Monday, 1 December 2008

The Echo Chamber

A sad note to start on. A scarily kindred spirit, of whom I was never aware until it was too late, has passed. To be sure I will be checking out the archives to enjoy her writing. In the meantime, thank you Doris, for the courage to call a piece of crap a piece of crap. The world could certainly use more like you.

Good news! You can all relax now, we are officially in a recession.

For a long time I’ve been the alarmist on matters economic, but lately have fallen mostly silent on the issue. The primary reason for this is that while I’ve felt a bit self congratulatory in having sniffed this fire’s onset and magnitude pretty early, I’m feeling much more concern about what the next couple of years are going to look like. We always seem to hear the hotshots pronounce things like “well, it’s bad, but there’s no way it will be as bad as it was back in ’81,” and then whammo it’s as bad as or worse than it was in ’81. Now the experts are pretty confident that we’re smarter now than we were going into the Great Depression, so we’ll avoid that. Draw your own conclusions, but label me a doubter. There are severe and systemic problems that aren’t going to go away before lunchtime.

Mostly unrelated to the economy but certainly related to politics, so in a real sense very related to the economy, I think one of the worst things about our current age is what’s come to be known as the echo chamber. This is the world where everyone can find a media outlet (or several) which will serve only opinions with which the audience would naturally agree. These outlets gain such loyalty and dogmatic following from their audiences that new information on which there can be no established opinion is presented in such a way as to create an opinion about that information which will be accepted and shared by that audience, and referred back to by the media outlet. When someone says he’s listening to “the news,” he could be listening to something that’s basically antithetical to what somebody else who is listening to “the news” is hearing. No more convergence of opinions, only polarization. Bad. Enter into the fray Universal Sports, which I think is the greatest thing in the world. It is a study in both the echo chamber and the anti-echo chamber.

Universal Sports exclusively programs sports event in which I (and, I suspect – and they suspect, you) will be interested. This is the echo chamber part of it. They are gradually getting to the point where they put on an event and I say “hey, neato, this new event is on Universal Sports so it’s probably worth a quick watch.” Not that this has really happened yet, but it could. Their hit rate for me has so far been unbelievably high. They show lots of alpine ski racing, of which I’ve always been a fan, and lot of Nordic skiing, of which I’ve become a fan. They show lots of speed skating, which is oddly captivating (if only for the smoking hot Dutch girls with thighs that could raze a small village). European handball is a blast to watch. Bike racing is an obvious hit, but I never realized how much I’d enjoy watching x-c mountain biking. So they’ve created this circle of sports events which caters to my interests, and is seemingly able to predict my as-yet unknown interests, which can’t be too darn far from being able to create them.

On the other side of the coin, what they do with their program guide listings is interesting: they do nothing. Go to the guide for that channel and you will see just their boilerplate description of their programming. So they are getting you to take the leap (huge leap, I know, but we are talking about 21st century Americans here) to flip to their channel without knowing what you’re in for. You can go on line to find their specific program listings if you want, but who’s really going to do that? What you do instead is tune in to see what might be in. Chances are it’s cool, or you will be persuaded that it’s cool. On the other hand, if you are in for only the professional versions of sports which feature in every American high school, you are straight out of luck with Universal Sports, and will likely think that everything they show sucks. So it’s got significant elements of the echo chamber as well as elements of the old Wide World of Sports “let’s see what crazy kind of games people in the world like to play” aspect.

Universal is supposedly in a battle with Versus over rights to the Tour Down Under and the Giro, which I hope they win. The cycling coverage that I’ve seen from them so far has been really a lot better than what goes on over on Versus. Versus too often goes for the lowest common denominator “let’s dumb this down so any idiot can understand it” route, and puts a bunch of hopeless window dressing (see also: The Cutters) in their coverage. Universal gives it to you straight, as though you understand what they’re showing or are compelled and/or intelligent enough to pick it up as you go along. Bravo to them.

A real treat of the past long weekend was getting to ride with my brother on Thursday and Friday. He is a really good athlete who keeps himself in good shape for the most part, and is a pretty regular summertime cyclist. He hung on for the better part of 30 miles a day on terrain that's much more varied than he's used to. When he could speak, we had some really interesting conversations and good laughs over crap that had happened a long time ago. That's one of the funniest things that happens when you go riding around where you grew up - without going into too much detail, you can think back on some of the crazy stuff that your kids will never ever hear about. The payback for all of this was a murderous car trip home on Saturday and yesterday's weather, which forced me to ride inside. Bleh.

The real meat of winter training has begun, and I rode the trainer in anger last week; two 20 minute LT intervals with a good solid warmup. People say that 20 minute intervals aren’t so bad, and these people are wrong. They may be the lifeblood of everything that you need to do in order to reach your potential as a cyclist, but they are both difficult and boring, even when you are visualizing your ass off. Actually, I had better luck last night with turning my brain off completely during the second one, which made it go more quickly. The effort is enough that you have to concentrate pretty hard in order to hold it, but long enough that concentrating for that long is kind of a huge pain in the shorts.

The other thing about doing 20 minute intervals is that they are easier to do with a Powertap. Whether it’s the little game you get to play of keeping your power steady or just being inundated with info, it helps. I miss my Powertap. I suppose I could build it up on a spare rim that I have, but the rim is pretty janked from when Johnny Hosebag slammed into me during RFK last year and the Powertap was misbehaving enough before the rim failure (but perhaps because of the rim failure) that I’m not going to spend the time and effort. I’m going to wait until they have the program where you can upgrade the old one to the new one, which I am told is on the way. Wireless is cool, the Pro hub has dropped about a quarter pound of weight since the old model and even though I will probably never use it, the ANT+ deal is cool. Maybe the coolest thing is that the thing won’t go into a coma whenever it rains out. The economics of the deal make good sense for me, so I’ll happily make do without the thing for a however long it takes to get the upgrade program in place.


Jim said...

smoking hot Dutch girls with thighs that could raze a small village

Didn't some politician write a book a while back about how it takes great thighs to raze a village, or something like that?

dave kirkpatrick said...

I think it was some decidedly not smoking hot lady WITH super huge cankles.

Anonymous said...

Smoking hot Dutch girls is what life is all about.