Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Cost of my commute

Andrew Sullivan has been posting commentary about riding a bike versus driving to work. I looked at the responses in his latest post on the topic, and felt an urge to state something plain about one commentator:
What about the opportunity costs of the extra time a bike commuter spends to get to work?  My 15-mile car commute takes 25-30 minutes.  To ride that same distance, it would take me at the very least 1.5-2 hours, each way. My round trip commute could go from one to four hours.  All those extra hours are ones I could have spent working - or you know, doing anything besides commuting.
This is a problem of mixed apples-and-oranges. The commentator obviously lives at a greater distance to work than would be useful to bike the whole way. Placing a single response to this issue is nonsensical. It's like me making the argument that I could cycle from Ann Arbor to Detroit every day, but that would create a huge opportunity cost for me.

Well, duh. In my example, I have multiple options: drive (if I owned a car), take AmTrak, or carpool. Note that none of these options actually change the distance I need to commute to make bike commuting competitive, but at least I'm not mixing apples and oranges. If I wanted to only have a barrel of apples (i.e., compare the costs and benefits of cycling against driving), I need to put things into a perspective that makes sense: by either moving the location of my job or the location of my domicile (i.e., live closer to where I work). This option isn't available to many people who have already made the decision to subsidize their living standard with a higher travel cost (i.e, people who wanted to live in a larger house way outside of the city compared to living in a smaller apartment in the city), and since it's not available to these people, they shouldn't be commenting as if their situation is equivalent. It just plain isn't.

Now the other comment was:
I'm all for being green and fit. Unfortunately though, the whole concept of biking to work is nonsense. I've worked with about 1000 people in my life and I have known 1 person who regularly biked to work. I can't bike to work because biking results in my body sweating, thus offsetting the purpose of my morning shower. So next time we calculate the cost of biking, can we factor in the cost of smelling like sweat all day and getting fired because no one wants to sit within 15 feet of you?
My response to this is that one could find a place to take a shower near to where one works. If this isn't possible, then you are in a situation in which you are comparing apples with kumquats. It's hot and humid today in Ann Arbor (likely going to be another 90F/90%humidity day), and I biked my 4 miles this morning, headed to the gym to take a shower, and then came to the office. (No, I didn't take a shower before leaving home; that would have been pointless in the overall picture.) I am a person who sweats quite liberally at any provocation (cycling in the Michigan winters creates the potential problem of my sweat freezing when I stop), but I haven't had problems with "smelling like sweat all day and getting fired" because I have access to shower facilities. If you don't have access to shower facilities, this is a separate issue than the costs of biking versus driving in general, since it is a variable that is independent of either. I could easily make an analogous argument that I can't drive to work in in Tokyo because I can't find a place to park near where I work, and the extra time it takes for me to walk from the parking lot to work will make me late, "so can we factor in the cost of walking from the distant parking lot and getting fired because I will likely be late to work?"

When couched in these latter terms, I would imagine that the reasons why the argument is a non-generalizable one will be more clear: the availability of showers (or the willingness to take one outside of one's home and closer to one's work) is not a general problem that people have. Therefore, it's not a comparable cost of biking and driving in general.

So the next time someone says that they are "all for biking, but..." examine the premises of their arguments. Sometimes (often in my experience) they are comparing apples with non-apples, and as tasty as these non-apple fruit may be, their tastiness doesn't make them an equivalent fruit for comparison.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Google is like kratom

Well... using Google Correlate, it is anyway. If you go to the site, you can type in any search query, and (if it is popular enough to have enough of a hit history with Google), you will get a list of other searches that have a high correlative search history with yours.

Typing in "Google" came back with "kratom" with a correlation value of 0.9807.

What is kratom? It's a "trendy" medicinal herb. So, I guess that Google is as correlatively as trendy as a medicinal herb. (Or is it the other way around?)

Moving Beyond the Automobile

In a series of ten short videos, StreetFilms has put together a collection of public work projects in cities that help move their populaces away from relying on cars. (True, most of the filming takes place in NYC, but although NYC is a common theme in StreetFilms' videos, there are plenty of other cities that are investigated as well.)

Examinations of the urban environment is an important (and ought to be integral) part of what it means to investigate "the environment." StreetFilms' various series on sustainable transportation and re-claiming the streets speak to a portion of that realization.

Part 1: Transit-Oriented Development

Part 2: Bycling

Part 3: Car Sharing

Part 4: Bus Rapid Transit

Part 5: Congestion Pricing

Part 6: Highway Removal

Part 7: Traffic Calming

Part 8: "Road Diet"

Part 9: The Right Price for Parking

Part 10: Parking Reform

One thing that you can do to show (during the summer) how much you don't rely on your car (if you one one in the first place) is to go to 2MileChallenge, join a team, and log your biking miles and challenge others to do the same!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sitting at the Corner Brewery

It was already warm when I work up this morning, and although waking up at 10 am is, in some quarters, considered "late", I did just have a work day at the forest, and (although not sweating-bullets hard work) it was warm and humid enough to be exhausting, and so (coupled with the lack of good sleep leading up to last night), I was able to tuck into 11 hours of sleep with no problem.

What to do, what to do, what to do? Ran through my mind.

There was the outside possibility that a community member who helped out at yesterday's clean-up would come by to help use the two-man cross-cut saw to chop out the large Scots Pine that had been downed on the other side of the lake for a few weeks' time now.... However, I did also need to seriously knuckle down on writing a paper for an upcoming conference... and -- come to think of it -- I needed to seriously get cracking on figuring out what sorts of questions to be asking people in my interviews for this summer... and I really wanted to get out of the forest, out of Ann Arbor, and (in some way) out of my skin.

Well, Ypsilanti was a good solution to most of the problems. Well... at least the physical, positional problems. So, I packed up my bike and headed out of the already bird-calling, insect chir-chir-chirrr-ing forest and onto the (somewhat) open road toward the border-to-border trail that basically follows the Huron River as it flows in from Livingston County to the north and out to Wayne County to the east. The 10-mile (ish) section between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti is one that is well-traveled (possibly the most traversed part of the whole thing).

This time, to change things up a little bit, I decided to stay on Dixboro Road instead of following the BtoB along behind St. Joe's Hospital, and soon I found myself approaching Washtenaw Ave (a bane of cycling and walking, having been expanded with the sole purpose of pushing cars down an ever-widening (now six-lane beast) of a roadway, and damn the people who don't want to drive).

Wooops! Gotta turn around now.... Hrm.... Clark Road? It seems to ring a bell. I'll take that one.... Oh, yeah... the EMU stadium. That looks familiar. And the BtoB is really tempting now that there's a bastard of a Ford Focus riding my tail as if I didn't have a right to the roadway. Read the law, you bastard!

Drinking Mackinac Fudge Stout at the Corner BreweryEventually, I made it to the Corner Brewery, at which I was hoping for a little bit of quiet repast in addition to my mug of locally brewed magic. However, the latter was not to be: there was a pub crawl in session. Oh well, at least I've got Ypsilanti Wireless and a fresh 1/2 liter of Mackinac Fudge Stout to help me through before I go out and try to find a coffee shop with WiFi and a plug-in. I'm thinking Bombadill's on Michigan Ave.

UPDATE: Well, Bombadill's is apparently no more. Long live B-24's!
Iced coffee at B-24's.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Obama as a TCK

I grew up as a kind of Third Culture Kid. True, my father's culture is "American", and I did grow up until the age of 8 in the US, and true, my mother's culture is Japanese, and I lived the following 7 years in that country. However, in neither case was it as an "American" or "Japanese" family. In that way, the culture inside my house was the culture of neither parent (although a strange synergistic hybrid of the two).

However, going to school in Japan with international students, as I did in Taiwan and Hungary, really did expand my horizons. I was introduced to the concept of TCKs by a friend of mine after I had started graduate school (I never knew that there was a term for this differently socialized group of people), but once I learned it, certain things did start to make sense.

When Obama won the Democratic ticket in 2008, I was very happy that a mixed-race, TCK candidate had the chance of being the president. As a mixed-race TCK, I felt the ineffable strengths that such a worldview could bring. Predictably (perhaps depressingly so), very few people in the popular press seem to have actually delved into the points about Barack Obama's cultural heritage and TCK upbringing. Recently, though, I came across some collected snippets of commentary on this point, posted over at The Daily Dish:
You are indeed right regarding Cornel West. He is a an articulate, well-read, pseudo-intellectual who plays the part of the black Yoda well, but is ironically very provincial. His world is literally black and white which limits his analytic powers and makes him ineffective as a true intellectual and impotent as a true force for change. Contrast this with Barack Hussein Obama.
Obama, is what we call, a TCK—A Third Culture Kid. TCK’s grow up as the children of missionaries, or as military brats, or as the children of businessmen. It means that you grew up during your early developmental years in a culture outside of your parents’ home culture.
And  in a continuation, some detractors of the TCK viewpoint (written, it seems, by people who didn't grow up that way):
Travel the world and try to transcend your culture all you want, but you won't ever succeed.  Not really.  As Alasdair Macintyre put it, we are never more (and sometimes less) than the co-authors of our own narratives.  There will always be a part of us that it is the product of the time and place and family in which we first came of age, perhaps especially when we are reacting to that experience and trying to "transcend" it.  And even if by some miracle we actually succeeded in that project, then whatever else we may have gained, we will also have lost the ability to be truly a part of any culture from the inside. 
Myself, I have known many TCKs. Some have gone to do amazing things. Some have gone to do average things. Some, less so. However, they all share that interesting view of the world: a world that is somehow more united and common than our peers who grew up in once place, to one culture have seen the world. Not a different world; the same world, just seen and experienced more broadly (if not deeply).

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A daze of Saginaw Forest

A meal of morels (and things bought at the store)

While I love mushrooms, I love even more wild mushrooms, and recently I was able to sit down with some friends (who had been out all day hunting mushrooms) for a repast of morels... and items purchased at a local store.

Hunting the elusive morelI was able to join in on the last leg of the morel hunt, which took place in town (yes, they do grow here, but they can be hard to find). With my mycologist friend (BC) moving out of town, he was less reluctant to bring along some friends (PE, who was interested in learning how to hunt for mushrooms, and me, who was less interested in the hunting, and more interested in the company). BC and PE had already been to a few sites that day and, on their swing through town, picked me up for their last search site. (We stopped to pick up some additional fare: beer and complementary comestibles.)

Two morelsAfter about an hour at our last site (sorry folks, no comment), we only had two morels to show for it, and they were both found by BC. Still, these two would add to the small haul that BC and PE had managed to get earlier in the day.

Preparing the morelsWe headed back to BC's house. Together with other friends and housemates, we set to making a wonderful dinner for seven. The cutting preparation of the morels required a bit of work to ensure that bugs and worms (which often crawl up the fruiting body to live and enjoy the tasty morel, too) were removed before cooking. (As much as I don't mind a little extra protein, I felt that this step is warranted when one wants to have a nice meal.)

The final meal (chips with freshly made guacamole, grilled grass-fed beef steaks, organic pork chops, scalloped potatoes, chopped bacon and cabbage, peas cooked in butter, and (of course) the morels), was a wonderful combination of very earthy flavors, and melded flavors so very simply and very well.
The meal

The conversation softened as people tucked into their plates, BC playing the part of the host and making sure that all got enough food before sitting down himself. After about a minute of silent eating (well, silent eating interrupted with exclamations of how good everything tasted), the conversation started to meander lazily along many streams, flowing like a river lazily reaching its delta: slowly pushing through dense stands of personal experience, returning to the main channel of conversation, breaking off to surround and build memory sandbar, slowing down to near-stillness of pregnant pauses of conversation.

The evening ended, as evenings eventually must, and we all left, saying our good-byes, promising to help BC with his packing, loading, and moving come the start of the week. It was, in all, a great meal for a great friend.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

At the AUT Bar

I'm sitting in the AUT Bar, having finished a nice repast while sitting next to two couples that don't really know what an "indoor voice" is. I've learned that one of them is trying to finish her dissertation (and another person at the table is telling her to make a schedule and stick to it; again and again she's saying this to her). Two others at the table are (apparently) nuclear/particle physicists (or engineers). The older of the two men is French and quiet. The younger is definitely not French and definitely not quiet. They spent most of the time that I was seated talking about this, that, and the other; merging conversations with as much skill as ... well, stereotypical physicists (or engineers).

However, the food was brilliant -- as usual. The weekend brunch is in celebration of three simultaneous things: the 25th anniversary of the AUT Bar, the recent Cinco de Mayo celebrations (with the bar being decked out with red, white and green; sunbursts and globes; different color palette on the tables; and paper cut-outs of sombreros and cacti), and Mother's Day (which is actually today, while the others are -- likely -- not). In celebration of their 25th Anniversary, I decided to get their Chile Relleno with eggs... y fue excelente y delicioso! (It it weren't for the discussions of dissertation-writing schedules and particle physics, it would have been like being back in one of the taquerias in Mexico City. ... Well, facing the full bar was a little different than the taqueria.)


In town on a Sunday

Yup, it's another Sunday of some memorialization during which I find myself in town. A couple of weeks ago, it was Easter, now it's Mother's Day. Soon it will be Memorial Day, and then Father's Day. Now don't get me wrong: I really have no problem with the days themselves; I enjoy Easter celebrations (well, most of them), I really do love my Mother and Father, and I really don't have anything against remembering the servicemen and servicewomen that have died in service to the US.

However, I really don't like the implication of the day. Living in Saginaw Forest, I get to 'enjoy' the (usually) significantly greater number of people who are out in the forest. *Sigh* I really don't mind that people are there, either, but I do mind when they decide to flout the rules. Well, I really don't like it when people flout the rules at any time, but I really don't like it when I get the response of, "But it's [X]'s Day. Can't I [break this rule]?" To me, this makes no sense at all. Would the people really be okay with encountering a burglar in their home on [X]'s Day saying, "Why can't I break the burglary law, it's [X}'s Day!"

Sure, no one is immediately being harmed by having a dog off of leash, however, for me, it's both a cumulative effect of people seeing other people with dogs off-leash then feeling that they can also do it along with the feeling that people really don't have much respect for the property.

So, instead of confronting people on a day that they are more happy than other days, I just avoid them by coming into town. After all, I don't want to be confrontational, either. Nor do I wish to remain ensconced in my house.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Help day in Stinchfield Woods

Today was a help-day out at Stinchfield Woods. I decided to ride the 15 miles to Stinchfield Woods (mainly because I don't have a car, of course), and it turned out that the day was a really good one for removing invasive species: sunny and breezy for much of the afternoon.

The final chop up (well the second half of what we pulled out of the area we worked).

After about 4 hours of doing some hard work, we decided to scratch the final hour -- partly because of impending rain, partly because the tarp was completely filled with Japanese barberry, and partly (mainly perhaps) because we were dog-tired. Therefore, we went up to the caretakers' cabin and had some hamburgers and hotdogs (and lots and lots of water).

Don't we all look really tired? :D

I raced back (along with another helper) most of the way back to Saginaw Forest, mainly because we (well, me, anyway) were trying to beat the threatening rain.

In the end, it was a great day of physical exertion. The only thing that I hope is that I didn't get too much poison ivy.

UPDATE: I just calculated my average speed to and from Stinchfield Woods to be 17mph. A personal best for a distance greater than 10 miles. Maybe I will have to change out my handlebars for something that gives me better aerodynamics.