Tuesday, September 27, 2016

2016 Tour of the Alps: Niederolang to Winklern

We were riding as hard as we could. "5 minutes left!" I told Arturo. Down below us, the valley was silent. In 5 minutes, the road below us would open up and we would hear the sound of motorcycles and cars racing up the single-lane, one way road.

Monday, September 26, 2016

PSA: Android External Storage Adoption is not what you think it is

I got a little fed-up of managing app storage on my Moto G3. My storage use was perpetually at around 1GB free, which is not a big deal, but the OS would constantly remind me to clean up. I noticed that Marshmallow allowed you to "adopt" a microSD card as internal storage. That seemed like it would be the ultimate solution, right?

Wrong. It turns out that even after "adopting" a microSD card as internal storage, there are still several issues:
  • Not all apps could be moved to the SD card, so you'll end up managing storage manually anyway!
  • Google Play Movies refuses to download video (yes, purchased videos) into the now adopted "internal storage." So you end up losing functionality!
  • The conversion slows down all apps, not just the apps that move to the SD card. I have no idea why this is, but my guess is that swap, etc gets moved to the SD card. (I was using a UHS-1 card, so my card wasn't the bottleneck, though conceivably, microSD card readers in relatively cheap Android phones might simply not be that fast!)
There's really no point to adopted storage as Google has implemented it. What is annoying is that each app manages SD cards differently, so you end up with a mish-mash of different approaches in each app.

I really wonder if the Google PMs who run Android actually use Android phones, or whether they all use iPhones and only carry an Android phone only for appearances sake.

Friday, September 23, 2016

2016 Tour of the Alps: Alba to Niederolang

"I don't believe it!" I cried. But there it was: the sign clearly indicated "Furkelpass", despite the lack of climbing chevrons on our map. I looked up the pass elevation: 1789m, so about 800m of climbing. We'd already climbed 2 passes and fought a nasty headwind all the way to this point. "I'm OK with riding to Bruneck." said Arturo. I stared at the map. Two nasty tunnels were on the flat route to Bruneck. I couldn't bring myself to consider it. "We don't need a rest day," I said. "Getting to the hotel too early would just leave us with nothing to do. Let's climb."

Thursday, September 22, 2016

2016 Tour of the Alps: Brez to Alba

I'd been riding in the dark for 20 minutes. I still couldn't see the end of the tunnel. The air was dark, musty, and even the smallest car sounded like a giant truck. I cursed myself for picking the route, but we were committed. Then I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. My elation lasted all of 2 minutes when I saw that 50m past the end of the tunnel was the start of another tunnel!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

2016 Tour of the Alps: Bormio to Brez

The morning looked gorgeous, with fresh snow all around outside the hotel window. It was gorgeous and I had slept well. I was motivated to ride! Our first order of business was to lubricate the chains on our bikes, which had rusted overnight. I used up all my lube, and asked the hotel owner (a cyclist himself) if he had any to spare, he said, "No, but if you go down to the mechanic 3 houses down he'll help you." Sure enough, the car mechanic had a whole spray can of lubricant which he generously let us use, and I even sprayed some into my syringe of oil to recharge it.
Gavia has always been a gorgeous climb, but with fresh snow around us it was nothing short of spectacular. I made it up to Santa Catarina at speed, and had time to stop in a grocery store to buy chocolate and bananas, and ate some bananas before Arturo and Pengtoh showed up. I handed them chocolate and said I'd wait for them at the top.

They were both similarly motivated, however, and caught me as the climb came out of the treeline. This was all good, as the spectacular scenery around us gave us nothing but beautiful pictures. Most cyclists were based out of Bormio, since Bormio had multiple loops you could do in the area. Many would just do one climb a day. Despite that, they were all carrying backpacks approximately the size of our saddlebags! Granted, most of them looked like they were filled with lightweight down jackets rather than touring gear, but I can't imagine wanting to carry something on my back when I can have the bike carry it!
Surprisingly enough, the low clouds had lifted and the sun had come out by the time we reached the summit. I showed Pengtoh the poster of Jobst Brandt climbing the Gavia in the 1960s when it was an unpaved road at Rifugio Bonetta, and then we proceeded to descend.
This was my first time riding down the Gavia in excellent weather and dry roads, and I found myself stopping at various corners to capture action shots of my companions bombing down the pass. In many places the pass hits 16% grade making some of the experience more like sky-diving than like cycling. At the bottom, we ate at the same pizza stand that we ate in 2014, and then proceeded to bypass Ponte de Legno to climb Passo Tonale.

Passo Tonale is an easy climb, with nice views of the valley behind us. It's only at the top that the ugly character of the pass is revealed: the place is a ski resort that spares no effort to look pretty.
Once on the top of Tonale pass, there's really only one direction to go: down. I could see storm clouds in front of us, and so told Arturo and Pengtoh to look for the bike path entrance on the left in Piano. The descent is fast with a smooth road, almost no braking needed. But once past a few galleries I noticed that rain drops had gone from being wet to being painful, which meant that I'd encountered some hail. Rather than stop and wait I pressed on, hoping that I could punch through any rain and come out on the other side into better weather.
Italian drivers are misery on roads like SS42. Like their American counter-parts, they don't give you much room to pass, and seem to delight in passing you with as few inches of distance between their fender and your handlebars as possible. Statistically, they're no worse than American drivers, but that's no comfort whatsoever when you've been used to a week of cycling with Swiss drivers, and the 25th driver who buzzes you is even more annoying than than the 15th.
Fortunately, just as I was getting fed up, I saw the road sign for Piano and pulled over to the left side of the road to wait for the others. They were just as relieved to find the bike path as I did, though upon descending to th e bike path I realized that it actually started earlier, in the village of Mezzana, which I should have a look at in the future.
We zipped along at a good clip along the bike path, but by the time we got to Tozzaga, Pengtoh looked a little ragged. "I'd like to stop and find a hotel." Arturo didn't look any better, but he was game for more. "Well, I'd like to make it to Fondo." "I hate Fondo," said Arturo. "Why?" "Last time we stayed there the food was no good and the lodging was nothing special. I don't know why you like that place." I thought about it. "Hm.. you're right. We'll look for a place that's better, then. Let's stop for ice cream next place we see."
We made it back onto the main road, and road past the Lago di Santa Giustina, part of the apple-growing district in Italy, with the smell of Apple blossoms everywhere, and signs telling you (in Italian) which Apples were being grown. It wasn't until we got to Cagno that we found a hotel with a Veranda and had Gelato. "This is great!" declared Pengtoh, "Now I'm ready to go to Fondo!"
We pulled out our smart phones and looked for places with great food. The one place that stood out was Locanda Alpina in Brez. It wasn't cheap, but the reviews were great, and I was asking my friends to do more than 100km with 2 major passes that day, so off we went. The ride took longer than I expected, since Cagno was basically at the bottom of the hill, but we arrived there just at about the same time the owner of the hotel showed up.
He showed us the place and gave us locally grown apples, which were delicious. The dinner was indeed excellent. We started making plans. "I think I should just take the train to Innsbruck tomorrow from Bolzano," said Pengtoh. "Do you really need 2 days in Innsbruck?" "Wait, what day is today?" "Today is Thursday the 14th." "Oh. I thought for some reason that today was Friday the 15th. In that case, I can ride to Canazei with you folks tomorrow, and head over Passo Sella to Ponte Gardena on Saturday to catch the train to Innsbruck." It's a sure sign that you're having a good vacation when you start forgetting which day it is!
Since the next day was Friday, we knew it was prudent to pre-book lodging. We booked Hotel Aurora in Alba. Saturday was more of a problem. The plan was to head over to Cortina D'Ampezzo, but that place was expensive! I looked at the map and realized that my goal was to actually head over Staller pass into Austria, and there was a more direct way to do it which would enable us to ride with Pengtoh over Sella pass. So we ended up booking Hotel Scherer in Niederolang. I hate booking places two days in advanced because you never know what could happen in 2 days, but I figured that with the decent weather forecast and by being a little bit more conservative with the distances we should easily be able to make both hotels.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

2016 Tour of the Alps: Schluderns to Bormio

My mouth was trembling, my body was shivering, and behind a glass door, I knew there was warmth. But cruelly, the sign on the door said, "Open at 2:00pm." It was only 5 minutes away, but it was going to be a long wait.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Review: The Just City

I got The Just City as a giveaway as part of the promotion for Jo Walton's The Philosopher Kings, which is the next book of the trilogy. If you've read Among Others, I think you'll have a feel for what Jo Walton likes, and what she doesn't do.

Walton doesn't do action. Don't expect action sequences or blockbuster style events. What Walton does great is dialogue, discussion, and references to great works.In this case, that great work is Plato's The Republic. I've never read the book, but you don't need to to enjoy "The Just City."

The premise of the book is that two gods, Apollo and Athena have decided to run an experiment to see whether The Republic could actually have worked as a utopia. To do so, they found a site (I'm not spoiling anything by telling you that it's Atlantis) and seeded it with philosophers from all across time, who are then tasked with building The Republic with a new generation of 10-year olds who are brought over and severed from their previous lives.

Walton does a great job of dealing with all the typical objections. For instance, if a group consisting of no one other than philosophers were to try to bring up civilization, how would anyone eat? Or have buildings? Or do anything even close to subsist?

Then we get the protagonists who are very human characters trying to make something out of Plato's book work. All the politics and of course, there're always people who want The Republic to fail.

In any case, the book is full of dialogue (what do you expect?), exploration of theory vs practicality, and what it means to be a philosopher King. It's major flaw is that the ending is abrupt and doesn't really make a lot of sense --- Walton doesn't really prepare the groundwork for the denouement that she provides, and it rings a bit false.

While it's nowhere near the level of the Hugo winning Among Others, I still found myself reading this book with joy, and so recommend it. I'm not sure I'd bother picking up the sequel because of my unhappiness with the denouement, but maybe that will fade with time.