Jan 30, 2009

Science versus Technology

Today I left work early because I felt like I was coming down with a cold and wanted to take a nap and see if I can beat this bug.  On the way home, I caught a little bit of Science Friday on NPR. They were interviewing a scientist from Sloan-Kettering Cancer Research Center, and he got going on how important science is to us in our modern lives and how much we depend on it everyday.

I have heard very similar arguments from others on NPR, usually making the point that the Bush administration has ignored science, stifled the EPA, denied global warming, etc. etc. (sadly, all true), and then contrasting that with Obama's commitment to give science its rightful place at the table. 

Now I am by no means "anti-science". I have actually had a lot of science, and I use it a lot at work.  In fact, some of my best friends are scientists...

But I think I have to throw a bull shit flag on this kind of talk. I recall back to my days in History of Science courses at UW where they beat into us the difference between science and technology. I think most of what we rely on for our every day lives is technology, not science. And by technology, I don't mean the latest gadget from Best Buy, I mean applying scientific breakthroughs like semiconductors and small hard-drive and using that science to make useful stuff.  

Here is table I copied from the site Diffen which contrasts science and technology.


I don't know how readable this is going to be once it's posted, but if you click on the image, it will take you to the site for improved readability.

For instance, according to Diffen, science does it's develop work by experimentation whereas technology does development by design, invention and production. Science's mission is searching for and theorizing about cause whereas technology is all about searching for and theorizing about new processes.  While you or I may take issue with some of the comparisons in the table, I have to say that hits pretty close to the mark for me.

I ended up not working in science, per se, because I was kind of turned off by the lack of application of the knowledge. I concluded that science produced papers, that other scientists read and then they produced other papers that added to the pile of collective knowledge, and on and on it goes. I was more interested in using knowledge and doing things with it to make the world better, whatever that means, and I ended up in the technology camp.

I admit we need both - you can't have technology without the underlying science to make it possible, but I suggest you be a little suspicious if you hear scientists on NPR claiming to have made everything we know and love possible.

By the way, Diffen is a cool site - it contrasts two different topics and boils it into a table for your convenience. Enjoy that link.

And remember, correlation is not causality!

Jan 29, 2009

Sarah, Sarah, Sarah...

I was looking forward putting the election of 2008 behind me, but then I cam across this.  Sarah Palin has recently launched "SarahPAC", her own political action committee.  According to her site, SarahPAC is federally registered political action committee that supports Governor Palin's plans to build a better, stronger and safer America in the 21st Century. It's not drawing favorable responses from a lot of her colleagues in Alaska - it seems she is embellishing her accomplishments a bit much.

Jan 25, 2009

My First Experience with Mass Transit

For those that do not know us well, we moved back to Minneapolis in Spring of 2006 after a 5-year hiatus to sample the East Coast and then Anchorage, Alaska.  If anyone has moved to, or from, Alaska, you will doubtlessly recall that it takes anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks to get your household goods (and vehicles) shipped to you via barge.

With both vehicles and all of my bikes on a barge somewhere in the Gulf of Alaska for the next several weeks, I was forced to be car-free and determined to make it work. I bought a bus pass and researched my options. I concluded (incorrectly, it turns out) that my best option would be to take the Route 42 bus from the corner of 46th Street and Bloomington Ave. to the light rail station and get downtown on the train. On Sunday night, I researched the bus schedule and had the Route 46 times down, more or less. Before I went to bed, I loaded my backpack with my bus schedule and a magazine to read on the bus. I was ready.

I got up a little too early on Monday morning, not wanting to be late. Because she is a kind and caring person, my wife got up with me, and walked with me to the bus stop (in retrospect, this was more than a little bit like Mom walking her kid down to the school bus stop on the first day of Kindergarten). 

Now, my spouse is not a "morning person". She was kind of groggy and not all that pleased to be out and about at 6:45 AM, but she is a sweet and good-natured bear and took the whole event in stride despite the hour.  Our walk led us to the corner of 46th Street and Bloomingtin Ave., where we commenced to wait. And wait. And wait.

As we stood on the corner, she decided that a cup of coffee sounded pretty good, so she told me that she was going to go across the street to a local coffee shop, and asked if I wanted anything. 

"Yes. An espresso. Get me an espresso. Get me an expresso because I don't have much time - my bus is coming!" I told her.

She looked at me for a long moment, nodded once, then set off across the street and disappeared into the coffee shop.

Alone on the corner at dawn, I evaluated my state of preparedness. 
  • Magazine: check! 
  • Bus pass: check! 
  • Bus schedule: check! 
  • Cell phone: check! 
I was so F'ing ready.

Within a minute, a bus pulled up to the intersection. I quickly looked at the coffee shop - no sign of my wife!! I knew she would know that if I was not at the intersection when she returned with my espresso that I had boarded my bus and was bound for Work, so I got on, looking at the coffee shop to see if she came as we left. No luck - there must have been a line at the counter.

I swiped my bus pass and turned to sit, noticing immediately that I was the only passenger on the bus. Odd, but good since I found a seat easily enough. I sat towards the middle of the bus on the right side.  Instead of continuing down 46th Street towards the light rail station (the Route 46 M.O.), the bus driver gave the wheel a mighty yank as he pulled away from the stop and turned south on Bloomington Ave.

WHAT THE HELL! Damn! Damn! Damn! Where are we going? Am I being kidnapped? Why would anyone kidnap me? Where are we going? Maybe I am hostage! What am I going to do?

Calmly, I asked the driver, "Ah - Where are we going?"

"Downtown", he said, not looking at me as we crossed Minnehaha Parkway.

Hmm.... Downtown - that was good, Minneapolis is small enough that I could walk just about anywhere if I had to. But wait - these are the TWIN cities! It's a long damn walk from St. Paul...

"Which downtown?" I asked.

"(long pause) Minneapolis... do you want to get off?" He was now looking at me in the mirror.

Another long pause. "No - I am going to stick with this" I said.

The driver eyed me in the mirror again and kept going south on Bloominton and then west on 54th Street. The bus circled South MPLS and added people as we snaked up Chicago Ave., then headed onto I-35W at 35th Street. From there we expressed it into downtown.  Many of them knew each other, and it became apparent as we ventured on, that I had lucked into an express bus that had totally escaped my radar during my research.

Sweet!

The bus stopped a few blocks from my office and I got up to leave.  As I did so, I noticed that the driver was eyeing me in the mirror again. As I got off, the driver looked at me. I told him "this worked out very well, thanks." 

Hockey the way Nature Intended

I coaxed Molly into accompanying me to the final day of the Hockey tournament on Lake Nokomis.  It was partly a reason to get out of the house, partly an excuse to play with my new video camera and partly curiosity. Cold, clear and sunny weather greeted us as surveyed the scene from the deck of the mega-warming hut:

video

The U.S. Pond Hockey Championship is quite a scene. I have no idea how many people were participating in this, but suffice it to say that there were a lore more people there than I would have thought.  

video
We walked around the (very large) warming house that was erected on the beach of Lake Nokomis and got to see the trophy (I did not touch it although I wanted to).

We then ventured out on the ice to see some competition. I tried to video some of the action but due to me, that did not happen, apparently.  Nevertheless, it looks like the other videos turned out, so two out of three is not bad.

Fun times, if a bit odd, but I have to admit that I got swept up in the excitement and will probably end up out there again next year.


Jan 24, 2009

Dry Enough for Ya?


The Ric is in The Shop for a few days getting a set-up job; the action got out of whack again this Fall and I have not gotten around to getting it some attention until now. Twin Town worked on this instrument once, but it still is not right, so it's off to Hoffman to get this taken care of once and for all.

I think some of the issues with the Ric are the result of humidity problems (and by that, I mean lack of humidity). Minnesota (and Alaska, for that matter) are terrible places to try and keep an instrument happy. The dry, dry winter air pulls moisture from the wood and shrinks it. This can actually create cracks in the binding or top of the instrument. Charlie Hoffman has a good article on humidity on his blog, but the upshot is aim for 45% relative humidity all year long. This is much easier said than done - I've had a humidifier chugging away in the guitar room for a month now and it's only about 35% relative humidity on average.

The best bet is an in-the-case humidifier, but that requires pretty constant attention and I seem to fail at this sort of thing.

On another note, the population of certifiably insane people in South Minneapolis has skyrocketed this weekend thanks to the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships. This is unbelievably big - about 1/3 of Lake Nokomis is taken up by this event this weekend and they must have hundreds of teams competing. Teams (and spectators) come in from all over the country for this and entire ball fields are taken up by overflow parking around Lake Nokomis.  It's worth going to if you are interested and worth staying the hell away from if you are not.

Strategic Reconfiguration - Phase 2

I took the plunge (and by that, I mean that I did not "pull the trigger") on an Extracycle Freeradical kit.  The gentlemen at Hiawatha Cyclery finished the installation today and I picked it up and rode it home.

I was surprised at how much it rides like the original Cross Check. Of course, it was unloaded except for the spare parts that were left over after the conversion, but I really did not notice the longer wheelbase at all. More photos are on the Flickr site, including super-size versions.


I think this is going to be handy as hell - the big side bags can swallow the equivalent of 6 bags of groceries and handle oversized and odd-shaped stuff well.  I was pleased that Mark at HC was able to squeeze the fenders under the top deck; it's tight, and I am probably at the upper limits of my tire size that I can run with this set up, but I doubt I would need anything wider than the 700 x 38c's I am currently riding (and by that, I mean "rocking").

Unfortunately for me, I did not dress quite correctly for the ride home (yes, yes... I know better).  My eyes sort of froze shut in the brisk westerly breeze and my manparts were, um... cold.  Other than that, it was a nice ride.

A big thanks to Mark and Jim at HC for the build and fellowship while the finishing touches were added - I am looking forward to some more pleasant riding weather to try it out more fully.

Edit: I got a few questions from friends and co-workers about how this attaches to the frame. Here is a link with some good photos showing the conversion.

Jan 23, 2009

Ric Double Neck Bass/12-String


In the 1970's, Mike Rutherford (Genesis) played one of the coolest instruments I have ever seen. I was a double necked guitar/bass. The top half was a Rickenbacker 12-string electric guitar (think Roger McGuinn and R.E.M.) and the bottom half was a Ric 4003 bass (Chris Squire of Yes was the King of snarly Ric in my book).

This instrument is a one-of-a-kind; they don't make these at the factory. Rutherford had it built for him. I came across a link tonight on Rik Resource documenting the re-creation of this instrument by William Young Guitars. If you are at all sensitive about seeing beautiful guitars and basses brutalized with power tools, brace yourself before clicking the link, but as you can see from the photo, the results are unbelievable.

Jan 20, 2009

Anchorage

I spent the better part of the week in Anchorage in a series of project meetings and working with our Anchorage staff. The weather was blessedly warm compared to what they have been experiencing - highs in the mid-30's or so, but cloudy and a little drizzly.

The big news from ANC: Ted Stevens was not pardoned by W as he skulked out of office. Sen. Lisa Murkowski requested a parden for Uncle Ted, but apparently W stayed silent on the matter.


I am pleased to report that even the People's Republic of Alaska most everyone paid attention to the inaugeration (sp?) of the POTUS on Tuesday. We were able to catch it before work due to the time difference between the east coast and AK. Too bad the Chief Justice bungled the oath - I predict that will launch a right-wing conspiracy in the very near future (why did he not take the official oath? Why was there a second oath in secret, with NO BIBLE). And so it goes...



The Alaska extreme racing crazys are gearing up for the 1,100 mile Idarod invitational. This is an amazing event - people race their Pugsley's and Fatbacks from Wasilla to Nome on the route of the Iditarod dog sled race. It takes place one week before the Iditarod. The winner last year biked the course in 18 days, which is faster than some of the dog sled race winners. This has to be incredibly harsh and lonely. And I doubt their are cheering crowds and podium girls at the finish.

The oddest news of the week: Jimmy Buffet is sponsoring a Jamaican guy who is racing in the Yukon Quest dog sled race. He's got a blog, so you can check it out of you like.

That's the news. 

Jan 17, 2009

RiverLake Greenway Project and Bike Sharing in MPLS


The City of Minneapolis is seeking public input on the RiverLake Greenway project, which will eventually connect Lake Harriet to the Mississippi River via 40th and 42nd streets. There will be a public meeting on Feb. 4 at 6:30 PM at Roosevelt High School to gather stakeholder input. As I recall, there was a similar proposal Across The River and the folks in Highland Park objected because they thought it would increase crime and hurt property values or something like that. Here is the link to the flyer advertising the meeting. It would be good to some cyclists to this meeting to make sure we get fairly represented.

On another note, there will be a series of public meetings in February on a proposal to establish Public Bicycle Sharing in Minneapolis. The City of Minneapolis and City of Lakes Nordic Ski Foundation will present a draft plan that describes how bike sharing (similar to the Paris Vélib) could work in the heart of Minneapolis for short trips. The meetings will take place on Wednesday, February 4th at 7:00 pm in the Calhoun Square Atrium; Tuesday, February 10th at 7:00 pm at Coffman Memorial Union; and Thursday, February 12th at 5:30 pm at the Minneapolis Central Library. Here is the BikeShare website for more information on that.

When I first heard about this I was a little skeptical - I think I recall a "Yellow Bike" project in Madison years ago where they were going to leave public bikes around and they pretty much disappeared in short order. This concept is a little different, and would entail web-based registration, locks and self-serve kiosks, so it might actually work better. For a lot more information, the business plan is also on-line. It's nice to see support from the City and Metro Transit for this project - I'll be curious to see how this works out.

That's it for bike advocacy stuff for now, but stay tuned because I am sure there will be more in the coming months...

Strategic Reconfiguration - Phase 1


I am making some strategic reconfigurations to the bike fleet this winter. The Pugsley is gone; I sold it to a friend of a friend who plans to commute on it in winter. I think she will really like it - it's a very fun bike to ride, but realistically, I was not putting it to good use. I hope the new owner rides it a lot and gets great fun out of it.

I am toying with the idea of rolling the proceeds from the Pug sale into an Extracycle Freeradical kit for the Cross Check. That would convert the Cross Check into full-tilt cargo bike, which I think would be handy. I still have a road bike or two in case I want to go fast, so I think I am giving myself more options and versatility with this move. Here's a photo of an Extracycle conversion from a Flickr site:

I have a few questions to get resolved before I take the plunge. First off, just about everyone of these I have seen runs moustache bars or something comparable. I like my road drops on the Cross Check and I am reluctant to change out bars and brakes/shifters to support the conversion. Also, I am somewhat worried about my brakes - I am currently using my stock Cross Check brakes with some STI shifters off of a Specialized Allez I sold last summer. The brakes are only okay but the shifting is good and I like levers, so hopefully I will be able to keep those. I need to talk to someone who has some experience with these things to find out if this would be a decent set up or if there is some fatal flaw I am not considering.

If any readers have experience with a X conversion or have set up a Big Dummy, please comment and let me know your thoughts.

Jan 16, 2009

CKUA

I was working out of our Calgary office for two days this week.  Last night I stumbled across CKUA again.  CKUA is Canada's first public broadcaster and first educational broadcaster; they were founded by the University of Alberta Campus in Edmonton in 1927.  Although they are based in Edmonton, they broadcast in Calgary (I am not sure what's up with that, but I liked it).

Last night they were playing a mix of folk, modern folk and jazz, interspersed with spoken word pieces by Billy Collins and other contemporary poets. It was really great to get poetry on the radio - why doesn't anyone do that in the L-48?  Quite frankly, CKUA puts the NPR/MPR empire to shame in terms of quality of content. And even though it's public radio, it's not gassy and arrogant.  It was almost as if I was in a foreign land.

You can listen on-line by following the link in this post.  If you get some decent speakers for your PC, you can ditch your conventional radio away and improve your quality of life by listening on-line to all kinds of good stations, including CKUA, WMSE in Milwaukee, WLIU on Long Island, KWHL and KNBA in Anchorage, and KPFT in Houston. Links are provided in the column at right to help you out. 

Enjoy!

Jan 15, 2009

The Muses


"There is a third form of possesion or madness, of which the Muses are the source. This seizes a tender, virgin soul and stimulates it to rapt, passionate expression, especially in lyric poetry, glorifying the countless mighty deeds of ancient times for the instruction of posterity. But if any man comes to the gates of poetry without the madness of the Muses, persuaded that skill alone will make him a good poet, then shall he and his works of sanity with him be brought to nought by the poetry of madness, and behold, their place is nowhere to be found."

- Socrates (from the dialogue Phaedrus)

Edit - In case you are wondering, that image is Calliope, the Muse of beautiful words.

I came across a decent blog article about Amy Winehouse earlier. She is really talented but is absolutely headed down the wrong path. A lot of articles are pleading for her to turn things around, but this article says let her be. Here's an excerpt:



"... every culture needs a totemic figure who is prepared to go into the wilder terrain of substance usage, a place where the rest of us don't want to or don't need to go. And there is something defiantly totemic about Winehouse. The tall figure, the tattoos carved into the arms, the boldly painted face, the huge pile of hair - they all resemble some fabulous totem pole. And the great, yodelling, soulful voice brings us news of a place we don't want to go to ourselves".

Jan 14, 2009

It's Cold Out There...

It seems we are heading into the coldest night of the year in more ways than one.  

An icy blast has hit the Twin Towns pretty hard this week - it's been cold and a little breezy, and we've had a couple of snow storms that have tied downtown Minneapolis up in knots. Between the black ice and doughy snow on top of it, everybody pretty much moves at about 10 miles per hour. 

The economy continues to suck, and the flu has moved to the energy sector as well banking, housing and everything else, it seems.  I got a new Energy Letter in my email today and here's a short but relevant passage:

"I see the nascent breakdown in the GDP/oil relationship over the past three years as a symptom of the supply shock the world has been experiencing. In past economic cycles, faster GDP growth powered higher oil demand and rising crude prices; higher oil, in turn, catalyzed increased drilling activity and growth in global oil supply. Those rising supplies helped keep a lid on crude oil prices.

In this cycle, however, supply growth was limited by geological factors; many of the world’s largest oilfields are mature and seeing declining production, while new fields are difficult, expensive and time-consuming to develop. Thus, even with oil prices sky-high and energy firms investing record sums in exploration and development, global oil supply rose only slightly between 2005 and 2007. Non-OPEC production growth has, in particular, serially come in under expectations.

This situation is soon to get worse, much worse. Global GDP growth has clearly slumped this year and will remain weak for at least the first half of 2009--the epicenter of the slump will remain the developed world."

Great.

Energy Letter is good, by the way. Anyone interested in this issue would probably enjoy subscribing, even though they send stuff like this to in-box regularly.

What can you do?  I met a friend at Common Roots for a few beers and some tasty food tonight to put the day-to-day problems behind me. It was great to get caught up and swap stories and just generally the economy and the weather aside for a bit.

That's it - stay warm and watch out for the ice!

Jan 9, 2009

The Onion: NASCAR Coach Reveals Winning Strategy

Onion News Network aired an interview that really shines an insightful light on the strategy that goes into NASCAR racing. A must-see.

Jan 8, 2009

It's Back!

The Ginay has surfaced again. $475 this time; still lots of nice parts!

Jan 6, 2009

Critical Mass Survey

Bike Lover WhiteWhale3 is looking for volunteers who have participated in, or currently participate, in Critical Mass rides.  If you are local to the Twin Towns, have participated in CM, and/or have opinions about it (love, hate, etc.), please give this guy a hand and help him out with his research. 

Here is a link to MBL with his email address to get in touch with him:

Thanks to all who participate in this survey!!

Jan 5, 2009

Placelessness and The Lowest Common Denominator

There is a theory (or perhaps by now a paradigm) in the field of Geography about "placelessness". There are many definitions of placelessness and a lot of academic articles written about this concept in the annals of geography and urban planning, and if you work through the literature you begin to get the sense that this term means different things to different groups of people or disciplines, and that the concept is continuing to evolve as well.  

Merriam-Webster has a short, snappy definition that says simply "Indistinguishable from other places in appearance or character".  If you go to college-level geography, entire dissertations are written about the subject.  I like the Merriam-Webster version because it's open ended enough to cover a lot of bases but conveys the concept well.

Essentially, placelessness is the loss of a unique sense of place and increasing uniformity. For instance, your old home town's unique, defining features, such as an older main street with a local barber shop (The Leather Strop), a Tavern (Joe and Elaine's) and an independent hardware store (Precortt's) may have all been replaced (or at least are getting pushed on), by Great Clips, Applebee's and a Lowe's, respectively.  Another example would be the destruction of many small downtowns in rural Minnesota by the installation of a Wal*Mart.

We saw a number of things in Florida that got me to thinking about not only placelessness, but also the broader direction of our culture and what the drivers of culture are.  I saw at least one and sometimes two or more McDonald's in every town we drove through in Florida. I saw probably half a dozen Bed, Bath & Beyond stores in Jacksonville and St. Augustine alone. 

The concept of placelessness goes beyond urban planning and geography, however. In The Tipping Point, Malcom Gladwell tries to explain how little things can become big things ("go viral"). He starts with a story about how Hush Puppy shoes got really popular because they found a niche or were adopted by a sector of the population (hipsters grabbed onto Hush Puppies, if I recall the book correctly). Gladwell has a social science perspective that helps explain the non-geographic placelessness phenomena.

I have been noticing other non-geographic trends that also seem to lend themselves to placelessness - examples might include top 40 radio, Brittany Spears and Hannah Montana, NASCAR, "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" and "American Idol", Crocs, ClearChannel Broadcasting, McDonald's, REI and Trek/Giant/Specialized. These all fall into the "placeless" category for me.  These are all products or phenomena that are pushing out smaller, more diverse competitors by providing a product, or products, that may not be better, but have very broad market appeal and/or superior marketing resources.  

I think in many respects, these are the lowest common denominator; it's not that the products are inferior, but rather they appeal to the largest population of potential customers. I might almost categorize these as "the least offensive".  One of my criticisms of Consumer Reports is that they seem to pander to this mindset - they seem to strive to find the most generic or universally acceptable product with the broadest appeal to consumers rather than delving into which product is right for an individual consumer - read a bicycle review from them and you will see what I mean.

I much prefer the diversity and uniqueness of local, independent retailers and restaurants when I can find them.  Hopefully, we will not lose too many more of these in the tough economy, but I fear that economics and sociology of sales will be a threat to this type of diversity for the foreseeable future.

Jan 3, 2009

Snow Days

We are getting a pesky "wintery mix" that began this afternoon as freezing rain and has now turned to snow. So with that, enjoy a do-it-your-self video of a classic Trip Shakespeare song that celebrates the Snow Day.

Jan 2, 2009

Mr. Michael Recycles Bicycles Update

Here is an update on MMRB at the year-end. I volunteered there to help out with the Holiday Wishes rush, and I fixed up a batch of bikes for them, so I am keeping tabs on this...

Florida in Retrospect

Well, we safely returned from Florida mid-day today.  It was interesting - this was the first time I spent any unsupervised time in Florida as an adult; I have been there for SGA conferences a few times but never took the time to hang out there before or after a conference.

We stayed in St. Augustine Beach, which is a little tourist town immediately south of historic St. Augustine.  The history of St. Augustine resides cheek-by-jowl with the tacky Florida I was picturing in my mind.  Anchoring the downtown, historic Castillo de San Marco, an historic fort built by the Spanish in 1672 overlooks the waterfront.  It's cool, it's old, it's worth seeing. North of there is,  Flagler College, a liberal arts school with some of the most amazing architecture I have ever seen.


All this is matched by the Ripley's Believe It Not Museum and an Alligator farm. Some good photos of the trip are located here (and some bad ones as well).