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Classic Velocity Blog

Squandering the Attention Budget

Classic Velocity

Computers are wonderful things. They have enabled life as we know it today, and have made many things better than they would otherwise be. Computers are not smart, but they can follow complex instructions with unwavering resolve and reliability. Computers also have limited resources. There is a finite amount of memory, processing power, and storage available. Despite this, if you ask them to prioritize so that A is more important than B, they happily comply. Every time. If you tell them to ensure that A never consumes more than N% of the resources they will similarly comply. What does this have to do with vintage iron? Plenty.

The brain is easily the most impressive computer we know. Memory, processing power, and storage are beyond compare. It also has impressive but finite resources available. However, the brain is a strange computer. It is smart. It thinks. And, it does not always blindly follow it's programming. For motorcyclists, this is a particularly interesting phenomenon. We engage in an activity that needs a fair amount of skill, a large amount of processing power, some memory (muscle and mental), and some survival instinct. Many racing and training books refer to the concept of an attention budget. It is a good way to capture the concept of finite mental resources. Riding needs a large amount of the attention budget in order to be done well. Bad news for those of us with ADD or ADHD, yes?

Step away from the Motorcycle !A recent ride served to emphasize just how much of the attention budget is consumed by physical comfort (or discomfort). The day was colder than the forecast the day before had predicted. It was also raining. I was also running behind schedule. I also switched motorcycles at the last minute. Did I mention that this was a vintage event so the equipment is all 40 years old or more? Now most training manuals would say (if they could speak, and had a police issue bullhorn) "Put the helmet down, and step away from the motorcycle !" And my brain would normally agree. But I was looking forward to the event and had not been able to ride in over a week due to the weather, said I would be there, etc, etc, etc. So A should have prevailed over B, but the brain is a strange computer.

So off I went as soon as the rain became a lighter drizzle. It was quickly obvious that it was colder than I thought, and that the jacket really needed the liner. The liner I left in the tank bag of the bike I was originally planning to take. Then the precipitation turned from drizzle to steady rain. Good, I thought, I'll stop and put on the rain gear and gloves. In the krauser case of the bike was my "rain gear roll" which had rain suit, gloves, and a small bottle of rain-x. However, in my haste, I had dropped the middle of the roll in the garage, and all I had was the rain jacket. I was all of 7 miles from home, my jeans were already wet from the knee down, I was cold, and my gloves were slightly wet. The attention budget was partially consumed by personal comfort. The computer would have said turn around, sacrifice a few minutes and at least get the proper gear. The brain is a strange computer.

With the rain jacket on, it was much warmer waist up. An interesting formula is in effect when riding in the rain: CH2O=H2O3 x V or for you non- scientists, the amount of water in your crotch equals the amount of falling water cubed times velocity. In a steady rain, that equates to about 9 gallons per minute at 50 mph. It is also colder the faster you go. But wait, there's more. For years, scientists have been working on smart fabrics that transform under various temperatures and conditions. I am here to tell you that denim has been doing that for centuries now. When denim gets wet and cold, it turns from a comfortable pliable fabric into an instrument of medieval torture. Particularly when applied to your more sensitive regions. It is reported (by my friend in Toronto) that the Canadian plans for conquering the USA involve applying water from the Canadian Shield to all of the blue jeans in the USA. Think about it...But I digress.

You cannot imagine how much of the attention budget gets dedicated to protecting the thermal and aquatic balance in your more sensitive regions. The computer would easily sort out this battle between safety and comfort, and would ensure that comfort would only consume N% of the attention budget. But the brain is a strange computer. It views the immediate discomfort as a very important priority because it remembers back when Og froze his nozzle off by trying to hide from the sabre tooth tiger in the ice fishing hole. It's in the genes, and now it's in your jeans (you see what I did there). Anyway, the situation feeds on itself. You speed up to get there faster and increase the crotch water and make it colder. I have calculated that if I could get to 93.48 mph in those conditions, I would have a tutu made of solid ice. But I digress....

I got to the event with the attention budget entirely depleted. I could not remember riding the last couple of miles. This is either testament to years of riding and training, or deserted country roads. Ironically, the rain stopped right before arrival. Once I managed to dismount, i had the posture of an injured orangutan. I spent an inordinate amount of time contorting myself under the hand dryer in the restroom. It would have earned me a place on the US Gymnastics team, or at least a top 10 on YouTube. Then I got coffee. Then more restroom gymnastics. Some time later, normal sensation returned. For the return trip into the rain, the computer suggested that I avoid repetition by stopping at the Walmart for a pair of rain shell pants of some kind. The brain made a diaper out of a grocery bag instead. I am thinking about patenting it, so remember to ask for plastic rather than paper at the supermarket. You will help brains everywhere to avoid a massive expenditure against the attention budget.

The scary part is, scientists and engineers are working hard to get computers to emulate the brain....