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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Break The Rules

The organizers of the Solar Challenge vehicle race stretching across the USA into Canada should have opened up and relaxed the rules of the road. Another moment came Tuesday evening when, at the 11th hour, the team compiled an emergency 55-page appeal to dispute 40 minutes of penalties for alleged speeding violations. In particular, the penalties assigned to the winner of the race, U of Michigan, clearly made them the loser (ask any triathlete about the finality of penalties) to the ultimately second-place golden gopher U of M squad. According to the cliche, "rules are rules" -- unless, of course, someone whines and gets their way. However, in real life, we will have to take every conceivable shortcut to minimize our energy usage while trying to get from Point A to Point B as quickly and efficiently as possible. In this mode, Michigan clearly wins and the budding Minnesota engineers lose by playing by the rules and not going over the speed limit.

The Twin Cities paper shows homerism in these matters:
Most teams at national races are happy to show off their cars to one another. The University of Michigan, according to the Minnesotans, surrounds its parked car with police tape. All teams tend to guard the efficiency test ratings of their solar arrays, for competitive purposes, and view with suspicion any rumored numbers coming from other schools.

"You hear things, but they might just be trying to intimidate us," Pat O'Connor says of Michigan's technology.

"We can't even be sure what kind of efficiency we're getting," says Ellie Field, who designed Minnesota's array.

Minnesota's students are quick to contrast their no-outsourcing mantra with that of their rivals in Michigan, whose reported $1.8 million budget bought a satellite dish and state-of-the-art weather-trackers and allowed the team to farm out the production of most parts to Detroit automakers. The Minnesotans, who took to referring to Michigan's team as GM, spent about $325,000 on the car and the race.

"You'll see a lot less duct tape on our car than almost everybody's,"; Andrews says. "But you talk to Michigan, you don't get the feeling they know their parts enough to have built them. They're still a good group of guys."
Well, boo effin' hoo. I find the race fascinating only if every team goes all out and uses every technological trick up their sleeve and treats rules like dirt -- excepting the golden rule of not using any fossil fuel.

By the same token, I could care less if the steroid enhancements rumored about Lance Armstrong proved true. My brother, who watched Lance with a passion to the end, almost beat cancer with the help of powerful steroidal drugs. Yes, I know that anabolic steroids contribute to all sorts of wicked side effects, ranging from moodiness to cardiac problems, but we should not immediately dismiss the idea of veritable human energy machines travelling from Point A to Point B with the same efficiency as the solar cars. Kudos to you Lance, I agree with Ezra, drugs or not.

For a classic experiment in participatory journalism, you must read the article by Stuart Stevens called Drug Test originally published by Outside Magazine a few years ago. Stevens, who happened to have many years of experience in endurance RAAM-like bicycle events, decided to try out for himself how a cocktail of preformance-enhancing drugs improved his edge (and edginess).
A MONTH LATER, when I added a basic anabolic steroid to the mix, I felt like I'd grabbed on to a car moving at 60 miles an hour. The effect was powerful, fast, and difficult to modulate.

Dr. Jones gave me a steroids tutorial over lunch one day, at a Middle Eastern place on Ventura Boulevard. He explained how "steroids" is a broad term for various synthetic substances related to the male sex hormones, and that they promote the growth of skeletal muscle and the development of male sexual traits. Though each steroid has different effects, they generally increase the amount of nitrogen in the body, which in turn stimulates protein synthesis.

All of which is a fancy way of saying that steroids help the body create muscle. They're used medically to treat everything from anemia to leukemia to AIDS, helping patients build strength.
Now, remember that Stevens happens to lead quite a varied lifestyle, having served as GW Bush's long-time debate coach as well as having quite a reputation as a outdoor travel writer (coincidentally, my brother happened to cross Stevens' path in the Sahara as Stevens and his entourage gathered first-hand research for his Africa travelogue Malaria Dreams while he hitch-hiked north after completing Peace Corps/Malaria Acquisition duty). So I don't ultimately know what to make of Stevens veracity in any of these matters. It would not surprise me if Stevens got Bush going on his mountain bike escapades by telling DC wheel-man Bush some tall tales.

After all, anyone willing to work alongside BushCo likely does not care about bending the truth to their advantage.

As for myself, I remain a wimp when it comes to any kind of recreational or mind-altering drug..... But obeying traffic rules on my bike? Try to catch me coppers!


Professor Blogger DarkSyde said...

That Hindrocket comment was hilarious!

2:47 PM  
Professor Blogger WHT said...

I think I'll write a parable of Bush, Hindrocket and the cast of Green Acres.

8:06 PM  
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