was considered cheating to use more than 2 bottles of water in a stage. I had never heard of this before, but it probably makes sense way back in the day. I very much doubt that this rule was written by a racer. I can vaguely understand the desired effect of this rule: making a level playing field. Each racer gets two and ONLY two bottles of water to complete a stage. There....all's fair now, right? But wait. Every single person on the planet has slightly different physiology. One guy sweats more than another. Each guy has different weights, builds, etc. I'd say this rule was dumb (but that's just MY opinion). So... what if you "CHEATED" and had more than 2 bottles of water? Is this rule a good one? Back at the time it was probably considered so by some...but as the world turns and time goes on, the rules change and evolve as we progress. Eventually that rule was changed or done away with as it wasn't practical or feasible for the sport.

There was also a rule way-back-when that each TDF bike-racer be TOTALLY self sufficient. Carrying all their own equipment (spare tires, tubes, etc). They would stop and buy food and drink along the way (they would typically eat cheese and wine, and drink olive oil for the high calories it contains). ANY outside assistance with bike repairs would disqualify you. One guy was leading the TDF and his ancient steel fork broke. He carried his bike to a blacksmith shop, and welded the fork back together himself (welding in that time wasn't with a torch or was with fire and a hammer and an making horseshoes and swords and such). He went on and won that race, only he was later disqualified because the blacksmith operated the bellows so the rider could effect the actual repair. He had help, thus he violated the rule, and paid the price for it. SHOULD he have been disqualified? Well..he did break THE RULE. But was it a good rule? Maybe at the time it seemed prudent...but can you imagine today if that rule were still in existence? would put pro cycling back into the stone ages. No tire or bike swaps, no food on the road. The level of racing would go WAY down. Thankfully we've adapted and now the racers go faster than ever before, and we have cameras everywhere filming the action...and it's all very exciting which is good for the sponsors and teams and racers.

So as technology moves us forward, the rules slowly adapt to the new world order. WAY back when I was a sophomore in high school, calculators were pretty new to the world. I recall my dad bringing home the first one I had ever seen...he was a salesman at the time, and it was a quite pricy yet exciting new tool! It was pretty small, fit in the palm of his hand, and did addition, subtraction, division and multiplication. OMG WHAT A MARVEL! Well, just a few years later they were becoming fairly common, yet I had to use a slide-rule in my electronics class for the entire first semester. Calculators to do your math (even though you had to KNOW the formulas) was considered cheating and not allowed. Of course that rule has changed. Can you imagine going thru college today without a calculator? Or a computer? Or a super-high-falluting-whammy-jammy i-phone 27? on earth would you ever possibly make it? And the heck with college...try GRADE school! Boy, the times they have a-changed!

The point IS that rules (hopefully) adapt to the ever-changing world we live in...albeit always behind the curve to some extent. In sports the rules are there to presumably present fair play, the ever dreamed about (but probably never achieved) level playing field. And so...back to the moment. SHOULD PED's (as we know of them at this very moment in time) be considered cheating? Well...back in the day taking on extra water was cheating. The human body is mostly composed of water. You have all the water you need right in your body at any given moment. So now you are taking in EXTERNAL WATER? Wait just a cotton picking minute...that's CHEATING! MORE water than you body already has in it? NO FAIR! CHEATER! CHEATER! Disqualify! Throw the bum out of the sport!

But WAIT! The human body also has  naturally occurring EPO in it....we have just learned to re-create it via the wonders of technology. Sure, it was CREATED to help anemic patients with a low red blood cell count (that's me, or very close....but I just can't seem to convince any Dr. to prescribe it, darn it!) Cancer patients who have had their bone marrow destroyed by chemo or radiation treatments. Oh...well there you have it. EPO was created for that purpose, so it can't possibly be used for ANY other purpose. BUT WAIT AGAIN! It would seem that MOST things we create have found alternate uses, sometimes BETTER than the original intent! Why...I personally can't FATHOM a world without yellow stickies...I'm surrounded by them at nearly all times! But the sticky-stuff wasn't created for that purpose...but some smart man at 3M thought it up after accidentally creating the re-usable sticky goo. Hmmm...taking something and using it for something else that it's good for. WOW! What a CRAZY CONCEPT!

So....back to EPO. And HGH (Human Growth Hormone). And steroids (testosterone is the one typically in the sporting news just now). What do they do? a nutshell, they ALLOW for the possibility for an athlete to become better. I say ALLOW, because he/she can inject/ingest all they can of these items....but it won't help them one iota. You see, they STILL have to go out and TRAIN. What these PED's really do is allow the athlete to become BETTER by doing even MORE had work than if he didn't have them. Muscle mass isn't built by lying on the couch drinking beer and eating pizza over the winter (just ask Jan Ulrich)'s developed by WORK. LOTS of work. EPO gives the athlete more red blood cells, so his heart can deliver MORE oxygen to the muscles with less beats. So he can do more work with a lower heart rate. It also allows for faster recovery after hard workouts. HGH allows for faster recovery, as the body heals its-self better and faster, like when you were younger. Testosterone allows for more muscle development (of course, all this is a SUPER-nutshell of the benefits of these PED's taken from my understanding).

Wow..that is all very interesting. So Matt...what it seems you are saying is that it appears that the very same PED's that are currently against the rules allow the athletes to become BETTER at what they are paid to do?

Yes... It would appear to be so.

So WHY is it against the rules? Because a few people have decided so, that's why. Quite honestly, I'd think pretty much anything that allows a PROFESSIONAL athlete to be BETTER at his job would be a good thing. But's against the rules. Cheating. But do the athletes themselves see it as cheating? By the very nature of the current dilemma we find ourselves in, I'd have to say the answer to that question is in general NO. THEY are the ones doing the training and work to become better. The PED's just allow them to do that. No amount of PED's on the planet will make me into a star cyclist, or swimmer, or backpacker, or whatever else there is to be a star at that I have any interest in at all. I don't have the drive and determination to do the work necessary.
Somehow we've developed this stigma that is associated to the word 'drugs', maybe due to the "druggies" of the 60s? I don't know, but you hear the word DRUGS and you think BAD. However we take aspirin (actual aspirin, ibuprofen, Tylenol, or any of a dozen other medications) to FEEL better from simple aches and pains. But take a drug to help you PERFORM better, and WHOA now...NOT ok? That seems silly. There is no magic beanstalk don't PERFORM better just by taking the stuff, you still need to DO the work. In fact, MORE work. THAT's how you actually perform did MORE work. So your performing better is a reward for that work, and the assist your body got was from using current technology (just like getting rid of a headache), as it allowed you to make your body TRULY perform right at the peak of what is possible. As we move forward what we know will only increase, and there will be newer and better ways to help the body do what it does even better. Will this be a bad thing? Helping the human body be BETTER? Oh...yes, back to the DRUG thing...evil...doping. So yes it MUST be bad.

 I've seen the arguments that they are dangerous. Well, let's discuss that.

They certainly have that potential. All drugs have that potential. But not just drugs/medications... LOTS of things are dangerous. Driving to work in your CAR is dangerous. But we accept that risk. Yet people die every day in their cars, and that's ok. Part of life. So, back to the PED's. Yes, cyclist's have DIED from EPO use in the past. However, that was actually from EPO over-use. They got their hematacrit SO very high that their super-fit young hearts couldn't pump the sludge during their sleep due to their insanely low resting heart-rate, and they died from heart attacks. How on earth could this happen? Mostly I'll speculate because it was all done under the cloak of secrecy. NOT out in the open, monitored by qualified medical personnel (who are very interested in the health of their athletes, as are the teams and sponsors, as each athlete is worth MONEY). So the very rules making this stuff illegal (which the cyclists themselves ALL know to be of GREAT benefit to doing their jobs better) is what makes them the MOST dangerous. Buying them from unknown sources, obviously illegal. Transporting them, concealing their use, disposing of the 'evidence'.

Though there is this tidbit to consider: being my own devils advocate and all, what are the FUTURE ramifications of using these PED's? We don't really know. Because it's not the future yet. We will in a few years...and maybe all the rules banning the stuff WILL end up having been better for the athletes safety. But we don't know that. No matter WHAT drug (medication) you take, you won't know until it's too late that it ended up being dangerous.

I fondly recall back in the day, my beloved Oakland Raider football team of the 70's. John Matusak, Lyle Alzado, and many others from that era. Ahhh....they were my heroes. However, they used steroids to bulk up, get bigger and stronger, and be better at their jobs. They were big and strong and fast. And living the good life as sports superstars. And it eventually killed them. Decades taken off their lives due to the use of these drugs. But, it allowed them to be come the BEST at what they did. They were PRO football players. They won the lottery and played in the NFL. Did they know it would take years off their lives? Maybe, maybe not...I can't answer that. Maybe they didn't care...young people are like that...the years in the far off future are something they might be willing to trade. Sadly, most drugs haven't been around long enough to tell what the future holds for their users. But that applies to most ANY product manufactured...drugs, cars, hot coffee, desiccant bags..... you name it, someone has done something stupid with it, and sometimes even with PROPER use still suffered for it. Just watch your TV for a bit, and some commercial will come on advertising some law firm with a class action lawsuit over some product that was used in the past and has now been found to be dangerous. Well folks, let me tell you: LIFE is dangerous. It will kill you...I GUARANTEE that you won't get out alive. I say enjoy it while you can. OK...back to the discussion in progress.

Just look at Asbestos. WOW, if there was ever a product that caused harm in the future, it was that. But the manufacturers (supposedly) didn't know it at the time, and it was used pretty much EVERYWHERE. Sometimes it comes down to simple awareness and proper use of things that are still dangerous, and then they aren't so dangerous. We STILL have asbestos's all around us in floor tiles, pipe insulation, and many other places. But there are things you don't do with it, or it will be dangerous. Desiccant bags used properly do just what they are intended to do..keep stuff fresh, remove water and moisture. But you're NOT supposed to EAT them. Somebody must have done that and won a lawsuit, as EVERY desiccant bag I've ever seen has the warning "DO NOT EAT" written on it.

My guess is that these PEDS have a pretty safe track record if used moderately and under a Dr's supervision. Anybody ever hear of any deaths related from a Dr. helping an anemic patient with EPO when used as prescribed? I'm not saying they don't have dangers...but EVERYTHING has dangers. At some point there has to be some responsibility taken by people who use things. It would appear the athletes have already taken that responsibility, as they are using PED's even though they are (currently) against the rules.

But as I said, IF it makes them BETTER athletes, WHY is it still against the rules? This is not grade-school or high-school sports, or even college. This is open-class...the pro's...ADULTS. People who are of consenting age and have made the decision that THIS is what they want to do with their lives. NOBODY is putting a gun to their heads making them take these things. They decide to do that all on their own. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM. Why? Why would they decide to break the rules? Well, obviously, they have used their own thought process and decided (much like we decide that the 55mph speed limit is stupid and can be ignored) that a particular rule isn't a good one, and they know that like the 2 bottle water limit rule of old, they can do better with more. Isn't a professional athlete's ultimate goal to be the VERY BEST he/she can be at their chosen sport? Isn't that what the paying public wants to see? Isn't that what the paying sponsors want to see?

But we (they) have injected the morale's, decisions and opinions of a VERY few people into the mix, an ADMINISTRATION...desk-jockeys. And THEY get to decide what's right and wrong. Their OPINION. There are well over a BILLION people on the planet. Each and every single one with their own opinion. And of that billion +, it's just a micro-fraction of those opinions that truly count. THEY decide what is right and wrong, allowed and disallowed. However THEY are not the ones doing the sport. Or PAYING for the sport (sponsors). Or PAYING to WATCH the sport (where the REAL money is...the SPECTATORS, which is ultimately what pays for the sport in the first place).  THEY in this case are just a VERY few people who somehow are the saviors and all-knowing gods of that particular sport, or in some cases MANY sports. Only THEY know what's best. And anybody who thinks otherwise is just WRONG.

Which brings us to the current cycling dilemma. The Lance Armstrong Affair. The righting of a HUGE wrong according so some, a witch-hunt to others, and to many it's just not worth a moment of thought, as it has no bearing on their daily lives. But it's taking tax dollars. OUR tax dollars. Mine, yours (well, HOPEFULLY yours...we seem to have a LOT of freeloaders in this country right now...but THAT is another topic entirely!)

What is the good of it? Is it going to "Clean up" cycling? Is it going to make it better? Is there less PED use among the peleton (and using the trickle-down theory, in other sports)? And just WHO is the winner of those 7 TDF's? I beg you, someone please tell me! It's a slap in the face to ALL the racers to just say there WAS no winner for those years. That would be stupid. There was a race, I saw it. If you are saying the guy who won no longer is the winner, then who IS? And the very thought of cleaning up cycling, or sports in general. Is it possible? There has been "cheating"  in the form of ignoring/breaking/bending of the rules ever since the inception of sport. And there always will be. And they (the "cheaters") will always be a step or 2 ahead of the enforcers. It's not just that way in sports's pretty much the way of the world. It always has been, and always will be. So is it worth all the money spent to TRY to stop it?

Let's take a look at Prohibition in the US. You'd think we would have learned something there. A very few decided that alcohol was bad, and made it illegal. LOTS of time and money was spent to combat it. LIVES were LOST! And what was the outcome? Well, it pretty much created the US Mafia. AND, it's now legal, as it turns out you just can't stop people from doing what they want in the end. And we are still doing it. Look at NYC...they JUST passed a ban on soft drinks over 16 oz in fast food restaurants to combat obesity. OH YEAH BABY!! That will certainly do the trick! The cattle will be unable to get their super-sized mega-sodas and will just magically become fit and slim due to this new rule. Never mind that while IN the FF joint they can just get 17 refills, to go with their 2 double-cheeseburgers and mega-size frys. But yep...SODA has been identified as the problem. And this new initiative will fix it. HALLELUIAH! Good gravy (mmm...gravy!)...will we NEVER learn?

So, where do things go from here? I have no idea. I personally believe the peleton isn't any cleaner now than it was before or after the Festina affair. But all the new rules and testing and such was brought on line to do just that. And the biggest problem with all this? The false positive. It's just a law of averages that in ANY system there is a mathematical number that will fall within certain ranges, and then there will be those that fall above and below that. In the terms of drug testing, that equates to false negatives and false positives. However, here you are taking about an athletes life. Even ONE false positive is too many. But somebody set the standard, realizing (even though it's not talked about) that there MUST be some false positives. It's inevitable. I guarantee it's already happened. And the system is rigged, so the athlete has pretty much no choice but to acquiesce and take the ban AND public humiliation that comes along with him forever being known as a CHEATER. THAT would be a very hard thing to do when you are truly innocent.Though I do give the anti-doping system one thing: it would appear that the numbers have been skewed so-as to allow for as few false positives as possible. I can say this as it would appear that it has been skewed SO very far that they almost never catch the true cheaters. And this being the case, is it worth it in the first place? I ,mean Lance and his boys ran rampant over the entire sport for his ENTIRE CAREER and didn't get caught, even though he was "the most heavily tested athlete on the planet" for those 7 years. Yep, I'd say that anti-doping system was working pretty flawlessly. NOT!

Sooner or later all this PED use will be a thing of the past as the next new thing will have come along making this all irrelevant. Genetic engineering. We are very close. They (whoever THEY know...the scientists, guys in labs taking prehistoric mosquito's trapped in amber and creating dinosaurs, etc) have been doing genetic manipulation of crops and such for quite some time. Making certain crops 'better' in some regards...making them more resistant to pests and insects, reducing the need for insecticide. This seems like a good idea, however we can't truly grasp what the LONG TERM effects will be. There are many opinions on the expected. Some for it, some against it. How are we to know? But I do believe that the use of artificial means to enhance the human body's capabilities will be allowed in various means sooner or later.
Right or wrong, that's debatable.

In the end I think it will come down to the mighty dollar, or Euro, or Kronur, Lira, Yen, Ruble, whatever. Until all currency has been replaced with something else and EVERYBODY has equal opportunities and there IS no money, it will rule our lives. And the money made in and from the sporting industry is just too mighty to go away quietly. People's will ALWAYS need something to take their minds off the daily drudgery of life. Going to that dead-end job, day after day. Sports is the way for the common man to escape, to root for something bigger than he is, to see PEOPLE doing super-human feats that they can only dream about. The athletes are modern day heroes to the common man. I don't see that changing anytime soon. And the allure to MAKE IT to that top echelon of any sport will be as as large as ever. There will always be those who will do ANYTHING for that chance, rules be damned. And the public loves them for it, right up until they are caught. It's quite the complex situation for the budding teenage athlete with dreams of grandeur. Is it the drugs that are ruining them, or is it just human nature? Always wanting to do better than the next guy...whether that's a test in school or out on the football field.

Certainly it's a dilemma for the current (and future) generations. If I had a kid and he was deciding what sport to get into, I'd be of mixed opinion. Would you rather he become a cyclist (knowing that it will probably require the use of PEDS at some point if he becomes really good), or maybe into one of the new EXTREME sports?  You flinging thru the air while the rider does stuff, sometimes not even holding on as it flies hundreds of feet thru the air...ever see the medical records of those 'kids'? What it TAKES to make it to the "Extreme games" level...(or whatever they are called)? Learning to do double flips on a dirt bike, into a foam pit if you can find one or afford it, or just learning QUICK (or not) if you can't. Talk about mortgaging their future...most of these young kids will be totally crippled by the time they are 40. Kind of makes PED use in cycling seem like pretty small potatoes.

We'll see, but mark my words, I believe that these advancements in medical technology will eventually be allowed into sport. It just makes sense. That's the heart of sports, and professional sports especially: to be THE BEST. Sooner or later the rules will change and we will stop hindering that process one tiny step at a time. Of course the athletes might (will?) die young (look at Sumo wrestling in Japan, or Pro-wrestling here in the US...they are killing themselves for the opportunity). But DURING their tenure in the spotlight, they are stars. Burning their wicks at both ends of the candle so to speak, but that has always been the case and most likely always will be.

As always, this is just my 2 cents worth. I"m SURE there will be many who disagree, and that's FINE and PROPER! As I said, we ALL have our opinions. For good or bad, mine doesn't really count for much in the big scheme of things. Oh well...such is the life of one of the LITTLE people.

I do believe that it's time for a beer! Thank goodness the Prohibition rule was changed! 


Friday, September 21, 2012

Fair winds and following seas Endeavour!

Well, that's what we would say to someone retiring from the Navy....though I'm not sure what's appropriate to say to a faithful space shuttle.

Today we were lucky enough that the shuttle flew over Vandenberg Air Force Base, and I had a pretty prime viewing area on the roof of our building. Quite a crowd gathered (not sure what the structural loading is for the roof, but we had a good group up there, and an even bigger group on the ground. I ventured closer to the edge than most and got some interesting looks from a few of the managers who were silly enough to stand in the parking lot (pure jealousy I'm sure, and mad that THEY didn't think to come up there too I'm pretty sure!)

Anyway, without further adieu, here are my 5 best shots as it approached, broadsided and then continued on south towards Los Angeles. These were taken with my little Lumix point and shoot...I can only dream of the quality shots I would have if I had a larger digital camera.


Gosh, it's still hard for me to believe that there will be NO MORE shuttle flights, EVER! Space Shuttle launches have been going on most of my adult life. You just expect things to continue on forever, but they don't (except taxes I mean).

I have to imagine the pilot has been having the time of his's not often you get clearance to take a 747 down LOW over all kinds of places populated with people. We were watching online during the morning as was showing live video coverage from the chase-plane in the bay area. Apparently the guy doing the video from the plane used to work at my place...and he got a job over at Edwards a while back (before I came here, as I didn't' know him)...but a lot of people were very excited that their old friend was in the chase plane. Boy, what a lucky dog to draw THAT assignment!

I know my brother Greg was somewhat miffed (probably not the correct word, but I'll be nice) as his jobsite did NOT get a flyover. You see, Greg was recruited by Rocketdyne out of college (an astronaut flew his jet into Bozeman Mt where he was going to school to take him to dinner and give him the full-court-press to come work for Rockwell (this was in late 75 or early 76 if I recall). Well, he took that job and has been with Rocketdyne pretty much ever since. They make rocket engines there. At least they made most of them for the manned space program anyway...Saturn V's (not sure about Mercury/Gemeni...I know those were based on missiles so I doubt it). Anyway...he worked with the Shuttle main engine Turbo-pump program for many years doing design and such (he is a mechanical engineer...actually both my brothers are ME's).

And speaking of my other brother (Dave), he also worked at Rocketdyne after college (also Montana State Univ. in Bozeman). He interned at Rdyne for one or 2 summers and accepted their job offer upon graduation. He stayed with them for many years, and then transferred to Space Station (where he still is today, only now he's down in Texas at Johnson Space Center). So needless to say, both my bro's have EXTENSIVE space shuttle history. Anyway, of all the places they flew to and over in the last 3 days, (including really important places to the shuttle program like Sacramento and Modesto, among others), the Rocketdyne factory in Canoga Park, CA did NOT rate a flyover. So Greg and his friends drove up into the mountains for a viewing area looking over the city area. I got an email from him, he said that his photos and viewing experience were nothing like mine (I'm sorry to say).

And that is that. It landed in LAX somewhere around 1pm today. It will be towed thru the streets to it's final resting home this weekend I believe...a children's museum somewhere in Los Angeles (also very important to the shuttle program). I know my brother Dave is also somewhat 'miffed', as Johnson Space Center (Mission Control for ALL of the United States manned space flights, taking over from Kennedy Space Center the moment each launch cleared the tower) did NOT get a retired shuttle. Important places like NYC and Los Angeles did though. And Virginia. All VERY VERY important to the program.

Thankfully, I'm much less bitter as I didn't really have anything to do with the shuttle program other than root for my brothers and revel in their success over the years. I think we rated a flyby here at Vandenberg as our runway was lengthened way back when for shuttle landings. Also one of our launch pads (Space Launch Complex 6, or SLC-6) was built and readied for shuttle launches. We had the Enterprise out here for fit-checks of the tower and umbilical in the early 80's. And one of the buildings I work at was built to house the shuttles and prep them for has the giant rolling doors and a concrete runway from the base runway right into the building to this very day, and up above the rolling doors there was a small door section that was for the tail to go thru, as it was even taller than the door.

After Challenger blew up and the successive 'no launch' period that went on for many years, it was decided to scrap co-launching shuttles from here (too expensive to maintain 2 sites), and all future launches would be from KSC. So the pad sat vacant for a long time before being converted to fly Delta IV rockets (which hae Rocketdyne engines in them btw, my brother Dave worked on that engine for a few years before he moved to Space Station). SLC-6 still has many shuttle-era items of note is the emergency escape zip-line system they made so the crew could theoretically make a hasty retreat away from the shuttle/tower, (providing they had the time anyway) was purely a feel-good thing as most likely if anything THAT bad were to happen the entire complex would be obliterated in a moment. We still have many people around who worked on that pad and have pictures of the Enterprise out there and in our buildings.

And so. The Last Space Shuttle has made it's last flight.

How utterly sad. Pathetic actually. Now we pay for the Russians to get our people to and from the Space Station. We are basically paying for THEIR manned space program, as we no longer have one of our own the first time since the early 1960's.

So today was a bitter-sweet day for me. I was quite excited that we got a flyby, but now...well, turn out the lights, the party's over.

I think I'll have a toast to the last shuttle tonight.

Bon voyage Endeavour. You will be missed.

And thanks for the memories!


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Backpacking in the Sierra's

First things first, I'm warning you now to grab a cold one and get comfy....this is a LONG one!

Last weekend my brother Greg and I made our annual fall backpacking trip. Or in this case semi-annual, as last year I didn't have enough vacation. We met up early on Thursday in the small desert town of Mojave CA, and drove from there up Hwy 395 to the tiny town of Independence for this years trek, stopping in Lone Pine at the ranger station to get our Wilderness permit as always. Leaving 395 in Independence we head west towards the looming Sierra Nevada mountains, in all their majesty.

 This is the view as we head towards the mountains. I'm always surprised heading in, as when you are driving along 395 it just seems like there's the mountains with no access whatsoever. If you peek at the far right of this photo you can barely see the road switch-backing up towards the trail-head. The Sierra Nevada mountains are just amazing to me!

 We drove up to the Onion Valley trailhead campground after getting our permit, and spent the night car-camping at around 8500 feet (to give us a brief altitude acclimation period being as we live at sea-level). Our destination: the Onion Valley and Kearsarge Pass/valley. Greg is on the left, I'm on the right. (note: this picture was actually taken at the END of our trek, as we FORGOT to get our usual starting photo. I think we look pretty good after 4 nights of sleeping on the dirt!)

 This is an attempt at an artsy photo. I just loved how the early morning sun lit-up this large pine tree (seen guarding it's tiny sibling deep in it's shade at the base).

 As always, we MUST get an expedition portrait as we officially enter the wilderness. Do we look like intrepid explorers or WHAT!

 Looking back from the trail you can see the trail-head parking area, the road switch-backing down into the Owens Valley, and FAR below the tiny town of Independence, CA. Far across the valley are MORE mountains, and on the other side of those is Death Valley National Park. There is a foot-race every year called the Badwater 1000 (I think), and it starts in Death Valley, and finishes (officially) at the Mt Whitney portal trailhead (around 8500'). Most of the runners choose to continue right past the finish line to unofficial finish which is at the highest point of the continental US, the peak of Mt Whitney (14,497' I think). Many years ago when we were hiking Mt Whitney the race was finishing and we got to briefly chat w/ some of the crews as they waited for their runner to come by (so the run goes from the lowest to the highest points in the US).

 This is the first REAL lake we come upon: Gilbert lake (I say REAL as we have already passed the tiny blob of Little-Posthole lake, which is barely big enough to be considered a lake).

 Up next is Flower lake. It was in this Inlet that I caught the first fish of the expedition: a reasonable size brook trout (which was still quite small....maybe 1/2 pound at the most).

 At Flower lake we saw these two deer, and they were most assuredly NOT afraid of us. But why would they be? There is no hunting up here, and most hikers/backpackers will only shoot them with cameras anyway. They were curious, but then went right back to grazing. The doe is the first shot, and you can barely see the spike-antlers of the young buck in the bottom shot.

And this is Heart Lake. It's off the main trail, and we had quite a traverse hike WITH full backpacks to get here. This is where we set-up our base-camp for the duration of our trip. This shot is the view you get as you come up from Flower lake. The elevation here is 10,800 feet.

 And this is the first fish caught IN Heart lake. Turns out there are only about 8 fish in the entire lake (as far as we know, they didn't seem too interested in being caught, that's for sure!) It's a nice little trout.

 The view the next morning as the lake is completely still. The reflection is just incredible!

 Now we are on the trail towards Kearsage Pass and it's lakes. This shot is looking back down at Heart lake, and if you look on the left in the outcrop in the middle/top of the "heart" in the small clearing, you can just see our tiny green tent at base-camp. This is just about as close as the main trail comes to heart lake.

 Continuing up the trail towards the pass we hiked along this 'scree' field. It's HUGE! You just don't get views like this in very many places. The beauty and desolation is amazing!

 Not far before we make the top of the pass is Big Pothole lake. Behind it you can see the massive crags of the Sierra's as we near 12,000 feet. 

  Yours truly at the top of Kearsarge Pass, (elevation 11,800 feet). This view shows the Kearsarge lakes on the left, and Bullfrog lake on the right.

 Looking down the rocky trail as it switch-backs down from the pass. You can see a hiker far below us to the left.

 Pack-mule trains are fairly common in the Sierras, as they take paying customers deep into the mountains with huge amounts of gear. We are actually in Kings Canyon National Park now, and have been from the moment we went over the pass. Here you see them working their way up the switchbacks.

 At the base of the first Kearsarge lake we see the robber of the daytime: a high Sierra marmot. They are quite large (about the size of a small dog..probably around 10 pounds) and have no fear: they will rob your backpack/camp right before your very eyes. THEY are why you need to keep your food put away in bear-cans or bear-hangs at all times. Luckily we didn't see ANY robbers at our base-camp, as I guess people don't stay there very often and there's just not much to eat. We also didn't see any bears OR signs.

 Greg fishing ahead of me on Kearsarge lake. Yep...just another high Sierra beautiful lake. Ho-hum.

 Looking back at the Kearsarge Pass, which is near the right edge of the picture (near the right end of the picture). You can see the long trail heading to the pass.

 Upper Kearsarge lake. It was here that Greg started catching fish like a madman. He literally caught two for every one of mine (he ended up with at least 12 at THIS lake). Of course, all our fish here are pretty tiny, and we have skrunched down the barbs on our hooks so we can take the fish off easier without hurting them, as we only do catch and release.

 THIS is a tiny Golden Trout, can't remember which of the lakes he was caught in. I just wanted a pic of one.

 This is another of my 'artsy' photos. It's a Bristlecone pine, elevation 11,000 feet. They only live at high elevations, and the nastier the terrain it roots in, the longer they live. This one is STILL alive, as if you look close it still has some green in the back/middle area. The reputed oldest living (non-clonal) thing on the planet is a large Bristlecone Pine just north and across the valley on White Mountain called the "Methuselah tree". It's age has been found to be 4844-4845 years old (as they've done a core-sample for verification). They don't tell you WHICH tree it is on the trail (we've hiked it, and you can guess but aren't sure)...because if they did, some idiot would burn or cut it down.

 Another artsy pic...this one is a totally dead Bristlecone. Even after they die, they take FOREVER to decay being as they grow SO very slowly that the wood in insanely dense (the rings have to be counted with a microscope). Even when the trees finally fall or branches break off, the wood just lies there on top of the dirt decade after decade.

 Here you see first view of Charlotte Lake. We hiked over here on Sunday and on THIS day I was the one on fire catching fish. I quit counting at around 15, and it was AWESOME! (it was also my 52nd birthday, so I guess that's a good day to have the golden-fishing rod!) Somewhere near here is Charlotte Dome, a large rock dome that climbers pack in just to climb. We met 2 separate groups during our hike that were headed here to climb it.

 Heading south on the John Muir Trail from Charlotte Lake towards Mt Whitney (only about 4 or 5 backpacking days away if we were so inclined). The JMT heads thru the valley to the left. Isn't the terrain back here just SPECTACULAR?

And here we have our "all packed up and ready to head home" picture at Heart Lake on Monday morning. It was a GREAT trip and I can't hardly wait to do it again!

Here I give you one final look: a panorama of the Kearsage valley taken from the pass. 
Beautiful, just BEAUTIFUL!

I apologize that it took so long to get this was REALLY busy at work last week. We had a successful spacecraft launch on Thursday, and I was on the hook for all our equipment at the satellite control rooms (meaning I spent a 12 hour day playing Maytag repairman hovering in the area "on call" in case something broke).

And alas, summer is once again in the history books, and fall is here. School is back in session. Hang onto your hats...Christmas is coming FAST!


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

In the interests of fair sports

I've thought about this subject off and on over recent years, and with the current 'Lance' situation, it's an even more post-worthy topic.

A big part of why Travis Tygart/ USADA  went after Lance is they felt he had an unfair advantage over his competitors due to his (alleged) doping. I say alleged because I've never personally been shown the EVIDENCE (of which it would appear to be a lot). I am privy to the plethora of 'stuff' that makes it's way to the internet and/or the news channels, and/or magazines. However, I am loathe to "convict" because I have no way of determining which of this information is true and which is not. I realize that almost EVERYONE has an agenda of some sort. I do, you do, pretty much EVERYBODY does. And just because someone gives an interview or writes a book doesn't mean all the info provided is on the up and up.

For instance, I'll give you this link to an article from Outside Magazine (thanks Greg).

Outside Magazine article about life with Lance

It's a very damning article by a seemingly reputable person. However after reading this article (grab yourself a cold's like 11 pages!), I can't say 100% that this person doesn't have an agenda of his own (ie: he's PISSED at Lance and wants to hurt him). IF all the info is true, I can't blame him...I'd be QUITE pissed too. However, this is one person's "story" and as I do I KNOW it's true? Answer: I don't. There's just now way I can. However, I guess the most damming of all is the number of people stepping forward with 'evidence' (I don't call it evidence unless the person SAW something IN PERSON....having someone say that someone else told them they saw something isn't the same thing).

ANYWAY....this is all just a diversion from the original intent of today's post. I had a nice long ride on Saturday with Greg, Steve and Paul (we climbed a nice HC hill down in Santa Barbara: Gibraltar Rd, and logged 70 miles and almost 7000' of climbing) I had a nice long time during the 7 mile climb to ponder fairness in sports, and what that really means to me.

Doping in sports does indeed create unfairness. Those who dope have an advantage over those who don't. But even in this black and white distinction (dopers/non-dopers) there are degrees. Those who dope with EPO/CERA, HGH and Testesterone have an advantage over those who can only get/afford EPO, or Testosterone, or HGH. So even among dopers there is a disparity.

And the biggest problem (which everyone must admit is true, as it's the basis for the current dilemma in sports): how to tell the dopers from the non-dopers? IF Lance and team are guilty of everything that they are accused of, then the anti-doping system is a total waste of money. I've heard over and over that Lance won his 7 TDF's during the dirtiest time in cycling history. This may or may not be true...IF it is, then as I said, the ENTIRE anti-doping system should be replaced with something else...because what they currently have isn't working very well. And as for those getting caught: every now and then catching ONE cheat among an entire peleton of cheaters, would that person feel? TICKED OFF, that's how. IF everybody really is doping and he gets caught, well...that's just not fair. conclusion: the system we currently have isn't fair.

And so, now you are probably wondering, "gee can we fix this?" Well, you're in luck, because during I have a plan!

First off, I must address the fact that there are MANY MANY levels of unfairness in sports. But I'll stick with cycling for now....the rest will have to wait until after I've fixed PRO cycling. So. As I was saying, multitudes of unfairness exists in the current system. Doping. Equipment. Clothing. Training. Food. Lodging. I'll tackle all these for starters.

I've already discussed the problems with different levels of doping causing unfairness. The same can be said with the equipment. If one guy gets a better bike than another, then he has an unfair advantage. Same with cycling clothes. There are now special suits that reduce the power required to do the same speed by about 30 watts. THIS is entirely unfair. Then we have the varying levels/intensities of training. Why should one guy get better coaching/harder/longer workouts than another? THIS is unfair. How on earth can the couch-potato-cyclist be expected to compete on a level playing field with the super-motivated work-out-a-holics? HE CAN'T and this is patently unfair! Then there's food. If one guy has a special cook and is getting better food than another, UNFAIR!! TOTALLY AND COMPLETELY UNFAIR! And what about lodging...maybe one guy gets a sleep-number bed and the next guy is on a stinking cot in the hallway, or even worse, in a sleeping bag on the floor! NOT FAIR by any means!

But thankfully I've got the answers to rectify all this unfairness. And it's quite easy, and will save TONS of money for ALL the teams, and all the sponsors, and will give us the fans unequivocally fair cycling! (at least until we have genetic manipulation of the human body making one person a genetically better athlete than another...which I will address in a future post about using only Robots for all sports).

And so...yes, I've been stalling. Here then is MY PLAN!

You see, I'm retired military, and the answer was just as simple as looking back to when I was 18 years old. What is the answer I am speaking of? FULL MILITARY CONDITIONS for ALL pro cyclists. It's the only way. None of this hotels and fancy restaurants and special cooks and such...that creates unfairness. ALL the aspiring cyclists who desire to be a pro will live under ONE roof. YEAR ROUND, for as long as they are a pro. OPEN BAY BARRACKS. It was good enough for me, and good enough for pretty much ALL the young military folk for their first year or so, so why not the pro cyclists? We volunteer to be in the military, and the cyclist volunteer to be a pro there you have it.

In this open bay barracks, each person gets a bunk and a locker. Both of which are subject to inspection at any moment. And I mean TOTAL and complete inspection, up to and including a complete tossing of 'your stuff'. Yes, I've had this happen to me, and I would imagine everybody who has done any time in the military has suffered the same. And we lived. SO...with this policy, every pro cyclist will get the same amount of sleep, in the same exact crappy bunk-beds with the same crappy chicken-feather pillows, with the same crappy and TOO DAMN SMALL gray wool blankets and the same not very soft at all crappy sheets.

For training, the entire plethora of pro cyclists will go out on the exact same training rides, weight-room workouts, etc etc. No disparity here....NOW we will be able to see when the cream rises to the top! Everybody will be issued their cycling kits, all EXACTLY the same, and I mean even the same colors. You see, if one guy gets a predominantly black kit and another guy gets predominantly white kit, on a hot sunny day the guy in black will be ROASTING. UNFAIR! UNFAIR! So there...same kit. And along with the kits, they will all ride the EXACT same bikes! (after a few years of this style we will be able to start weeding out the taller and shorter riders, and in just a decade or so every rider will be the same height/weight so they can all ride the same frame size, thus eliminating any unfairness due to heavier and less aerodynamic larger-size frames).

They will ALL eat at the same chow hall, getting the EXACT same CRAPPY food (powdered scrambled eggs come to mind here...ICK!) There will be reveille and taps every day, so that everybody gets the same amount of sleep.

There will be mandatory drug testing every day for every cyclist, and IF someone is ever caught they will be keel-hauled (I am a Navy guy after all). We'll have to work on what ship to use, and maybe it will be just a monthly trip around some bay or such, just long enough to run the unlucky DOPER(s) down the length of the keel. IF he lives, he's welcomed back into the fold free and clear. We'll hold no grudges in this new fair cycling of mine. Besides, I am betting IF anybody were to survive a keel-hauling, they would NEVER do whatever it was that got them keel-hauled in the first place ever again. Probably wouldn't even have to test that guy...he'd be the squeakiest-clean rider EVER for the rest of his life! And as a side benefit...after WATCHING someone be keel-hauled, I am betting the entire peleton would remain voluntarily squeaky clean out of plain fear.

Of course, using my new ALL's FAIR system the entire pro peleton will likely ride about the same speed/distance that I currently do...but system is perfect. You want fairness in cycling? Well, there's gonna be some compromises.

After a year or so of this system, there will likely be no more TV coverage as they will all SUCK so bad that nobody would pay a nickel to watch them, and then they will no longer be racing for money, but for simple room and board, (and the love of the sport). And thus, they won't be able to AFFORD any doping products anymore, and then the problem is well and truly solved.

And this will cost far less than the current doping system, due to the fact that this entire system will take place on older military bases which have tons of space for training, and buildings just aching to be used. And all the money saved can then be put into our Federal Congressional retirement plan, as they just don't get enough money after serving only a single term. you know, it's a hard job getting nothing done day after day and then somehow telling your constituents how great you did and that's why you should be re-elected ( kind'a political on you for a moment).

So. There you have it. You want cycling cleaned up? This will do the trick, I GUARANTEE it!

You're welcome!