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...