30 September 2007

The other side of town

Did you know that Chicago extends north of North Avenue? (And east of the North Branch, too?) And here I had thought that everything between the Near North Side and the suburbs was just cultureless, crime-infested urban decay.

Alright, enough sarcasm. I visited the north side today, the last day of September and the very end of summer even by my standards. I had a coupon (I forget how) for Village Cycle Center that was good through today, and wouldn't you know, I happen to have a new bike that I need to trick out with accessories and extra reflectors and shit, so what the hell, I may as well go up there and blow part of my paycheck. (Not as much as I'd anticipated, since they were out of taillights.) And then I somehow got it into my head that I'd like to ride the North Shore Channel Trail up to the sculpture park in Skokie. [Photos forthcoming in a different post.] And hey, as long as I'm on Wells, and Lincoln goes right up there...

Unintended result: Tour de North Side, and an awfully lot of thinking about urban geography--and inevitably about race, and class, and where I fit into this crazy jigsaw puzzle of a city that I call home. (Short answer: nowhere.)

What's always struck me about the north side is how seamlessly the different neighborhoods all blend into each other. (I suppose that's how people who play real estate like it's checkers can get away with calling large swaths of it either "Lincoln Park" or "Lake View.") This is sadly not the case on the south side, where the neighborhoods are segmented from each other more divisively in our minds than on any map. Take Hyde Park, for example, which is surrounded by a wall so obvious that it lacks only the arrogance of a physical manifestation. Or, say, you're in the middle of an industrial wasteland, and then all of a sudden you're in Hegewisch. Or you're in the middle of the most stereotypical chunk of south side that you can possibly imagine, but then you're suddenly among the large mansions, wide lawns, and centuries-old trees of Beverly. Or you cross a boulevard and discover that everything is in another language, then you cross another boulevard and it's mostly empty lots.

Yes, the sorry truth is that we're mostly divided down here; the north side, not so much. This must by why I always get so easily lost up there. Or else it's because they don't number their streets like normal people. Today, however, I got around with no trouble at all and hardly a glance down at my map. The very fact that I had my map in my map case on my handlebars for me to glance down at still made me feel like a loser, though, as it always does. Someday I'll figure out how to navigate by street signs alone. At this rate it will probably be the day I finally leave this town, and then I'll have to start all over again somewhere else.

I got as far north as Main St. in... whatever town I was in. Skokie, I suppose; I'll look it up later. If I remember correctly the North Branch Trail eventually dumps you unceremoniously onto a sidewalk in the middle of downtown Evanston. I hear it's a problem; I hear they're working on it. They're always working on it. Until that point, however, the trail winds through a series of pretty and well-utilized parks along the channel, up to the permanent "detour" courtesy of Alderman Bernard Stone, then jumps the city boundary into Skokie, where it meanders through their Northshore Sculpture Park. Weird. Art. Everywhere. I took a 3D art class in ninth grade and learned that I'm no good at it, but I did develop something of an eye for sculpture as a result--"Wow, what an interesting use of negative space!"--that's frustrated every poor sap who's bothered to date me, dragged around from one seemingly useless hunk of metal and/or concrete to another. I knew damn well what they had in mind when they suggested going for a walk, and I never cared for that ruse. Anyway, you can't see the channel at all from the trail/park because of all the scrub obstructing the view, but perhaps that's a good thing. There might not be much worth looking at.

I coasted through Lincoln Square on my way back south, which was very, um, hmm, how can I put this delicately? Vanilla? No, "vanilla" describes those town-square-like pedestrian malls in the suburbs that are all carbon copies of each other, where the only businesses that aren't national chains are those artsy-craftsy stores owned and operated by middle-aged women who always dreamed of owning and operating their own artsy-craftsy stores and were lucky enough to actually do it. (I have nothing against such places, but they rarely last for very long and don't quite anchor a business district they way that the local CVB might hope--"Look, we have artisans!" No, you don't have "artisans," you have middle-aged women selling cute crap decorated with buttons and lace and New Agers selling incense and hemp jewelry.)

No, Lincoln Square was different, like everything Harper Court tries to be but never quite succeeds in becoming: nice, and neat, vibrant and a bit upscale. And... white. Mostly white. I was surrounded by other persons of mostly European descent, mostly speaking English, mostly with the accent that I interpret as no accent. People who were, by all outward appearances, mostly just like me.

Somehow I felt out of place. Somehow I felt much more out of place than at a poetry slam or jazz performance at Harper Court, where I tend to stick out like a sore thumb pale with necrosis. I was deeply troubled: Why did I feel out of place at Lincoln Square, surrounded--and generally, refreshingly ignored--by a bunch of other white people?

When I'm out and about on my own in my own part of town I am sometimes hooted at, sometimes called "white girl" with varying degrees of obscenity; conjectures are made (rude and quite incorrect) about my parents, my ancestors, my place of origin, my profession, my salary, and even my gender and sexual orientation. (I swear I hear the word "fag" muttered or shouted in my direction more often than most gay men do, even though neither of the two conditions inherent in that hateful word apply to me at all. It's almost too hilarious to be hurtful. Almost.)

And in Lincoln Square I felt out of place.

I almost had an existential crisis--a bike lane after sundown is a bad place and time for an existential crisis, so I waited until I was at McCormick place, and then I really had an existential crisis. Who am I? What am I? What have I become? What am I doing here? Where do I belong? As big as this city is, as much of it as I've seen, as much as I love it, why have I still not found a place where I feel like I belong? Am I nobody? Where does no one belong?

I sat on a limestone block in the dark and thought about it. I don't know. I just don't know. Nowhere, I guess. Or maybe the middle of nowhere, where everything converges and anything goes, crowded by day yet deserted by night, the very heart of this beautiful, terrible monster we're created. That utterly impersonal and indifferent place where your soul is stripped bare and you're reduced to just another specimen in the mass of humanity, the place where you survive by the money in your wallet and the hardness in your heart. At midnight in the rain, in a hurry to get somewhere else; at noon in the blazing sun, waiting, waiting. The place where no one belongs but where everyone goes nonetheless.

Yes, I must belong in the middle of nowhere--in the Loop.

If only I could afford it.

"Hey, check out white girl over there with the helmet and the lights! Ha! Safety First! Ha! Ha!" Some kids, somewhere south of Oakwood. I thought, shut up you little punks or I'll run you over. I didn't say it; I couldn't. I'd be called a racist child-hater if I did.

29 September 2007

This one is for Papa

[By the way, if anyone happens to know the online home of a certain photograph that appeared in the SIU-C alumni magazine once, please let me know, so that other people can more fully appreciate the significance of what I just did.]

Never thought I'd sing this again,* but just shy of two years ago there was a World Series party at the Cubby Bear and a heretical message on the marquee at Wrigley Field. So we owe you guys one.

Go Cubs go, oh oh
Go Cubs go, oh oh
Hey Chicago, waddya say?
The Cubs are gonna win today!

Edit: Whoops, I spent my whole life assuming that the ditty I sang once in the Little Miss Winthrop Harbor pageant (I didn't win) was just an old WGN jingle or something. But no, it's a Real Song by a Real Musician. Eric Zorn (speaking of WGN?) has the story here: `Go Cubs Go' -- An anthem reborn at Wrigley Field.

[Tip o' the helmet to David, who pointed this out; I must have been too busy with my pro-choice soapbox to catch it. Sorry, Cubs fans! My priorities are a little skewed, I know.]

Let's see, while I'm thinking about it, other Cubs songs...

Oh yeah, that catchy, clever redux by the Beach Boys:
(Cubs Cubs Cubs, here come the Cubs)
(Cubs Cubs Cubs, here--)
We're die-hard fa-a-ans
Sittin' in the sta-a-ands
You've got me rockin' and a-rollin'
Rockin' and a-reelin'
For the Cubs Cubs Cubs, Chi-ca-go Cubs!

Take that, Journey.

Got my homemade bat, my daddy's glove, and a brand-new pair of shoes...
No, that's just a generic baseball song, isn't it.

Hmm, wasn't there a beer commercial with the Blues Brothers singing "I'm Cubs fan/I'm a Bud man" that later had all mention of Budweiser removed because little kids were singing it and parents were complaining? Was I one of those little kids, or was I old enough to know better by then?

And then the players went on strike and I stopped paying attention to major-league baseball. Until the Sox started kicking ass just outside my living-room window. Well, several miles away.

*Suburban ex would accuse me of switching sides every two years; to him I say, screw you, Napervillian. In 2003 I was still in college and still a Cubs fan by heritage; in 2005 I had my Real Job and my Real Apartment and was forced to admit that I live down here by choice. The Sox won it all for me that year, for all my neighbors who accused me of not really being a south-sider for whatever reason (usually some combination of race, class, background, and affiliation), for all the people I met at north-side social functions and their expressions of disbelief--"You live where? But why?" Because for two-thirds of what you pay I have an eat-in kitchen and a skyline/lake view thirteen floors up all to myself, because my daily commute is a mile and I never, ever have to take the Red Line, that's why--for everything I heard and read about this side of town being nothing more than a crime-infested urban wasteland, nothing to see or do, no culture, no money, and for all the wonderful people I met and got to know who proved otherwise. Nuts, now I'm getting all teary...

Things I learned tonight

0. Six different ways not to get to Daley Plaza.

1. Critical Mass is really only fun in the downtown area.

2. A folding bike is almost useless without some sort of carrying device.

3. A few more lonely spots near the river where at night the downtown skyline appears suddenly, like a ghost: silent and improbable.

4. Rut. Stuck. Life. In one.

At least I have a shiny new bike...

Critical Mass 10th Anniversary Ride pics, in order of decreasing daylight and increasing speed:

The end?

28 September 2007

Science thing! (plus bike tips from The Onion)

I guess Benjamin wanted me to post this.

From The Onion:
Scientists Ask Congress To Fund $50 Billion Science Thing

"WASHINGTON, DC—Top physicists from several major American universities appeared before a Congressional committee Monday to request $50 billion for a science thing that would further U.S. advancement science-wise and broaden human knowing. [Crescat scientia? Vita excolatur!]

"The scientists spoke for approximately three hours about the complicated science machine, which is expensive, and large, telling members of the House Committee on Science and Technology that the tubular, gamma-ray-using mechanism is vital in some big way...

"'While expense is something to consider, I think it's very important that we have this kind of scientific apparatus, because, in the end, I have always said that science is more important than it is unimportant,' Committee chairman Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) said..."

Check out the fancy science graphic!

More on the subject of general carlessness is one of my all time-favorites from The Onion, Bicycle Safety Tips, which includes such sage advice as:

*Always use hand signals when turning at intersections. There's nothing motorists pay more attention to than hand signals from bicyclists.

*Taking your bike in for a professional tune-up is a great way to waste $25.

*Every three to four weeks, lightly oil the chain. Then dip it in flour and fry it for a real taste treat.

*Does your city have adequate bike paths? If not, consider bitching about it to your local government for the next 40 years.

Do I ever.

27 September 2007

New bike!

Me and my damn impulse buys...* Kudos to Blackstone Bicycle Works for taking time out of their busy schedule to actually sell me something. My new Breezer Zig7 folds up just about small enough to fit into a milk crate; I'll find out for sure tomorrow when I pick it up. (They still had to "do other stuff with it and stuff" but I had to get back to work.) Remind me to order a carrying bag for it. And more stickers, 'cause I'm out again. Where do they keep going? There must be a black hole somewhere in my apartment.

Think I'll call it Scooty-Puff Sr. ("Scoot! Scoot now!") Oh man, where should I go first? Milwaukee? Madison? Moline? Makanda? Minneapolis? Morris? Miller? Morton Grove? Somewhere that doesn't begin with M? I mean, wow, the realization just hit me like a ton of bricks: I have a folding bike! YIPPEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Oh, and Avenger's brakes are fine. Once again, I dragged it over convinced that I'd finally managed to destroy the thing, only to watch some guy tighten a screw and charge me five bucks for it. I really need to take a repair class.

Update: A thought occurs! Within a month I went from being a one-bike, one-computer gal to living in a household with more computers AND more bikes than people! Egads!

*Believe it or not, Avenger the Bad-Ass Hybrid That Could was an impulse buy. One excruciatingly sunny day in late March of '05 I watched coworker after coworker wheel their bikes in and out of the office and thought about my poor Jazz mountain bike rusting on a balcony in Naperville all winter while the renter of the balcony waited for a convenient time to wedge my bike into his trunk and drive it back. (This was between when the General Assembly had just passed a law requiring Metra to allow bikes on trains because enough people were sick of Metra pussyfooting on it, and when Metra actually did cave in and announced a pilot program allowing bikes on trains that summer--starting June 1, conveniently after Bike the Drive. Remember? I sure do, because I jokingly vowed on my LiveJournal to bike naked for joy when Metra finally allowed bikes, and then a few people actually tried--unsuccessfully--to hold me to it. You see, I didn't think Metra was ever going to budge, law or no law. Oh what a crazy, crazy year that was.)

Sometime around mid-afternoon I finally decided, "Screw that, I'm going to go buy myself a new bike. Right now." I walked to the closest shop to the office: no hybrids. So I continued on to the second-closest and arguably worst in Hyde Park (might've been the only other shop in Hyde Park at the time, too), selected a men's Trek 7100 despite protestations from the proprietor based on my gender, practiced taking the front wheel and seat off, paid for it, wheeled it home to lock up in the bike room, and walked back to work just as everyone else was leaving. "Oh, you're back, where've you been?" (Our hours are notoriously flexible.) "Bike shopping." "Cool, where is it?" "Home--I forgot to buy a helmet." Finished work, walked back home, and called the renter: "You can have the Jazz." The things we do for love.

In Scooty-Puff's case, it happened to be sitting right there right in front of me as I was trying to explain what I thought was wrong with Avenger's brakes. And since I've been meaning to think about possibly looking into maybe getting a folding bike perhaps, I went ahead and inquired about the price. Cost just as much as the fancy mouth guard my dentist says I need to wear at night and while cycling to keep my teeth from cracking but the insurance company says I don't. The insurance company won when I realized that nighttime and while cycling are not when I'm gritting my teeth. Took it for a test ride, had them adjust the seat, and took it for another test ride. "I'll buy it!" Think I took 'em completely by surprise. They're a community business, after all; no one ever actually buys anything from a community business.

Did I mention I hate airports?

Stephan Orsak's experience is frightening and enraging:
"I was accosted, assaulted with battery, and tased at Minneapolis St Paul USA international airport by Airport Police, simply for choosing to leave the airport by bicycle. I had broken no laws."
[emphasis in original]

[Tip o' the helmet to Gristmill.]

24 September 2007

Yikes (with bonus geeky goodness)

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Bicyclist shoots driver after near collision

"A 28 year-old-man was shot in the right shoulder by a bicyclist after his car nearly collided with the bicycle, police said Saturday.

"According to police: The man was driving east on W. Burnham St. and the bicyclist south on S. 11th St. about 10:45 p.m. Friday when there was a near collision. The man stopped his car to check on the bicyclist who had fallen to the pavement.

"At that point, the bicyclist stood up and fired three shots at the driver of the car, hitting him once. The driver then drove to the house of a friend, who took him to the hospital, where he was treated and released.

"The bicyclist was being sought by police on Saturday."


In other news, what's the difference between Batavia and Geneva? If you answered "not much" or "dunno, Fabyan Parkway?" you're thinking of the wrong Geneva, so you're probably from Illinois. Good for you! Anyway, I recently tripped over the US LHC (Large Hadron Collider) Blog, and it includes a thoughtful entry on the topic:
Prairies and Alps

23 September 2007

In other news, it must be the first day of fall quarter or something. I had an appointment at the hospital this morning, and great galaxy catalog, you can't go anywhere around the U of C campus area. How the hell did I ever bike around there for four freaking years? (Slowly?)

Phirst phall photos

Loop-henge (see Manhattanhenge), State and Adams. This was damn difficult and death-defying to take, and for all that it didn't turn out the way I had in mind. I should've gotten downtown sooner and tried an El platform. Or else I should get over this photography delusion I have.

Orange Line, State and 18th. Shall I adjust the gamma? The cross-bracing is quite stunning, but you can't see it here.

The following are actually from Friday night.

Train tracks leading south from Union Station, Roosevelt.

View downtown, wrong side of Roosevelt.

For nicer photos, check out A Portrait of Mayor Daley's "Nowhere", a photoessay of Daley Bicentennial Plaza by Lynn Becker.

22 September 2007

Save our lake! Beaches are fun! (Oh yeah, it's also a major water source or something.)

First off, another gripe: How come bikey people are always assumed to be anarchists? For that matter, how come most bikey people are anarchists? You guys make me feel like I should feel guilty because I don't think government is such a bad thing so long as we keep watch on it. The country needs to maintain a military at the very least in order to prevent someone else from catching us with our national pants down. The world just doesn't work otherwise; there are too many people itching for a fight. And I'm sorry, I like my depraved modern consumerist conveniences like clean running water. Show me a decentralized grassroots collective that can successfully install and maintain municipal water and sewer systems and I'll show you someone willing to get herself arrested for some good cause. Until then, I'd rather not give the pigs any reason to touch me or even look at me warily.

Which I guess means that I usually ride alone.

Alright, I'm done stereotyping for the day. On to the main event.
Environment Illinois:
Send us your Great Lakes Pictures!

That capitalization is just painful, as well as the unnecessary use of the word "literally" below. I think I'm going to unsubscribe from their mailing list.

"Although public pressure forced BP to promise not to increase its pollution into Lake Michigan, there’s nothing to prevent other polluters from increasing their toxic discharges into the Great Lakes. In fact, approval for other pollution increases is pending elsewhere in the region. With years of progress in cleaning up the lakes, increasing industrial pollution is the LAST thing our Lakes need.

"That’s why we're calling on Governor Blagojevich to prevent future BP fiascos by endorsing a 'no increased pollution' policy in our state.

"We want to literally show the Governor how much we love the Great Lakes--we're setting up an online photo album of Illinoisans enjoying them. We're going to send the Governor a photo album with pictures of our families at the Lakes to drive home this important message:
No increased pollution in our waters!

"I'm asking you to contribute a photo of you or your family wading, fishing, running the dog, or lounging on the beach at the Great Lakes or another state waterway. If you love the Lakes, please take a moment to send us your favorite shot!"

No, no, no, this is not the main reason why we made such a fuss about BP dumping (more) in Lake Michigan. It's not just the nation's largest swimming hole, it's our water source, for cryin' out loud. I never, ever go to the beach to "have fun." I never, ever swim in Lake Michigan. Does that make me any less inclined to want to protect the Great Lakes? Do I just say "oh, I never go to the beach, so I don't really care about the pollution anyway"? What kind of a statement is that? Is that really the message that Environment Action Illinois wants to send the governor? Do we honestly believe that the only real value of Illinois' Lake Michigan shoreline is that people enjoy it so much?

And if this whole thing isn't really about the Great Lakes at all but about Illinois waters, then why be so stupid as to invoke the BP fiasco? That was in Indiana. You're obfuscating the issue and critics are going to call you out on it. And then--Bam!--"debate" on a "controversy" where none should exist at all.

I'm tempted to submit a photo of myself holding my Trek water bottle and giving the finger. Now there's a message I do want to send the governor.

Did I say government wasn't such a bad thing? Sigh.

Look, I'm enjoying Lake Michigan.

21 September 2007

Fungi thriving inside Chernobyl reactor, or Eep! Eew! Eep! in that order, or Space mushrooms!

It just seemed too weird to be true. I got an email from a friend whose roommate found a blog post that cited a story on a somewhat dubious looking science news site. (Scientific orthodoxy isn't such a bad thing, you know.) I thought it must be nothing more than an internet rumor, some completely boring, unexciting, and routine discovery that was taken wildly out of context, blown way out of proportion, and eventually sent my way.

But then I was able to track down the story on Nature's news site:
Hungry fungi chomp on radiation
"Ekaterina Dadachova and her colleagues at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York have discovered that some fungi can use a molecule called melanin, a pigment also found in human skin, to harvest the energy from radiation and use it for growth.

"This raises the prospect that astronauts could grow these fungi on long flights into radiation-rich outer space, suggests Dadachova's colleague Arturo Casadevall. The fungi aren't particularly appetizing, however — they resemble the mould on a dirty shower curtain.

"Since the 1986 meltdown, at the Chernobyl Atomic Energy Station, the numbers of 'black fungi', rich in melanin, have risen steeply. Casadevall speculated that the fungi could be feeding on the radiation that contaminates the ruin of the nuclear reactor.

Whoa. And I thought I had a mildew problem.

What I want to know is, why couldn't the astronauts just harness the radiation energy directly with the melanin on their own skins? I mean, by the time far enough in the future that we're actually sending space colonists far enough away that they'd have to grow their own food, presumably biotechnology would have caught up enough for them to cut out the middlemushroom, so to speak.

Or hey, as long as we're fretting about clean, renewable energy... Should we begin research on fungifuels? Is anyone else suddenly having a really disgusting vision of a sustainable civilization powered by... mold?

Watch out for torches and pitchforks

In response to this editorial, I just sent a letter to the Chicago Tribune explaining, in all seriousness, why I think the Chicago Children's Museum should be relocated to Englewood.

I'm dead, aren't I.

Update: ArchitectureChicago PLUS passes along a post by Yellow Dog Democrat in ILLINOIZE, and now I feel like I'm in junior high all over again. Like, totally.
Many (Better) Children's Museums, Only One Grant Park

Nicely takes His Royal Highness to task on his incoherent and bastardly claims of rabid racism. I say we should move the blasted thing to Englewood. Let's force Daley to eat his own words. I hope he chokes on them. Er, after he's done installing the bike rental system, that is. Damn! I'm doing it again!

Updated update: Benjamin (who actually gives money to Tribune Co. in exchange for daily delivery of the Trib's print edition for reasons I've never been able to understand) tells me that my provocative snark of a letter actually made it to page 7 of the Perspectives section. I can't confirm this because (1) damned if I'll buy a newspaper, unless the White Sox are on the front page, and (2) the ad-ridden online edition is crashing my modem.

Metaupdate: At least one other coworker has told me "Hey, read your letter in the Tribune, nice job!" I'm going to miss this office. :-(

Omniupdate: Hey, another one of my letters to the editor got printed, this one in Chicago Wilderness Magazine re: Have Train, Will Travel and the Chicagoland Bicycle Map (as I mentioned before here). What am I, old?

20 September 2007

Getting around by bike in a car-headed world

Do you have "car-head"?
"In Cascadia, as across North America, parking in a bike lane seems a minor infraction--discourteous, perhaps, but forgivable. What’s the big deal? Cyclists can just go around.

"Such thinking is a symptom of Car-head. If you doubt me, consider the case inverted. Imagine that I had temporarily left my bike in the middle of Interstate 5. Imagine that Mr. Jeep Cherokee, admiring the scenery, had carelessly impaled his undercarriage on my naked front fork, severing control of his brakes. Imagine that Mr. Cherokee had then smashed into a retaining wall with enough force to bend his truck’s frame, rendering it totaled (in the insurance sense of repairs costing more than replacement). Imagine that Mr. Cherokee, cushioned by an air bag, escaped with only a bump on his knee.

"Now, would he have felt foolish and blamed himself, as I did? After all, just like me, he could have gone around if he’d just paid attention."

Another symptom of Car-head is "Bicycle Shame":
"You don’t have to go farther than Hollywood to see one reason Bicycle Neglect is so rampant in North America. Consider the 2005 film The 40-Year-Old Virgin. [See Roll Film! review] The middle-aged protagonist, obsessed with video games and action figures, seems stuck in early adolescence. The film spends two hours lampooning him for being emasculated, immature, not a real man. His vehicle? A bike. (You can almost hear the schoolyard snickers.)

"To be a successful adult, apparently, you have to drive. Cycling is for children; cycling is for losers. In this view, it’s fitting that the pinnacle of the sport of cycling is the Tour de France. (Implied snicker about France as a symbol—unfair, of course—of all that’s cowardly, effeminate, and weak.)

"Call this Bicycle Shame."

Boy, have I ever been there before. Well, sans the shame, I guess, as I'm turning quite nicely into one of those "elitist" bicyclists that everyone else loves to complain about so much. And any accusations of being "effeminate," too: Chicks on bikes are supposed to have short skirts, long hair, elegance, grace, and a nice pair of boobies. Those of us lacking those things must contend with quite the opposite image problem.

In any case, Bicycle Shame is a huge obstacle to treating bikes like normal vehicles. Some people give bicycling a try once but then never try it again because they feel too much like dorks. Some people go out of their way to try to make us cyclists feel like dorks. Like the guy who slowed down, rolled down his window, and yelled "Dork!" at me while I was on my way to work yesterday morning. I took great pleasure in passing him when he got caught behind a bus, and then taking the entire lane in front of him at the next stop sign. And then I stopped for the full three seconds, taking off just before a stream of Metra Electric passengers hit the crosswalk. Because apparently only dorks know how to outwit a guy in Geo. Who the hell drives a Geo? Dork.

Anyway, the two blurbs quoted above were taken from a thoughtful and well-written series on bicycle neglect that I found via Gristmill. Check it out.

19 September 2007

Speaking of (and in) the rest of Illinois

One thing I noticed on two GITAPs was that people near and south of I-80 tended to speak with what sounded to my ears like what I can only describe as "a delightfully southern twinge." I know what a Southern dialect sounds like; this was not a Southern dialect. They didn't use any distinctive Southern vocabulary or grammar constructions, they didn't drawl, and they didn't ask me to repeat myself every time I said anything. Yet it was distinct from the flat, slow, schwa-riddled speech of the upper midwest that you usually hear once you get far enough out of the Chicago metro area (where I have been asked to repeat myself because I was "talking too fast"). I wondered about it.

I was finally curious (read: "bored") enough to do a Google image search for american english dialects. I think I've finally figured it out.

Barring the Chicago accent that everyone else is so fond of hamming up and taunting (see Superfans), it looks looks like there are three main dialect regions that spread across Illinois: Upper Midwestern/Northern, roughly north of I-80; South Midland, roughly south of I-70; and North Midland everywhere in between. I'm no linguist, and I usually know better than to divide Illinois into those three particular sections and discuss the differences at length, but you know, it does rather handily explain my "southern twinge" puzzle.

I grew up north of I-80 and just far enough away from Chicago that I was surrounded by people speaking the Upper Midwestern/Northern dialect. So a less obvious version of "What's this, all aboot, eh?" must have become embedded in my mind as the dialect with no accent, the way "normal people" speak, just like me, unlike those crazy fast-talkers in the city. Down in southern Illinois, my mom's family carried on (rather quickly) with what I interpreted as southern accents: long vowels and lots of extra r's, but without the thick drawl or truly unique speech patterns that characterize, say, New Orleans. Apparently my relatives don't really speak a Southern dialect (won't they be surprised), but a southern variation of the Midland dialect.

In between (central Illinois, if you will), people speak the North Midland dialect. The vocabulary and grammar of North Midland is likely the same as that in Upper Midwestern/Northern, but it isn't spoken as slowly. People speak quickly up here in Chi-cA-go, too (as folks in Ogle County have always been so fond of reminding me), so the pace of North Midland would be about the same as what I'm now accustomed to; hence, I never had to repeat myself. What I heard as a "southern twinge" was the Midland accent, not spoken where I grew up but spoken by my family who live "south."

Next question: Does this explain the bizarre phenomenon of Illinois town names that have two syllables with emphasis on both? (It happens! Catch an Illinois train sometime and listen for the station announcements.)

18 September 2007

Blast from the past

This article brought back memories.
Chicago Tribune:
Is Chicago bike-friendly?
I still remember it like it was last Bike to Work Week.
My coworker stopped at the crosswalk at Monroe and turned to face left; I was right behind her. At the walk signal we pedaled out across the white stripes. I looked eagerly at the wide, empty sidewalk beckoning from across Lake Shore Drive, thinking we'd be flouting that silly law and riding on it across Grant Park. But then I noticed my coworker angling left, aiming directly for a spot about two feet from the curb--in the street.

"Rochelle!" I cried, "What are you doing?!"

She twisted her head back, causing the taillight on her helmet to bobble up and down. "Come on, Jennifer! Follow me!"

"But there are cars!"

She must not have heard me; she kept her head faced forward as she pedaled onward, exuding the confidence of someone who's done this crazy thing a million times before. I, on the other hand, was quite certain that I would die.

It was June of 2005 and the beginning of my first summer as a Real Bike Commuter. I was far from new to bicycling: I'd been pedaling around Hyde Park and up and down the Lakefront Path since September of 2000, when I'd arrived at the University of Chicago fresh from the still semirural bike trails of the far-north exurbs and a brief stint in Aurora, which had been building bike trails like mad. But now things were different: I had my new "city bike," my new bike maps, and my new membership to the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, and my coworker, Rochelle Lodder, was showing me how to be a bad-ass urban bicyclist.

This was my first ever excursion downtown; indeed, it may even have been the first time I'd ever strayed from the Lakefront Path. I'd met Rochelle earlier that morning at the Point and we'd headed up the path so we could meet up with some other coworkers at the Bike to Work Week rally at Daley Plaza. In *gasp* the Loop. I don't know how else I expected us to get there. Maybe I supposed Rochelle was cool enough to know some secret parallel-dimension bike path through the downtown area.

But no, we'd have to get there the normal way, so there we were at Michigan and Monroe, hovering in what looked to me like the middle of the street as large, noisy, fast, deadly vehicles sped by on either side of us. I was terrified. It felt too dangerous and downright heretical to be perched on a bike in this dubious location an entire lane away from the curb.

"Are we in the right spot?" I asked as we braked for the red light and I glanced around nervously.

"Oh yeah," Rochelle replied, pointing at the stream of cars on our right. "See, now they can turn right without us being in the way, and we don't have to worry about trying to cross the street in front of them."

"Huh. Okay." I'd heard it all before but had never actually been in such a situation. The difference between theory and practice is the revelation upon seeing for yourself that something works.

The light turned green. "Hurry!" she called over her shoulder, "This light is really short!"

I spun my pedals furiously as I attempted to steer, shift up, and brake to let a taxi zoom by right next to me all at the same time. I heard gears crunching and horns blaring. The light turned mercilessly yellow while I was still wobbling to and fro in the middle of the leftmost southbound lane. "Wait for me! Help!"

Rochell spun around and nosed back into the rightmost southbound lane and stuck out her arm in a "stop" gesture at oncoming cars. I doubted it was a lawful maneuver, but it worked. The light turned red as I finally hobbled across the rest of Michigan Avenue.

"Are you okay?" she asked. I was hyperventilating. "Here, get on the sidewalk a minute. Take a deep breath. Don't worry, it won't be so bad the rest of the way there. You'll see."

I caught my breath again and nodded. "Let's go."

"Okay. Remember to stay out of the door zone."

We wheeled back onto the street. Rochelle was right: once across Michigan it wasn't quite so bad. Traffic was just as heavy, but it was slower and the streets were narrower, and it seemed like the drivers had resigned themselves to dealing with us as just another obstacle in the right lane. I noticed other bicyclists passing us and crossing our path as we made our way through the Loop. I soon saw Daley Plaza just ahead. I'll never forget the feeling upon seeing so many people and bikes crowded together in the middle of downtown Chicago. All these people were biking to work--and celebrating! Biking downtown must not be so bad after all.

People who knew Rochelle were approaching us right and left. Is she just that popular, or do all the bikey people in town just happen to know each? I guessed it must be a little of both. I shook many hands, traded many smiles, as Rochelle introduced me over and over again: "This is Jennifer, and this is the first time she's ever ridden her bike downtown!" "Well, good for you!" "Awesome!" "Congratulations!" "Welcome!" "Are you new to bike commuting, then?"

The only worthwhile answer is an honest one: "Sort of, I guess." I was new to thinking of myself as a "bike commuter." Perspective is everything, and mine had just changed. It was going to be a great summer.
See, it's not so hard. Next thing you know you'll be blogging all about it.

Don't be a downstater hater

To the people squawking that it's selfish of Chicagoans to demand that so-called Downstate residents pony up tax money to fund Chicago-area mass transit:

Mass transit makes Chicagoans happy. Happy Chicagoans are willing to spend a happy weekend in your podunk little downstate town to gush about how charming it is and spend money. Angry Chicagoans move to New York and never waste a cent in Illinois again. So think about it.

To the people squawking that Chicago IS Illinois and is therefore entitled to tax money for mass transit because the rest of the state is negligible:

For Lincoln's sake, take a road/train/bike/whatever trip down to the rest of Illinois sometime. Have a cup of coffee or a beer and engage in polite small talk with the locals. Ask questions about the economics of farming or mining. It won't kill you.

17 September 2007

Have bike, Will County 1: Wauponsee Glacial Trail

One should not do anything that requires taking the train to Joliet on a whim at the last minute.

The last day I had off I looked around my messy apartment and at the pile of polite letters from my building manager, and thought, to heck with that. I wanted to go somewhere. "Go" meant "bike," of course. It was just after noon and pouring down rain. I was too soon home from my vacation in Minnesota; the city was depressing me. I needed open space and prairie plants growing wild and free. I wanted to see Midewin.

"Midewin" meant Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, a place I always kind of knew was there and always felt glad existed. In the past year or two I've been reading Chicago Wilderness Magazine and been wanting to explore as much Chicago-area prairie as I could; in the past year or two I've really wanted to see Midewin in particular for myself. Luckily in the past year or two a trail has been constructed that would let me: the Wauponsee Glacial Trail, part of the Will County Forest Preserve regional trail system, terminating in Joliet.

I threw my maps and train schedules together, filled up my water bottles, and rushed up to LaSalle Station, which I have no intuitive idea how to get to. I dragged Avenger right onto the next outbound Metra Rock Island District train in just the nick of time without having either (1) bought a ticket or (2) the cash on hand to purchase one on board. I was hoping to get away with my expired 10-ride pass to Zone I, but I also had a non-expired 10-ride pass to Zone B and so spent a few minutes trying to convince myself that a scenic jaunt home from Gresham would still be perfectly worthwhile. But the conductor punched my Zone I pass without looking at the back of it, so I was on my way all the way to Joliet. (FYI: Joliet, end of the Rock Island District line, is only at Zone H, which is what made the whole thing especially ridiculous.) I arrived about 3:30 in the afternoon just as the sun was reappearing and found the Wauponsee Glacial Trail head with no trouble.

I knew next to nothing about this trail aside from the fact that it existed and what T.C. mentioned once or twice. Normally I'd do all my research beforehand so I'd know exactly what to expect, but normally I wouldn't travel a Metra ride away with my bike on a whim, either. However, I could tell right away that it was a rail-trail conversion: straight as an arrow, flat as a pancake, and running at a crazy diagonal to the neatly gridded roads. Some parts ran along obvious embankments, while others cut through artificial canyons. I crossed several creeks on bridges with structures that looked far older than just two years ago. Hooray, I thought, I have a useless and unimpressive skill: I can spot old railroad grades.

My theory was confirmed when I arrived at a kiosk in front of the Sugar Creek Administration Center.

Yay, map! Nevermind that it's outdated and mentions as a casual afterthought way at the bottom that it's not to scale. I thought it might prove helpful anyway. Turns out I was wrong.

Worlds collide at Sugar Creek; I rounded a bend and viewed a motor speedway. (But which one?)

I briefly wondered if other "farms" in the area had latched onto this lucrative industry. I didn't have much time to ponder the implications, though, because around the next bend I spotted colorful flags emblazoned with numbers. Uh oh, that could only mean one thing... Race fans! Aaah, a pseudo-intellectual urban elitist snob's most dangerous natural enemy! I kid, I kid. What I was worried about was that some sort of major race would be taking place that night and that I'd get caught smack in the middle of race night traffic on my way back. "Hey y'all, there a race tonight?" "Nah, not till tomorrow night. Wanna beer?" "No, but thanks anyway." Onward, then.

I long ago became immune to the absurdity of Illinois town names, but Manhattan's water tower standing amid cornfields seemed (at the time) too ridiculous to pass up.

I continued moseying down the trail at a pace that even a suburban Memorial/Labor Day forest preserve looper would find leisurely--oh look, a butterfly! Pretty flowers! Another butterfly! Hey, I was on vacation.

The magical, far-away land of Wisconsin: Madison edition

"We are coming to the Capitol!
The distance between us will rupture.
In our hearts the disease won't touch us."

Pardon me, I got caught in an emo moment there "Between Rupture and Rapture." Thank you, Thursday.

First things first, I finally ran up Lake Park to get a pic of this mural:

Public art or mere graffiti? Does it matter?

This weekend I spent about 22 hours in Madison (long story), home of the Badgers (don't tell my brother the Hawkeye), state capitol of Wisconsin, and bicycle and moped capitol of the midwest, somewhat inconveniently located on a narrow isthmus between two beautiful lakes. It was sunny and festive. I got to hang around the lakefront by the Memorial Union, take a stroll down the State Street pedestrian mall, browse in the Community Pharmacy, flip through the green issue of Madison Magazine, eat some delicious tempura at Edo, explore a bit of bike trail (on foot), and spend time with a nice dog or two and a couple of really great people.

I fell in love.

One of the many, many crowded bike racks in the campus/downtown area. I don't know why two of them are painted red all over. My friend thought they might be public bikes, but I noted that they were locked up.

I think that's a kingfisher there by the green grate.

The UFO-looking thing in the background is Veterans Memorial Coluseum; the dog in the foreground is Ladybug.

Pretty flowers in the dog park.

Of course the sun came back out just as the bus was leaving.

I returned to Chicago as though to a jealous lover.

Oh no, my dear, no, I could never leave you. What on earth gave you that idea?

Update: The following were taken by my mom when she was up there a few months ago. She had a chance to do more wandering than I did.

View from the Capitol.

Trail along the lakeshore.

Sailing lesson, view of downtown from campus.

Lake Mendota, seen from campus.

Have bike, Will County 2: Midewin and back

I crossed a road and saw a scruffy fenced-in area that didn't serve any obvious purpose, spotted a yellow sign and stepped forward for a closer look. It might be... It could be... It is!

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, "a gift to future generations." It's beautiful. It doesn't look anything like a native prairie restoration (at least not the part I saw; see Fermilab's prairie), but it's beautiful. It's surrounded by desolate cornfields and as big as the summer sky.

Note a similar sign on the other side of the fencepost; that is a sign proclaiming that the land beyond is property of the Forest Preserve District of Will County. I was thoroughly perplexed: Here we have two signs on opposite sides of the same fence, both highly visible, both authoritative-looking, each seeming to imply that trespassing beyond that fence into the property contained therein is strongly discouraged, each probably intended as a "visual deterrent" to keep people from doing just that. It must be one of those situations where the side of the fence that's inside and protected from everyone on the outside depends on which side your standing on (see The Dispossessed). I concluded that I was mostly likely standing outside the fence; in a cage match between Will County and the federal government, I'll bet my money on the latter. Very well, then; the county side has the Wauponsee Glacial Trail anyway. I continued south.

I'm always on the lookout for "miniscapes" that might make good X-mas cards.

Early September is really too late for most flowers, but there were a few species still blooming.

Yes, those are butterflies, and yes, that is what you think it is. Nature works in mysterious and disgusting ways.

View of some structures in the distance, juxtaposed to prairie wildflowers in the foreground. The place seemed less weird than Fermilab (probably because Midewin is surrounded by cropland and the industrial complex at its heart is inactive; Fermilab is my baseline "weird place" but I couldn't tell you why). But that doesn't make Midewin's history any less interesting. From Openlands:

"1940-1945: The Joliet Arsenal is established as the world's largest TNT factory. It becomes a GOCO chemical works and bomb assembly plant. At its peak it produces, every week, the explosive equivalent of 290 atomic bombs, similar to the one dropped on Hiroshima. For safety and security, the Joliet factories are surrounded by more than 19,000 acres of fenced-off open buffer lands consisting of fields, pastures, prairie remnants, woods, and streams."

I eventually made my way to the road that runs along Midewin's south boundary and that leads to the official entrance complex, but it was gravel--yes, I'd been on a gravel trail all day, but this was chunky gravel and I didn't much feel like putting up with chunky gravel. I also began to notice how rapidly the sun was sinking in the sky. But I continued south down the trail anyway, just to make sure that I had reached The End. I ended up at a parking lot with a water fountain, a latrine, a picnic shelter, and absolutely no indication of where the hell I was. The trail continued on, but I knew that I could not. I refilled my water bottles, then I wasted some amount of time picking up a dozen aluminum cans that were strewen about and pitching them into the recycle bin because I'm a Nice Person, and then I headed back north with every intention of beating nautical twilight back to the trail head in Joliet so I wouldn't be caught on forest preserve property in the dark.

Yeah right. Digi's batteries still had plenty of juice.

Daylight died before the batteries did; I stood in horror as I watched the sun disappear behind a thick bank of clouds looming above the western horizon. When did those get there? I noticed that the wind was blowing briskly out of the west. Oh crap.

I took off as fast as I could as the land plunged deeper and deeper into evening gloom. Somehow I always forget how dark it gets in the middle of nowhere. I knew my now-useless sunglasses weren't helping, but (1) they're prescription and I often wear them indoors anyway and (2) I was vaguely reassured by the fact that I knew it wasn't really as dark as it looked. But about halfway back up the trail I finally accepted the fact that the sun had set a while ago and the thick bank of clouds to the west were completely blocking out any glimmer of the twilight I had counted on. So I pulled over to swap out my glasses and put on my bike lights. I unzipped my bike bag, dug out my glasses case, and opened it: nothing. Where the hell are my glasses? I never lose my glasses. I never go anywhere without my glasses. I must notify the physics community immediately, because clearly my glasses must have tunneled somewhere, since the probability of my glasses not being here is so low. But in my mind I could see them sitting on the coffee table as I brushed my teeth and made a note to myself: self, don't forget your glasses. Rinse, spit, sunglasses on, helmet on, out the door. My glasses were still sitting on the coffee table.

Okay, I have both astigmatism and night-blindness, but which is worse? I took off my sunglasses and blinked. Nothing was any less dark, but everything was noticeably more blurry. So I put them back on; well, at least I have my headlight, right? That should help. I clipped on my taillights, strapped on my headlight, and turned them all on--and discovered I'd let the batteries run down to practically nil. (Cursed be Chicago's perpetual orangeness--I hardly ever notice when that happens.) Oh. Shit. I. Am. In. Trouble. At least it was a nice, straight rail trail--paved with limestone screenings, which in several places had been washed out by torrential storms a few weeks ago. I skidded more than a few times, wiped out twice, and actually hit the ground once, bruising up my elbow something awful. I should have done the sensible thing and hit the road, but my only map was just old enough to be completely useless thanks to the development around Manhattan. And did I mention it was dark and I was effectively without lights? I thought I'd never get back to the trail's northern terminus.

I finally did, and I stopped there for a length of time to thread my Lyte-Wire Kit through the holes in my helmet because the last place I want to die is Joliet. I figured that if my weak little blinky LEDs failed to grab drivers' attention (as they likely would), then hopefully people would slow down for a closer look at that weird green UFO floating down the street. It seemed to have worked, judging by the number of people who stared at me as I rode through town. I finally arrived back at Joliet Union Station, which was hosting some sort of gala event. I plunked down on a bench to drink the last of my water amid several well-dressed couples who were scowling at me as though my unattractive presence was just absolutely ruining their fancy evening. Look, I'm all for hosting a gala event at a train station, but please keep in mind where the hell you are--at a damn train station. If you wish not to be bothered by raggedy-looking train passengers, then pick another location.

I didn't just miss the train, which was vaguely comforting, but I did have about 40 minutes to kill, so I purposefully wandered around in search of something to eat. There wasn't anything nearby except a bunch of banks. (T.C. would probably wonder why I didn't go to [insert dive here], so I must've been on the wrong block.) Stupid casino.

I would beg--nay, demand--to differ. If it's fun, it's probably nowhere near downtown Joliet.

I returned to the station and settled for vending machine fodder. I returned to Chicago and got lost in the South Loop in the rain. I returned home after midnight and found two or three emails in my inbox from people inviting me to do stuff that evening. I returned to bed and tried not to think about how much of a loser I'd proven myself to be in just one day and one night.

But I did see Midewin, and I had the photos to prove it. I guess it was a good day.

How we learn to take advantage of excellent community resources across the street

I look at the Hyde Park Art Center every day. And I've never been there. That needs to change.

How We Learn and Build Community with Bicycles
Thursday 9.20 6-8pm
Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell

"The boom in the Chicago biking community has brought a rise in a new DIY culture and education. More people are considering themselves cyclists throughout the city and are wanting to do more than pedal. Programs that teach participants how to maintain or build their own bike have sprouted up and are gaining popularity. At this roundtable, panelists who have worked in a variety of education and community settings will be meeting to discuss how their community programs have developed. They will discuss the goals of this alternative education system and how we can work together to create a stronger and sustainable community resource for Chicago in the future."

It appears to be a relatively recent addition to Pedagogical Factory: Exploring Strategies for an Educated City, a whole series of really interesting events that have been going on all summer. I feel sorry and ashamed for never knowing about and hence missing most of them. Don't be like me--take advantage of your community resources!

Hybrid owner seeks small companion for long trips

So... Where do I get a folding bike?

And is there a way to get one that doesn't involve waiting for a package? I get three emails a week from Bike Friday, but I don't trust anything that has to be custom built and shipped over from Oregon because it's likely to end up on uchi.marketplace without my ever seeing it. Just like those books I ordered from Amazon once. And my "Fast and Frequent" poster.

Pissing on our front lawn: Is Grant Park in danger?

I'm afraid so:
Forever Open Clear and Free (except when it comes to me)

"The question comes down to this: are we still committed to open land? Or will Grant Park be allowed to be carved up among clouted private interests? Consider the history of just the last five years-—the Harris Theatre, the Pritzker Pavilion, the Art Institute bridge, and now the Chicago Children’s Museum. If [Lois] Wille doesn’t think that, should the CCM prevail, there won't be a parade of other interests avidly waiting in the wings to seize on the precedent to get their own piece of the Grant Park pie, she’s lost the tough reporter’s instincts that made [Forever Open, Clear, and Free] such a marvel.

"As the area around the park becomes even more dense, with soaring skyscrapers rising both to the north and south, and with Millennium Park to the east filled to overflowing with adoring crowds, the kind of open landscape that exists where the Children’s Museum seeks to build becomes even more precious. In an increasingly hyperactive, commercialized city, the need for unadulterated nature, places of beauty for rest and contemplation, is ever more essential."

[Via ArchitectureChicago PLUS.]

14 September 2007

Double Helix: The Game

The nth time I read The Double Helix for yet another class for my history/philosophy of science major in college,* I was struck with a thought: This would make one hell of a role-playing game.

My high school, the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy ("Secant, tangent, cosine, sine, 3.14159! Go Titans!"), has this thing called Intersession the first week after Generic Winter Holiday break, to which alumni are expected to contribute something vaguely useful. I tried submitting a proposal last year, but I was in University of Chicago alumna mode at the time, so I was stuck on the notion that sitting around discussing things for several hours would be a gas. Whoops.

Well, it's that time again: IMSA's pestering alumni to submit proposals for 2008 Intersession. And I have a wicked idea.

If you haven't read The Double Helix then you should; it's a quick read, thoroughly entertaining, and has surprisingly little to do with actual science (as in, you won't learn any, except maybe about how it's really done), if that's your only turn-off. Then stop back here and offer your two cents, if you could...

So in Double Helix: The Game, the object is to be the first to "discover" the structure of DNA and win a Nobel Prize. Here's the catch: there's no "correct" answer--it might not be a double helix after all! You just might collect enough evidence in support of a completely different structure to publish your results first. Confused yet? That's science, baby.**

So, what should be the model for this? Clue? ("It was James Watson in the machine shop with the soldering iron!") Where in the World is Carmen Sandiago? ("You've got Rosalind Franklin and her X-ray crystallography images, but can you warrant sneaking into her laboratory?") Magic: The Gathering? (Don't know--never played that one.) Monopoly? (Whoops, I'm thinking about what came after DNA, aren't I.) Fire off your zaniest ideas; I've got until October 1. No one else wants to sit around discussing Thomas Kuhn all day.

*There were many things I had to read over and over again. Inevitable consequence of an interdisciplinary program?

**What the hockey-stick graph am I talking about? I'll give you an example. Remember Rosalind Franklin? Chances are you don't; feminists like to claim that she was "cheated" out of sharing the Nobel Prize for the discovery because Watson&Crick were both such sexist bastards. (Watson says many not very nice things about her in his book and even includes a politically correct disclaimer at the beginning about it.) But the the sad and unfortunate fact is that she died of cancer and the Nobel Prize is not awarded posthumously.

So anyway, Watson returned to the U of C once to give a talk--mostly about himself--back when I was still a student (he struck me as not the most erudite person in the world), and someone (female, of course) asked the inevitable question about Franklin. As Watson shuffled through his response the phrase "upperclass snob" came out, and then I remember him saying something like "she didn't want to use models and she didn't want it to be a helix."

You see, a lot of his and Crick's evidence was based on what essentially amounted to playing with glorified tinker toys for hours on end to see how the various chemical bonds might fit together in a helical shape. But Franklin was absolutely opposed to that method, preferring instead to analyze the empirical data from observations of real physical phenomena without making any prior assumptions.

Surprise! You thought that's what scientists really did, didn't you! Turns out Watson&Crick & Co. (don't forget Maurice Wilkins!) won the race with their model building, and DNA has a helical shape after all. So is history justified in ignoring Franklin's contributions to the discovery because she used the "wrong" approach and would have gotten the "wrong" answer anyway, as Watson seemed to imply at that talk decades later--even though she was the one of the whole lot who most closely followed the scientific method?

In my game, you could play Franklin and win.

Critical and massive

There's an interesting discussion at the Chicago Tribune about this piece:
Reaching Critical Mass?

So many bike haters! "Stay in the bike lane"? Seriously? You honestly expect two thousand people to cram into a bike lane? Where it exists at all? Assuming there aren't any assholes parked smack in the middle of it for no apparent reason? Mr./Ms. Drives, surely you must be joking. That's like me telling you to stay the hell on the Dan Ryan, WHERE CARS BELONG, punks. Oh, it's under construction, huh? Well, tough shit. This one time I was downtown and I had a terrible migraine and this bastard in a delivery truck just absolutely would not let me around him even though he was illegally parked, blah blah blah blah blah. Excuse me for not playing a tiny violin for you.

The point everyone seems to be missing in all these "End of Critical Mass!"-type articles--and this really aggravates me--is that Critical Mass will not go away. Wake up. It's not an "official" organized event with rules and regulations. It's anarchy, pure and simple, and anarchists don't play by rules and regulations by definition. And there are just too many people involved in it now for the event itself to just go away. Even if it has evolved (devolved?) so far beyond its original purpose that its originators will no longer have anything to do with it, the poseurs and partiers will still continue to gather at Daley Plaza with their bikes for a good ruckus the last Friday of every good-weather month. The only thing that will stop people from protesting for the sake of protesting is disinterested boredom; I don't see any yet.

It was fun once or twice last year, but really, as an agoraphobic loner on the south side who wants to get along with everyone and will do any crazy thing to make a point as long as there's no risk of being arrested, fired, or evicted, in that order, I always come up with better things to do on a Friday evening. Best of luck to you folks--all of you--in all your future critically massive endeavors. I'll be in the middle of nowhere by myself getting good and lost with Avenger the freedom machine.

13 September 2007

Me vs. mildew vs. the environment

I just did a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad thing. I cleaned my bathtub. With *gasp* chemicals. Harsh chemicals. Rootin', tootin', toxic pollutin', utterly ruthless and dangerous chemicals.

The mildew problem in my shower used to be nonexistent; I had supposed my tap water too hard be capable of supporting life. Then I started using my all-natural eco-friendly hand-made sweatshop-free non-animal-testing soap from Lush. Hey, it smells nice and doesn't cause my skin to break out. You have no idea how much time I spent looking for personal care products with that combination of properties.

Unfortunately, the microbes love it just as much as I do, so a patch of mildew began to spread out from under my soapdish in the corner of the tub. It was ugly and gross, but it wasn't hurting anybody (my soap stayed safe inside its dish), and who besides me ever uses my bathtub? So I left it alone.

But then I found out that maintenance will be coming in any day now to recaulk the toilet and tub, and there was this big black mildew stain in the corner of latter. I couldn't just leave it there for someone else to scrape off, right? I tried everything--vinegar, lemon juice, Coke, scrubbing at it with a toothbrush and boiling water. The stain lightened somewhat but didn't go away.

So I tried Tilex Mold and Mildew Remover, made up of 2.4% sodium hypochlorite, whatever that is. (Edit: That's bleach, which I'd have figured out eventually if I still used bleach for anything, really... But I got fed up with paranoid germophobia and swore it off. Never used it for laundry anyway.) One spray in the morning, another spray in the evening, rinse. Gone. And a bathroom full of fumes. As I watched the orangish-gray flecks that used to be mildew swirl around the drain I thought, well there it goes, down into the Sanitary & Ship Canal, on its way into the Illinois River to violate some ecosystem. Go me.

I'll try cola on toilet, I promise. Corn syrup? What corn syrup? This is getting really complicated.

(I had unfortunate incident once with a leaky bottle of CLR.)

Doors open on the left at We're and Screwed, or CTA: Take it everywhere until November, or Avenger away!

A Chicago Tribune editorial:
Doomsday postponed
"Transit riders, stand down. Your crisis has been rescheduled for Nov. 4."

My thoughts exactly. We need to fracking fix mass transit in the Chicago area, not apply yet another funding band-aid solution on top all those other crusty old funding band-aids that keep falling off. And this is the worst band-aid of all. We didn't send all those letters, sign all those petitions, and wave all those signs at all those rallies just so that Saint Rod could ride in on his high horse, magnanimously bestow a cash advance, and expect us to congratulate him for it.

Time for Avenger to live up to its original purpose and the origin of its name. Oh, I do hate ice and snow, though...

12 September 2007

Empire Builder 2: Red Wing to La Crosse

It's the world's fourth largest watershed, 2552 miles from headwaters to delta, draining the lifeblood of a continent. Mississippi, I have missed you.

The Empire Builder follows the Mississippi River through much of Minnesota, at times hugging the very bank in a long, curving embrace. I thoroughly enjoyed my morning spent racing down the rails along the river in the bright summer sunlight. Why take a plane and miss all this? (Oh, less time spent on an uncomfortable seat in an enclosed space with a bunch of screaming kids, I guess.)

Alas, it's very, very difficult to take photographs on a speeding train.