Choose Your Books Carefully

Books can make us do odd things.

There’s a passage in The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul, I think, where the god Odin is in a nursing home. His thunder and lightning days are done, he’s old and tired. Odin doesn’t want to do anything but sleep, and his only passion is the crisp, cool, perfect white sheets on his hospital bed.

Once a day Odin gets out of bed for a short walk and ablution, then snuggles back down into his fresh linen.

Every time I read that book, I change my own sheets soon afterward. In fact, ever since I first read the passage, I spend a few minutes each night and each morning in bed, thinking about how blessed and grateful I am to be indoors, clean, dry, and comfortable between linen sheets. It is a powerful paragraph. Douglas Adams was an artist.

I was affected by 1984. It’s not a fun book to read – it’s thoroughly depressing. You can see parallels of 1984 in our modern world, and it’s frightening. Yet I think that Orwell took too grim of an interpretation of the world, because it’s not as bad as all that. Still, when I was reading it, I was as low as I’ve ever been. Checking out seemed like a reasonable idea. It wasn’t until I cleansed my palate afterwards, with a round of Terry Pratchett, that I realized how deeply the book had affected me, and swore to never touch it again.

This is a passage from The Toyota Way. I’ve bookmarked and copied down this snippet so that I’ll never lose it, because I love it so much.

(Link to the complete chapter)

“Since so much of the success of Lexus depended on achieving these breakthrough performance objectives for the engine, and since this depended so heavily on production engineering, Suzuki presented a number of strict requirements to the engine production engineers, whose response was largely discouraging. Their first reaction was that you cannot make parts that are more precise than the tolerances of the precision instruments you’re using to make them. At the time, Toyota had the most precise instruments in the world for machining engine parts (e.g., high-precision machine tools for machining castings into crankshafts, pistons, etc.). And so Suzuki said, “Oh, OK, I see your point.” But backing away from these breakthrough performance objects would mean the end of his “dream car.” So he turned to his superiors for help and was able to get them formed into a Flagship Quality Committee (The “FQ Committee”).”

This is a chapter in the breathtaking story of Ichiro Suzuki, who, given the “most precise instruments in the world”, insisted that even more precise instruments be manufactured for the first production Lexus.

“At the time, Toyota had the most precise instruments in the world”. That line resonated with me. Such assurance, such lack of pretense, no debate. Just “Toyota has the best machinery in the world.” I would say those words to myself last year when I washed cars, and then I would wash faster, dry more thoroughly, replace the cars more perfectly aligned in their parking spots, and run faster to the next car.

In November I parked in front of the Bruce Hutchinson Library and checked my messages. “Have you ever read a book called ‘The Perfect Vehicle‘?” asked Corey Bergerud, apropos of nothing. (I’ve written about the Bergerud boys before. I’m not close to any of them, but there are dozens on the Island and I haven’t yet met one I didn’t love. A blog post for another day.)

“No,” I texted back. “Good thing I’m at the library.”

Bruce Hutchinson didn’t have it in stock, but the librarian looked it up and directed me to the Central branch, where I checked it out. Over Christmas I read about a woman who, realizing that she loved her boyfriend’s bike more than the boyfriend, dumped him and bought a Moto Guzzi. She rode to rallies in the States, went to track days, took long camping trips with her biker bros and toured Germany, hosted on short notice by the European Moto Guzzi rider’s club.

I can’t afford an Italian bike, but it’s no coincidence that there was a new Kawasaki in my driveway in January.

Ninja

No one ever does anything new. We all stand on the shoulders of giants, and walk in the footsteps of the masters who have gone ahead of us. To read about their struggles is to be inspired, and to forgive yourself for you own shortcomings.

A good way to be inspired to write is to read the biography of Ray Bradbury. He would sit and write 2000 words per day, then take some beautiful woman out to a carnival in the evening. Upon sight of the fun house mirrors, he’d abandon his date and run back to his typewriter to write a story about an oddly shaped man who went to the funhouse to feel normal.

If you need to practice music, try the biography of Stewart Copeland. He threw his drumsticks down after the final Police gig and spent the next 20 years having children, pursuing a polo vendetta against the Crown Prince of England, and writing dubious musicals.

When he picked the sticks up again for the Police reunion tour, he was so rusty and out of shape that Sting would insultingly keep time on his hi-hat. Weeks of steady practice brought him back into fighting condition.

And if you, for some reason, need to build a railroad, there’s always Atlas Shrugged. I’m 1/4 through it – once I finish it I’ll let you know what else you can be inspired to do while being outraged at socialists (because being outraged at socialists goes without saying when you read Ayn Rand).

Pick your books carefully. They’ll change your mind, and your mind will change the world.

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What exactly is a polo bike, anyway?

… as young men often ask me, as they struggle to maintain interest while I spin off on a bike related tangent.

Well, I’ll tell you. A polo bike is a rough looking, scratched up, bomb proof, 90’s style rigid mountain bike with a few modifications that make it easier to beat around on a basketball court while trying to smack an orange hockey ball with a mallet made out of ABS pipe and a ski pole.

Jackie Kanyuck recently let me have her old one, and it is seriously the bomb. Just gonna take a sec to brag here, but I used to score maybe once in three games if I was lucky. These days I’m scoring usually once or twice in every game, and doing a much better job of preventing Ryan, Ryan and Greg from scoring on me.

And I’ll show it to you.

Drive side
Drive side

Non drive side
Non drive side

We’ll go through this bit by bit. The frame is a Surly 1×1, a modern design, but a throwback to the old 90’s mountain bikes, you know the ones with the absurdly long stems and the gently curved forks, as ridden by nerds like this.

Fork

First, notice the fork and headtube. See how straight that line is? So straight. That’s so you can turn in tiny, tiny circles at very low speeds. Kona forks in particular are well known for being relatively common as salvage (i.e., cheap), but also tough and decent quality. And straight as straight can be. Queer people are welcome, but queer forks are not. We call that “zero offset fork” and “no rake”.

The wheel covers are to prevent balls and mallets from getting stuck in your spokes, and preventing damage to the spokes. Balls make a very satisfying *smack* as they bounce off the corrugated plastic. I am always surprised when I see people playing without them – they’re essential, in my opinion.

4 item(s)

Brakes are the most important polo mod. You have to brake with your non-dominant hand so you can swing with the other. These days all the big deals in polo seem to be using either dual brakes or just a front brake. In the past I just had a single rear, rim brake, with the lever moved to the left side of the bars. Back brakes give you less stopping power, but you’re also less likely to flip yourself over, as our man Greg does frequently.

But, Jackie had some awesome BB7 disc brakes on the Surly, and who am I to argue? They are amazing. It’s my first experience with disc brakes and I can confirm that they stop me on a dime regardless of how wet they get.

Jackie also hacked up this dual brake lever, for double the stopping power. It helps with the flipping-over problem.

3 item(s)

For the drive train, we want a nice loooow gear ratio, for quick accelerating. 32-22 is perfect, anyone who says otherwise is lying and wrong. In the past I used a cassette cog from some Shimano 10 speed sprocket, which worked okay, except for how it skipped all the time. This bike came with roughly the same deal. First thing I did upon receiving it was replace the entire drive train. The chain and front chain ring were direct replacements, but I put this beautiful Surly single-speed cog on instead of the cassette mess. As long as I replace the chain often enough, it should never skip again.

SeatNot much to say about the seat; it’s cheap and comfy. The seatpost is more interesting. It’s like, the longest seatpost ever. With my old bike I needed the whole thing. This frame is a bit more reasonably sized. Fully half the seatpost is inside the frame. More stability? Sure.

Stickers

 

Stickers are important, obv, they add 5hp each.

2 item(s)

Pedal straps are perfect for attaching your mallet to the bike.

Tire with flashAnd finally, the shoes. See that yellow? That’s the inside of the tire. Jackie says she’s giving me a new one, but honestly, we ride old tires as long as they hold air. This is the one place where I’m a cheapskate. (Ha! I’m always a cheapskate! But especially on tires.)

Ultimately, the player is more important than the bike. But hey, I’m a bike nerd, I love this stuff. I could write an essay on each individual part. In fact I might do so. I also rode a cheap, old, flexy, badly-handling polo bike for quite a long time, and I got good on it. Now that I’m a good enough player to justify the decent bike, it makes a huge difference, and I feel that I’ve earned it. And I feel like a rockstar when I’m riding it, and that’s the most you can ask of any vehicle.

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