Oct 23

The Blue Book (Park Manual) on bicycle repair is considered the standard for bicycle repair. Yet, there are other books out there, since the Park Manual seems to be fairly short, and sometimes confusing or incomplete. The two books reviewed below are alternatives. They offer different styles in their approach to bicycle repair.
Bicycle Repair, by Rob Van Der Plas ★★★★★
This book, written by a bicycle aficionado in San Francisco, is in a very easy to read, casual style, with multiple illustrations. It is the best book in terms of illustrations of any of the cycle repair books I’ve laid my hands on. In some areas it is slightly deficit, such as in not encouraging the use of torque wrenches whenever possible or when advised by manufacturers. It also is not as comprehensive on the different brands of cycle components out there. There are chapters on items such as the repair of internal gear systems and coaster brakes. The clarity and methodical nature of the repair instructions earns it a 5-star rating. This is a worthwhile book to have in one’s cycle repair shop.
Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance, by Lennard Zinn ★★★★★
This book earns 5 stars but for a different reason than van der Plas’s book. The illustrations are hand-drawn rather than photographed, yet very well drawn. The book is much thicker and more comprehensive. Zinn is a bicycle builder in Colorado, as well as an editor for VeloNews. Using those skills, he holds a repair style more of what you would expect the best bicycle repair shop to have, following manufacturer’s recommendations. There are large charts in the back of the book for reference on torque wrench settings and other things. Zinn writes very well, and offers prolific sound advice for the care of the bicycle both in the shop and on the road. This book is also quite worth having in a cycle shop library.

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Oct 23

War and World History (The Teaching Company Series), by Jonathan Roth ★★★
This series looks at world history from the perspective of how war affected that history. Roth shows possibly by this lecture series that multiple other factors, such as religion, politics, and chance seem to affect the occurrence of war as much as vice versa. Thus, Roth delves at length how economy, culture and nationalism has affected the occurrence of war in the last several hundred years. Though he spent some time speaking of the development of war technology, it was rather minimal considering the topic. Also, I had hoped for more discussion on the style of conducting war, strategies, and how geography affected the nature of war, and the development of war in world history.

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Oct 23

The bicycle touring season has come to a close in the Northwest, and so planning for next year needs to occur. Trip planning, repair of the bicycles and equipment, and review of current and future technologies all needs to take place. So, here are three books that I have just read, presented  in the order in which they were read.
Bicycling Magazine’s Guide to Bike Touring, by Doug Donaldson ★★★★
This book has a subtitle “Everything You Need to Know to Travel Anywhere on a Bike”. Actually, it is not a terribly comprehensive book on cycle touring, but written in magazine style, designed to hold a 30 second attention span. It is well written, interlaced with much humor. This book would be best for the early novice in cycle touring, the person who has never tried cycle touring before. It is a great introduction, and thus the four stars, rather than the 2-3 that I would have otherwise given it. The book did offer some advice unknown to me such as bicycle repair tricks in an emergency. Generally, it tended toward magazine style recommendations for tours and tended to recommend products advertising in Bicycling Magazine. It had lengthy advice for drafting (????, hello, this is touring, NOT road racing!!!!), exercises to do to get in shape (try just getting on a bike!), advice on picking a tour company (?, ok, sure….) and a lengthy chapter on nutrition, all of which seemed to be more filler material than good touring advice. Get the book if you have never tried cycle touring before, and you will be inspired. Otherwise, see below.
Bike Touring (A Sierra Club Outdoor Adventure Guide), by Raymond Bridge ★★★★★
This is the best bicycle touring book available, though not the most inspirational. Bridge writes in a straightforward but informative style. He provides the most comprehensive text, including numerous references to the internet and to other books on bicycling and related topics. The book is divided into three sections. The first paints the picture of what it means to cycle tour. In this section, he discusses the various types of cycle touring, including self-contained touring (camping out and doing your own cooking), as well as “credit-card” touring (staying in hotels and eating out everywhere). The second section is a comprehensive discussion of the types of equipment, beginning with the bicycle, discussing then bicycle components of interest, cycle touring clothing, repair tools, lights, locks, panniers and trailers, and camping gear. Finally, Bridge discusses in the third section the actual act of cycle touring, including route planning, and the style of self contained vs. supported (hotel) tours. There is a sizable resource guide at the end for additional books on cycling, bicycle repair, tour companies, map sources, etc. This book is well worth obtaining simply as a reference.
Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook, by Stephen Lord ★★★★
This book is meant for the person who wishes to leave civilization and travel beyond the US/Canada or Western Europe and into the hinterlands of foreign countries. The book is divided into three parts, the first being an invaluable reference to planning such a trip, equipment, etc., etc. The second part provides recommendations for routes throughout the world, with a focus on Central Asia, South America and Africa. The first part are anecdotal tales written by various cyclists on their adventures in the greater world. This book has many inset stories and information pieces inserted throughout the text and written by different authors that provide personal experiences. After reading the book, I realized that I did not have an overwhelming interest in exploring Tibet, Outer Mongolia or Zanzibar on a bicycle. Should my mind change, this will be the first book that I consult.

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Oct 09
We decided to go see the Pope. I also wanted to spend some time bicycling in Germany, but that idea fizzled out. I still needed to spend some time working on my bicycle, and touching base with old friends, so a chaotic adventure was started.
22SEPT2011 – Departure

The flight out to Düsseldorf began at 7 am from SeaTac, putting us through Newark, NJ. This wasn’t a bad option, though the Newark airport required one to depart one secure terminal and then re-check in to another terminal. It wasn’t easy, and the airport had minimal food options. We’ll try to go through Chicago or Frankfurt from now on.
23SEPT – Arrival in Düsseldorf
Customs was easy but in our tiredness we walked right out of the terminal looking for our baggage, only to realize that we might have taken the wrong turn, and could not get back into the baggage area. Fortunately, we were able to force our way back through a “Kein Eintritt” door (no entrance) and immediately located our bags. The smallest cash that I had on hand was 20 euro, and the machine would not take that large of bill, and would not take a credit card. This led to great consternation as to how to pay for the train ride. Eventually solved, we ended up in Krefeld Hbf, only to catch the wrong bus to Onkel Herbert. Arriving in Düsseldorf at 6 am, we finally got to Onkel Herbert at 10:30. Oh well. It was a nice day catching up on things, going shopping with Herbert, and going out to eat at Am Vreed, our currywurst restaurant.
24SEPT- Free day with Herbert
I spent time doing repairs on my bicycle, and actually got it working better than ever before. It was quite nice to have had the bicycle repair class. In the evening, Herbert made a barbeque of pork chops and a type of “bacon” that is well liked in Germany. Herbert introduced us to Federweisse and Zwiebelbrot. These are ususally consumed together, the Federweisse being a sweet wine made from young grapes, that is not available all the time. The Zwiebelbrot is onion bread, that Betsy and I did not really care for.

The bicycle now repaired and working better than ever!

At the Biergarten

Onkel Herbert with his new hat

A very rare plant in Herbert's yard. Name????

25SEPT- Bicycle ride

Unfortunately, I was to spend only one day riding my bicycle. I programmed a route from the internet, and was able to put it on my Garmin. With that, off I went. Without hard maps or a guide book, the Garmin is a touch frustrating since it will not be able to five directions when you are not moving. Also, it can be difficult to read when it is sunny or with polarized sunglasses. I did multiple wrong turns, only to be told to make a U-turn and go back. All in all, it was a great experiment, which showed limited utility for serious route finding, but something nice to have available. I was able to ride a little more than 30 km in 2 hours. Hopefully, I can come back and do some lengthy rides.
Herbert introduced us to a German tradition of Federweisse and Zwiebelbrot (onion bread). The Federweisse is a very sweet wine made from young grapes, and I’ve never seen it available in the US.

A Schrebergarten close to Herberts Haus

26SEPT – Abschied von Herbert

we told Herbert goodbye and hopped on die Bahn to Leipzig, with two train changes.  We arrived in Leipzig and found our hotel without difficulty. Betsy and I were a little bit amazed that it was much nicer than I thought, in fact, probably one of the nicer and more modern hotels that I have ever stayed in. We took a walk through the city, observing the Alte Rathaus, Nicholai Kirche, and Thomas Kirche, the two churches where Bach performed and taught. It was here that I discovered that I had a portion of our journey off by exactly one day, so in a panic had to change plans that set everything right. It was decided that we would go straight from Leipzig to Würzburg. A few phone calls later, and all was in order.

Betsy at the Thomas Kirche

Old Building viewed from our hotel room

27SEPT2011 Würzburg

It was quite easy to catch the train to Würzburg, going through the town of Fulda. We were delayed a half hour in Fulda, but arrived nicely to Hannes and Katja’s house. After a bite to eat, they took us out to a portion of the Main (River) that I would have ridden by bicycle. It was also cruel it was so beautiful. We stopped in several small towns. The most fascinating was Miltenberg, where we walked through the town. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera. This means that we must return someday to photograph this area. It would be nice to do the entire Main Radweg from Frankfurt to Bayreuth. That will take about two weeks in order to properly enjoy it, but will be difficult to talk any of my friends into doing this with me, and I don’t think Betsy would bite at the opportunity. Hannes and Katja suggested that earlier summer would be a better time to do it.

28SEPT2011 Bamberg

The morning started with walking the dog. Hannes then drove us through back roads to Bamberg. It was a very nice sight. I was surprised to see most of the main roads had associated bicycle paths. Franken is truly a cyclist’s paradise. Bamberg was nice, and we went to see the Bamberger Dom, with the Bamberger Ritter statue. Pope Clement II was also buried there.  It was an absolutely gorgeous and fantastic day while we walked through the town, stopping to have Apfelstreudel at a small restaurant. Ausgezeichnet! Returning home, we stopped at a small restaurant to eat dinner. Betsy and I had the Bratkartoffeln, a regional specialty that was out of this world.

Hannes and Gustav

Wieder Nebel im Dorf

Hannes und Katja

In Bamberg

Senf (Mustard) field

Our room at the Wagners

29SEPT2011 Abschied von Hannes and Katja

We needed to make an early start to get to Rome. The train went through München and then Bologna. Everything went okay until we reached München. There, the train to Bologna was delayed by 45 minutes. This meant that we missed our planned train in Bologna to Rome, but was able to find another train quickly. The trains were packed with Americans, and not having seat reservations, Betsy and were occasionally left sitting a distance apart. That didn’t matter too much. The ride across western Austria and Northeast Italy (Dolomite region) was absolutely stupendous, especially Brenner Pass. We made it to Rome, and was able to quickly find our hotel and prepare for a busy day tomorrow.
30SEPT2011 The Vatican
Getting to the Vatican was easy on the Metro. We arrived a bit early and waited at the museum entrance to go in. The first part of the tour was the museums that historically were able to be accessed only by der Papst, until the Vatican needed money. Then they turned it into a tourist facility. The various museums consisted of either statues and artifacts from ancient Rome, tapestries,  and maps of Italy done up in elaborate fresco style. Following the Papal museums, we entered the Sistine Chapel. Its experience was diminished by the massive crowds. The paintings were truly impressive. We then went to St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church building in the world, and, unstated by the tour guide, the indirect cause for the reformation. Peter’s bones are supposedly kept in the crypt here. The oddest display was the body of the recent pope John Paul, when it was noted that five years after his burial, the body had not yet shown signs of decay. This was interpreted as a miracle and thus beatified him.

Fortress Vatican

The School of Athens - quite a large fresco painting

Inside the Vatican Museum

The Pieta in St. Peters

Papst John Paul failing to rot - too much liquor?

Central area of St. Peter's - Peter's bones are below

Looking backwards in St. Peter's

St. Peter's Square

After lunch, we went to see the other three basilicas in Rome. First was St. Pauls outside the gate, which reportedly held the bones of St. Paul.  It was rebuilt several times, but was the second largest church in Christendom. The third basilica was St Johns located in the Laterine palace complex, on the southeast side of then the old walls of Rome. This was where the Popes lived until 1377. Again, it was a truly impressive building. The authenticating relics were splinters from the birth crib of Christ. Across the street was a building that housed the steps which Christ had to climb up to the judgment hall of Pontius Pilate. Pilgrims now come from all over the world to go up these stairs, which is only allowed if you go up on your knees saying three prayers on each step. The stairs were packed. You could go up other stairs to the top to notice the “suffers” achieving the last steps, and thus receiving additional blessing from the church. The last basilica was the smallest, but still a grand structure, St. Maria Magiorre, close to our hotel, and built for the “virgin” Mary.  I don’t remember the relic. The interesting thing is that the bones of Benini the architect are buried here. Supposedly the location of the church was identified when snow was identified on this location on 05AUG. many moons ago. It is the only church that hadn’t undergone some sort of destruction over the years.

St. Paul's Basilica

Chair where the Papst speaks ex cathedra in St. John's

Climbing the stairs Jesus climbed - on knees ONLY!

Picture of Jesus painted by God himself!

Inside Maria Magiorre Basilica

This day gave much to reflect. I could imagine Luther and others coming to Rome to see practices which occurred. Recent conservative evangelicals have apparently gone to Rome and come back with enthusiasm about reuniting the branches of Christianity. I came back scared, wondering that I hadn’t seen yet another version of idolatry, and a complete misconception of the church regarding gaining merit. Their fixation on relics, “sainthood”, practices to gain additional merit, the attention to the Pope and pompous splendor all made me quite happy that I was not a Catholic. Perhaps the pope should spend more time reigning in the sex practices of priests, and perhaps they should identify that practices such as touching certain objects or performing certain rituals does absolutely nothing to ones salvation. We need to remind ourselves how correct the Reformers of the church were.
01OCT – Ancient Rome
Betsy and I did a tour of ancient Rome today. First, I’d like to say something about tours. They are a little bit corny, in that you really feel like a tourist. But, there is also a huge advantage. The blessings of tours are 1. You don’t have to wait in lines, 2. Somebody explains things to you so that you see the things that you would otherwise have missed, and 3. The tour is done is a very systematic fashion which most efficiently, yet slowly covers what you would wish to see. There is usually plenty of time for photos. We walked from our hotel to the coliseum, where we got a fairly good tour from top to bottom. We then went to the Roman forum, seeing the senate house, the various buildings (now in ruin) of the forum area, and ending on the Palatine Hill, the location of the former residences of the emperors. It was described the absolute former beauty of these places, including the coliseum, which had luscious marblework everywhere, the ceilings and walls were painted with beautiful designs, the floors were marble, and everything had a splendid sense to it. After the tour, Betsy and I walked back to the hotel a circumlocuitous route, including Gesu (first Jesuit church), The Pantheon, and the Trevi fountain. We were pooped and the weather was hot. We didn’t do much the rest of the day.

Roman gladiators

Inside the Colosseum

The Senate House of ancient Rome

Ruins in the Forum

Gesu - 1st Jesuit Church - for Dennis

Trevi Fountain

02OCT – Der Papst

Today we saw the Papst. We were picked up from our hotel at 08:15, and got on a bus. Originally they thought that the Pope was going to be in his summer villa outside the city and we stopped by St. Peter’s square to buy relics that could be blessed. We picked up several crosses, some rosary beads, and a calendar, that are now blessed. It was then that it was realized that the Pope would be right here in St. Peters. So, the tour bus changed plans, and took us first to Nuova Plaza, followed by a ride up in the hills west of Rome and overlooking the city. It was a gorgeous site, but the bus did not stop for photos. We finally got back to St. Peters at 11:00 and the Papst comes out right at noon. Next to where we were waiting, a German band group came that set up their music stands and started playing German marching music.  The entire St. Peter’s Square soon filled with thousands of people, many actually taking this serious, and  to a good many, this was the highlight or pinnacle of their entire life. To them, they saw a glimpse of God. Soon, the Papst came to the window, and actually spoke for 15 minutes, first in Latin, then French, English, German, Spanish and some other language that I didn’t catch. After we blessed, we walked back to the hotel, crossing the Tiber River, and walking through the small streets of Rome to get a flavor of Sunday Roman life.

Back to St. Peter's to see der Papst

Der Papst giving us a blessing

Bridge across the Tivere (Tiber)

03OCT – Off to Firenze

This was an uneventful day, save for a few events. I was notified on the train that I MUST have reservations for that particular train Nothing said that the particular train that I was on demanded reservations. So, I had to pay up. Then, after recouping from a little GI upset, all went otherwise well. Firenze is a quaint little town, with lots of shops, and old sites. The Duomo is huge and gorgeous.  Tomorrow is the tour…

The Duomo

04OCT2011 Firenze tour

We met on the Vecchio Bridge, which goes across the Alto River. There are multiple shops on the bridge, at one time declared by the Medicis to be only jewelry shops. We walked by the Uffizi Museum, which used to house the Medici family, followed by the City Hall, where the Michelangelo statue of David used to stand. It was the courtyard in front of this building where Savaronola was burned at the stake. The tour continued to see the Mercantile Square, and the little Pig. We then walked through a number of quaint neighborhoods until we arrived at a small Gelato shop where the gelato is made fresh every day. It tasted awesome! The last stop was the Academia Museum, where we were able to see the statue of David by Michelangelo, a quite spectacular edifice of marble. After retreat to the hotel for a few hours we walked off to the Crucis Church, where Dante, Machiavelli and Michelangelo were buried. The guard would not let us in. We again had a late dinner, Betsy with spaghetti, and me with pizza.

Square outside "City Hall" where Savaronola was burned at the stake

Ponto Vecchi

River through Firenze

The killing of Medusa

Inside the Duomo

Crucis church holding Michaelangelo, Dante and Machiavelli

Thoughts on Italian food. It is far better than French food, but I prefer German food. The pizza is very thin crust, with very little topping. The spaghetti has almost no sauce on it. The flavors are great. Chicago remains my favorite place for pizza. Giordanos or Edwardos offers pizza that Italy cannot compete with. Even still, I could survive quite nicely off of Italian food. French food, I’d worry about what sort of slug or snail or animal head they may be serving me to eat.

Thoughts on the train. On this trip, we learned that the train service is not quite as reliable as we thought, and that if you have many connections, they are not to be counted on if the time between connections is tight. The lesson is to not travel so far in a single day and limit connections. The only difficulty would be in finding a hotel in connecting cities, unless you actually planned for it. This means that the idea of using a Eurail Pass and hopping on a train anywhere, going where you please, is not such a great idea. I’ll need to do a costing analysis, but with all the added fees for reservations, etc., it diminishes the value of the Eurail pass. Also, I haven’t seen extremely added value in first class over second class. It doesn’t make too much sense to me, in that the seats are nearly the same, and the first class cabins are usually a bit harder to find.
05OCT2011 Back to Krefeld

So, we had plans to go from Firenze to Krefeld. The plan was for 3 train transfers assuming everything went well. The first train went from Firenze to Milan okay. The next Italian train went from Milan to Zürich, a very beautiful ride, but for no good reason, the train was about a half hour late. We considered a number of choices, but noting a train leaving soon to Basel, we decided to take our chances and hop it. In Basel, we found a train soon after arrival to Frankfurt, and it was then easy to find a train to Düsseldorf. In Düsseldorf, the train transferred to Krefeld, and in Krefeld, we transferred to a bus to Engerstraße and a short walk to Herbert’s house. We arrived at about 10 pm, about an hour later than we had planned with the fewer transfers.

06OCT2011 Rest day in Krefeld
We were able to relax with Herbert, play with Arras, and pack. I was able to go to the store for Gummibåren, sauerkraut, and Düsseldorfer senf. We were going to go to the Zoo, but the rains began and we decided to do nothing. We did go out to eat that evening, and I was able to spend a last chance with Herbert, talking politics, philosophy, etc.
07OCT2011 Home
What a long flight! Not much more to say. It feels good to have your feet back in familiar territory.

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Oct 09

Colossus, by Niall Ferguson ????
I had just reviewed another book by Niall Ferguson, and this book is actually quite complementary. The overall thesis of this book is that the USA is actually an Empire, and that that is a good thing. The first few chapters start with a history of the United States from the international perspective, showing how the USA has always stated a non-Empire status, while simultaneously behaving like an emerging empire. Even with statements from our recent presidents and some GOP presidential candidates that we are not an empire, Ferguson provides adequate details to show that they indeed are different from all other prior empires that the world has known, yet their very behavior in international politics is consistent with empire status. Ferguson then develops the theme of the Brjitish Empire, emphasizing its triumphs and failures as a world dominating force. Another recently reviewed book by me (The Rise and Fall of the British Empire) takes a quite caustic view of the British Empire. This book has a more balanced view, discussing how the empire status of the British was ultimately mutually beneficial to both England and the subject country. Most notably, the institution of the rule of law and honest commercial interchange was instilled in many countries that are now benefiting from that. The departure of the British often has led to greatly decreased GDP and oftentimes to civil war or catastrophes far worse.  Ferguson also delves into the negative side of empire, showing how England invested far more in foreign nations than they gained, ultimately leading to a diminished status of England in the world at large. He then discusses the positive and negative aspects of the USA as empire, specifically focusing on our near bankrupt status as a nation and the potential instability of both the European Union and the US economic situation. Yet he sees the need for a dominant force in the world that would promote the continuation of free trade and economic stability. Ferguson looks at matters nearly entirely from the viewpoint of an economist as ex-patriot Brit. Though he does briefly bring up the religious question of the loss of faith in Europe, he does not equate that in any way as being a potential harmful matter but merely as a fact of note comparing the difference between American and European society.  I would tend to be a bit hesitant to not attribute other factors as leading to the rise and fall of nations (see Isaiah 40:15-27). Thus, I would personally attribute the greatest danger of the USA is its loss of faith in the Judeo-Christian God.
Ferguson is a provocative read and very informative. I would recommend this book, though I do not entirely agree with everything he says. He certainly is quite thought provoking, and will certainly force one to rethink their stance of Empire, whether one comes from a liberal or conservative perspective.

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