Thursday, August 31, 2006

Working Less = Living More

A while back I was investigating a story in Maclean's Magazine about the World Naked Bide Ride, and came to the website of the Work Less Party, because they were both founded by Conrad Schmidt. I wrote to Conrad, basically saying "Good work!" and he was kind enough to send me a copy of the Work Less Party's book - Workers of the World Relax.

I think that it's helpful to describe Conrad before reviewing the book, because his story gives more background to the policies of the party. A Vancouverite, Conrad was working away as a software engineer and driving his car to work, as so many on this continent do. Getting increasingly concerned with the environment, Conrad did some math and figured that the earnings from one day of his workweek went towards affording his car - therefore, if he gave up his car, he could give up one day a week of work. He talked to his boss, and voila, he was a man of three day weekends who was no longer sending CO2 emissions up into the air.
He did this for a while, and then his worries about consumerism's effect on the earth caused him to do some deep thinking about his job - "Even though I was earning a great deal, I wrote software and the software made junk, the junk went to landfills and the landfills polluted the planet. I quit my job."

So that's the kind of guy who founded the Work Less Party, which did indeed run in several ridings in British Columbia in 2005.
And what are the policies of this party?
It helps to start with a couple of assumptions -

a) Modern (North American) society largely consists of a bunch of unhappy Dilberts driving their cars to work to spend their days in cubicles.
b) Modern society is driving the earth to destruction (which is fairly easy to believe, look at all the links I put at the bottom of this post).

According to the Work Less Party, there is a solution to these two problems which is never discussed by the mainstream parties: If we all worked less, making the North American workweek a 4 day one for example, we would a) be happier citizens, and b) we'd be producing less Cabbage Patch Dolls and Tickle Me Elmo's, which just end up in landfills anyway.

That's the simple version of the theory. Conrad backs all this up in far greater detail in his book than I'm prepared to do here in this post. He talks about GDP, happiness trends, energy issues, and compares our civilization to that of Easter Island.

I'll let Conrad's own writing summarize the problem for us:

Today we are dedicating more and more of our lives to produce more and more consumer goods. We work harder toward the empty pursuit of producing goods than we do toward the fulfilling work of living. The harder we work to make and afford "stuff," the less time we have to enjoy our lives, spend time with friends and build healthy relationships and communities. We are neglecting aspects of our lives, essential to our well being, in favour of status and material wealth accumulation that makes us no happier.
Our perverse work ethic is not just a social problem. The work we do affects the environment around us. The environmental tragedy of global warming, pollution and the extinction of millions of species are linked to the behavior of our consumerist society. We are working longer and harder at decreasing the ability of our planet to sustain us, and less at doing the work of enjoying life.

And here are some good quotes from the book:

On renewable energy systems being a false solution because they won't slow down consumerism - We might very well have unlimited clean energy in the future. This will give us the capacity to completely destroy the planet.

Society - Western culture is in an unending struggle to make enough money to pay bills.

In general - Make less STUFF - do more LIVING!

Conrad also describes two other issues and solutions which are near and dear to my heart, vegetarianism and the removal of cars from the planet, but I'm hoping to cover these issues in posts in the future, so I'll leave them be for now.

It's the (long) Labour Day Weekend in Canada. I hope everyone has some time to sit on a patio and do some reading, whether with a beer in the sunshine or with a coffee under some cover in the rain. Live a little, and investigate the Work Less Party, and maybe in the future we'll all be able to live a little more.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

How to sack yourself with a Cannondale

Well, I both do and don't want to write this post, so maybe I'll compromise and publish it in short form.

For those of you who are a bit squeamish, here's the REALLY short version: I slipped on my bike, bagged myself on the crossbar, and had a couple ultrasounds to check things out. I'm fine.

: )

Tuesday last week, at approximately 5:30 in the morning, I'm waiting for the red light to turn green at the intersection of Dundas and Kingston Road. For some reason I'd unclipped my left foot, which I never do, so when the light turns green it's my left foot (not my usual right one) that I'm trying to clip back in. My foot slides immediately off the pedal, and with my right leg bent (and therefore not supporting any weight), my body slams down hard on the crossbar of my bike, crushing my "boy's parts" in between crossbar and upper body.

So it hurts. Undeniably it hurts, but I seem to remember getting sacked hurting a lot more back when I was a kid.

Wincing off the pain I start riding, pedalling my way up Kingston Road. The pain fades away and I figure I'm okay. The two hours to Oshawa pass by uneventfully, although I do worry a couple times that I'm feeling a strange "flow" in my cycling shorts. I put this off as just my imagination and pedal on to the university and head, like I always do, straight to the gym and the locker room.

Here's where things got worrying, and here's where I'll start editing out how scary this really was for me. My cycling shorts were stained with blood. The blood turned out to be coming out of the part of a boy's body that he REALLY NEVER wants to see blood coming out of (and this is not an external cut... the blood is coming out of my urethral orifice). So I clean up at the gym, but I'm peeing blood that morning. I visit campus health that afternoon. Because the blood in my urine has been decreasing during the day, the doc figures I'm probably okay, but decides to send me for prostrate and testes ultrasounds anyway. Those happened Friday last week and this Monday. I got a call today saying the ultrasounds look fine, which confirms my thoughts that I'm fine, because I haven't seen any more blood since Wednesday last week.

And that, if you're a sleepy dumbass like me, is how you sack yourself with a Cannondale.

I wonder what the dumbest thing guys like Lance, Eddy Merckx, Indurain and Hinault ever did on a bike was?

Monday, August 28, 2006

What climate change?

I guess this shouldn't be a surprise - what with everyone (or so it seems) in the Bush administration being involved with Big Oil, and tons of Republicans receiving massive campaign money from the Coal Industry (which is going to make a huge comeback once Peak Oil hits - and, incidentally, the U.S. is the Saudia Arabia of coal), and with other nutbars like the Global Climate Coalition, and Joe Barton, the (Republican) Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce (who will basically initiate an IRS audit on you if you're a scientist who has written about climate change) out there denying that climate change is happening, but I just came across this story over the weekend in Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers.
If you don't have time to read the whole article, it's basically about an aide in the Bush administration editing scientific reports to get rid of their assertions that climate change is real.

P.S. - Nixon, Kissinger giving a winking yes to genocide in East Timor, the carpet bombing of Cambodia, Iran Contra scandal, Nicaragua, the coup against Allende in Chile, current Pres. Bush lying about the reasons for the Iraq war, selling all those weapons to Saddam in the 80's - why are the Republicans even allowed to run a political party?


8 June 2005
The New York Times

A White House official who once led the oil industry's fight against limits on greenhouse gases has repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that play down links between such emissions and global warming, according to internal documents.

In handwritten notes on drafts of several reports issued in 2002 and 2003, the official, Philip A. Cooney, removed or adjusted descriptions of climate research that government scientists and their supervisors, including some senior Bush administration officials, had already approved. In many cases, the changes appeared in the final reports.

The dozens of changes, while sometimes as subtle as the insertion of the phrase ''significant and fundamental'' before the word ''uncertainties,'' tend to produce an air of doubt about findings that most climate experts say are robust.

Mr. Cooney is chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the office that helps devise and promote administration policies on environmental issues.

Before going to the White House in 2001, he was the ''climate team leader'' and a lobbyist at the American Petroleum Institute, the largest trade group representing the interests of the oil industry. A lawyer with a bachelor's degree in economics, he has no scientific training.

The documents were obtained by The New York Times from the Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit legal-assistance group for government whistle-blowers.

The project is representing Rick S. Piltz, who resigned in March as a senior associate in the office that coordinates government climate research. That office, now called the Climate Change Science Program, issued the documents that Mr. Cooney edited.

A White House spokeswoman, Michele St. Martin, said yesterday that Mr. Cooney would not be available to comment. ''We don't put Phil Cooney on the record,'' Ms. St. Martin said. ''He's not a cleared spokesman.''

In one instance in an October 2002 draft of a regularly published summary of government climate research, ''Our Changing Planet,'' Mr. Cooney amplified the sense of uncertainty by adding the word ''extremely'' to this sentence: ''The attribution of the causes of biological and ecological changes to climate change or variability is extremely difficult.''

In a section on the need for research into how warming might change water availability and flooding, he crossed out a paragraph describing the projected reduction of mountain glaciers and snowpack. His note in the margins explained that this was ''straying from research strategy into speculative findings/musings.''

Other White House officials said the changes made by Mr. Cooney were part of the normal interagency review that takes place on all documents related to global environmental change. Robert Hopkins, a spokesman for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, noted that one of the reports Mr. Cooney worked on, the administration's 10-year plan for climate research, was endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences. And Myron Ebell, who has long campaigned against limits on greenhouse gases as director of climate policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian group, said such editing was necessary for ''consistency'' in meshing programs with policy.

But critics said that while all administrations routinely vetted government reports, scientific content in such reports should be reviewed by scientists. Climate experts and representatives of environmental groups, when shown examples of the revisions, said they illustrated the significant if largely invisible influence of Mr. Cooney and other White House officials with ties to energy industries that have long fought greenhouse-gas restrictions.

In a memorandum sent last week to the top officials dealing with climate change at a dozen agencies, Mr. Piltz said the White House editing and other actions threatened to taint the government's $1.8 billion-a-year effort to clarify the causes and consequences of climate change.

''Each administration has a policy position on climate change,'' Mr. Piltz wrote. ''But I have not seen a situation like the one that has developed under this administration during the past four years, in which politicization by the White House has fed back directly into the science program in such a way as to undermine the credibility and integrity of the program.''

A senior Environmental Protection Agency scientist who works on climate questions said the White House environmental council, where Mr. Cooney works, had offered valuable suggestions on reports from time to time. But the scientist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because all agency employees are forbidden to speak with reporters without clearance, said the kinds of changes made by Mr. Cooney had damaged morale. ''I have colleagues in other agencies who express the same view, that it has somewhat of a chilling effect and has created a sense of frustration,'' he said.

Efforts by the Bush administration to highlight uncertainties in science pointing to human-caused warming have put the United States at odds with other nations and with scientific groups at home.

Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, who met with President Bush at the White House yesterday, has been trying to persuade him to intensify United States efforts to curb greenhouse gases. Mr. Bush has called only for voluntary measures to slow growth in emissions through 2012.

Yesterday, saying their goal was to influence that meeting, the scientific academies of 11 countries, including those of the United States and Britain, released a joint letter saying, ''The scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear to justify nations taking prompt action.''

The American Petroleum Institute, where Mr. Cooney worked before going to the White House, has long taken a sharply different view. Starting with the negotiations leading to the Kyoto Protocol climate treaty in 1997, it has promoted the idea that lingering uncertainties in climate science justify delaying restrictions on emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping smokestack and tailpipe gases.

On learning of the White House revisions, representatives of some environmental groups said the effort to amplify uncertainties in the science was clearly intended to delay consideration of curbs on the gases, which remain an unavoidable byproduct of burning oil and coal.

''They've got three more years, and the only way to control this issue and do nothing about it is to muddy the science,'' said Eileen Claussen, the president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, a private group that has enlisted businesses in programs cutting emissions.

Mr. Cooney's alterations can cause clear shifts in meaning. For example, a sentence in the October 2002 draft of ''Our Changing Planet'' originally read, ''Many scientific observations indicate that the Earth is undergoing a period of relatively rapid change.'' In a neat, compact hand, Mr. Cooney modified the sentence to read, ''Many scientific observations point to the conclusion that the Earth may be undergoing a period of relatively rapid change.''

A document showing a similar pattern of changes is the 2003 ''Strategic Plan for the United States Climate Change Science Program,'' a thick report describing the reorganization of government climate research that was requested by Mr. Bush in his first speech on the issue, in June 2001. The document was reviewed by an expert panel assembled in 2003 by the National Academy of Sciences. The scientists largely endorsed the administration's research plan, but they warned that the administration's procedures for vetting reports on climate could result in excessive political interference with science.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Come see the blood in the streets

It struck me today that the intersection of Kingston Road and Salem Road (in Whitby), is a perfect snapshot of the end of civilization. To the south is Highway 401 - the typical 8 to 10 lane highway allowing motorists to hurtle themselves in and out of Toronto. A bit to the west of the intersection, on the north side, is a sprawling monstrous box-shaped mall housing the unholy, polygamous marriage of Danier Leather, Starbucks, Black's photography, I think a Moore's clothing place, and a bunch of others. Just beside and behind the big box they're ripping up more land for further retail development. So, at this intersection, you get a first hand look at our devotion to the automobile, rampant consumerism, and the paving over of agricultural land. And as a cyclist, as you're sitting there waiting for the light to turn green, you're able to watch motorist after motorist after motorist pass by in their cars, bringing us closer to extinction.

It's probably similar to what native americans must have felt, looking out over a plain of buffalo, massacred to drive the natives away to make way for trainlines. The various plains indians tribes must have thought "those animals were alive, they had souls, they would have fed me and clothed me - what kind of creature would do this?"
At Kingston Road and Salem, as you gaze at this snapshot of the forces which are ruining the earth's ecosystem, it's almost worse. We're destroying the earth not to vanquish some enemy, but simply because we don't have the will-power to stop.

A poem which has always stuck with me is Pablo Neruda's I'm Explaining a Few Things. Although in other work he uses wonderful lines like I want to do with you what spring does to the cherry trees, I'm Explaing a Few Things is a fiercely bitter condemnation of the Spanish Civil War, and the political figures who allowed it to happen.

He tries through most of the poem to explain his anguish through the medium of a poem - through rhythm and phrasing, etc. But at the end it all overwhelms him, and he can simply cry out
Come and see the blood on the streets.
Come and see the blood on the streets.
Come and see the blood on the streets!

How much blood, in the form of increased skin cancer rates, Hurricane Katrinas, heat wave deaths, food quality degradation, Iraq Wars, increased respiratory disease, increased obesity and associated health-care costs, mountain pine beetle infestations, reduced agricultural ability, glacier meltdowns, mass extinctions, rainforest depletion, water shortages, the U.N. Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, which states that 60% of the earth's ecosystems are in decline (good summary from the BBC here), and everything else, are we going to have to see, before we stand up to the Big Three, Big Oil, George Bush, and say "Enough. Please. Give us gardens. Give us bicycles. Give us a chance."

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

my Bell

This goes out to the guy who stole my $2.00 MEC bell last night, when Annalise and I were at the baseball game at the Rogers Centre.
You are a truly despicable creature, and, despite the fact that I'm one of the most easy-going guys around, you are VERY lucky I didn't catch you leaning over my Kona, fiddling around with a bike utility tool.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Zone

I get in two states when I'm commuting. Sometimes, for example if I'm on a two lane highway with gravel to my immediate right, I'm very conscious of traffic, and am concentrating on keeping a steady line close to the edge of the pavement. "Concentrating" on this however means that in fact I'm nervously veering side to side a little bit.
Then there's "The Zone," where I'm not thinking about anything and the traffic whizzes by and I slice a long straight line along the highway.
The Zone can be dangerous though. I often come across those damned storm grates which have the openings running lengthwise parallel to the road, and which are perfect for grabbing a cyclist's tire and throwing him/her into traffic. These are good examples (though they're not the ones on my route, just random storm grate shots I found on the web):

The ones we seem to have in the Greater Toronto Area have a full-length open groove on the extreme left of the grate, a moderately decent sized strip of steel running full length beside the open groove - this being the edge of the grate, and then all the smaller but still bike/life destroying grooves of the main part of the grate.
What a cyclist should do is avoid these damn things entirely. Sometimes however, when I'm in the zone, I can't be bothered to swerve, and ride right over the full-length edge of the grate, between the long opening and the network of openings. I really have to stop doing that.

The sunshine on my morning ride is perhaps a bigger issue than I am willing to admit. Sometimes (see previous post) when Kingston Road is aiming me right into the setting sun, I can barely see the streelights, let alone what colour they're showing. This makes me very worried about what the drivers behind me can see. I wonder if I should get one of these bad boys and just GLEAM my way through sprawlurbia. Think my cool factor would go up or down wearing one of these on a road bike?

And here are three random things:
The Ditty Bops are a two person girl band which is doing their American tour on bicycles, and documenting it on their blog.

Rick Mercer's "Talking to Americans" segments from CBC's This Hour Has 22 Minutes is up (in 5 parts) on You Tube.

These aired roughly around 2000. Mercer would grab random Americans, including senators, governors and professors, and get them to respond to totally inane facts about Canada - i.e. should Canada go to a 24-hour clock? Did you know that Prime Minister Jean Chr├ętien is black? How do you feel about the reinstatement of the polar bear hunt in Toronto?
It's a hoot, that's all I'll say. Here's Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, and Part Five.

P.S. - this is my favourite movie of recent times, and the trailer is available here.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Scarburbia - the land that civilization forgot

Quick note - I just realized that Internet Explorer (which I rarely use) doesn't load my blog well, and sometimes puts the right sidebar all the way down to the bottom of the page. If you switch to Mozilla Firefox as your browser, it should go a lot better.

Although this purports to be a cycling/commuting blog, I rarely ever write about cycling. Today I'll explain why.
On June 16 I described the route and the bikes I was using at the start of this commuting adventure. Although being extremely out of my way, that route at least had some nice bits, as I wrote and showed in photos in my July 4 and July 11 posts.

However, that route was a very hilly 67 km, took me 2 1/2 hours, and included an increasingly nerve-wracking stretch on Highway 7, which is a busy two lane highway which seems to have a lot of dump-truck / transport truck action. One morning I said "screw it" and took off on the more southerly, more direct, and flatter, Kingston Road/Highway 2. Previously I'd assumed Highway 2 was a death-trap for cyclists, but I discovered that if you're riding east OUT of Toronto, at 5:30 - 6:30 in the morning, it's a pretty safe and decent ride.

And boring as hell, as the following photos will attest. The humdrum monotony of Scarburbia is why I don't write about my commute much. The following photos can all be enlarged by clicking on them, and they more or less are ordered from beginning of ride to end of ride.

My bike's cockpit and a random Dundas Street scene. This is my dark world of deserted streets around 5:20 a.m.

Scarborough shots. I'm not being mean - there is really NOTHING of any interest to ANYONE in the WORLD on the stretch of Kingston Road through Scarborough. It's just a bunch of TD Banks, coffee shops and parking lots.

When I took these photos, Friday morning last week, I was startled to see gas down to 96.7 / litre. In Canada gas has been around $1.08 all summer. So I took a shot of this gas station's sign, and this happens to be right where I zoom down a hill and enter Pickering. The other photo is a shot of Highway 401 and all the tired souls driving into Toronto for their day of work.

A couple places on my route Kingston Road takes dead aim at the rising sun. It's actually fairly dangerous, I can barely see anything when I'm cycling into it, and just hope that any cars behind me can spot me before it's too late.

There's a lot more farmland in the Whitby / Oshawa area than I realized. In fact, to the northeast of Oshawa it's all farmland, and it's gorgeous - rolling fields with big old farm houses. After I leave Kingston Road, I go up Salem to Rossland Street, which takes me all the way into Whitby/Oshawa. Rossland passes a bit of farmland before it enters the city, but guess what? They're building subdivisions on the farmland. This new subdivision is right across from this field, which has another subdivision on its other side.

This is on Garrard street, just north of Taunton (and close to UOIT). It's hard to read, but basically it's an announcement of the rezoning of agricultural land as residential land. That is so classic. Here's a Stats Canada report titled Urban consumption of prime agricultural land. Not only are we sprawling residential areas farther and farther away from the downtown areas, we're paving over the best agricultural land we have. We're so doomed.

This is how my days end. This is my bike (an old Cannondale frame built up by my friend Smut) at the Whitby Go Station, looking slightly annoyed because, once again, it got me to Whitby in time for the 5:11pm train back to Toronto, which we had to let go by because it turns into an express and zooms past the Danforth Go Station. So, we wait until the 5:27pm train to Toronto arrives.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Oh my God, what's your name? My name's Lyle.

So I went down for the first time in this great adventure called the commute to Oshawa. But it wasn't entirely my fault - there were lots of things going on, one of them being a Lyle Lovett concert.

I love Lyle Lovett. My girlfriend and I saw him with Joe Ely, John Hiatt and Guy Clark back in the winter (all four of them just sitting with their acoustics on stage, trading songs). Last night we had tickets to "Lyle Lovett and his Large Band" at the Hummingbird Center. The large band means four horns, four powerful, gospel influenced backup singers, two percussion, two keyboards, bass, guitar, mandolin, cello, violin.
Anyway, I could go on and on about Lyle, but I won't. Suffice to say he puts on the best concerts I've ever seen.

To back up a little, I was moderately bored at lunch so I watched a couple cycling videos on You Tube. Notably the one below, where Marco Pantani blows past Jan Ullrich and everyone else on a mountain stage in 1998, and leaves them in his wake like they're a bunch of five year olds.
Then it rains lightly in Oshawa all afternoon.
At 4:30pm when I hit the road on Smut's bike, the Cannondale, I'm all pumped up with tour de france visions, I've got it in my head that I have to make awesome time down to the Whitby Go Station to make sure I get back to Toronto for the Lyle Lovett concert, and... most importantly, I have totally wet and slick streets to deal with.

So I just flew. I barrelled through Oshawa/Whitby like Lance was right in front of me and I was trying to hold onto his wheel. I turned right onto Manning and climbed that hill like I was Pantani - up out of the saddle, in the big chain ring, dancing on the pedals like I was a 125 pound Italian pro.
I zooooommmed down Garden street, turned into Mary street.... and ate pavement.

In fact, it was a pretty darn suave fall. Whenever I go down on a street my first thought is "grab bike and get out of harm's way." The front tire went out from beneath me, I went down, skidded on my right leg a bit over wet pavement, but bounced up again in no time, had the bike in my hands and pulled it over onto the sidewalk. The chain had come off so I bit the bullet and just put it back on with my hand (usually I'd look for a stick to use to save getting grease all over my hand), then I grabbed a fistful of grass, jumped back on the bike, rode the sidewalk a bit until I hit a driveway and got back onto the street, and started picking up speed again while grinding the grass in my hand to get the grease off my fingers.

When I got to the train station and finally gave myself a chance to breathe, I looked at my leg and I didn't even have any scars. AND... even despite the rain and the crash, it only took me 35 minutes to get from UOIT to the Whitby Go Station. Usually I'd say it takes me 37 or 38.

But the road was long and home was far
So I stopped off at this little cowboy-looking bar
I walked on through the door and she just smiled;
In a long pony tail and a pretty white dress
She said "Hi, Bull Riders do it best,"
and I said "Oh my God what's your name, my name's Lyle."
Give Back My Heart - Lyle Lovett - Pontiac, 1987.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Queen's Quay - August 12

The following are some photographs from Queen’s Quay West here in Toronto, where they partially closed the street to car traffic from Spadina to York, and put up a bicycle art installation.

What they did, and apparently this is only true from August 11-20, was entirely close down the eastbound lane of traffic, and transform it into a bike path, bordered on one side by a long bed of geraniums, and on the other by a long strip of grass.

The tower of bikes is basically a ton of bikes dangling on a steel cage. If you're close enough to look, they seem to be totally functional bikes. I hope they end up with a group like Toronto Bike Share when they're taken down.

Queen's Quay, for non-Torontonian readers, runs along Toronto's harbourfront, which is one of the city's busiest tourist areas. It's surprising how easy it is to live in this city and forget that there's a massive and gorgeous lake here.

And if you have a couple moments, this is a hoot - Specialized has put together a fun bike movie. Take a look at Outlaw in Lycra. It's an O.J. Simpson style freeway escape video, but with the suspect on a bike. If that link doesn't work, just go to Specialized and look for the movies. The other one, the cartoon, is fairly stupid, but Outlaw is definitely worth a look

Friday, August 11, 2006

Toronto Waterfront - Art Installation

This is a blurb from the most recent Toronto Cycling News email -

"From August 11th to 20th in what may be the largest art installation ever in Toronto, car traffic will be replaced with bike lanes and a kilometer-long stretch of 12,000 red geraniums and a picnic lawn the length of almost ten football fields. Two four-storey sculptures built (with more than 600 bicycles) will highlight the temporary new section of the popular Toronto section of the Waterfront Trail.

On Saturday, August 12th at 9:00 a.m., the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization
Corp is inviting all cyclists to come down to the waterfront to help officially
open this extension of the Waterfront Trail. They are hoping to get anywhere from 50-100 cyclists at this event and would like everyone to meet at the bike arch at York and Queens Quay. They will have a ribbon across the arch and would like to have all of the cyclists ride through it."

I really hope this is as cool as it sounds. I have Christo's Ribbons in Central Park thing in my mind regarding this.

P.S. you can subscribe to the Cycling News emails at Cyclometer. And complete news on this event is at Quay to the City.

There was a story in the Toronto Star a couple days ago about how bike thieves are no longer worrying about cutting through your locks, but are taking a crowbar and actually breaking apart the bike post itself.

That really rocks. I'm glad there's no end to bike thief ingenuity. First bic pens, now crowbars.

I took a lot of photos on my ride today. Hopefully they turned out okay (I'm too lazy to stop and took most of them while in motion) and hopefully I'll get them up sometime this weekend. Much to my surprise, I saw gas being sold for 96.7 cents Canadian today (for international readers, gas has been around $1.08 through the summer). So I took a picture of that.

Not to scare anyone, but it's getting cold out in the mornings. I wore long-sleeves today for the first time (with my usual cycling vest) and it wasn't really enough.

And because peak oil is never far from my mind, here's a link to a manifesto on oil consumption from Chevron.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Bancroft - The Death & Life of Great Canadian Small Towns

I had a bit of a go at Oshawa and Whitby recently, and having just returned from my hometown of Bancroft, Ontario, I thought I'd muse about the homeland as well.
Bancroft has a few claims to fame - historically it has called itself the "Mineral Capital of Canada," because around 90% of all the minerals that can be found in Canada can be found around Bancroft. People FLOCK to Bancroft during the August long weekend for the Rockhound Gemboree.
In 2004, TVO's Studio 2 named Bancroft as the Most Talented Town in Ontario. There is indeed a lot of talent in Bancroft. Going on the fall Studio Tour will allow you to visit some truly gifted artists, and the Village Playhouse has hosted great local theatre for about 15 years.
As well, there are some people doing very interesting things in the region. At least two people in town are "off the grid," using solar and wind power to run their homes, and then you have Chuck & Pat Potter's House. Along the lines of the Earth Ship homes, the Potters have built a home in the side of a hill, using tires, concrete, and pop cans. The building has solar power, recycles its water, and uses the earth's constant temperature to retain a fairly comfortable temperature year-round.
Just recently Bancroft has been in the news because of the major storm that swept through central Ontario recently, knocking the power out for thousands of people. These photos are of downed trees in the hiking trails behind my parents' house.

But, there is much cause for concern regarding Bancroft.
When I was growing up, Bancroft basically consisted of main street, which had all the shops, and the surrounding residential streets. At that time you could drive into town, park in the IGA parking lot, and then walk everywhere you needed to go to do your shopping.
Things started to go wrong when the McDonald's arrived in town (previously we'd depended on two fried chicken places for our fast food). The McDonald's is still basically in town, but it was placed to the north, and kick-started the current northern sprawl of Bancroft. As you drive out towards the original golf course that's to the north of town (there's now a 2nd golf course in town as well), you pass a Tim Horton's, a few unleased and mini-sized strip malls, a massive Home Hardware, an enormous Price Chopper, and a gigantic Canadian Tire (p.s., I didn't even use a thesaurus for those adjectives!). As well, the long running IGA and Valu-Mart supermarkets recently gave way to the low-cost No Frills and Price Chopper.

In 1961, in "The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs argued for closely packed communities where you met and mingled with your neighbour every time you took out the garbage. She argued for a concentration of people and shops in one place, the idea being that the two would support each other, and that a vibrancy would arise from the constant interplay of people meeting on the streets as they went about their daily lives.
Bancroft once had something close to that. At the best of times, the number of people who actually lived "in" town, and could walk to the bank and the IGA, was always small. Everyone else lived on lakes and country roads anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour and a half outside of town. But, they could still drive into town, park, and walk to all the shops etc that they needed to visit that day. With the sprawl to the north, with the "Hey! Wal Mart and Burlington and Sprawlurbia Rocks!" attidude that is happening up there, all this is changing.
Bancroft has become a town totally dependant upon the automobile. You now have to drive to the No Frills, then the Canadian Tire, then into town to visit the bank and maybe the pharmacy, and then back out of town to get your Tim Horton's, and then drive however long it takes to get back to your house. Main street is suffering, the sprawl to the north is disgusting, and as Jacob's would have said, there's only so much "vibrancy" which can be achieved when you wave from your truck to a golfing buddy who's driving the other way in his truck.

And what about, as I'm wont to do these days, Bancroft's sustainability in a post peak-oil future? Well, it's screwed.
Bancroft is heavily dependant on the cottaging industry (and come to think of it, on snowmobiling tourism in the winter). When gas hits $1.45 (Canadian) in five years, how many people from the U.S. and from the GTA are going to drive for hours to get to a cottage that they may not be able to afford because the economic recession caused them to lose their jobs? Even if they're working, can they afford the gas? And what about the honest to Betsy "locals?" How much is it going to hurt them to pay for the gas to drive into town, and then have to drive to the five stops they need to make north of town?
Here's the future - peak oil hits causing a recession. Americans and Torontonians sell their cottages and stop making trips up north. The snowmobilers stop paying for the gas for their machines and stop touring through town. The Price Chopper and the No Frills both suffer, and one closes. The Canadian Tire and the Home Hardware both suffer, and one closes. The locals who are lucky enough to keep their jobs get nailed by the high gas prices and by the fact that they have to make 6 car stops to do their errands.

And blah, blah, blah. I should shut up. The last thing I'll say is that I hope to God the people on the town council read some books, open their eyes, and start thinking about the future. Let there be a "downtown," design things so that people can be pedestrians again, and hey, build a bike lane somewhere!

P.S., I still love going home. I love sitting on the back patio, looking at the barn and the forest, reading quietly (though pictured here is my brother), and wondering why I live and work in the GTA.




Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Route & the Durham Cycling Club

It hasn't escaped my notice that I write about energy issues and American politics far more often than I write about my commute. The trouble is that my commute isn't really that interesting.
I try to leave the apartment at about 5:15a.m., and usually get to UOIT about 7:20. For the first 45 minutes that I'm on the road I'm biking half-asleep through the dark. And then, even once the sun has risen, I'm just racing (as best I can) along Kingston Road through Scarborough, Pickering etc, and there's really not much to comment on through that stretch. Just close your eyes and picture "sprawlurbia" and that's what I'm biking through.
The traffic, at this early hour, and in the direction (OUT of Toronto) that I'm going, is dead, so I have the road to myself, and often I just lower my eyes to the pavement, scanning for broken glass and pot holes, and pedal.
It did occur to me though that interesting things do happen once in a while, but I've been cycling long enough that I take near-death experiences for granted. Last week a big delivery truck just about bulldozed me over a curb and into a ditch on Rossland Street in Whitby, but I'd heard the roar of the engine, looked back to see WAY too much truck in WAY too little space behind me, and I bailed out of the way - let the nutbar pass, and then continued merrily on my way.
So you take a fairly uneventful ride, add in a cyclist who's survived lots of murder attempts, and you have a cycling blogger who doesn't really like talking about his ride that much.

Although I've never met him, I got Tom Blainey's name from a Toronto Bike Network member. Tom is involved with the Durham Region Cycling Group, and I asked him for advice on some safe/quick routes I could use to get to work.
What I received were TWO amazingly well-flushed out routes that I can use, and bless his heart, Tom tried to get me on single purpose biking trails as often as he could. Cheers Tom, it's much appreciated.

I suspect that Joe at Biking Toronto gave my blog address to the people at Car Free Day Canada because I got an email from them saying that they'd written me up on their site (it's there, it's just hard to find).
Thanks Joe, and thanks Car Free Day people. Here's a snippet of what they're about:
"On Friday September 22nd, from 10:00am- 3:00pm, Yonge Street from Shuter to Dundas will be closed to cars and open to those interested in exploring the other mobility options available to Torontonians! This stretch of Canada's longest street, and Dundas Square will be THE place to be for pedestrians, cyclists, transit riders, walkers, strollers, and blade-rollers. Hope you tell your friends and we hope to see you there."

And here's my other public service announcement, courtesy of my girlfriend - the folks at Dignitas International are having a bike-a-thon to raise awareness and funds for the HIV/AIDS issue.
Basically, it's a 65 hour stationary bike-a-thon: 1 hr for every million people
infected with HIV (of which 25 million have died).
WHERE: Dundas Square (Yonge & Dundas) in downtown Toronto.
WHEN: Mon, Aug 14th, 2006 at 7pm to Thurs, Aug 17th at noon.
Registration is done through the above mentioned website.

Friday, August 04, 2006

(little Rumsfeld) but more Bancroft

Iraq on brink of civil war, U.S. general tells Senate - Toronto Star, Aug. 4, A12.

Rumsfeld responds to polls showing that Americans want troops to pull out of Iraq by saying: "Americans didn't cross oceans and settle a wilderness and build history's greatest democracy only to run away from a bunch of murderers and extremists."

Does he have any idea how much ridicule he could get for that? (Native Indian issues, democracy?, bunch of murderers?? - look at American complicity in Cambodia, East Timor, and everywhere else you doofus).

Regarding the slide into civil war, generals Peter Pace & John Abizaid say "The responsibility for avoiding civil war rests with the Iraqis themselves, not U.S. troops."

That's also quite nice. We'll give you a civil war, it's up to you to get out of it. Reminds one of the first Gulf War, when Bush the First begged various small rebel groups in Iraq to rise up against Saddam, and then abandoned them to get massacred by Saddam once the U.s. decided to end the war.

But I don't want Rumsfeld and American Republican politics to be the last thing I say on this Canadian long weekend. My girlfriend, sister and I are heading up north to my hometown tonight for the August long weekend. Here's where I'm from.


And I want to be nice and cite this photo of Bancroft, Ontario properly - taken by John Andrasz, and it can be found in the Canada Photo Gallery.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Australia gives; George amuses, the naked ride

I owe Mark a post about vegetarianism, but I haven't done my research yet. I should also talk about cycling again sometime, but for the moment here are three things to pass the time.

EnviroMission's Solar Tower Of Power


"Acting as a giant greenhouse, the solar collector will heat the air to about 100 oF (38oC) hotter than the outside air entering at the periphery, using the radiation from the sun. Acting like a chimney, the air is sucked into the tower, where it passes through a multitude of wind turbine generators clustered around the structure. The tower will cost an estimated $250 million to build, with construction expected to start in 2007 pending receiving a $75 million grant from the Australian government."

And here's George:

The last one, when he slloowwwsss knowing that he's already messed up the phrase with no hope of catching himself, is the best.

And a story about getting naked and riding (text from Maclean's) ~

A few years ago, when Conrad Schmidt, 37, was still a software engineer, he told his boss he'd forgo working Fridays in exchange for less pay. His boss agreed. Schmidt, a South African who lives in Vancouver, offset his abbreviated salary by abandoning his Jeep. With no car costs and with a permanent long weekend, Schmidt realized he was working less for more money — a eureka moment that led him to write Workers of the World Relax, a manifesto due out this month. A four-day week, argues Schmidt — now a full-time activist — would banish unemployment, reduce waste and lengthen lives. Bicycles, he says, have the same effect — particularly when ridden naked, which thousands now do on World Naked Bike Ride Day, an oil-dependency protest Schmidt started three years ago that's now gone global. Says Schmidt: "We have so many laws. One small law that people can break is they can just go ride naked in the city."

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Chicago Tribune

I have just come across a reeeaaallllyyy cool piece of journalism on the oil industry in general, and also peak oil. It's from the Chicago Tribune, and probably the most stable link I can give you is to their Special Reports Page. Once there look for the story called "A Tank of Gas: A World of Trouble." It's quite lengthy, I don't know when I'm going to be able to watch all the documentaries and read all the stories, but it looks really well done. Has Matthew Simmons and James Kunstler on there as well.


And this - I just have to show you this. I got it off Dave's Comics Blog. I grew up reading comics, which is why I was looking through this guy's blog. The panel below is from Detective Comics 571, from 1986.

How to even comment on that?