Bicycle Diaries: February 2007

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The world ain't flat

...writes Pankaj Ghemawat
Globalization has bound people, countries, and markets closer than ever, rendering national borders relics of a bygone era—or so we’re told. But a close look at the data reveals a world that’s just a fraction as integrated as the one we thought we knew. In fact, more than 90 percent of all phone calls, Web traffic, and investment is local. What’s more, even this small level of globalization could still slip away.

You can check out the rest of his article here. And to back-up his point myself, just take a look at my ClusterMap above. It's been on this blog since August 2006 displaying in red the number of visits from around the world. The big empty places, except Australia, reveal that the Developing World has yet to be connected!

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Cycling Evolution

from Ghana

Chris Benjamin has biked in cities throughout Canada, the US, Denmark, Finland, and China. Though he has yet to find the courage to ride a bike in Accra. As he wrote in the 27 February 2007 edition of county's oldest English language paper, The Statesman,
... you need a death wish to cycle, and cyclists are looked upon as the lunatic fringe, too poor or too stupid to take a taxi or at least a trotro.
He goes on to write,
When the bicycle was first invented and distributed in Europe around 1885, it was hailed as a technological revolutionary breakthrough that would free women from patriarchy and liberate the poor. Indonesia's first newspaper publisher was thrilled by the invention because it gave him a freedom of movement previously unattainable for a native in a colonised land.

Everyone would have access to this low-cost two-wheeled device; no more relying on expensive horses and buggies. No more dodging unwanted care packages courtesy of surly hoofed giants.

...Yet, a hundred years later, only 10 percent of people on the planet own cars. The one billion bicycle riders can only look on at that minority with envy, or jump out of the way shaking their fists in anger.

...The cost of Accra's failure to accommodate cyclists is traffic congestion, pollution, and an accident rate that would make a sword juggler cringe. Cyclists are the most common collision victims and tend to come out the worst for wear. Drivers are unable or unwilling to see bicycles or acknowledge that there is a human being atop the strange apparatus.
North of Accra, on the other hand, the news isn't all that bad.
In Tamale, where traffic flows so smoothly it makes Accra residents drool, the bicycle also receives due recognition.

It is there you can see veiled women with babies on their backs pumping pedal side-by-side, cruising quickly down well-paved lanes reserved for the two-wheeled. No one seems to be in much of a hurry yet everyone gets where they are going quickly.

Meanwhile in the south we sneer snidely northward with derisive comments and mock pity. "They are so poor; they can’t afford cars like us," we say, as we sit atop our idling engine, coughing on the smoky haze.

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Light rail?

what goes around,
comes around

There's a great deal of debate here in Chicago over what to do with 100s of miles of unused railways. For example, The Friends of the Bloomington Trail
[i]magine a 3-mile-long elevated linear park running through the heart of Chicago, connecting neighborhoods, the river, and our great park system. Built from a former rail line, the Bloomingdale Trail will make us healthier, get us to school and work faster, and provide us with great chances to play and mingle.
But why rip up the tracks when you could use them for a truly alternative mode of transportation: the railway velocipede? The idea was first reported in the 1895 edition The Engineering News:
[It's] an adaptation of the design of the safety bicycle to track service, the machine having a, flanged tire on the front wheel and a blind tire on the rear wheel, and being held upright by a brace carrying a small guide wheel, with flanged tire running on the opposite rail.
If you go over to Google Patents, you'll find over 70 entries submitted around the turn of the century. And what about oncoming trains?
The wheels have rubber bands 3 ins. wide and 3-16 in. thick on the tread, which make the machine run easily without jar, and also without noise, so that the rider can catch the sound of approaching trains, while they also make the machine run more safely at high speed when the rails are wet or frosty.
I love this idea! As I've posted before, the Situationists promoted the concept of détournement. They used modern, especially industrial, infrastructure in creative ways: Any elements, no matter where they are taken from, can be used to make new combinations. It's much the same as skateboarding where you use the urban environment to literally surf the streets.

Roll on!

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Truing the wheel



stuck between
the Boomers and the Xers

Critical Mass certainly has a youthful image. What could be more "immature" than flouting a city's traffic laws once a month by willfully jamming the streets during the evening commute?

But look around you next time you mass-up. Just how youthful is the mass? Here in Chicago I've been noticing that as the percentage of
Boomers (born between 1946 and '53) has decreased it hasn't been actually replaced by the Xers (born between 1966 and 1984). Instead a majority of the mass seems to be those rollers who were born between 1954 and 1965.

If like me you were born between the Boomers and the Xers, ask yourself this question:
Do I feel like a member of my older or younger sibling's generation? or neither?
Then ask other people born around this time the same question. I've been doing this on the last couple of masses and what I've come with is that most of us don't identify with either generation. That's what makes our generation the Jones.

Johnathan Pontell declared our independence back in 1997. He chose Jones because Jonesin' is the hipster word for craving something or someone. He believes that
Our generation has the jones. As children in the 60s, at the absolute height of America's post-World War II affluence and confidence, Jonesers were promised the moon. Then, in the 70s, as the nation's mood turned from hope to fear, we were abandoned.

While Boomers began with big expectations that were often realized, and Xers were never given much of anything to expect, it was our generation that was filled with the highest hopes and then confronted with the most dramatically different reality. Huge expectations left unfulfilled have deeply entrenched a jonesin' in us.

This jonesin' has made us strikingly driven and persevering, and has given our generation a certain non-comittal, pending flavor as we've continued to hold out for our original dreams.
Barack Obama, born in 1961, has brought increased attention to us Jones. In last week's Boston Globe, Joshua Glenn joyfully warns,
Tremble, baby boomers! A generation weaned on "Joanie Loves Chachi" may soon make it into the White House. After getting your kicks in the '60s and '70s, you helped form this generation's touchstones and view of society by shoving such movies and TV shows down its collective throat. Tremble, I say!
...and I wonder what this means for Critical Mass.

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The silent city

a short Irish film from
Ruairi Robinson

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NO bikes

& Plan B, the New Orleans
community bike project

One of my ten New Orleans cousins just turned me onto New Orleans Bicycles. It's a new coffee table book that showcases The Big Easy's eccentric bike culture. There are over 100 incredible photos snapped 18 months before Hurricane Katrina hit. The publisher, Mark Batty, wants to highlight the beauty and allure of the city’s category-defiant population.
Though some of the bikes look as if they would crumble under the weight of a rider, and others have the carefully considered accoutrements of art objects, every bike in this book was used on a daily basis.
With a very personal introduction by Andrei Codrescu, the Mark Twain of New Orleans, this book shows how things were before the levees failed. It reveals an aspect of the city that most tourists don't know exists. The photos aren't about Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest. Rather they celebrate the city and its bikers.
What it creates ... is a nostalgia for how the city was in those months leading up to the hurricane, and hope for those ways to return.
Mary Richardson and Nicholas Costarides, the authors, don't address how the city has changed since Katrina. Nor have they tried to predict what the future New Orleans will become. Instead, they are donating part of the proceeds from sales of their book to Plan B, the New Orleans community bike project.

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Death of a president

...and a conspiracy theory

From today's New York Times,
Last weekend, a never-before-seen home movie was made public showing President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade just before his assassination. An amateur photographer, George Jefferies, took the footage and held onto it for more than 40 years before casually mentioning it to his son-in-law, who persuaded him to donate it to the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas.

[...]the footage definitively resolves one of the case’s enduring controversies: that the bullet wound on Kennedy’s back, as documented and photographed during the autopsy, did not match up with the location of the bullet hole on the back of his suit jacket and shirt. The discrepancy has given conspiracy theorists fodder to argue that the autopsy photos had been retouched and the report fabricated.

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Back in the saddle

Today is my first working in the new office. The last time I worked in the loop was early 2003 when I was with The Great Books Foundation. In fact, my building is just around the corner from the one that houses GBF. It's an easy 7 mile commute down Lincoln to Wells and east on Lake. Not bad ... and the distance will surely help maintain my girlish figure.

It's also good to be making a regular paycheck again! I started looking around for those bike accessories I couldn't afford over the last year. What I found was this sweet ride from Koga Miyata: the Spyker Aeroblade. Philip Gomes posted about it last week on Spinopsys.

My new pay-scale is good but not good enough to afford the Spyker's 12,5000 Euro price-tag. I guess I'll have to settle for these crank-themed sunglasses instead...

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Warhol wannabe

fun with Apple's Photo Booth

Y'all have probably noticed that there hasn't been much original content in my posts over the last few weeks. My new NGO job has dominated much of my waking hours; what with finding a new office, making contact with other youth-focused environmental organizations, and beginning the process of hiring staff.

And to celebrate my employment and the influx of bucks into my bank account I just bought a 13 inch MacBook. It's fantastic with all the usual bells and whistles. Unfortunately, it's taken me a few days to get used to the new technology. Even though it's close to my old 17 inch G4 there are some significant obstacles incluging updating my graphics software.

Also, I think I must be suffering from a typical blogger's malady: what next? It's not exactly writer's block. Rather it's the challenge of coming up with new ideas each and every day. It makes me wonder how was Warhol so productive. His foundation in NYC owns a warehouse that's packed with boxes each containing his daily production of notes and art?

So I've been dealing with it in two ways. Either I recycle the older posts thinking that new readers may not have seen them. Or I've relied on canned content from the web. What I'm thinking now is that I'll post every few days instead of daily. There's still a lot I want to write on; my drafts folder has at least a dozen ideas.

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Bike commuting

from the League of Illinois Bicyclists

By the end of next week the temps should be up in the 40s. Folks who dug out their bikes this week are gearing up to commute ... me included! I finally have an office downtown, just east of the Loop on Lake. So here's a good how-to on commuting.

Gas prices got you thinking about commuting by bicycle, but don't know where to turn for advice and tips?

The League of Illinois Bicyclists can help (see press release) you by providing resources from experts who have commuted and experienced many issues related to riding a bike to work or school, like what to wear, where to keep your bike, what to tell your employer and how to map a safe route.

Check out these links for answers to common issues related to commuting:

Can't find the answer to your questions from these resources, then send us an email at, and we'll be happy to get an answer to you as soon as we can.

Besides saving money on fueling your car, regular commuting can help you get into shape and stay in shape. The League of Illinois Bicyclists wants to help you make commuting a regular part of your schedule while putting a smile on your face and keeping money in your pocket.

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Berlin again a New York Times Op-Ed

Yesterday, conservative columnist David Brooks criticized calls for Senator Clinton to apologize for her vote supporting the Iraq War in 2003.
I mean, have the people calling for her apology actually read the speeches she delivered before the war? Have they read her remarks during the war resolution debate, when she specifically rejected a pre-emptive, unilateral attack on Saddam? Did they read the passages in which she called for a longer U.N. inspections regime and declared, “I believe international support and legitimacy are crucial”?
He then goes on to discuss what this might tell us about a Madam President Clinton using Berlin's well known distinction between foxes and hedgehogs.
When you look back at Clinton’s thinking, you don’t see a classic war supporter. You see a person who was trying to seek balance between opposing arguments. You also see a person who deferred to the office of the presidency. You see a person who, as president, would be fox to Bush’s hedgehog: who would see problems in their complexities rather than in their essentials; who would elevate procedural concerns over philosophical ones; who would postpone decision points for as long as possible; and who would make distinctions few heed.
Brooks must have been reading Berlin's Russian Intellectuals...

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Mars, Venus...

and hygiene after Valentine's Day

I found this over at Metacafe: how women and men shower differently %)

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We finally got some real snow last night: around eight inches of fine powder blown about by 20 mph winds. Anytime there's more than 2 inches folks get together for an impromptu ride to celebrate. It's a great way to beat cabin fever especially if you've been as busy as I've been for the last couple of weeks with the new job.

Also, I've been working on some logos for two local bike groups. The logo above is where I started for the College of Cycling at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The one below is what we finally settled on. It uses a fairly close approximation of the UIC colors.

The second bike group I'm working with is the Midnight Marauders. It hosts a midnight ride once every month. I came up with the two options below using viking themes.

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It ain't Oswego

but we're getting a good dump

Most of my life I've never been more than 100 miles from one of the Great Lakes. I was born in Rochester, NY on the shores of Lake Ontario. That's a couple of hours west of Oswego County. I went on to university in Ohio near Lake Erie. Later, as a professor in Wisconsin and non-profit professional in Illinois I lived near Lake Superior and Lake Michigan.

Needless to say then, I am rather familiar with Lake-Effect Snow. And I'm both a bit jealous and concerned for my fellow upstaters in Oswego County, NY. Time to get that which rolls up and rollin'....

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Obama 08

yesterday in Springfield

As Lincoln organized the forces arrayed against slavery, he was heard to say: "Of strange, discordant, and even hostile elements, we gathered from the four winds, and formed and fought to battle through."

That is our purpose here today.

That's why I'm in this race.

Not just to hold an office, but to gather with you to transform a nation.

I want to win that next battle – for justice and opportunity.

I want to win that next battle – for better schools, and better jobs, and health care for all.

I want us to take up the unfinished business of perfecting our union, and building a better America.

And if you will join me in this improbable quest, if you feel destiny calling, and see as I see, a future of endless possibility stretching before us; if you sense, as I sense, that the time is now to shake off our slumber, and slough off our fear, and make good on the debt we owe past and future generations, then I'm ready to take up the cause, and march with you, and work with you. Together, starting today, let us finish the work that needs to be done, and usher in a new birth of freedom on this Earth.

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How to choose a bike


Crap in space

from the NYTimes

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DCist's Rules of the Road


A car is a wonderful thing to waste

from the folks at Allstate

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Kaffee kultur

warm drinks (and inspiration)
when the temperature falls

Today and tomorrow will be colder than yesterday. The wind-chill will probably drop to five below zero! Until I have my office set up for the new job, though, I'll have to brave the extremes. I almost regret finding a space. I do my best caffeine-fueled work in coffee houses and caffès. As the London actor and poet, Thomas Jordan, wrote in 1657:
You that delight in Wit and Mirth, and long to hear such News,
As comes from all parts of the Earth,
Dutch, Danes, and Turks and Jews,
I'le send you a Rendezvous, where it is smoaking new:
Go hear it at a Coffee-house, — it cannot but be true —

You shall know, there, what Fashions are; How Perrywiggs are curl'd;
And for a Penny you shall heare all Novells in the world;
Both Old and Young, and Great and Small, and Rich and Poore you'll see:
Therefore let's to the Coffee all, Come all away with me.
So before I head out, here are several excerpts from two wonderful articles on the significance of kafekultur. In One latte, hold the milk, The New York Times blogger, Stacy Schiff writes today:
In an innovative world, we congregate over coffee rather than over a beer: that’s why the "Cheers" decade gave way to that of Friends. The point of a bar, after all, is turning off the brain. The point of a cafe is switching it on. From an age that was arguably as taken with the sound of its own voice and as fixated on information as we are, the coffeehouse comes down to us with an illustrious intellectual heritage. It supplied Adam Smith and d’Alembert with office addresses. Coffee was Beethoven and Voltaire’s primary source of nourishment. Samuel Johnson was a 40-cup-a-day man. Balzac, the champion caffeinator, was a coffee-eater, like Dr. Bohannon.
Alice Jones of The Independent agrees in her 6 October 2006 book review, How café culture influenced writers and artists.
While the French writer Boris Vian's assertion - "if there had not been any cafés, there would have been no Jean-Paul Sartre" - somewhat overestimates the powers of caffeine, the coffee house has witnessed and fuelled many of the intellectual, cultural and political developments in European society. In Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore in Paris, Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir thrashed out their philosophy of existentialism. St Petersburg's Literary Café trades on its reputation as the bar where Pushkin downed his last dose of Dutch courage before his fatal duel. Venice's rival cafés on either side of St Mark's Square, Florian and Quadri, have played host to Byron, Casanova, Wagner and Henry James, and the Café Els Quatre Gats in Barcelona is assured its place in art history as the location for the 19-year-old Picasso's first exhibition.
And Schiff concludes,
An addiction like ours needs no excuse, as you know well. Is that your second cup already? Caffeine sparks imagination, stimulates conversation, accelerates thought, enhances mood, increases endurance and activates memory. It allows us to beat the clock; how anyone managed to build a cathedral before the advent of espresso is beyond me.

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Now this is winter!

temps are dropping
in the windy city

Highs are expected to reach no more than 14 degrees over the weekend. But I won't be a hermit in my dusty apartment surrounded by mountains of books, empty pizza boxes, or unopened mail. before I get my office up and running I'm going to be hitting the local wifi enabled cafes.

When I first moved to Chicago, freshly divorced and without knowing anyone, I decided I wasn't going to become the creepy, lonely guy in my building. You see, this was the first time I had really ever been on my own. Until 2000, I had been been in one relationship after another, all of them nearly overlapping, going all the way back to junior high school. So what I had to figure out was how to be on my own without being lonely and, more importantly, how to create relationships (family, friends, lovers, etc.) on my own.

Reading in bars, restaurants, cafes, and coffee shops BY MYSELF was the answer. And over the last 6 years I've found a number of perfect places for outside reading.

What I need for a perfect place is:
a) natural light since most places dim their lights to preserve the bar-fly atmosphere for which Chicago is famous
comfy seats with plenty of space for my bag, books, palm pilot, notebooks, pens, and, of course, victuals,
an accommodating staff that doesn't immediately assume that you're a creepy, lonely guy,
a solid contingent of regular customers who also don't immediately assume that you're a creepy, lonely guy and don't take offense when what I'm reading is more interesting than the idle chit-chat, and
smoking which is getting more and more difficult with the creeping smoking ban instituted by our otherwise beloved mayor.
Beyond that, each of the perfect places I've found has its own unique and often peculiar qualities from outside reading. Feed the Beast, for instance, is my favorite by far. It opened early last summer, replacing a seedy sports bar that was really only good for finding late night, provisional hook-ups. The light is phenomenal, the seats comfy, and the staff as well as the regulars are very accommodating. The only problem recently has been it's growing popularity with the kind of folks, typically from the hipster'hoods, coming in to see and be seen.

When I get too many inquiries about what I'm reading; as if the book were an invitation for idle chit-chat rather than a request for solitude, I'll usually head up north to The Leadway. It too used to be a dangerous place before Frank, an affable Romanian sculptor, bought it. He's filled it with his huge metal sculptures and tons of watercolors done in the bar by customers for which he provides the materials gratis.

But the really cool thing about it is that the bartenders, mostly Romanians, and the regulars, mostly neighbors, are about as laid back as you can get in a local Chicago bar. If you read, no worries. If you want to talk politics, no hassles. If you want to watch heavy metal videos, you're in like Flynn.

I've been slowly posting about other perfect places and I hope to continue over the next couple of weeks.

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