Bicycle Diaries: May 2007

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How many cars are there?

4 Wheel Nation
from the Boston Globe
3 January 06: So omnipresent is the automobile that vehicles per household outnumber drivers, according to the most recent federal Department of Transportation statistics. In 2003 there were 231 million registered vehicles and 196 million licensed drivers -- up from 74 million cars and 87 million drivers in 1960.
Check out the impact over at 2cities2wheels.

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Ode to the pencil

i scribble therefore I am

In this age of blogs it's easy to forget the indispensable role that pencils play in our creative lives. The humble construction of pine and graphite doesn't require refills. I can be sharpened with a knife or scissors. And if you're stuck for an eraser, bread crumbs will do the job.

Like all good things that are in the background of our daily lives, pencils remain wholly under appreciated. So I'm including the following article from Discover Magazine, 20 Things You Didn't Know About Pencils. Maybe they'll eventually do a piece about bikes?

1. There is no risk of lead poisoning if you stab yourself (or someone else) with a pencil because it contains no lead—just a mixture of clay and grahite. Still, pencil wounds carry a risk of infection for the stabees, lawsuits for stabbers.

2. And bad juju for anyone linked to Watergate: In his autobiography, G. Gordon Liddy describes finding John Dean (whom he despised for “disloyalty”) alone in a room. Spotting sharpened pencils on a desk, Liddy fleetingly considered driving one into Dean’s throat.

3. Graphite, a crystallized form of carbon, was discovered near Keswick, England, in the mid-16th century. An 18th-century German chemist, A. G. Werner, named it, sensibly enough, from the Greek graphein, “to write.”

4. The word “pencil” derives from the Latin penicillus, meaning—not so sensibly—“little tail.”

5. Pencil marks are made when tiny graphite flecks, often just thousandths of an inch wide, stick to the fibers that make up paper.

6. Got time to kill? The average pencil holds enough graphite to draw a line about 35 miles long or to write roughly 45,000 words. History does not record anyone testing this statistic.

7. The Greek poet Philip of Thessaloníki wrote of leaden writing instruments in the first century B.C., but the modern pencil, as described by Swiss naturalist Conrad Gesner, dates only to 1565.

8. French pencil boosters include Nicolas-Jacques Conté, who patented a clay-and-graphite manufacturing process in 1795; Bernard Lassimone, who patented the first pencil sharpener in 1828; and Therry des Estwaux, who invented an improved mechanical sharpener in 1847.

9. French researchers also hit on the idea of using caoutchouc, a vegetable gum now known as rubber, to erase pencil marks. Until then, writers removed mistakes with bread crumbs.

10. Most pencils sold in America today have eraser tips, while those sold in Europe usually have none. Are Europeans more confident scribblers?

11. Henry David Thoreau—American, but a confident scribbler all the same—used pencils to write Walden. And he probably got them free. His father owned a pencil-making business near Boston, where Henry allegedly designed his own pencils before becoming a semi-recluse.

12. In 1861, Eberhard Faber built the first American mass-production pencil factory in New York City.

13. Pencils were among the basic equipment issued to Union soldiers during the Civil War.

14. The mechanical pencil was patented in 1822. The company founded by its British developers prospered until 1941, when the factory was bombed, presumably by pencil-hating Nazis.

15. Je suis un crayon rouge. After the 1917 Soviet revolution, American entrepreneur Armand Hammer was awarded a monopoly for pencil manufacturing in the USSR.

16. More than half of all pencils come from China. In 2004, factories there turned out 10 billion pencils, enough to circle the earth more than 40 times.

17. Pencils can write in zero gravity and so were used on early American and Russian space missions—even though NASA engineers worried about the flammability of wood pencils in a pure-oxygen atmosphere, not to mention the menace of floating bits of graphite.

18. Those concerns inspired Paul Fisher to develop the pressurized Fisher Space Pen in 1965. After the Apollo 1 fire, NASA banned pencils in favor of his pen on manned spaceflights.

19. world’s largest pencil is a Castell 9000, on display at the manufacturer’s plant near Kuala Lumpur. Made of Malaysian wood and polymer, it stands 65 feet high.

20. At the other extreme, engineers at the University of California at Santa Barbara have used an atomic force microscope as a kind of pencil to draw lines 50 nanometers (two millionths of an inch) wide. Just because they could.

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The web wilderness

What's in your community?

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Young Stalin

a talent for terror

At a party with fellow Bolsheviks in their Siberian exile shortly before the revolution, everyone present was asked to name their favorite pleasures. Several mentioned the seduction of women, others chose more politically correct activities in the service of the proletariat. Stalin, who had just seduced and impregnated a 13-year-old girl in the village, chose what was for him a more intense satisfaction:
My greatest pleasure is to choose one's victim, prepare one's plans minutely, slake an implacable vengeance, and then go to bed. There's nothing sweeter in the world.

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The right ride

train tracks,
& cars
... oh my!

This interactive website is the brainchild of Chris Braiotta, a Somerville, MA website developer. It aims to collect intelligence from other riders about the best, worst, and most hazardous locations across Greater Boston. Users can add their own hot spots using a wiki-style feature, which Braiotta plans to inaugurate this week.

Powered by Google Maps, the site features an interactive map of locations considered dangerous by local riders. The initial list of hazards was provided by Ian Thistle, a bike enthusiast of Braiotta's acquaintance. While Braiotta exercises control over the data to prevent online vandals from adding bad information, most vetting and evaluation is done by other users.

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The last mass?

the City of Big Shoulders
debates its future

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City of Lights

... is the City of Bikes!

From Car Troubles
The New York Times
19 May 2007.

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Crome Yellow

A bicycle! Denis repeated.
A green machine, cross-framed,
name of Stone. S-T-O-N-E.

My recent Gentleman Cyclist Tour up in WI/MN reminds me of Crome Yellow, Aldous Huxley's first novel. Published in 1921, it satirizes the fads and fashions of the time, including bike touring. The witty plot revolves around a house party at Crome, a country estate. The bright young things are invited for the weekend by its owner, Henry Wimbush, the self-appointed historian who obsessively pontificates on its strange history. Among his guests is Denis Stone, the novel's hero.
He always took his bicycle when he went into the country. It was part of the theory of exercise. One day one would get up at six o'clock and pedal away to Kenilworth, or Stratford-on-Avon--anywhere. And within a radius of twenty miles there were always Norman churches and Tudor mansions to be seen in the course of an afternoon's excursion. Somehow they never did get seen, but all the same it was nice to feel that the bicycle was there, and that one fine morning one really might get up at six.

Once at the top of the long hill which led up from Camlet station, he felt his spirits mounting. The world, he found, was good. The far-away blue hills, the harvests whitening on the slopes of the ridge along which his road led him, the treeless sky-lines that changed as he moved--yes, they were all good. He was overcome by the beauty of those deeply embayed combes, scooped in the flanks of the ridge beneath him.

Curves, curves: he repeated the word slowly, trying as he did so to find some term in which to give expression to his appreciation. Curves-- no, that was inadequate. He made a gesture with his hand, as though to scoop the achieved expression out of the air, and almost fell off his bicycle. What was the word to describe the curves of those little valleys? They were as fine as the lines of a human body, they were informed with the subtlety of art...
Another guest, Mr. Barbecue-Smith, writes 1,500 publishable words an hour by getting in touch with his subconscious. By the end, apocalypse is prophesied, virginity lost, and inspirational aphorisms gained in a trance. After reading Crome Yellow, F. Scott Fitzgerald commented, it is too irnonic to be called satire and too scornful to be called irony.

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The Red Bicycle

The manufacture and sale of a Raleigh illustrates what it means to live in a developing country. Shot in Nairobi in 1971, this short film is a great reminder that the vast majority of people around the world still get around by bike.

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A gentleman cyclist

This weekend I was up in Redwing, MN. I joined the 3speed Lake Pepin Tour with 70 other English bike enthusiasts. It's modeled on bike touring in pre-war England. As the website states,
To gain a better perspective, here is a list of some of the things we leave behind: derailleurs, lycra, target heart rates, SPD, SIS, STI, HRM, XTR, etc. There will be no sprinting, spinning, drafting nor will there be any carbon fiber, drillium or unobtanium. Please note we are not advocating being a retro-grouch or ridicule those with alloy handlebars but instead we are asking you to strip away all you know modern cycling to be and hop aboard your £5 Thrift Store Raleigh and come with.

Leave your lycra & Johnny Rebel competitive spirit at home and instead, bring your sense of adventure. Wear something appropriate for eagle watching or sitting in a café and bring an honest-to-goodness rain cape because, of course, it rains in England. Be prepared to make new friends and be swept away by the scenery. Be prepared to stop here and there to take a photo or complain about your hard saddle or make an entry in your Tourbook. Be prepared to keep in mind it's not the destination you'll remember but the journey.
For a full (and hilarious) description of the tour, check out Jon Sharratt's blog. This tour was Noel Robinson's idea. Jon took on all the organizational aspects and does a great job.

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The Village Underground

from alternative transport
to alternative housing

In London's East End, old subway cars are part of a project to create a new type of studio and office space. It's eco-friendly, brings together people from the creative professions, and above all, offers a low-cost alternative in the high-rent area. Perhaps we could do the same thing here in the City of Big Shoulders: El car tree houses %)

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Are you jonesin'?

too young to be a boomer
too old to be an Xer

According to Hotel@nyware,
We are the greatest and largest generation in US history, born between 1954 and 1965. Our 53 million members constitute more than 1out of 4 adults living in America today. We are the Mission Critical Mass in the Holy Grail for mind share, eye balls and attention. We weren't the lost generation, just the invisable THEY - anonymous no one.

If you know that the first video that aired on MTV was the
Buggles's Video Killed the Radio Star, you are a card carrying member of Generation Mr Edward/ Ms.Bridget Jones fan club. We the slacker Jonzers, who waited in vain for our turn to change the world, now get to pick up the slack for Uncle Sam's post 9 11 angst, and rock the boat on these issues --- a war on terror, global warming, immigration, energy, technology and globalization.
So how jonesin' are you? Take the test. Answers below.
1. The classic mall of Jonesers 1980s culture — first made famous as the epicenter of “Valley Girls,” then featured in the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High — shut down in 1999. What was its name?

2. The Big Three of our mid-1980's music culture were all born in 1958. Name them.

3. One song overwhelmingly ended the most high school dances across America in the 70's. Name that tune.

4. What did Joneser Brooke Shields have between her and her Calvins?

5. Yeah, Jonesers were the “Sweathogs” of Welcome Back Kotter. How many do you remember?

6. What rumor about Mikey (from Life cereal adds) fizzed among Jonesers in the 1970s?

7. We were the first generation of kids with video games. What was the beloved original?

8. A Joneser played the title role in the made-for-TV movie, The Boy in the Plastic Bubble? Who was he?

9. Three movies with ensemble generational casts were released at the same time in the mid-1980s. The Big Chill for Boomers, The Breakfast Club for Xers. Which one for Jonesers?

10. Which actress in what movie inspired the “torn sweatshirt/bare shoulder/leg warmer” look among Jonesers in the 1980s?
1. The Galleria.

2. Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince.

3. “Stairway to Heaven.”

4. “Nothing”

5. Barbarino, Epstein, Boom-Boom, Horshack.

6. He supposedly died from drinking soda with Pop Rocks.

7. Pong.

8. John Travolta.

9. St. Elmo's Fire

10. Jennifer Beals, Flashdance.

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1 year on

and 2 days before
my birthday

365 days
295 posts
19,299+ hits
65 bloggers' favorites
74 links from other blogs
112,926 - Technorati Ranking
43 - Technorati Authority

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What's in your tribe?

the Cyclologist speaks out

Citycycling, the UK online magazine for bikers in London, has a new columnist for its features section. The new resident professor's first column tackles the tribal fanatics throughout the rolling community and how they not only isolate rollers from each other; but rollers from cagers as well. Here are some excerpts:
Being seen as a person rather than an object is surely key to enhancing your interaction with our fellow travellers. But being recognised as human is not enough. Tribalism is rife.

... we identify with our tribe, with that crowd of like minded
veloists. We adopt symbols of our tribe, identifying as us rather than them, and consequently as unworthy of attention by them. Labelled as Cyclist we no longer appear as a bloke like me or that girl in the office, the kind of person that our fellow travellers can relate to. Instead we are cyclist, the other tribe and as such of no consequence.

Abandon tribal markings and you become human. So dispense with the lycra, abandon the bright yellow jacket and tabard. You are surely BIG enough to be seen, are you trying to hide behind a label or being seen as human. Normal people don't wear polystyrene hats either. The urban attack warrior, with helmet, reflective shades, facemask and generic trade jersey is surely seen more as a stereotype than a person with no face to be seen. The courier traffic jamming in bandana and tattoos, the pirate of the roads, is as much a tribal type as White Van Man.

So what is the aim of this disentribalism? To be seen as a person. A person on a bike rather than a cyclist. Because a person on a bike could be your neighbour, your colleague, a member of your family. Because those cyclists are otherwise just one of the scum of the road, and needs no further consideration.

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Better off by bike

The Lord Mayor, Ken Livingston, has launched the city's latest bike campaign to get more Londoners rolling along.

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Adios Muchachos

a pulp fiction bike fetish

Adios Muchachos, written by Venezuelan noir novelist Daniel Chavarría, was his first published in English in 2001. It presents the reader with one of the most appealing heroines to come along in years, a Havana bicycle hooker named Alicia. She's beautiful, genuinely erotic, crafty, intelligent, and tough.

Why is Chavarría smiling? He's a former Classical lit professor who devoted much of his academic career to studying the origins and history of prostitution. So with Alicia, he combines his professional knowledge with the elements of the best noir fiction: unusual and often grotesque characters, crosses and double-crosses, erotic encounters, and world-wise characters without a trace of sticky altruism.

It results in an appealing caper that won an Edgar Award for Original Paperback Fiction later in 2001. The book has legs, not the least of which are Alicia's. Adios Muchachos begs to be filmed. Here's an excerpt.
Alicia was out to create a future for herself, and obscenity did not have any role in her script.

Her shorts, however, were designed to make the most of her glorious glutei whenever she pedalled down the streets of Havana. All of Alicia's shorts had six strategic buttons, three on each side. She had sewn them on and made the buttonholes with infinite care, and when she rode her bicycle she would unbutton all six. The obvious pretext was that this gave her greater freedom of motion to work the pedals. Then she would fold the waistband over, tightening it up and lifting the hemline to reveal another two inches of her rounded thighs. Mounting the bicycle seat brought her liberated butt into action - swish, swish, one cheek up, the other cheek down, boom, bam - pressing on the shiny seat that was raised so high that merely pedalling made it swing and sway in a hallucination-inducing teeter-totter.

And just to make certain that no one would mistake her for a hooker, she carried a gunnysack across her back with a long T-square and two rolled-up pieces of drawing paper protruding from the top. Engineer? Architect?

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Motor Mania, II

another solution
(thanks to Bike Commute Tips Blog)

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Motor Mania

The Problem
(thanks to Spinopsys)

The Solution
(thanks to Bike Lane Diary)

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Record gas prices

What's in your wallet?

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Signs of spring

...road trash

One big sign here in the City of Big Shoulders is street sweeping. Our bike mayor sends out the hulking machines to tidy up the winter debris. I certainly applaud his efforts to continue the clean city legacy of his father, our first Mayor Daley. But street sweeping tends to concentrate lots of glass and other sharp objects along the curbs where most bikers roll.

Today's NYTimes reminded that we aren't the only rollers suffering "neat streets". Check out its article, Highway Debris, Long an Eyesore, Grows as Hazard.

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Eclectic? Part II

When a Hungarian artist owns a beaterbike to get around there's nothing unusual about flipping on the bottle generator and rolling into the dark after his exhibition. It becomes unusual, though, when he rolls in place in a closed, darkened room. He isn't just going round and round. His bike is mounted on a stand, which keeps the back wheel above the ground to facilitate its free movement, allowing the generator to work and the headlight to illuminate the space ahead.

More unusual still is when his nocturnal rolling is part of the opening of an exhibition. The bike light, with a negative fixed in front of it, is focused on the far wall. Its targets is an image treated with photosensitive emulsion.

Minyó Szert has coated various objects with an emulsion of his own formulation for almost a decade. They include simple pieces of wood as well as stones, though the most common carrier is the usual paper and canvas.

The images do not give the impression of photographs because what dominates the surface is the tool with which the emulsion is laid on: the brush. Unlike photos, where the images are sharply defined, these are characterized by thready brush strokes.

The bike itself functions not only as a light source, but a basic motif in Minyó's pictures. It's no longer a gentleman's hobby or simply a form of exercise. It's a working means of transport. It's the modern steed of European nomads who were the last to settle. Back in the saddle after such a long time spent away from horses - or riding. Not a nobleman's prerogative but an almost rural privilege.

Under the saddle there's no longer a living being but a factory-made object, not a horse but a donkey. The mount of the poor like elsewhere and at other times - the donkey. Which is why Szert could find bike images at every step in the last quarter of the last century, by country taverns and fences.

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The Cyclists

the creepy fetish

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Bikes & Berlin

When I moved to Chicago in 2000, I brought with me over a thousand books. The challenge for the movers was getting them up four flights of stairs without the benefit of an elevator. They brought the boxes up three or four at a time on their backs supported by a tump line. They asked why I had so many god-damned books. I said they were my tools just like good mechanics who have their own personal set of wrenches they would never go anywhere without.

I also came with a red Saturn Coup. It sat in front of the apartment gathering dust and bird shit for two years as I took full advantage of the CTA. I finally got rid of the Saturn when the Connecticut Department of Revenue (where I had moved from) sent me the annual luxury tax assessment on it. I paid the tax and canceled the lease which was a stupid idea to have in the first place. And then I got a 1957 Raleigh 3-speed Robin Hood from the Working Bikes Co-operative down on the southside. And it's been two wheels good, four wheels bad ever since.

What does
any of this
have to do
with Sir Isaiah Berlin?

That's what this blog is for. A large proportion of my 1000+ books deals with the very issues Berlin raised in his long career in the UK as the 20th Century's greatest liberal philosopher. Borrowing from the Greek poet, Archilochus, Berlin divided his fellow philosophers into two groups: the foxes who know many things and the hedgehogs who know one big thing. Most of us who love to think about the world around us struggle over whether we're one or the other ... or perhaps both from time to time. And that's why I started this blog almost a year ago: I'm a fox who wishes that he were a hedgehog. Besides, putting his ideas together with books and bicycles is something your typical fox would do.

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My post about bookplates got a wonderful response from Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie. He even included this one from his collection.

I guess that's what makes this blog so eclectic. My approach does not hold rigidly to a single paradigm or set of assumptions or conclusions. Instead, I like to write about all kinds of things touching on ideas or information that have little or nothing to do with bikes ... at first glance.

And so it goes with bloggers like Lewis Jaffe who sent me this bookplate. When I was writing the post I searched for bike-themed bookplates but couldn't find any. Then he read it and sent me one. That's the eclectic genius of blogs. You can write on anything and somewhere out there is a blogger who will connect to your wacky ideas!

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