Here are a couple of video stills from last night. It was my first experience riding in the San Jose Bike Party. I rode out from my place to El Camino, and after a minute was joined by a dozen people heading there. When I got to the parking lot, where the ride was to start, I had a pretty cool introduction to the Bike Party. There were food trucks, tailgaters, lots of stereos with music blasting, and literally thousands of bikes in all shapes and sizes, many covered in LEDs.
I rode around the parking lot getting some video and taking it all in. Then some whistles started going, a big firework was set off, and people started cheering. We all started moving toward the road, with bells and horns going, and surprisingly nothing negative going on that I could see.
These two pics are of the crowd forming and merging onto the road. I was in the top third, I would say. In the bottom image, the lights that stretch back to the left into the parking lot are all bikes.
After about a mile or two, the massive hoard spread out a bit, and it was a little more comfortable. We passed lots of people waiting to join in with their bikes, families with kids just watching, and lots of cops. The cops were giving out a few tickets to some of the young riders. Minors aren’t supposed to be allowed on the ride, so they might have been getting tickets for not wearing helmets, or being drunk; who knows, but there weren’t many.
I only did the first leg of the ride, which was under 10 miles. The whole ride was 27.5 miles and went on for hours. I think I will have to work up to doing that, and be willing to stay out all night. Next month, maybe.
During the ride, I was amazed with all the variety and diversity of people out there moving as one. It was mostly college students, but in that there were hipsters, nerds, partyers, and every subculture you can think of. There were also a bunch of older couples on recumbents and high end comfort bikes, a few families with trailers pulling kids, and groups of young tough looking kids on BMX bikes. There were low riders and tactical urban assault bikes. It was a joy to see, and nothing was out of place.
I guess, if you give people a reason to be out at night yelling and screaming with music, plus give them a chance to be creative and a bit rebellious, this is what you will get. There was a sense of “screw people in cars” running through the whole thing. Riders took up one lane and sometimes two (thought the Santa Clara Police didn’t like that much,) and generally pushed cars out of the way. We let them in an out as needed of course, but people driving cars knew to stay away.
I love bikes even though I don’t get a chance to ride them much anymore, and it seemed like everyone on the ride felt the same way. That was a cool feeling. Once in a while it’s nice to feel like part of a crowd. Over the last 170 years, bikes have had a powerful symbollogy attached to them, and there is a great history to all of it, which I might write about in the future, but there is an important underlying part of biking to remember. People just feel good when they ride. More so, I think, in this day and age where cars are so dominant.
Riding last night, I felt like both a kid and a grown-up. As much as the ride made me aware of the confinements of contemporary life, powering my machine down the road with all those people made me feel strong and free, and connected to the streets and people on them. That’s a good feeling to have in our boxed up, mediated lives.
My wife, son, and I have gotten into the habit of playing all sorts of road-trip games when we get into the car, even when we are just going to the market. My son really likes vehicles of all shapes and sizes, and for the last couple years, no matter how hard we try to entertain ourselves with other things, we seem to revert to playing car games. We play all sorts of games from Road Trip bingo and license plate games, to card games and a modern version of Slug-bug (without the hitting) involving hybrids and electric cars. It’s all cars all the time.
Anyone with kids knows, too, that when you play a game, listen to a song, or read a kid’s book long enough or enough times, it gets stuck in your head. Now, everywhere we go, whether we are playing a game, or with even with our son, my wife and I are always counting up Prii and looking out for new electric and hybrid cars models we haven’t seen before. We’ve both caught ourselves more than once, alone, yelling “Chevy Volt,” or “Nissan Leaf,” as we drive along to a meeting or work.
We’ve also started taking pictures of them on occasion. Here are a few. One is from a trip through Davis, CA. One is a two-for in San Francisco, and the other is from my wife, down the street on a walk. Are we nuts?
When you drive through the desert you have a lot of time on your hands to think and get bored. I thought of lots of things, and this is what my wife and I thought of to represent them. Pink socks looking out at the road and a bunch of brown.
Outside of Primm, Nevada just on the, California side of the border, though, there was some neat construction going on. They were building three solar collection stations. They weren’t solar panels. They were thermal collectors that reflect light onto a tower, where either they pump some thick fluid through a turbine, or allow for liquid metal to pass through magnets. THey are less efficient than panels and need a lot of space, but a lot cheaper and more durable.
Obviously, there are lots of energy ideas for the desert, and lots of competing interests to go along with those ideas (for example the Mohave has a couple species of endangered tortoises that needs lots of open space,) but there is a lot of room to do some very interesting things. It’s good to see some developments, but there is still a lot of room out there for some creativity and innovation.
My big idea of the trip was to use the highway median to add a few gigawatts of solar panels. The big cost out in the desert for panels is the infrastructure. You need people out there to maintain them, and roads and power lines to get the power back to cities. The space in between highway lanes seems like the perfect place for the federal government to subsidize a lot of it. It wouldn’t cost the government much to just change the regulations for high land use, and it would provide revenue to a cash-starved government. Plus, it solves many of the issues about land and infrastructure for the companies who would install them. No need for power lines and roads; they are already there.The land for highways is already gone as a natural place, so it wouldn’t take away from pristine habit, and here’s another perk; it would cool the roads off a bit from the shade, and maybe even combat some the thermal island effects going on that contribute to global warming.
Next time you’re on a trip, think of possibilities. Its a good pastime and maybe could spark something that leads to something, that leads to something.
When I was younger I was really in to TV. Lots of TV! I’m pretty sure it rotted my brain, but I think it also spurred my visual imagination, and precursed some of the imaging skills I have today. As a teenager I liked the typical action movies, but I also really got into nature and technology shows. They gave me a vision of growing up and one day discovering or inventing something important for the world. Now, that hasn’t happened yet, but maybe one of these days I’ll get to it.
One of my favorite show on the Discovery Channel was an Australian show called Beyond 2000. They had segments on all the latest technological and science developments from around the world. As the 90′s progressed, the name seemed a bit passé, so they changed it to Beyond Tomorrow, but by that point the show was on its way out.
I remember seeing shows that featured techs like E-Ink, which is now in use in the B&W Kindle, wrist watch video screens (Ipod Nano) and futuristic vehicles. They had one show about the flying car, which I think is still in the works, and another one about hybrid transport trucks with aerodynamic spoilers and hydrolic, regenerative braking. Very cool and cutting edge stuff back then, and unfortunately even for today.
Nearly everything I saw on those show was in production, and at some point over the last 20 years some of it has popped up in our lives. The ones that never came to be, though, have always made me wonder about the politics and business side of what products make it out of the labs. For example: why haven’t trucking lines spent time and money upgrading their trucks. They are in the business of efficiency and energy use, so why has it taken so long to do the very, VERY simple things that save huge amounts of fuel and money. I remember from that TV show back in the 90′s that adding an aerodynamic cone to the back of a truck would save 30% in fuel costs, and a hybrid braking system another quarter. That seems HUGE, and cheap to implement. Why haven’t we seen them?
My guess has always been that fuel costs are unnaturally low in this country (A book I read on the subject as a teenager was Against Empire by Michael Parenti ), so truckers never bothered. My guess now is that there have been DMV regulations, and a set of anti-progress capitalists (An oxymoron?) that prevented anything from sticking out past the main trailer.
With the price of gas inching higher and higher with every boom-crash cycle, I suppose I was bound to see something turn up. On our trip to Arizona a few weeks ago I saw this truck, and a few others, retrofitted with some aerodynamic spoilers, presumably within DMV codes yet shaped to improve gas mileage. Finally; though not as cool looking as I had imagined.
Just think, some technology we will probably need today to beat the peak energy curve has been around for at least 20 years. What other simple techs are out there that might save our globally warmed butts? And that some schmoe buried for the sake of a quick buck?
Last week my family and I drove about 1500 miles through a big chunk of the Southwest. I like driving. It lets me think with few distractions. There is no screen, keyboard, or much else except good company to pull me from a focused conversation, or line of thought. It can be a test of focus and stamina, though, even if it is welcomed.
This trip was definitely a test, but I enjoyed it. I thought often about so many of the topics that I post here on this website. Food flowed in and out of my thoughts, of course, but I also had some ideas on energy, transportation and living in the desert. As always, Las Vegas depressed me, but there was also a lot of interesting sites on the road. The next few posts (with pictures) will delve into some of my road inspired thoughts.
This time, instead of writing extended manifestos that strain even the most committed reader, I will break things up by topic and length. I will also attempt to move my posts toward the Multi Medium Art that the title of the site implies. It’s been a long time coming, and now that I am a year out of grad school, I will start developing some discourse around all that education of mine (Remember I also have a B.S. in physics, so lets see if I can sneak some of that in here, too).
Catch you later with some short writings and fun posts.
Has anyone seen this? I was out there last Saturday for the flea market, and was walking by. I stopped to tie my shoes, and then looked up to see the sign and yellow bikes. I was a little in shock. I didn’t think there were any progressive schools left in California that had money left to do things like this. I felt a little like I was in Europe or something. They have huge arrays of solar panels too. What a great development for the school.
I finally got the bike restoration project moving forward. It’s nothing special right now, but I went out for a test ride to make sure the brakes were working this morning. It felt good having this thing actually roll around after the time I’ve put into it so far. Having it come back to life is a testament to how well things were built back in the 1950′s. Incredibly, it wasn’t just the metal parts that held up. When I got it all back together, I just pumped up the tires that were there and headed to the street. I was prepared to replace them, but after who knows how many years, they inflated and gave me a clean ride. Amazing!
I didn’t tighten everything down too tight or lube it, since I will just be taking it all apart again, but it still was a really smooth ride. I was expecting a little clunk or alignment issues, but there was nothing unusual. There was a little tightness in the crank, and some very slight deflections in the moving parts, but again nothing you would notice day to day. This bike was clearly a high end bike with very tight tolerances, and even after all these years of neglect it still preforms well.
All that is left now is the saddle repair, gearing overhaul, and a fresh coat of paint. Getting the gearing back up and running will probably be the toughest part of the rebuild. That and deciding what color to paint it, of course.
This holiday my family spent a lot of time on the road traveling. It gave me a lot of time to think, which was nice, since thinking is one of my favorite things to do. Sitting in a car for all those hours inevitably got me contemplating cars, travel, and our problems with them.
I wondered why we, as a society, protect the status-quot when it comes to travel. We deny every chance that comes up to go beyond the 150 year old gasoline powered automobile, whether its trains, or electric cars, or higher standards. Cars really are a pain in the butt, even for as much mobility they offer us. They often require multi-year loans to pay off, only last about 10 years, cost thousands of dollars a year to maintain, and even more to fuel up. The internal combustion engine is inefficient, loud, dangerous, large, heavy, and complicated. Why do we bother keeping it around?
Our culture demands smaller, better, faster and cheaper with everything else, but we seem to be more than happy with our uncomfortable metal bricks on wheels. So maybe we aren’t all that happy, but what options do we have? For our trip we had the options to drive our Prius for 10 hours and $70, or use up 5 hours, our dignity (from the horrible “search” and general treatment we would get in the airport), and $500 flying. There is no train to our destination, so we couldn’t take one even if we wanted to. There has been talk and hopes of a single bullet train in our general area, but that will never get built. There is also the bus route, but that lies somewhere in between driving and flying, and usually only offers the worst of both; high cost, uncomfortable travel, and extremely long travel times.
After depressing myself with this conclusion about our one practical option to be uncomfortable, inefficient and environmentally dirty, I remembered some sound bite I had heard about this company that was trying to change the map of personal travel. They had the idea that electric cars would work for a population if you got past the cost and limitations of the batteries. Their model is to sell the car along with a lease for the batteries. The lease offers car owners the chance to swap them out as needed at battery swapping stations on long trips, or just for convenience reasons. I like the idea, but their implementation and leasing structure would only work in fresh markets, expensive ones, or very small countries.
The other thing I remembered was something out of Popular Mechanics. There had been a dream a while back about making cars into platforms for various propulsion and cab options; modular cars if you will. That seemed like a good idea, too, but only amounted to a half-assed pipe-dream from some car makers. So what happens if we combine those ideas?
As I drove along, it started making a lot of sense to me, and I proved a point to myself. The point being that we lacked vision in our down-turned, feeble, economically driven mindset. This lack of vision is something that we all seemed to acknowledge in our loss of Steve Jobs, but why isn’t it something we try to overturn; investing in, encouraging and supporting those who have some? Why aren’t we all seeking out new ways of seeing our lives? Why aren’t we experimenting and adventuring? Everyone I see in the public eye and milling about in society, just seems to be shelled up in bouts of irresponsibility, fear, and short sightedness. So why can’t we have a new way to travel that provides us more options?
Here’s what I came up with: The main “hurdle” of electric cars as reported by the media is their range, but like the SUV, this idea is about owning and driving around everything all the time. What if we bought electric cars with a range of 50 miles and an empty front compartment with a 48 volt plug. 50 miles would get us to the vast majority of the places we want to go, and for the other small percentage we just plug in extra power in that empty space. If we need hundreds of miles, then we plug in some rented batteries, or if we need to go off the grid then we plug in a turbine generator. All the parts and infrastructure are already in place. Think about it.
There is an auto dealership in just about every city in the country, so they could be used for the generator installation and battery swapping. Our roads are already in place, and it seems the US will never fully switch to anything else. And the biggest benefit of this sort of car is that an empty box and a plug will take advantage of what we do best in this country, innovate and compete. With a few standards for plug and power connections, we could see all sorts of plug-in options. I could even see external adapters that allowed for car daisy-chaining or on road recharging. We could have toll roads with overhead power like what we have for electric muni-buses. I can see a different world when I think about it.
What we need is some societal vision and daring to do things differently. Our problem is how we think about cars, not the electric car technologies. We are trying to make them replace an old limiting technology instead of seeing the immensely liberating opportunities they could bring us. Electric and gasoline power are totally different. Where one is heavy and slow to change, the other is light and adaptable. Our mindset with cars is based on a 150 year history of what they can’t do, instead of all the millions of things they could do if we moved forward.