Finished reading: Syrias Secret Library by Mike Thomson 📚

I’ve never cried reading a book before. Sure, I’ve found many sad, gripping, infuriating books that have left their mark, but this remarkable story of a small town of rebels under siege by Syria’s government is something special.

A group of peaceful students decides that books — the knowledge they impart, the escape they provide from a life of horror and tragedy — are more important than anything else. They live and die by the old saying that the pen is mightier than the sword. So they set about collecting a town’s books together into a secure place, all the while being shot at, bombed, starved, denied medical treatment, for four years.

When one thinks of stories of fighting, and what it means to fight, one tends to think of picking up a weapon and facing an enemy. Some of these students do that, of course, and join the Free Syria Army, and hold back the regime’s soldiers against massive odds for many years. But the true fight is an ideological and psychological one, and in their literary sanctuary, filled with books that are banned and savouring knowledge and learning above all else, they stick it to the government and plan for a better future for their revolution.

Reading about children like fourteen-year-old Amjad, and his passion for the library where he becomes Chief Librarian and devotes himself to its operation before losing his enthusiasm and spirit when it’s destroyed, or twelve-year-old Islam, who teaches her mother to read and dives into books, but is similarly robbed of her spirit and dreams for the future by the daily horror of war, is so heartbreaking. Despite this, the biggest lesson I took from reading this book is that the Syrian people are remarkably resourceful, resilient and a (rightfully) proud people.

Hopefully one day that will be enough to help them return from the depths that their country now finds itself.

Finished reading: Shackleton by Ranulph Fiennes 📚

Yet another biography of Sir Ernest, this time written by a bloke who’s walked in his footsteps. This lends a sound credibility to the analyses of the good, bad and (sometimes) ugly decisions made by these wild Edwardian adventurers who were at the absolute pioneering stage of polar exploration. Fiennes’ admiration for his hero in Shackleton is obvious, but he doesn’t fawn over him, discussing both the man’s faults and his heroics and very aptly explaining the colonial environment at the time.

In an age of cancel culture, it’s refreshing to see a man presented as both an admirable hero — forging a path for human discovery in the face of incredible odds — and a tragic figure — womanising, unreliable with money, and seen as a failure in his time — without demanding the reader choose one or the other. Humans are complex. Shackleton was very human, but achieved superhuman feats.

A very nice read.

So many of my everyday workflow apps I have now set to not automatically check for updates. Too many devs just pushing out almost daily updates. I appreciate hard work, but perhaps some smart work (planning, strategy, testing, etc) would be better.

Or am I just being ungrateful?

I’m on the hunt for a simple-to-use, cross-platform application (I need both Mac and Ubuntu/Linux) to reliably rip quality DVDs that have copy protection on them. I’m not going to distribute them, only keep my personal copies on a NAS so I can throw the discs away.

Converting my DVDs to Apple TV-ready M4V format over my NAS drive 🎥📀🎞🍿

Have embarked on the mammoth undertaking of converting my 750+ DVD collection to M4V to stream over my Apple TV. At this point (the beginning of my foolish quest) I am hoping to fully tag, find artwork, etc. for each and every movie in the collection. We’ll see if I’m still doing that by the end!

Enjoying a nice sunny fish off my bike at Lake Wendouree. Hunting trout with a mudeye under a float. 🚲🎣

Finished reading: Signs of Life: A doctor drops everything to ride around the world for six years 🚲📚🗺

I was down at my local library filling some hours in research of my sometime-in-the-future Europe trip when I happened across Stephen Fabes’ new cycle touring memoir Signs of Life: To the Ends of the Earth with a Doctor. What an awesome book and a happy chance I came across it.

Released in 2020 about a journey from 2010–2016, and filled from cover to cover with amusing anecdotes and frank observations of the different cultures and places Fabes found himself, it’s easy to assume this book is like every other travel book ever written. However, I found his self-aware and down-to-earth manner quite refreshing. He doesn’t ‘tackle’ the world like a cocksure adventurer with a sense of ‘conquest’ or other adversarial, heroic language: he slips by, humbly sneaking in and out of peoples’ lives, and manages to stay true to himself to the end.

His intelligence, education and worldview as an English emergency room doctor are plainly influential of his outlook and greatly influence his judgement of the various challenges he witnessed. It was very refreshing to read a well-written, thoughtful summation of an extraordinary journey.

Near the completion of six continents, end to end, and tallying some serious statistics — over 50,000 miles (85,000 kilometres) in 6 years; 75 countries; from -39°C in Mongolia to 46°C in Ethiopia; 221 punctures, etc. — he recoils at the idea he has done anything heroic. Quite the opposite: he admonishes himself for spending six years not “participating” in the world.

Throughout the book he displays a dislike, bordering on disdain, for what he terms “social media blowhards”. He visits a personal hero, Heinz Stücke in Hövelhof, Germany in the closing weeks of his journey. Heinz is famous for being the world’s most prolific cycle tourist, spending over fifty years on the road before returning home to meticulously catalogue every moment of those five decades. Stücke’s own journey made him misanthropic, untrusting and seemingly reinforced strong right-wing political views. Fabes, in contrast, comes home even more compassionate and hopeful about humanity than he left.

Fabes judges Stücke to be simply obsessed about clocking up miles and passport stamps, without truly appreciating the beauty and diversity of the world. The reader gets the impression (through Fabes’ disappointed perspective) that Stücke’s odyssey would have been vastly improved if there were no people at all on the way.

I think it was this aspect of the book: Fabes’ struggle to find a deeper meaning to what he was doing, to understanding other people despite his own biases, and to the human condition in general that makes this book worth the read. Yes it’s interesting from a cycle touring perspective but that’s not really what the book is all about. Some reviewers found the random jumps forward in time and skipping of places and events disappointing. For example, Australia warrants only four pages, scant on detail.

For a bloke on the mission of traversing every continent but Antarctica, effectively skipping over one of them in the narrative entirely seems antithetical. But the last section of the book gives one the answer why: Fabes isn’t interested in listing places and statistics as personal trophies in this book. He has a blog for people interested in those aspects. He keeps the book focused on the people he met and the things he learnt. He had to compress six years into a few hundred pages.

His bike was just a means to a greater end: seeing the world. Understanding the world. Doing it for himself, not to crow about it later. He doesn’t fill pages with lists of gear or recommended brands of bike. Again, he leaves that kind of thing to his blog.

I loved this book for many reasons and highly recommend it. A great read, a great trip well described, a good way to spend your COVID lockdowns and other free time wherever you are.

Top 3 Tokyo Moments for Me 🥇🥈🥉

My personal top moments of the Olympics this year:

  • 🥇Anna Kiesenhofer’s amazing upset win in the women’s cycling road race. She led from the start, and though her win came from the Dutch forgetting she was there, it still took a massive effort just to back herself in and work hard.
  • 🥈Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi sharing a gold medal in the high jump. Olympic spirit moment up there with Eddie the Eel.
  • 🥉Watching 12- and 13-year-old kids rule the world in the skateboarding, and just the friendliness and camaraderie they all showed.

All told, I really enjoyed the Olympics, it made multiple COVID lockdowns that much more bearable and some great moments and ‘new’ sports (I’d never seen before).

Thinking of “novelty” sports we might see at Brisbane 2032. 🏏🏉🎯 Being Queensland, the more bogan the better:

  • Ninja Warrior (Sasuke)
  • Parkour
  • Darts
  • Netball
  • Aussie Rules
  • Backyard Cricket with wheelie bins and a ”6-and-you’re-out” rule…

Any other suggestions?

On the road again, pure joy! 🚲

Finally got back on my bike today for the first time in 2021, after seven months recovering from spinal surgery. The shitty weather and blowing cold Ballarat wind couldn’t take away from my sheer joy in being back on the road, with the wind in my face, fighting back tears of relief. When I hurt myself again last year, I didn’t know whether or not I’d get back to riding again, as my last tour exacerbated my back problems and I spent quite a few months worried about ever getting back.

The original plan was to wait until September, but a combination of watching the Olympics, eating copious amounts of food for my birthday yesterday, stacking on nearly ten kilos, and overwhelming boredom has gotten me back out there sooner, and I’m very glad I did so. I only did one lap of the lake, 8km and nice and easy (which isn’t to say I wasn’t exhausted!) but a good first ride.

Watching the Australian authorities’ response to the pandemic has been like watching the Jurassic Park movie franchise: no matter how many times the dinosaurs break loose to eat everybody, the guys in charge keep making the same mistakes over and over, blinded by greed/arrogance.

Aujourd’hui j’apprends le français depuis six mois.

(Today I have been learning French for six months.)

Il fait amusant! 🇫🇷

Trying to decide whether to get back on my bike again after back surgery, or wait another month or two. It’s been four so far and I feel great. Doctors and physio seem fine with it. Just nervous about ruining my recovery/hurting myself again…

Too many Americans have seen too many movies. 🔫🇺🇸

Scary stuff: ‘Fear on top of fear’: Why anti- gun Americans joined the wave of new gun owners (Washington Post)

As an Aussie, reading stuff like this is terrifying. America is seriously messed up. This passage sums it up perfectly:

Shakima Thomas, a social worker in Newark, had always thought of guns as loud and dangerous — nothing she wanted anything to do with.

She grew up around firearms; her grandmother carried a handgun in her purse, and several close relatives had served in the military and owned guns. But Thomas, 39, never considered buying one for herself until Donald Trump’s presidency. Trump’s boast that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any of his support made Thomas fear that some Americans might be emboldened to express their rage violently.

A lifelong Democrat, she got a gun permit early in the Trump administration but didn’t buy her first gun until last summer, when the killing of Floyd and the protests that spread across the nation made Thomas feel like the country was spiraling out of control, “like the world was in an apocalypse.”

She walked into RTSP — a gun store whose name stands for Right to Self Protect — and bought an AR-15 assault rifle. Months later, she added a handgun.

Her very first gun was an AR-15! Talk about jumping right into the deep end!! The mental gymnastics required to go from guns are dangerous, mmmkay to I need an assault rifle are immense.

Too many Americans have seen too many movies. It’s really not that easy to look down the sights at another human being and pull the trigger.

What a nothing kind of week I’ve had. I could have slept through the entire 168 hours and not missed a thing.

I love Rick and Morty, and I’m also a big Highlander fan, so Season 5 Ep 2 “Mortyplicity” had me in fits of laughter. Watch the end credits for the best scenes of the episode. Hilarious!! 📺📽

Finished reading: Nala’s World by Dean Nicholson. 📚

A nice travel story with a heartwarming twist, as Dean picks up a stray kitten abandoned in the wilderness and nurses her back to health. Reasonably well-written (with help from Garry Jenkins) there is something interesting for both cycle tourists — or any type of traveller, really — and animal lovers.

I’ve been following Dean and Nala on Instagram for a while now, so it was nice to read a bit deeper into his trip, his mindset and his story than merely following his social media feed.

Finally got my copy of Dean Nicholson’s Nala’s World, setting down to a nice quiet coffee, croissant and fruit tart at Le-Petit Patissier, a French café in my town; a shitty day is slowly turning around for me. 📚🚲🥐☕️

Vale Lorraine (my Nan). 16.7.1939 – 17.6.2021. Best woman I’ve ever known. Strong, loving, stubborn, funny, caring, larger than life, all the way to the end. Will be missed forever. I already miss her immensely.

Has anybody seen media coverage of a COVID-19 strain referred to as “Delta” or “Kappa” etc WITHOUT then going on immediately to say “also known as the Indian strain”? What’s the point of even changing the terms if both are used? The purpose of the WHO was to stop it.

Love this:

Mate, when the Chinese [government] comes here and fuck youse over, you’ll be looking for compensation, OK – so give us the deal you want the next coloniser of this country to give you.

— Richard Bell in an interview with www.theguardian.com

Even though I was absolutely certain all along that I didn’t have COVID-19, the feeling of relief when I got my negative result today was still quite palpable. I can only imagine how hard it is when one is told they’re positive. I wonder what mental support is proffered, if any?

I’ve been using NASA’s awesome SpotTheStation service for a year today. Yet I’m still to “spot the station”. Maybe next year… 🤣🛰🚀

Fun With Telemarketers, Day 461:

TM: We see you have the domain blahblah.com, and we offer website design. Can we help you, Reearghn? Me: I do need help, yes. I just don’t feel very pretty these days. And I’ve lost my favourite chicken. TM 10 secs of silence then hang up.

Is it just me, or is Zwift completely unusable with a dumb trainer? 🚴🏼‍♂️

I understand the need to dial down dumb trainers in races, etc but maybe a “joy ride” setting to let those of us just on Zwift for shits and giggles to just enjoy the ride without impacting the more serious virtual cyclists? As it stands, I find some routes completely boring at my current max speed of 3kph, which I suspect is because I don’t have a $1,000 smart trainer hooked up. I’m not interested in virtual racing and really just need to keep my legs pumping and my wheels turning.

Maybe one of my followers can recommend a “virtual touring” alternative to Zwift?