24 February 2014

Thinking About Biking To Work?

Biking to work has huge benefits.  It gets you out of your car and/or off public transit, out in fresh air, with a guaranteed workout built into your day so you don't have to take time to go to the gym.  Right now is a great time to start planning to ride to work later this spring.

Best time to start is in April.  Daylight Saving Time will have kicked in so the evenings are long enough you won't be riding home in the dark; the weather is warm enough to ride without a lot of special gear, yet cool enough to ride without needing to carry clothes to change into when you get to work.

Here's what you need to start preparing now:

Bike:  If you haven't ridden it all winter, give it an overhaul (or take it down to the local bike shop now, before the wait times get long).  Pump up the tires, make sure the brakes work, and check all the nuts and bolts and screws to make sure nothing has come loose.

Helmet:  Ninety-seven percent of people who die in biking accidents weren't wearing helmets, according to the authors of The Urban Cyclist's Survival Guide.  Get one.  Make sure it fits snugly over the top of your head, front of the helmet just above the eyebrows (not at the hairline) and the strap is snug under your chin.  Leave enough room to yawn or yell, but not much more. 

Route: Scout it out by car and Google maps (click on the little "bike" icon to see bike routes in your area, and if there aren't any, call your local elected officials).  Take a test ride early on a Sunday morning, when there's hardly any traffic.

Riding Skills: Study this guide, and also this one to biking safely in traffic.  Practice while you're out there on your Sunday morning ride. 

Prepare for the inevitable: flat tires happen, as do other mechanical failures, sudden rain showers, and falls, most of which don't cause serious injury, but might leave you rattled.  Have a back-up plan: a friend or a cab company you can call for a lift or a bus line you can catch.  Just in case.

Plan your first ride!  Pick a day when you don't have an important early-morning meeting, in case it takes a little longer to get to work than expected, and when you'll be able to ride home while it's still light out.  If you normally work in pretty formal clothes, bring an extra outfit to work the day before, or pick a casual day.  The day of your ride, pack deodorant and hair gel.

For starters, you might aim for one ride a week to work.  Once that starts getting routine, you might aim for two days a week, or three.  Eventually you might find a rhythm where you mix it up, driving some days, riding others.  Or you might get so hooked you ditch your car.

If you're still riding in September, you'll need to invest in lights, reflective gear, waterproofs, warm gloves, and some other gear.  But you don't have to worry about any of that now.


Oh, and if you've read this far, I have one copy of The Urban Cyclist's Survival Guide by James Rubin and Scott Rowan to give away to a random commenter.  I bought the copy -- no sponsorship deals to reveal; I just want to give it a good home.

19 February 2014

Vision Zero -- Eliminate Traffic Deaths

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and his police commissioner William Bratton held a news conference yesterday to announce a program of changes designed to eliminate traffic deaths in the city.

The plan has 62 different elements, including reducing the city's speed limit, better enforcing existing traffic laws including the requirement that -- did you even know? -- cars are supposed to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks.  De Blasio also wants to install more speed bumps, remodel intersections, and increase bike lanes and illumination.

Some of this can be done at the city level, some requires cooperation from the state legislature.  Please contact Governor Andrew Cuomo and let him know you support Vision Zero.  You can send email using this form, or call his office or send a good old-fashioned letter:
(518) 474-8390
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
Don't live in New York?  That's okay, tell him you commute to or visit the city.  Tell him the city's residents have the right to live without the fear of being mowed down by an irresponsible driver.

Thank you.

09 February 2014


I've been walking a lot lately.  It's a nice winter activity.

In other words, I gave up.  I haven't been on my bike in a week.  I gave up right before the most recent snowstorm: It's just too much not-fun any more.

I drove my car yesterday, and on returning home found a parking spot, but couldn't get my car into it because of the ice and crusted snow that remained.  The vehicle that had vacated it must have been a jeep or SUV, because there was no way my little hatchback was going in the spot without getting damaged.  (I tried.)

I dug out the spot to make room, throwing the ice chunks... in the bike lane.

The other alternative was the sidewalk, and that seemed worse, especially given the various elderly people who need to get out in this weather just as much as the rest of us.

During and after the previous storm, I gave it my best effort.  I learned that on my bike, the crusted ice and chunks of hardened snow and puddles of salty slush make riding treacherous.  I took one fall when a pedestrian stepped in front of me, and fortunately only got bruised.

Temperatures aren't going above freezing for long enough to melt all the crud for at least another week, so for the foreseeable future, I'm walking and taking public transit to get to work and around the city. 

I could possibly navigate in this snow if I had a different bike, probably a mountain bike with studded tires.  Or I could manage if the city did a better job clearing bike lanes: they were plowed, but not salted.

But for now, I'm slowing down and seeing my surroundings a different way.

03 February 2014

Meta-MOOC: The Future of Higher Education

In my on-going efforts to stay (sort of) current about many things digital, I've signed up for a few MOOCs with the idea that I should experience one before formulating a solid opinion about the trend.

I've never finished one.  In fact, I've never so much as started the readings and assignments for one.

But recently I heard (on Twitter, I think) that Cathy Davidson was offering a MOOC on the future of higher education, a MOOC that would be about MOOCs, about the possibilities of what she calls "massively collaborative on-line education."  I assigned chapters of Davidson's book, Now You See It, in a seminar last semester called "What Is A Book?" and I thought actually learning from her would be a very interesting experience.

I signed up, assuming it would be the same old story: nice idea, no follow-through.  However, I logged in the other day and started poking around the course, and the ideas were intriguing, and the introduction posts from other students were interesting, so I logged in again another day and wrote a post introducing myself and opened up some of the assigned readings, and they sat open in the browser all day, and eventually I shut everything down unread.

Then I got some follow-up emails to my Introductions post, and so I logged in to the course again, and started actually skimming the assigned readings.  I clicked on the link for the videos, but I really do not have any patience for watching videos (with all due respect to The Mate, a filmmaker!).  There was also a link to "cue cards," so instead of watching the videos, I skimmed those, apparently drafts of the lectures given in the videos.

There are weekly quizzes so I opened one up to see how I could do and scored 12 and change out of 15, without paying a whole lot of attention, and then a window popped up in the middle of my screen informing me I had "done excellent" on the quiz and inviting me to "join the signature track."

For a mere $49, assuming I can score above 75 percent on all the quizzes and do some reasonable fraction of the assignments, I'll get some kind of certificate of completion for the course: "Official. Verifiable. Shareable."

I closed the window. 

There's a bar across the top of the screen that says, "Earn a Verified Certificate for this course!" A note below that tells me I still have six days and 21 hours to change my mind.

One of the assignments for the first week is to log in to the course wiki and read, and possibly edit, the "Community Constitution," which sets out principles for on-line, collaborative learning.  A model for such a constitution is provided in the "Mozilla Manifesto," also known as A Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in the Digital Age.  That document includes a paragraph headed, "The Right to financial transparency."

The FutureEd course does not include mention of financial transparency in its community constitution.  It does provide the following principles:
  • Free and open source modes of learning promote the availability of knowledge as a public resource while open exchange of ideas gives knowledge value.
  • Transparent, community-based processes promote participation, accountability, and trust.
Huh.  I'm not finding the efforts to get me to pay for a certificate to be particularly transparent.

I took the quiz a second time (you get ten tries) and scored 15.00 out of 15.00.  The questions were multiple-choice, and most of the answers were in effect "all of the above," and I couldn't tell you what any of the questions, or the answers, were.

So have I learned anything yet? 

I'm finding the course contents intriguing, and the premise that we have an opportunity to do something paradigm-busting with the internet, rather than just using it to reproduce existing modes of knowledge transference while allowing it to change the ways we think without paying much attention to what those changes might be, an important one.

As with all the other MOOCs I've signed up for, I'm not seriously committed to completing this one, because all the responsibilities of a full-time job and a full-time life come first.  But as of right now, I'm curious about what week two will bring.  Updates to follow, probably.