The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The Divvy dividend

Now 10 days into the Divvy experiment, I have some data. Since receiving my Divvy key on the 17th, I've taken 17 Divvy trips of between 6 and 46 minutes. (The 46 minutes included waiting 15 minutes at a station for a space to open up.)

A Divvy subscription costs $75 per year. The 17 trips I've taken just the past two weeks would have cost $38.25 on public transit. Or, since my average trip is around 14 minutes, it could be the equivalent of about $73-80 in cab fares.

Obviously, I've taken Divvy instead of walking a couple of times. And just as obviously, I wouldn't have taken cabs on most of those occasions as one can reasonably say that any weather appropriate for biking is also fine for waiting for a bus or train.

The biggest value, however, comes from my morning commute. On Divvy, it's 25 minutes door to door. On the LaSalle bus (the second-fastest way) it takes 45 minutes. That gives me 20 extra minutes in my day, which at my billing rate more than makes up for the annual fee.

Divvy is absolutely brilliant. I'm absolutely going to try the local equivalents next time I visit London or New York. Or other cities with similar systems: Montreal Bixi (the first in North America), Paris Velib' (the largest public bike share outside China), or someday Melbourne (helmet vending machines available as well).

Divvy supply management

My experiment with Divvy—the ugliest form of transportation in Chicago—continues. Yesterday I took, I think, five Divvy rides of varying length, and ran into a problem that will always exist in their model.

It wasn't weather. In fact, on reflection I believe that being able to park and forget the bikes means not caring at all about whether it's going to rain later. If it does, all one needs to do is take another way home.

No, yesterday I encountered a supply problem at the remotest Divvy station on the north side. After a 7 km ride, I got to Logan Square, only to find the Divvy rack was full. I had nowhere to put the bike.

First thing to do in this situation is ask for more time. The kiosks have a "station full" button that gives you 15 extra minutes to find another station. Only, in this case, I felt a little put out, because the station map said the full rack I was staring at actually had two free spots. It continued to say this for an hour, until, like a stuck clock right twice a day, there were finally two open spots.

Fine, the map at Logan Square showed a station only 800 m away. Only, my phone didn't. I went to investigate anyway and discovered, nope, no station, but a spot where they intend to put the station "soon."

I wound up parking the bike at California and Milwaukee, about 1500 m from my original destination, and the weather was gorgeous so walking didn't really bother me that much. But it put me on notice: when a remote station shows nearly-full, don't believe it.

I'm also going to download the developer's tools to find out how often the data get updated. I'll post when I find out.

Divvy up my commute

Well, I've signed up for Divvy, Chicago's bike-sharing program. Now that the weather is getting cooler, I think I'll be able to commute by Divvy without arriving at the office a sweaty mess.

Long-time readers know I used to bike a lot, until my knees decided it was time to stop. Divvy bikes should be a lot easier on my knees than my Felt.

If I use it just a few times rather than taking cabs—for example, tonight, from pub trivia—the sign-up fee will be worth it.

More as events warrant.

Why Johnny Can't Ride

Via reader AS, a frustrating story of suburban kids not allowed to bike to school:

[Saratoga, N.Y.,] Maple Avenue {Middle School]'s student body of 1,650 is delivered via 39 school buses—and as at thousands of other communities around the country, many parents elect to drive their children. Thus, every weekday morning, scores of idling cars line up behind dozens of buses disgorging waves of kids. Amidst this, Janette and Adam—each of whom was about 5 feet tall—seemed like a pair of diminutive daredevils wading into a tsunami.

As Adam locked his bike to a fence, a radio call came in to the administrative office. "Security told me that two bikes were getting involved with the buses," remembers the school principal, Stuart Byrne. "We hadn't heard from anyone beforehand. My assistant responded and said, 'Where are they?'"

An assistant principal, Robert Loggins, found Janette in front of the school, waiting for a lull in the traffic so she could depart. Adam had already gone inside.

"What are you doing here?" Loggins asked Janette.

Janette thought this an odd question. "It's Bike to Work Day," she said. "Did you ride your bike to school?"

"Bicycling isn't allowed at Maple Avenue School," said Loggins.

I imagine that when they grow up, the portly children of Maple Avenue School will drive to the gym twice a week.

Fortunately, the story has a (relatively) happy ending. But it highlights a number of symptoms that have created a generation of mentally-helpless children: helicopter parents, fear of lawsuits, car worship, middle-school assistant principals—evils which never seem to go away, despite clear evidence of the harm they cause.

Great day for a bike ride

I had some time yesterday afternoon, and the weather in Chicago was gorgeous, so I hopped on my bike. But where to go? How about on a route that was largely clear of traffic and had recently been swept clean by the city, like, say, this one. Good choice: I don't think I've ever ridden on cleaner roads in my life.

Only, I left home too early, so near 18th and Ashland I caught up with the street sweepers:

A dozen blocks farther on I had to wind my way through the garbage trucks, and then near 31st St I actually found the last runners on the marathon course. So I said goodbye to the marathon route and hit the lake front path, which, because of the weather, I'm lucky to have survived without hitting anyone.

The marathon route takes runners through parts of the city that people might not otherwise see, like a one-block enclave of leafy town houses on West Jackson between Ashland and Laflin I never knew was there. It's also a good distance for biking, though I did cut off about 5 km.

About this blog (v. 4.1.6)

I'm David Braverman, this is my blog, and Parker is my 5-year-old mutt. I last updated this About... page in February, but some things have changed. In the interest of enlightened laziness I'm starting with the most powerful keystroke combination in the universe: Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V.

Twice. Thus, the "point one" in the title.

The Daily Parker is about:

  • Parker, my dog, whom I adopted on 1 September 2006.
  • Politics. I'm a moderate-lefty by international standards, which makes me a radical left-winger in today's United States.
  • Photography. I took tens of thousands of photos as a kid, then drifted away from making art until a few months ago when I got the first digital camera I've ever had that rivals a film camera. That got me reading more, practicing more, and throwing more photos on the blog. In my initial burst of enthusiasm I posted a photo every day. I've pulled back from that a bit—it takes about 30 minutes to prep and post one of those puppies—but I'm still shooting and still learning.
  • The weather. I've operated a weather website for more than ten years. That site deals with raw data and objective observations. Many weather posts also touch politics, given the political implications of addressing climate change, though happily we no longer have to do so under a president beholden to the oil industry.
  • Chicago, the greatest city in North America, and the other ones I visit whenever I can.

I've deprecated the Software category, but only because I don't post much about it here. That said, I write a lot of software. I work for 10th Magnitude, a startup software consultancy in Chicago, I've got about 20 years experience writing the stuff, and I continue to own a micro-sized software company. (I have an online resume, if you're curious.) I see a lot of code, and since I often get called in to projects in crisis, I see a lot of bad code, some of which may appear here.

I strive to write about these and other things with fluency and concision. "Fast, good, cheap: pick two" applies to writing as much as to any other creative process (cf: software). I hope to find an appropriate balance between the three, as streams of consciousness and literacy have always struggled against each other since the first blog twenty years ago.

If you like what you see here, you'll probably also like Andrew Sullivan, James Fallows, Josh Marshall, and Bruce Schneier. Even if you don't like my politics, you probably agree that everyone ought to read Strunk and White, and you probably have an opinion about the Oxford comma—punctuation de rigeur in my opinion.

Another, non-trivial point. Facebook reads the blog's RSS feed, so many people reading this may think I'm just posting notes on Facebook. Facebook's lawyers would like you to believe this, too. Now, I've reconnected with tons of old friends and classmates through Facebook, I play Scrabble on Facebook, and I eagerly read every advertisement that appears next to its relevant content. But Facebook's terms of use assert ownership of everything that appears on their site, regardless of prior claims, which contravenes four centuries of law.

Everything that shows up on my Facebook profile gets published on The Daily Paker first, and I own the copyrights to all of it (unless otherwise disclosed). I publish the blog's text under a Creative Commons attribution-nonderivative-noncommercial license; republication is usually OK for non-commercial purposes, as long as you don't change what I write and you attribute it to me. My photos, however, are published under strict copyright, with no republication license, even if I upload them to other public websites. If you want to republish one of my photos, just let me know and we'll work something out.

Anyway, thanks for reading, and I hope you continue to enjoy The Daily Parker.

Summer comes out for the weekend

This morning we had weather about as perfect as a human could hope for, 26°C and sunny by the lake, with a gentle breeze out of the southwest. I hopped on my bike for an actual workout, complete with heart-rate monitor, for the first time in a couple of years, then came back, grabbed my camera, and walked the dog. Some results:

ISO 400, f/6.3, 1/640, 225mm

ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/500, 55mm

As I continue to evaluate Adobe Lightroom, I'm trying to figure out how best to use it. Since about 2000, I've kept the raw copies of everything my various digital cameras produced, making copies of almost all of them with names and metadata. Lightroom obviates that step, because it saves metadata and editing steps separately from the image files, preserving the raw camera output. If I need a JPEG version of a photo, I can simply export it—edited, and with all the relevant metadata.

This changes everything. I'm just now sure how. For my first step, I've set my camera to shoot only photos in raw (Canon .cr2) format. They're a lot bigger—25 MB vs. 5 MB for JPEG—but so what? Hard drive space is around $100 per terabyte, which works out to 0.24¢ per photo. (It adds up, though; I took 4,635 photos and videos in 2010 and I've taken 2,351 so far this year, and their combined 24.1 GB use up a whopping $2.35 of hard drive space.)

As I write this, dark clouds have rolled in and radar shows thunderstorms just about on top of us. I feel like I took good advantage of the excellent weather. I even remembered sunscreen today, and had the foresight yesterday to install my air conditioners. Now I've got some real work to do, though. Sounds like it's time to go to my Remote Office...

How to cut your commute in half

Despite taking my bike in for a tune-up two and a half weeks ago, the combination of weather and after-work commitments since then put off riding it to work until today.

It turns out, I'm a little rusty. The bike isn't; even in jeans, a coat (it's 6°C on May 4th!), and a backpack containing shoes (my Felt 65 has cleat-only pedals), I still managed to barrel down Wells St. at 30 km/h. Bottom line, I got to work in 26 minutes, including the 4 minutes or so to get the bike out of its locker. In other words, I cut my commute in half, and burned a few extra calories along the way.

It's supposed to rain the next couple of days, but Saturday the forecast calls for biking weather. More details to follow.

Back on the saddle next weekend...maybe

I finally took my bike to a shop for a cleaning and tune-up. I haven't ridden in a while, mainly because of my knees, but I miss it. My doctor recommended taking some ibuprofen an hour before riding as he believes it's simply age-related arthritis. I hope he's right. Even if he isn't, I estimate the ride from my house to work will take about 20 minutes (cf. 45 by bus or train), which isn't even long enough to work up a sweat.

I'm not planning to ride the North Shore Century this year, though. Let's take it slow. If I'm up to 50 km without pain by mid-July, I'll reconsider.