Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Beware of geeks bearing gifts, Part τρία

I’ve written about the risks that Google Glass present to motorcyclists here, and recently on, here. I thought people would find that column pretty boring, but it picked up an above-average 400+ ‘likes’, so maybe I’m not the only guy worried about the road safety implications.

Google founder Sergei Brin recently got married. He posed for wedding photos while wearing Google glasses. Proof, if nothing else, that money can't buy taste.
Notwithstanding the fact that the first such distracted driving case was just thrown out of court in San Diego county, at least eight U.S. states are considering legislation that would make it illegal for glassholes to drive.

Now a Reuters report out of San Francisco (I noticed it on Canada’s Globe and Mail web site) tells us that Google’s actively lobbying at least three of those states—Illinois, Delaware, and Missouri—not to restrict distracted driving by glassholes.

The details of Google’s lobbying program are incredibly infuriating, and prove just how disingenuous the company is, as well as how willing they are to pro-actively increase the danger to all American road users.

Google’s making three arguments: The first is, they’re citing the San Diego case as evidence that the courts have already shown that they are disinclined to regulate Google Glass. 

That’s not true: The San Diego case was thrown out because one judge decided that he couldn’t determine whether or not the glasshole’s device was on or not. The defendant actually only claimed it was in ‘sleep’ mode, and an alert prosecutor might have changed the outcome of the case by pointing out that all it takes to wake the device up is a tilt of the user’s head. I.E., you could wake the device up while driving without even wanting to. Even if the device is off, I have an issue with drivers intentionally blocking that much peripheral vision. Right side shoulder checks? Not so much.

I think the whole, but-it-was-off argument is analogous to some Montana cowboy driving with a couple of beers in his system, and an open beer in his hand. OK, he’s not over 0.08% blood alcohol, but who really thinks that should be legal?

The second argument Google makes with its lobbying is, it’s too early to restrict use. Since there are only a few thousand devices in circulation, they can’t possibly constitute a threat worth regulating.

Those fuckers. So, we should wait until there are millions of them in use, and all those glassholes are writing enraged letters to their legislators? Maybe we should let the liquor industry, and especially heavy drinkers, rewrite our DUI laws, too.

Last but not least, Google’s coyly bleating that “[Google Glass] is not meant to distract but rather connect people more with the world around them.”

BULL FUCKING SHIT!  If drivers want to "connect" with the road and drivers around them, they’ll take the glasses off. Wearing the glasses connects them with distant and virtual parts of the world. That’s the DEFINITION of distraction. They'll connect alright; by physically smashing into pieces of the world, along with cars, motorcycles, bicycles and people.

According to Reuters, Google says that tech issues [read: attracting tech investment] are a big part of current policy discussions in the states. “We think it is important to be part of those discussions.”

Translation: Us and Apple have, basically, about half the money in the U.S. If you want us to invest in your state, keep your lawmakers away from our products.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

I was wrong. #XGIceRace maybe #IsHappening

I stand corrected.

There really were only a couple of hundred tweets in the Twitter search response, when I searched the #XGIceRace hashtag.

But, Paul James corrected me, pointing out:

#XGIceRace generated more than 6,000 tweet and retweets. And after tallying media coverage from the weekend's activities in Aspen, more than 400 media outlets (mostly mainstream) covered the H-D X Games Ice Racing stunt and Street 500/750 introduction news, for a total of 34.2 million media impressions. Good result for H-D, good for the racers, good for the sport. We view it as a success. See, we can be creative…

I still wonder, though, whether ESPN was really excited. I scoured the X-Games own website and found nothing connected to the ice race. If they thought it was more than a marketing tie-in, wouldn't it be mentioned?

Harley-Davidson was onto a good thing, conceptually, introducing a model at an X-Games demonstration event. It was a rare moment when, looking at a marketing effort from the motorcycle industry I found myself thinking, "I wish I'd thought of that."

I was a little underwhelmed by the promotional video they released to the moto-media...

...but the way they'd set up their promotion, it didn't matter what I thought. What mattered were how many people Tweeted their approval of the ice racing show. Presumably, there was some threshold response that would've made ESPN consider including ice-racing as a medal event in coming years.

But using Twitter's search function for #XGIceRace (which was promoted on air, as well as heavily touted on motorcycle web sites, and by Harley itself) turns up only a couple of hundred mentions in the week following the event. I doubt if that's enough Twitter traffic to impress the X-Games, which has something like half a million followers.

Part of the wan response can be put down to the fact that H-D's existing fan base is lukewarm to the new water-cooled 500/750cc models. When it was over, there was no mention of ice-racing anywhere (that I could find) on the X-Games own website; no photos or video. Nada.

There's a ton of great ice racing, on MX-based bikes here in North America, where races are held on outdoor ovals, and indoor short tracks (in hockey arenas). There are also a few epic races held on long "road courses" plowed out of frozen lakes. Check out this helicopter view of the famous "Numb Bum" course in Alberta...'s literally and figuratively cool, eh? At the end of the day, the question is, "Should there be ice-racing at the X-Games?" The answer to that is yes, but sorry Harley, it should be this kind:

You gotta' love a race bike carrying so much lean angle that the left handlebar has to be cut way down to prevent it catching on the racing surface.

Monday, February 3, 2014

A riff on moving pictures

A couple of weeks back, I got an email out of the blue from Courtney Olive, who was a guy I interviewed years ago for a story on the 555 rides (Google it.) Courtney'd scored an interview with Lotfy Nathan, the director of "12 O'Clock Boys".

If you've been living in a cave for the last few months, that's a documentary film about a group of young black guys who gather to ride MX bikes in central Baltimore, contravening just about every imaginable traffic law. Their actions fly in the face of common sense (and, they occasionally fly face-first into immovable objects) but hey, who's judging?

Well, actually, lots of people. The film's a SXSW Film Festival selection. If you're an indy film geek, you know that's a. huge. deal. Especially for a guy who was essentially a novice film-maker. I haven't seen all the recent moto-docs out there, but I don't have to watch them to be virtually certain they're not Southwest-worthy. Getting noticed by the SXSW judges is about the equivalent of qualifying for an FIM 'Superlicense' to race in MotoGP.

Anyway, the reason Courtney contacted me was, he was hoping to place his story at Cycle World, and he wanted an email contact for an editor. I gave him one, but was careful to warn him not to say that he knew me when he queried them. I had a hunch his story would be good.

He wrote me a while later to say that Cycle World had turned down his article, on the grounds that, basically "it's not an image of motorcycles we want to promote". I hooked him up with, which did run the story and I feel better about that anyway.

Motorcycle doc news has been in my inbox lately. Two films--'Why We Ride' and 'Road Warriors: The Bleeding Edge of Motorcycle Racing'--just shared the AMA's Hazel Kolb 'Brighter Image' award. I guess there was no chance '12 O'Clock Boys' was going to get a brighter image award, but I am still trying to process Cycle World deciding to pass on what (I was right) turned out to be an insightful piece of writing about the movie.

I'm probably not going to make myself popular by saying this, but Why We Ride and Road Warriors are destined for obscurity; meanwhile, as Courtney told me, 12 O'Clock Boys "is a film for the ages." Cycle World's editor's didn't get something that Courtney grokked right away: image-conscious motorcyclists may hate the behavior in 12, but the things those guys get out of motorcycling are very closely related to the things we get out of it.

It seems as if everyone's making motorcycle "films" these days. My co-religionist Stephen Pate's taken it upon himself to call out the most egregious examples of this hipster phenomenon.

On the face of it, Stephen and I are both throwing stones from the front yards of our glass houses; I'm involved to one degree or another in no less than three motorcycle films that are in various states of development (or should I say, three circles of development hell?) And, Stephen's shifting emphasis from pure, high-level restoration work to a media-centric business model that I'll probably write more about soon.

I think I can speak for him though, in that what drives us around the bend is the way most of these guys seem to have settled on motorcycles because they make good subject matter. I'd like them a lot more if I thought they really loved bikes and riding, and after years of just living the life, felt that they had unique insights of their own to add to the canon.

Go-Pro is everywhere. Now, the camera that's ubiquitous wherever motorcycle riders gather is also attempting to become a media channel. I couldn't believe it when I saw that Marc Marquez had what seemed to be his own personal Go-Pro camera on the top of his helmet at the Superprestigio. I mean seriously... if there's anyone who doesn't need to record his own motorcycle adventures, it's him. His every move is already documented.

A long time ago, in a land far away I lived and worked in a beautiful National Park in the Canadian Rockies. All summer long, busloads of Japanese tourists would arrive at some incredibly scenic jumping-off point along the highway; they'd all troop off the bus, stand in front of some mountain vista, and take turns photographing each other, with their backs to the landscape. When they were done, they'd get back on the bus and drive to the next spot.

Ironically, a lot of those photo locations were trailheads, from which hikers or climbers or horsepacking trips (yes, children, there was a time before mountain bikes) set off to actually experience the landscape. But those tourists had their backs to it; the only time they saw it was in the background of photos they were framing in their friends' cameras.

"OK, got it. Here's your camera back, and here's mine; take a shot for me too, please."

Everyone who lived and worked in the parks was bugged by that phenomenon, although we knew that those people were paying our bills.

I may just be an angry old man. But most people who record every lap of their track day, or won't even go for a street ride without recording it, are so obsessed with documenting their ride that they're not really experiencing it first hand.