Posted by: silverback | 2012/01/11

momentum

“An object in motion tends to stay in motion, unless acted upon by another force.” A paraphrase of one of the most basic laws of Newtonian physics. I’m a big believer in physics, and I also tend to dabble in metaphysics.

When I first started mountain biking, I was learning to ride in some of the most technical terrain in the world – that of the northeastern United States. There were granite minefields strewn throughout every trail system, connected by loamy ravines riddled with old-growth rootballs. After months of getting thrown on my face by tentative approaches to tombstone-shaped slabs, I finally learned to keep pedaling thru the rough sections. The gyroscopic effect of my feet continuing around, and the corresponding rotation of the bike’s wheels, served my balance much better than trying to coast, pedals level to avoid striking the occasional rock. As time has passed, I like to think that I’ve achieved a good balance of pedaling and knowing when to coast.

Momentum is the force that keeps things going. My truck weighs 7000 pounds, and so it takes an enormous amount of power in the form of torque to get that thing rolling. If I’m in traffic and following too closely, then I lose momentum when I have to brake to avoid smacking the idiot in front of me. In turn, I have to then burn a few more ounces of diesel to bring my speed back up to cruise. It’s amazing how many people drive just like that. Brakes—gas-brakes–gas—brakes.. it’s a total waste. There are numerous other situations where momentum is key when piloting a vehicle. Left turns across oncoming traffic, for instance. If one looks ahead for a gap in traffic, then adjusts speed to correspond with the gap, often there’s no need to stop the vehicle, only to wait for an even larger gap to get all that mass moving again. Also in the snow; DO NOT STOP at the base of the slippery hill to gather your wits and assess the situation incorrectly. You will fail. If you have momentum in hand, USE IT.

My little Yamaha R6, on the other hand, is very light by comparison. It, however, is lacking in the torque department. On the track, my best lap times do not come from coming into corners too hot, using lots of brake, then heavily hammering the throttle out. I get my best times by maintaining higher midcorner speeds. I have to keep momentum for the drive out; I also have to try to start building that momentum earlier than the next guy, getting on the throttle just a little more, just a little sooner. I also have to be very careful not to overbrake on my entry to the corner, or risk losing any gains I’ve been able to make.

I also believe momentum is very important in life; in the things we’re trying to accomplish. As a parent, I find that keeping the child moving in the desired direction is often more important than the outcome. I don’t care so much what he’s putting on, just so long as he’s getting dressed. I don’t really care if all his homework is done, so long as he’s heading for the car that’s taking him to school.

I think too often we get stopped, or at least hampered, by the minutiae. We forget to consider the big picture, which is what I hope to accomplish at the end of the day.
In life I think we can also be stymied by such things as doubt and indecision. We end up selling ourselves short by accepting a career or situation that merely pays the bills. Or perhaps we let greed or pride talk us into remaining in a situation that slowly kills our passion.

In my career recently, I’ve been incredibly frustrated by the seeming unwillingness of my superiors to simply maintain momentum. Let’s just get the project fucking finished. That is the goal. Stop putting off the delivery. Stop looking for loopholes in the contract. Stop blowing money on making the wrong parts serve an inelegant purpose. Let’s do it, and do it right, as we intended at the start.

Newton was a very smart man. The converse of the statement above is a reiteration of Newton’s First Law, that “an object at rest, tends to remain at rest…”

So let’s keep it moving, y’all.

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