Saturday, October 31, 2015

Goodbye Old Bike, Hello Old Bike

In 1977, one of my best buddies told me about a friend he had, who had just custom-built a bicycle for him, from components. This guy would do the same thing for me. "How cool is that?" thought I.

A few weeks later, for (according to my admittedly leaky memory) about $200, I received a bicycle that became one of my all-time favorite machines.

It was built around a black Raleigh Competition Reynolds 531 double butted steel tubing. It was powered by a lovely, engraved, all-metal Shimano 600 Arabesque derailleur ("One of the most decorative groups Shimano ever released"):

The bike was a beautiful ride and all-around excellent transportation. It came to Chicago with me in 1981. It took me downtown for my first job as a programmer in Chicago, at First National Bank (I commuted by bike whenever possible). It accompanied me on day trips all over Chicagoland. It took me back and forth to the CISPES office, a cause and organization that consumed way too much of my life for too little in return. Whatever foolishness I chose to engage in, this bike helped me do it in style (my style: it was scratched up and usually dirty, but the chain and gears were clean and lubricated).

But for some reason (yes, that's right, I do not recall), about fifteen years ago, I decided to buy a new bicycle, and chose a Jamis Coda. I hung the black bike (I don't know what else to call it. It used to be a Raleigh Competition, but that was long before I took possession) in the back of my shed, and very much enjoyed the Coda. It was new, it was shiny, and it was a hybrid, better suited for city riding. After a while it wasn't new or shiny anymore - just my style, but it was still a great ride. I didn't think very often about my black bike, even when I noticed it hanging behind garden gear and abandoned kids' toys.

Well, a couple months ago, I got careless with my Coda and it was stolen. Arrrrggggh.

I figured I would buy a new bicycle, which I dreaded in part because everything has gotten so over-built, optimized for convenience, unnecessarily fancy, etc. Not my style. Started looking around and found myself at Bucephalus Bikes, where they do a brisk, proud business in reconditioning older bicycles to better-than-new.

That got me thinking: maybe I should bring in the Reynolds 531 frame (by this time, I was thinking that was all that was left of the bike) and see what it might cost to make it a beauty, once again.

I hauled it out of the shed and was delighted to see it was intact as a bicycle, but with understandably flat tires, rusty chain, and who knows what else wrong with it. I did, after all, choose to stop riding it long ago.

Feeling slightly guilty at not returning to Bucephalus, I brought the black bike to my neighborhood bike shop, Roberts Cycle. They made appreciative noises. They probably do that with all their customers. :-)

Well, in any case, a few weeks went by and yesterday I rode the bike home - smoooothly. Here are the parts Roberts needed to properly restore the bike:
  • Chain
  • Front and rear brake cables and housing
  • Front and rear shift cables
  • Seat binder bolt
  • Schwalbe 27-1/4 K-guard (Kevlar) tires
  • Sealed bottom bracket
  • Headset bearings (29, loose, had to be individually packed in)
  • Rear wheel bearings (22, loose, had to be individually packed in)
  • Front alloy wheel
  • Used rear derailleur
Yes, you read that right. They removed the Shimano 600 and gave me a "good enough" replacement for a very fair price. He never asked if I wanted to replace it. WTF? The guy who runs the shop explained that the 600 was actually not compatible with the rear gear assembly on the bicycle; I couldn't get to all the gears using it. So he swapped it out.

Gee, I'd never really noticed any problem. I rarely needed the very low settings. I started to feel aggrieved and righteous about the whole thing, but he so sincerely seemed to consider it an act of necessity. So in the end I accepted with grace (or so I told myself) the Shimano 600 (and every other part, including the old ball bearings - !!) in a plastic bag.

I tried not to be too sad. It really is pretty.

No, I won't tell you how much all those parts (and the accompanying, thoroughgoing overhaul) cost me. I suppose I could've gotten a new bicycle for the amount, but nothing as elegant or satisfying as my black bike. 

And as I said in an earlier post, "New is BadBuying things new is the way to consume the most resources and have the worst impact on our world. So I am going to make every effort to avoid buying new things and instead by used."

Hurray! I acted on my principles. I have lots of principles and I never feel like I act enough in accordance with them. I also am not sure how many I've forgotten.

So this act of reuse and redemption felt - and feels - really good. 

Now if only it would stop raining so I could go out for a ride!

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

About My Son, Chris Silva, Amazing Artist, Father and All-Around Human Being

"For the record...."

Chris is the 2015 recipient of a 3arts grant, which makes me incredibly proud and also gives me the opportunity to share his professional art bio (I mostly experience him these days as Papa to my two wonderful granddaughters).

Born in Puerto Rico, Chris Silva has been a prominent figure in Chicago’s graffiti and skateboarding scenes since the 1980s, as well as an enthusiastic fan of a wide range of music genres which have resulted from the influence of metropolitan life. Building on his solid graffiti art foundation, Silva proceeded to play a significant role in the development of what is now commonly referred to as "street art." He now splits his time between working on large-scale commissions, producing gallery oriented work, and leading youth-involved public art projects. As a self-taught sound artist with roots in DJ culture, Silva also anchors a collaborative recording project known as This Mother Falcon, and has recently started integrating his audio compositions into his installation work.

In the early 90s, Silva worked on a mural with the Chicago Public Art Group and was eventually brought on board to help lead community art projects with other urban youth. As a result, the act of facilitating art experiences for young people has become an important part of his art practice, and he regularly includes students as collaborators on large-scale artwork that often leans heavily on improvisation. Over the years, Silva has helped orchestrate youth art projects both independently and in partnership with Chicago Public Art Group, Young Chicago Authors, Gallery 37, Yollocalli Arts Reach, After School Matters, and the School of The Art Institute of Chicago.

Silva was awarded a major public art commission by the Chicago Transit Authority to create a mosaic for the Pink Line California Station (2004); created block-long murals in Chicago's Loop “You Are Beautiful” (2006); created a sculpture for the Seattle Sound Transit System (2008); won the Juried Award for Best 3D Piece at Artprize (2012); and created large commissions for 1871 Chicago (2013), the City of Chicago, LinkedIn, CBRE (2014), OFS Brands, and The Prudential Building (2015). He has exhibited in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, London, Melbourne, Copenhagen, and The International Space Station. In 2007 Silva received an Artist Fellowship Award from The Illinois Arts Council.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Planet Hard Drive? Muddled nonsense from Scientific American

In the August 2015 issue of Scientific American, I came across an article titled "Planet Hard Drive", a "thought experiment" arguing that we can think of Earth as a kind of "hard drive" and "although Earth has an enormous capacity to store information, order is still rare....but the growth of order on Earth also stems from the production of cultural information."

The article is behind a paywall, so I cannot reproduce it here, but if you are a subscriber, here you go.

I find it generally hard to read SciAm these days, as well as many other scientific sources, because of the pervasive species-ism (humans unique, more important than all others) found sadly among scientists.

But this article was, I thought, a real disappointment, coming from SciAm. I sent this letter to the author:

Professor Hidalgo, 

I read your SciAm article with the above title, and I found it scientifically sloppy and offensively tone deaf, given the state of our planet today (specifically the threat of climate change and human-cause extinctions and species degradation). 

You might not read past that initial paragraph but if you do:

Scientifically Sloppy

I am all for interesting “thought experiments”, but it should have a reasonable amount of logical consistency. I think your experiment fails in this regard. 

Specifically, you talk about the growth of order on earth from production of cultural information.

This implies a clear net positive change in order due to our intensely “ordered” products. 

Yet previously, you recognized that there is order (lots of it) in living things. 

And that's where I see a very deep (specie-ist-driven) fallacy: to create our products humans destroy a vast amount of living things and therefore wipe out corresponding enormous amounts of order. 

Vast parts of the rainforest, extinction of entire species, degradation of the ocean, etc., etc., etc. - do you really think that if you even attempted to conceptualize the volume of order sacrificed to build iPhones, you could come out with a net positive growth in order?

I suppose it might be remotely possible - but you don’t even address this trade-off, making your argument incomplete and sloppy. I am very surprised that SciAm did not insist on a more rigorous treatment.

Sdaly, you seem to blithely accept that destruction of life on our planet in order to manifest our culture-as-thought as products. 

Which that brings me to…

Offensively Tone Deaf

Your insistence to see the entire world through a human filter and impose human paradigms onto the rest of the natural world is shocking, giving the growing awareness (especially among the most rational of us, like many scientists).
“A tree, for example, is a computer”
“Objects of this kind [manufactured products] are particularly special.”
“Biological cells are finite computers”
“People are also limited, and we transcend our finite compuational capacities by forming social and professional networks.”
“Special” “Transcend”

You use words that impute relentlessly positive values to human activity. 

Yet if you do not place humans “above” all others, you could at least say (my changes in bold):

“People are also limited, and we augment our finite compuational capacities by forming social and professional networks. A necessary consequence of this agumentation is the destruction of the computational capacities of billions of other living creatures.

At the very end of your muddled thought experiment, you finally hint at a bigger picture:
“The resulting hyperconnected society will present our species with some of the most challenging ethical problems in human history.”
Ah, ethics! Finally! Professor Hidalgo will now point out the grave price paid by our planet and co-inhabitants for human's desire for comfort and convenience, but....

No, no. For you, like way too many other humans, all that matters is the human species.
“We could lose aspects of our humanity that some of us consider essential: for example, we might cheat death.”
Now that would be a real ethical disaster (cheating death) - precisely because it mean accelerated devastation of our planet and non-humans.

But that doesn’t seem to even register in your thinking.

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Lot To Listen To

A Lot To Listen To

Sometimes, if you're lucky,
there is nothing to hear
but the sound of the wind
blowing through trees.

Now you could say:
"That's not much to listen to."
Or you could listen...

to the rustling, hissing, whispering, sometimes angry sound
of thousands 
of almost silent brushings of leaf against leaf,
of feather-light taps of twig striking twig,
any single act nothing to hear at all
but when the tree is big enough
and the leaves are numerous enough
and the branches reach out 
thinner and thinner
poking out toward the sun
carrying leaves to their destiny,

then you might be able to hear
the sound of the wind
blowing through trees.

It's a lot to listen to,
if you can hear it.

Copyright 2015 Steven Feuerstein

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A natural born tree right in my own backyard!

As some of my readers may have noticed, I spend a lot of time these days among trees, paying attention to trees, cutting back invasive trees to save native trees, etc.

And one thing that I came to realize is that at least in an area like Chicagoland, humans tightly control the reproduction of trees. 

I live on a lovely tree-lined street. Big trees - 100 ft tall or more. Maples, oaks, ash....but there are no baby trees, except for smallish trees that the city plants when they have to remove diseased trees (such as all the ash trees, under assault from ash borers).

It makes me sad to think of how impoverished my immediate surroundings are, how unnatural. We don't even let trees - majestic living things that make our lives possible, that live through many of our own generations - live out natural life cycles. 

In fact, I have come to accept that trees planted singly along streets to enhance our lives are really just ornaments. If "a man is not an island" then certainly a tree is not a forest. And very few trees live naturally outside of forests of many, many trees.

Well, enough of sadness. Veva and I were sitting on our patio last week, enjoying the (finally) warm weather and our lovely garden (thanks to Veva), when she pointed out something truly wonderful:

Can you see it? We planted the birch trees years ago. They are now 40 feet tall, but nestled in between? A natural born baby birch tree! Can't see it? Here maybe this will help:

I feel so much better now. The (minimal) wildness of our garden (as in: no grass) made it possible for a birch seed to take hold and grow. A tree that humans did not plant and hopefully will allow to grow to maturity.

Humans love to debate things like "Do plants feel?" Of course, it is terribly difficult for us to imagine such a thing - because the way that plants would think and feel would be so different from us. So we will likely never really be able to answer the question.

Which means it would make a lot more sense to err on the side of caution and assume that trees and plants and creatures do feel, do think in their own way, do take joy in life.

And watching this natural born tree grow, it is certainly easy to believe that it is joyful. I sure am.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The human being is the only animal that...

Last night, I decided to re-read Stumbling on Happiness, a book I'd discovered a few years ago and was (then) delighted with. 

I chose that over one of my (back then) favorite books of fiction, because I'd been thinking yesterday and how odd it is that lots of left-leaning humans are all upset about climate change and really pissed at their elected officials about their non-action on this literally world-changing issue at a time when radical action is necessary - yet they don't take radical action in their own lives.

It's pretty clear that politicians will not change direction (will not override the influence of the source of their funding), until their constituents demonstrate a deep desire for change, backed up by action.

Anyway, there I was wondering once again about humans and why we behave the way we do. And so I sought out some answers in SoH. After all, the renowned Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, says right on the cover: 
"If you have even the slightest curiosity about the human condition, you ought to read it. Trust me."
OK, so fine. If a person says "trust me", usually you want to run in the other direction. But hey....

So I started reading and soon found Daniel Gilbert talking about psychologists are expected sometime in their career to finish The Sentence that starts with "The human being is the only animal that..." and now it was his turn.

Exciting! And then he finished the sentence:
"The human being is the only animal that thinks about the future."
And then you know what I did?

I stopped the reading book - and tossed it into the recycle bin. Yep, I threw the book away. That's how much Gilbert disgusted me, right then and there.

Why? Because of all the things we know about the world and the way it "works", the one thing we can never know is what another animal - even another human - is actually, truly thinking

All we can know, all we can see, all we can measure, and then draw conclusions from, is how an animal manifests their thinking into the world.

Gilbert cites as one "proof" of his Sentence that squirrels will, ahem, squirrel away nuts in advance of winter even in places where they will then find, winter after winter, that nuts or other food remain abundant. 

Go, Gilbert, go! Apply a human frame of judgement onto other animals, sure, why not? Why not assume that means that squirrels don't think about the future, rather than saying: "Maybe they do think about the future and know that they cannot trust what the future will bring, because they are not willing to destroy forests to build houses to hide them from the vagaries of the future."

So I threw out the book, but that got me thinking about The Sentence. I thought I would offer my own variations on that statement and invite others to do the same. Here goes...

The human being is the only animal that:
  • creates garbage, including vast "islands" of plastic in the middle of our oceans
  • causes the extinction of entire species, year in and year out
  • poisons water, the source of all life on this planet
  • learns multiple languages
  • holds it in
And just to pre-empt some typical responses:

The human being is the not only animal that:
  • creates art - lots of birds do, too. Just check out nests of bowerbirds.
  • has a sense of right and wrong - black bears do, too. Just check out Among the Bears. Seriously: READ THIS BOOK.
  • uses tools - birds, chimpanzees and others repurpose stones, branches, etc. as tools
  • is altruistic - again, black bears, and even more so ants. Many species of ants are way more altruistic than humans.
So what can you think of that only a human does? And please don't tell me about your belief about internal states of mind. That's just an opinion. Tell me about what humans do.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

In what ways is buckthorn harmful?

I spent 10-15 hours a week in various locations of still-wooded Chicago (and now nearby Lincolnwood) cutting down buckthorn. Some people have taken me to task for it ("Just let it be, let nature take it's course, etc.). So I thought I would share this excellent, concise sum up of the damage that can be wrought by buckthorn.

And if anyone lives on the north side of Chicago and would like to help out, there is both "heavy" work (cutting large trees and dragging them around) and now lots of "light" work (clipping the new growth from the stumps from last year's cutting - I don't use poison). 

It's great exercise and without a doubt you will be helping rescue native trees and ensure that the next generation of those trees will survive and thrive!

Buckthorn should be on America's "Most Wanted" list, with its picture hanging up in every US Post Office! Here are a few of the dangers of Buckthorn:

a) Buckthorn squeezes out native plants for nutrients, sunlight, and moisture. It literally chokes out surrounding healthy trees and makes it impossible for any new growth to take root under its cancerous canopy of dense vegetation.

b) Buckthorn degrades wildlife habitats and alters the natural food chain in and growth of an otherwise healthy forest. It disrupts the whole natural balance of the ecosystem.

c) Buckthorn can host pests like Crown Rust Fungus and Soybean Aphids. Crown Rust can devastate oat crops and a wide variety of other grasses. Soybean Aphids can have a devastating effect on the yield of soybean crops. Without buckthorn as host, these pests couldn't survive to blight crops.

d) Buckthorn contributes to erosion by overshadowing plants that grow on the forest floor, causing them to die and causing the soil to lose the integrity and structure created by such plants.

e) Buckthorn lacks "natural controls" like insects or diseases that would curb its growth. A Buckthorn-infested forest is too dense to walk through, and the thorns of Common Buckthorn will leave you bloodied.

f) Buckthorn attracts many species of birds (especially robins and cedar waxwings) that eat the berries and spread the seeds through excrement. Not only are the birds attracted to the plentiful berries, but because the buckthorn berries have a diuretic and cathartic effect, the birds pass the seeds very quickly to the surrounding areas of the forest. This makes Buckthorn spread even more widely and rapidly, making it harder for us to control and contain.