Friday, December 18, 2009

Wheel Truing Part Ib

The first step in truing a wheel is to bend the crap out of a nice straight one with some hard riding like that done by Mr. Dan Ennis in the clip below. This video comes to us courtesy of Mr. Goodbike and features Dan, a friend of the Goodbike, ripping it up somewhere in North Carolina. Hell yeah!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Wheel Truing Part Ia

A quick update on the soon-to-be-world-famous video Wheel Truing Part II: Our entire camera crew got drunk last night and had trouble figuring out how to change the color setting from "sepia". Production has been delayed at least one business day.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Wheel Truing Part I

*begin transmission*
The most widely viewed wheel truing video on youtube sucks. Maybe that's a bit harsh, but there are several things that Bikeman fails to explain or do properly that will really cause problems for the very people - who apparently number 75,740 - that need to watch that kind of video. The staff here at Casa Pepperoncini in association with the Facebook group "People 100% Against Deedle Dumpling" are working hard to address this deficiency. A full color video entitled "Wheel Truing Part II" is currently in production and will air soon on this channel. Please adjust your crystal sets accordingly.
*end transmission*

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Another Take on "ClimateGate"

A main reason that I am a proponent of bicycle commuting is my belief that bicycles can be a key part of reducing pollution that comes from automobiles. Transportation emissions account for a significant percentage of global emission of pollutants. The complex brew spewing from tailpipes includes hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, particulates, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide. This last molecule has been implicated as the cause of anthropogenic global climate change more commonly known as global warming. Or has it? Some people have seized on the recent illegal release of emails between climate researchers, claiming that the emails demonstrate a conspiracy in which the evidence for global warming has been fabricated. Which brings us to the point of this post. I am not an expert in climate change. I haven't downloaded and plowed through all 120 MB of the released emails. I can however provide the viewpoint of working scientist, and that is the following: I am mostly unconcerned about ClimateGate. There are several reasons for this. Although it is true that some of us are irrevocably scarred from the memory of that pretty girl in 5th grade homeroom who laughed at me when asked to the dance and that some of those people will go on to build orbiting instruments of Armageddon, most of us are good eggheads. But there are perhaps more compelling reasons for my attitude. Some of what I have seen in the popular press has been extremely misleading. Important points have been missed.

1) Claims of data manipulation: I hear ClimateGate commentators derisively referring to data manipulation as if that by itself is somehow wrong. The fact is that virtually all raw data needs to be manipulated in order to make sense of it. A slew of software exists for just this purpose. Data are smoothed, differentiated, filtered, and thoroughly mathematically churned. Data are discarded because of perfectly legitimate statistical reasons or because you realize that your fluximizer was not properly thermalated for the first 10 minutes of your experiment. And so on.

2) Citations of researchers using "tricks" to "hide" results: As has already been pointed out, it is not uncommon in Geekville to refer to a clever way of solving a problem as a "trick". Similarly, the word "hide" is frequently used in the context of displaying multiple items that overlap. Igor Pro is a common data manipulation software package. A search for the word "hide" in the Igor manual shows that the word turns up more than 150 times. One "trick" that I have used to "hide" something (an axis) in an Igor graph is to change its color to that of the graph background, thereby rendering it invisible. Nothing nefarious there, I assure you.

3) Scientists are people. People are self-serving. Therefore, scientists are self-serving: One of the easiest ways to make a name for yourself in science is to overturn an existing paradigm. The contrario spirit runs deep in our blood and has been an essential part of the scientific mindset since well before Galileo's time. Just ask my wife. To a young climatologist early in his or her career and with not a lot to lose, the juiciest of all the low hanging fruit would be to show that humans are not responsible for global warming. But this has not yet happened.

It may yet turn out that some climatologists have faked or improperly treated their results. But there is no conspiracy. The "climate-change-denialist fringe" referred to in the previous link imperil us all.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Moth Light

Ever since our slightly ditsy friend Adelheidi mistook my skylight for an actual electrical fixture, she's been hearing about it. The skylight was full of dead miller moths, and Adelheidi had told me to make sure I turned off "the moth light". I looked at her and said, "You mean, the Sun"? Since then, when Kelly and I are outside and it's really hot, it's not uncommon to hear somebody complaining about The Moth Light being turned up too high. We find that we get the most bang for our buck out of references to The Moth Light when Adelheidi is within earshot. Anyway, the point here is that The Moth Light is powerful. On a clear day you have about 1000 watts per square meter of Moth Light bearing down on you. It is a testament to the efficiency of the bicycle that it is entirely possible that some day, just the sunlight hitting your body could provide the power to scoot around on two wheels. Skeptical? An in-shape cyclist might produce a few hundred watts of power for a short length of time. Let's assume that us normal folks produce about half of that, about 150 watts. If we take the area of the typical human shadow to be 0.7 square meters, then we have about 700 watts of light hitting you and your clothing on a clear day. How much of that light energy might we capture, and how? Some of my fellow geeks are actually working on integrating thin film photovoltaics with clothing and other textile products. Let's assume they are successful. The current world record efficiency for thin film photovoltaics stands at right around 20%. Putting those numbers together yields an estimate of 140 watts of harvestable photovoltaic power, a level very comparable to the energy cost of cycling. Now, I am of the opinion that most of us would benefit and even enjoy generating that power ourselves. Nevertheless, for the elderly, disabled, or dressed up among us, a sun-powered electric scooter would be useful at times. And it is sobering to contrast the idea of the sun scooter with the reality of the energy hog we know as the automobile. Even the new old Prius that Kelly and I scored a couple weeks ago needs to produce about 80,000 watts to push us around town. I find it satisfying that the humble bicycle, an invention over 100 years old, competes so well with something as modern and high tech as a hybrid automobile.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

More lighting

There have been several great Globe posts about lighting (see e.g. Jon, Matt's on BikeHacks, Brenda's, and the articles about the awesome MonkeyLectric lights on Totcycle and BikeHacks). I have not seen mention of these lights that the Rev. Dr. Teton Harry recently clued me into and that I just ordered for my Haul. The Reelights are batteryless, magnetic induction powered LED-based flashers. Some models have a small capacitor that stores enough juice to keep you visible while stopped at traffic signals. While their claim of "no resistance" seems to be in violation of the First Law of Thermodynamics, I do believe that their simplicity and lack of mechanical resistance gives them an advantage in both efficiency and reliability over typical generator systems. The Rev. Dr. Teton Harry and Swedish Christine sing the praises of these lights for their night journeys across Stockholm, and trust me, we need to listen to these people more.

Knee update: I'm off the crutches and am using a Bledsoe Brace for walking across snow and ice. A full rotation on the stationary bike became possible a few days ago, and suddenly I can think about actually riding again. Can't wait!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Living Without a Car: A Mini-Review of Seven Cities and Four States

For readers with places to go and people to meet, the short version of this story is as follows. I rank the bike-friendliness of these places where I’ve lived, from best to worst as:

Gainesville, FL > Denver, CO > Golden, CO > Chicago, IL > Richland, WA > Naples, FL > Orlando, FL

The longer version:

I initially titled this post “Bike commuting: A mini-review…” because at first thought, the bike-friendliness of these places I’ve lived was synonymous with how easy it was to live without a car. A couple years after I started what turned out to be a marathon 16 year-long stay in school, I sold my old Toyota pickup, deciding to rely on my then fairly new 2 x 7 speed Rampar touring bike, Corn Dog. It wasn’t until I moved to Washington state 14 years later that I decided I needed a car again. In the interim, I relied almost completely on a bike for getting around, but at times, mainly in Chicago, I used public transportation extensively. I wanted to capture that part of the bike-free existence in this post, thus the new title.

Back to the ranking:

Gainesville FL is at the top of the list because of a favorable combination of sheer number of bicyclists, a climate that allows biking throughout the year, a relatively compact city center, a good supply of reasonable housing close to campus, and what is now probably a decent bus system. I rarely took the bus while I lived in Gainesville (about 9 years for a BS starting in 1982. Hell yeah!) because I loved to get on the bike and because it seemed like a 45 minute wait for a bus was not uncommon. Other things in Gville’s favor are a progressive attitude towards both the environment and weirdos who don’t own cars. Plus there are very few Seminoles, Dogs, Tigers, or other similar low-lifes to be found.

Denver CO is also a great biking city for many of the same reasons. There are lots of bikes, although they are perhaps not as concentrated as in Gainesville. The one year that I spent downtown at the corner of Washington and 13th St. right behind Wax Trax was a blast and I was close enough (not by accident) to a Wild Oats to do most of my grocery shopping via bike. The climate here makes winter biking a challenge sometimes, however it is doable. With all the sun that we get here the streets usually clear quickly after even heavy snows. Disclaimer: I owned a car while in Denver.

Golden CO is great too for the no car lifestyle, but suffers from being a bit too small. The restaurant scene in particular is pretty dismal, with the exception of a great sushi place. Kelly and I frequently get into the car for a trip into Boulder or Denver for dinner or a show. Also, housing prices in this area never really collapsed like they did in much of the rest of the country. The search for our current home, which was driven primarily by the requirement that it be close to NREL (Kelly works from home), took over a year and had us look at over a hundred different houses. Bicyclists are everywhere here. Dislcaimer: I’ve owned a car while I’ve lived in Golden. Reclaimer: it wasn’t always working. I went car-less for 6 months after my truck broke down and I abandoned it in the Safeway parking lot. It took the onset of winter and a couple cold wet bike commutes to get the motivation to have it fixed. I still don’t understand why Safeway didn’t tow that thing away.

Chicago IL illustrated the full spectrum of what it’s like to live without a car. Many neighborhoods there are self-contained and allow one to grocery shop and conduct everyday business on foot or bike all within a few blocks. Grocery shopping crops up again because I like to cook. During my car-less period I would first look for a good grocery close to school, and then look for a place to live near the store. Another plus for Chicago is the fact that the public transportation system there is great. Between the train and bus systems, it was easy to get around without a car. Still, in my seven years there, I mainly rode my sturdy old Trek 8500 Jeebus everywhere. There are enough bikes around during good weather to make drivers aware of cyclists. On the other hand, I did encounter more than a few aggressive drivers. I was hit twice by truck mirrors. Three times I had partially full 40 oz bottles of beer thrown at me from passing cars (all misses). In my big ring one night on my way back to the UIC campus from Oak Park, I heard the words “Wrong neighborhood!” yelled at me. Part of me actually misses the combative riding environment. My last few months in the area were spent in Des Plaines, and I did a 40 mile round-trip commute to UIC several times a week: Oakton St. to Milwaukee, veering off onto Elston as soon as possible, juking over a few blocks along Chicago Ave to Halsted, taking that to the science building on Taylor St. By the time I got to the lab I was so jacked up from the ride that I had no need for the massive morning coffee input I seem to require now. The counterpoint to that period of crazy long bike (and rail) commutes was 6 months of an ultra short commute from my office, but that’s really a story in its own right.

Richland WA was where I spent two years as a post-doc at a sub-unit of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Richland was not a good place to be without a car. The small community supported minimal public transportation, and the Tri-Cities area is pretty spread out. Probably the main deal-breaker for me was the fact that the laboratory was somewhat isolated from possible apartments, bound on the east by the Columbia River and by the rest of the Hanford site to the north and west. A combination of these factoids, a pay scale slightly above subsistence, and a desire to get up in the Cascades for snowboarding and mountain biking led to the end of my car-less period.

Naples FL was were I was born, where my parents and sister Katie still live, and where I spent quite a few years without a car. When I lived there it was a terrible place to live without a car. Then again, I was a teenager who really wanted a car. Seriously though, I believe it has gotten better. I see more and more bikes and bike paths. A real problem facing the Cars R Coffins crowd in Naples is the very conservative politics there. If you don’t own a giant Cadillac or Hummer, you are not a Real American in the eyes of Sarah Palin or most Neopolitans. Similarly, the idea of controlling growth or having government interfere in any way in the area’s development is repugnant to most people in the area.

Orlando FL comes in at the bottom of the heap in this mini review of cities’ friendliness towards the car-less existence. My experience was (probably unfairly) colored by the fact that I lived outside of the city center near the University of Central Florida. Still, at the time Orlando had poor public transportation, was very spread out, was seemingly populated by crazy bike-hating drivers, had few bikes lanes, and fewer cyclists stupid enough to face rush hour traffic. It really felt dangerous to be riding around that city.

The facts are that you can live without a car in any of these places, it’s just that doing so is easier in some of them. I absolutely love hearing people say “Well, you have to have a car” because I know that for most able-bodied people that statement is total bullshit. I have gone for extended periods of time without a car and I know other people who have done the same. For most people, a car is a convenience, not a necessity.

If readers have different opinions about my rankings, or even better want to send in their own similar reviews, please shoot them my way and I'll post them as soon as possible.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Misery II

At the risk of appearing dramatic, I have to say I might be in a spot of trouble here. After the reconstruction of my ACL the other day I find myself confined to the couch and in the care of two Labrador retrievers and my wife, who despite her being all you could ask for and more in a caregiver, has a bit of a mean streak in her. As documented on my Facebook page, just this morning I was promised a chocolate donut. Instead, what I got was a bag with a donut inside it that was UPSIDE DOWN and that when pulled out HAD NO CHOCOLATE ON IT because ALL the chocolate stuck to the inside of the bag. AND, she gave me a supposedly hot towel that was only lukewarm. It's only going to get worse folks. I'm fully expecting her to start referring to me as "dirty birdy" and burning my manuscripts. There ARE probably manuscripts around here somewhere. She took my phone away too, mumbling some nonsense about my not needing a cleaning service that worked in French maid's outfits. Really at this point I'm pretty much cut off from outside help except for this blog. The only thing keeping me from freaking out is the prospect of getting back on the bike(s). Luckily for me and according to the orthopedic man, biking is excellent physical therapy for ACL-meniscus rehab. I like the symmetry of that - it was biking that got me into this mess to begin with. A full account of that and San Fiasco 2002-2003 will have to wait for another post. I think that last Percocet is kicking in. For now, please to be enjoying this photo of me a few days before Christmas 2002 lying with shattered ankle on a portion of the San Felasco trail system with an EMT and buddies “caring” for me.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Bean

The new Haul is one of the finest bike-based coffee accessories I've ever used. So far there have been two roasts conducted on the back rack.

A full carafe rides quite nicely back there too.

As far as the roasting goes, in my case this is NOT a trivial use for a new bike. I double dog dare da doubters to find a level spot in our garage that's within three feet of a power outlet. Here at Casa Pepperoncini, coffee roasting needs to be conducted either outside (if it's warm enough) or in the garage. Rigorous experimentation by our staff has determined that the girl Kelly's sensitivity to caffeine is high enough so that the gaseous roasting effluent, presumably containing caffeine, keeps her awake at night. Plus it makes her a bit cranxious.

Let me back up a bit. I got into the coffee roasting for a number of reasons:
  • It's cheaper. You can get excellent green beans for about half the price of already roasted beans in the supermarket. The costs of even an expensive roaster are recuperated quite quickly.
  • It's fresher. The beans go through a peak in their flavor about eight hours after the roast, and you will miss that peak if you're scoring already-roasted bean at the market. Oils brought to the surface of beans by roasting start oxidizing and turning rancid immediately. For these reasons, green beans keep much longer (a year or more).
  • There's more variety. Vendors of green beans like Sweet Maria's offer a massive variety of coffees from all over the world. Even decafs. Plus home roasting allows you to multiply the number of bean varieties by a huge number of different roasting profiles, effectively greatly expanding your possible coffee experiences.
  • It's more sustainable. Purchasing green beans generally means that farmers are getting paid more for their products, especially with the Fair Trade and Direct Trade beans. Many smaller farms supplying high quality green beans grow multiple varieties in the shade of existing forests. In contrast, big coffee agribusinesses are known for using monoculture plots set in areas clear-cut of indigenous species. Check footnote 8 and the short "Coffee and the Environment" section of this report by Oxfam International and partners.
And finally, I have to admit that the quirkiness of home coffee roasting appeals to me in the same way that the quirkiness of the new Haul (aka "Cocoa Puff") appeals to me. Why drink Folgers when you could be styling on a Globe?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Short Rides

The first ride on the new Haul 2 was at walking speed, on a sidewalk, without a helmet, and less than a city block long. I know. There are several party fouls there. Please bear with me, gentle reader. Kelly had pointed out as we were leaving Peak Cycles that the shop around the corner had started carrying some of her wares on consignment. I am very proud of my wife’s skillfully made wares, and I wanted to see this. So it was that I found myself on that first ride, slowly gliding along and keeping pace with the girl’s steps.

During the longer (and helmeted) ride towards Base, I started (again) thinking about how great it was to have access to a true city core, even a small one like we have here in Golden, a town of only 18,000. It is the concentrated collection of businesses, people, and activities in such a core that allow the kind of coincidence we experienced: a bike shop within tens of yards of a gift shop that happened to be selling my wife’s wares. Consider the chances of that happening somewhere deep in the bowels of your nearest soulless hell-hole development like the one below near our old house in Superior.

Where in that picture are the Italian bakeries, the barbershops that give you a shoulder rub after the cut, the nano-breweries? Ain’t none, son. And in those places you ain’t gonna be riding a bike to view wares or sell your wares or go to work or do much of anything of practical value.

Of course I am not the first one to recognize the benefits of population density. It is easy to go on those interwebs and find studies showing how living closer together can enable people to drive less, generate less pollution, and generally lead a higher quality of life. Bicycles can be an important part of that social system as long as the infrastructure – bike specific traffic controls, , “green” corridors for non-motorized traffic (pedestrians, skaters, tricyclists, bicyclists, unicyclists, those weirdos who ride ultimate wheels), adequate bike parking, accommodation on public transit – supports it. And again, I feel grateful. We are living amongst a like minded public here along the Front Range where we the people have voted in the funding to support things like bike racks on buses and much larger projects like FastTracks. Yes, money for this kind of massive project hurts at first, but the long term benefits are increasingly clear. Check out the following excerpt from the NYT article by Kirk Johnson:

"New research about the recession has also bolstered one of transit’s central premises — that highway-driven sprawl is bad for a city’s economic health. Recent studies at the University of Utah, for example, concluded that foreclosure rates in the Washington area were much lower in counties served by the Metro rail system, compared with the next ring of counties farther out, and that home prices in Phoenix had also fallen in direct proportion to the distance from downtown.

'The underlying lesson is that the further out you go, the more vulnerable you are to losing value in your home,' said Arthur C. Nelson, presidential professor of city and metropolitan planning at the university and author of the research. 'Locating near transit and near urban centers is the safer investment.'

If you don't get enough PowerPoint presentations in your day job, here's a link to one of Arthur Nelson's presentations.

At least humans are attempting to quantify the complicated issues associated with typical urban environments. The People are beginning to get it. As H. S. Thompson would say, the pig is in the tunnel. Those who oppose the pig will be crushed like a jelly bean.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Highs and Lows

There can be no light without the darkness, no pleasure without the pain.

Most people who know me were probably tingled by their spidey-senses when they heard that I was lucky enough to be selected for the Globe Experience Project. They knew as did I that there might just be a cloud in front of that silver lining. They were right. Within a couple days of agreeing to write about these great looking bikes in exchange for the actual bike, I was looking at images like the one below.
It turns out that playing hacky-sack is hazardous to your health. At least to the health of your ACL and meniscus, especially for the kids with previously injured knees. After a couple visits with my friendly neighborhood orthopedist, I emailed Jess Meeks and told her that I was going to have to decline their offer. The reconstruction and rehab were going to take ~ 5-6 months and it seemed unlikely I would be able to have much in the way of bike experiences. Much to my surprise, the fine folk at Globe had a quick meeting and decided that they would follow through with their part of the deal as long as I found some way, any way, to write about my new bike. No problem says I!. So we're off. Stay tuned to this blog if you're interested in seeing "unusual" uses for a bike.

I just got word that my Haul 2 is built and ready to go. I'm heading over to Peak Cycles here in Golden this afternoon to pick that sucker up. I have exactly one week before I go under the knife, so it looks like with some help from a brace and my good good friend ibuprofen I'll be able to get some riding in. Woot! Woot!