Thursday, May 31, 2007

Fashion Luddite

It is as if I am living in the past century, or rather the century before that. I like narrow ties, no more than 2 inches wide, yet they are pretty much impossible to find. Thankfully I have a few that I was able to pick up in second hand stores 20 years ago and, since I don't wear a tie that often, I make due. I went shopping for shorts and all I could find were cargo pants that went down to the knees. Cripes, they can't even be called "shorts" anymore. I blogged not long ago about my difficulty in finding a particular style of underwear, searching a list of retail stores in the area and finally having to order online.

My latest issue is with biking gloves. I've found the Trico Handshock 1000 Crochet gloves to serve my purposes. They have plenty of gel padding, the leather palm is durable and the crochet back is cool. A minor drawback is that I get a unique fish-net tan line on the back of my hands. Given the other goofy tan lines I earn from riding a bike, it doesn't even register as a minor inconvenience.

So, when I finally wore holes in this pair of gloves, I set out to find a replacement. The place I usually found them in Squirrel Hill didn't have them. In fact, of the half a dozen shops that I looked at in the area not one had any gloves with the crochet back. They all had nylon backs and most didn't even have the XL size I needed for those. One clerk even went so far as to say that people didn't buy them anymore because they didn't have gel padding.

Except that the Trico glove does have gel padding. My only guess is that the crochet-back gloves are no longer fashionable. Everyone is going for the nylon fabric. It looks like I will need to go online to order what I want.


Security Issues

I lost my building access card last week. The issue was assigned to Team Lead D. to resolve but I guess he was too busy looking at pr0n to do anything about. Once it was reassigned this week to someone else, it was taken care of in two days.

It says that it is due to expire in 2010. Damn, I hope I'm not still here for that.

On another security related note, we have a new procedure.

There is an occasional issue in the branches wherein something will go wrong and the user's Windows profiles will become corrupted. The solution is reasonably simple; someone remote accesses their machine, deletes the folder and then the user signs on.

But we got a message saying that we were no longer to do this simple procedure. We were to open a ticket. This means that this goes to a support group and, instead of the user's problem being resolved in a few minutes, it now takes several hours. When the IM went out informing us of this new procedure, I couldn't resist asking:

Geis: Is there a reason the support groups want to do all this extra work rather than allowing us to do it for them?

Team Lead R.: No.

So, here we are again with Management treating us like children and not sharing the reason's why. I've gone to them before with this when they wonder why morale is so low. It's a stupid policy or procedure. If you tell us why it is that way, we are smart enough to understand it and are more likely to accept it's stupidity as professionals. I suspect the reason for this latest nonsense is the same reason we have always had access issues. Some support group feels that they need to keep access limited for security reasons. Perhaps they want to secure the network from contractors. Perhaps they want to secure their jobs from outsourcing. In either case, it becomes a political struggle to get the access we need to do our jobs.

Later, Team Lead R. came to my desk and let me in on the big secret. Well, it wasn't a secret because it was exactly as I said. And so, to pressure support into granting access to all of us, we are sending all of the tickets to them so that eventually they'll get tired of being paged to do a simple folder deletion and allow us to do it.

Why keep it a secret? It's because Knowledge is Power and to keep us weak and subservient, the Official Management Handbook directs that we lowly employees be kept as powerless as possible. I'm sure it doesn't say that in those terms, but I've studied realpolitik too long to be deceived. Hell, even the Managers probably don't realize that is the reason they are being asked not to treat us like part of the team. The last conversation I had with the Site Manager included him using the phrase "That's the way it is." He doesn't even realize what a pawn he is in all this and probably never even wonders what secrets Corporate is keeping from him.

Such as the new online Employee Comment Form that Corporate has put up. I found out about that a week ago (ironically on the same day that the e-mail scandal went down) on one of the financial discussion groups and we here in the boonies have yet to be included in that. Clearly our opinion isn't even to be considered. Or how about the news that our company's 1st quarter profits are just about equal to the decrease in base pay for our overly-compensated CEO. Interesting way to cook the books. And what about the recent news that the CFO just got a big-ass raise. I wonder if he's going to kick that back to the CEO to cook the books further.

Ignorance is Bliss.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Old Growth

This weekend, I rode my bike on the Youghiogheny River Trail up to
Confluence (67 miles) and back. Along the way, below Ohiopyle, there was an interpretive sign that got me thinking.

The sign talked about settlers to the area and about how the "old growth forest" they found provided for their homes. The forest is coming back and while I rode on, I wondered how long it would take for it to become old growth again.

While words like "pristine" and "virgin forest" are often used to describe these ancient woodlands, the Native Americans who lived here before the coming of Europeans actively managed the woods. They did not use clear cut logging but they did regularly use fire to clear away undergrowth and shape the environment to their particular agricultural needs.

That all changed when Europeans came to the so-called New World in the early 1500s and brought disease with them. In short order, smallpox ravaged the native population, by some estimated killing off as much as 80% of the residents, so that when the Pilgrims came a century later, North America seemed a vast, empty forest.

It was said that a squirrel could travel the width of Penn's Woods without every touching the ground. It was into this land that the settlers came over the Alleghenies after the French & Indian War in the later half of the 1700s. This was the "old growth" forest, left fallow for only a few centuries, that they immediately began clear cutting. And by the end of the next century, it was pretty much gone. The turn of the 20th Century was the beginning of the end, or rather the beginning of the beginning. The lumber was gone so there was less need for the railroads to stop at some of these logging towns along the corridor. The change from steam to diesel killed the coal patch towns as the trains just rolled on through without having to stop. The spaces between began to become wild again.

A few hundred years. That's what it will take for the narrow strip of land along the Youghiogheny River to become "old growth" forest again. My eight-times-great grandchildren may enjoy something that I have never seen and what my eight-times-great grandparents had a part in destroying.

Of course, that will only happen if we can leave it alone. I fear that commercial and consumer pressures will prevent that from ever happening. How long will it be before the railroads rebound from their collapse of a century ago to reclaim the corridor in the name of commerce? Will our highway infrastructure become so overburdened that government forces will demand a new 2-lane highway along the river? Will this generation be the only one to appreciate what we lost enough to rebuild it, sandwiched between a dozen generations of shortsighted, selfish destruction?

Friday, May 25, 2007


Sometime during the day, someone pulled down the sexist article posted in the men's rest room by the Hand Washing Committee. I suspect it is from my bringing it up in the wake of the Help Desk e-mail scandal rather than the letter I sent to the Ombudsman a few weeks ago. I would hope that it wasn't merely removed but that someone in authority went to the members of the Hand Washing Committee and let them know that their posting was inappropriate.

Lucky Seven

I found out the body count from yesterday's e-mail scandal was seven! The rest of us are going to have to work hard to make up for the loss. Well, perhaps not so hard because Team Lead D never actually took calls and I'm not sure what volume the other people who got axed were covering. Since I usually take twice as many calls as the average Help Desk analyst, I suspect I'll notice the slack I'm picking up but probably not more than that. It won't be like the hell of a failed software rollout (like this past Monday was).

I noticed that the Tactical Manager was unexpectedly upbeat today. After loosing a fifth of our staff and almost loosing the contract, sending us all out into the street, one would expect management to be a little more withdrawn. But he was pretty much the same chipper guy as usual. Perhaps he's glad to see Team Lead D gone as well. Perhaps there's a relief that he didn't loose his head in the scandal as well. Perhaps it's a mask he's put on to keep morale from flagging.

He came around at midday begging for people to volunteer for more hours to cover for the lost staff. I told him I'd have to get back to him because I'm carpooling with my daughter and will need to talk with her about it.

Geis: "You know, the irony is that I told you this would happen two months ago."

Tac Mgr: "Yes. Yes, you did. And it wasn't just inappropriate. It was appalling."

He did not elaborate and I did not ask. Rumors have it as a "worst case scenario" but I don't believe it. My worst case scenario includes Federal agents, impounded computers and feature coverage on CNN. Surely, this was bad but far from the worst that I can imagine.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Shocking developments.

I do not believe in psychic powers but I do believe that people can subconsciously absorb information about their environment. I spent most of my day reacting to something at the Help Desk that I just couldn't place. At the time, I merely thought I was tired and grumpy but, with hindsight I know know that the reptile part of my brain was recognizing the on the other side of my cubicle wall things were happening. There were managers moving about. Unscheduled meetings were being called. The environment was changing. Doom was in the air.

When afternoon came, We was finally let in on the secret. Several people at the Help Desk had been engaging in inappropriate e-mail conversations of a sexual nature. This had been going on for weeks and when the shit hit the fan it almost lost the Corporation's contract with The Bank.

At the end of the meeting when I had an opportunity to ask questions of the Corporate Overlord that was on site as damage control, the tension of my day got the better of me and I brought up my concerns over the inappropriately sexist postings of the Hand Washing Committee.

What I didn't bring up was the "I told you so" that I had warned Management two months ago about "a disturbing increase in talk reflecting homophobia, sexual harassment, bigotry, outright racism and general ignorance." I didn't mention that, when I was still the trainer, I would specifically cover the appropriate use of email and relate a true story of a Help Desk analyst who had stepped over that line and been fired within the hour.

At the end of the day, we hadn't learned much more than we already had and I asked a coworker if it had been anyone w knew. With so many new employees, I didn't know the comings and goings of most of those out on the floor and was curious if this was a lapse in training of new employees or some act of stupidity on the part of those who had been around for a while. I was shocked to learn that most of those involved were "old guard", those that should have known better. I was also astonished in the scope of the debacle, at least five and perhaps more (no wonder the contract was threatened). And finally I was surprised at the person at the top of the list:

My arch-nemesis: Team Lead D.

Well, not surprised. More like Claude Rains in Casablanca saying, "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in this establishment!" He has, on many occasions, said things without thinking. It was only a matter of time before he said one thing too many. I was surprised that this "conversation" had been going on for weeks and that he thought he could get away with it.

However, my joy that the one person most individually responsible for depressed morale at the Help Desk is gone so decisively must be tempered by the knowledge that we who remain are now all under the microscope. The Bank will be reading our e-mails and monitoring our web surfing, looking for any infraction they can find. Any excuse could well be used to send us all packing.

I believe it will be a long time before the Help Desk returns to anything approaching normalcy.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Bonus channels

I was flipping through channels last night and came across a hanging that I recognized. Guy Fawkes being hung in the opening of "V for Vendetta."


Wait a minute? Did he just say "Fuck'n 'ell"? This must be HBO. Except that I don't subscribe to HBO. I wondered if, a few weeks ago when our cable was inadvertently disconnected, if the tech didn't reconnect more than we were authorized for. In mentioning this to a coworker he said that he got HBO on one of his TVs as well. Even though he multiple TVs in the house, he only gets HBO on one of them. It must be some sort of encryption issue that some cable-ready units can handle and others cannot.

And it's merely a coincidence that I mentioned a surveillance society in my blog yesterday before the movie later in the evening.

Only a coincidence.

. . . and really bad eggs.

A Pirate’s Life for Me II: Opening the Map by Jason Godesky at the ANTHROPIK network

Monday, May 21, 2007

Surveillance Weekend

I bought a pair of shoes from Mountain High Sales & Marketing at the Venture Outdoors Festival. They were display models that just happened to be my size so I was able to get a $110 pair of shoes for $20. When I was getting ready to pay, the clerk asked me for my name to write in the receipt book. I refused, confusing the clerk.

"Why do you need my name to process a cash transaction?"

She didn't know. Her supervisor didn't know. They seemed intent on getting at least some name for their records and were so bound up in the rules that had been set out for them that they would probably not allow me to buy the shoes without providing some sort of name so I eventually compromised and gave them only a first name. And a false name at that.

My primary resistance came from their having the word "marketing" so prominently in their name. I didn't want to give them my name so that they could then use it as an invitation to send me junk mail. It's the same way when any retailer asks me for my phone number. (Radio Shack was notorious for this.)

On Friday at the Bike-Pgh 5th anniversary party, they showed a film called "Contested Streets", mostly about New York traffic issues and presenting some models for reform. The examples were bike lanes in Copenhagen, Paris and London. The success of London's transportation reform is through "congestion fees". If you want to drive your car in specific congested zones, you have to have paid an additional fee for the privilege. This is enforced by thousands of cameras monitoring the streets and automatically comparing license plates against a list. Sunday's Post-Gazette had an article advocating the "congestion zone" model as a solution for congestion on the South Side.

The reservations I have with those solutions are the same as I have in giving my name and phone number out to retailers: what will be done with that information? If I had any confidence at all that the Government would only use that information for managing traffic congestion then I could be comfortable with it. But, of course, I don't trust my government. Not local police. Not the State and certainly not the Feds. Too many examples of abuse across the board for me to sacrifice more of my privacy.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Marvel Super Hero RPG, Game Session 1

After the somewhat spectacular collapse of the Northern Crown game we were playing, I was surprised that it's replacement happened so quickly. It was probably helped by the fact that all the rules and supplements are available online. Also, comic book plotlines are likely to be less linear. Hopefully this game will go better than the last.

The GM introduced some of the characters to me but I've forgotten most of the details. That's OK because my character will end up learning that information through game play. One player can transform into a plant-thing. Another has disintegration and illusion abilities. A third has gotten merged with a robot and the last has some weather powers. They had apparently been granted these powers by some sort of alien looking for worthy beings on which to bestow great powers and great responsibilities.

The GM indicated that the party (or "team" to use the genre's term) could use a Batman or Punisher-type of character. I looked through the powers and didn't see anything that really appealed to me so I pulled out Central Casting. CC is an out-of-print generic supplement that allows you to randomly create a person for use in a game. I started rolling and everything either came up boring (both parents still alive and together) or bad (people died when he was born, member of an evil cult, etc.) From there, an idea formed. The guy with weather control is something of a religious fundamentalist. The Holy Warrior, or something like that. Wears a pries collar and everything. I suspect that in real life the person playing him is a bit Born Again as well. To me, the answer is obvious, my character is a demon.

So, I developed a demon character. Not so much a Good vs. Evil kind of demon but Order vs. Chaos. A lot like the conflict between the Vorlons and the Shadows from "Babylon 5." As I recall one of the stories from, the Apocrypha, Lucifer was one of the highest ranked angels in the host of heaven. When God created man, he demanded that the angels bow down to them. Lucifer took exception to this form of servitude and formulated a rebellion. A third of Heaven joined him and they were eventually defeated and cast down into Hell. I'm casting this story in terms of the pure order, conformity and obedience of Heaven against the freedom, liberty and anarchy of Hell. Well, it's not quite that way but that interpretation will allow my demon character to not be evil and thus work with the heroes.

I'm taking most of my character cues from a number of demon webcomics; 6x9 College, Sacrilicious, Krakow, Maxwell the Demon, Elijah and Azuu, plus some Hellboy and Dogma thrown in. I'm trying not to take this too seriously.

I haven't quite figured out his true name yet. It's probably not important because he certainly wouldn't tell anyone on Earth what it was. The name on his college student ID is Damon L. Maxwell. He's going to school part time and earning a living as a bike messenger. He seems fairly typical for the urban cyclist crowd but it is just a mask. His true form is much more demonic; red skin, fangs, horns, claws, bat wings, hellfire, the traditional stuff.

So, the game begins with Damon taking a break and getting some lunch. A calzone and a Mountain Dew at a local pizza shop. Suddenly, gunshots ring out across the street. A bank robbery. One wouldn't expect a demon to leap to the rescue and, in point of fact, he doesn't. He could care less about the bank being robbed. But with gunshots and people getting hurt, well, he cares a little more about that. But the most important factor in setting him in motion is an opportunity to play the vigilante, beat people up and have some fun doing it. People don't typically care if the bad guys get what they've got coming to them.

So, he jumps on his bike to go fuck with the get-away driver. Except that someone else has beaten him to it. Spiders come out of the sewers and swarm the car (an illusion). And as the panicked driver hits the gas, Damon sees a plant-thing advancing on the bank. He puts two-and-two together and figures that superheros are involved. Let them deal with the bank, he's going after the driver.

After chasing him for a few blocks on his bike, he finally gets close enough to set fire to one of the vehicles tires. Another block and the driver abandons the vehicle, still not realizing that the guy on the bike is after him. Damon clotheslines him. Charging uses the endurance stat, which Damon has at the "monstrous" level. It's like being run down by the Hulk. Damon checks to make sure he didn't kill the guy then rifles through his pockets. He finds a fake ID and a few hundred dollars. He leaves the ID and pockets the cash.

He bikes back to the bank and eventually tracks gunfire into a neighboring building. He climbs a fire escape, goes in a window and eventually encounters a fight. A hero (the illusionist, apparently) is looking over a railing in the stairwell. On the next floor down, a huge scary cop with a huge scary dog (an illusion) is menacing the bad guy who is engaged in a wrestling match with the Holy Warrior. This goes on for a while and Damon merely shrugs at the illusionist. When it looks like the bad guy has gotten the upper hand and might get away, Damon jumps the rail onto him and wrestles with him. Grappling uses the strength stat, which Damon has at the "Remarkable" level. He can bench press a ton and probably punch through reinforced concrete, the bad guy's shoulders don't stand a chance. "Pop! Pop!" Damon leaves him in a heap, wishes the stunned heroes a good day and heads down the stairs.

Getting on his bike to ride off, he is suddenly enveloped by plant tendrils.

"Who are you?" the plant-thing asks. Damon instinctively immolates and the sulfurous flames cause the plant-guy to let go.

"You're calzone is ready," he says, transforms into a tumbleweed and rolls off, revealing that he recognizes Damon from the pizza shop.

So ends game one.

Neither the hero characters nor the people who play them know that my character is a demon. They know he's a preternaturally strong bike messenger who can set fire to himself but nothing more. I'm going to impress upon the GM the importance of keeping my demonic identity a secret. One, it's more dramatic that way. Two, it will allow me to become friends with the heroes before they learn that I'm a demon, preventing them from being prejudiced against the fallen. Three, if they do get judgmental, I'll be able to call them hypocrites.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Commitment to Communication

Got an e-mail just before lunchtime today saying that because of a scheduled rollout on Sunday, those scheduled to work on Sunday through Wednesday will need to work mandatory overtime.

So, I immediately went to the office to ask:

Geis: "When was this decision made?"

Site Manager: "When?"

Geis: "Yes, when. When was this decision made, because it would be nice to have more than two days warning when there are major changes to all our schedules."

Site Manager: "Earlier in the week."

Geis: "And was there a particular reason why this information was kept from us?"

Site Manager: "It was supposed to go out earlier in the week. Is there a problem?"

Geis: "Only in the so-called 'Commitment to Communication' management keeps talking about."

I turned my back and walked away without further comment.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


The Pittsburgh City Paper had an article about a flurry of recent incidents of violence against cyclists. And, much like I blogged the other day, the first comment posted on the website was by a motorist that blamed the cyclists.

"When on the roads you are obligated to follow adult rules and suffer adult consequences. "

The incidents described had nothing to do with cyclists getting what this pinhead thinks they deserve for disobeying the rules of the road. These are cyclists being assaulted merely for being a cyclists. These are hate crimes.

In addition to countless incidents of verbal harassment, being spit upon and having Big Gulps thrown at me, I have been twice physically assaulted, my only crime being riding my bicycle or perhaps being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

For one incident, I was riding the median of Ardmore Blvd. out of Wilkinsburg approaching the Parkway East overpass. It was a hot summer day and I had taken my helmet off. I was suddenly struck in the back of the head and went down. On my hands and knees trying to gather my bearings I was struck again in the back of the skull. I was able to get up and found half a dozen teens fleeing down the hill. They had seen me riding slowly up the hill and apparently thought it would be fun to cross the street to come up behind me and punch me in the back of the head.

The second incident involved me riding home through Wilkinsburg at 11:30 at night. As I approached the busway underpass and station on South Ave. when I came across two youths, one of which was carrying a baseball bat, clearly on the prowl. I attempted to ride off but the geometry of the situation would not have allowed me to avoid being overtaken. I attempted to ditch my bike but got tangled up in the pedals and fell. I ran but realized that I couldn't outrun them and so, as a last resort, I drew my pistol and turned to face them.

They backed down. Not by much, however. While they backed off allowing me to attempt to recover my bike and make my way to the police station a block away, they continued to taunt me from a distance. They apparently believed that because I hadn't shot that I would not shoot. It was about this time that I realized that there was blood all over my hand, the pistol and my shirt from lacerations on my hand sustained when the bike went down and I hit the asphalt.

They tried to outflank me, I ditched the bike and they settled on stealing my bike (which was recovered later because the fall had rendered it unridable). I put my pistol away before knocking on the fire station door and saw that it was in a half-cocked position. I had been half-way through a double-action trigger pull when my attacker, at point blank range, had gone from an aggressive to a non-aggressive posture. In that literal split second, he had saved his life by backing off. Otherwise, I would have sent a 115 grain hollowpoint crashing through the bridge of his nose at 1150 feet per second.

How is that for "adult consequences?"

If there is one thing that really pisses me off about bicycle riding it is the asshats safely cocooned inside their armored vehicles blaming cyclists for the accents they get in. I got sideswiped on Forbes Avenue by a woman in a hurry to get by me and the first words out of her mouth blamed me for "riding down the middle of the road." I was not riding down the middle of the road, I was sandwiched between this bitch and a line of parked cars when she clipped me and sent me over my handlebars. And even if I was riding down the middle of the road, I would have been well within my legal rights to do so. It was YOU who violated the law by not allowing me sufficient room. It was YOU who struck my vehicle. It was YOU who caused the accident.

And here, we're not even talking about accidents or even instances of road rage when some imagined infraction by a cyclist causes a motorist to become unnaturally irate. Were talking about active criminal assaults on bicyclists.

Really! Cyclists are having the shit beaten out of them and you are condoning this! What the fuck is wrong with you people?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

To be, or not to be, helmeted.

My posting yesterday about cyclists not wearing helmets being given less space got me thinking. Something didn't quite add up, especially when the statistics presented by the wear-a-helmet supporter noted only fatalities with and without helmets. One needed to compare how many serious injures might have otherwise been fatal or how many minor injuries might have otherwise been serious without the helmet to really understand if the helmet works or not.

An article at and the website presents a lot of information that boils down to a helmet offering no additional protection, or rather, no statistically significant additional protection. The conclusions, I think, are still lacking in depth because there are very few effective studies that details accidents without serious injuries. But the point is really that getting struck by a car generates a lot of trauma besides any blow to the head (rendering the helmet statistically insignificant) and that the best way to avoid injury is not be struck by a car in the first place. And, in addition to safe riding practices by bicyclists, one of the better ways to avoid being hit is to have more bikes on the road. More bikes mean more bike awareness and thus safer drivers.

I'm am, however, not wholly convinced by their arguments. There can be a lot of difference between "statistically significant" and a concussion. In the Madison, Wisconsin story of the guy having his head run over by a truck, the helmet he had was statistically very significant to him. And while most of my accidents are likely not to involve a car and wearing a helmet could be that difference between a minor injury and a more serious injury, I'm not going to abandon my helmet on city streets to avoid the slightly increased risk of getting swiped by some pinhead.

They also put forward a disdain for bike trails in that they take bikes off the road, making motorists think that they own the roads and thus are less accommodating to bicycles. I can understand the theory and psychology of this but I have never been struck by a car while on a bike trail but have been struck half a dozen times by vehicles who did not "share the road." Perhaps some day, when gasoline is $10 a gallon and there are thousands of bikes on the road in Pittsburgh instead of only dozens, then wearing a helmet may become an insignificant factor. Until then, my brain needs all the protection it can get.

Blame the victim

An article in the Madison, Wisconsin "Capital Times" tells of a cyclist who, while riding a bike path and crossing at an intersection with the light, was cut off by a panel truck that didn't see him. The cyclist hit his brakes hard, went over the handlebars, and ended up having his head run over by the truck. The helmet probably saved the man's life, leaving him with only a concussion while the truck drove off.

An astonishing story, to be sure, but what was even more astonishing is in the comments on the website after the story. Very quickly, there were comments from truck drivers that blamed the cyclist. One even went so far as to say that the incident was a hoax, most likely perpetrated by the bike helmet manufacturer.

Do you drivers hate us cyclists so much that you cannot treat us like human beings? Or perhaps you are so isolated and safe, wrapped within your tons of steel with the volume up on the radio and a Starbuck's coffee in the beverage holder, that everything outside has been reduced to an abstract concept. Not actual people but cars, bicycles and faceless pedestrians.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Helmets an invitation to vehicular assault

An article in Scientific American presents a study that shows when cyclists are wearing helmets, cars approach and average of 3.35 inches closer.

Now, three inches might not seem like such a big deal but when they are starting at a little over an arm's length of clearance, those inches can disappear very quickly.

The study's author says :

"The implication, is that any protection helmets give is canceled out by other mechanisms, such as riders possibly taking more risks and/or changes in how other road users behave towards cyclists."
I'll say right out, that's bullshit. Sure, it's true when your talking about the probability of being struck but what happens when one is actually struck. An entirely different set of statistics come into play that involve the probability of head trauma with or without a helmet.

The article quotes "New York City released a report on bicycle deaths and injuries: 225 cyclists died between 1996 and 2005 on New York streets; 97 percent of them were not wearing helmets."

Here are some of the highlights of that report:

• Almost three-quarters of fatal crashes (74%) involved a head injury.
• Nearly all bicyclists who died (97%) were not wearing a helmet.
• Helmet use among those bicyclists with serious injuries (3,462 between 1996 and 2003) was low (13%), but it was even lower among bicyclists killed (3%).

These numbers make it pretty clear. If you don't wear a helmet, you're going to get hurt badly.

• Nearly all bicyclist deaths (92%) occurred as a result of crashes with motor vehicles.
• Large vehicles (trucks, buses) were involved in almost one-third (32%) of fatal crashes, but they make up approximately 15% of vehicles on NYC roadways.
• Most fatal crashes (89%) occurred at or near intersections.
• Nearly all (94%) fatalities involved human error.

In an altercation between a bicyclist and a vehicle, the bicyclist will loose every time.

• Only one fatal crash with a motor vehicle occurred when a bicyclist was in a marked bike lane.

Vehicles, or rather those driving those vehicles, do not "share the road". The best way to protect bicyclists is to get them their own space. Listen to what NYC is doing:

Over the next three years DOT will install 200 miles of bicycle facilities with targets of 5 miles of Class I separated paths, 150 miles of Class II striped lanes, and 45 miles of Class III signed routes. DPR will also add 40 miles of Greenways in City parks over the next four years

150 miles of bike lanes! Pittsburgh is going to get zero in the next three years (or for the foreseeable future). The riverfront park plan will add a bunch of Class I trails along the rivers, which will be great, but out in the streets where people commute I only know of plans in Bloomfield for signs and street marking that encourage "sharing the road".

Monday, May 14, 2007

Bike to Work Week

The May 4th Wall Street Journal had an article called "Building a Better Bike Lane" which details the ways that European countries are encouraging the use of bicycles as transportation. Not just for weekend recreation but for commuting and day-to-day work. In Amsterdam, 40% of workers commute by bicycle. In Copenhagen, more than a third ride their bikes. Copenhagen is building a parking garage for bicycles with spaces for, get this, 10,000 bikes.

Their article also mentions some of the better biking cities in the US. Boulder, Colorado has 97% of it's main artery roads with bike lanes and 21% of commuters ride bikes. Davis, California is a bike city with more bikes than cars. I've been to Madison, Wisconsin and seen the situation there where you can actually ride a bike lane into a shopping mall complex.

So, how does Pittsburgh measure up?

Pittsburgh has no arterial bike lanes. There are designated "bike routes" but they consist of nothing more than "Share the Road" signs on some of the most heavily trafficked and dangerous roads in the city. What bike lanes there are don't actually take you anywhere, and are focused on parks and recreational use of bikes. The few bike trails along the rivers do offer some off-road opportunities and there are more bike racks downtown than there used to be but they don't reach out far enough to really be commuting corridors. The Port Authority has a number of bus routes with bike racks but there is a 1-in-3 chance that any particular bus on that route won't actually have a rack.

With almost no biking infrastructure, it's not surprising that less than .03% of commutes in Pittsburgh is by bicycle. That's not three percent, that's three-hundredths of one percent. Between 25 and 100 people commute by bicycle compared to the 270,000 who come into town by car.

There is some slight progress towards making Pittsburgh a more bike-friendly city. Dan Onorato's grand scheme for the riverfront park system will be nice and I'll certainly use it for my commute but to make anywhere else in the city bicycle friendly where the car is already king will take some hard decisions that I doubt will be made. Bike lanes anywhere would need to be carved out of existing driving lanes or parking and I can pretty much guarantee that will never happen. Bike racks on city streets have been a hard sell. Even when offered for free, businesses have resisted them as cluttering up their sidewalks.

I've been run off the road too many times to be anything but cynical. People won't commute by bike unless the infrastructure improves and the infrastructure will not be significantly improved while ridership is so low.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

aaaaaaaaand, we're back.

Our Internet and cable TV have been down for two days. We called Comcast and they said they might be out by Monday. It turns out, they were able to come out this morning and check things out.

What I hadn't noticed was that there was a piece of cut coaxial cable and a big crescent wrench lying in the ivy at the bottom of the pole. The tech climbed the ladder and said we had been disconnected.

His explanation is that auditors have been traveling about disconnecting people who shouldn't have cable (like those that haven't paid their bills) and have been making a number of mistakes.

Terrific. You've got one set of employees going around disconnecting people and another group going around fixing their mistakes. Sound like a scam to me.

So, after two days, I have some 500 emails waiting for me, 350 of which are spam.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Quiet again

As I predicted, once my blog about the Virginia Tech shootings slid into my archives, the high hit traffic on my blog returned to normal. My request for comments has revealed that even most of the 8 or 10 hits I get every day probably aren't from people who actually read my blog.

Behold, the scientific process proving that pretty much no one in the world cares what I have to say.

Camping on the Passage

My weekend ride and recent news has led me to again think about camping along the Great Allegheny Passage and how there needs to be more opportunities.

Dan Onorato is making a push for completing the trail to Pittsburgh in 2008. Even so, there is likely to be zero campsites for the northern 29 miles of the trail. Bikers won't have a problem covering that distance but anyone hiking will either need to find a hotel or have a long day.

>From the camp at Dravo Cemetery to the Cedar Creek Trekker Campground is 13 miles. That's a more typical hiking day. It's then 10 miles to Round Bottom and then 10 miles to what will be called the Stewart's Crossing Campground at Connellsville. The question I have is will this be a free camp or will you have to pay for the privilege to pitch a tent? Since this is being developed by the Connellsville Redevelopment Authority, the Connellsville Historical Society, the Cultural Trust Foundation, the Yough River Trail Council (YRTC) and the Regional Trail Corporation (RTC) I'm thinking it will be free (although one is likely to have to pay something for the privilege of sleeping inside the caboose being moved to the site).

It's another 17 miles to the Kentuck Campground at Ohiopyle. Camping is free but Reservations are required. Another 10 miles to the Youghiogheny Dam Outflow where there is a $3 to camp in the hiker/bike area.

And here's where it starts getting unpleasant again. The Husky Haven Campground at Rockwood is due to open up 19 miles away. The cost for camping is due to be $15.00 per night per campsite plus $5.00 per person. Then, its going to be 28 miles to Frostburg where the Trail Inn is developing a campground. No idea on what pitching a tent there may cost.

Finally, Frostburg to Cumberland is 15 miles and then another 4 miles to the first hiker/biker site on the C&O Canal. (Which is really noisy, as is the second campsite. Going to the North Branch camp adds nearly 10 miles out of Cumberland.) Once on the C&O there are some 34 campsite for 184 miles. That an average of one camp every 5.4 miles.

The way I see it, The Allegheny Highlands Trail between Cumberland and Confluence is unfriendly to hikers especially. There are long distances between places to camp and the places that do exist are going to charge you to pitch your tent.

I know there's a lot of talk about trail town development and I'm all for supporting communities along the trail. But personally, when I'm hiking, biking or camping, I don't want to stay in a Bed & Breakfast. Part of my idea of being outdoors is that nature is a cheap date. I don't feel bad throwing $3 at DCNR to pitch a tent at Confluence and support the cause but $20 straight into the pockets of the guys at Husky Haven seems a bit steep to rent a patch of grass for the night. I think the AHT needs more free campsites. And the trail especially needs a campsite in that long stretch between Rockwood and Frostburg. It would not surprise me to see hikers setting up pirate camps in some empty patch beside the trail somewhere between Sand Patch and Deal.

For myself, I'll continue riding the entire AHT trail in one day and
camping once I get down on the C&O.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Trail hoppin'

Even though I bicycle commute all winter long, today was the first chance of the season to get back out on the Great Allegheny Passage. Normally, I would consider this a very late start because I've been riding from here to DC over Memorial Day weekend, coming up in only a few weeks. But this year, my wife has decided to go to Marcon that weekend, which is in Ohio, and thus would not be able to pick me up at the end of my ride in DC. That ride has been put off while other plans are made. That will also allow me more opportunity to do long rides and get in shape.

Anyway, back to the trail today. I started as I normally do in Little Boston a little later than I should have liked. I left the trail at Smithton to climb the hill to the Olive Branch Cemetery and it's historical marker commemorating the Darr Mine disaster of 1907 wherein 239 miners died in an underground explosion. That kind of death toll is almost staggering but pales in comparison to the 3000 miners that lost their lives in that December industry wide.

The marker was stage one of a multi-stage geocache which eventually brought me back down to the trail and the location of the Darr Mine itself just outside of Van Meter. Dirt has been piled up in front of the entrance but the mine hasn't been sealed. While I was there, a groundhog came scurrying down the hillside and ran straight into the entrance so the mine is still in use.

On the way back on the north end of Van Meter, a pair of ATVs crossed the
trail. There are mine tailings and the moonscapes are popular places for
dirtbikes and ATVs. Unfortunately, these rednecks also ride their machines
on the trail, causing significant damage. And it's nearly impossible to get
law enforcement on-site to do anything about it. I have heard that the
Maryland section of the trail had a part-time officer out of Frostburg who would patrol the trail on his bike. His presence had a significant effect on ATV use of the trail. There was talk of eliminating that position and a move by trail users to prevent that from happening. What is really needed is more cops on bikes patrolling the trail, especially those places where ATVs are causing problems. Especially on weekends. Their even occasional presence would go a long way towards controlling damage to the trail.

I noticed that there are two new bike/canoe rental places just outside of Boston. People are gearing up to get in on a piece of the action now that the trail is complete between McKeesport and DC. I just read an article that they are building a campsite in Connellsville. This will include a caboose to have people out of the elements.

Some other random observations:

Most people do no wear helmets when riding bikes on the trail. This includes children who, by law, should be wearing helmets.

Of those who do wear helmets, a significant number wear them incorrectly, typically way back on their heads. One woman I saw had her helmet on backwards.

There was one man riding without a shirt. I was immediately reminded of a silverback Mountain Gorilla. That was one hairy guy.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

One step forward. . .

The past two weeks have been filled with Ubuntu pain and joy. First, the pain. . .

After trying to update my laptop to try to get my wireless network card to work, I began having issues with the system freezing. It would go through the startup and then end with a blank screen and a non-flashing cursor right before the login prompt should have come up. Multiple reboots would get the system to finally come up. Shutting down, however, would hang and the Ubuntu splash screen and not shut down. It was a vicious cycle.

The first suggestion I attempted was an upgrade from 6.06 to 7.04. That didn't work. I tried going back to the original 6.06 version but the hanging issue got worse. I thought perhaps it was an old BIOS and download an update but it would only work with Windows. I couldn't get my 98 disks to install (not bootable) so I installed 95. That wouldn't run the BIOS upgrade and I couldn't get it to upgrade to 98. I don't have any 2000 disks so I tried an FDISK /MBR to really clear out everything on the disk and try Ubuntu again. The boot problem was worse than ever. Not only would it not boot, even after multiple attempts, it took multiple attempts to book from the live CD.

So, something in the laptop is truly screwed up. I've read some things about Ubuntu messing with an EPROM on old IBM laptops like mine but couldn't find enough to tell me how to fix it. I've thought of buying a new drive to make sure there's nothing there.

One step forward. Two steps back.

Then, Dell announced that by the end of the month they would be offering a number of their models with Ubuntu pre-installed. I'm not quite ready to give up on my IBM T20 yet, but if I can get a new machine with Ubuntu all ready to go, maybe it will be worth the investment.

Dude, I'm gettin' a Dell.

On the plus side, in the meantime I've also been working with my swappable drive on my tower. I yank the Win98 drive and slide in the Ubuntu drive. I've upgraded to 7.04. Partitioned the drive better. Tweaked it so that I get full 1440x900 resolution on my flat panel display. Installed Google Earth (still runs pretty slow, though). Added wallpapers. Migrated my Buddy List from Trillian into GAIM. Installed Thunderbird (but haven't migrated my accounts yet). Migrated my Firefox bookmarks. And I am now writing this blog from that Ubuntu machine.

The next real step is to get a Windows emulator running so that I can run several apps that I really want to have that are designed for the Windows environment (such as National Geographic Topo). I also need to tweak some things to get all the buttons on my Logitech MX510 mouse to work.

Friday, May 04, 2007

New from the Hand Washing Committee

For many months now, the Hand Washing Committee has had a top-10 sign posted on the inside of the men's restroom door warning us of all the nasty things that shall befall us should we not wash our hands. The dispensers ran out of soap recently and the water was cold so there were plenty of signs posted on the mirrors to the cleaning staff to "take care of the situation."

A new sign showed up on the door this morning. It says "The Dirt on Women at Work. A woman's workplace surface holds more germs than a man's, with their computer mice and keyboards housing four times more bacteria and their desk drawers holding seven times more germs than men's."

The handwritten prefix to this message is "Looks like someone else needs to talk about washing their hands."

Now, were this posted in a more public space instead of just in the men's room, this would clearly be considered sexual harassment. As it is, it's probably going to be considered merely sexist. I'm sure the Hand Washing Committee looks at it as good clean fun.

Are these people really that stupid that they think someone won't point the inappropriateness of this out to upper management?

Someone like me.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Really bad sports metaphor

Illinois Congressman John Shimkus (R) used the following metaphor to describe the Iraq spending bill.

"Imagine my beloved St. Louis Cardinals are playing the much despised Chicago Cubs. The Cardinals are up by five finishing the top of the ninth. Is this a cause for celebration? Is this a cause for victory? No. Unbelievable as it may seem, the Cubbies score five runs in the bottom of the ninth to throw the game into extra innings. There the score remains until 1:00 a.m., five innings later. However at the top of the 15th the Cardinals fail to field a batter. The entire team has left the stadium.

It seems that they are more worried about next day's 1:00 p.m. game at home than finishing the game at hand. Who wins? We know, it's the team that stays on the field. Arbitrary deadlines and a date certain accept defeat before the conclusion of the contest. It is our national security interest to continue to take the field and support a moderate Arab state. Leaving prior assures a loss for us and victory for our opponents which will lead to another extremist Islamic state."

A bottom of the ninth turnaround? You've gotta be kidding me. Let me spin this analogy, congressman. . . .

My hometeam, the American Patriots are going up against the Iraqi Martyrs. The Patriots beat the Iraqi team soundly in the last game they played and come in thinking this will be a cake walk. The first couple of innings look to be another shutout but after that, the Martyrs change their tactics. It's like playing a completely different team. A team that plays dirty. A Patriot thinks he's safely sliding into home but gets cleat-sliced by the catcher and is out of the game. A Patriot heading into second gets nailed in the head by a throw and he's out of the game. The ninth inning comes with the game tied and the go into extra innings. The Patriots are getting beat up, loosing players. Sure, they are scoring runs but at a heavy cost. The Martyrs are loosing players as well but new players come out of the stands to take up the bat.

As the game drags into many extra innings, the crowd has changed. What at first were cheering throngs have now turned universally, not against the team who are doing their best in an impossible situation, but against the coach who has failed to see that the game is lost. The coach said this would be easy but the team is being murdered out there. And, wait a minute, weren't we told we were going to be playing in Afghanistan against the Osama Bombers?

And there's the coach, continuing to. . .

You know what? I'm going to stop this right now because the sports metaphor is just too absurd.

Wake up, asshat! This isn't a game. It's a war and it's lost. It was lost a long time ago. Hell, it never should have been started in the first place. If you think going into "extra innings" will somehow generate victory, you are just fucking delusional.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

(Not) The Great Yinzer Smokeout

I have absolutely no sympathy for the smoking population, especially since they have leveraged yet another injunction against enforcement of Allegheny County's indoor smoking ban. They cry about their rights being infringed. I'm all for individual rights. . . that is until they start infringing on the rights of others. In this case, my right to not breathe that garbage you're blowing in my face.
I consider it an assault.

Smokers are pigs.

While I imagine there may be some smokers out there who are considerate and responsible (it is statistically possible), I have never seen such a person. I have never witnessed a smoker go out of his way to deposit his butt in an appropriate garbage receptacle. If it's more that one or two steps to a garbage can, the butt goes on the sidewalk or in the street. Particularly "considerate" are those that flick them into bushes in an attempt to conceal their litter. My own father, a long time smoker, didn't seem to have any problem flicking his butts into the yard of the house I had just bought on his first visit.

Take a walk downtown and you will see smokers clustered around the
entrances to their workplaces, happily standing in front of numerous "No Smoking" signs to fill the entryway with pollution.

Some smokers extinguish their cigarettes in the conveniently placed
receptacles before entering a building, but many just drop the half-smoked cigarettes just before going through door. Almost all take one last long drag before going through, exhaling once the enter the building or filling the revolving door. The same sort of things happens at bus stops.

Smokers seem to have little problem trapping their children inside their cars while they smoke. Sometimes, they crack a window but I know from experience, that doesn't do shit. I would go so far as to say that parents who smoke inside their homes are committing an act of child abuse. I grew up in that environment and thought it was normal to be sick all winter long until I got out to college and started breathing clean air. After that, I only ever got sick when I went home for a holiday.

The smokers cry about freedom but they are not free. I see guys downtown picking up half-smoked cigarettes from the gutter to feed their addiction. This is not freedom, it's slavery.

And these slaves to their own addictions have held the rest of us in bondage for far too long with dire warnings of economic collapse should they not be allowed to inflict their so-called rights on their employees and customers.


Someone stole the pump off my bike today while it was parked outside the office.