Saturday, January 30, 2010

Absolutes and Relatives

Q: How much money does a man need to be happy?
A: Just a little more...
I’ve recently had the pleasure of purchasing a bicycle on ebay for a cycling buddy. He hasn’t got an ebay account and is not really the type for auctions. But he likes bicycles and his current ride is a wonderful custom Llewellyn (made by Darrell McCulloch in Brisbane, Australia). Great guy with good bicycle sense.
One day I find a custom Columbine on one of my many trawls through ebay. Nice bike at a decent starting price but it’s just a bit too big for me. I keep the link on my desktop for interest sake then casually mention it to my friend on one of our long, casual Sunday rides. He’s interested. We agree on a maximum bid amount and within 48hrs the bicycle is his. (for a great price I might add)
I already have a decent collection of obsolete steel bicycles yet I’m always just one bike away from my perception of bicycle bliss. Yes I am a little envious. Ok, I admit it, I’m really envious. I just wish I could be a little taller then the bike could have been mine. All mine... Yes, my precious...One bike to to rule them all...

the tyranny of size...

polished CK headset with stainless lugs

beautiful lugwork and finish

It’s all Absolutes and Relatives...
We live our lives within the bounds of certain absolutes and in the company of a lot of relatives. Social absolutes define the way we would like to live our lives. Such concepts include a belief in a personal God (that judges our actions) or, on a smaller scale, a principle that we should not eat meat (for various different reasons). Scientific absolutes define the world we live in (or rather, the world we experience). No particle (or wave) can travel faster than the speed of light, nothing is colder than absolute zero, the value of pi is a set number, nothing violates the laws of thermodynamics...
For many of us our daily lives are less affected by absolutes and more focussed on where we are relative to those around us. For instance, we often judge our material wealth and our social status relative to those around us. It is often hard to see a personal God, but it is easy to see that the neighbour drives a Bentley convertible. Or that the girl at work is prettier than the wife. It is hard to remain content if we see important aspects of our lives only in terms relative to others. Your wealth becomes my poverty. Your gain is my loss.
Focussing on our relationship to others is often unsatisfactory but in many ways it is what makes us human. Acceptance of constraints is the key to being content. Some constraints are blindingly obvious but only if we are open to it. A certain income can only support a certain lifestyle - “living within your means” is a truism that is often ignored. Other constraints have to be set. These may be certain dictums by which we live (thou should be faithful to thy wife...) or physical constraints enforced upon you by a sense of discipline (I will only own 3 bicycles...) or by others (if you buy another bike I will divorce you...).
Constraints are absolutes that define the limits of our relative positions. Contentment is an acceptance of these limits.
There. I feel better already. Now let’s have a quick check of what’s on ebay...

Sunday, January 24, 2010

1st generation Campagnolo Delta Brakeset

Much better pics courtesy of the original owner. Last 5 frames shows the difference between the 1st & subsequent generations (3rd & 5th gen in this case).

Also David Bohm of Bohemian Bicycles has posted some pics of the frame we built together over 10 1/2 days at the end of November 2009. He has finished the rear triangle and added the braze-ons. Very schmick stuff indeed. You can check it out at his Flikr account:
All she needs is a bit of paint.

The 1st generation delta's are destined for this build as is a 1st generation C Record chainset...mmm hubba hubba...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

1st generation Campagnolo Delta Brakeset

This was meant to be a set of reference photos for the 1st generation Campagnolo Delta Brakeset. Excuse the poor photos as the evening light was dimming faster than I had anticipated.
The pertinent features are:
- smaller and more curvaceous than subsequent generations with a slight satin sheen
- stamped Campagnolo wing logo on the face plate
- retaining clip on the underside of the caliper/ faceplate
- quick-release lever above the caliper
- levers do not have a quick release button (and have a ridiculous, impossible-to-access nut for the handlebar clamp)
- smaller brown brake blocks
- internals with a tendency to rust
- 3mm cable clamp bolt with tendency to fail

There are some things in the world that are so beautiful to look at that we forgive the fact that they don't really do their job. First generation Campagnolo delta brakes are a fine example of this.

I understand that there are probably a couple of hundred 1st generation calipers floating around worldwide.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The perfect day

Cool, dry, overcast day riding a single speed on technical single track with a perfect, clean run.

Many things conspire to make a perfect day. It had rained heavily a fortnight ago with a light sprinkle yesterday. Ideal to keep the soil compact enough for rear wheel traction on the hills and not washout on the descents, yet loose enough not to build up on the tires and increase rotational mass. An early start on an overcast day with a light cool breeze to allow a clear run before the masses arrive. You float. You grind. You whoop through a few technical sections. Then back to grinding. And floating. And whooping. And all various combinations. Two hours later you start to fatigue and make a few mistakes. Then the trail throws you off for a minor indiscretion. You walk your bike. You burn. But you clear the last run. Clean.

The perfect day. And most of the city folk ain't even out of bed yet...

Friday, January 8, 2010

New Years Resolution

Another interesting article from The Economist. Food for thought for those struggling to maintain their NY resolutions...

Economics focus

New-year irresolution

Dec 30th 2009
From The Economist print edition

How to combat the natural tendency to procrastinate

Illustration by Jac Depczyk

EACH New Year’s Day lots of people make plans to do more exercise or give up smoking. But by January 2nd many of them have not moved from the sofa or are lighting another cigarette. Such triumphs of optimism over experience are common enough. But like other examples of repeated procrastination, they are hard to explain using standard economic models.

These models recognise that people prefer to put off unpleasant things until the future rather than do them today. Asked on January 1st to pick a date for that first session in the gym, say, you may well choose to start in two weeks’ time rather than tomorrow. But the standard models also assume that your choices about future actions are “time-consistent”—they do not depend on when you are asked to make the choice. By January 14th, in other words, you should still be committed to going to the gym the next day. In the real world, however, you may well choose to delay your start-date again.

In a 1999 paper* on the economics of procrastination, Ted O’Donoghue and Matthew Rabin pointed out that people are often unrealistically optimistic about their own future likelihood of doing things—such as exercise or saving—that involve costs at the time they are done, but whose benefits lie even further ahead. Mr O’Donoghue and Mr Rabin showed that this sort of behaviour can be explained if people are time-inconsistent. “Present-biased” preferences mean that people will always tend to put off unpleasant things until tomorrow, even if the immediate cost involved is tiny. As long as they are unsure of the precise extent of this bias, they believe (incorrectly) that they will in fact “do it tomorrow”. But since they feel this way at each point in time, tomorrow never quite comes. Such a model can therefore explain endless procrastination.

It can also suggest ways to change behaviour. A recent NBER paper by Esther Duflo, Michael Kremer and Jonathan Robinson argues that a tendency to procrastinate may explain why so few African farmers use fertiliser, despite knowing that it raises yields and profits. In trials on the farms of maize farmers in western Kenya, the three economists found that using half a teaspoon of fertiliser per plant increased seasonal profits by an average of 36% per acre, even if farmers made no other changes to their farming techniques. Doing so after it was clear that the seeds had sprouted eliminated most of the risk of paying for fertiliser in a year of poor weather. Only 9% of the farmers believed fertiliser would not increase their profits. Yet only 29% had used any in either of the two preceding seasons.

When asked why, almost four-fifths of farmers said that they did not have enough money to buy fertiliser for the land they farmed. Yet fertiliser was readily available in multiples of a kilogram, so even poor farmers earned enough to buy fertiliser for at least a fraction of their fields. Better intentions made little difference: virtually all farmers said they planned to use fertiliser the following season, but only 37% actually did so.

The reason for this gap between intent and action, the economists argue, is that many farmers are present-biased and procrastinate repeatedly. Right after the harvest, when farmers are cash-rich, most can afford to buy fertiliser. But going to town to buy it imposes a small cost: a half-hour walk, say, or a bus ticket. So farmers postpone the purchase, believing they will make it later. But they overestimate their ability to put aside enough money to do that, ensuring that their plans to buy fertiliser meet much the same fate as a typical new-year resolution.

A model of such preferences generates several interesting predictions. It suggests that a tiny discount—enough to make up for the small costs associated with buying fertiliser—should induce present-biased farmers to make the purchase. The model also suggests that a given discount would be more effective if offered immediately after the harvest rather than just before the next planting period, by which time it would be useful only for those farmers who had no problems with saving money.

Solving St Augustine

The economists devised a scheme in which farmers paid the full market price for fertiliser, but had it delivered to their homes by a non-governmental organisation at no additional cost. A subset received this “discount” at harvest time, while another group were also offered free delivery, but only when planting time was imminent. Still others were offered a 50% subsidy on the market price, an approach commonly taken by governments to encourage fertiliser use. As the model of time-inconsistent preferences predicted, the offer of free delivery early in the season pushed up usage of fertiliser by 11 percentage points over a control group who were not offered anything. The same discount late in the season, however, had a statistically insignificant effect. A 50% subsidy later in the season, a much costlier policy than free delivery, pushed up usage by about as much as the early discount.

Interestingly, nearly half of a group of farmers who were offered a choice picked early rather than late free delivery. Early delivery means advance payment, with any interest that might have been earned in the interim being forgone. Many farmers, it seemed, were well aware of their own tendency to procrastinate and were looking for a way to force themselves to buy fertiliser.

Such devices can help other procrastinators, too. In recent field trials in the Philippines some smokers who wanted to quit were offered a “commitment contract”. Those who signed up put money into a zero-interest bank account. If they passed a test certifying that they were nicotine-free six months later, they got their money back. If not, it went to charity. The contract increased the likelihood of quitting by over 30% over a control group. Those new-year resolutions need not turn to ash.

* See papers referred to in this article at

This article has been lifted unaltered from The Economist website: