26 June 2013

Digital Medieval

Here's the start of a list of people and places doing medieval studies in digital contexts.  It's partly a resource for myself, so I have a place to keep track of what others are up to, but also intended as a resource for readers. I'm keeping a separate list of digital manuscript facsimiles.

This list is fragmentary at the moment and will be enlarged significantly.  Please let me know of additions.

Ælfric's Homilies on Judith, Esther, and the Maccabees
Anglo-Saxon Charters
Early English Laws
Medieval Bookbindings 
Production and Use of English Manuscripts 1060 - 1220
The Riddle Ages
Studying Judith

12 June 2013


Torches.  Double-ended, many-branched like candelabra, mounted on hula hoops.  Men and women dancing, and a single drum beating time.  Lithe bodies silhouetted by lights blinking off the East River; a subway snaking across the Williamsburg Bridge in the distance.

I half thought they'd vanish if I approached, but a man with a gentle voice and waxed moustaches told me they're the Empire Fire Collective, and they're working toward taping an audition to perform at Burning Man.

I was walking the dog, only a set of keys in my pocket: no camera.  But look here, and look here -- if they can be photographed, they must be real, and not just a midsummer night's dream?

11 June 2013

I Run Red Lights

Not in a car, I hasten to add: on my bike.  And I don't ride headlong into on-coming traffic, weaving precariously between buses and trucks and (potentially equally crazy) cab drivers.

I had a couple of conversations about this with a cousin a few weeks ago that got me thinking about why I feel completely justified in running red lights.  And I realized that it's frequently the safest way to get through an intersection.

Some of New York's bike lanes are protected from car lanes by a line of parked cars, but the turn lanes for the cars cut right across the bike lane:
Let's just say it gets hairy.  At a few of the major cross streets, the cars get a red arrow allowing bikes to go straight.  Traffic in the other intersections is menacing.

On cross streets, cyclists are supposed to wait for the green light ahead of the first stopped car so they can clear the intersection before the cars start moving:
Unfortunately, cars often pull forward into the spot designated for cyclists, and then take off as soon as the light changes.

When there's an obstacle in the bike lane in the block ahead, I'll run the red light so I can get around it ahead of the line of cars. 

Obstacles in the bike lanes, you ask?  Delivery trucks, taxis, ConEd trucks, lunch carts, dumpsters, NYPD vehicles, garbage trucks....  Ohhhh, and the pedestrians.  Pushing strollers, tapping away on their devices, grooving to whatever is coming out of their earphones, popping out from behind parked cars, jogging, or just plain being oblivious.  Plus the rollerbladers and the skateboarders, who frequently travel in the bike lane against traffic.

Casey Neistat got harassed with a ticket for the non-existent law of not riding in a bike lane, and made a video of himself crashing into obstacles in the bike lanes.  Ben Fractenberg surveyed bike lane blockages in Manhattan, from Washington Heights to Soho. The Village Voice compares biking in New York to playing a game of Frogger.

NYC law treats cyclists as vehicles, but despite building hundreds of miles of bike lanes, has not really made cycling safe.  And the difference between a bike and a car is about three thousand pounds, plus an engine that doesn't get tired.  In a collision between a car and a bike, it's the biker who will suffer.  So I'll go on running red lights whenever it's the safest option.

06 June 2013

Citi Bike: Where's the Downside?

I've been watching the roll-out of Citi Bike with interest.  I don't have an account myself (as my folding bike goes everywhere), but I've spoken to several people who are using the bikes, and I've been watching.

The bikes are heavy, I'm told, and the solar-powered docking stations can be a bit glitchy.  But in just ten days, 32,000 people have signed up for memberships, and local residents and visitors have ridden 270,000 miles during 100,000 trips using the bikes.  Casual observation bears that out -- every time I go out of my Lower East Side Apartment, I see several of them.  And in just ten days, the people using them seem to be getting more accustomed to the bikes, riding faster and with more confidence and better predictability.

I have to say I'm baffled by the naysayers.

Some owners of bike shops are worried about the effects of the program on rentals, though others say they've already seen an increase in bike-related sales, and research from other cities suggests a short-term dip for bike shops followed by long-term increase in business.  People who have tried to use Citi Bikes for all-day trips have discovered it doesn't really work -- so those who want to spend a day touring are still likely to rent bikes the conventional way.

Drivers are protesting because some of the Citi Bike stations take up parking spots, and because bike lanes occasionally replace driving lanes.  But in fact every time someone bikes to work instead of driving a car or taking a cab, drivers benefit: more parking spaces free up and there's one less car on the road in front of them.  The inveterate drivers should be happy every time someone else decides to give up on a trip in the car.

People are complaining the bikes and the docking stations are a visual blight on their neighborhoods.  Hmmm... because parked cars are so much better looking?

Despite the crazy amounts of publicity every time a biker collides with a pedestrian, in fact the presence of bikes and bike lanes on city streets calms traffic and makes the streets safer for people on foot.  A 2011 study found that around 500 pedestrians a year in NYC are treated in hospitals after collisions with bicyclists.  On the other hand, 15,000 pedestrians and cyclists were injured in collisions with cars last year, and more than 150 died as a result.

I can't find statistics on how many pedestrians are killed in collisions with bikes; all I can find is reference to one death in 2009. That's one death too many: I don't want to trivialize it. But it's a drop in the bucket compared to the number of people killed in collisions with cars.

Drivers, like everyone else, will breathe cleaner air, suffer fewer heart attacks and respiratory diseases, if there's a significant transition from driving to bicycling.  And since regular exercise also prevents and mitigates a myriad of health problems, health care spending will also go down.

03 June 2013

Letter to the Editor at Consumer Reports

I was very pleased to see your very positive review of the new Tesla Model S in the July issue.  I note that you've commented occasionally on the effects of climate change, and that you include information about energy efficiency in your appliance reviews. 

I wish you would go a couple of steps further and investigate additional environmental and social impacts of the products you're reviewing.  In a review of flooring materials, for instance, you include "Ecotimber" (and you give it a positive rating).  I would find it very helpful to have additional information about the relative environmental impacts of the various surface materials.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who would like information on where the appliances you review are manufactured, and what kinds of safety records the various manufacturers have in their supply chains. 

Finally, I don't know how much gas mileage is weighted in your automobile reviews, but if you don't already boost cars with better mileage, perhaps that would be a valuable shift in your metric.

I realize that providing this kind of information has not historically been part of your mission, but as a well-respected organization with a wide reach, you have great potential to educate consumers and encourage social change.

Thank you for your time.

Update: I got a reply from CR -- a step or two up from boilerplate:

Dear Ms. Estes,

Thank you for taking the time to contact Consumer Reports®. I want to express how much we value your choice of our products and services to help you make informed purchasing decisions.

We appreciate your writing to us regarding the environmental and social impacts of the products we test. Please be assured that our readers' feedback plays a strong role in the work that we do. Because of this I have taken the liberty of sharing your feedback with the appropriate members of our staff for their review and future consideration.

Consumer Reports is committed to making your experience positive and informative.


Patrick Burns
Customer Relations Department