Health Care Reform - Letter to the President

Mr. President,

I missed the health care reform conference call last week due to a meeting.

I want you to know that there are millions of us out here ready to fight the good fight for you like we did in the campaign. If you really want me on your side giving it my best, you need to push for a single payer plan.

The people have made it clear in poll results that they want a single payer plan. The math for real solutions only works for a single payer plan. Any other solution will just push the problem down the road.

I think you can call on the people to go over the the heads of the insurance lobbyists and make this happen. I'd love to be a part of your legacy of solving the health care crisis in the USA.

Thank you.


IceBike Shoes

I used to bicycle a lot; hence my web handle "SchreiberBike". Riding year-round in Illinois means learning how to ride in cold weather. I put this information up in a web site back in 2001. It was hosted on Tripod.com and they took it down without notice because of an error I made. Although I had some good feedback, I didn't put it back up.

Here's the information from 2001, with a few edits, pulled from the Internet Archive's WaybackMachine. I recovered most of the pictures from my PC.

Shoes for Cold Weather Cycling

How I Keep my Big Feet Warm

For me, keeping my feet warm has always been the hardest part of winter cycling. I've just made up a pair of shoes that have finally solved the problem for me. I've tried many suggestions from other ice bikers, but I haven't been able to do the most effective one: wearing extra layers of socks inside extra large loose fitting shoes.

When you normally wear size 13 shoes (48 Euro) it's hard to find cycling shoes that are large enough to allow for wearing extra layers of socks without constricting your feet. There are a couple brands available in up to size 50, but at prices over $150.00 US I couldn't justify them. (Doing things inexpensively is critical.) I settled on finding shoes and modifying them to use SPD cleats.

A logical spot for big shoes is the nearby University of Illinois football program. Almost all of the football players are big guys so I thought they might have some old shoes they could spare. I found that they were going to donate last year's shoes to Goodwill soon. I haunted Goodwill and was rewarded with a pair of size-15 high-top turf shoes for $8.00. The turf shoes have a rubber sole with dozens of quarter-inch nubs rather than metal cleats.

At this point I had two options for the shoes: clipless pedals or PowerGrips. I had done my winter riding with PowerGrips for years, but my rat trap pedals were shot and I'd have to get the extra-large size which were about $30.00 US; so I decided to go with off-brand SPD compatible pedals from Nashbar. The good news was that they were on sale for about $20.00. If price was no object I would have liked the SpeedPlay Frogs, but the cost was too high.

Cleat location
I eyeballed the shoes next to my present shoes and used a marker to show where I thought the cleat should go on the new shoes. The standard mounting for SPDs have about 3/4 inch of front to back adjustment and 1/4 inch of side to side. I was glad I had that much adjustment available, because I found it difficult to estimate where the ball of my foot would fall in the over-size shoe and how much clearance I would need for the crank arm.

I didn't want to attach the SPD cleat directly to the shoe because the localized stress would likely destroy the sole of the shoe, and because I wanted to distribute the pressure of the cleat over more of my foot (diagram below). I visualized a metal plate that would be as large as possible, but no heavier than necessary, and not so large as to disturb the natural shape of the sole. The bottom of the shoe is not flat. I drew a shape on the sole of the shoe about three and three quarter inches by two inches and cut the nubs off of that area with a utility knife.

The next step was to make up a metal plate. An engineer could tell me more about the appropriate material to transfer the forces, but what I did was go to the hardware store and hold samples of metal in my hand until I found one that felt right. It was also terribly cheap. I used a steel cover plate for an electrical box. I bought two, but was able to make do with one. Cost 44 cents. Tracing the space on the shoe onto cardboard, I copied the shape onto the metal, cut it with a jigsaw, and shaped it with a file. The fore and aft position of the cleat is adjustable along 1/4 by 3/4-inch slots. I cut the slots in the metal by drilling holes then filing along the lines where the cleat would go.

To attach the metal plate to the shoes I drilled holes in the shoes that matched the holes on the mounting plates. I then used 1/4-inch machine screws screwed into "T" nuts, which are inside the shoe beneath the insole. "T" nuts come with a variety of shank lengths. So long as the length of the shank is less than the thickness of sole of the shoe when the screw compresses it, the shank should be as long as possible. This gives more flexibility in the length of the screws. The 1/4 inch size I used is probably overkill. If I did it again I'd use the next size down and I'd also use a screw with a less prominent head.

The length of the screws is difficult to estimate. I bought mine longer than necessary then ground them down to the correct length. To find the correct length I attached the plate to the shoe with the over long screws then measured the excess by placing Allen wrenches of various sizes next to the portion of the screw sticking out inside the shoe. This told me how many mm needed to be ground off.

The metal plate is flat and the sole of the shoe is slightly curved. Something is needed to compensate for the difference in their shapes. First I tried using household caulk, but that broke down almost immediately. I was ultimately successful with double stick foam tape. The tape compensated for the slight rocker in the sole of the shoe and after some riding, I used some more tape on the outboard side of the plate to level the shoe on the pedal.

The bottom of the inside of the shoe is not too smoothly shaped after all this. I upgraded the insole by adding two layers of polypro and some reflective Mylar. This is less than perfect, but it has been adequate for rides up to four hours. I'm still trying to come up with an improvement for this. I've also been putting a small scrap of wadded up nylon sock in the toe of the shoe to fill in the extra space there.

Finishing touches
After riding a bit with an Allen wrench and a screwdriver, I was able to get the cleats adjusted just right. I applied copious amounts of reflective tape. The tape I used is DOT C2, the kind used on tractor-trailer bodies in the US. I followed the pattern of the leather on the shoe and it has been quite durable. Almost as important it covers some of the corporate logos.

The shoes are very comfortable with two pairs of thick wool socks. There is room for chemical toe warmers, but I haven't had the need as we've hardly gotten below zero F here this year.

We haven't had much extreme cold here this winter, so I haven't put them to a real test, but they are a great improvement. Rides over a couple hours at 40 F used to leave me with numb toes. With these shoes I've had a couple of rides longer than that in the single digits Fahrenheit without any problem.

I ride primarily on road, but have also done some riding in the woods with these shoes. The shoes have had good traction in the snow. Despite the experience of many IceBikers, I haven't had any trouble with the SPD pedals icing up. In the worst conditions off-road a spinning kick to the pedal cleared up any clogging.

Amazingly, despite much riding on salted roads, the plate and the screw have shown no corrosion. I think the electrical cover plate that I used may be galvanized, but the edges aren't showing any corrosion either. There has been a bit of rust on the SPD cleat, but nothing serious.

The cleat does stick out on the bottom of the shoe, but the shoe is very walkable. It would only be a problem if I were somewhere where I was concerned about scratching the floor.


10:10 almost exactly

Watches in advertisements are usually shown with the minute and hour hands in roughly the 10:10 position. For the watch model below, I wanted to know exactly what time it was when the hands are in opposing positions.

I can't get an exact time because the answer appears to be an irrational number. Based on the results of the spreadsheet summarized below, the time is approximately 10:09:13.8461472.

time decimal 0.423076923 days


Units Indicated--10.15384615---9.23076912 13.8461472
Angle from vert.-55.38461544°-55.38461472°

Modeling and Rendering

Perhaps the best, certainly the most detailed SketchUp (SU) model I ever made is of my wrist-watch. In the past I’ve bought decent low priced ($30-$40) wrist watches and they last two or three years before completely failing. Three years ago I bought a titanium Seiko SNA139. Though the watch retailed at the time for about $350, I got a used one on ebay for about 1/4th of that. It still looks almost new. If it lasts another six years the purchase is justified financially. Either way I like it and I (mostly) don’t feel like spending that much on a luxury was wrong.

To the point, one day when I was home sick from work, I started a SketchUp (SU) model of the watch. I used a magnifying glass, calipers which measure to about two-thousands of an inch, and to read the smallest letters (just over 1/100th of an inch) on the inner edge of the dial, the eyes of a five-year-old. All together I put (wasted) about 12 hours creating the model. To the best of my knowledge, I captured every detail of the real watch. The SU model if this Seiko SNA139 is available in the 3d warehouse.



Lots of people use Blogger and it's part of Google, so I figure that it must be a pretty good tool.

I'm having tons of trouble with it and I'm not finding tricks to make it work the way I want it to. Perhaps I have unrealistic expectations or perhaps these things are harder to do.

  • I'd like to be able to control where pictures appear in text.
  • I'd like to be able to post pictures with captions.
  • I'd prefer if the HTML didn't have a ton of unrelated garbage in it so that I can keep things straight when I try to edit the HTML.
  • I wish the HTML and Compose windows were large enough to see what I'm working on in context.
  • I'd love it if the "preview" actually looked something like the final.
  • I'd love it if the "edit posts" page showed the same posts as the blog itself.
  • I'd love it if posts never mysteriously combined with each other.
  • I'd like it if I could make some additional edits to the blogs appearance.
  • It would be great if I could find more resources on-line about how to work more effectively with Blogger (seems amazing that I haven't found them so far).

Some of these things are bugs, some are unrealistic expectations, some are probably possible, but I don't know the way to do them. I don't want to have to learn detailed HTML in order to write a visually coherent post.

I felt like I did better in StumbleUpon when I blogged there.


The Box

Originally posted 5/19/09
Jean Piaget described stages of development based on the idea that humans understand in different ways at different ages. Although Piaget over-simplified, I think the idea is sound. It is impossible for a child to think like an adult. The solutions available to an adult are not available to a child.

What is impossible for an adult to think of? What levels of reasoning or abstraction are humans unable to accomplish.

Can we create computers which can go beyond us? Computers can already duplicate known theories based on data. I suspect that computers will soon be able to create theories which are beyond our ability to think of.

That would truly be thinking outside of the box.

Life in Earth Orbit

Originally posted 5/19/09
I predict that in the next ten years, much of the space around Earth will be inaccessible to us. With more and more debris in space, the risk of impacts due to space debris increases geometrically. There will be a cascade of collisions which will make low Earth orbit too dangerous to put expensive satellites (or people) into. It will remain inaccessible for hundreds of years or until it is cleaned up.

Today, depending on your definition, there are as few as ten-thousand or as many as one-million things in orbit around the Earth.

In low Earth orbit (LEO) everything must traveling at least 14,000 miles per hour. Impacts can happen at relative speeds of up to 35,000 mph. Visualize two cars hitting each other at a closing speed of 35,000 mph; pieces will fly off in all directions. Most of the new objects created from the collision will not be in sustainable orbits but enough of it will hang around to be a hazard to other objects in space.

If there are 10,000 objects in space, and two of them collide at high speed, there might immediately be 10,500 objects in space. That increases the chance of additional collisions and the number of objects will continue to increase.

This won't be a problem in all orbits. Because of atmospheric drag, nothing lasts for long in very low Earth orbit; so there won't be too much debris there. Of course because of the atmospheric drag it's difficult to keep a useful satellite there for long. Distant orbits and specifically geosynchronous orbits may be available too. There is a whole lot of extra room out that way and objects are generally traveling in similar directions making them less likely to collide.

Space is a tough place to get anything done. We need to do what we can to keep it from getting more difficult. Solutions are hugely expensive, but we need to study them. If cost benefit analysis is being done to examine this issue, I haven't heard it discussed.

Google Androids Dreaming of Electric Sheep

Originally posted 4/14/09
I don’t usually think much about pop culture, especially things like viral videos sponsored by big corporations. BUT, I couldn’t help but admire the popular video of “Extreme Shepherding” by the "Baaa-Studs." Available here on YouTube.

My first question was how much of it was done with real sheep and how much with computers. The best non-answer I found comes from the 2009/03/24 NYT Technology Blog. They quoted from the agency which produced the video; "the team used some digital trickery to heighten the visual effects." That leaves a lot of wiggle room. I don't doubt that some impressive shepherding was involved, but I'm sure it's mostly CGI.

The agency which produced the video was The Viral Factory at the request of Samsung as a way of bringing attention to their LED based televisions (must have worked). So, it didn't really have anything to do with some Welshmen with too much time on their hands and a strange love of sheep and LEDs. It was a big time corporate advertising campaign which got all of the attention. In searching around, I see that very few people realize this. That's significant, but it's not the reason I wanted to write a blog posting.

What interested me was that when I first saw the video, I thought of the science fiction title "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?". Then I saw that Samsung was involved and I remembered that Samsung was releasing a new phone to go with Google's Android software.

So, it IS:

Sheep > LEDs > Samsung TVs.

Is it ALSO:

Electric Sheep > Androids > Google Android > Samsung Cell Phones?

I often think I'm clever. It's good to be able to put together wide ranging ideas, but sometimes what I'm thinking has no relationship with reality, and that's not so clever.



We shouldn’t torture because:

  • It’s immoral and illegal.
  • It doesn’t matter if it is effective, but if it is to be justified because of effectiveness, it must be compared with traditional interrogation techniques, not against no interrogation at all.
  • It sets a moral standard for the rest of the world to follow - at very least, this means our citizens are more likely to be tortured.

I wrote to the President: (Sometimes I just gotta do it.)

Mr. President,

We should prosecute and acknowledge the crime of torture because:
  • Lack of acknowledgment that it was a crime increases the likelihood that torture will be justified in the future.
  • Next time we are attacked, those who stopped torture will be blamed for not preventing the attack.

While it is not a convenient time politically to bring up this issue, that is not the standard we have for following the Constitution.

Thank you,


By our Pupils We'll Be Taught

This restates and expands on the entry A New Idea for Education posted 3/5/09.

Does it really make sense to learn things, when you aren’t going to use them again after the test? Students know it’s going to happen, but I’m realizing that teachers do it too. When teachers teach, they learn about their students. They learn how their students learn best. They become more effective teachers. But after the final exam, what they learn is mostly thrown away.

In any student / teacher relationship, communication goes both ways.. Good teachers monitor non-verbal communication, class participation, test performance, one-on-one interactions and a myriad of other sources of information. They gradually develop a profile of each student which helps them to reach into the student’s mind to make a connection. I haven’t taught semester long classes, but even in shorter term training, as I learn about my students, I become a more effective communicator and have more success.

Most students, especially in academic disciplines, are pretty well adapted to educational culture. The teacher’s default approach will probably work pretty well with them. It’s the other students who need a different approach: the students who learn kinesthetically rather than through books and lectures; those who need a detailed explanation and are not willing to accept new information “just because”; the student who can develop a relationship with the material, but can’t maintain a relationship with classmates. There are as many combinations of learning characteristics as there are students.

What if placement tests, learning style surveys, high school information, and the students own suggestions could be used to develop a profile of learning characteristics for each student? What if instructors could verify and add to that information? With that profile, the students can learn about their own educational strengths and weaknesses. Teachers, tutors and counselors will have insight into how to be most effective with that student. Each semester will start out on a roll instead of having to get going again from a dead stop. While information about a student’s strengths and weaknesses can be helpful, it cannot be a strict prescription. Material cannot always be adapted to a student’s strengths and weaknesses. In a lecture hall, there is not as much room for customization as in smaller classes and tutoring.

Practically, I envision that when a teacher receives a class roster, the roster would include some summary information about the class and how that class compares with others in the college and department. That could help the teacher decide which instructional methods to use. There would also be a few key words on the learning characteristics of each student. After the first day of class, an instructor might check to see which students stuck out in class and what special needs there may be. For students who need more than a line to describe their learning style, there would be a reference to where to find those notes.

This information could also be mined to increase effectiveness college wide. For example, we could measure changes in students’ learning strengths over time and students could how see those changes impact them. There may be relationships between learning characteristics and career choice. Even student or teacher demographics may have a significant impact.

There are potential problems with this approach. No one wants additional testing. No one wants additional work for instructors. There could be a privacy concern in developing a “profile.” And of course, this idea may not work at all.

This idea occurred to me when reading about how businesses study their customers individually and as groups. I thought about the difference between business and education in how we “maximize” our relationships. That thought process grew into the ideas above. I am new to higher education, working on institutional research in a community college. I have described this in that context, but I can see applications in other environments too. I think this is an idea worth exploring.