30 January 2008

Product review/eulogy: Mirrycle MTB bar end mirror

Mirrycle MTB bar end mirror round, at Niagra Cycle Works. As seen in my user pic!

I'd never desired a rearview mirror on my bike, but there it was, preinstalled on the used Jazz Voltage (or at least that's what it said on the frame; it's possible the frame was all that was left of the original) that the guy at Zion Cyclery had brought out to show me after scoffing at the Murray I'd dared try to bring him for a professional tune-up. I thought, why in the world would I want a rearview mirror on my bike? One hundred dollars (my first paycheck!) and a short ride to Kenosha and back later, I wondered how I'd ever managed without one. It's that useful. I'd call it essential if you plan to do any riding at all on main urban thoroughfares or busy rural highways. You'll appreciate it on the Lakefront Path as well--no more fast riders taking you by surprise from behind. If that's never a problem for you, then kindly stop being such a *&^%$#@! asshole. Thank you.

What a rearview mirror attaches to is a matter of personal preference. Some can be mounted or attached to a helmet, and some clip easily to your glasses and just as easily off. Many people prefer those because the mirror moves around with your head. I don't for precisely that reason (it gave me motion sickness). And some are mounted or attached to handlebars, but exactly how depends on what kind of handlebars you have.

If you have MTB handlebars and you'd prefer a rearview mirror mounted there, I recommend the Mirrycle. As the full product name suggests, it's round and it mounts to the bar end. It's easy to install (hex wrench included), easy to uninstall and then reinstall if you later want to put it on a different bike, and easy to adjust at any angle you want; it swings out of the way when you don't need it, and it is seemingly indestructible. The one included with my old Jazz lasted more than seven years and was nicked, knocked, and banged around quite regularly. As for the Jazz, I can no longer say.

Unfortunately, the Mirrycle is not, in fact, indestructible. The first part to wear out will be the head of the primary bolt that keeps it attached to the bar end. This is the part that sticks out the farthest when the mirror is folded out of the way, so it will encounter the most abuse. In addition, this bolt needs to be as tight as possible or the whole arrangement will be knocked out of alignment by a stiff breeze and you will waste a lot of time readjusting it. So after six or seven years the hole had so worn out that it was less a hexagon than a circle, making it extremely difficult to loosen or tighten.

Finally, the Mirrycle was destroyed once and for all last night when I fell (blizzard, long story) and it took the brunt of the impact. The durable polycarbonate plastic did not snap in twain, but bent, taking the primary bolt along with it, and then shattered. It took me nearly an hour to extract the whole mess from the handlebars, with the bolt being now both worn out and crooked and a few chunks of plastic still wedged firmly inside the bar end once the bolt was removed. Strangely, the mirror itself and the arm it was on were both unscathed.

So while I do recommend the Mirrycle on account of its durability, note that if it ever does break it won't do so cleanly, and you will almost regret it.
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While I'm at it, a couple of random photos:

29 January 2008

Who rides a Trek Lime?

I was thinking about bikes for the rest of us the other day, and for some reason I thought about the Trek Lime. (I won't direct you to its Web page because it's painfully annoying.)


Trek introduced the Lime last year, and I became aware of its existence because it was featured in a catalog I got in the mail from Village Cycle Center (get a tune-up there once and you're on their list for life, I guess). I made the requisite bike-snob decision never to touch it with a 10 ft. pole, but there's something else about the Lime that bothers me.

Here's an excerpt from a good description of the Lime on a far more decently designed Web page:
"One of the most anticipated and exciting products at the show was the Trek Lime, a new family of stylish comfort bikes designed specifically for the non-cyclist, or the 65% of Americans who currently don't own or ride a bike. The Trek Lime bikes feature Shimano's all-new Coasting group, which includes a host of bike components with a pretty revolutionary design and functionality." [emphasis in original, other emphasis in original removed]

And another one:
"Overall, the look of the bikes is clean and simple, the riding feels easy, safe and comfortable. While the Trek Lime bikes can be outfitted with accessories like fenders and racks, their intended use is not as much as a year-round commuter bike, but rather for cruising down the neighborhood at slow pace, in plain clothes and without breaking a sweat. Just like how many of the non-cyclists surveyed by Shimano and Trek could envision themselves getting back on a bike and rejoice the bike fun they had as a kid." [emphasis in original]

Holy market research! A simple-looking, super-comfortable, auto-shifting bike that's just as fun and easy to ride as the one you have all those fond memories of riding as a kid! A bike designed with most Americans (65%, remember) in mind! Surely this is a bike for the rest of us... right?

No, not really. First of all, just look at that thing--it's a toy. It's a big, shiny, grown-up-sized toy, and Trek doesn't just admit it, they boast about it. The Lime isn't intended to be utilized for any practical purpose, it's just supposed to be fun, period.

Now, we all know bikes are fun and anyone who says otherwise is a disgruntled fitness snob who didn't reach today's target heart rate, but the whole point of getting more people to ride bikes (unless you're merely selling them, she said cynically) is to get more people to see that bikes are not only fun but also useful. Bikes aren't toys--they're transportation! And that thing is an affront to everything I stand for!

But suppose I concede that, okay, you're right, anything that gets more people on bikes can't be all that bad. Fun first, utility later, get more people interested and then let bicycling advocacy work its magic, fine. Well, here's the other insult. I found the 2008 model retailing at (where else?) Village Cycle Center:
"Trek's Lime is an elegant bicycle designed with comfort, fun and ease of use in mind. Notice the clean lines, with no cables or controls to get in your way. Look at how the chain is covered so you never have to worry about it. And, check out the beautiful wheels and flat-resistant tires. Now, hop on and feel the comfort of the upright riding position and comfy padded seat positioned just right to let you place both feet flat on the ground. And, you'll be amazed by the automatic 3-speed gearing that always keeps the pedaling easy letting you ride everywhere you want in style. Plus, there's even a cool storage compartment inside the seat!"

Price: $589.99

Who the hell pays six hundred dollars for a purely fun bike? Wait, let me rephrase that question: What kind of noncyclist, who doesn't already own a bike and hasn't ridden a bike in decades and really needs to be relentlessly sweet-talked into the idea that riding a bike can be easy and fun and doesn't have to be anything else, would be willing to spend that kind of money on any bike, especially one that wouldn't be terribly useful later? I know the answer to that question, too: a far, far tinier number than 65% of Americans. It's not a bike for the rest of us.

The reviewers seem to love it, but I still think the Lime is rotten. Has anyone ever seen one in the wild, so to speak?

Roll the tollway--every day!

Don't mess with Texas.

From Commute by Bike:
Commuting By Bike on Austin's Tollways
...
"Chuck e-mailed the Texas DOT trying to find out if riding a bicycle on the tollways in Austin was legal. The response he got was that it was legal … but they hoped he wouldn’t do it. He carries a copy of the e-mail reply with him and has had occasion to show it to authorities who have tried to stop him."

Hey Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, did you say you were looking for some more ideas after Roll the Tollway?

(Psst: Bike the Drive registration is open--go sign up! Or consider volunteering!)

28 January 2008

Warm 'n' melty: To Wolf Lake and back on a (comparatively) warm winter day

Update: Now with photo captions!

Now that my bike was all clean, it was of course time to take it out and get it nice and dirty again.

First, I decided to take a cue from Jessica in Elgin and wear whatever I want without worrying about it. So here I am rocking my favorite (albeit uncool) jeans'n'jersey combo with my helmet and reflective ankle straps:

Today I learned the limit of just how far I can go in jeans and still claim to be comfortable. Luckily it's a whole lot farther than my daily commute plus errands, so for now I'm still fine so far as clothing goes. Next time I want to enjoy some outdoor winter fun, I think I'll just literally take a hike. I don't feel like buying a whole new specialized winter wardrobe right now, and I can't seem to solve the frostbitten toes problem. I wonder if it's just yet another thing that's wrong with my feet. Thankfully I've had no heel problems lately.

On my way down to Wolf Lake (I was aiming for Powderhorn Lake, but oh well) via the lakefront route I encountered a group of Real Cyclists zipping along heading north. I was in such a good mood that I found myself delighted to see them and couldn't help but smile and give them a big wave. In return for sharing the winter biking love on such a beautiful day I received a couple of frosty glares, and I realized that in my parka (later that evening I would greatly regret wearing my parka; as of 3am it still hasn't dried out yet) and jeans with my shiny dirt-free hybrid bike I must be the perfect picture of the dreaded weekend warrior out enjoying a sunny Sunday afternoon. I could almost hear their disdain: you idiot, don't you know you're doing it wrong? How dare you presume camaraderie with us!

But being in such a good mood, all I could think was, silly road snobs, don't you know who I am? Not that I'm full of myself (what, me?), but people in Real Life are starting to ask me about Teh Blog, so I've begun to assume that the "Bike Lane Hottie" helmet and junky hybrid that would rather be on a fast train are starting to become almost vaguely recognizable around Chicago. And you all know that my carless self has (barely) ridden two GITAPs on that thing and bike to work every day even in winter now (or at least you do now!), so I think I probably do qualify as "not a poser." But I guess you wouldn't know that just from passing me on the street. And then I realized that I'm probably guilty of making similarly erroneous assumptions about other cyclists I encounter. So maybe those grumpy roadies were just cold or something. I hope they had a good ride after all.

Anyway, without further ado, here's a big bunch of photos.


Jackson Park Outer Harbor.


Lake Shore Drive bridge over the harbor inlet. Just to the south (left) is where Lake Shore Drive ends and Jeffery Blvd. begins (map).

The Lakefront Path follows Marquette Dr. east around the harbor, and then for all practical purposes ends where Marquette meets 67th and South Shore Dr. The lakefront route directs you south down South Shore along the sidewalk, then across the South Shore Cultural Center entrance and abruptly east on the sidewalk along 71st. Then the signs direct you across South Shore to pick up the bike lane where it turns southeast. Confused yet? If you've never tried it before, don't. Just don't. I'm quite sure someone designed the route this way for the sole purpose of tacking another uninterrupted block or two onto the Lakefront Path and then bragging about how long it is. It works well enough northbound (if you don't mind negotiating mud, standing water, broken pavement, tree branches, errant golf balls, the stench of horses, pedestrians, a cramped and busy bus stop, a really poorly timed traffic light at the South Shore Cultural Center entrance, and drivers who almost always zoom out the drive across the crosswalk without so much as a cursory glance and then stop right on top of it when their light turns red), but southbound it's a nightmare. Instead, hop off the "path" at 71st, cross at the crosswalk, and just ride on the street. In fact, you might be better off crossing 67th where Marquette ends and riding on the street on South Shore, too, but that's a hellishly tricky intersection there at 71st, and you'll have to make a left turn through it.


Anyway, that's La Rabida Children's Hospital across the harbor.


More of the harbor.


Now here's an interesting controversy. I perused their Web site, and it looks like it's basically some Hyde Park-style NIMBYism against Friends of the Parks and their ongoing plan to "complete" the lakefront. But maybe these folks have a more valid point than the Point savers. I don't know; I don't live down there, and all this saving stuff is giving me a headache. Those of you who are more curious than I am are welcome to look into the matter.

Moving along...


We have a visitor! Here's a "laker," an inter-Great Lakes cargo ship, dropping off a huge load of rock salt at a depot on the Calumet River at the Port of Chicago. The salt will be spread liberally along Chicago's streets the next time it snows.


Sorry about the bad angle here, but I wanted to show how huge that thing was. Usually I only see a bunch of barges down there. (And to answer Benjamin's question, I have no idea what an icebreaker looks like, and I didn't go to Lake Calumet.)

And finally, here's Wolf Lake at William W. Powers State [Park]. I didn't wander very far from the parking lot because I had my bike with me, the snow was deep and sticky, I was drenched with sweat, and the temperature was rapidly dropping below freezing. Sorry I couldn't give you better views of the lake. Most of the water you see in these photos isn't the lake proper but an inlet flowing into the Calumet wetlands. (I wonder how many times even that particular waterway has been engineered and re-engineered.) As you can see, it's a popular spot for waterfowl.






26 January 2008

Splish splash

In winter, it's quadruply important to keep your bike clean, or else the road salt will eat it.


I think most people do this with a garden hose in the back yard, but unfortunately I don't have either of those things. So I tried once again to drag mine into the shower, this time with partial success. If my landlord ever figures out who I am, he's going to kill me.

The next step, if I understand this correctly, is to wipe everything down and wait for it to dry, then repeat the process with the front half, and then I'll have to relubricate the chain and cables and probably inflate the tires while I'm at it. I got some alcohol wipes for the brake pads, per... I forget who, I'll check that thread again when it's dry. But whoever you were, thanks!

And then I'll need to clean my bathtub, but I had to do that anyway.

While I'm at it, I suppose I ought to mop the bike drippings off the kitchen floor.

And I'm thinking, I need to get married so I can buy a house with a back yard and a garden hose and have someone around to nag me into keeping the bathroom and kitchen clean. Aren't I a piece of work.

Polka Ride: I tried

Goodness, I think that I have become a winter bike snob. All day I was asking people (though mostly indirectly): hey, are you going to the Polka Ride later? That Critical Mass thing? And most of them shook their heads: no, it's just too cold outside for me. And I was like, what do you mean it's too cold? It's 14 degrees [Fahrenheit] out there; that's not cold.

I got a pretty late start heading downtown, especially considering all the time I ended up wasting on the Lakefront Path to take pictures. The first time I stopped to do so, I braked hard and swung my handlebars around 90 degrees [of arc] like I usually do when I suddenly see a promising photo opportunity in front of me--quite forgetting all that packed-down snow that was under the tires. You can guess what happened.

But oh, this time it was worth it.

I rediscovered the Lakefront Path on the cusp of a snowy evening, the austere beauty of the lakefront in winter. Peacefully deserted despite the rush of traffic just a few feet away on Lake Shore Drive, hidden right there in plain sight for everyone else to overlook.

I used to walk there all the time, even this time of year. I can't remember when I stopped doing that, but it must have been just long enough ago for me to forget what it's like.

And the downtown skyline, as ever, hovers there between the water and the sky.

At about that point my toes, hitherto uncomfortably numb, were beginning to feel like the nails were being ripped off with pliers by skilled CIA agents while the federal government insisted that I wasn't really being tortured. I mean, the pain was unbearable enough, but on top of that was the indignity of getting cold feet despite ample experience outdoors in such weather. I was finally beginning to understand the trick with the plastic bag corners over your toes--it's not to keep out water, it's to block the wind. Pedaling is quite different from walking in several respects that don't become apparent until the temperature drops to a certain level and you spend a certain length of time doing it.

It was 5pm, the start of the ride, and I'd only just passed McCormick Place. I began to worry that I might just miss the whole thing. The ride never actually gets going until closer to 6pm, at least in my experience, but I'd never experienced the ride when it was 14 degrees [Fahrenheit] and threatening snow. It seemed that a much smaller and more tightly knit group of people was expected to attend, and why waste time hanging around in that weather when everyone you know has already arrived? But I pressed onward toward the ped bridge at 18th St.; I was enjoying the journey, despite my literally cold feet, and that mattered more to me than the destination.

Except by the time I got to the Loop it was dark and I had rejoined the rest of civilization in the form of peak rushhour traffic. I've done that before, too, but the bulk of winter clothing on my head and neck greatly restricted my ranges of vision and motion. I felt a significant reduction in maneuverability as a result; I began to panic, being unable to glance around quickly at what was going on around me. The bike bumped and skidded over every minor obstacle--potholes, cracks, sloppy pavement, manhole covers, you name it--because I was concentrating so much on the vehicles in front of me. I was risking a nasty fall among too many cars to avoid one of them running me over. The journey wasn't fun anymore, and I probably wasn't even going to make it to the destination.

At Jackson Blvd. I tried to swing around a bus that had stopped in front of me, but my feet skidded violently on the pedals and for a frightening moment I nearly did lose control. After recovering I wondered how that had happened--and realized with a deep inner chill that I couldn't feel my toes at all. That's the beginning of frostbite, I know. I hopped--limped, rather--off my bike and onto the sidewalk, crossed the street, and flagged a #6 bus stopped at the intersection. The driver sat through another light cycle while I put my bike on the rack, which no doubt annoyed all the other passengers who were already annoyed enough at being stuck in rushhour traffic, but I didn't care. I was in no mood to stand around waiting for the next one.

On the way back to Hyde Park I clenched my fists and tried not to concentrate on the searing, agonizing pain in my feet as my toes warmed back up again. It had begun to snow. I bitterly wondered how my photos of the lakefront would turn out; perhaps the whole thing wasn't worth it after all. A lengthy shower and a nap later, here they are, and here I am, another Friday night on the Internet because it's too cold for me to do anything else. I tried, really.

25 January 2008

Heal the rift with Biking Illinois

I was skimming through Biking Illinois last night and trying to remember those halcyon days (i.e., spring, summer, and fall) of not living in constant fear that all the road salt would disintegrate my drive train right at some really inconvenient moment, when it finally occurred to me what it is that really makes this book so useful: the author (hi) doesn't start from the assumption that recreational bicyclists are either wimpy weekenders who need special coaxing to go farther than around their local one-mile fitness trail or insane long-distance tourists who think 50 miles is a "short" ride and refuse to consider any route without a 20% grade involved. And in a world full of bike snobs who all hate each other,* that's refreshing indeed. Kudos!


So you should go buy it (or if you're broke, go to your local library and insist that they buy it for you so that you can check it out) and help promote peace and harmony throughout the bicycling world. At last, the perfect Casimir Pulaski Day gift (this is Illinois, after all) for your recumbent-riding arch enemy! Seriously, all you recumbent riders are great folks. (Or is that just what you want us to think?)

*Even though it should be perfectly obvious to everyone that all-weather urban bike comuting is far superior to all other forms of cycling.
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In other news, major airports in Italy are named after famous Italians who have made significant contributions to civilization and whose names are still celebrated centuries later. While in America [comma, United States of]... who was O'Hare again?

And hey, speaking of silly Americans, the latest in Cectic. Okay, time for work.
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Speaking of the rift (now it's lunchtime), somebody tell this person about that hot new trend in urban cruisers and the like that I keep hearing so much about. I'm too shy and my bike shop experience is limited to Chicago.

24 January 2008

Even my bike hates me

Anthropomorphism is a way of coping with loneliness, according to research at (where else?) the University of Chicago. Here's our press release:
People not always needed to alleviate loneliness: Many try to identify with animals, gadgets, spiritual beliefs

"New research at the University of Chicago finds evidence for a clever way that people manage to alleviate the pain of loneliness: They create people in their surroundings to keep them company.

"'Biological reproduction is not a very efficient way to alleviate one’s loneliness, but you can make up people when you’re motivated to do so,' said Nicholas Epley, Assistant Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business. 'When people lack a sense of connection with other people, they are more likely to see their pets, gadgets or gods as human-like.'"


I asked Avenger what he thought of this, and the son of a bitch asked me if I had volunteered as a research subject. I told him he could fix his own damn brakes. Now he's sulking.

[Helmet tip to the Digital Cuttlefish, a cephalopod who writes poetry.]

GITAP 2008

Well, I'm all signed up for the Grand Illinois Trail and Parks 2008 tour! Think I'll try camping this year. I wonder if my parents still have that impressive collection of tents.

This year's ride, through the rolling hills of northwestern Illinois, revisits Lowden, Mississippi Palisades, the wonderful Great River Trail, the Quad Cities (exciting things going on over there lately!), and Morrison-Rockwood. Our august sponsors are the League of Illinois Bicyclists and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, who work with communities all over northern Illinois to complete and maintain the Grand Illinois Trail, a giant loop (really more of a network) of interconnected paths and bike routes that includes the Great River Trail, Chicago's Lakefront Path, and many, many beautiful bikeways in between.

See you in Dixon!


Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, from GITAP 2006. See more of mine here. You know you want to join us now, don't you.
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In other news, be less timid and try this the next time an angry motorist confronts you. I wonder if I could pull that off.

Polka Ride!

Oh, bitch bitch bitch. Let's ride bikes!

Tomorrow is the, uh, Nth annual Polka Ride. I guess. I'm still not completely sure how Critical Mass and their "xerocracy" works. Possibly not being completely sure how it works is the whole point. Anarchy and loosely organized collectives and all. But I likes me my infrastructure, and politics is so thoroughly entertaining.

Anyway, I might see you there tomorrow at 5pm at Daley Plaza. There was a flyer in my cubicle this morning, so I'm going to guess that at least one of my coworkers is going to try to talk me into it soon. As there will be no riding at dawn in negative windchills involved this time (see Winter Bike to Work Day last week), she (he? is that you, IR?) will probably succeed.
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In other news, moral dilemma: I've tried Lush, Avalon Organics, and even Trader Joe's, and still nothing sooths my severely chapped hands in winter quite like this chemical concoction. What to do. (Nothing against Lush and their mostly natural shampoo with beer in it, mind you; I'll swear by that stuff until the day I die.)

23 January 2008

Help for the clueless?

Avenger's front brake squeaks, where by "squeaks" I mean "emits an ear-piercing screeching noise that can be heard up and down the block and causes all the neighborhood dogs to start barking." It's done this ever since, I don't really remember, last summer maybe. I noticed that it was mostly only a problem when it was wet, but these days it's always wet, so the brake always squeaks.

I haven't considered it much of a problem because I've been thinking that if I need to stop so quickly that I'm hitting the front brake hard enough to cause it make a really annoying noise, then that's a good thing, right? There's always some delay between hitting the brakes and emitting my own annoying high-pitched squeak, so thank goodness my bike is doing it for me automatically! However, on group rides I find myself apologizing for my squeaky brake and then trying very hard not to use the front one at all. Which is madness, of course. Or is it not supposed to be madness? Am I in fact riding recklessly if I don't trust my bike to stop completely with only the rear brake?

So anyway, I keep checking and checking the brakes, which is what they tell you to do before each ride, but for some reason they never tell you what it is that you're supposed to be checking for. Are you checking to make sure they haven't magically disappeared when you weren't looking? Seriously, if the brakes aren't too loose and aren't rubbing, then what else is there that could be wrong? Which tiny screw corresponds to which seemingly alarming problem? I was instructed once to check the brake pads to make sure they're clean, so when they look really icky I wipe them off with a paper towel (or a thumb, in a pinch). But it doesn't seem to stop the squeaking. That can't be normal, or people wouldn't look at me like "Gosh, what's wrong with your brakes?" on group rides.

Maybe I should just take it back to the shop. (That would be free, right? With the winter tune-up? Or would it be like a preexisting medical condition?) The chain has also been slipping lately, even though--I think, I'm sure--I've been pretty good about keeping it lubricated. Yeah, probably time to go back to the shop. I'm pretty helpless when it comes to anything beyond adjusting the rearview mirror, and sometimes I can't even get that right. I'm terrible, aren't I.

And as long as I'm thinking about chains doing funny things, I'm pretty sure Scooty-Puff's front gear is misaligned or something. The guy who sold it to me insisted that everything was fine, but I think he might have been, well, I don't want to badmouth a community business if I don't have something in particular against them. They provide fast, cheap, adequate service right behind my office and sold me a fine bike, and as far as I'm concerned that's all that matters right now. Anyway, if there's some perfectly normal reason why a folding bike chain should make a constant noticeable grinding noise even when freshly lubricated, please let me know so I can stop worrying about it.

What the presidential candidates are driving

The Chicago Tribune has a searing piece on several presidential candidates and their rides:
Presidential candidates and their cars
[On the home page it's under "Gasbags: Pols and their cars." Guess they felt they needed more to grab your attention.]

I'm actually... impressed? Is that the right word? To describe the way I feel about anything related to Huckabee? First this:
"Our main car is a 2007 Chevy Tahoe flex-fuel."
Well, duh, he's the Republicanest Republican in the running--of course he's going to drive the almost-latest model GMC big-honkin' truck. God Bless America, and so on. No surprise there. What kind of surprised me was what came after that:
"Then my vehicle is a (1995) Chevrolet Silverado truck"
The Trib goes on to berate him for driving a vehicle that gets all of 12 miles to the gallon, but hold the phone--a '95 Silverado? His non-family-vehicle main ride is a '95 Silverado? How many people do you know drive a '95 anything anymore? Now there is a man who loves his truck.

Mr. Huckabee, I underestimated you. That's no sham you're pulling to pander for votes--you're the real deal, and in some perverse way I almost have to respect that. Unless you bought that thing used last year or something, in which case I despise you as much as ever. Damn, now I'm going to spend the rest of the day driving myself crazy wondering about the story behind the Huckabeemobile.

Update: Fritz says Huckabee bikes to work and to the grocery store, in addition to driving those big trucks. (In fact, so does Grist, but it's buried under their general disapproval of his stance on energy.) Well, shoot, between him and Giuliani, why aren't the Republicans really gunning for the green vote? The Democrats are whoring themselves out for it, but they seem to be less and less resolved every day to really follow up on any of their brilliant ideas. I reiterate my strong dislike of our color-coded issue system.

Now, you're probably all going to assume that I really ought to be supporting Giuliani:
"The former New York City mayor says he doesn't own a car: 'I don't drive. I navigate,' he told The Associated Press in May."
In lieu of a car there's a nice photo-op photo of him walking to his campaign tour bus. Admirable, yes, but really not a slam-dunk for my vote, sorry. I cringe at the thought of that guy leading the country. I may be carless, but I have to cross the line somewhere.

Now, Obama drives a car that looks awfully familiar:
"This finger-wagging came from a speaker who arrived in a Secret Service convoy of Chevy Suburbans (averages (12 m.p.g.). More embarrassing was the car in Obama's garage: A gas-guzzling, 340 horsepower Chrysler 300C. When his choice was exposed, he bought a more politically correct Ford Escape Hybrid SUV (averages 27 m.p.g.)"
Of course he did, he's a Democrat running for President. (See Huckabee above.) But say, wasn't I nearly swiped by an enormous Chrysler sedan on Lake Park Ave. a couple of summers ago? Possibly while Obama was in Chicago for some reason? Yeah, I know, it could have been anyone and was probably somebody else. There are already plenty of classy luxury cars zooming around Hyde Park like the occupants are simply too important to yield to any of the other poor schmucks on the street, and don't you ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

In any case, I can't say I'm really surprised by any of this. (With the exception of the Huckabeemobile, of course. I mean, damn! Just can't get over that.) Is it any revelation that politicians, you know, say one thing and then do something else that's like the exact opposite? Come on. I'm sure even Giuliani has somebody on call who can drive him somewhere.

Now, here is something truly remarkable: the congressman who bikes to work. Someone should talk him into organizing a Bike to Work Day at his workplace. That would rock.
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In extremely local news, is your head spinning yet?
Hyde Park Progress:
Looking Back on 47th Street: Risk and Corruption on the South Side

I think sometimes I waste too much time trying to figure out money, real estate, and politics because I somehow got it into my head that being a Real Adult meant having a grip on those things (mostly in that order). I couldn't tell you where the heck I got that idea, but clearly it's absurd. Only some kind of evil genius would be capable of understanding and manipulating the whole mess. (And yet I keep trying.)

22 January 2008

How to be carless

Here's one for the automobile-addicted nonfiction fans (you know who you are): How to Live Well Without Owning a Car: Save Money, Breathe Easier, and Get More Mileage Out of Life. But before you start throwing fits or worse at me that you live in the suburbs and I just don't understand, please first consider the following excerpt from the given synopsis:

"There’s no doubt that cars, trucks, and SUVs are useful tools. They provide instant, on-demand transportation at a moment's notice. They can haul heavy loads and help you run errands. And they can whisk you out of town for a weekend away. That's why this book does not suggest that you never use a car or never ride in one. This book simply argues that millions of Americans can get along just fine and save a fortune by not owning a car. When you do need one you can rent or use car sharing."

There, you see? Now quit whining about how out of shape you are and get that bike fixed already. If you get it done now, then it will be all set to go come the first freaky warm weekend of March when it will finally occur to everyone else in town to get their bikes tuned up. You know, I'll bet my new monthly bonus that's half your problem right there.

[Helmet tip to RocBike.]

Bike racks of Hyde Park: Crerar Library

First in what may or may not be a series, John Crerar Library, the main science library at the University of Chicago:

Hell freezes over. And when hell freezes over, you can, among other things, find a parking spot next to Crerar.

Fun facts: When the University of Chicago acquired the John Crerar Library collection, Special Collections swept in and whisked away all the good stuff to their darkened, access-controlled warren in the Regenstein. The rest was either integrated into the university's main science collection or deemed obsolete. The obsolete materials are stored in the basement in compact shelving according to their original Dewy decimal call numbers (the U of C library uses the Library of Congress classification system); hence, it's referred to as the "Dewy Collection." So Crerar isn't really Crerar anymore, and thus I never liked all their bragging about being such a wonderful free public full-access library of such historical significance. Note: Special Collections allegedly did the same thing with the now-defunct Yerkes Observatory Library. Fracking vultures.

More fun facts: "Hell freezes over" is one of the unofficial student mottos of the University of Chicago. Another is "Where fun comes to die." (These often appear on t-shirts; houses sell them as fundraisers. My, has my hair has gotten long since June. On the other hand, no one's called me "sir" lately.) Hence the caption above--in less adventurous weather, those racks are completely full at all hours of the day and night. Don't ask me how I know that.

Narrowly averting death II: The city that works

Dear Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation:

Thank you very much for all your hard work clearing the roads during and after last night's snowstorm. I've noticed that as of this afternoon most of the streets are almost downright adequate. Bravo! However, I thought that I should bring to your attention the following alarming fact:

Only a single lane through the middle of the street has been plowed along both Ellis and Woodlawn avenues where they cross the Midway Plaisance (5900-6000 S.). While I do sincerely appreciate this kind gesture, please note that it creates an especially hazardous situation for bicyclists. Crossing the Midway is already enough of a challenge without being forced literally into the middle of the street by the heaps of snow blocking the rightmost lane and a half. I know that I'm only a mere bicyclist and therefore aren't entitled to any of your concern, but I assure you that the parade of cars behind me creeping along at 5 mph through those absurdly short green lights can attest to the significance of this problem.

Therefore, I implore you to clear the rest of 5900-6000 S. Woodlawn and Ellis at your earliest convenience, lest someone other than a bicyclist or pedestrian be involved in a nasty collision that will do even more to block traffic at one of the applicable intersections. Please let me know whose political campaign will be expecting a generous contribution for this action, as well as which credit cards are acceptable.

Sincerely,
Hyde Park bike commuter
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In other news, this. And so ends a love affair with wonderful foods. It's not you, it's me.

20 January 2008

Narrowly averting death

Earlier I mentioned that riding in a bike lane always makes me feel, well, less like I'm about to die. And then I read this and wonder how it is that I'm still alive.
CycleDog:
Copenhagen Cycling: Not what it seems...

I won't paste a quote; just go read the whole thing yourself. And then decide for yourself whether I've been wrong this whole time. I really can't say; my greatest risk seems to be "heckling," which isn't any more or less of a problem if I happen to be in a bike lane. (In fact, the worst scare of my life occurred when I was doing a good 22 or so mph in the right lane of an uncrowded street with few to no parked cars at the time and no bike markings whatsoever, but that's another story.)

Speaking of bike markings, I'm not convinced (as some people are) that so-called shared lane markings are the best way to go. I've heard of bike-car collisions on streets with those markings where the officers did not ticket the motorist for failing to yield the right of way to the cyclist, on the grounds that the signs and lane markings did not spell out actual laws but were really only "recommendations" or something.

And if he who does not bike is to be believed, most drivers have no clue whatsoever what those weird stripes, diamonds, and/or arrows in the right lane mean anyway. He confessed to me on our "second" "date" that he never knew, cared, bothered to find out, or even gave much thought until I came along. I was livid: "There are signs right there that say "BIKES ONLY" and even outlines of bikes painted right on the street, and you're telling me you never once noticed them?"

"No," he replied innocently, "why would I?"

I think someday he or someone like him will literally be the death of me. So much for borrowed confidence.

This is why I think everyone needs to learn how to ride a bike safely in urban conditions. If you decide that you hate it and never again do it in your life, fine, but then at least you'll know what to expect from the cyclists you encounter. And you'll know what a damn bike lane looks like. Sheesh.
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Oh, for the love of... Lame. Just lame.
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Sorry for the pessimism lately, folks, but that's life it's ass-cold and I have electric heat and leaky windows. And my neighborhood supermarket has closed. And my local small-box retailer has begun to stock lots and lots of red and pink Singularity* [Painful] Awareness Day stuff. And I recently canceled a job interview because I realized how uncomfortable I am with the idea of getting paid to ask people for money. Which reminds me of the other job I applied for, which did not call me for an interview. (And guess who they ended up hiring?)

But... at least I have new fenders?

*Old IMSA joke. A clever one, if you think about it.

19 January 2008

More thoughts on car culture

I'm no expert (though I may pretend to be), but it seems like for the longest time urban planners were insisting that the best solution to all urban social problems was to spread everyone out. People are living on top of each other in economic and/or symbolic poverty, awash in the pollution (though that was the day when it was considered simply dirty instead of dangerously toxic) of all that prosperous heavy industry. No no, that's not right--people need open space and lot's of fresh, country air. Move as many people as possible away from the city centers. Make sure there are plenty of yards and gardens. Private ones, mind you. Trust us.

These days, urban planners are insisting just the opposite. New residential developments are never dense enough for their liking. They bemoan the lone big-box retailer that displaces a cluster of multiple small businesses. Commutes to work are too long and inefficient. People are just too spread out for anything to be practical. Don't you see? Why isn't anybody listening?

I wonder what happened, and I wonder if it must have been the automobile that finally made it practical for people to spread out, just as the urban planners had dreamed would happen someday. Except once it was practical for everyone to own their own private auto, everyone wanted to spread out and live "in the country." But then what happened?

The automobile, owing to its large size and thus exorbitant demands for space, greatly increases the perceived density of some particular area. People sit at a busy intersection and think, gosh it's crowded around here--just look at all the traffic! Screw this. So they move farther and farther out into the "country," but then they drag the need for parking and driving space along with them. Meanwhile the old city centers, carefully designed or haphazardly built in an earlier age for density in a pre-automobile world, merely sit there with their infrastructure underutilized and their potential for denser development wasted. And thus we find ourselves in the mess we're in now.

I might be wrong. Perhaps urban planners are simply a foolishly idealistic bunch and nothing will ever really please them. Like editors ("Someday we will end the apostrophe abuse!"), but with more at stake than proper punctuation.

On that note, here are a few items to share.

West North:
J-diversificatioin
"Two video games that I spent much time with during high school suddenly make so much more sense — after wandering around Japanese cities for a few days. A-Train and SimTower, both of which were published in the USA by Maxis (creator of SimCity), have at their hearts urban and business models that respond to conditions quite unique to Japan — a society that, despite its considerable automotive might, practically defines “transit oriented development.” Both games were fascinating looks into the integrally interlinked role that transportation, both horizontal and vertical, plays in a densely populated society."

Strange Maps:
“Slumless, Smokeless Cities”
"Take that, Harry Beck. Try as you might, the lines on your Tube map could never be as straight as this.

"Beck schematised a transportation system that was completely irregularly laid out to begin with. This map, however, shows how planning ahead would enable not just symmetry, but also better living conditions, or as the map itself states: “Slumless, Smokeless Cities”.

"The map was drawn up by Sir Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928), the father of the garden city movement. Howard believed the living conditions of the poor, huddled masses cramped together in giant, insalubrious cities could be improved by combining the best aspects of town and country and carefully allocating space to housing, industry and agriculture."


Bike, Chicago!:
Living in between
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"In our small ways, we push the boundaries of acceptable behavior. In our society of predictable patterns and fixed expectations, biking or walking -- not for health, or fitness, or a cause, but just to get somewhere -- is a subversive act. And those of us who engage in it, even if we do so without any particular plan or agenda, are perceived as being subversive. As we weave our way through traffic, and negotiate our way through a larger community in which we live, we find our spaces in between. Between lanes of traffic, between the street and the sidewalk, between cracks in the pavement."


[Out my window, screen and all.]

18 January 2008

Eventually it will warm up

Hey experts:

Which is a better winter ride, the Fox River Trail or the I&M Canal State Trail? Or both, but pretend you only have one good weekend until spring starts flooding both? Or neither, because it would actually be an excellent opportunity to see the rest of the Burnham Greenway or the Old Plank Road Trail?

Decisions, decisions.

Motto at the bottom, advocacy

Someone (hi) finally asked me about the Latin motto at the bottom of this blog:

Crescat bicicleta, vita excolatur.

Technically it doesn't mean anything--the Romans didn't ride bicycles, so I had to borrow the Spanish word "bicicleta." But I don't know enough Spanish to translate the English gerund "bicycling." On top of that, I don't know Latin at all. If my cobbled-together pseudo-Latin translates literally into anything, it's probably quite ridiculous. I did attempt to consult someone who does know Latin, but he kept insisting that Romans didn't ride bicycles and came up with some cumbersome phrase for "self-powered two-wheeled cart with an occupancy of one" or something like that.

But anyway, it's not meant to be taken literally, it's meant to be a play on the pithy and elegant motto for the University of Chicago:

Crescat scientia, vita excolatur.

"Let knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched."

Of all the fancy Latin school mottos I've heard, I must say I like ours the best, so I decided to copy it--"Let bicycling grow from more to more, and so human life be enriched."

Besides, "The more you bike,the better your world" was already taken.

Speaking of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, their Web site, biketraffic.org, was recently listed as one of Chicago's best transportation Web sites in Chicago magazine. Or so CBF is claiming; I'll verify that later.

Anyway, if you all find it so useful, then you should really consider joining! Come on, you get a free map and tons of discounts at local retailers and restaurants (where "local" is in the suburbs, too!), plus you support all of their fantastic work in Chicagoland--much of which does, in fact, affect you personally, so don't try to weasel out with that excuse. (Come on, noncyclists, I know you all are walking everywhere. Stop mooching off our two-wheeled largess already and contribute something.) And then you get a discount on Bike the Drive and the Boulevard Lakefront Tour, which if you ask me are two things that everyone in the Chicago area and parts beyond must do at least once in their lifetime. Trust me, fellow cheapasses, it's really the best thirty bucks you'll spend all year. And then tell them I sent you, if they ask.

Not in Chicago? That's okay, I forgive you. Seriously, I still encourage you to get involved with your own local bicycling advocacy group. They need you. Yes, you!

All right, enough spiel. Goodness, you'd think I got paid for it.

(Interesting aside: I seem to recall an academic society at the U of C that called itself Crescat Scientia; in any case, Vita Excolatur is--or was--the student porn erotica magazine. No, I never modeled; they didn't want me. And if that's not a blow to positive self-image, I don't know what is. Ah well, perhaps someday I'll find a group of bike helmet fetishists and rock their world.)
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In other news, this. Sigh of relief?
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Awww...

17 January 2008

Harsh beauty

I said I'd try to find all my photos first, but I don't feel like waiting anymore. And I also fear I may have lost them, deleted them one night in a fit of despair. You see, it was the last time I felt truly happy.

Happiness, that thing we all say must be so hard to grasp and yet so easy to attain, is something I find myself lectured about quite often. Please, they implore, please, just be happy. Why aren't you ever happy? Why can't you ever figure out what makes you happy? But what they always fail to understand is that I've already figured out what makes me happy, and it's really quite simple--no regrets about the past, no fears for the future, a present that's exactly what I want it to be. What else is happiness? It only makes sense. And yet it's so hard to get the conditions right. So it's been a while.

It was a happy time, Labor Day weekend of 2005. I was but a year into my first real job, on my first real vacation, with my boyfriend. We had been together exactly two years; we were celebrating. We rented a cabin at White Pines State Park for the weekend, and from there we drove everywhere else. That's mostly what we did all weekend, we drove--as though the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina couldn't touch us--drove around and around all over the rugged unglaciated hills of northwestern Illinois and a part of eastern Iowa. The land that still haunts me in my dreams, inaccessible as it is to me now, car-free and alone.

One particularly memorable day we drove west toward a little town called Savanna, then north up the river to Mississippi Palisades State Park. It was my first time there--of only two in my life thus far, I must confess--and it was incredible. I hadn't imagined that a place so wonderfully hilly, providing such amazing vistas from towering bluffs across sloping forests and farmland, could exist in northern Illinois. The magnificent view out across the great Mississippi River from atop Lookout Point was burned into my memory that day. We trekked together through the wild woods up and down the rugged bluffs on a "short" loop hike that took us all of a glorious morning. To be sure, it was a land of harsh beauty. And I was happy.


[View of the river from Lookout Point, yours truly. From the 2006 GITAP.]

To use that label, "harsh beauty," to describe the dilapidated limestone revetment at Promontory Point here at home seems to me a mockery. Perhaps we understand that those tumbled stone blocks, those weedy crevices turned crevasses, those unrelenting waves eroding it all away more and more each year, are the closest thing we have here in our flat urban environment to the rugged, wild, scenic beauty boasted by the other corners of the state. So perhaps it's only natural to cherish the Point in its charmingly deteriorated state, to bestow upon it that fickle designation of "nature" and thus submit to our irresistible urge to preserve "nature" in pristine, untouched form, so that future generations can enjoy it just as we did.

But it's all a deception, and not even a clever one. There's nothing at all natural about the Point, except arguably the material--limestone, likely for lack of anything better back in its day--that was used to shore up the landfill used to create a respectable urban park. Harsh beauty? Hardly--it was designed to simulate nature, not let nature run rampant and tear up the place. I'm quite sure Daniel H. Burnham would roll over in his grave if he saw what we'd let happen to a significant part of the park that now bears his name. It's falling right into the lake, and for what?

Lookout Point is one thing, Promontory Point quite another. One is a natural feature and harshly beautiful in its own right, the other an artificial feature that's only so because we've let it fall so far into neglect. We'd be equally irresponsible in destroying both. But only the former was there to begin with, and thus deserves to be left alone. The latter can't, or nature in its proper sense will eventually take its final toll.


[No promenade left at Promontory Point, Elizabeth Fama at Hyde Park Progress.]

I was happy once, in that other place, that place of love and harsh beauty so far away now in space and time. I need no sad, artificial imitations in my own backyard to remind me of how far I've fallen from real happiness.

Please fix the Point.

Potential Amtrak strike: Wha-a-a-a...?

Doomsday averted!
Chicago Tribune:
Lawmakers pass mass-transit bill 3 days before drastic cuts, fare raises

But wait--what's all this about Amtrak now?
Crain's Chicago Business:
Amtrak strike could close Union Station to Metra riders

Apparently the rest of the country already knows about it. Were we all that preoccupied with CTA/Pace disaster here in Chicago? (I leave out Metra because they're raising fares anyway. Rat on a stick!)

Oh, it was in the Trib on Tuesday:
Specter of Amtrak strike has commuters bracing for shutdowns
Amtrak strike could cripple commuter rail service

I didn't notice; I was busy. (With Things.) Did anyone else?
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Here's some good news: long-eared owls in the South Loop. Hope they're still there when the weather perks back up--I want pics!

Winter Bike to Work Day

Update: Check out the Chicago Sun-Times:
White wheeling

It's in the Lifestyles section under "Winter Sports." Sports? What? Sigh. Oh well. See you tomorrow morning, maybe.
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Hey Chicago, I should tell you about Winter Bike to Work Day, which is coming up this Friday, January 18. The Chicagoland Bicycle Federation will be offering free hot chocolate, cheesecake, raffle prizes, and probably some huddled warmth from 7am to 9am at Daley Plaza.

In theory, it'll be tons of frozen fun! In practice, I've never gone myself (and this year doesn't look good for me, either), so I couldn't tell you. But I can tell you that riding your bike in less extreme winter weather is actually two or three pieces of cake. Just keep in mind that it'll take you a few tries to get the layers right because everyone's personal preference is different. I'd say the most important thing is to make sure your hands and feet are warm--not "sort of warm," or "tolerably cold," but really warm--because if those parts are already cold when you head out, then they will only get colder and you will be miserable.

Check out Chicago Bike Winter for winter riding tips. And remember that walking or taking the bus in a heavy snowstorm or ice storm is perfectly acceptable. You're always the best judge of your own limits; don't try to push them just to show off or prove a point. Trust me.

If car culture is fading, then why do we need a congestion tax?

We see all these trends that promote bicycling, walking, and public transportation over driving. So do we proudly declare victory and the beginning of the end of "car culture"? Or do we wake up from our dreams and realize that for most of these trends, the main purpose is to discourage people from driving in order to reduce automobile traffic congestion?

If car culture is really on its way out, then where is all this traffic coming from?

I had to ask that question when I saw this in Commute by Bike:
Nissan exec: “Car culture is fading”

"Here’s an interesting article from CNN. Thomas Lane is in charge of strategy and product planning for Nissan Motors in Japan. While car ads continue to push the idea that driving is pure pleasure that’s often done on open roads in pristine wilderness, commuters around the world and in America are finding that car ownership is expensive, time consuming and not much fun.

"Lane points to global trends that discourage automobile use: congestion pricing in city centers and young people who’d rather spend their money on electronic gadgets rather than car stuff, with many people switching to mass transit for everyday transportation and rentals or car sharing for longer trips.

"Read more at CNN Money. Props to Bike Portland, where there’s more commentary on this trend."


You don't have to answer; I just think we can't get too excited yet that The Future!(TM) of so-called alternative transportation has finally arrived.
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In other news, here's my new taillight configuration, Blackburn Mars 3.0 x2:

They're at slightly different angles owing to simple gravity,* and if you look closely you can see that the one on the right is an LED short. Hence the new one on the left. But two (well, 1.8) are better than one, right?

*Actually, gravity isn't simple at all, but we can pretend it is for our purposes.

15 January 2008

Coffee: Black and bitter, just like my shriveled little heart

"What Starbucks did was make it acceptable for an adult to drink a milk shake."

That was said to me once upon a time on a "first" "date" (everything I do is unnecessarily complicated) at a local coffee shop sort of place. The date had an actual milk shake; he doesn't drink coffee. I probably had a cup of actual coffee that probably cost me less than two dollars. That wasn't the point. The point was that it was a social activity.

I drink regular coffee with absolutely nothing added, unless I also need a sugar hit. And it's not so much needing a sugar hit as knowing that subjecting my insides to nothing but caffeine would be a very bad idea but for whatever reason I'm not able to eat something first. Or maybe I just feel like treating myself to dessert in an insulated cup--which is exactly what those fancy coffee drinks are, you know.

Whenever I go anywhere that has a counter and menu boards and order a cup of plain old regular coffee and then specify (because they always ask) that I don't want anything added to it, nine out of ten times I'm looked at like I just ordered a ham and cheese sandwich at a Jewish deli. I spent a long time being bothered by this. Are the profit margins on milk, sugar, flavored syrup, and/or whipped cream-like substance ridiculously high? Do highly-trained baristas feel that simply pouring regular coffee is beneath them? Is there something about me that just says "soy latte"?

It's probably all three and more. Or maybe it's neither. I don't know. It doesn't bother me anymore. This is what bothers me. Also bothersome is the fact that since going out for coffee is a social activity, people often see me order a small regular with nothing added and conclude that I must be really boring. Or else a serious caffeine addict in desperate need of help. Because "coffee" isn't just coffee.

Which is exactly why I love Just Coffee. It's... just coffee. Paradoxically (because everything I do has to be complicated), it's also more than just coffee. And now I need to find somewhere else to get it; the Hyde Park Co-Op is closing.

This post really has no point except to warn you that in the coming days, if not weeks, I'm probably going to be whining a lot about all the stuff the Co-Op used to sell that I won't be able to get anymore. You never really miss something until it's gone, do you.

14 January 2008

In solar cycle news: Important new sunspot appears, starts blasting energy

Cycle 24 began a couple of Fridays ago. (Darn, I missed it.) ESA's (English) press release is here, but Phil Plait explains it without hurting my American English astrophysics editing eyes:
The Sun kick starts its cycle once again
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"This image (from SOHO) shows the newest spot to blemish the Sun. We can tell it’s part of the new cycle because of the Sun’s magnetic field: sunspots reverse their (magnetic north and south) polarity every cycle, and this spot shows that reversal. So welcome the first spot for Cycle 24!"

Get ready for solar max in about 2011. It's predicted to be a big one.

Remember: bicyclists may tend to be weather nerds, but if you can impress your friends and colleagues with your (comparatively) vast knowledge of space weather then you will surely be the nerdiest weather nerd of all.

13 January 2008

Looking up



In which I walk down Lake Street to the bus stop on a Sunday evening and rediscover an old perspective.

Other items:
*An article in Newcity Chicago on what makes a neighborhood cool.
*A program on WTTW11 on how the Farnsworth House keeps averting disaster.
*What the duck is "recreational science"? I always thought of recreation as more of an art than a science.
*Finally sat down and watched Bender's Big Score. Huge disappointment.
*Maps! Strange maps!
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In other news, this. You know, Illinois politics is thoroughly entertaining, but only if you live here. And that actually makes it pretty sad.

11 January 2008

South Loop skyline

From the 18th St. pedestrian bridge over the Illinois Central tracks:



[Dang it all, the gamma's off again. Well, find yourself a Mac with an LCD display; I don't have time to fix these right now.]

I live far, far away from anything that resembles the countryside, but the tradeoff is this. I like it. Most of the time.

From underneath the Illinois Central tracks at 51st St.:

Won't we all.
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In other opinions, Eric Zorn on the governor's bitter "lemonade." Right on.

10 January 2008

Playing in the rain

[The following is mostly a poor excuse to try out my new mobile phone that has a camera.]

Picked up Avenger the Trusty Hybrid at Rapid Transit CycleShop last night. All fixed up, squeaky clean, and sporting a new pair of fenders. (Thanks, guys and gals!) Took Milwaukee Ave. back downtown with every intention of multimoding back home via Metra or maybe the bus. Except the closer I got downtown, the more I wanted to keep going.

Riding through downtown Chicago and its surroundings is just incredible, especially during the evening. It's like... It's like... What's it like? Sex? Drugs? Rock 'n' roll? It's the best kind of rush, especially for something so mundane it's almost silly. Perhaps I simply don't ride downtown often enough for it to be boring. If that's the case, I hope I never do.

For me, the value of bike lanes is mostly psychological, like using a helmet as a crutch to feel safer about biking in traffic. There's something about having that white line between me and the speeding metal death traps roaring past on one side, and another white line between me and the doors of doom on the other side. Mind you, I never use a bike lane as an excuse to be any less alert, but those two parallel stripes show me and everyone else exactly where I'm supposed to be.

If only motorists and law-enforcement officials would respect them, I know, but the idea of "defensible space" is a powerful one.

Speaking of bike lane respect, I saw this on Milwaukee:

Thank you!

When I got to the South Loop I wove my way eastward to the ped bridge at 18th St., which I think has a stunning view.

I took better pictures with digi; I'll upload them later.

I got to the Lakefront Path between Soldier Field and McCormick Place and found it brisk, windy, and utterly deserted. Normally I'd be delighted by those conditions, but I'd dressed for work and errands, not a winter romp on the lakefront, and my unmentionables were getting pretty cold. I had the bright idea to cross Lake Shore Drive at the ped bridge from the Lakeside Center in order to get to the Metra Station at 23rd/McCormick Place, but the gate to the bridge was closed and locked with a security vehicle parked squarely behind it. Oops.

(Incidentally, you don't realize how huge Lakeside Center is until you're standing underneath that vast canopy alone in the dark. I wish I were better with my camera so that I could have captured this.)

So I went home the usual way. Slowly. The chilly headwind off the lake and the ghostly deserted silence demanded it.

This evening it's raining, a steady, drenching downpour. The streets are flooding, as they always do, perhaps more so than usual because the ground is already so saturated from the snowmelt and the storms earlier this week. But I was so happy with my new fenders that I took an extraneous spin around the U of C campus on my way back to the office from the grocery store. (Long story.) I don't think I would have gotten any less wet without them, but I have noticed a lack of mud and street grime spattered absolutely everywhere. I'm sure the custodians appreciate it. You see, this is what passes for bike parking at my office:

It's probably just the Astro group because we're so shorthanded now. (And to think that last year we hadn't a cubicle to spare.) I've been spoiled.

Time to unsubscribe from Bikewinter?

Another tidbit from Bikewinter:

"Earlier today, the following was overheard on an unnamed Chicago bike enthusiast listserve:
'...my sense is that Critical Mass is just a lot sexier and more interesting than Bike Winter.'
Has Bike Winter really become frigid?"


And is sex all that matters to you?

I'm sorry, folks, but Bikewinter is turning into the most useless mailing list to which I've ever subscribed--and I was on the U of C fencing list for four years. (No, I've never held a foil in my life. That's my point.)

In similar news, last night I discovered a whole new dimension of meaning for the phrase "frigid loins." Long story short, make sure you wear an extra layer under your jeans. (Or whatever pants. I wear jeans. What is everyone's problem with jeans? Sure, your undies turn blue, but it's not like everyone will know about it.) I assure all the ladies out there that this is not a male-specific problem. I repeat, NOT a male-specific problem. Brrr. More later.
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In other news, public transit funding updates at CTA Tattler and Illinoize. (And probably your favorite Chicago rag or network, too.) I grow weary.

09 January 2008

No wonder the ex thinks I'm crazy, or You're only as uncool as you think you are

He thinks I'm one of these people.

I wonder if he secretly had this guy's opinion all along.

Well, at least now I understand the origin of fixed-gear snobbery--it's all about appearances. I ride a junky cheap Trek hybrid with stickers all over it, so I clearly don't care about appearances. Appearances are beneath me. I scoff at them. Ha! Bite my shiny hybrid ass! (Oh, I so want to put that on the back of a t-shirt right now: Bite my shiny hybrid ass! And stop asking me where I rented mine. Some people actually purchase Trek hybrids, you know. For reasons.)

How to be so uncool that you actually transcend the idea of mere coolness: Ride the bike you want to ride, and &%$#@! everyone else. Riding a bike is already inconceivably cooler than anything else that anyone in the world could possibly imagine. Congratulations!

Dear Internet Explorer users:

Yes, I know, my blog has a bug. It's apparently a nasty little IE-specific bug. I assure you I did not create it on purpose due to being a crotchety MacEvangelical who hates all things Microsoft, because the whole reason I prefer Mac OS is because I'm not cool enough to be able to do that sort of thing. In fact, I'm quite certain that the bug's origin is in my fiddling with the template without really knowing what I was doing.

I have tried and failed again and again to find the error and fix it, but the IE bug persists. At this point I think the only thing left to do is reset the template and start all over again from scratch. This, unfortunately, would take a very long time. I may not have much of a life, but I do have a Real Job, my apartment always has something wrong with it to either fix or clean, I must buy groceries frequently (owing to my lack of car), and I use a 56K modem at home because university dial-up is free and I'm a cheap bastard.

I'll get around to revamping teh blog eventually, but it's not a very high priority. Kindly stop emailing me at work before I get into trouble. (Time to update the home page as well, I suppose.) My Gmail address is jmdavis1; please don't spam me. (Unless you're Brian. Hello, Brian, how's the new job?) I'm not physically attractive enough to be worth stalking, either. Just so you know.

Cheers,
Jennifer Davis

08 January 2008

In which I write another post about cars

My dad is an auto mechanic, among other things. Those of you who took Psych 101 in college are probably having a field day right now. Eh, whatever. You only know me through this thing.

Anyway, here is dad's new car:

I posted about dad's new car here because it's such a lovely counterexample to the theory--which I hate--that cars are Real Transportation used by everyone and therefore vitally important, while bikes are only recreational devices used by a tiny fringe minority, and therefore bike facilities don't deserve such a huge (as perceived by drivers) piece of the budget pie. (Hey, does anyone happen to have a pie chart handy? I'd love to see how tiny our slice really is.) A similar argument is that bikes don't deserve anything at all because transportation infrastructure (i.e., roads, to most people) is funded in part through gas taxes, which bicyclists don't pay because they don't buy gas. (This argument also crops up a lot when your local public transportation system faces an imminent funding crisis. It's been an interesting year.)

Some people will go so far as to claim that bicyclists shouldn't even ride on the road because they don't contribute any revenue for road building. My dad tried to argue that the other day. I hate to say that I let him win, but I did let the argument die because, well, he's my dad. It's not that I'm afraid of upsetting my dad, it's just that arguing with my dad is sometimes like arguing with the television.

CycleDog, in response to a debate in the LA Times on bike facility funding, calls this an old, tiresome argument. I call it infuriating but necessary. I don't get to argue with the U.S. Secretary of Transportation or a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, I get to argue with people like my dad, and frequently. And if I asked people like my dad where bikes are supposed to go if they shouldn't be on the road because they don't pay taxes but bike trails are a waste of those taxes, what would they say?

Actually, I don't know what they'd say. They might just ask me why I don't just drive like everyone else. And I'll reply that gas is too expensive, and they'll counter that, well, of course gas is expensive, what with all the money wasted on bike trails. (And public transportation. And Amtrak. Well, that's the government for you.)

So here's a question that I'd like to ask people like my dad: Given a choice, would you rather pay to keep us bicyclists off the roads or begrudge us to use them along with you? Think very carefully. "No bikes at all" is not an option, no more than "no cars at all."

Once we have an answer to that question, then perhaps we won't need to debate it way up at the policy-making level.

I'm thinking this through as I write it. Other thoughts?

In similar news, this.