Not my best media interview but ok for a Friday afternoon. Paper, the online tutoring program, has been invaluable in giving my 106 Honors sophomores and my College English 101/102 classes timely feedback on their essay drafts as we workshop their papers.
I always welcome the opportunity to honor my amazing students so I was pleased that my nomination for "Trailblazer of the week" was selected. As I said in my nomination, Kaya B. represents the best of AACT students because of her work ethic, her leadership, and most importantly, her kindness. I was thrilled when the Principal asked her to do a thank you video to me and shared it with the school. The most noteworthy thing wasn't that she finds my classroom engaging and fun, though I take great pride in the curricula I design. No, the beautiful thing in her video response was her saying that my class helps her "look into who I am myself." I'm a firm believer in trying to provide a good and safe space for students to figure out who they are, and giving them time to reflect and act on their beliefs and values. Congratulations to Kaya!
At the end of the fall semester I had the time to really dive into ChatGPT and test out its capabilities. My first inclination was to play....being an English teacher I couldn't help but see how well it could create a Shakespearean sonnet. The results were formally correct but ultimately uninspired.
I couldn't help but try to challenge it by asking it to write me an essay on why Citizen Kane is one of the greatest films of all time. What it spit back at me after 10 seconds was a good overview of why the Orson Welles classic merited so much praise. Granted, it wasn't scintillating prose, but it was damn good. And the obvious question was, if a student had turned it in would I have been impressed or suspicious.
Write me a 400 word essay explaining why Citizen Kane is the greatest film of all time?
Citizen Kane, directed by Orson Welles and released in 1941, is widely regarded as the greatest film of all time. There are several reasons for this.
First and foremost, Citizen Kane broke new ground in terms of its innovative use of film techniques. The film was revolutionary in its use of deep focus cinematography, which allowed for multiple planes of action to be in focus at the same time. This allowed for a greater sense of realism and allowed for more complex visual storytelling. Additionally, the film made extensive use of lighting and shadow to create a moody, atmospheric visual style that was unlike anything that had come before.
Another reason why Citizen Kane is considered the greatest film of all time is its complex and nuanced portrayal of its central character, Charles Foster Kane. Kane is a deeply flawed and complicated individual, and the film does an excellent job of exploring the various facets of his personality. Through the use of flashbacks, the film delves into Kane's past and shows how his experiences and relationships have shaped him into the person he is at the time of his death. This is a departure from the more one-dimensional characterizations that were common in films at the time, and it adds a level of depth and complexity to the film that is rare even by today's standards.
Citizen Kane is also notable for its ambitious narrative structure. The film is told through a series of flashbacks, with different characters offering their perspectives on Kane's life. This allows for a more complete understanding of Kane as a person and adds to the overall complexity of the film. Additionally, the film's use of non-linear storytelling adds to its sense of mystery and keeps the audience engaged throughout.
Finally, Citizen Kane is a film that has stood the test of time. It was released over 80 years ago, yet it is still regarded as a masterpiece of cinema. This is a testament to the film's enduring themes and universal appeal. At its core, Citizen Kane is a film about the human condition and the search for meaning in life. These are themes that are timeless and that continue to resonate with audiences today.
In conclusion, Citizen Kane is the greatest film of all time due to its innovative use of film techniques, its complex and nuanced portrayal of its central character, its ambitious narrative structure, and its enduring themes and universal appeal. It is a film that has truly stood the test of time and will continue to be revered for years to come.
Not bad for a robot, right? Taking anther look at the essay I realized I would have graded it as a low A to a high B. The lightbulb went off...how would ChatGPT grade the essay? So I asked it...
What grade would you give this essay on the film Citizen Kane?
I would give this essay a grade of A-. The essay effectively explains why Citizen Kane is widely regarded as the greatest film of all time and provides several reasons to support this claim. The essay also provides specific examples of the film's innovative techniques and its complex portrayal of its central character. Additionally, the essay touches on the film's narrative structure and its enduring themes. The only area where the essay could be improved is in the conclusion, which simply restates the main points of the essay rather than offering any new insights or analysis. Overall, however, this is a well-written and well-organized essay that effectively demonstrates an understanding of Citizen Kane and its place in film history.
I tried this experiment with several other topics and even gave it multiple opportunities for ChatGPT to grade its own essays. Not unsurprisingly, on a couple of essays it wavered on it's grading going from a C- to a C+ on one particular essay that one of my real students had written. How very human of it to be ever so slightly inconsistent in its assessments of writing!
So what is to be made of this? What conclusions can we draw? AI is here to stay and expand obviously and unsurprisingly, Washoe County School District "blocked" access to ChatGPT on their services (as if that is going to stop students from using it?). How about we embrace the technology and use it as a tool instead of clutching pearls and treating it as our teaching nemesis? I'm old enough to remember math teachers worried about students only using calculators and never learning a multiplication in their heads and that seems like the hot take of some in education. While it's too soon to figure out every nuance of this new technology and how it might be used, one thought would be to have students or teachers present an essay writing prompt to a class and then ask ChatGPT to write an introduction to the essay and as a class critique it, work with the limitations that ChatGPT seems to have in its fairly rote, pastiche, style of writing, create more engaging prose. In other words, dig deep into the technology and "chat" as a class about its strengths and weaknesses rather than running scared. I, for one, am exciting and thinking about ways to use the technology even if I'm just figuring out the best ways to do it.
I've been thinking a lot about the purpose of teaching. More than normal anyway. Perhaps sparked by the beginning of the new semester and embarking on yet another round of thinking, reading, and talking about the Holocaust. My usual trifecta of literature exploring this mark on humanity (NIGHT, MAUS, THE ASSAULT) is prefaced by asking the question: what is human nature? In this exploration of our humanity we see just how horrifyingly bad humans can act.
It begs the question, what does it take to learn from our mistakes, and ask ourselves if we as individuals have the moral courage to step up for what's right. I relate the story of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose to my students, as one example of this courage. It is certainly a story that has inspired me.
I think also of a recent podcast from Ezra Klein about the philosophical writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. that are often ignored or conveniently forgotten.
In the random horror that is on display in our studies of the Holocaust I hope to use my Smash Journal assignment to get my students thinking deeply about their own identities and the values that they hold. And perhaps reflect a bit on their own abilities to stand up for what's right in a world that so often is a barrage of stimuli seemingly made to make us complacent, or deaf, to the suffering of others.
For over 5 years now I've lived in Westfield Gardens in Reno. I've loved the quietness of the neighborhood as it has limited access and does not act as a connector between other neighborhoods. I don't even mind the Reno High School cannon going off (a lot) during fall football games. It's conveniently close to downtown and other shopping, as well as the river which I frequent every morning on my walks, while also being just far enough away to not have to worry about flooding.
The actual history behind this development is a bit more circumspect as you'll see from watching the above video which I only recently discovered. The fairly explicit racism from the FHA policies is apparent. A good watch for anyone interested in the neighborhood and for the people interested in urban development in this country.
The End of Car (Dominated) Culture?
“What most intrigues me is that rates of car ownership per household and per person started to come down two to three years before the downturn,” said Michael Sivak, who studies the trend and who is a research professor at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. “I think that means something more fundamental is going on.”
If the pattern persists — and many sociologists believe it will — it will have beneficial implications for carbon emissions and the environment, since transportation is the second largest source of America’s emissions, just behind power plants. But it could have negative implications for the car industry. Indeed, companies like Ford and Mercedes are already rebranding themselves “mobility” companies with a broader product range beyond the personal vehicle.
“Different things are converging which suggest that we are witnessing a long-term cultural shift,” said Mimi Sheller, a sociology professor at Drexel University and director of its Mobilities Research and Policy Center. She cites various factors: the Internet makes telecommuting possible and allows people to feel more connected without driving to meet friends. The renewal of center cities has made the suburbs less appealing and has drawn empty nesters back in. Likewise the rise in cellphones and car-pooling apps has facilitated more flexible commuting arrangements, including the evolution of shared van services for getting to work.
With all these changes, people who stopped car commuting as a result of the recession may find less reason to resume the habit.
On top of that, city, state and federal policies that for more than half a century encouraged suburbanization and car use — from mortgage lending to road building — are gradually being diluted or reversed. “They created what I call a culture of ‘automobility,’ and arguably in the last 5 to 10 years that is dying out,” Ms. Sheller said.
New York’s new bike-sharing program and its skyrocketing bridge and tunnel tolls reflect those new priorities, as do a proliferation of car-sharing programs across the nation.
Demographic shifts in the driving population suggest that the trend may accelerate. There has been a large drop in the percentage of 16- to 39-year-olds getting a license, while older people are likely to retain their licenses as they age, Mr. Sivak’s research has found.
He and I have similar observations about our children. Mine (19 and 21) have not bothered to get a driver’s license, even though they both live in places where one could come in handy. They are interested, but it’s not a priority. They organize their summer jobs and social life around where they can walk or take public transportation or car-pool with friends.
Mr. Sivak’s son lives in San Francisco and has a car but takes Bay Area Rapid Transit, when he can, even though that often takes longer than driving. “When I was in my 20s and 30s,” Mr. Sivak said, “I was curious about what kind of car people drove, but young people don’t really care. A car is just a means of getting from A to B when BART doesn’t work.”
A study last year found that driving by young people decreased 23 percent between 2001 and 2009. The millennials don’t value cars and car ownership, they value technology — they care about what kinds of devices you own, Ms. Sheller said. The percentage of young drivers is inversely related to the availability of the Internet, Mr. Sivak’s research has found. Why spend an hour driving to work when you could take the bus or train and be online?
From 2007 to 2011, the age group most likely to buy a car shifted from the 35 to 44 group to the 55 to 64 group, he found.
Whether members of the millennial generation will start buying more cars once they have kids to take to soccer practice and school plays remains an open question. But such projections have important business implications, even if car buyers are merely older or buying fewer cars in a lifetime rather than rejecting car culture outright.
What looks like a pretty perfect build for a sub24 camping bike...Note the Della Santa poster in my classroom in the background of the third shot!
It's pretty amazing to think that I've had this bike for going on 23 years! Still looks amazingly good even after bike tours, commutes, and many errand rides.
This is a fascinating article on urban design, the "grid," and what it might mean regarding our values as a society. Ok, the "values" part is mostly me projecting. But it does talk about the basic grid, and our move away from it, and I think that says as much if not more about our evolution as a society away from valuing humans vs. humans driving cars.
I recently taught the Ray Bradbury short story, The Pedestrian, which in typical Bradbury fashion subtly criticizes the human willingness to supplant actual experience, with virtual experience. The "Pedestrian" in the story is the only one who goes for walks in 2053, instead of watching his "viewing screen" and by the end is arrested for being "regressive."
In the past I've my students to consider their own neighborhoods and go for a walk and make some judgements about what house and neighborhood designs say about our cultural values. But if you look at virtually any house built pre 1950 there are some pretty obvious but implicit statements about cultural values you can make.
Anyway, below is an excerpt of the article:
Cities often celebrate the anniversaries of major pieces of transformative infrastructure, like bridges or buildings or dams. It's much more rare to celebrate the birthday of a design template. The bicentennial of Manhattan's street grid, which fell in 2011, was an exception. There was an exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York to mark the milestone. Countless articles from planners, architecture critics, and urbanists lauded the foresight of the city's street commissioners, who in 1811 laid down the plan that defines the island's development to this day.
On the occasion, the New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman, wrote this about the "oddly beautiful" grid:
It's true that Manhattan lacks the elegant squares, axial boulevards and civic monuments around which other cities designed their public spaces. But it has evolved a public realm of streets and sidewalks that creates urban theater on the grandest level. No two blocks are ever precisely the same because the grid indulges variety, building to building, street to street.
New York, of course, is not the only city built on a grid. Similar schemes could be found as far back as ancient Greece and Rome. But Manhattan's design was the exemplar for what became the default pattern of American cities.
Still, not all grids are created equal. Some shape a walking-friendly streetscape. Others, not so much. Over at the Strong Towns blog, Andrew Price, a software developer by day who blogs about urbanism, has been writing about the math of the grid and what it reveals about a city's economic productivity and walkability.
On the heels of the CDC's new mask guidelines, the school district decided to keep and not keep the mask policy to finish out the academic year. Once again, the District leadership acts with little thought. I'm on board with following the guidelines laid out by the CDC and allowing vaccinated teachers and students to go without masks. Or, alternatively, with the school year merely weeks away from being over, they could say out of an abundance of caution we should stick to the mask policy and plan for a fresh start next year. Instead, we received mixed signals about having a mask policy but not enforcing it leaving teachers, staff, and students wondering what is allowed, what is safe, etc. Inevitably this turned the choice to wear masks into a personal, and political, statement, and distracted from the real goal of doing our best to get kids to not lose credit and stay focused for the last 3 weeks of an already highly stressful year. I didn't think my lack of confidence in decisions being made at the district level could get any lower.
The New Rivendell Configuration and the Grant Petersen Effect
I don't think I posted anything about the new/old configuration of my Rivendell Allrounder. One of my mainstay bikes since the late 90s, this bike still is eye-popping and looks close to new even though it has been ridden thousands of miles, including some pretty good loaded bike tours, over the years. The current configuration includes a switch out of the bars and pedals and generally making it more early era mountain bikey. The Deerhead shifter/derailleur setup is pretty blingy if not as crisp as the '93 XT setup I've been considering switching over to the bike. The bars are the main difference and they just happen to fit the feel of this bike perfectly.
The wonder of the bike has continued to be just how well it works as a jack of all trades, master of most, which I've written about before. Consider it the thoughtful ways that Grant Petersen of Rivendell thought about bikes before fatter tires in "road" frames, and bikes versatile enough to handle pavement well and dirt, became the new normal. Interestingly, I was recently pointed to an article on why we should be thankful for Petersen's input into the bike culture. The reasons are interesting enough, but don't emphasize quite how much he was a beacon for steel, leather, and sensible bike designs when Rivendell first emerged in the 90s as a counter to the carbon road racing bikes that cool handle a 25mm tire at best and were pretty useless for anything other than smooth tarmac. The article is here. If you haven't visited Jitensha Studios in Berkeley mentioned in the article (sporadically open it seems) it is worth it.
I've written and documented about the ongoing homelessness problem along the Tahoe/Pyramid bikeway along the Truckee River for years. It is a regular part of my bike commute home from work as it provides a good east/west corridor that avoids traffic. And in the best of times it is a pretty ride along the river. But that was then and this is now...the encampments and drug deals and roaming bullwhip toting residents can make for a harrowing ride and what should be a fantastic feature of the Reno/Sparks community has become a dangerous, unsanitary, drug community.
I have tons of empathy as I can see the human suffering that is going on here and the economy and conditions and societal circumstances have pushed so many people to live along the river, close to flowing water and a variety of services for the homeless. And I've witnessed first hand how the Reno and Sparks cities basically ping pong the encampments week to week, or month to month, between their respective jurisdictions.
So what is to be made of the choice to close a section of the Tahoe/Pyramid Bikeway along the river and essentially concentrate the homeless population in a specific area while keeping this pedestrian and cycling recreational path off limits? It reminds me of the episode in the greatest of television programs, The Wire, called "Hamsterdam" where a police chief makes a choice to concentrate the drug dealers into a few block section of his precinct in order to keep the rest of his jurisdiction clear of trafficking. Those few blocks come to be known as "Hamsterdam" and eventual it becomes clear that he has essentially legalized drugs for this one section of the community...for the betterment of the rest of the neighborhoods because now kids and families feel safe and are taking back their community. Meanwhile..."Hamsterdam" eventually descends into an infernoesque hellhole.
Having witnessed drug deals, fights, weapons, sanitation issues, and public lewdness, along the river, is this the inevitable end of closing this recreational path between Reno and Sparks? I've attached a video of my last ride through the Reno/Sparks "Hamsterdam." It may very well be my final ride along the path because even for me, it now feels too unsafe. What is the City up to with this closure?
Rivendell AllRounder - Jack of All Trades...Master of Most
I originally bought my Allrounder out of regret for not buying the legendary Bridgestone XO-1 and because of my deep respect for the vision of Grant Petersen as he was in the first few years of his new bicycle company, Rivendell Bicycle Works. He seemed like one of the few voices of sanity in the bike industry in the mid-90s when design seemed to be about making things as complicated as possible. Technological advancements can be super cool but sometimes it's just seems like bike wankery and you wonder if it doesn't get in the way of the actual enjoyment of riding.
Over the years my Allrounder has lived up to its name and here is a battery of photos from the various types of riding I've done on the bike and different configurations (tires, bars, etc.) along the way. I've had tires as skinny as 1.25 inch slicks all the way up to 2.3 inches knobbies. Bars have been rando, moustache, and noodle bars. Fully loaded touring, quick(ish) road rides, commutes, offroad adventure riding, and trips to the coffee house...it's done it all.
I remember a comedian making a joke about his mom always bringing up how she was in labor with him for 36 hours. "Thirty-Six hours," he exclaimed! "I don't even want to do something I like for 36 hours!"
That's kind of how I feel about these types of long-distance events. I'm kind of inspired by the physical fortitude, but like RAAM, if you are literally falling asleep on the bike because you are 400 miles into the ride with a few hundred still to go, that doesn't seem like much fun. That beings said, some of the bikes especially made for this type of road riding in comfort (or as comfortable as you can be for that long on a bike) are spectacularly beautiful. And the notion of to and from from and to Paris is pretty appealing. Maybe I need to rethink this and start a Randonneuring event or club around these parts. As it is, the new film "Brevet" seems to capture the joy and agony of the ride. Perhaps starting there is a better strategy.
Maybe one day I'll get that bug...as for now a 50 or 60 mile ride seems to be about my top end if only because I have so many other things I want to do with my time.
Brevet from CURLYPICTURES on Vimeo.
Every four years cyclists from all over the world come to France for the legendary Paris-Brest-Paris bicycle marathon. They have to ride 1230 km in under 90 hours. A grueling fight against hills, cold and exhaustion. BREVET is the movie about this fight.
Celebrating Della Santa!
I got in on a Woolistic order for a retro wool jersey to go with my Della Santa. The colors don't exactly go with my bike but it's a classy and well-made jersey that fits perfectly and should be nice on some late summer and fall rides. The DS is still my best riding bicycle and I think it's been feeling neglecting because I've been spending more time on dirt this summer.
Every once in awhile I break out of the bicycle oriented posts to talk about some other things of interest to me such as education, music, or in this case, film. I wrote an overview of my favorite films from the first decade of the new century a few years back and it still stands as a solid list for me. I might adjust a few things with hindsight but overall I stand by my picks. Now that I'm teaching a film class at my high school I just wish I could show more of these but alas many of them are rated R.
I usually reserve my year end lists to music but being as it's the end of a decade I can't resist compiling a list of my favorite cinema. It would be nice to suggest that these are truly the greatest films of the decade but there are so many films I didn't see in the theater it's impossible to be comprehensive so below is a list of some of my favorite film experiences of the last 10 years. I don't know how critics decide what is a #3 vs. a #8 on a list like this so these are in no particular order.
Zodiac - David Fincher always creates something interesting but this film is a masterpiece of tense procedural serial killer mayhem. Robert Downey Jr. has reestablished himself in the minds of most cinema goers over the last couple of years but this is my favorite performance of his and Jake Gyllenhaal holds his own surrounded by one the great supporting casts of all time. Special kudos to the strong cinematography, a hallmark of any Fincher film.
In Bruges - Surprising comes to mind with this madcap gangster, buddy, thriller. Especially with Colin Farell giving one of his best performances.
Layer Cake - Daniel Craig can be given credit for making James Bond relevant again (even if Quantum of Solace was a disappointment). But it was Layer Cake that upped the ante for British Crime Dramas. Michael Gambon gives one of the great villainous speeches at the end of the film.
Bourne Identity - I'm settling on the first in this series even though I loved all of them. These movies redefined modern action an somehow gave it a paranoid cerebral feel. After Good Will Hunting the smart money was on Ben Affleck to become the next big movie star. All these years later Matt Damon has turned out to be one of the best and savviest film actors working.
Lord of the Rings - It's fashionable to bag on this sprawling film series now but there is no getting around how monumental of a task it was to translate the books into an enjoyable cinematic experience for readers and a modern film audience that had no knowledge of the books. That it turned out to be a transcendent trip is all the more surprising. I don't know that there has been a better job done of casting the principle actors in recent memory. Particularly Viggo Mortenson and Sean Astin who seem to me to be the heart of this film.
Amelie/A Very Long Engagement - While Amelie is considered syrupy by some a little lightness about the random kindness of a strange girl from Paris was just what was needed in the early 2000s. Engagement, also by Jeunet, is a complex tale of love and sacrifice set during the Great War. It's also a great introduction to Marion Cotillard as a prostitute assassin to die for.
Michael Clayton - On paper this film shouldn’t have been as good as it was. But with knockout performances from Tom Wilkinson, George Clooney, and Tilda Swinton, it was the corporate thriller of the decade.
Children of Men - The look of this film had me from the first frame. it doesn’t hurt that the cast is great and the ending perfect.
Almost Famous - Ensemble acting at its finest in this piece about 70s rock and roll culture and coming of age. There are great actors here (Frances McDormand, Billy Crudup, and Philip Seymour Hoffman) and average actors who upped their game (Jimmy Fallon!) . Everything Kate Hudson has done since this has been pretty much shit but she’ll always have a special place in my heart as Penny Lane.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
One of those films that you know is a masterpiece while watching it and spend the last half hoping it doesn’t blow it. It doesn’t. Great performances and gorgeous to look at. Proves once again that Brad Pitt is underrated as an actor. Also one of those great films that I can only watch every once in a while.
Lost in Translation - Middle-aged ennui meets youthful potential in a striking film from Sofia Coppola. And it has one of the best endings ever.
Wonder Boys - A gem of a film about the tortured lives of writers that toys with the cliche and then shatters it. It also made Michael Douglas watchable which is a great feat. Great supporting actor work from Tobey Macguire, Frances McDormand, and Robert Downey Jr.
Wes Anderson...I’m torn. Anderson belongs of the best of list for his singular cinematic vision. But it’s hard to decide whether the flawed masterpiece, The Life Aquatic should be here or the earlier Royal Tannenbaums. Or, should it be the Fantastic Mr. Fox? I’m holding off on including any late 2009 film on a list of the best of the decade because it feels too soon to make that judgement. So, Life Aquatic it is. But I reserve the right to change my mind.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - Unlike anything else I've seen
The Incredibles - The best of the Pixar creations followed closely by Up
Brokeback Mountain - Heartbreaking
The 40 Year-Old Virgin - Man-Child raunchiness with a sweet spot
And because we are in the age of great cinema created for the small screen I feel it necessary to mention a few of my favorite television shows which were as good if not better than much of what was playing down at the cineplex: Deadwood, State of Play, Bleak House, Pushing Daisies, Wonderfalls, 30 Rock, and The Office (both Brit and U.S. versions).
I've been sitting on this article for awhile thinking about the reasons drivers do get so hostile towards cyclists. I get the argument that is being made here in terms of cyclists being perceived as cheaters, breaking the "rules of the road." But of course it is more complex than that. I've always maintained that for some drivers there is also a nagging bit of guilt, perhaps subconsciously, because cyclists tend to be happier and healthier in general, plus they are not really part of the problem when it comes to creating traffic. Sort of underscoring the old adage about drivers complaining about traffic when "they are traffic."
Anyway, I'm clipping a big swatch of this article because it's worth examining the psychology about driver hate:
Something about cyclists seems to provoke fury in other road users. If you doubt this, try a search for the word "cyclist" on Twitter. As I write this one of the latest tweets is this: "Had enough of cyclists today! Just wanna ram them with my car." This kind of sentiment would get people locked up if directed against an ethnic minority or religion, but it seems to be fair game, in many people's minds, when directed against cyclists. Why all the rage?
I've got a theory, of course. It's not because cyclists are annoying. It isn't even because we have a selective memory for that one stand-out annoying cyclist over the hundreds of boring, non-annoying ones (although that probably is a factor). No, my theory is that motorists hate cyclists because they think they offend the moral order.
Driving is a very moral activity – there are rules of the road, both legal and informal, and there are good and bad drivers. The whole intricate dance of the rush-hour junction only works because people know the rules and by-and-large follow them: keeping in lane; indicating properly; first her turn, now mine, now yours. Then along come cyclists, innocently following what they see are the rules of the road, but doing things that drivers aren't allowed to: overtaking queues of cars, moving at well below the speed limit or undertaking on the inside.
You could argue that driving is like so much of social life, it’s a game of coordination where we have to rely on each other to do the right thing. And like all games, there's an incentive to cheat. If everyone else is taking their turn, you can jump the queue. If everyone else is paying their taxes you can dodge them, and you'll still get all the benefits of roads and police.
In economics and evolution this is known as the "free rider problem"; if you create a common benefit – like taxes or orderly roads – what's to stop some people reaping the benefit without paying their dues? The free rider problem creates a paradox for those who study evolution, because in a world of selfish genes it appears to make cooperation unlikely. Even if a bunch of selfish individuals (or genes) recognise the benefit of coming together to co-operate with each other, once the collective good has been created it is rational, in a sense, for everyone to start trying to freeload off the collective. This makes any cooperation prone to collapse. In small societies you can rely on cooperating with your friends, or kin, but as a society grows the problem of free-riding looms larger and larger.
Humans seem to have evolved one way of enforcing order onto potentially chaotic social arrangements. This is known as "altruistic punishment", a term used by Ernst Fehr and Simon Gachter in a landmark paper published in 2002. An altruistic punishment is a punishment that costs you as an individual, but doesn't bring any direct benefit. As an example, imagine I'm at a football match and I see someone climb in without buying a ticket. I could sit and enjoy the game (at no cost to myself), or I could try to find security to have the guy thrown out (at the cost of missing some of the game). That would be altruistic punishment.
Altruistic punishment, Fehr and Gachter reasoned, might just be the spark that makes groups of unrelated strangers co-operate. To test this they created a co-operation game played by constantly shifting groups of volunteers, who never meet – they played the game from a computer in a private booth. The volunteers played for real money, which they knew they would take away at the end of the experiment. On each round of the game each player received 20 credits, and could choose to contribute up to this amount to a group project. After everyone had chipped in (or not), everybody (regardless of investment) got 40% of the collective pot.
Under the rules of the game, the best collective outcome would be if everyone put in all their credits, and then each player would get back more than they put in. But the best outcome for each individual was to free ride – to keep their original 20 credits, and also get the 40% of what everybody else put in. Of course, if everybody did this then that would be 40% of nothing.
In this scenario what happened looked like a textbook case of the kind of social collapse the free rider problem warns of. On each successive turn of the game, the average amount contributed by players went down and down. Everybody realised that they could get the benefit of the collective pot without the cost of contributing. Even those who started out contributing a large proportion of their credits soon found out that not everybody else was doing the same. And once you see this it's easy to stop chipping in yourself – nobody wants to be the sucker.
Rage against the machine
A simple addition to the rules reversed this collapse of co-operation, and that was the introduction of altruistic punishment. Fehr and Gachter allowed players to fine other players credits, at a cost to themselves. This is true altruistic punishment because the groups change after each round, and the players are anonymous. There may have been no direct benefit to fining other players, but players fined often and they fined hard – and, as you'd expect, they chose to fine other players who hadn't chipped in on that round. The effect on cooperation was electric. With altruistic punishment, the average amount each player contributed rose and rose, instead of declining. The fine system allowed cooperation between groups of strangers who wouldn't meet again, overcoming the challenge of the free rider problem.
How does this relate to why motorists hate cyclists? The key is in a detail from that classic 2002 paper. Did the players in this game sit there calmly calculating the odds, running game theory scenarios in their heads and reasoning about cost/benefit ratios? No, that wasn't the immediate reason people fined players. They dished out fines because they were mad as hell. Fehr and Gachter, like the good behavioural experimenters they are, made sure to measure exactly how mad that was, by asking players to rate their anger on a scale of one to seven in reaction to various scenarios. When players were confronted with a free-rider, almost everyone put themselves at the upper end of the anger scale. Fehr and Gachter describe these emotions as a “proximate mechanism”. This means that evolution has built into the human mind a hatred of free-riders and cheaters, which activates anger when we confront people acting like this – and it is this anger which prompts altruistic punishment. In this way, the emotion is evolution's way of getting us to overcome our short-term self-interest and encourage collective social life.
So now we can see why there is an evolutionary pressure pushing motorists towards hatred of cyclists. Deep within the human psyche, fostered there because it helps us co-ordinate with strangers and so build the global society that is a hallmark of our species, is an anger at people who break the rules, who take the benefits without contributing to the cost. And cyclists trigger this anger when they use the roads but don't follow the same rules as cars.
Now, cyclists reading this might think "but the rules aren't made for us – we're more vulnerable, discriminated against, we shouldn't have to follow the rules." Perhaps true, but irrelevant when other road-users perceive you as breaking rules they have to keep. Maybe the solution is to educate drivers that cyclists are playing an important role in a wider game of reducing traffic and pollution. Or maybe we should just all take it out on a more important class of free-riders, the tax-dodgers.
A fun Sunday ride north of town with a climb up Matterhorn road with a couple of gents made for a great day. Proving once again what a great choice it was to get a Della Santa with all of its wonderful road racing qualities with the space for a 35mm tire to more easily handle a bit of dirt and gravel surfaces that you are likely to find on the outskirts of Reno. Great day, great ride, great company.
In digging through my archive of bicycling memorabilia (in a former career I actually was an archivist) I found this great cover. It's easy to see why I would keep this issue of Mountain Bike Magazine. This issue was during the heyday of mountain biking in the 1990s when road bikes seemed passe and a war of worlds was happening between what was then considered the two main disciplines of the cycling industry. Basically, Pre-Lance Armstrong taking over the world and reigniting so much interest in road cycling.
Who knew that there would now be niche within subniche of styles of riding to navigate. How else do you explain the handwringing so many cyclists do over whether to buy the SOMA Wolverine or the Black Mountain Cross or the VO...whatever. I obsess and lust over those bikes as well.
That said, there is a point to be taken from this cover besides seeing Bob Roll get muddy during Paris-Roubaix. Road bikes can do an awful lot of amazing things beyond just smooth as glass pavement rides.
Mark Knopfler, Objects of Beauty, and N+1
I was struck in this interview for Salon how Knopfler nailed the N+1 idea that so many cyclists talk about with their collections and then he goes and starts talking about buying a Colnago. Yeah, I'm sure he gets it. It's no surprise that guitarists have the same issue of always desiring one more guitar. Who else would appreciate the beauty as well as someone who plays?
Excerpt from full article here:
"The Girl Who Has A Bicycle Does Not Need Wings" - Wheel Talk
I picked up this antique copy of the publication Wheel Talk recently. Apparently it was published out of the Chicago area during the late 1890s hey day of cycling. Lots of tips and witticisms are included in this brief periodical about enjoying your "wheel" and how to dress, eat, and fully appreciate it. I adore this era of printed material, event more so when it is about cycling. The typefaces, verbiage, and elegant style make these kinds of publications a treat. Sometimes less is more when it comes to graphic design. Actually less is usually more when it comes to graphic design. Something that I try to convey to my students when they are designing things in my classes.
Here are a few screen shots of the pages of this slight but fun publication. Some of the advice given in the page below is quite amusing.
Having recently tried to learn the song Jeepster by the amazing T Rex, I went looking for some good live footage of Marc Bolan and co. and found this great concert footage from Wembley. I'm a lover of 70s glam rock and besides Mr. Bowie, Bolan is kind of the King of Glam. Those strutting rhythms punctuated by great guitar riffs. Crazy fun!
This is one of the earliest posts I ever wrote and I still get annoyed emails from diehard burners. That was not really my intent. Mostly, I just wanted to point out that as much as I think the Black Rock Desert is a captivating place, the idea of hanging out there with 50+ thousand people pretty much ruins it. Add to that the sort of pseudo-counter culture mantra that surrounds the event...well, you get my point. I'm glad so many people love it and add tons of money to our local economy. And particularly glad that it funds great organizations like the Reno Bike Project. I just don't particularly care to hear about it. I've noticed in the last ten years since I wrote this a decidedly more pronounced anti-burner mentality surrounding the event.
I know many wonderful and interesting people that love Burning Man and spend the better part of the year making plans for their week on the playa. But I can’t drink the kool-aid on this one. It’s annoying enough that people are so cultish about it. “You HAVE to go! It’s the most fun ever! I can’t believe you’ve never been?!” I have literally had to sit through hours of acquaintences and friends practically chanting borglike: ASSIMILATE! ASSIMILATE!! When I tell them I have no interest they find me “square” and “uptight” and actually get annoyed with me.
Now, I’m no prude. I consider myself actively progressive, I love art meant to push boundaries and buttons, public nudity doesn't bother me, I’ve traveled and lived throughout the world visiting Buddhist monasteries in Sri Lanka to game reserves in South Africa. Hell, I even like to tie one on occasionally.
And given all the travelling I've done I can say unequivocally, that I think the Black Rock Desert is one of the most amazing places on earth.
I can also say unequivocally that the idea of spending time on the playa surrounded by 30,000 people to be one of the most horrifying things I can think of.
I don’t care if all 30k of them are the coolest people on the planet (I’m quite sure they are not). Don't get me wrong, large social events have their place. There are times I'm quite delighted to be surrounded by my fellow homo sapiens. Give me a great concert, a good New Year's Eve party, or even SOME sporting events to bond with my fellow men and women. Shoot, I enjoy standing in line waiting to vote on election days with politically active citizens no matter what political stripe they happen to be. It gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.
But the Black Rock Desert is so amazing BECAUSE it provides such a great opportunity to marvel about how alone we are on the planet and in the universe. Whether it's a day trip or a camping excursion I have never failed to be thrilled by standing on the playa. For me the BRD is a place that begs for quiet contemplation. Not inebriated social interaction. No matter how dressed up (or undressed) it might be in the guise of providing some college kid, suit-and-tie lawyer, or soccer mom, a chance to have some venue to create their annual "peak experience," it's still just an excuse for a party. And more and more, in talking to "burners" or whatever handle they are giving themselves now, I know too many of the people who go out there who seem to be looking for this "peak experience" for a week out of the year that they find it hard to get in the other parts of their lives. Frankly, I find that sad. I have no such problem or hole in my life. I have "peak" experiences on at least a weekly basis. Paying to hang out with a bunch of intoxicated (albeit more creatively intoxicated) people does not a peak experience make (for me).
different strokes and all that...enjoy the playa next week! And after you've trashed your bike donate it to some kid who doesn't have one instead of throwing it in a dumpster or abandoning it on the side of the road.
There's a reason that I'm drawn to the purity of Buddhist thought and right livelihood. Simple truths can resonate more deeply than all others and this little story, which I've shared before, does feel like it taps into something pure and important. An oldie but a goodie:
A Zen teacher saw five of his students returning from the market, riding their bicycles. When they arrived at the monastery and had dismounted, the teacher asked the students, “Why are you riding your bicycles?”
For over 12 Years I wrote the Reno Rambler Blog covering everything from Bicycle Advocacy, Reno Politics, Popular Culture, and my experiences as a long-time cyclist.