Sunday, December 21, 2008

Obama has set up a website ( for people to write in to propose ideas in the new administration. I've posted a link on the left for you all to click on to promote cycling infrastructure as part of his new economic stimulus package. Give it a whirl. You actually vote by clicking on the vote count button on the page that this links to.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cold cold cold

Yesterday was balmy and humid, in the mid 70's for most of the day. Then in the Texas tradition of unpredictability, the weather turned. In a matter of hours, the temperature dropped 40°, and it began to snow big fat wet snowflakes. That, in Austin, is a newsworthy event.
The snow, of course, did not stick to anything other than a few car tops and house roofs, and it was all gone not long after the sun came up, but we take what we can get.
It's amazing, though, how quickly I forget what it's like to be cold on the bike. I rode in today, like every day, and became reacquainted with that unique and uncomfortable feeling of being cold and hot at the same time. My clothing consists of an undershirt, a long sleeved cotton henly-style shirt, a felted wool pullover (by Swandri), and a wind-breaker shell that I can zip up and down to control wind exposure. In addition, I wear thick wool socks in my biking shoes, full fingered gloves, and a custom-knit wool cap with ear flaps that goes under my bike helmet. This getup is the result of many winters' worth of refinement; in particular, it was the Boston winters that truly forged my winter biking style. While I don't stop to admire myself in the mirror, but I've been told I'm quite a sight to see...
It takes a little while to get used to it again, though, and this morning was no exception. With a stiff headwind blowing 35° air at my nose, I quickly became reacquainted with the cold-nose, cold-finger, warm core phenomenon. It usually takes about 5-7 minutes of painful effort to get my body heat up until I'm comfortable, and during the warmup there's the terrible tradeoff between riding fast to warm up and getting chilled by the wind at higher speeds. The best way to warm up, really is a hill, where effort is high and speeds are low...
...which brings me to a funny thing. I've long noticed that biking vigorously moves the blood to concentration becomes more challenging. My wife can attest to this since I can't remember anything she tells me when I get home until I've had a moment or two to wind down. So, I've noticed on cool days that it seems like there is a specific place (Rosedale Elementary, if you happen to live in Austin and know where that is) where the air gets warmer on my ride in to campus. I have always attributed this to the heat island effect and to the quirks of local geography. Today, as I was pondering body heat and the best way to warm up, I finally realized that this is not the case at all, and that the air probably does not get warmer at all. The truth is that Rosedale Elementary is at the top of a killer hill, and that I'm warmer at the top, not the air around me... With all the blood in my legs, this has been hard to realize, but I'm sure that's it. It was certainly the case today, when the ride became tolerable at the top of that hill, and I even started to sweat a little in spite of my frozen nose and pinkies.
I'm happy for the cold weather, and I will soak it in and store it up for the summer months that are coming all too soon.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Expedition photos, and my web site

When I was in High School, my family lived for a year in Cambridge England. As part of that experience, I attended a British boys' school (it's co-ed now), which sent a small expedition to the Arctic island of Spitzbergen. My parents offered me the opportunity, and I took it.
Recently I scanned the photos from that trip and uploaded them to Picasa. Then I made a web page to show them off. Find it here. Please don't expect to find much on the rest of the site; there are tidbits, but not much. I don't do this professionally, and I'm busy with a lot of other things. But at least the expedition photos are all commented and in good order. I hope you enjoy them.
I hope that one day, I'm able to provide my own children with the same kind of incredible opportunities that my parents gave me.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Two Little Biking Rants

One for the cars:
Why do cars feel the need to accelerate and swerve to get in front of me at a stop light or stop sign!!!?? We're both going to stop anyway, and I'm probably going to pass you on your right anyway. If you don't leave me room to pass, then that's just really rude, and if you do leave me room, what's the point?

And one for the bikers:
Why not stop at stop signs? Especially when there are cars two deep in each direction, when you blow through without a care in the world, it disrupts the turn-taking and does all bike commuters a big disfavor by pissing off the drivers. I'm sympathetic to blowing stop signs on empty residential streets if you at least make a motion of slowing down, but out in the busy-traffic public? Come on!


Saturday, November 8, 2008

Pedal Therapy

I wish I could convey the kind of day it was today: sunny, cool, and quiet with an out-of-place rising current of nonsensical irritation that made me realize I needed to get out and exercise. I realized that I'm addicted to my bike. I found myself looking for an excuse to get out and ride somewhere, so I convinced my son (with whom I had recently snapped out of an unpleasant downward dance of mutual aggravation) to hook up the tagalong trailer and come with me to get a part to repair my chainsaw. On the way, I remember that I had something on hold at the library, so we zipped in to pick it up. Then we spent some time wandering around trying to find the repair shop. While we were finishing up there, I realized there was an archery store nearby that I had always wanted to visit since Ian has expressed some interest in getting a bow. (He's actually made several that work pretty well but have subsequently broken.) Well, it didn't take too long to realize that it was a very high-end store and the least expensive option for a beginner youth bow was far above what I wanted to pay. We went on, and I decided to make a small detour to see the new library branch that's going in, and we happened to be by a friends house, so we stopped in for a visit and a fudgesicle. Then it was home. The trip was about 10 km all together and took something like 2 hours.
I'm sure I wouldn't have wandered around like that in a car. I'd have been worried about gas and taking too long and getting home and probably wouldn't have been paying attention to my surroundings enough. The bike is kind of a refuge for me: I pray, sing, think, listen. It provides a comfortable solitude that is not lonely and that the car does not provide, so I find myself seeking out opportunities to go out and bike.
Plus, there's my odometer obsession, and I was looking for a way to flip 52oo km before the end of the week. I bought the bike (my Crosstown 7) in August of 2007, so that's 5200 km in 16 months, or an average of 325 km per month, or about 83 km per week. Most weeks that I bike I go about 100 km or a little bit more, and there are weeks that we are gone that I don't bike at all, so that seems about right.
Today as we were in the final stretch coming home, the bike felt good, the wind was the perfect temperature, and there was a certain freedom to being out and about with no expense and no stress.  It was therapy.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


We have had no fewer than 7 Robocalls on behalf of Senator Cornyn, Congressman McCaul, Senator Obama, Senator McCain, Larry Joe Doherty, etc. Yeesh! We've just stopped answering the phone today, it's so crazy.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Biking Pork

I read here about a piece of pork that got into this $700b bailout bill. The pork is a bill which offers corporations a $20/commuter/month tax credit per cycling employee. While I agree in principle with the result, I have to say I'm not impressed that a senator switched his support of the bailout because of this earmark. Some might call this compromise in action, but I tend to see it as a selfish hold-out for a pet interest. Can I get an Amen, anyone?
Here's the relevant snippet of H.R. 1424  (in full here):

"To provide authority for the Federal Government to purchase and insure certain types of troubled assets for the purposes of providing stability to and preventing disruption in the economy... (Enrolled as Agreed to or Passed by Both House and Senate)"


(a) In General- Paragraph (1) of section 132(f) is amended by adding at the end the following:
`(D) Any qualified bicycle commuting reimbursement.'.
(b) Limitation on Exclusion- Paragraph (2) of section 132(f) is amended by striking `and' at the end of subparagraph (A), by striking the period at the end of subparagraph (B) and inserting `, and', and by adding at the end the following new subparagraph:
`(C) the applicable annual limitation in the case of any qualified bicycle commuting reimbursement.'.
(c) Definitions- Paragraph (5) of section 132(f) is amended by adding at the end the following:
`(i) QUALIFIED BICYCLE COMMUTING REIMBURSEMENT- The term `qualified bicycle commuting reimbursement' means, with respect to any calendar year, any employer reimbursement during the 15-month period beginning with the first day of such calendar year for reasonable expenses incurred by the employee during such calendar year for the purchase of a bicycle and bicycle improvements, repair, and storage, if such bicycle is regularly used for travel between the employee's residence and place of employment.
`(ii) APPLICABLE ANNUAL LIMITATION- The term `applicable annual limitation' means, with respect to any employee for any calendar year, the product of $20 multiplied by the number of qualified bicycle commuting months during such year.
`(iii) QUALIFIED BICYCLE COMMUTING MONTH- The term `qualified bicycle commuting month' means, with respect to any employee, any month during which such employee--
`(I) regularly uses the bicycle for a substantial portion of the travel between the employee's residence and place of employment, and
`(II) does not receive any benefit described in subparagraph (A), (B), or (C) of paragraph (1).'.
(d) Constructive Receipt of Benefit- Paragraph (4) of section 132(f) is amended by inserting `(other than a qualified bicycle commuting reimbursement)' after `qualified transportation fringe'.
(e) Effective Date- The amendments made by this section shall apply to taxable years beginning after December 31, 2008.

Try as I might, I could not locate the section 132(f) referred to in this final copy. I suppose that's why they hire full time staff, to sort through the tangled wording of such bills. Anyway, shouldn't a bill to provide a tax incentive for bicycle commuting be voted on as a bill to promote bicycle commuting? Here's a short list of some of the other gems tucked away into this one:
  • renewable energy credits
  • tax credit for fuels used by the steel industry
  • clean coal technology investment credit
  • CO2 sequestration tax credit
  • biofuels tax credits
  • plug-in electric vehicle credit
  • tax deduction for energy efficient buildings
  • tax deductions for domestic hydrocarbon production
  • railroad track maintenance
  • indian employment tax credit
  • duty suspension for wool products and wool research fund
  • Sec 401 "permanent authority for undercover operations" !!!
  • Sec 503 "exemption from excise tax for certain wooden arrows designed for use by children"
These are but a few of the many many many tag-ons to this bill. I think we're getting a heck of a lot more than we've bargained for on this one...


I kind of dig this blog I found called "She Knits Shizknits". She's into biking, knitting (surprise), spinning her own yarn, and general geekiness. Anyway, lots of interesting Xtracycle experience is posted there. Xtracycle is becoming quite the rage in the biking blogosphere these days...

Friday, September 26, 2008


Why is it so stinking easy to get distracted while working on paper manuscripts? They're both due next Wednesday, and I really don't have any time to waste...
At all.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Too Hot

I am here to testify that even if one grows up in Texas, it does not guarantee a love of hot weather. For seven and a half years, I lived on the east coast, two and half years in Boston, and five in upstate South Carolina. In both of those places, September is a month of respite, of enjoying the coolness of fragrant Autumn breezes from the north, of the gorgeous colors of deciduous trees. Then, for some strange reason, I moved back to Austin, where a 10 degree dip in the temperature only barely gets us out of the 90's. Augh!
We got a brief little hiatus after Ike hit, but it's beginning to feel a lot like summer again. For the last week and a half, I have enjoyed not sweating profusely while biking home in the afternoons. In the graph above, it's usually at the max temperature that I make my ride home, and today was well into the 90's again. To think that a week ago I was actually a little cold on my morning ride!
The weatherman says we should have a slow, steady decline in temps for the rest of the week, but after having lived elsewhere and realized that this is not normal, I'm getting impatient for those Autumn breezes. After graduation, it's Northward Ho! Anywhere with four seasons!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

It's time for a new seat

Alas, my faithful and intimate companion is close to retirement. I speak of my bike seat, which has served me well for many years. It took me a while to find just the right one, and I have a few old seats in my shed which did not pass muster before, inevitably leading to numbness and later to soreness on account of being too soft. Many recreational seats are marketed for their padding, but after more than a few miles, all that squishy padding ends up acting like a tourniquet on some pretty important arteries. I will say no more.So, the question arises of what to replace with. I'm thinking of two options, and they represent two quite different approaches. The first is less expensive, will not last as long, but would probably be OK for several years more. The critical feature is the cut-out, as shown in the $40 example below:
The other option appeals to the pay-for-quality buy-it-to-last-forever side of me, which is the fabled Brooks saddle:
You have to read the website and look at a couple of pages of Google search on "Brooks Saddle" to understand just how truly special it is. It is in fact a stretched leather upper that breaks in over a month or two and becomes personalized to one's own particular shape. There are plenty of stories of people riding the same saddle for 50 years and more. Apparently, after it's broken in, it more or less disappears from underneath you and you don't notice it any more. The only catch for me at present, and the reason that I hesitate, is the usual $80+ price tag. It is ill-advised to buy one used since it may have broken in on someone else's bottom...
So, that's the dilemma. I'll post a photo of the new saddle once I've decided.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Escalade Hybrid ??!!

Will somebody please explain this vehicle to me? I just don't understand the buyer who would fall for this automotive equivalent of the triple-cheeseburger, chocolate shake, biggie fries, with a diet coke. Conspicuous but conscientious consumption?! Is such a thing possible? There is a close second in absurdity in the Escalade EXT luxo-sport-truck.
I think the owner is trying to say, "I have style and am very high class, but I want you to think that I can do useful things with my truck or escape to the great outdoors, but I can't possibly afford to scratch the $1000 white-diamond tri-coat paint." I'm a cowboy, but I'm an urbanite? Does this make sense to anyone? If you get the marketing dynamic, please post and help us all out...
This is no small part of the reason I felt I had to leave the automotive world I was in, but more on that later.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Igor Kenk, Gold Medal Bike Thief

The police have apprehended Toronto's and possibly the worlds most accomplished bike thief. Igor Kenk (don't you just love mug-shots?) was found with 2,865 bicycles in his possession, all of them stolen. He was also found with a fair stash of crack, cocaine, and marijuana. Apparently, he had them all organized by make and style and was purportedly waiting for the Oil Crash or a spike in commodities prices to come so that he could sell or melt them. Kenk's nominal job was running a used-bike shop (wonder where he got his stock), and was something of a sideways philanthropist since he hired local transients and mental out-patients to nab, maintain, and organize his bikes. During public viewings of the stash, around 1/4 of the bikes have been claimed by their owners.
(get the full story here)

Chinese Gymnast Age Controversy

May I direct your attention to a nice piece of Google-hacking at Stryde-Hax (here and here) which shows evidence of Chinese governmental tomfoolery with regard to the ages of He Kexin and Yang Yilin. The story has also broken (first, maybe) at the New York Times, here.
Didn't we all suspect this all along? My profound sympathy is toward these Chinese girls. Rules are rules, but apparently they are new rules, because I think Nadia Comenici was 14 when she scored her perfect 10.0.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Review: Between Silk and Cyanide

I just posted a review of this book to GoodReads. Enjoy:

Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's War, 1941-1945 Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's War, 1941-1945 by Leo Marks

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
This was a fascinating book about Leo Marks' experience in the codes division of the SOE, the British organization responsible for handling spies during the second world war. Not only do we get to find out a lot about the mechanics of how it all worked, what the codes were, and the British side of the Englandspeil/Nordpol game with Col. Giskes, but we also get some insight into the personalities and culture that allowed the SOE to be, at the same time fantastically successful in managing some spy networks and profoundly abstruse about recognizing and remedying their own mistakes.

For instance, Marks was a master at deciphering coding mistakes by stressed out agents and saved many lives by not requiring them to resend messages coded with the same key, etc. He would take bathroom breaks to solve 'indecipherables' and reencode them properly in such a way that the Free French would not realize that he had cracked their precious code, but at the same time saving their agent.

However, his own narrow focus and the turf wars of those around him allowed the Germans to capture dozens of agents and tons of airdropped supplies. Read London Calling North Pole for an account by the German colonel in charge. It was frustrating to think of how many lives could have been saved or how much more quickly the war might have ended if some of the British officers had been less concerned about their own fiefdom and more concerned about a common cause. We are left wondering what might have happened if there had been a spirit of cooperation instead of competition between the geniuses at Bletchley Park and those at SOE codes section.

All in all, I recommend this as a fascinating character study of a civilian in the war effort. It is full of interesting stories and anecdotes, and should be accessible to a general audience. However, those with an understanding of and appreciation for cryptography and espionage will especially enjoy this book.

View all my reviews.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Declining Gas Prices?

Don't get too used to declining gas prices. By many expert opinions (alas, I am no expert, but I agree anyway) this current dip in the price of gasoline is temporary. There's an article in the New York Times today about the oil industry and their struggles to find new production sources. The general idea is that the independent oil producers, ExxonMobil, for example, while awash in profits, are struggling to open up new production. One reason is political: as more countries nationalize their oil production, they are simultaneously restricting outside investment, with the result that, for example, American companies are not so free to go exploring in Nigerian oil fields. A second reason is closely related: there are not many more big new fields to finds, so those who have them are becoming more protective. Have you heard enough rhetoric about American dependence on foreign oil? Imagine the feeling in oil-rich countries about foreign consumption of their own precious oil. Think Russia wants to sell to just anyone? Think again: it's a big power position for them to hold large reserves.
The Peak Oil folks have been saying this kind of thing for years. Many of them have predicted this kind of thing, and they are going crazy on their websites with not-so-subtle "We told you so" proclamations. See here, here, and here for examples. Many people misunderstand the idea of Peak Oil to mean that we're running out of oil. That is not the case. There will always be oil to pump. The problem is one of macro-economics. As demand grows past supply, the price will start to rise steeply. What we're going to run out of is the cheaper-than-water oil that we've built our economies around. Think there's an oil-company conspiracy? It's just the economics of natural resource depletion playing out. Here's a snippet from the article:

The scope of the supply problem became more clear in the latest quarter when the five biggest publicly traded oil companies, including Exxon Mobil, said their oil output had declined by a total of 614,000 barrels a day, even as they posted $44 billion in profits. It was the steepest of five consecutive quarters of declines.

While that drop might not sound like much in a world that consumes 86 million barrels of oil each day, today’s markets are so tight that the slightest shortfalls can push up prices.

Along with mature fields, the companies have contracts with producing countries whose governments allocate fewer barrels to oil companies as prices rise.

“It has become really, really difficult to grow production,” said Paul Horsnell, an analyst atBarclays Capital. “International companies have a portfolio of assets in areas of significant decline and no frontier discoveries to make up for that.”

One reassuring point is that at least in the developed world, people are rapidly shifting away from ridiculously conspicuous consumption. Hummer sales have plummeted, and the carmakers can hardly sell new SUV's and pickups. Almost every car ad on TV now either offers $8k-10k discounts on SUV/trucks or trumpets the high mileage of the small cars they sell. Americans have scaled way back on driving and gas consumption. That is in large part what's responsible for the current dip in prices. That and the strengthening dollar. However, in India and in China, where fuel prices are highly subsidized, demand continues to grow largely unabated, so we shouldn't expect the current decline to last.

What should we do? Remember, "where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. (Matt 16:21)" The things of this world will pass away, so focus on the heavens. In an age and culture where car/house=identity, there is a real and living Person who can give us the incorruptible life... 

Also, you can ride a bike to save money on gas. ;-)

Announcing Daddy Magic

I started a new blog, focused on my experiences as a father, called Daddy Magic. Check it out if you're interested in that. I plan to keep Chubby GrumGrum as my eclectic mix of biking, graduate life, and sustainability issues. Enjoy!

Friday, August 1, 2008

It's Hot!!!

We are about to break an 83 year old record for the most days over 100°F here in Austin, according to the Statesman. In my own particular corner of the world, the implication is that it's like biking home through an oven. My water bottle is about 1.5 L, and I usually finish it about 3/4th of the way home, and I usually have to cool off a little bit before going inside, where the air-conditioning (set to 81°F) is too cold for me and give me chills if I transition too quickly. Yeesh!
The high temperatures tend to introduce a few new creaks and squeaks on my bike, too. For a while, I started experiencing rim-flats, when the cheap rubber rim tape that came with my bike got too soft in the heat and allowed the inner tube to expand through the spoke holes and touch the spokes nuts. Whoever thought that would happen? Easy to fix with some better quality cloth rim tape, but annoying nonetheless. In addition, the grease in my drive line has thinned out noticeably in the hot weather and I have to re-grease more frequently and notice a bit more friction, which doesn't really help the body heat issue. Finally, there's a new creaky noise in the cranks (not the one I blogged about earlier) that got a little better when when I tightened the cranks but never really went away. It's not there in the morning, when it's cooler, but appears faithfully in the afternoon when when the heat's on and I'm baking my way home.
This is the time of year also brings out the perverse phenomenon of what I call "summer frost bite." I noticed it recently when my advisor walked into the lab wearing a sweatshirt. Many of the area secretaries also bring sweaters during the summer months. Apparently, Texans feel the need to show off how well our air conditioners work, so in many of the offices and labs, the thermostat is set below 70°F. Try walking in from outside, with your skin at 102°F and adjusting 30° down. The worst eve case of this was when I lived in an all-bills-paid apartment with roommates who kept the air at 66°F. I think I actually got sick one time after a bike ride. Fortunately, I'm alone in my office much of the time, and I've found the thermostat control...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Poor Man's Pannier

One of the keys to surviving hot weather on a bike is to get as much wind on your skin as possible. Because I carry a laptop in my pack-pack to and from school, so getting my bag off my back is an important part of managing the heat. I like the idea of mounting a pannier that I could stick my bag into, but they can be kind of pricey. Decent ones typically run $50-$100. I may have mentioned the cash-flow situation with graduate school before, but especially in my case, minimizing expenses is a high priority. 
That's not to say I want to go cheap, but I definitely don't want to spend unnecessarily, so I thought about other solutions. As a matter of fact, on first returning to school, I purchased a cheap back-pack from eBay that looked like it would be a good deal, but it fell apart half-way through my first semester. I replaced it with a very well-built and only slightly more expensive ($50) Super Deluxe Book Pack from L. L. Bean. It turns out this pack has a very strong handle on the top that turns out to be very useful for attaching it to my bike.I rummaged around and found that the rack that holds my bicycle baby-carrier was removable, and I had a few bungee straps. I installed the bike rack, and then, using the two S-hooks from a rubber bungee-strap, I secured the pack handle to the top of the bike rack, as shown in the photo. Then I used two more bungee straps: one to sling under the bottom of the bag to help take some of the strain off the handle. 
You can see it as the brown/yellow cord in the following photos. The other bungee strap wraps around the outside of the pack to hold it against the side of the rack so it doesn't move around while I'm riding. In order to make sure the shoulder straps don't get caught in the spokes, I cinch them tight and tie the loose ends around the padded part of the straps. This arrangement has worked really well for me this summer so far. The cost was zero, the improvement in comfort was substantial.Last of all, let me make one more plug for L. L. Bean. Their products are really focused on the end-user, and I don't get the feeling that any corners were cut in design or production. And you just have to love the sign they post in their stores and on the web:

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fly Like an Eagle...

A long-repressed but still smoldering ambition of mine is to become a glider pilot. I've built and flown an R/C glider and long been a fan of computer flight simulation, but there's nothing like the real deal.
So today, I saw this article in the Austin American-Statesman about Gary Osoba's recent world record setting glider flight. The flame has been fanned a little bit. This is not really a practical dream until after graduation and a new job have improved the cash-flow situation, but consider the dream to be alive.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Spotted: Crazy Naked Cyclist!!! (PG-Rated)

Here's commuting in a style unique to Austin, methinks. Dena, secretary for our research area, spotted this guy on her way home from work and had the presence of mind to snap a photo. Apparently, she's seen him before, "dressed" in a white thong...
Can you believe one of my lab mates thought it was me at first because of the bike trailer!!!??

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sanity in the Debate Over Food and Agriculture

I was deeply affected by reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals recently. In it, I discovered that there is a myth of the pastoral farm that is in stark contrast with the reality of the modern food production system (see the Meatrix), and that much of what we call food is entirely synthetic. Profits from food manufacture go up with the amount of processing that the manufacturer provides, leading us to a tremendously processed food supply. Reading this was a good way to get inspired to pay attention to the source of our food and start to visit the local farmers' markets.
One thing nagged at me, and Pollan only paid passing reference to it in his book. That is the question of how can you scale this up to serve the whole country, or more to the point, the whole world? It is impossible to read the book and not fall in love with Polyface Farms, but the fact of the matter is that we do not have the land or the resources to feed everybody from farms like Polyface.
I was pleased to see a little piece in the Austin American Statesman on this today called "Microgreens for the Masses". In it, the author outlines some practical recommendations for change with a very sensible realpolitik tone. If you're interested in this kind of thing, click on over. Then write your senator...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Death of the Mosquito Killers - Attack of the Killer Mosquitos?

Does anyone else feel like the mosquitos have been especially vicious this year? It's probably due to the milder winter and stagnant pools in the creeks hereabout, but it's also a possible foretaste of things to come if bat populations take a dive.
My sister sent me this article from describing a massive bat die-off along the east coast due to something scientists are calling White-Nose Syndrome. Bats are found dead on the floors of their cave with a white fungus on their nose or pneumonia in their lungs. Leading the list of suspects are the pesticides used to control mosquitos in the wake of West Nile Virus hysteria. (How many people actually died from West Nile Virus? About 120/year nationwide in the last few years. See here.)
I'm not sure what the status of Austin's beloved colony of Mexican
 Free-Tailed Bats is, but I sincerely hope that they hold strong in the face of the epidemic. This is one more reason Divine Intervention may not be necessary for the Apocalypse. 

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Little Update on the Bike

I recently received a comment from Jeff on my review of the Dynamic Crosstown 7 bicycle. (Amazingly, SiteMeter tells me that page is consistently my best draw, followed by my visit to Mellow Johnny's. Go figure...) Jeff was influenced in part by my review to take the plunge on a shaft driven bike, and he has outclassed me entirely by setting up a whole website to detail his experiences. His complete honesty has shamed me somewhat and caused me to realize that I'm a little guilty of something we might call "wishing away buyer's regret." That is, having plunked down a fair chunk of change for the bike, I'm determined to like it, facts supporting or no. Jeff has been undeterred by the size of his investment and freely given vent to both frustration and praise for his bike. Why would I not learn a little from him and share the good, the bad, and the ugly? Besides, I'm approaching 4000km (2400 mi) on the bike, and it's been almost a year since I bought it, and that's far enough for a pretty good assessment of long-term issues. 
First of all, the drive-line. Now that I have the gear greasing figured out, it's pretty much transparent. I just don't notice it. I can ride 500-600 km between shots of grease, and this is not an issue for me. In fact, it's a big advantage. I really don't miss chain maintenance. At all. (If you read Jeff's site, you'll find he's greasing every 75 mi or so, which to me seems way too often.)
My main drive-line complaint comes intermittently on hot days when I get a "tunk" sound once per pedal revolution when my left crank is straight up and down. Faster cadences make it louder than slow. Light pressure and very hard pressure make it go away, and if the temperature is below 90°F, I don't hear it.  It's always over 90°F in the summer in Austin, and I only get about half the time. Although it's only a minor annoyance, I wish I knew what it was.
Build quality. It's a little late for me to talk about build quality since I already mentioned the state of the wheels on receipt, but I did purchase a Park TM-1 spoke tension meter and tuned up the wheels. This is a necessary item of maintenance anyway, and I probably should have done it 2000km ago, but it feels like a new ride now, and I'll make this a regular date with the bike in the future. Regarding build quality, everything else is holding up well, and no other defects have come to light.
One last unspoken complaint relates to getting the driveline. This may seem a little obscure to all but the few Dynamic-owner readers that I have here, so feel free to skip on by if you want. Early in my setup, I was having trouble with grinding gears that turned out to be a problem of sorting out the proper kind of grease to use. During the process, though, I found I could make a big improvement to the feel of the drive line by adjusting the number of spacers on the rear axle. These are thin shim-stock washers that go between the hub and the drop-out to properly align the bevel gear with the drive shaft. The bike came with three fitted, and I improved the feel of the drive line noticeably by removing two of them. Later, the teflon-based grease solved the rest of the grinding problem, but I recently put them back in, just for kicks, to see what would happen, and I had to pull over and take them back off because the drive train became rough and the friction increased. I'm guessing that my gear set has probably worn in to its current arrangement and that putting them back in a long time ago wouldn't have had the same effect. Again, this is minor, and probably only of note to anyone else searching the net for information on shaft drives.
So I set out to try to complain a little bit about my bike, but I've ended up dismissing all of my complaints as minor. The fact remains, I like the bike, and I don't (honestly now) regret choosing it over a more conventional one, even after 4000km through Texas heat.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Independence Day Parade

Our neighborhood does its own Independence Day parade, complete with speeches from our local politicians, free ice-cream from Amy's Ice Creams, Lemonade from Jim-Jim's Water Ice, and plenty of small-town flair right in the heart of Austin. First of all in order to get into the spirit of the day, and second to avoid bringing home big bags of candy, we decided to decorate our bikes and ride in the parade. Actually, I had very little to do with the decoration. Hannah bought the supplies and made us pipe-cleaner Mohawks, and the kids shooed me away while they decorated my bike in secret.
The parade was led by a contingent of Revolutionary War garbed actors. Then there was a section with fancy cars followed by the bikes, trikes, and strollers. Those who wanted could enter the contest for best decorations, and the results were announced at the end, after the political speeches. All in all this was a fun way to get out on the bike (my son's scowl notwithstanding) and wave the Grand Ole Flag.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Gas Prices

I've been keeping a little bit of an eye on the situation with gas prices, and I read something interesting this morning in the New York Times about the price of fuel in China. The Chinese government provides a direct subsidy for consumers there by fixing the price paid at the pump. This has insulated Chinese consumers from recent price increases and removed any motivation to scale back consumption in that country, which is one factor in the global increase in the price of oil and fuel. Yesterday, the government increased the price of gasoline for Chinese consumers by 16% to $3.83/gal, and the price of diesel by 18% to $3.58/gal. As a very tangible result of the complex psychology of oil trading, the commodity price of crude oil fell $4/barrel immediately on that news.
Although the Chinese have seen noticeable and rapid improvements in the quality of living, they are also rapidly transitioning from a biking to a automobile culture. Sigh...
The way things are going today with oil prices and global warming, Divine Intervention will hardly be necessary to have a really nasty Great Tribulation.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Nerd Test

Hannah suckered me into this. If you click the link from my page, come back and post your score in the comments...

I am nerdier than 89% of all people. Are you a nerd? Click here to find out!

Back in the Saddle

Time to get back in the saddle. Of life, of school, on the bike, etc. We just returned from a very good weekend of the wedding of my brother in law Peter. It was a great time of family, friends, hanging out, sightseeing, monopoly, midnight pow-wows, etc. My wife, as usual, has posted her well-written and entertaining summary of the weekend, and I dare not compete or compare with my own version. I could go on and on about my nightmare travel experience with Continental and an unplanned and low-sleep overnight in Houston, but I'll spare you the details.
A much needed breather. The weather was actually cool, and I tried to spend a lot of time out it in to radiate the Texas heat out and see if I could lower my core temperature in preparation for the rest of the Texas summer. Unfortunately, thermodynamics does not work that way, and we're back in sweatland. For my ride in this morning, I actually was pretty much recharged, and the weather was not bad. I'm not sure how the ride home through the 40C heat will be, though.
Just one quick little funny about the airplane trips. For personal amusement, I have recently started counting the number of times that I hear certain phrases from the flight crew. The two most frequent ones, in my experience, are sentences that start with "Once again..." and "at this time". For the flight up, the score was tied at 4 and 4 because the captain spoke with unusually civilian jargon. The trip home, though was classic, with 7 instances of "Once again..." and 9 of "at this time".

PS, after a comment from my brother in law Paul, I'm switching RSS to full syndication so that those of you who use a blog reader get the whole thing and not just the first paragraph. Most of my ad traffic comes from searches on a few of my posts anyway, so it's not that big a deal. Enjoy!

Monday, June 9, 2008

A Funny Thing Happenend on the Ride Home

All I can say is I thank God for firefighters. Here's what happened:
I spent a busy day in the lab directing the eager efforts of two students visiting our lab for the summer from Dubai. They are both hard workers and smart, which means that they can pretty much finish a task soon after I assign it, and with my adviser away in Germany presenting a paper he and I wrote that leaves me pretty busy keeping these guys busy. Don't get me wrong, this is a good thing.
So I'm racing home on my bike through near 100°F heat, trying not to be too late for Eliza's 5th birthday. So that I can stay hands free and still talk on the phone while I bike, I've figured out what I thought was a pretty good way to tuck my cell phone under the straps of my biking helmet. With the phone on loudspeaker, I'm able to hear and be heard without sacrificing safety by tying up a hand while I ride.
I had just ended a call to let Hannah know I was on my way when, I'm not sure what caused this, the cell phone slipped from the straps and flew into the street, taking my glasses with it. I screeched to a halt and turned around as quickly as possible to rescue my glasses. Amazingly, they survived the fall with no scratches on the lenses, a big relief, but the only parts of my phone I could find were the face plate and key pad. Finally I realized that there was the storm drain, and when I stuck my head in, I could just barely see the rest of my phone, down in the leaves in the bottom of the drain.

View Larger Map
It just so happens that my mishap occurred directly in front of Austin Fire Department Station #3. (Behind and to the left in the picture above, it's the red brick building. The Offending Storm Drain is visible just ahead of my position on the right.) I grew up in the neighborhood, and I used to frequent this particular firehouse as a youngster , selling the Worlds Greatest Chocolate, popcorn, and whatever overpriced medium my school was using for fund-raising that year. Through these visits, I developed a fondness and respect for firemen that endures to this day, so I walked my bike over, explained my case, and asked whether anyone could help. Doing so, I interrupted and eagerly abandoned game of ping-pong, and created an opportunity for three of these fine men to grab a bunch of wicked-looking gear and hike across the street to rescue my phone. It was, of course, no problem to lift the cover and send the youngest guy, the new recruit, down into the hole to fetch the phone. Knowing full well that they loved the opportunity to get out and do something, I thanked them once, with genuine heartfelt gratitude, and rode the rest of the way home.
Now the moral of the story is, if you're going to lose something down a storm drain, do it in front of a fire station!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Chatter, a Review

If I haven't posted for a while, it's a consequence of being in that "all but dissertation" phase and being between semesters. Expectations are high that I would get a lot of research done. Alas, blogging takes the back seat...

In any case, tonight I finished reading a book Hannah got me for the first of m 34th birthdays. (I'm planning to hang out at 34, an entirely respectable age, for as many years as I may before conceding to 35 for several more.) The book is by a high school classmate of hers named Patrick Radden Keefe and it's called Chatter:Uncovering the Echelon Surveillance Network and the Secret World of Global Eavesdropping. The title pretty much tells you what it's all about.
I suspect that the word Echelon in the title is a bit of an attention grabbing device, since the book is not really about Echelon so much as the NSA, its eavesdropping network, and a history of its sucesses and failures.
Most Americans, including me before reading this book, don't have much of a clue about the extent of listening in that our government does. Apart from some awareness about the recent warrantless wire-tapping done by the NSA, we really only have at vague sense of unease that our privacy may be just an illusion. Keefe goes to some lengths to describe in as much detail as possible through public domain sources all of the eavesdropping activity that we unwittingly finance through our tax dollars. In various chapters he describes the infrastructure of eavesdropping; our international security partnership with the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand; the lives of several insiders who went public; the crusades of several outsiders who research the eavesdroppers and report on their activities; the responses of foreign governments to our eavesdropping; and some very insightful discussion about the benefits of signals intelligence as well as its shortcomings, failures, and the abuses it allows.
Keefe likes to point out that there has been remarkably little public will to discuss the trade-offs between security and liberty. There have been several remarkable failures of intelligence, including most notably September 11th, the attacks on our embassies, and the attack on the USS Cole. Amazingly, our usual response to these failures has been to not hold anyone accountable, and increase funding for the agencies responsible for the failures.
This was quite an eye-opening read, and thankfully, Keefe steers well clear of any paranoid raving. Much of what is written in the public domain about Echelon is unashamed paranoid raving. Just Google "Echelon" and count the references to Orwell to see what I mean. In my opinion Keefe does a good job of informing without opining too much. His main grief seems to be that we in the public seem too apathetic to have much meaningful discussion about where the line between liberty and security should be drawn.
I recognize that my skill as a book reviewer is falling somewhat short in this post, and this is a difficult book to do justice to. That said, it is quite readable and will not fail to keep you turning the pages. I would recommend giving it a read, especially in the run up to the elections since we are sure to hear a lot of rhetoric about security and freedom in the debates this fall. Click the cover shot below for a link to the Amazon page for this book.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Spotted: Tandem Trike Trailer

My Dad is spending six weeks teaching in Cambridge, England this summer, and he spotted this gem parked outside a grammar school there. It looks like Mum brought two kids to school on her bike and is taking them inside at this moment. Note the safety vests, helmets, and handlebar pannier. Kudos to British Mum, whoever and wherever you are!

By the way, this is a Pashley U-Plus 2, available in Pashley Cycle's Brilliant Bicycles product lineup. You can't see it in this photo, but the kids have their own 7-speed derailleur. I think this is cool beyond words...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Bike to Work Day

Friday was Bike to Work Day. Maybe you knew that and maybe you didn't, but there were events all over town. Probably the best thing of all was that the Austin Cycling Association sponsored breakfast at various stations around town. I managed to show up at two of them and grab the likes of bagels and cream cheese, orange juice, coffee, fruit, etc.
At the first stop on Shoal Creek where the Far West bike trail intersects, I snapped a few photos and spent a little time to chat with some other bikers. The other breakfast station was at Wheatsville Coop, near the end of my ride, where I was just in time to grab a last cup of coffee before they cleared it all away.
The Austin American Statesman did a little piece on Bike to Work day, which you can watch online here.
For me it was not that terribly different from normal, except that I got to talk to a bunch of other bike commuters. It seemed to me like most of the people hanging out at the breakfast stations were regulars already, and I didn't meet any newbies. But it was fun nonetheless.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Visit to Mellow Johhny's Bike Shop

Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop is Lance Armstrong's new bike shop in downtown Austin. Ive heard a lot about it recently, and someone forwarded a link to this article in Momentum Magazine talking all about the shop and what Armstrong's motivations were and so forth. I decided that since I work so close to the shop I might as well bike over and check it out.
Mellow Johnny's is tucked into the corner of 4th of Nueces on the western side of downtown Austin. This is the heart of the area experiencing reinvention in the new urbanism mold. (That's the shop in the lower right corner.) The photo is deceiving because this is actually a neat part of town, close to both Lady Bird Lake and the Shoal Creek hike and bike trails. The fenced off area is a soon-to-be-built-on construction site for more new urbanism...
So where does the name Mellow Johnny's come from? It's a pun on the yellow jersey won by the race leader in the Tour de France, which Lance has won seven times. In French, the word is maillot jaune, and do I really need to explain how an English mispronunciation could yield Mellow Johnny's? I didn't think so.
They're not exactly in your face when you walk in, but sure enough, there on the wall toward the back are the winning jerseys.
So what's it like inside? This shop is all about promoting biking for everyone and making biking accessible to everyone, from the weekend recreational rider right on up to world-class racers. This is actually a tricky thing to do in a single bike shop. Most racing bike shops I have been in suffer terribly from bike snobbery, and finding staff who can adapt to a wide variety of customers had to be quite tricky. I talked to several of the staff at M-J and found them all to be friendly (even the guys behind the counter working on $3000 bikes). Maybe it's just the newly-opened store smell but they did a good job of making me feel welcome.
Inside, I found offerings from Trek (of course), Schwinn, Swobo, and Masi. (There may have been others that I missed.) There were plenty of high end racing bikes, but a lot of floor space was given (photo on the right) to urban/commuter bikes, and there was even a semi-decent selection of kid bikes. (I think I'll bring my kids here when it's time to upgrade.)
Then there was the window display, which had a mannequin not in lycra and holding on to a bike with panniers stuffed with groceries! I think I like the message.
So I realize that I've done a bunch of gushing here. Was there anything disappointing? Just two little things. First, I was shocked to discover a rather glaring lack of bike racks around the building. I asked Todd about this inside, and he sheepishly explained that the racks were on their way, and yes it was a little weird, but please to bring my bike in and park it inside. That brings me to my second thing: the big sliding glass doors of the main entrance have a step outside, not a ramp. This means you have to carry your bike in instead of rolling or riding. Seems just slightly odd to me...
Anyway, it's worth a visit, whether for supplies, repairs, curiosity, or coffee (did I mention there's a coffee and sandwich shop there, too?). Stop on by if you get a chance.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

My Crosstown 7 Reaches 3000 km

Just in case anybody cares, I flipped 3000km (1860 miles) on my odometer yesterday on my ride in. Lifetime average speed for the bike is 18.1 km/hr, or about 11.2 mph, including all of the stops and walks, etc. I've had the bike since the end of last Juy, so it's been almost a year.
No major problems have come up, and it continues to perform well.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Birthdays and Mother's Day

May is a busy month in the Diller family, with semester wrap-up, two birthdays, Mother's Day, our wedding anniversary. Sometimes it gets a little challenging to give each event the attention it deserves, but I appear to be just barely holding things together, as my dear wife mentions in her most excellent post which describes today's activities. Click on over to read and see. I won't duplicate the effort.
I do want to describe Friday and yesterday a little bit. Friday from 2-5:30 found me in RLM writing furiously on an 8X8" square desk in an attempt to convince my Gas Dynamics professor (incidentally also a member of my dissertation committee member whom I will need to look in the eye regularly for the next couple of years) that I deserve an A in his class. This had to be one of the more grueling exams of my career, and I left the room with shoulders transmuted to glowing hot iron and unable to see through my red-rimmed eyes. I think that's enough said about that, I'm trying to forget it now...
Friday, as I've mentioned before, is my birthday. Not that this is a huge deal to me (I've decided to hold steady at 33 or 34 for the next few years), but one does wish to enjoy some quality time with one's family, and exams have a way of taking one's energy away. But I've said enough about that. My dear wife cooked up a wonderful dinner, after which certain gifts were given. Hannah definitely knows how to give according to the desires of the receiver, and accordingly found for me two books, Chatter: Dispatches from the Secret World of Global Eavesdropping, written by a former classmate of hers, and Battle of Wits, a history of code making and breaking in WWII, both of which I have begun to enjoy already.
Saturday (after I awoke and took Caroline with me to vote in the Austin City Council elections) found us in McKinney Roughs, a park run by the LCRA, where we retreated for some much needed R&R. They run a program called Acorn Eaters for kids, and we dropped Ian off there to participate in that and then proceeded to run into nearby Bastrop to find drugs for Hannah's migraine. 4 Advils and 1 Benedryl later, I was walking the trails with Eliza and Caroline. There is a tremendous amount of interesting flora and fauna in the Texas countryside, and I've attempted to show some below in the slide show.

Moving at the pace of a 4-1/2 and a 2 year old, we made our way along one of the trails. Eliza had an unfortunate encounter with a paper wasp, which the lady in the visitor's center was able to treat with a sting wipe and ice. Lizey showed the remarkable resilience of a child and was back on her feet before too much longer. Thus, we made our way through a small piece of the preserve, using our new camera liberally, and just enjoying the cool breeze and low-stress environment.
We ended the very pleasant day at my parents' property in Elgin with dinner and ice-cream in honor of Hannah and my birthdays. Let's all sigh together in satisfaction and contentment. :-)

Friday, May 9, 2008

What about the gas-tax holiday?

There's been a lot of talk lately about the idea of lifting the 28cent/gal federal tax on motor fuel from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the traditional summer driving season. I have heard all about it from coworkers, presidential candidates, and unasked-for email forwards. I finally read some well spoken opinions (linked below) in the New York Times yesterday that spell it out.
Here's why a gas tax holiday would be a profoundly bad idea. Most people are grousing about the stellar oil company profits while we pay $3.50 and more per gallon. Why don't they lower the price and give us some relief? It's not fair they're making so much money! The fact of the matter is that the price of gasoline has little to do with price gouging by the oil companies and a lot to do with increasing global demand for oil, a weak-valued dollar, and uncertainty in the future of the oil supply. Removing the federal gas tax, in addition to removing the funding source for our roads and bridges, would spur increased demand in the USA, thus increasing the competition for the already tight supplies. It would be a matter of weeks before the price was right back up where it started, and now the oil companies would be pocketing the extra 28cents/gallon, instead of the federal transportation fund. In the opinion of most economic experts, it would backfire pretty badly just based on the economics. That's not to mention all of the expense associated with the accounting nightmare it would create for the federal government. It's just not even reasonable to think we could pull it all together in time for Memorial Day. Call by politicians for a gas-tax holiday sound a lot like political pandering.
So here's why it's not the end of the world if someone does manage to pull it off: first of all, it's a relatively harmless (only $5 billion or so shift from the transportation fund to oil company profits) way for politicians to convince people that they're trying to do something about a problem they really have little control over. Second, it could head off some much worse ides, like price controls or rationing. Last of all, it's just possible that he oil companies would use the windfall to try to increase production, which will only get more and more expensive from here on out.
I'm not convinced by the second argument so much, and generally, while I hate filling up for $60, I think that pain at the pump is pretty much what it takes to actually get people to change their habits. The indications are (I posted about this earlier) that people are starting to do this already, and for the first time in a long time, our gasoline consumption is going down. It's probably about time to put a damper on the American hyper-consumption lifestyle. Could we hope that people will begin to prioritize on deeper things in life than the next bigger plasma screen TV? Dare we hope for some spiritual opening?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Doctoral Candidacy

I'm surfacing for a quick gasp of fresh air before I dive back into the last week of the semester. If you have happened to notice how long it's been since I posted, it's not because I don't care. Between a final project, final exam, and oh, by the way, filing for doctoral candidacy, I've had a busy couple of weeks.
Last Friday, I met with my thesis committee for the first time and presented my research plan to them. It was an hour and a half and very tiring for me, but all in all, it went well. I had been looking forward to the prospect of this being my last semester with a class, but they gave me one more to take. What they didn't do, thankfully, was to pile on a whole lot more work for me to do, and afterward, debriefing with Dr. Hall, it sounded like things went well relative to the gamut of dissertation proposal meeting outcomes. Today I filed the formal paperwork, partly on line and partly with actual (gasp) paper sent through the mail. I thought we were past that by now, oh well.
Now, if I could just knock out this final exam and final project. It's unfortunate thing that my birthday falls in the 2nd week of May since I have had final exams on many of my college-aged birthdays. This year is no exception, and for my birthday present, I get a final exam and a final project due date. What could be finer?!
Saturday, we're planning some low-brain-power activity, probably recharging in nature: maybe a hike at McKinney Roughs, and then an afternoon with my parents in Elgin. Last Saturday was Hannah's birthday, so we're going to do as we almost always do and wrap two celebrations into one. Then on Sunday there's Mother's Day, then the following week is our anniversary (11 years!). May is a busy month...

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Recognizing the Importance of Bicycling in Transportation and Recreation

If you've never written your congress people before, here's your chance! (Here are convenient links for Representatives and Senators.) It's time to request support of House Resolution 305 "Recognizing the Importance of Bicycling in Transportation and Recreation". It raises the priority of investments in cycling infrastructure. Technically this is a House thing at this point, but it would not hurt to let your Senator know to support the Senate version when it comes through.
Here's a nice excerpt from the motivations section, nice because it says a lot of the great things about cycling:

Whereas a national transportation system conducive to bicycling produces enriched health, reduced traffic congestion and air pollution, economic vitality, and an overall improved quality of living is valuable for the Nation;

Whereas by dramatically increasing levels of bicycling in United States cities tangible and intangible benefits to the quality of life for cities and towns across the country will be realized;

Whereas we now live in a Nation with 300 million people, and that number is expected to grow to 365 million by 2030 and to 420 million by 2050 with the vast majority of that growth occurring in urban areas with limited ability to accommodate increased motor vehicle travel;

Whereas since 1980, the number of miles Americans drive has grown 3 times faster than the United States population, and almost twice as fast as vehicle registrations;

Whereas one-third of the current population does not drive due to age, disability, ineligibility, economic circumstances, or personal choice;

Whereas the United States is challenged by an obesity epidemic, 65 percent of United States adults are either overweight or obese, and 13 percent of children and adolescents are overweight, due in large part to a lack of regular activity;

Whereas the Center for Disease Control estimates that if all physically inactive Americans became active, we would save $77 billion in annual medical costs;

Whereas over 753 of our Nation's Mayors have signed onto the climate protection agreement of the United States Conference of Mayors urging the Federal Government to enact policies and programs to meet or exceed a greenhouse gas emission reduction target of a 7 percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2012;

Whereas the transportation sector contributes one-third of the greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and passenger automobiles and light trucks alone contribute 21 percent;

Whereas bicycle commuters annually save on average $1,825 in auto-related costs, reduce their carbon emissions by 128 pounds, conserve 145 gallons of gasoline, and avoid 50 hours of gridlock traffic;

Whereas the greatest potential for increased bicycle usage is in our major urban areas where 40 percent of trips are 2 miles or less and 28 percent are less than one mile;

Whereas in 1969 approximately 50 percent of children in the United States got to school by walking or bicycling, but in 2001 only 15 percent of students were walking or bicycling to school;

Whereas as much as 20 to 30 percent of morning traffic is often generated by parents driving their children to schools, and in the United States, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children ages 3 to 14;

Whereas many public agencies in cities are using bicycles to deliver critical municipal services, for example, more than 80 percent of police departments serving populations of 50,000 to 249,999 and 96 percent of those serving more than 250,000 residents now have routine patrols by bicycle;

Whereas surveys show that a majority of people want to ride and walk more but are dissuaded by concern over traffic danger and other barriers, and case studies have shown that when those barriers to bicycling are removed, people start riding;

Whereas investment used for improvements for bicyclists and promoting bicycle use resulted in the quadrupling of bicycle use in Portland, Oregon, since 1994 and a recent report to Congress on the nonmotorized transportation pilot program reveals that 19.6 percent of trips in Minneapolis, Minnesota, are made by biking and walking, reflecting the benefit of initial investments in nonmotorized infrastructure;

Whereas the American bicyclist generates enormous economic returns, in 2006, the national bicycling economy contributed $133 billion to the United States economy, supported nearly 1.1 million jobs across the United States, generated $17.7 billion in annual Federal and State tax revenue, produced $53.1 billion annually in retail sales and services, and provided sustainable growth in rural communities;

Whereas a national network of interconnected urban and rural bikeways can provide valuable community benefits, including low or no-cost recreation and alternative transportation options for people of all ages and abilities;

... There's more if you have the time and haven't run out of patience. Click the link above.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Bike Sharing in D.C.

I'm taking a quick break from writing my dissertation proposal to point out this great idea: Washington D.C. is following the example of Velib (oops, their website's english pages turn out to be in french!) in Paris, France to set up a bicycle exchange program. SmartBike DC is the name of the public/private program wherein, ClearChannel gets an advertising monopoly on bus shelters in exchange for running the low-cost program. $40/yr gets you a membership entitling you to a 3-hr no-additional-cost rental of a 3-speed bike to get around the city. The stated purpose of the program is to relieve pressure on the congested transit system, so it's aimed more at residents and people who work in the area and need to get around the central business district than at tourists who want to see the sights. The rental locations and fee structure are clearly geared toward this market segment.
Presumably someone has studied this and decided that is the most important market at present, but with the number of tourists in D.C., it seems crazy not to set up a bunch of stations around the main mall and make a short-term membership available to out-of-town visitors, too.
All in all, I'm happy to see the program. More people are becoming interested in human-powered transportation as gas prices go up. Maybe we'll see this model in more and more cities.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Gas Consumption Drops!

According to the Energy Information Administration, gas consumption in the U.S. is projected to drop this year for the first time in 17 years ago. (Did it really drop 17 years ago?!) Read the same article I did in the New York Times. This is apparently the consequence (finally) of high gas prices and a slowing economy. I wonder how the bicycle makers are doing. Interesting question: in a slowing economy with rising fuel prices, do people buy new bikes or dust off old ones and ride every once in a while instead of driving?
One piece of anecdotal evidence, which doth not a trend make: today when Ian and I biked our 1.5 km to Sun Harvest for groceries, the bike rack was full and there were at least two other bikes self-locked against the wall. I have never yet seen that at this store, which I ride to with some frequency, but the weather has been nice and it could just be coincidence.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Doin' the Hula!

Caroline, aka Gem, Little, and Chubby Grum-Grum, put her tremendous skills to good use today at the Austin Friday Home School Co-Op Demonstration Day showing us the traditional Hawaiian dance. Here's the practice session:

And here's the performance:

So much cuteness, so little video...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tim's Tips for Hot Weather Bike Commuting

Sweaty days have arrived in Austin (today was in the upper 80's with humidity flirting with 90%). Do you live in such a place? Should this be an excuse to stay off the bike? Never! To convince you, I have conveniently compiled Tim's Tips for Hot Weather Biking!
  1. Water: Water is your friend. If you're like me and you start off your day with coffee and need a coffee boost sometimes in the afternoon just to make it, then it's very easy to find yourself in a bad situation hydration-wise. The morning ride is usually fine since it's cooler then and hopefully you've just had breakfast. The fun starts when it's time to mount up for the ride home in the heat. I've had some bad rides where I didn't have water along, and I was dried out, and the weather was hot. Don't do that. The best thing is to start tanking up an hour or so before you have to leave and then drink early, often, and in small doses. Embrace the sweat! It's good for you, and you can shower when you get home.
  2. Shade: Shade is also your friend. The ride in in the morning is usually pleasant because it's cooler and the sun is lower in the sky, meaning (at least in Austin where there are trees) that your ride is shadier. In the afternoon or evening, when the heat is up and the sun is high, seek routes that have shade, even if you have to go out of your way. This can mean the difference between a pleasant ride and discomfort. Direct sunshine makes a big difference (see next point).
  3. Shirts: Bring an extra shirt for riding. If I wear a lycra jersey (I have a couple from some charity rides, but I don't usually like to show them off) then it's easy enough to change out for the day and put it back on for the ride home. T-shirts usually don't recover during the day and need to be stashed out of sight in a bag so bring a second one for the ride home. Short-sleeve button-downs actually have an advantage: if you practice a little bit and don't use a backpack, you can find a posture that will inflate your shirt through your sleeves or collar, and this is awesome air-conditioning. It's possible to do this with T-shirts, but I've had little success with polos, and I think we don't need to mention long sleeves for hot weather riding...
  4. Shorts/pants: Shorts are best, and with pants, the lighter the fabric the better, but that said, I usually have to wear jeans because I work in an engines lab, and if I can wear them year round, so can you. I recommend against spandex shorts, for several reasons. Black ones are sun-magnets and unbearable in the sun. White ones show way too much, and any other color is bound to be plastered with that ultimate poseur-sin: the team logo. Actually, in my humble opinion, spandex shorts are almost always poseur-fashion and don't really offer enough advantage to justify wearing them on a commute. They belong in bike races, not on the commuters.
  5. Load: Lose the backpack/shoulder bag. They leave sweat stripes. I used to be a backpack only rider, but I have made converted to a bike rack, and will not go back, especially for summer riding. I use a bike rack, two S-hooks, and two bungee cords. My backpack (L.L. Bean) has a sturdy handle which I attach to the top of the rack with the S-hooks. The pack then hangs over the side of the rack, and I hold it in place with the bungee cords. I used to worry about my laptop getting shaken, but I keep it in a padded case in my backpack and have had no trouble. The result of all this is that I can get to work without a sweaty back and sweat-stripes on my shoulders. By all means lose the back pack and let air flow in and through your shirt.
  6. Effort: Don't sweat it! Last of all, and probably most importantly, remember to enjoy the ride and not try to beat your personal speed record when the heat is up. Relax, take it easy, leave plenty of time, and enjoy the ride. There's no shame in going slow, and it can make the heat a lot less oppressive. Consider the payback as you pass long lines of cars waiting at traffic lights.
I hope I've convinced all of my biker readers, and especially my non-biker readers, that you should not use hot weather as an excuse not to ride. Live! Breathe! Quit your gym, and save some gas! Ride a bike!

Monday, April 21, 2008

SAE World Congress

Last week, I got to travel to Detroit, Michigan to attend the 2008 SAE World Congress, where I presented my first publication on Further Development of an Electronic Particulate Matter Sensor and Application to Diesel Engine Transients with my advisor, Dr. Matt Hall. He invented, and together we are developing, a sensor for diesel engine exhaust to measure the soot content. The goal of the work is to enable better control of engines for more efficient and cleaner operation.
The Congress was in two parts. There was a large exhibition, with many dozens of vendors representing a broad swath of the automotive industry, from south asian parts suppliers to BMW touting its newest hydrogen and diesel engines and Honda showing its latest engine magic, handily wrapped into even the very modest, very long-lived, and very cool Super Cub. (Honda engineers are always fun to talk to, in my experience, both in the conference rooms and on the exhibition floor.)
Then upstairs were the technical sessions, where the papers were being presented. This is where I spent the majority of my time. There were a 30-40 sessions, at least, each with about 15 papers to present on a specific theme. My session, organized in part by Dr. Hall, was the Combustion Analysis and Flow Diagnostics session (PFL203 for those who care). The session was split between Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, and wouldn't you know, but I was the first presenter, just after lunch on Tuesday. That was probably a good thing, because it meant that I didn't have too much time to get nervous. I can't really relax and enjoy things when I'm uptight about having to present.
A funny little thing happened on the way to the Congress, which I will share at my own expense and for your enjoyment if you promise not to laugh too hard. (Note the "nerd" and "self-awareness" tags on this article.) I packed for myself in usual fashion, at the last minute and with minimal, but in my estimation sufficient, consideration about what to wear, happy to have remembered sufficient socks and to match belt color to shoes. I even packed two ties of tasteful and moderate but fashionable design. I resisted the urge to wear a bow-tie in honor of my father. I put as much or more thought into packing my back pack with sufficient reading material for the flights and down-time. You understand my priorities, right? So I march out Tuesday morning, headed for the Cobo Center, and I'm about 10 minutes into my walk when it occurs to me that my sport coat is navy blue and not black as I had supposed in the dimmer light of the closet. Not a problem except for the black pants I'm wearing. I've learned to trust that little nagging I get in my subconscious, so I dialed Hannah, and after chatting about my impression of the city, blah blah blah, I tried to subtly share the humor of discovering my mismatch with her. She however, instead of chuckling with me and encouraging me to plod ahead since I'd be with a bunch of other mismatched nerds anyway and who cares (right?), got deathly silent and said, "You're wearing what?!" "Uh, my black pants..." "Your faded black pants that are not at all dressy??!! With a navy sport coat???!!!" "Um, I gotta go."

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Well, here's the truth. I marched on to the Cobo Center because I was afraid of missing breakfast (I missed it), and registered and scouted out where my presentation room was. Then, full of inner conflict and needing to resolve some self-confidence issues, hopped on the People Mover back to the hotel room and, feeling like and idiot for the initial gaffe and as much an idiot for going back, changed into some appropriate slacks and made my way back. Penance was duly performed, and now I was free to be my best.
(OK, pick yourselves up off the floor from laughing and read the rest of the story...)
It's a good thing that I practiced my presentation twice before giving it, because in front of 70-80 people who all knew a lot more about this than I do, I was pretty intimidated, and it was hard to think straight. I pretty much just stuck to the script I had practiced and managed to come in exactly on time. There were several good questions and a couple that I had to punt to Dr. Hall. I sat down feeling immense relief.
Seven presentations later (Phew!) as we were walking to the coat room, I asked Dr. Hall how he thought I did. "That was good. You did really well. Exceeded my expectations; not that they were low. Good job." I picked my jaw up off the floor and thanked him. (Once. It was a considerable effort not to dissolve into a blithering idiot.) He is not one to idly dole out praise, and he has been free to tell it like it is before, so I took it as a genuine compliment. 'Nuff said.
That night there was a big dinner party hosted by the Southwest Research Institute, where I met several Texas Exes, including Alok Warey, my predecessor in Dr. Hall's lab who worked on the sensor before me. The next morning, I roamed the exhibition hall, and loaded up on pamphlets and trinkets for the kids. That afternoon, there were 8 more presentations, and then we left for the airport.
One last funny story about the trip to the airport, and then I promise I'll sign off. (I know this is getting long.) So we hop in this taxi cab and immediately I realize we're in for quite a ride. For one the taxi is barely holding itself together and needs new shocks, new A/C, and a good bit of interior decoration... But the driver was the real piece of work. He asked what we were at the conference for and immediately connected with us on "the sensors" and proceeded to tell us all about his experiences at mechanics school. And then art school, which he attends while he can. And all about the inside view of the art industry and how to and how not to make it. And then he wanted to show us his work and whipped out his cell phone and flipped through the photos he'd taken of his wood turning work, all while weaving in and out of traffic, dodging the famous 13-axle Michigan semi-trailers. At one point, he handed the phone back to me to scroll through his pictures. It turns out I'm the talkative one between my advisor and me (ever hear the joke about the extroverted engineer?), and I know a little bit about woodworking, so I hung onto the phone and tried to make conversation about this and that exotic wood, etc. in an attempt to allow him to keep his eyes on the road. Alas, out came a second cell phone with pictures of some well-carved gradfather clocks. I gave up and started praying...
We actually reached the airport in record time (phew!) and tipped him generously for the ride, thankful to have arrived alive. I won't even talk about the guy I sat next to on the airplane... Ah the adventure!
Thanks for reading.