Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Social justice is not a system!

Over dinner with some co-workers tonight the concept of carbon taxes and social justice came up. One person objected to the idea because it could have a negative impact on social justice. I think it's possible to design a carbon pricing scheme that at least isn't income-regressive, I've put some thought into this, and so I went into the specifics of it a little. But I think I neglected a bigger point about the nature and relationship between these things. Social justice isn't something that can be achieved once and for all by system or policy; it must be constantly worked toward under any economic system or policy framework.

There's a parallel here with economic freedom. The idea of granting people economic freedom and the ability to accumulate capital opens up great potentials for inequality. This is hardly a point where we have to speculate into the future or look into the past, we see it right here and now. But it's also, in the big picture of the economic success of our society, a big winner. There are plenty of things economic freedom alone does not accomplish, and we need to work in other ways as a society to accomplish those things. Social justice is one, but there are plenty of others. Economic freedom didn't get us to the moon, and it didn't defeat Hitler. It didn't even create the Internet. But it did help us build the society that pooled together its resources to get to the moon, defeat Hitler, and build the Internet (and then it took the Internet and ran with it).

Our global society's protection of its environment and wise stewardship of Earth's resources will contribute greatly to its success or failure over its next few hundred years. If we do or if we don't succeed we'll have to work continuously for social justice. If we do we may have the great privilege of working for social justice in a world that continues to sustain us, where peace and prosperity is possible. If we don't we'll be working for social justice in a world of famine, shortage, and war. Of course when the rubber meets the road we should create specific policy that furthers the end of social justice. But when it comes to doing what's in the long-term overall interest of our society, we can't just declare that incompatible with social justice and do nothing.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A different heart metaphor

Today at my church Reverend Grace said a few of those things that just make me roll my eyes. The suggestion that we listen to the figurative “heart”, representing intuition and emotion and generally thoughts we can't explain, is fine. The comment that the heart has a larger magnetic field than the brain has utterly nothing to do with it — it's one of those new-agey statements that uses linguistic coincidence to take an interesting scientific fact and make of it an idea that's both more questionable (that intuition is more powerful than reason) and less interesting.

Maybe a more interesting figurative use of the heart is that of the constant worker. Why would the heart actually have a larger magnetic field than the brain? Because it's a powerful muscle whose action is precisely timed. The heart's unconscious working is, of course, necessary for every other part of the body and mind, but the body and mind must in turn provide the heart with prudent maintenance, so there's a bit about interdependence.

And where does that leave questions of intuition, emotion, and reason? With a different metaphor. Maybe the gut. I hear a lot of blood goes there.

Friday, November 2, 2012

This is what happens, Larry, when you ask a cyclist for directions...

Today I was riding home through Wallingford when a driver asked me for directions to Lake City. I thought about it for a second, then told him to keep going north up to 45th Street, turn right, then make a left on 11th Ave NE... wait, scratch that, you can't turn left on 11th. Ah, just keep going down 45th, it turns into Sand Point Way, curves north, and goes all the way to Lake City.

Somehow I completely forgot the existence of I-5.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

What is Seattle? Unsolicited gardening advice.

I am not my father when it comes to yard work. I'm pretty lazy, don't plant things, and I don't even know what half the stuff growing in my yard is. But I do try to keep things basically in order, and so in the places I've lived I occasionally find myself working out in the yard or clearing the sidewalks. Never in Elmhurst, Chicago, or Cody has anyone ever stopped to advise me on what I was doing, but Seattle is... different. I've been advised how to trim and prune junipers, not to rake leaves, and not to cut blackberries overhanging the sidewalk.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Other Seattle Cycletracks

Casdade Bicycle Club is celebrating the still-under-construction Linden Ave Cycletrack as a Seattle first. But is it really? In my travels I've noticed a few similar facilities, many of which serve a similar purpose (part of a regional trail), that already exist.

Several sections of the Burke-Gilman Trail might reasonably be considered cycletracks. Starting from the west, the section along Seaview is a two-way bike path paralleling a major road, but doesn't have many intersections and abuts a ridge to the east. The section along Northlake near Gas Works Park, however, fits the formula. It runs partially at sidewalk level and partially at street level, between the street and its sidewalk, which abuts actual buildings. Sections in Wallingford and the U District parallel Pacific but typically have enough vegetation or topology separating them from buildings that they don't really feel like cycletracks. Farther north and east there are similar sections of the BGT and Sammamish River Trail that aren't in Seattle proper.

The path between Harbor Ave SW and Alki Beach is certainly built like a cycletrack in places. However, when the weather is nice it's so packed with people walking and skateboarding that people biking are pretty much forced out to the road. One might say something similar about the path east of Alaskan Way, except that it's unusable even on rainy days.

The Duwamish Bikeway parallels West Marginal Way, running between the road and riverside industrial land. That gives it a case for consideration as a cycletrack, but not an airtight one.

So where do we go for real cycletracks? Renton, of course. Renton? Yes, Renton. The city that slapped down an asenine 10 MPH speed limit on the Cedar River Trail first built it as a cycletrack along Maple Valley Road. Renton also has cycletracks along stretches of Logan, Garden, and N 8th St; though they don't exactly form a complete network they're sort of useful, and aid bike mobility in that part of town a bit.

So now we see: history and bike infrastructure didn't begin yesterday! Several cycletracks (or, if not, fairly similar types of paths) have been built to fill in gaps in routes or networks. Linden follows in this tradition, like Ballard's “Missing Link” will. It's primarily a through route so it isn't like the Broadway Cycletrack, which I think really will be something new for Seattle: a cycletrack built for local access. Still, when Linden is finished it will feel significant. It will be the longest path that's unambiguously a cycletrack, has adequate parallel sidewalk capacity, and has regular intersections. I guess that counts for something.

EDIT: Naturally I missed one. The bike path in the median of Beacon Way could be considered a cycletrack. I'm not sure boulevard median paths aren't inherently something different, but it has a case. It's a very flawed path, but if a cycletrack can't be flawed I don't know what can be.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Before this stupid meme utterly runs its course...

The “Binders Full of Women” Meme: a Thorough Analysis

by Al Dimond, noted Republican strategist and PR flak for the Tr'Oly Rollers

Winners

  • Barack Hussein Obama (natch)
  • by extension, his constit'chency (is you or is you not it?)
  • by extension, downballot Democrats and socially permissive ballot measures
  • The Internets (alllll three of 'em!)
  • The Terrorists (if you put women in binders The Terrorists Win!)
  • Ru Paul

Losers

  • Willard Mitt “Mittens” Romney
  • by extension, his constit'chency
  • by extension, downballot Republicans (but not as much as the Democrats if that makes any sense... which it doesn't... unless there's a credible 3rd party... iunno...)
  • ... and prudish or anti-tax ballot measures
  • Political Discourse (he's dead, Jim)
  • Hope for bridging the partisan divide (see above)

Tied

  • Women. Because they're bound.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Destroying San Francisco (the one that exists, not the one that never did)

There's something about being in the Bay Area that makes me notice things I wouldn't otherwise, and want to express things I usually don't. Maybe that's because it's the first place I went and completely failed to live in.

Anyway, this past weekend I drove twice over the Bay Bridge from Oakland to San Francisco (and continued on to 101), something I had never done before. At night it's a disorienting experience. You know by road signs that you're driving into San Francisco, but for whatever reason as a driver you never see the skyline, or really very many other buildings at all, from the elevated structure, only road, cars, signs, advertisements, and more road (always more road). It feels like you could be any anonymous place, and that's not a feeling we're supposed to expect in San Francisco. Especially when the Folsom Street Fair (JFGI) is going on just a few blocks away. Anyway, this isn't just a freeway thing, it's a specific freeway thing, because in most old central cities (and even many edge cities) you at least get a view of some characteristic part of the city as you drive through, even at night.

I've been on the Muni subway a handful of times, and really, you miss out on as much of the city there as you do from the freeway. Maybe if I was from New York I'd be used to this, but the cities I know best are Chicago and Seattle. The trains and buses there mostly only run underground in places I've been many times and am at no risk of forgetting. I found when I went running down Market Street up over Twin Peaks and to the Sunset District from just east of Van Ness that there's a lot of city up there in a corridor I'd otherwise have had no reason to travel at ground-level. You might say that at least on the Muni you see the people, but you definitely don't see all the people.

Monday, September 3, 2012

City vs. Suburb: what does it mean?

I just saw this article on my G+. And, as is so often the case, something I mostly identify with prompts much thought and comment. In particular, the idea of the distinction between “The City” and “The Suburbs”. I think the distinction is overblown. It divides places unnecessarily, and it doesn't adequately address the real characteristics of places and the history behind them.

To start with, dividing an urban area into a city and suburbs, especially when the purpose is to set one against another, is to divide something that's working as a whole. People regularly cross not only municipal boundaries, but urban-suburban-exurban-rural boundaries as a matter of course when conducting daily business. The city and suburbs together form an interdependent economic unit. When my wife's grandfather started his heating and air conditioning business he set up shop in La Grange, a suburb of Chicago, because that was the location from which he could reach the largest part of the area as a whole, from Indiana to Wisconsin, city and suburb alike. A location along the Tri-State Tollway was like a shipping business' location the Chicago Belt Railway. Similarly places we live and work may fit somewhere in a city-suburb binary, but we choose them based on their specific characteristics, convenient access to things we care about, and cost of living. Chicago, La Grange, Naperville, and Skokie are all part of the same whole and all serve each other. Or Seattle, Redmond, Canyon Park, and SeaTac. None could exist as it is today without all the others. The city-suburb distinction sometimes encourages people to set one against the other, especially in funding disputes where one typically accuses the other of being a leech.

And while in some ways the city-suburb binary is an unnecessary and divisive way to look at things, it's also in other ways not precise enough. Perhaps you buy the idea that downtown Kirkland and Canyon Park are both suburban, and that SODO, South Lake Union, and the core of downtown Seattle are all urban. The distinctions within the urban and suburban groups are perhaps greater than the distinctions between them. A lot of people in Seattle live in middle-ground areas developed initially as “streetcar suburbs”, which would further stretch the definitions of whichever group you put them in. And even the history of some of these areas is important. In 20 years people might wonder why all the fast transit service between downtown Seattle (decidedly urban) and the U District (urban enough, and a huge transit destination) skips SLU (which in 20 years will be quite a transit destination). Its history as a warehouse district and its long period of decline will answer those questions well, while an appeal to its “urbanness” won't yield many answers.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Burke-Gilman instersections

The Burke-Gilman Trail has some truly puzzling intersection treatments. As a former freight rail line (and often being located next to what's essentially a cliff face, at least partially man-made), it isn't crossed by a lot of side streets. When it crosses arterial roads typically traffic on the trail sees a "Stop" or "Yield" sign while traffic on the road sees a crosswalk, which technically means, "Yield," and practically means, "Yield if you feel like it." Under the law, two people coming to this intersection are like Zeno's Arrow, unable to move. Both road and trail traffic know that both they and their cross-traffic counterparts are bound to yield; both (rightly) distrust the other to do so. If there's any traffic at all, the lack of clear rules leads people to behave sort of like they do at all-way stops, except less efficiently and consistently. If you've never biked on the BGT you might think nothing could be less efficient and consistent than behavior at an all-way stop sign in Seattle.

These intersections are ridiculous, but they don't bother me as much as some intersections farther north, where trail traffic is signed to yield to side streets that are effectively private driveways for lakefront homes. Any rudimentary analysis of traffic volumes and road function would clearly indicate that the trail is easily a more important and heavily traveled route than every road it crosses from at least NE 70th St. in Seattle to 68th Ave. NE in Kenmore (in the summer you could pick an even wider range), and that its cross streets should naturally stop and yield at it. Instead, yield signs facing the trail put the onus of responsibility on trail users and we have to ride at a snail's pace past all these intersections with awful visibility. Anyway, yesterday for the first time ever I actually saw someone driving on one of these roads approaching the trail. I stopped to yield for him and... the driver also stopped and waved me through.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

LaTroy Hawkins and the 2004 Cubs

I was reading a bit about the Cubs today, and the subject of the 2004 Cubs came up. And, unsurprisingly, LaTroy Hawkins was prominently featured as one of the reasons that team did not make the playoffs, even though it was in many ways better than the 2003 Cubs, who did. When this happens I usually like to make a little comment that Hawkins wasn't actually as bad that year as many perceived, and that he never really deserved much of the criticism he received from fans and the media that year. But blog comment space doesn't allow for a full analysis of Hawkins' 2004 season, and the reasons that different stats paint a very different picture of the sort of season he had. This format does, so here goes.

The popular narrative is that LaTroy Hawkins was a talented pitcher that couldn't perform under pressure and was thus uniquely poorly suited to be a closer. Indeed, in 2004 as he closed for the Cubs, his ERA was stellar at 2.63 and his strikeout and walk rates excellent but he blew 9 saves.

Aggregate stats like ERA and strikeout rate have the weakness that they don't use the individual game as a unit. A closer's save record, like a starter's W-L record, hold the individual game up and attribute its result to a pitcher. That's why they resonate in ways that aggregate rate stats don't. Unfortunately they can also be pretty inaccurate measures of a pitcher's impact on the games he pitched in. And sometimes, as in Hawkins' case, they're even misleading indicators of what happened while he was pitching.

Measuring a single player's actual impact on a game is impossible, but measuring what happened while he was pitching is done regularly with WPA. Hawkins' WPA didn't shine as brightly as his rate numbers, but it was pretty good, around 1.2. It's better than any other Cub reliever that year, and in line with what many other good relievers did. You'd expect a reliever that blew so many saves to have a bad WPA. His decent WPA suggests that his blown saves were not as bad as those of many others. Indeed, my recollection is that several times he blew saves in games the Cubs won; he held the tie and often was credited with the win himself. Even if he performed poorly he left with the game still in reach. WPA will rightly say this sort of blown save is better than the stereotypical reliever meltdown, where the closer gives up the tying and winning runs.

So what do the game logs say? Let's look at the 9 blown saves of LaTroy Hawkins in 2004.

  1. April 28: Hawkins entered the game with one out in the 8th and a one-run lead. He gave up a home run to tie the game and finished the inning with the game tied. The Cubs happened to score one in the 9th and win (this does not bear on Hawkins' WPA, nor on any rational analysis of his performance, though he was credited with a win). Although it occurred before Hawkins was installed as the closer, this fits the pattern of a blown save that was, while not good, about as good as a blown save can be.
  2. May 28: In the second game of a double-header Hawkins entered in the bottom of the 9th with a two-run lead and gave up a two-run homer to tie the game. He finished out the 9th and was replaced for the 10th by Francis Beltran, who threw one pitch that was hit out for a home run and a Cubs loss. Again, Hawkins allowed the tying run but not the winning run to score, though this time he blew a larger lead.
  3. June 13: In the bottom of the 11th Hawkins entered with a one-run lead. He allowed three singles (one which he fielded; it is possible though not certain that he fielded poorly -- either way, WPA counts it the same as any other single) and the tying run, finished the 11th, pitched a 1-2-3 12th, and exited with the game tied. The Cubs went on to win. The pattern holds.
  4. July 4: A one-run lead going into the top of the 9th, a solo home run, a blown save, a tie-game departure, a Cub run (on an RBI walk by Todd Walker), and a win. The pattern is four-for-four.
  5. August 21: Another one-run lead in the bottom of the 9th. Hawkins recorded only one out before allowing two runs and picking up the loss. A throwing error on Aramis Ramirez contributed; still, the pattern is finally broken.
  6. August 25: Exactly like July 4, except in the details. Hawkins gave up the tying run on a double to a guy named Magruder, and the Cubs won it on a solo shot from Corey Patterson. Pattern is 5-for-6.
  7. September 21: Another for the pattern (6 out of 7), and another blown save-win for Hawkins. This time it was the bottom of the 9th, and Patterson (another Cub that had a pretty solid season that many remember as disappointing) scored the winning run on a wild pitch, setting up a save for Ryan Dempster.
  8. September 25: Hawkins entered with two on and one out in the bottom of the 9th and gave up a 3-run jack to tie it up. That's -0.4 on the WPA scale, which is exactly halfway between 0.1 (what he'd have got for the save) and -0.9 (what he'd have got had he given up another donger instead of finishing the inning). That's the very mathematical signature of the pattern. 7 out of 8. Oh, yeah, the Cubs lost in extras, holding onto a slim half-game wild-card lead.
  9. September 29: I'll have the regular. The real orthodox regular. In a one-run save opportunity in the top of the 9th Hawkins gave up one run. The Cubs went on to lose in extras and fell a half-game back in the wild-card race.

So the final score: in nine blown saves LaTroy Hawkins finished out the inning with the game tied eight times, giving the opponents the lead only once. On top of that he picked up losses after entering tie games three times. This does not amount to a great season, and the stretch run was particularly mediocre, but it does amount to a better season than the blown-save count and popular narrative would lead you to believe. And that bit about a decent-but-not-great season with a mediocre stretch run? That describes the 2004 Cubs to a T, the whole team. Singling out any one player is silly.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lent

I've often been a little interested in the idea of Lent. Give up something (traditionally meat) for 40 days in sympathy for Christ's suffering, celebrate its return at the festival of rebirth that follows. The mingling of Christian theology and European paganism into an enduring ritual that draws people into contemplation in February. But one of the reasons I've often been interested is that I can't get into it at all myself. Maybe it's a symptom of my modern anomie that I neither feel that I have something compelling to release in Lent, nor something to contemplate on. I don't feel particularly indulgent or grateful materially (this is probably something I should work on), and a lot of the things I might give away would only push me away from my friends and community. And I don't identify with the suffering of Christ. That can be broken down many ways. One is association: because I grew up in a society steeped in Christian ideas without any religious upbringing instinctively associate any Christian doctrine with exclusion and coercion. But even if I contemplate other leaders that have suffered for their beliefs and works, it's hard for me to feel kinship with them when I know I've tended to avoid pain by avoiding conflict in almost every area of my life.

So Jess has suggested that I give up anomie and focus on focus. Now I have, as we say in the business, two problems. Maybe three.

Maybe one day I'll be ready for something like Lent, but today probably isn't that day. I can think of one modern practice that is something of a mirror image of Lent: repeatedly trying new and unusual things, a month at a time. If the tradition of Lent keeps people's minds attuned to the past, this practice keeps people's minds attuned to the constant reinventions of modernity. People try the Dvorak keyboard layout or biking to work. They'll try wacky organization systems or keeping journals. Some might write a novel or record an album, although the motivation may be a little different. Ironically, one common choice is vegetarianism, and the RPM Challenge is in Februrary. Anyway, people take on these challenges publicly and socially, encouraging each other and sharing results.

I'm not sure that's quite what I need either, though. If anything, I need to find comfort and consolidate my strength, not take on another unfamiliar thing.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Ye Olde Compromise Bike

A while ago one of my friends said he planned to ask his peeps on the Internet a question: how many bikes should one own, and what sorts? I'm writing this down now so I don't have to do it later. The answer: you should own one bike.

Why one bike? Well, aside from my general tendency to avoid accumulating stuff, I believe it's not about the bike — it's about riding the bike. If you have zero bikes, you probably won't find yourself riding very often. If you have more than one, you'll have to spend more time fussing with your bikes than if you had just one. So, optimally, if you want to spend your time riding you'll have one bike.

If you're going to have one bike you'll have to think carefully about what sort of bike it should be. I think there are a few things that hold true for any cyclist that doesn't race for money (especially those living in Seattle):

  • You almost certainly want a road bike of some kind. Most practical riding is done on the road. So you want a bike that rides well on roads. Despite the efforts of the American bike industry to equate road bikes with cheap imitations of racing bikes, these are not one and the same — road bikes take many forms. A few things are constants. One is tires. They should be smooth. Tread hurts your traction on pavement, especially in wet conditions. There is a special place in hell reserved for salesmen that try to sell bikes with knobby tires to urban commuters. Most people that will regularly ride more than a few miles at a time will want handlebars that allow a variety of riding positions. In Seattle we have climbs, descents, and flats; some trips are long and others are short. Flat handlebars are popular with outright beginners, but they don't give you enough choices to tackle long rides or varied terrain.
  • Fenders and a rack. This is Seattle; you need fenders on your bike at least nine months out of the year. Take them off in the summer if you really want to, but remember, you're not racing for money, so don't get too bent out of shape about weight or aerodynamics. Fenders make it hard to fit a bike into a car, but why would you want to drive your bike somewhere when you could ride it? Racks are pretty nice. They allow you to carry all kinds of useful things for commutes and utility rides (clothes, computers, tools, locks, etc.) without awkward backpacks. And they let you do all-day and multi-day rides without vehicle support — why make someone support your ride in a vehicle when that person could have more fun riding along with you? Even if fenders or a rack don't have a permanent place on your bike, your bike should be able to support them. This has consequences for your fork and brakes.
  • Carbon fiber is a stupid material choice for any part of the bike that supports your weight. Quality carbon fiber isn't, to the best of my understanding, more likely to fail than other frame materials, if treated with due care. However, due care is hard to exercise; it's really hard to tell when carbon is damaged. Supposedly a few experts can determine this, but the cost of enlisting their help is significant. Many cyclists recount carbon components failing without warning; others will say they probably should have known their parts were damaged, but let's be honest: you are probably not expert enough to know this. Finally, the failure mode of carbon fiber is shattering. This typically leaves the part unsalvageable and the rider in serious trouble. Aluminum seems a little better, but has its own disadvantages. Rather than shattering, it shears, which is less than ideal. As it's employed in typical bike frames, it's considered uncomfortably stiff, leading to aluminum frames paired with carbon forks (or seat posts, which ended badly for me). And, so I've heard, it gets stiffer and more brittle as it ages. Titanium is ludicrously expensive (though supposedly great in every way). Which leaves us mere mortals with steel. In 2012 steel is still the best material for a practical bike. Yeah, steel is heavy. If you ride carbon your bike is maybe a little less than 10% of your total weight, and if you ride a typical cheap steel frame it's maybe a little more than 10%. You're not racing for money. It just doesn't matter.

There are other things that can vary considerably.

  • Frame geometry. There are many right answers for frame geometry. In Seattle's hills and traffic, recumbent is probably not one (unless it's dramatically more comfortable for you). Mountain and cyclocross frames have road handling characteristics compromised by off-road capabilities (for one thing, high bottom brackets raise your center of gravity relative to your wheels); how much you care is up to you (my current bike is a cross bike; I care a little bit about this, but... more on this later...). Cargo and “Dutch” bikes are great for mostly short-haul riding, or for carrying cargo! They tend to have sweeping handlebars that have a better default position than flat bars for most road riding, and even allow a more forward position when you want it (I rode an old Schwinn cruiser in college, loved it).
  • Freewheel or fixie. If you can ride fixie in Seattle, more power to ya. I'm not sure I could handle steep Seattle descents on a fixie. If you ride fixie, at least have a front brake there just in case (this PSA brought to you by your mom, unless your mom is a crazy trackie/messenger).
  • Brakes. Whatever stops ya, as long as it doesn't get in the way of your fenders. Compared to rim brakes, trendy disc brakes are still mounted such that super-hard braking can pull the wheel out of the front fork, but I'm not sure that overwhelms their advantages: easy power and great rain performance. They require less maintenance but the maintenance is more difficult. They can still work if your rims are damaged, and don't put so much stress on the rims. This, in turn, frees you to get all kinds of crazy, lightweight, structurally dubious rims, but you're not racing for money, so you don't care. Weight and aerodynamics of brakes are negligible for all but the most serious of racers — even more so than frames. All brakes yet known can have overheating problems on mountain descents; the only solution is to use them less. Coaster brakes are pretty lousy in every way, but if you're not going fast or down mountains you might be able to get away with them.
  • Gearing and drivetrain. There's almost no wrong answer if you're comfortable with what you have. After initial skepticism I have come to like my cross-style gearing on Seattle's hills, though I'd certainly prefer a bigger little ring. More traditional road-style gearing works fine, too, though I'm pretty sure I wear my cogs and rings more evenly with the cross-style setup. If you hate maintenance and care even less about performance than I do try a full chain case and hub gearing — word is that there are some great hub gearing systems out there. Some riders with hub gears or single-speed bikes are going to belt drive. I have no opinion on this.
  • Pedals. Whatever. You. Like.
  • Age and price. Spending money does not make you cool.

So... you have to make some compromises to find a bike that's adequate for all your needs. I have a long commute, have to carry a lot of stuff, and like to go on long rides for the fun and challenge of it (challenge, to me, involves pushing my body pretty hard), so my ideal single bike is probably something like a touring bike. Unfortunately mainstream American bike manufacturers don't promote the stodgy, long-lasting touring bike the way they promote racing bikes (whether on-road or off-) and beach cruisers, so they're not always easy to find. And this led me to my biggest problem with my one-bike strategy. When my one bike went down in 2011 I had no spare to fall back on. To get back riding I needed a new bike quickly, and ended up (somewhat unwittingly) with something closer to a cross bike than the touring machine I really wanted.

There are good reasons to have more than one bike. Having a hot spare might be a good one, especially if you want to avoid having to buy a bike in a hurry in the event of a catastrophic failure. If you do two different sorts of riding that can't reasonably be served by one bike, that's another. If you really like to go off-road and get dirty, for example, but also have a commute too long to use an MTB, you probably want two bikes; or if you do lots of long rides where you want pretty aggressive geometry and clip-in pedals, but also quick errands where you want slab pedals (I have clip-in pedals and just push 'em with my tennis shoes for this sort of ride, but I mostly walk over those distances; if making trips like this on bike was important to me I might want a Dutch bike for them). Maybe if you regularly have to park in a high-theft area like UW it's a good idea to have a bike you don't care about. On the other hand, saving your best bike for dry weather, in Seattle, is utter nonsense.

Monday, January 9, 2012

It is time to HTFU, whiner.

So I walked into the bike shop with my busted dérailleur, and the mechanic said, “Son, did you use those,” and he looked down at my quads, “with this bike?” And I said, “Um, yes?” And he said, “I'm afraid that applying such a massive, apocalyptic level of force to the bicycle voids the warranty completely. You're lucky you didn't rip the frame right in half!”

Actually the bike shop was closed and its open hours correspond almost exactly to my work schedule. Also I need to get a haircut and a bolo tie (because apparently I'm a fucking hipster) and pick up Jess' new computer, all this week, all while I should be working. FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU!!!!11!1

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Jane Jacobs on the *oof*

I'm reading Jane Jacobs again, this time The Economy of Cities, which Jess gave me as a Christmas gift. And, oof! When I read The Death and Life of Great American Cities I did it on the L (as documented on this blog in the past), and now I'm doing it on the 5, with its lovely payment scheme where, as long as downtown Seattle's Ride-Free Area is in effect, you pay as you exit on buses leaving downtown. Some Seattle Transit Blog commenters call this scheme PAYPTTF, or “Pay As You Push To The Front”, and on a full bus that's about how it works out.

So in between giving and receiving body blows trying to deal with the flow of people through this bus I'm reading her account of how cities and urban work are the real sources of development and prosperity; not rural work, and not the earth, as many people have thought. And how the “impracticality” of big cities is one of the driving forces of progress. If only Seattle, not that big a city, could get over itself and make it practical to get people on and off of buses quickly. Nürnberg and Erlangen do it with no fancy smart cards or anything (my guess is at least some other cities in the German-speaking world are similar)! And their bus drivers give change!

Jacobs is largely thought of as a hero on the left, but her ideas often have something in common with Libertarianism; see this article from the Mises Institute. In The Economy of Cities she shows these stripes very strongly. She celebrates how the public good is served when people have the freedom to go off and develop their own work for their own profit. Certainly Jacobs' thought is wide-ranging. Her comments on development economics make perfect sense to someone that's read Amartya Sen; her comments here and on environmental regulations often point to the futility of common types of government action, as in Death and Life her most common targets for criticism were centrally-planned government redevelopment projects.

From where we stand today, her thoughts on environmental topics are interesting. She stressed the importance of recycling, and mining waste for usable products. Among other authors I've read, some of Paul Hawken's ideas come to mind. And, indeed, cities facing expensive waste disposal problems have made some strides in this way. She stressed the importance of chemical scrubbing of smokestack emissions, producing useful, profitable by-products. Unfortunately some of the worst chemicals we emit don't have a profitable economic use. So we're now stuck in the undesirable position where the combined actions of people working for their own good don't serve our overall good — the position where we really do need some kind of regulation.

In this sense, I might say Jacobs ended up being too optimistic on the ability of cities to solve their own environmental problems. But maybe she was actually right-on with her frequent pessimism that our cities, and our economy, is stagnating and failing to come up with practical solutions to its problems.