Monday, 30 June 2014

Mont Ventoux!

In between Ph.D. defences and my upcoming cycling conference in the UK, I've been hanging out with my friends Eric and Astrid in Bilthoven, especially for Eric's 50th birthday cycling trip that he planned for Provence and the famous Mont Ventoux. 5 other Dutch friends along with Eric and I headed 1200 km south to the base town of Bedoin. Monday June 23 was D-Day, and here are some pics from the climb.



Basic stats: start 309 m, summit 1912 m, 22 km.

Nickname: "Le Geant de Provence"

After a gentle 3-5% first 4 km, you hit the forest and it's a relentless 10%+ for about 9 km to Chalet Reynard. From there, it's a moonscape rocky bald top 6 km due to clear-cutting. Strong winds and crazy weather can play havoc up top.
The memorial to British rider Tom Simpson is about 3 km from the summit, and is placed where he collapsed and died during the 1967 Tour from a combo of heat stroke and tons of drugs and alcohol in his system. It's a pilgrimage shrine for cyclists today.

Summit pic that Eric took of me around the final steep switchback. I rather like the composition and my leaning into the switchback. 

The tower is enormous, and makes the bald giant even more imposing from every direction. Those of you from Brock, just think how Schmon Tower sticks out from everywhere around St. Catharines and magnify the 100 m Niagara Escarpment by 19 times!

Total climbing time was 1:40 at a pretty comfortable 225W average. But with the howling winds up top combined with the long wait for the rest of the group, not to mention minimal body fat and Asian heritage, I was completely freezing as we started the descent. To the point that I had a pretty wicked case of top tube shimmy the whole way down the first 6 km to Chalet Reynard due to the combination of my shaking and the strong crosswind. Luckily I'm a decent bike handler and managed it by clamping the top tube with my knees along the straightaways.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Cucumber News


The very Saturday that I arrived here in the Netherlands to stay with my colleague Hein Daanen, his phone was ringing like crazy with media requests. This was due to his having just published new child clothing sizing charts based on changes in children's heights and weights over the past years. All the various stations were making a big deal on whether this meant kids were fatter or more obese, and apparently some medical groups are suggesting that sizing should not be revised and used instead to subconsciously shame people into doing things to decrease weight.
Anyway, that afternoon Hein was called to the main NOS studios in Hilversum to do radio and TV interviews, so I tagged along. Apparently those trees outside the studios are the most filmed trees in all of the Netherlands, as many TV interviews are done there!
Hein is often on media duties here in the Netherlands, and jokes that he's on the media rolodex under "C" for "Cold" but now also for "Cucumber" news, slang for filler on slow news days!

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Windy Windmills

Can you count how many windmills are behind me here in the Kinderdijk area next to the town of Alblasserdam? Let's just say that there were a lot of them. Eric, Astrid and I have had some very flat but superbly scenic rides here in the Netherlands. There's endless quiet bike paths and town roads to explore and, when riding with Eric, get horribly lost on. Today we parked the car at the small village of Noorderloos and spent about 30 min wandering around trying to find it again at the end of the day. At least we highly amused the patrons at the local pub as we rode by about 3 times while scratching our heads.

When you're not being delayed by the numerous train crossings, there's always boat crossings and drawbridges. 

The towns are almost impossibly pretty, with canals, boats, nice brick city centres, and well-kept houses.

Some shots here of the local wildlife... 

Friday, 27 June 2014

Fancy-Pants Dutch Defence

OK, there was an actual official reason for me to be here in the Netherlands, and that was to be the "Highly Learned Opponent" for Koen Levels's Ph.D. defence at the VU Amsterdam. The Dutch have the fanciest and most formal defences hands-down. And yes, the candidate actually addresses me by that title after I ask a question! The 4-5 opponents, in addition to the "promoter" and "co-promoters" all are dressed in white shirt, black tie, and formal gowns. The event is in the main auditorium and the beadle leads us in an procession complete with mace. Then exactly at one hour, she comes back and drags us all out.
After we proceed onto stage, the candidate gives a presentation for 10 min. We then move to the front of the stage and the "Opponents" then share the remaining 50 min of questions. First before the defence, we all meet in the boardroom, and the Dean begins with reading a biblical verse about teachers. We then discuss our planned questions and get our instructions. As you can see, Koen and his two proxies (doesn't have to be academics) all dress up in tuxedos with tails.

George Havenith from Loughborough University and me. Oh yes, we also start our questioning with the opener "By the virtue of the rector magnificus and by my right..." Of course, my favourite part of the whole ceremony comes afterwards, when the candidate hosts a reception for everyone. Then later that night, we were invited to a private fancy dinner. And my own students don't believe me when I tell them I evaluate all defences based on the catering!

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Van Moof Bikes

City bikes are everywhere in the Netherlands, and the vast majority are heavy big commuter bikes. While in Amsterdam, I visited Van Moof Bikes, which makes functional but highly fashionable and cool designed city bikes. I've got to say I'm super-impressed!

The design is very urban chic and highly functional and well thought-out. You can get all the typical commuter accessories, such as different types of front baskets and rear racks. The built in big chain lock is also a great idea. It's stored IN the frame, so you just pull it out whenever needed.

They started just about 5 years back and have just come out with their first e-bike model. OK, to a dedicated cyclist that's the epitome of uncool, but sometimes it's hip to be square so I took it out for a spin around the nearby park. It's graded electric so that you get more power the harder you pedal. A bit disconcerting at first because it feels like you're getting pushed faster than you think you're going. Also comes with a "find your bike" app in case it's stolen! The bike on the right is especially designed for those with limited space for storage. Most models have disc brakes too.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Cool Bike Shop: Lola Bike & Coffee

Was on a road trip to the Canadian Embassy in den Haag today. Much to my disappointment, they don't have free dispensers of maple syrup! Anyway, wandering through the city afterwards, came across the super-cool "Lola Bikes & Coffee" right in the main pedestrian area. That wooden bike on the left is just one of the many funky bikes to be found here. Great surprise find! And of course the name "Lola" is close to my heart.
It's both a functioning bike shop, mini-bike museum, and a great cafe hangout. None of the three components feel tacked on, and it's just a great place to ogle bike stuff and hang out even if you don't like bikes. That's a very cool Cinelli track bike upper right.

The place isn't just one kind of bike shop featuring one type of bike. At the entrance, there's a massive "fat bike" hanging up with painting specific to it. Then throughout the shop, there'd be super high-end carbon road bikes next to funky commuter bikes or vintage bikes. All very tastefully displayed and arranged as in these two examples. It's ALL bike!

There's a big back part devoted to books about cycling, both in Dutch and English. Again, all tastefully arranged more as a nice salon than a bike store. No copies of Cutting-Edge Cycling though... And on the right is the very nice decor of the bar area.

Now THIS is a great spread to while away time on a comfy couch with. Free fresh-squeezed orange juice with my cappuccino and croissant, and a copy of Peloton magazine to peruse.

This being the Netherlands, I think I'm contractually obligated to include this gratuitous shot of a herring stand...

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Lego Art - Nathan Sawaya

Went to a really cool exhibition at the Amsterdam Expo last week, by American artist Nathan Sawaya who chose Lego bricks as his art medium. The work is really neat, as he does everything from recreating/reimagining classic paintings and sculptures, through to his own original work. With Lego, he uses a mix of both 2D and 3D depending on what he wants to impart. He has also recreated many famous sculptures including "David" and also "Venus de Milo."
An example of how Sawaya uses 2D and 3D to bring focus to different sculptures. On the left is Klimt's "The Kiss" and on the right "American Gothic." There were also ones like "The Scream" with the central character in 3D with the rest of the painting in 2D behind, and "The Wave" with layers of waves.
Sawaya will also use smaller or larger Lego bricks depending on the desired effect. On the left is a highly pixelated Mona Lisa with pretty large bricks. On the right Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring" is mostly 2D, with a large 3D pearl earring to put it clearly into central focus.

Bet you've never seen or imagined creating a Lego stained glass. Super cool.

A life-sized replica of Yo-Yo Ma's cello, and a very cute polar bear cub.

Some really cool work here. I really love both this swimmer and the "Disintegration" piece on the right.

Sawaya started in corporate law but saw the light and became an artist instead. Many of his personal pieces focus on breaking out a shell or conformity into a new world of your own passion and dreams. He also does most of his own sculptures in primary or monochrome colours, which has the effect of making them stand out in stark relief. The piece on the left also follows the "let your dreams be free" motif, but I kept coming back to "Man with Boy" on the right, with its use of a "toy" to sculpt such a serious scene.

And then there's this 6 m long T-rex!

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Hup Holland Hup!


Been in the Netherlands this past week on a research visit with my pal Hein Daanen. And just like 2012 when we were living here during Euro 2012, orange is everywhere. World Cup campaign began with a nearly inconceivable 5-1 trouncing and humiliation of reigning 2xEuro and World Champs La Roja of Spain. Took me a few goals to remember that I was watching IN the Netherlands with Dutch pals, and that I should be cheering for the Oranej!

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Pride Cometh Before the Fall

Well, I wrote the "Fonthill Airborne Regiment" post a few weeks back before posting it recently, and the old saw about pride and fall came back to bite me in the butt, literally. Feb 3, the boys and I had a fabulous day of boarding, and spent the day really focusing on our carving technique during our lesson with Curtis. So the final run of the day, the final half down Mardi Gras and in sight of the chalet, I decided to do this jump by the lift tower that I pretty much always land...

I landed all right, but then caught an edge and just walloped down hard on my right butt, sliding on my back and headfirst for a good while downhill. When I got up I instantly knew something was wrong, with the feeling like my gluteus had contracted and refused to release. I managed to make my way down but could not bend down and the boys needed to unclip me. I was in so much agony afterwards that, after 2h, I had to catch a lift home. Luckily, my guardian angels Jayne and Dominic were on their way home to Brantford and drove us home. I went to Emergency and luckily nothing was broken, but I was in agony and had so much swelling and bruising that I gained 4.7 kg (not a typo) after a week!

The picture above of my right leg was taken 12 days afterwards, so you can imagine what my entire leg was like! Oh well, I've now regained most of my mobility and lost most of the inflammation weight, but the muscle/bone contusion remains and I'm using the bike to gradually rebuild my fitness.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Brock Research Celebration

This past Tuesday (Feb 25), Brock had its annual Research Celebration event. There were research posters from about 80 faculty and students, and also a ceremony honouring recent award winners. It took 18 months or more after the fact, but I got the official recognition of the renewal of my Canada Research Chair position. Of course, I'm already busy plotting what comes when this magic carpet rides ends in fall 2017.

As a bit of a lark, I decided to dress up for the event, breaking out the full Pablo Nero Omega Pharma - QuickStep fancy tie, hankie, and even cuff links. It was good camouflage, as nobody really recognized me. Or at least until I blew my cover by hanging around the food table too much!

As you see above, the scary thing is seeing my Both Sides face much larger than real life at the event. Couldn't resist taking a gag picture with myself.