Tuesday, September 28, 2010

While cycling in to work this morning...

... I was annoyed with the rain. True, I did cycle home in the rain last night, but it was much lighter, and stopped about half way home. ...and I didn't have to show up at home not smelling of the sweat that inevitably happens whenever I ride in damp weather (evaporation doesn't really work very well when vapor pressure isn't working in its favor). But this morning was different: the rain was falling hard enough at the time that I decided to pack things up for my commute that I had ended up putting on my rain gear -- light, waterproof trousers and jacket -- before heading out, and the problem with (most) rain gear is that, while it keeps rain water out, it also keeps body moisture (and a fair amount of heat, since evaporation doesn't work very well in enclosed spaces) in. Still, can't show up to work all drenched, right?

Part of my commute is to turn onto Washington, and I usually make the turn on Ashley (which one-way, thus making the left-turn-on-red, which legal in MI) to take me the one block north before I turn eastward again. Often, at minutes-to-nine in the morning, there are other cyclists (some in the road, others on the sidewalk), and I have a list of "usual suspects" that I am accustomed to seeing. Today, though, there was a guy on a fixie and a messenger bag.

Side-note rant: I don't understand the fascination with fixies. They (often) have no brake levers, and (as the name suggests) cannot freewheel. I suppose that benefits include their light weight (after all, there is no need for gears, derailleurs, brake levers, cables, chain tensioner, or a long chain), simplicity (there are fewer parts to worry about), the rider's ability to freely spin the handlebars in a complete circle (or even several revolutions, thanks to the lack of cables that would normally impede such a maneuver), and the rider's ability to move backward (since the lack of free-wheeling means that backward pedaling produces backward movement). However, other than that, I can't see much of a draw, since their lack of gearing means that you are either heavily over-geared on upward climbs (don't even think about an easy start from a standstill) or heavily under-geared on downward climbs (with legs pumping faster and faster just to stay on the pedals as gravity takes over). True: some people apparently think that this latter point is good, since -- if you provide backward resistance to the pedal as you move downhill, you are able to slow the bike down... just like braking does with a lever brake. And looking at how fixie riders actually slow down -- by skidding -- I'm even less impressed of the ability of such a bike to perform during a Michigan winter (even one of the relatively milder winters we get in SE Michigan), which makes the personal decision of purchasing one less-than diminishingly small. Side-note rant over.

Now, I don't know if fixie-riders with messenger bags are actually bike messengers, or if they are pretending to be one. All of the people that I've known who ride fixies aren't bike messengers, but that doesn't mean that any one fixie-rider might not be. That aside, though, I hadn't had the opportunity to test out my bike against a fixie-rider, and the wait at Main Street for the light to change provided me with the setup of such an opportunity. I quickly took off my jacket-cum-personal-sauna and -- slowly cooling in the damp, rainy air -- waited for the light to turn. Fixie-rider didn't know that we were going to have a race, but that would be fine by me.

He took off -- much faster than me on my significantly heavier bike in low gear -- and remained ahead of me while going through the intersection at 4th Ave. Coming up to 5th Ave., I saw the cross-traffic light change from green to yellow, and I knew that we would be all-go by the time we hit the intersection. Fixie-rider apparently also figured this out, since he didn't stop pedaling. However, the cars that were tagging along with us had to come to a full stop -- blocked by the one vehicle already waiting at the intersection: fixie-man and I had free-reign of the lane ahead, and I was fast catching up with him as I shifted from 3rd into 4th.

By the time we reached about mid-way of the next block, I noticed something -- my cadence (and fixie-riders are all about cadence) was slower than his, but my gearing was already providing a small speed advantage. I matched his cadence and soon found myself walking past him and on up to Division.

I'm not a racer... well anymore. The best that I've always felt in a race was when I was just behind the leader, though: I knew where I was in relation to the guy in front of me, whereas he (usually it was a he) had little good knowledge of where I was in relation to him. It's a major personal psychological aid, and it makes me very wary when I'm out in the lead, especially when I don't know where the finish line is. This is how I felt as I overtook fixie-guy out front of the Neutral Zone, speeding up to the light at Division. I was also getting a little tired after my three-and-change-mile hard bike ride, and I started to feel the energy drain. "If I make it to the front of ELI, that'll be fine by me," I said to myself as I took to the sidewalk outside the Google building, coasting along and pulling up in front of the bike racks. Fixie-guy rode by almost immediately after I stopped, glancing over at me and my bike: "the bike that beat him" is how I thought about it, imagining that he did know that we were in a race, and conceding grudging admiration. As it was, though, it was just as likely that he was wondering who the frick I was to pass him at an intersection, only to pull onto the sidewalk a few tens-of-yards later.

Still, I wanted to get out of the rain and start my day. And so I did, and I did.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

My 30-mile trip

To and from the Dexter Cider Mill along Huron River Drive. Four of us (one less than we had hoped) headed out from Ann Arbor in the late morning for this merry little jaunt.

Lovely day for a bike ride
Although the morning started off quite cold and cloudy, the sun poked out from behind the clouds by the time we all got onto the roadway.

The rebuilt Delhi Bridge -- now we can once again get to Delhi Metropark from Huron River Drive. (I could never remember how to get to the metropark from along Dexter-Ann Arbor Road, but then again I don't drive, so that was only a problem when I was driving someone else -- or asked to navigate.)

Cycling along Huron River Drive
Many cyclists take the trip along the road on weekends, especially if it's nice weather.

After we got to the Dexter Cider Mill, we ate some donuts, drank some ... water, and purchased a jar of ... blueberry preserve. However, Leah purchased some cider syrup (a gallon of cider, reduced down to a pint), which was quite tasty! Of course, the syrup was from Vermont, and not the DCM, but that's okay, I guess. After all, the DCM wasn't the (only) goal of the trip.

On the way home, Jennifer got tired of all my picture-taking, took my camera and put me and Leah in a photo. See, people? I bike!

But I had my revenge, taking a photo of all of them as we rode down the road.

And took this little piece of film of me going along at an easy pace. (Unfortunately, the ride was a little more windy than I would have preferred.)

All ended well after party ways at "The Fort", and me catching the end of the Michigan game at the Grizzly Peak, with some ale.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mid-Autumn Festival Moon

Last night was the mid-Autumn Festival in places that are of Chinese and Vietnamese culture. And, although I'm not Chinese nor Vietnamese, I remembered it in the morning and woke up early, walked out to Third Sister Lake and took this photo of the full moon:


Monday, September 20, 2010

The building of the North Quad

Over the past couple of years, the University of Michigan tore down the old Frieze Building and built its new North Quad combination of dormitory and teaching space. Over the past same period of time, I took a bunch of photos from the Modern Languages Building -- diagonally opposite the new buildings' southeast corner. Every so often, I would take a series of nine photos, and then I stitched them together using a photostitch program.

(The viewer currently shows January 2009 through September 2010 -- without any photos in 2010, save for the September one. I need to go through my photo archives to find earlier photos.)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

British vs. US English

There are many comments and writings that have been made about the differences between UK and US English. However, an interesting thing came across my news-ticker: UK archaeologists discover Roman armor. This was not the surprising thing (although as far as I know, the finding is momentous for many reasons, including that a complete set of Roman armor had not previously been found -- to the best of my knowledge). What was surprising (to me) is that the entire copy following the title (which spells armor the US way; with the "or" instead of the "our" ending) was written in British English (indeed, the first sentence reads, "Cardiff University archaeologists excavating at the Roman Fortress in Caerleon, South Wales have discovered what they believe is a complete suit of Roman armour." Huh? Why didn't the editor of this Cardiff-University-prepared piece not just go through and change the UK into US English, or just change the "armor" in the title to "armour"?

Other words which are British (or more common in UK usage):
  • penultimate (uncommon in the US)
  • artefact (spelled artifact in the US)
  • barrack (more often encountered as barracks in the US)
  • monumental (in the US it often refers directly to monuments, not to the size of a building)
At least Dr. Guest -- the one interviewed in the story -- appears to be from the UK, and isn't a US English speaker, which (if he were) would make his direct quotes not conform structurally to his dialect. It would be kinda ironic if he were, though, since I am a proponent of using UK spellings when referring to UK things (or in quotes given by UK speakers), and the same for US spellings.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Comparison of Changes in Some Gendered Language over Time

An entry over at SocImages posted three graphs of the change in frequency of different gendered words in British English since the middle of the 20th century. Knowing that the Corpus of Historical American English is now up and running, I decided to see what an initial survey of the data would reveal of the trends in US English, presenting the two side-by-side. (Understand, though, that the British corpus study is much more than the broad-level survey that I'm doing here.)

Male vs. Female Pronouns

As one can see, looking at a comparison of male pronouns (he, him, his) versus female pronouns (she, her, hers) over time, the trend of diminishing male pronoun use and increasing female pronoun use is visible in both corpora. However, there appears to have been an upward tick in male pronoun use during the 2000s in the US, but not in the UK. In addition, while female pronoun use took a dive in the 1940s US corpora, steadily regaining ground after the war, whereas it appears to have grown slowly-but-steadily in the UK. There was a high point of female pronoun usage in 1870, but I don't know why.

Man, Men, Woman, Women
Here, somewhat interestingly, the two graphs appear to show very similar trends: the use of man and men has diminished significantly in both the US and the UK (although the uptick seen in the US during the 2000s for male pronouns are also seen here, whereas although the value seems to have increased in the UK, I think that this might be a trick of the curving function of Excel). By the 2000s, although man is still much more common than the others, woman and women are in equal usage as man. Looking at the pre-1930s data (from the US corpus), almost all of the significant downward trend in the use of man and men occurred during the period covered by the British corpus graph.

Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms
This graph needs a little explaining. While the COHA interface can provide a table (broken into decades) of the frequency of the search terms, it requires more work than this brief survey of terms to puzzle out the contextual usage of these terms. For that reason, I believe that the really high values for miss are not adequate in describing what is really happening (since miss is a verb as well as a title). Therefore, unless anyone wants to spend the time to tease out the different uses in context, I will focus my look at Mr., Mrs., and Ms. (and after 1820, due to the unknown reason for the really high level of the usage of Mr. in that decade).
What seems noteworthy is that the use of the three titles change dramatically over time, with Mrs enjoying relatively high use during the 1890s, 1900s, and 1910s, much higher than Mr (save for the in the 1820s -- see preceding graph). Unlike in the UK, Ms is much more commonly used in the US corpora (although the presence of Ms Magazine might have an effect). Still, the general trend since the 1930s is roughly equivalent as seen in the UK: approaching intersection. In fact, one might even say that (although there is a lot of decadal noise in all the titles), Mr has become less important than either Mrs or Ms in the past decade.

It vs. Them
Although not reported on in the Dispatches site, I also decided to look at it and them and how they tracked over time. Of course, I also included the plural and possessive forms of the pronouns, and what we see is that the two (perhaps gender-neutral) pronouns are also generally declining over time, although not as strongly as the male pronoun has since 1930 (in both the UK and the US). A part of me had thought that perhaps the rates of it and them would not have changed that much over time, since one cannot make a direct substitution for he,him,his with either it or them pronouns. However, the slight decline in the usage of these pronouns might imply that the subject matter of the writing might have changed, or that writers are just choosing to use these pronouns less often, although why is something that I don't know (and I don't want to sift through the contexts in order to really find out).

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Over 400 miles cycled since the start of July

I've cycled over 470 miles since the start of July -- when I started recording them on the 2 mile challenge. For most of those miles, I had a GPS unit strapped to my bike, keeping track of not just distance, but also location.

While my trips to North Campus were done sans GPS, I don't have those marks on the map. However, I did manage to remember to have the GPS unit with me for 370 of my total miles (yeah, I know that I didn't carry the thing with me for what amounts to around 100 miles of trips, but what can I say?).

Still, as amazing (to me) as the number 470 miles sounds, it works out to an average of 10 miles per weekday (470 miles/9 weeks = 52.2 miles/week = 10.4 miles/weekday), which is about 3 miles more per day than a mere round trip to work.

Perhaps I will take a trip to Dexter (to the WNW) or even around the North Campus area...

Friday, September 03, 2010

New top speed: 38.2mph

On my way in today, I hit 38.2mph. And that was while I was also riding with both of my shopping-bag panniers on the back.

Max speed: 38.2mphTotal time: 17mins, 53secs
Total distance: 3.95 miles
Average speed: 13.3 mph
Total calories: 1067 Cal
Fastest speed: 38.2 mph (!!!)
Average heart rate: not recorded

I'm quite happy with that accomplishment, and am also amazed at the estimated caloric burn of 1067Cal (which is roughly double of what I supposedly burned in total yesterday in riding to campus, then to Trader Joes, and then back home - a total of 14 miles, but at a much slower speed than this morning's blast into town).

Photos of Ann Arbor at the end of summer

The Labor Day weekend is looming, and with that the return of the 25,000 undergraduates to campus. The town is still celebrating the summer, while also trying to entice the spending of the parents of many of those returning students. It's nice to walk through town and see some of these more musical and colorful enticements that mark the end of an Ann Arbor summer.

Jazz performers outside Ann Arbor.com


Even when it's rainy, you know that the start of the new fall semester is about to begin... with the practices going on in the athletic fields. (Okay, there aren't that many people out practicing right now, but there are some plays being run out there.)
AA railroad, viewed from the Stadium bridge

Wild grapes ripe

Cycling home, I saw these wild grapes all ready to eat on the side of the road. The grapes are all over town (all over the region, in fact), and although invasive in these parts, do produce some tasty morsels.

Feral grapes

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Plastic bag bans in the US

Back in 2007, it looked like the state of California might follow San Francisco's lead in banning "disposable" plastic bags. The "why" question of worrying about plastic bags comes with the problems that they have during their persistence in the environment:

Via BBC:

However, we received news today that California senators decided to nix the whole plan that could have prevented tons of plastic waste sitting in a landfill or finding its way into the ocean, citing that it would be too costly to consumers. Maybe I'm a little cynical, but whenever I hear people citing "too costly for consumers," I'm immediately wary of the real motivations of the person saying it, especially when I am not convinced of their arguments.

Still, on the same day (well, on the next day, since American Samoa is on the other side of the date line), we hear that American Samoa has decided to ban the use of disposable plastic bags on the island. Go territory! Of course, living on an island in the Pacific Ocean, one is very aware of the problems of limited space, especially with regard to all the problems inherent with imported plastic bags that end up in landfills and the surrounding ocean.

On another note, there is also the really artistic film on the life of a disposable plastic bag:

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Happy September!

Today is the first day of the first of -ber months (Septem, Octo, Novem, and Decem). Happy day!

September derives from the Latin "septimus" or "seventh", and it used to be the seventh month of the Roman calendar... until the Roman calendar was changed in 153 BC, from the new year beginning in March to the new year beginning in January (and - not so surprisingly - the people didn't really want to change the names of the months).

So welcome to the so-called seventh month.

(Such realizations make it all the more obvious how culturally created measurements of time really is.)


I've recently become interested in the question of why people believe in the sometimes obviously factually wrong things that they do. Especially with regard to scientific evidence. Take a look at this panel discussion on the topic of denialism in the new media age.