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Saturday, November 25th
Investing in Real Life
I must recommend this excellent article from last month's National Geographic: Paris Parks. It's more about parks than Paris, but it certainly brought back wonderful memories of my half-year in the City of Light, a rich, dense, busy city where one can truly feel good about being alive. A few snippets from the text:
Parisians in fact will seize just about any spot in their city for park or garden: tiny balcony, abandoned auto plant, bankrupt parking garage, derelict railway, even the giant curved facade of a new museum. They will sacrifice broad boulevards for the sake of bike paths with leafy canopies. They will argue for community gardens over apartments or media centers. They will relinquish a busy city expressway along the Seine for a temporary beach park, and will see in every shabby lot a prospective cathedral of green.

A growing body of research suggests that spaces filled with leafy vegetation filter pollution and trap tiny particles of dirt and soot: Street trees can reduce airborne particulates from car and bus exhaust. Large groves of trees may have an even more profound green-lung effect for cities, cleansing the air of dangerous chemicals.

In one of its more startling findings, the team upended the common belief that barren spaces are safer than green ones. A study of violent crime in a housing project of 98 apartment buildings showed that in and around buildings near vegetation that didn't hamper visibility there were only half as many crimes as in areas near no vegetation. The greener the surroundings, says Kuo, the lower the crime rate against people and property.
There is much more in Jennifer Ackerman's beautifully-written article, and it leads us naturally to the question of why we are so stingy with parkland in the US. If Paris--a capital city and world commercial center with twice the population density of New York--can find room for parks, gardens, bikepaths, squares, and other real public spaces where individuals can find themselves and find their place in their community, and succeed as a commercial center--why can't US cities?

Commerce, technology, all the rest are just support mechanisms. After all, it's the minutes of our lives that are the real bottom line.

Richard Risemberg on Sat, 25 Nov 2006 08:08:49 -0800 [link]  

Friday, November 24th
Oil, Dollars, and a Bit of Sense, Perhaps
An article published yesterday in Asia Times goes on at great length about the dangers to posed to the West by Russia's establishment of an non-dollar oil exchange and its assumption of control over its own oil resources and exclusion of Western oil corporations from ownership thereof, and its establishment of long-term contracts with oil buyers to, as it states, ensure a certains tability of income for itself over the coming years. All of this is seen by the author--I think rightly--as a threat to Western, and particularly to US, market economies. To quote:
What happens to the US dollar as the new exchanges become operational and begin to be successful? The exit from the dollar as the international currency will have begun in earnest. But that exit will not be to one currency, but simultaneously to the several currencies that are the denomination currencies of all the successful new oil and gas market exchanges.

The dollar will begin to weaken as its international support and devotion wanes, or even sinks. As the dollar weakens, the price in dollars for everything the US imports will skyrocket, adding a powerful inflationary hit to the US economy. Along with the impending US recession, that will further weaken the dollar and likely its decline, or outright collapse, will feed on itself.

As the dollar weakens and energy price volatility increases on the New York-London exchanges, producers will have further powerful incentive to switch their product offering to the non-dollar-denominated exchanges, where there will be greater stability and where they will not be forced to take payment for their products in the increasingly undesirable weakened dollar.

The profound risks to the West as respects its ability then to secure access to sufficient energy resources should be self-evident. Left with a severely shrunken dollar-denominated pool of oil and gas, a pool that virtually only the West draws from, the viability of a potential targeted embargo will have increased exponentially.
The assumption, of course, is that the US and Europe have no choice but to suck at the oil teat till it dries, then starve.

But it is possible to wean oneself from oil, right now, at least to a certain extent. (There is, after all, still oil in the US.) Many readers of this journal are already doing their part: riding electric subways, bicycling, using efficient lighting, employing the so-called "alternative" energies--which are simply the prevalent energies of the world: sun, wind, falling water, and food. They are available almost everywhere, and are often free. After all, we need to breathe and move to live; why not breathe a little deeper and move our legs a wee bit harder on a bike? No oil rigs, no leaking tankers, no despotic monarchs need apply.

Why not ponds and waterwheels on every stream, windmills and solar panels on every roof? It may not be good for General Motors, but it will certainly be good for the rest of us, and for our posterity. A million small companies, instead of a dozen megacorporate oligarchies--neighbors working for neighbors, power not only to, but from, the people

We have to look not just "Beyond Petroleum" (as BP pretends to), but beyond corporate gigantism and the concept of energy as a commodity.

Energy is something we can make for ourselves. It is all around us, it is in us. Shareholder return means nothing in a dreary polluted world torn by war in its name. The billions we've spent trying to rob Iraq of its oil could have been applied to research in photovoltaics, or to funding micro-hydro projects and local bicycle factories instead.

We must turn our backs on oil dependency and begin living with less oil today. A complete bicycle weighs less than a single wheel for a small car, and can carry you fifty miles in three easy hours, on a bowl of rice and beans. The average US car owner drives 12,000 miles a year--or 32 miles a day. Mostly short trips of less than five miles.

We can be free--if we want to be.

Richard Risemberg on Fri, 24 Nov 2006 21:28:26 -0800 [link]  

Monday, November 20th
Knicker Knews Knumber 12
Received some feedback from the buyers of the fit samples, and it was pretty gratifying: the knickers work! Here's a couple of quotes:
I wore them last night in high 20s, riding today in low 20s and then high 40s, and all day inside at work. They felt so light I was worried I might get cold but I never did. ... The fit is great. The elastic was tight at first, but once it got stretched out they fit perfectly. ... The front pockets are nice. Keys don't slide out when I sit down and I can ride with my phone in my pocket and not worry about it. (A.B.)

I think mine are wonderful. I went out today and bought a pair of light ski socks to go with them, and with my lightweight merino wool pullover, altered to have a standup zip collar, I will be the most fashionable, and probably among the most comfortable, cyclists in town. (P.M.)

Got the knickers on Sat and took them for a test ride this morning. The fabric is sensational and feels nice. ... The waist was just right and I like the elastic (although I think they would look good being held up by suspenders too). (J.L.)
A couple of tiny adjustments, then we cut and sew. I'll open the purchase page on this website at the end of the month or just a little after. Keep checking in!

Richard Risemberg on Mon, 20 Nov 2006 21:03:42 -0800 [link]  

In the Night
Blazing hot days in this odd Los Angeles autumn, followed by clear, warm nights of dry air flowing easily over skin as you pedal homeward...tonight I was gratified to encounter at least ten other bicycle commuters on my way home, all sorts of folk: from restaurant workers grinding home on undersized department-store mountain bikes, to a couple of fellows sailing along bolt upright on hybrids, to the guy with the full-on touring bike...even another fixie rider, grinning hugely as he he held a trackstand at a red light. Almost every one of them running headlamps and taillamps and carrying knapsacks or messenger bags or panniers.

It's not many, it's not enough, but compared to just a few years ago it's a grand improvement. Every week I see a few more as I ride my different routes home, or wander about taking care of chores.

Bikes filtering through traffic jams, crowded buses bunched up at the curbs, symphonies of knees and elbows swelling out of the Metro stations...slowly, we're starting to make sense. This species might just grow up, after all.

Richard Risemberg on Mon, 20 Nov 2006 20:54:20 -0800 [link]  

Wednesday, November 15th
Knicker Knews Knumber 11
More knicker knews:

Picked up the "duplicates," as they're called, last night, and dropped them off at the dry cleaners to set them to size. (Even dry cleaning shrinks fabrics a little.) Two will go out to members of the focus group who have the appropriate waist size for final testing, and one will head over to Fixed Gear Gallery for a review. (Sure hope they like 'em!)

The originals in crappy wool twill which I was wearing performed beautifully in the chaotic rush-hour traffic on the ride home from Downtown (add oblivious drivers to darkness to Third-World quality paving, and you get the idea....), as they always have...and now I have my gabardine fit sample back, so I can start wearing the almost-real thing again! (The pocket angle is slightly off on the fit samples.)

So not too long now before elegance returns to bicycle commuting, folks! There'll be no reason to leave your steed in the garage just because you have to look nice when you get where you're going.

So you get to ride more, and the world gets to breathe more. Nice, ain't it?

Richard Risemberg on Wed, 15 Nov 2006 07:13:57 -0800 [link]  

Friday, November 10th
Knicker Knews Knumber 10.5.1
Another minor update....

Pedaled downtown Wednesday after leaving work early and finished up with the fit samples of the Updated Classic Wool Knickers. Now we're going ahead with the "duplicates," as they're called. I was hoping to make ten, but have cut back to three because of costs. One pair is slated to go to Fixed Gear Gallery late next week; they are reviewing knickers this season. The other two I'll offer to a couple of folks from the focus group in a day or two, when I have breathing space.

Production should begin around the end of the month, at which time I'll set up the shopping cart page (one page for one product, but more, I hope, in the near future).

Getting close now!

Richard Risemberg on Fri, 10 Nov 2006 07:23:30 -0800 [link]  

Wednesday, November 8th
You Are the Voice of the People
Hope you all voted! I was at the polls at 7:40AM yesterday...and back there to keep my wife company in the evening.

The local reactionary paper here had a big headline: "Dems Seize House!" As if it were a coup d' reality, the Democratic party "seized" nothing, except maybe the consciences of the people, who voted for themselves, in effect; for the people over the oligarchs; for small-d democracy after years of drifting towards a New Feudalism.

Whether the large-D Democrats will live up to the people's hopes is another matter...don't think your work is over just because the polls have closed!

In California, we voted in, among other things, a bill providing money for transportation "improvements." Too often, as we know, those efforts result in nothing more than adding lane-miles, which leads to more sprawl, more traffic, more congestion, and more calls for more lane-miles. As some forgotten traffic engineer said back in the '70s: "Curing congestion by adding more lanes is like curing obesity by buying bigger pants."

It's up to you to keep after your elected representatives to make sure than a large proportion of transportation improvements are of the sort that actually increase access and improve life on the ground.

The bulk of money should go to improving mass transit in and between cities, specifically rail. Nothing else can move so many people around, for so little energy spent, while taking up so little space. Indeed, subways take up almost no surface space at all, while having more capacity to move people (rather than cars) than freeways do. This frees up surface space for homes, shops, offices, factories, cafés, and sidewalks and bike lanes. Most of these uses pay property and often sales taxes, which freeways do not--a hidden benefit of subway building!

And it's again up to you to make sure that a lot of money goes to intelligent enhancements to bicycle infrastructure.

Bike lanes are nice, but don't really provide much; there's plenty of asphalt already with room for bikes. But bike racks everywhere; bicycle access to transit; pothole repair (the worst asphalt is always in the right lanes where busses, trucks, and bicyclists travel); traffic signal sensors that react to bicycles when a car isn't there; bike stations; subsidization of showers, lockers, and bike lockups at major employers (why not?--they get free road "improvements" to feed cagers into their parking lots); motorist education programs--the list is long.

As soon as your new representatives are settled into their offices, write them a note or an email, and let them know why you voted for them, and what you expect.

If they don't hear from you, they won't know what to do. So tell them!

Richard Risemberg on Wed, 08 Nov 2006 09:57:59 -0800 [link]  

Sunday, November 5th
Knicker Knews Knumber 10.5
Well, it isn't new enough news to warrant a whole number to itself....

Yesterday I casually mentioned on the KOG list that the weather had finally cooled down here...hah? I should have known better! I was going over the Cahuenga Pass--a pretty rough climb--to visit my father and get his perspectives on James Black's cargo bike design. My dad's an engineer and knows heaps about stress distribution (and he distributed plenty to us when we were kids, you betcha, yah) and welding specifically. (Among other things, he designed the welded roof truss for the UC Davis basketball stadium.)

Anyway, as soon as I got near the Big Climb, the Santa Ana winds cut in, changing a pleasantly cool morning into a rather fiery one--so on the pass I had the Three Hs to contend with: hill, heat, and headwind. For an old guy on a fixie, it was a good workout. And of course I was testing the black wool knickers today, so they got a real good workout too: seated climbing, standing climbing; sweated on, dribbled on; torqued, tweaked, and twisted; and generally well used for about 35 hot miles.

A bit of spinning too: on the way home, when you crest the pass and drop steeply back into Hollywood, you have the pleasure of an often terrifying bit of road design where a two-lane freeway offramp merges into the street from the right, with no red light or stop sign, so the cagers just flow onto the street at full speed, and you have to cut across their path to get to the new right lane.

Well, I made it through alive once more, so you still have to read my blither here.

The knickers did fine. I think I personally prefer the material for the black ones better, though my wife has forbidden me to get any more black clothes.

They are cut a little big--the pattern was for a 33 waist, but they fit more like a 34--and the pockets pop out a bit, but we'll fix all that on Wednesday, then it's on to the pattern grading!

But before any of that, I drop them off at a cheap dry cleaner to see how they shrink.

That's the way it works.

Richard Risemberg on Sun, 05 Nov 2006 19:51:26 -0800 [link]  

Saturday, November 4th
Knicker Knews Knumber 10
Another trip downtown last night...we're getting closer, folks! Arrived early to bop around the cluttered confines of Wall and San Julian streets in search of pocket lining. Hadn't expected to be shopping, so I didn't take the Kryptonite with me; there I was, being ever so careful not to lean my driveside on the bolts of bright cloth overflowing onto the sidewalk in front of every store that didn't have the stuff I needed in the color I needed. Finally, one grouchy old Persian fellow led me down the street to what was probably his nephew's shop, where I found what I needed.

Then off to Broadway and Ninth to drop off the cloth and pick up the fit samples, which are looking beautiful--the charcoal is elegant, the black sleek; I'll be torturing them this weekend, then sending them to a cheap dry cleaner to check for shrinkage. The charcoal pair behaves perfectly on a wild ride home through the thickest rush-hour traffic I've seen in a long time--downtown streets are narrow, and SUVs are bigger than ever; hardly anyone was moving except for me and the other bicyclists I saw.

There are some minor details to correct, so I won't put pictures of these up yet. The next photos will be of the final versions. Stay tuned!

Richard Risemberg on Sat, 04 Nov 2006 07:18:22 -0800 [link]  

Friday, November 3rd
In case you haven't already noticed the little orange button, I've added an RSS feed to the blog. Still working on the config--I think maybe the last 15 entries is a bit much, and may change it.

So if you're interested in snippets & rants on bicycling, sustainability, and urban living, get us in your aggregator, baby!

And let me know of any problems with it.

Richard Risemberg on Fri, 03 Nov 2006 05:53:36 -0800 [link]  

Thursday, November 2nd
Hit & Run Update
A barrage of phone calls from LA's bicycle community has resulted in the LAPD actually assigning a detective to Jen Diamond's hit-and-run case...and about time, too. A psycho killer's loose on the roads of our town, and the cops didn't care? Now that our community has made itself heard, they've agreed to care. How can we move forward in the world if you have to be afraid to ride your bicycle home, anyway?

For updates, details, and a link to Jen's blog, go to Lars's blog.

Richard Risemberg on Thu, 02 Nov 2006 16:36:30 -0800 [link]  

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