A Case of Real Bad Knees

I’ve been biking and and swimming for as long as I can remember, and running since my twenties, but it has only been in the last few years that I have felt any pain in the knees. Aging may be a contributing factor. Another may be that I essentially stop running when I’m biking a lot. Or it may be the bike.

For the last several years I’ve been riding to and from work – about ten miles each way – several days a week. My early route involved several steep hills. I initially managed with no pain, but after a few years, I was finding it painful to climb the stairs at work after riding.

Last summer I switched to a less hilly, slightly longer route, which helped. I also switched from a single 53-tooth chainring to a 50 and 40 in front, which helped in climbing hills. I’ve also tried to be diligent about not pushing big gears. But I still had some pain.

A lot of articles on knee pain advised that pedaling with your legs too straight or too bent can put too much pressure on the joint. Other articles claimed that cycling itself over-exercised some leg muscles which then overwhelm other leg muscles and hurt the knee. This Active article is typical of those:

The VMO, or vastus medialis oblique, is the teardrop quadriceps muscle that runs along the inside of the thigh down towards the knee. In cycling, the vastus lateralis (quadriceps muscle on the outside of the thigh) often becomes overdeveloped, resulting in a muscular imbalance. The overpowering of the vastus lateralis can make the kneecap track too much towards the outside of the femur during pedaling, which in turn wears away the cartilage and causes pain.

And here’s another from Bike Radar:

Those ‘large muscles of the thigh’ can get very large with regular two-wheeled activity, and this is where problems start.

The normal movements of the knee are finely balanced, and with different muscle groups pulling at the patella from slightly different angles, it doesn’t take much to upset things. Add to this tight muscles restricting normal motion, varying saddle heights and feet firmly planted in angled cleats, and it’s amazing we don’t all cycle with fixed grimaces.

I ride a Xootr Swift in an upright position. It folds by removing the seat post, so there are two quick release clamps on the post. When you unfold the bike you have to estimate the height of the seat post and clamp it. Despite the two clamps, I have often found that the seat slowly drops as I ride. Tightening the quick release only slows it down a bit.

According to a second Bike Radar article, and many others, pain at the front of the knee is usually blamed on a saddle set too low, or long crank arms, or pushing big gears. Pain behind the knee is rarer, and usually blamed on a saddle set too high, or too far back. Because I was stopping several times to raise it, my saddle may have been too high at times, and too low at times. But the pain feels more anterior than posterior, so I suspected pedaling when the saddle was too low was the problem.

A few months ago I measured the saddle position on my Serotta. All Serottas were custom-fit, so I figured that maintaining the same saddle distance from the crank would be ideal. I set the Swift saddle to 31.5″ from the center of the pedal axle, and added a pipe clamp to keep the seat post from dropping. The last few months were challenging due to a snowy winter and a pulled hamstring, but it seemed that my knees were improving over the last three weeks of riding again.

Sunday night I measured and found that the saddle had migrated two inches lower over the last few weeks. So I set it back to 31.5″. Riding on Monday I felt more power in each leg stroke, but also some twinges of pain, particularly in the back of the left knee. I also felt some discomfort climbing the steps at work. Pain in the back of the knee tells you the saddle is too high, so last night I set the saddle down to 31″. We’ll see how it feels tonight.

Update 20150415: Riding was pain-free with the saddle at 31″, and climbing the steps at work is less painful than yesterday.

Indiana to change name

The Indiana General Assembly has doubled down on the recent religious discrimination law with a joint Senate resolution that will change the state’s official name to Homophobiana.

In addition the bill provides that the Constitution of the State of Indiana guarantees the right of the straight people of Indiana to engage in homophobic practices. Provides that the general assembly may not pass a law that unreasonably abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to refuse to employ homosexual or transgendered workers, or anyone that owns a small doggie named, or frequently called, Precious. Provides that no business is required to transact business with any homosexual or transgendered workers, or anyone that has ever watched more than three episodes of Ellen DeGeneres in one calendar week. Provides that the new constitutional provision does not modify any: (1) provision of the common law; (2) statute relating to trespass or eminent domain; or (3) other property right, existing or previously enacted statute, or existing or previously adopted administrative rule.

Can We Not Trust Our Scientists?

Last weekend, I waited out a cold in bed, and watched the last half of a 1957 scifi flick, The 27th Day, which I had seen as a boy and vaguely remembered. The plot was simple enough. For their own reasons, aliens snatched up an American reporter (Gene Barry), a British woman, a Chinese girl, a German physicist and a Soviet soldier. (The females had no careers because this was 1957 and women just stayed home, or something.) To each they gave three capsules that could eliminate all human life within a 1500 mile radius of a given coordinate. The capsules would only function for 27 days, probably because the more advanced a culture, the faster its tech becomes obsolete. The aliens then sent them home, but shortly afterwards announced the situation worldwide. To their credit all five tried to avoid letting the weapons be used. The poor Chinese girl killed herself while the British woman sensibly dumped her capsules into the channel then less sensibly flew to LA to join Gene Barry in hiding. The Soviets needed torture, sodium pentathol and a good bit of lying to get the capsules from the soldier. The physicist happened to be in LA, too, and was being held by a US government that hadn’t yet adopted torture as a matter of course.

As it turned out, those pesky Soviets were waiting until the last minute to cleanse North America of capitalists, but like many movie scientists (and Spock and eventually Sheldon Cooper), the German physicist was also brilliant outside his chosen field. He analyzed some alien markings on the capsules and decided that he could use them to kill only the bad people. Luckily he didn’t screw up that alien conjugation, or he might have killed only the good people. Or the left-handers. In any case he killed a bunch of people whose only crime was being an Enemy of Freedom with no due process. How Randian.

In the movies there are always those good scientists who heroically risk everything to save the world and those evil scientists who risk destroying the world because they like science better than people. In the real world, most scientists spend a lot of time at the bench and test their stuff eight ways from Sunday before even writing a paper, but they are often funded by venal people that are more devoted to the necessities of commerce than the ideals of science.

In Should the Smithsonian and Other Museums Blow Off Big Fossil?, Greg Laden asks whether public institutions should dump the contributions of those venal people in the oil industry that are paying scientists to muddle the public debate over Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW), or climate change. Such institutions rely heavily on corporate money because public money has dwindled under low taxation, so Laden and his commenters suggest raising taxes.

I wonder, though, if we can actually ever separate public money from corporate money. My opinion is that even Pharaohs, Caesars and Kings probably had to answer to the business interests of their era, and that Premiers, Prime Ministers and Presidents will always do the same. Probably the best we can do is to erect a bit of a firewall between those at the benches and those in the marketplace, and hope the scientists aren’t any worse than the rest of us.

Will Fracking be the next Fischer-Tropsch?

Rigzone has posted an interesting article on the US drilling industry’s reaction to the drop in crude oil prices: US Drillers Scrambling To Thwart OPEC Threat

Exxon says it has cut the time it takes to drill a well in North Dakota’s Bakken formation by one-third over the past four years. It has also cut by half the cost of fracturing the rock and preparing the well for production. Exxon will run 13 rigs in the Bakken this year, the same number it did last year, despite the low prices.

Companies will save money in the coming months because service companies, rig operators and other suppliers to the industry will lower rates to keep business. Oil companies have been telling investors in recent weeks they expect to see cost reductions of 10 percent to 40 percent, depending on location and type of service.

Drillers are also focusing on the wells in the parts of formations that they know to be the most prolific, and cutting back drilling in places where they aren’t quite sure what’s below. That reduces overall spending without dramatically decreasing production.

U.S. shale drillers will never push costs as low as OPEC countries. But the U.S. industry may be able to survive — or even thrive — if drillers can learn to quickly adapt.

The conventional wisdom in the energy depletion punditry seems to be that hydraulic fracturing is doomed unless Brent and WTI prices push back to $75 per barrel, or more. But the ‘OPEC threat’ tenor of the Rigzone piece reminded me of the oil-stranded Third Reich’s efforts to produce gasoline from coal – despite the costs – during World War II.

I am wondering if a serious enough Middle East war might increase the WTI price enough to make fracking financially feasible – if only for a few more years. Because with the Ukrainian situation, ISIL, and Netanyahu’s right-wing swerve, a serious proxy war in the Middle East is looking more and more possible.

Can We Trust Our Scientists?

A few weeks ago while looking at the changes in the latest dietary guidelines, I asked whether we could trust our experts. In his latest post, The View From Outside, John Michael Greer asks a similar question about the  scientific community as a whole:

Within the community of researchers, the conclusions of the moment are, at least in theory, open to constant challenge — but only from within the scientific community.

The general public is not invited to take part in those challenges. Quite the contrary, it’s supposed to treat the latest authoritative pronouncement as truth pure and simple, even when that contradicts the authoritative pronouncements of six months before. …

Especially but not only in those branches of science concerned with medicine, pharmacology, and nutrition, the prostitution of the scientific process by business interests has become an open scandal. When a scientist gets behind a podium and makes a statement about the safety or efficacy of a drug, a medical treatment, or what have you, the first question asked by an ever-increasing number of people outside the scientific community these days is “Who’s paying him?”

Tom Whipple takes energy depletion very seriously. In addition to his briefs for ASPO, Whipple has been posting a series called The Peak Oil Crisis in his hometown paper, the Falls Church News Press. In his latest installment, The Mother of All Black Swans, he once again reports that unlimited energy is the only “way out.”

Coming down the road are a pair of technologies that will produce nearly unlimited amounts of cheap, pollution-free energy, and have the potential to change life-as-we-know-it.

I am talking about the twin technologies of cold fusion and hydrinos, each of which, when widely deployed, will constitute a revolution in the history of mankind fully equivalent to the discovery of fire, the wheel, the agricultural revolution, or the industrial revolution. Both of these technologies are based on turning the hydrogen found in water into virtually unlimited amounts of energy at very low cost and without any harmful pollution. …

So where are these technologies and when can we expect to hear and read about them in the mainstream media, especially if they are getting close to becoming commercial products? The answer to this is simple. Both these technologies are based on science that is beyond that generally accepted by scientific community, especially those who have never looked into the results of the experiments. While those few scientists who have tested and are familiar with the details of these technologies tell us that they are for real, the bulk are waiting for irrefutable proof that they actually produce large amounts of cheap energy before they are willing to accept that our knowledge of nature may not be as complete as we like to think and that some scientific theories may be wrong.

Proponents of Cold Fusion, or Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR) persistently claim that mainstream scientists ignore them, but when mainstream scientists do take the trouble to debunk their claims, LENR enthusiasts have an almost endless list of additional links to supposedly irrefutable evidence that LENR is just around the corner. They also cite oblique indications that NASA or some private firm is funding LENR research as proof that we will all soon be drawing almost free kilowatts of electricity from cold fusion devices in our basements.

Many mainstream scientists are more impressed with controlled ‘hot’ fusion, which has been just around the corner since the H bomb tests, and characterize any doubts about the fusion research at ITER as anti-science. They cite news releases that Lockheed-Martin’s SkunkWorks has a new design for a compact fusion reactor to support their belief that we will all soon be drawing almost free kilowatts of electricity from compact nuclear fusion devices just down the street.

Yet other mainstream scientists still hold forth that some configuration of fission reactor will be inherently safer, cleaner and more efficient than the ones we have built so far. They cite news releases about Thorium-MOX reactors to support their belief that we will all soon be drawing almost free kilowatts of electricity from nuclear fission plants a few miles upwind.

Nuclear power is not the only technology that is supposed to save us, though. When environmentalists express concern about crops of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), some scientists insist that only GMOs promise to produce enough food for the increasing world population. They’ve been promising that for almost as long as the fusion camp.

On ScienceBlogs, Greg Laden linked to an Atheist Radio interview of “GMO expert” Dr Anastasia Bodnar. Laden will also interview Dr Bodnar, but the comments of a plant evolutionary biologist, going by Laurent, echo Greer:

… pro-GMOs advocates are too often a bit naively scientistic in their approach of the issue, and quick and prone to label any less optimistic contender with an anti-science stamp that is just plain unfair. I understand this is because they are not used to meet with “resistance” or “lesser optimism” from people that understand GMO technology correctly, since most of the time this is about stumping onto not-so-knowledgeable tech-deniers. But still.

When I read in your comment that golden rice’s failure has directly its roots from people trying to prevent its production, I really wonder if you’re not dismissive of the fact that part of the issue is also adoption by local producers of the new technology / variety. This step is often overlooked, even though there are strong cultural and economic constraints to change. Hypertechnophiles tend to view real world change as a logical and self fulfilling prophecy, and that’s where they are bound to fail. GMO’s don’t escape this, because some subtleties are not even considered of importance. (And in the golden rice case, rice colour was itself a troubling matter for people that would have benefitted from the product).

Beside, GMO’s will be an important convenience tool for the industry and the potent industrial agriculture occuring in the temperate western world, but one cannot assume that it will take over more complex agricultural spaces, especially in the tropics. We should stop arguing that it will put an end to starvation or local agricultural deficiencies, because their causes are way beyond the rather limited scope of gene-technology and involve many aspects of ecology, economy and culture that are actually far from understood.

GMO’s are an oversold technology, and should reasonnably be put back at their place (important, but not miraculous). First, researchers should be more carefull to not mimicking industry narratives as to how this tech will solve major societal issues. Yes, there’s some interesting potential, but no, we are not exactly filling the full bragged promises.

I remember as a youngie (that’s the previous millenium I realise), private industry breeders took scientists to the field trials for transgenic potatoes supposedly resistant to mildew in my homecountry. And guess what? GMO clones were the only diseased plants. Of course, we then discovered about gene silencing processes. We then discovered about RNA interference. We then discovered about small RNAi and transcriptional dynamics. All this knowledge came out thanks to transgene-tech. But on the other hand, there’s something quite disappointing: the discourse to promote GMO has never changed a iota over the first (and basic) failures, and never had any pro-GMO acknowledged these. Even you, you are saying words I’ve heard about twenty years ago already. To me, an unbalanced immutable narrative is not the sign of healthy or mature discourse.

Same happened when transgenes were not supposed to cross species boundaries, were not supposed to create environment selective for weed or insect resistance or lead to further the need for increased herbicide weed control, were not supposed to break free in human food tracks while supposed to stay in cattle grains and the list is still going on.

Of course, none of these documented events were that bad and catastrophic. But as the list was growing in the previous decades, it should have induced at minima a change in the narrative, so as to adjust to all the potential prescriptive bad luck events that had been correctly predicted by evolutionary biologists.

When you promise gold, people expect gold, not golden rocks. Frankly, while I completely understand how one is exasperated by anti-GMO bad arguments, I cannot despise the “anti”-crowd for thinking transgene tech is sort of a snake-oil. Because it sort of looks like it is.

Which lead to a question worth posing: in times of dire research funding, how much grant monney is diverted from potentially efficient alternatives to fuel biotech only approaches because of its inner narrative of miraculous solution?

I ask that, because it looks like conventional breeding has improved yield potential at a much larger scale, and GMO builds upon a success without acknowledging that part coming from hard blind genetics, taking gratification for a success it doesn’t compare to yet.

Pickens, Pipeline, Pet Coke

In the Calgary Herald, T. Boone Pickens writes, an OpEd, Calgary, I’m so sorry about the Keystone pipeline:

Because the pipeline crosses national boundaries, the State Department is charged with producing reports. Yet, after State made its report, the White House went “agency shopping” and asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take another look at Keystone. To no one’s surprise, the EPA fired off a letter objecting to pipeline construction, citing concerns of increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

Not once does Pickens mention that a primary objection to the KXL is that it will be carrying dilbit – a much hotter, more toxic raw material than ordinary crude oil – across the Ogallala Aquifer.

The problem with the EPA’s math is that Canadians don’t need permission from the U.S. to recover that oil and sell it. Canadians will extract it and ship it overland by train or via pipeline and tanker, not south to the United States, but west to Asia, or elsewhere. When oil prices come back up, Korea, Japan, China and others will benefit from the Canadian oilsands, not the U.S.

Pickens fails to mention that even with the KXL in place, all the oil from that dilbit will be shipped to Asia anyway. Nor does he mention that Canada does not currently have refineries with coker units needed to process the comparatively dirty dilbit. The US does have refineries with coker units near the Gulf of Mexico, but such refining would lead to additional carbon in the atmosphere both in the US and abroad.

Roughly 15% of dilbit ends up as a petroleum coke byproduct. ‘Pet coke’ is like a charcoal containing heavy metals, sulphur and other impurities removed from dilbit during the coking part of the refining process. Pet coke can be used as an alternative fuel in coal-fired powerplants, but produces 5 – 10% more greenhouse gasses than coal. Pet coke is often sold by North American firms to Asian and South American firms for energy production.

Pet Coke could be called Pet Koch, because the largest US sellers are Koch Carbon, owned by Charles and David Koch, and Oxbow Corporation, owned by William I Koch.

Will Climate Get Even Weirder?

Even though we just lived through the warmest calendar year, the warmest twelve month period, the warmest January and probably the warmest February on record, the most entrenched deniers cite the arctic conditions this winter in the Eastern US as proof that there is no, “global warming.” Even so, easily observable weather events of the last few years – superstorms, torrential rains, mudslides, derechos, heat waves, droughts – are slowly beginning to turn the tide of public opinion on Climate Change, or perhaps Global Weirding. But according to a paper in Science Magazine, we’re in for a lot worse very soon. I don’t have a subscription to Science Magazine, and the abstract is just abstract, but here is a slightly edited version of the Editor’s summary:

Atlantic and Pacific multidecadal oscillations and Northern Hemisphere temperatures
Byron A. Steinman, Michael E. Mann, Sonya K. Miller

Which recent climate changes have been forced by greenhouse gas emissions, and which have been natural fluctuations of the climate system? Steinman et al. combined observational data and a large collection of climate models to assess the Northern Hemisphere climate over the past 150 years … At various points in time, the Pacific Multidecadal Oscillation (PMO) and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) have played particularly large roles in producing temperature trends. Their effects have combined to cause the apparent pause in warming at the beginning of the 21st century, known as the warming “hiatus.” This pause is projected to end in the near future as temperatures resume their upward climb.

On Science Blogs, Greg Laden discusses the article and shows some helpful charts. The paper notes that Pacific Ocean temperatures have been low, but are due to swing back up, and since the Pacific is so large, it will drive the whole system temperature up. Even with the Pacific trending low we have seen record warming and bizarre weather. What happens next?

Study author Michael Mann told me, “The PMO appears to be very close to a turning point, based on the historical pattern. So we don’t expect it to continue to plunge downward. We expect a turning point soon.” In his summary of the work in Real Climate, Mann notes that “the most worrying implication of our study [is] that the “false pause” may simply have been a cause for false complacency, when it comes to averting dangerous climate change.”

There won’t be any averting. There will be a great deal of death, loss, hardship and regret, followed by half-measures and finger-pointing.

Update 20150301: Scientific American, The Pause in Global Warming Is Finally Explained

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