Sunday, December 21, 2008
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
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.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Saturday, November 8, 2008
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
(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:
`(F) DEFINITIONS RELATED TO BICYCLE COMMUTING REIMBURSEMENT-
`(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.
- 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"
Friday, September 26, 2008
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
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...
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Friday, August 22, 2008
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
Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's War, 1941-1945 by Leo Marks
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
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. ;-)
Friday, August 1, 2008
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
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
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.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Monday, July 21, 2008
Friday, July 18, 2008
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Saturday, July 5, 2008
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
No major problems have come up, and it continues to perform well.
Sunday, May 11, 2008
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
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
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
Here's a nice excerpt from the motivations section, nice because it says a lot of the great things about cycling:
... There's more if you have the time and haven't run out of patience. Click the link above.
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;
Monday, April 28, 2008
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
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
And here's the performance:
So much cuteness, so little video...
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
- 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.
- 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).
- 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...
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Monday, April 21, 2008
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."
(View Larger Map)
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.