Friday, 20 November 2015

oink! oink!

In the wake of the indiscriminate atrocities carried out by murderous thugs in Paris a week ago, and the deliberate destruction of a Russian airliner in flight a few days before that, most people will now be aware of the organization that has claimed responsibility. However, I imagine that most people will be confused by the sheer number of different names that have been used to refer to that organization, so here is a brief summary.

The group calls itself khilāfa, or caliphate, which actually means that it claims spiritual and political leadership of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, a claim that the vast majority of those 1.6 billion rightly reject. In more conventional language, it is the Islamic State, or IS, which former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott refused to acknowledge on the grounds that it isn’t a state. The BBC always refers to the so-called Islamic State, which is a typically poor choice of words by the so-called guardian of the English language. If we were to go down that road, surely the correct formulation is self-styled Islamic State.

Then we have those confusing acronyms ISIS and ISIL. There aren’t many people now who would recognize the former as a reference to the Egyptian goddess of wisdom, so it does appear to make sense to describe it as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but it still begs the question of whether a gang of psychopaths deserves to be called a state. As for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, my first reaction would be to enquire whether anyone, if asked, would be able to point to the Levant on a map. And it does make me wonder, given the man’s apparent intelligence, whether US president Barack Obama has any idea what is going on when he refers to these psychotic murderers as ISIL.

On the other hand, Obama’s secretary of state, John Kerry, does get my wholehearted approval for constantly referring to these fanatics as Daesh, or DAIISH, which is an acronym for ‘al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi Iraq wa al-Sham’. The main reason why this a good tag for a bunch of ill-educated barbarians is that the group itself doesn’t like it. Why? Because it sounds like dahes, which in Arabic means ‘one who sows discord’. For reasons that must be obvious, these nameless perverts have banned its use in the areas they control.

It seems to me that what is needed is a name that reflects the ideology of the group but doesn’t provide them with any credibility, and if you’ve read thus far, you will guess, correctly, that I have a suggestion. My proposed name reflects two things: the totally irrational notion in Islam that pigs are ‘unclean’ animals, and the obsession with sex and bodily functions that typifies religious zealots. This is the term that I will henceforward use to describe the delinquent hooligans who are currently terrorizing the Middle East:
Psychotic Islamic State Swine
…which allows me to say, without even attempting to be ironic: PISS off, you fucking schweinhunds.

Leader of the pack, Big Chief Running Dog.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

anniversary faults

I first heard about blogs and blogging in 2007 or 2008, and I thought at the time that I’d like to try. But where to begin? And, more importantly, how? Adverts from Blogspot had been appearing on my Gmail page, but when I checked one out, I soon discovered that I would have to pay to participate. I lost interest immediately.

Then, towards the end of 2009, I received an email from an old school friend telling me that he’d just started a blog, and, knowing my interest in writing, suggesting that I do so too. Blogspot had been taken over by Google by this time, and it was now free. Why not, I thought. It might provide an incentive to do some serious writing.

My first post on this blog appeared precisely six years ago today and was a piece I’d written for the forum on Richard Dawkins’ website, where the audience of rabid atheists failed utterly to realize that far from advocating the existence of God, I was making a serious environmental point. Hardly anyone has read it.

I persevered though, and I managed to post sixty-nine items in the first six months. I must have been doing something right, because more and more people were signing up to follow my blog, and most posts were attracting quite a few comments. Unfortunately, I made a big mistake here: it didn’t occur to me that perhaps I should be replying to these comments, although in my defence I often commented on other people’s blogs, yet I never went back to see whether the blogger in question had posted a reply.

While I’d be the first to admit that most of my posts have been fairly trivial, there are a handful that I’m pleased to have written and would not have written without the ability to publish them somewhere, even if that somewhere is only this blog. Here are five essays that I think constitute what my son Tristan used to call ‘a good read’ and that I hope you will check out if you’ve not already done so:

Explanations—I consider this to be my best post. In it, I discuss the four ways in which natural phenomena can be explained (religion, philosophy, science, art).

Comparative Advantage—This is my assessment of whether India or China will become the hegemonic power when the United States eventually slips from this position.

I, Robot—If you think building a robot that replicates all the functions of a human being is just around the corner, then you need to read this. Such a task is far harder than you think.

Future Imperfect—I’m pessimistic about the future of the human race, and here’s why.

Black Music of the 1960s—All my posts about popular music have been well received, but this is the one that attracted the most enthusiastic response.

Overall, my blog has changed significantly since I started it. Until the accident that left me with a badly damaged knee, the emphasis was on what I think, but since then the focus has been on what I do. I’d like to start reversing this trend, and I do have some idea of what I want to write about in the coming months, but it would be unwise of me to be more specific at this stage.

Part of the reason for this reluctance is the way the blogging environment has changed in the past few years. Or is it simply that this blog is no longer worth reading? Overall, my average number of views per post has dropped sharply since 2013. Very few of my posts are commented on nowadays, and nobody signs up as a follower. I don’t mind the latter, because I find the idea of having followers rather embarrassing, but I do miss the comments, which I always reply to now. I do get the message though: blogs are passé. The social media world has moved on, and the emphasis is on microblogging sites like Twitter, which despite its self-styled sobriquet has nothing to do with blogging. People just think it does.

Finally, I’ve been looking through the photos I’ve taken in the past six years but not used on the blog, and I’ve selected two: a serious contender for the ugliest building in the world (or is it the blast from the muzzle of a cannon?); and a brazier in which paper money can be burned (or is it a strange metallic creature with a funny hat?). Both were taken in Macau in 2010.


Friday, 13 November 2015

meeting myself coming back

When I devised my personal difficulty classification for hills a couple of years ago, it all seemed perfectly logical. The climbs over Saddle Pass on the journey to the west were the hardest in the area and were therefore category 1 in both directions. The climbs over the ridge between San Tin Barracks and Tam Mei Barracks, again in both directions, were quite stiff but were nowhere near as steep and were thus category 2. Every other hill was either category 3 or was too easy to bother classifying (good examples of the latter are the exit ramps from underground cycle track interchanges, where many local cyclists, perhaps even a majority, get off and push).

Regular readers will know that I can never resist the opportunity to find out where a road, track or path leads, even though in most cases the answer is: nowhere. However, last winter I found myself on Lau Shui Heung Road, which is a fairly quiet lane that leads from the busy artery of Sha Tau Kok Road to the Pat Sin Leng Country Park. Of course, I didn’t know this at the time. I was just following the road.

Eventually, I reached a bend in the road that coincided with a short but quite steep hill. However, the road levelled out, so I failed to heed the warning, and when within 100m the route began to climb alarmingly, I went at the hill with rather more enthusiasm than discretion given that I couldn’t see the top. I can handle all the climbs mentioned above on my middle chainring, but by the time I realized that I would need the small chainring this time, I’d run out of steam and needed a rest before continuing. That’s buggered my classification system, I remember thinking at the time.

Needless to say, though, I was back soon afterwards to prove to myself that I could do this hill in one go, and I’ve just been back for my first go of this winter. It doesn’t get any easier, but knowing what to expect does make a difference. And there is a reward for all the hard work. From the top of the climb, there is a long descent into the country park on which I probably clock 60km/hr, although at that speed I don’t dare take my eyes off the road to check.

But there is one slight problem. This road is a dead end, so it is necessary to go back the way you came. However, although the climb in the opposite direction is quite long, it is merely category 1. And I stopped to take a few photos of the main hill on the way down, so that anyone who fancies a challenge will know what to expect, or what to avoid.

As the first picture suggests, it is fatally easy to underrate what lies ahead. This section doesn’t look too bad—the gradient is probably only about 15 percent—which explains my original bull-in-a-china-shop approach.


The next picture looks down the initial section. The lamp-post seen in the first picture is the same as the one visible in the distance in this photo.


The next picture was taken from the same place as the previous photo but is looking uphill. You have to admire the vindictive sense of humour of someone who paints the word ‘SLOW’ on the road and erects a sign saying ‘REDUCE SPEED NOW’, although of course both are aimed at motor traffic. The gradient is now closer to 20 percent.


The following photo was taken from where the road disappears round the bend to the right in the previous picture and shows the approach to the only hairpin bend on the ascent. This is where I ran out of steam on my first attempt.


…and this is a view of that hairpin from above:


The hairpin is easily the steepest part of the ascent, even if an absence of traffic allows you to swing out wide to the right, but it doesn’t relent much between here and the top. The last photo, taken from the same vantage point as the previous one, is a view of this final section of the climb. Obviously, I have no inclination to ‘reduce speed now’, but by this point I’m more than happy that I still have a couple of gears in reserve.


I think I’ll find somewhere flat to cycle tomorrow.

Monday, 9 November 2015

fish pond alley

If you’ve been following the saga of the journey to the west, you will already be aware that after working out the initial route, I set about looking for improvements. The route, which Paula and I do every Saturday, is essentially an out and back rather than a circuit, and all subsequent additions to the route have been at points where it turned out to be possible to find a different way on the return journey.

However, with the addition of the Tam Mei loop a year ago, I did think that there was no further room for improvement. I was wrong. During my initial explorations, I followed the road shown in the following photograph, but because it was a dead end, there didn’t seem to be much point in following it, given that the mangroves on the left are so dense that there is no view of the river.


If you look closely at the photo, you will see that there is what appears to be a turn-off on the right, and last week I decided to investigate. The area where this turn leads, south of Fairview Park, has nothing but fish ponds, but there are good tracks that can be followed between the ponds, and there is next to no traffic, so the scenery can be appreciated in a relaxed and casual way without the stress of idiot car drivers who seem intent on killing any cyclist they happen to encounter. I think that the following sequence of photographs adequately conveys the atmosphere.







Now I do think that there is no room for further improvement to the route, but at 68km, with hills in both directions that offer gradients of 30 percent, the journey to the west is more than good enough for any average cyclist looking for a real challenge.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

outrageous

Whenever I return to Hong Kong after spending the summer in my home town in the UK, I look for things that have changed during my absence. There is always something. This year, there has been one change that I find particularly annoying, which I will come to in a moment.

There have been several other changes along the route of what I’ve called ‘the journey to the west’. Unsurprisingly, some of these have been land clearances, either for house building or for use as quasi-industrial sites, although I won’t know which is which until the clearances have been completed (the location is never a reliable clue). Then, during the passage through San Tin Barracks, I quickly became aware that all the speed bumps had been changed. They are now impossible to avoid, even on a bike—no gaps at the sides—and they are of an awkward design that cannot be negotiated sufficiently slowly to avoid an uncomfortable jolt.

There was also a change that I knew about in advance, because Paula had sent me the following photo while I was away:


Compare this with the equivalent photos in Journey to the West: Part 4. The second ‘dodgy bridge’ along the ‘snake path’ has been blocked off by this much larger bridge, which crosses the stream, but ramps have been provided up and back down. The problem is that the down ramp runs directly onto the ‘ridge of death’, from where Paula’s photo was taken. I have no complaints though, because it all remains a test of your bike-handling skills.

The changes that I’ve described so far are all trivial and merit no further comment, but there is one change that has got right up my nose. If you refer again to Part 4, you will note what I described as the ‘yellow brick road’. Here is a photo of Paula approaching the end of this road that I took a few days ago:


At the very end of this road, on my first ride out west after my return, I was confronted by two clearly official road signs:


The text below the signs prohibiting cycling access probably isn’t legible in this photo, so here is what it says:
Except with the consent of the authority, no person (including any mountain bike permit holder) is allowed to bring any vehicle, motorcycle or bicycle into this area. Offenders will be prosecuted.
Country and Marine Parks Authority
If you’ve read Saturday Morning Adventure, you will know that I encountered a similar problem in the Sai Kung East Country Park a couple of years ago. When I requested permission from the CMPA to ride along a Water Supplies Department access road–a road that I’d probably ridden along more than a hundred times previously without any problems—it was suggested that I hire a taxi to transport my bike. As if a taxi is less of an obstruction on a narrow road than a bike!

Now the area beyond the road signs does contain a large number of graves, and I’ve heard that irresponsible, disrespectful behaviour by cyclists, who have been using graves as obstacles to ride over, is behind this move to ban access. And if we’re talking about nuisance in this area, what about its popularity with the operators of radio-controlled model aircraft? Especially given that in many instances, ‘controlled’ is a mere courtesy description.

However, after the frankly ludicrous response that I received last time from the CMPA, I’m not prepared to put up with any more bullshit. I’ve ridden this way scores of times since I first explored the area, and I don’t go anywhere near any graves. There is a not very obvious through route, which is what I follow, and I will continue to do so.

And here’s a message for the authority: this area is not in a country park, so it does not come under your jurisdiction. And country park wardens do not have powers of arrest, so any attempt to restrain me physically will be a criminal offence. And I have another message, which is actually a quote from one of my favourite Australians, the redoubtable Barry McKenzie:
Up yours for the rent, sport!