Archive | February 2014

A Few Folding Electric Bikes

I’ve been looking into folding electric bicycles – as if I can afford one – so I can climb the three hills on my ten mile commute to work without getting too sweaty. There are dedicated folding electric bikes – which I’ll discuss later – but most are just folding bikes retrofitted with kits by Bionx or Currie.

The neatest retrofit I had seen until today was NyceWheels’ Tern Link + Bionx RR (rear rack) install. With the battery tucked in a rack, it is well-disguised for the streets of NYC, where blatantly electric bikes are technorata-non-grata. Unfortunately the $2,150 Tern Link is only for riders who weigh less than 110 kg/242 lbs – and I fluctuate ten lbs above and below that number depending on the season. The 110 kg weight limit cuts out all the Dahons and most of the Terns and Bromptons for me.

The 26″ wheel Tern Joes and the 24″ wheel Tern Eclipses will carry 115 kg, and fold as well as the Link. I emailed NyceW about doing an RR install on the $900 P24, but Steve claims that it would be difficult because of the disc brakes. (I have seen it done in another NyceW video.) The DT – downtube – installs look clumsy, and I suspect that swinging my leg over the top tube-mounted battery would be a pain at stoplights. The Joe weighs in at 30.7 lbs and Bionx kits range from 14 to 20 lbs, so a retrofitted Joe should weigh 45 to 51 lbs.

Two of the Tern Eclipses come with rear racks, but the S11i already costs $2,500 and the S18 already costs $2,100 without any electrics. These Eclipses are already 32.4 and 34.8 lbs so electric assist would increase weight to between 47 and 55 lbs. The $1,100 P9 looks like a good candidate for electric assist, but with no rear rack and disc brakes, I’m guessing Steve would say I’d need a DT install. A P9 with the DTs should weigh between 41 and 47 lbs.

NyceW’s front wheel drive retrofit of a Brompton should attract even less police attention. The M3L would carry me, but putting both the weight of the electric hub motor and the battery bag forward of the rider should radically change the weight distribution of the tiny bike. Also, the M3L plus the battery bag will cost $3,000 dollars or more.

Almost ten years ago, I test rode a Montague Paratrooper trail bike configured as the Wavecrest Tidalforce e-bike, with a hub motor in one wheel and a hub battery in the other. Wavecrest is long since defunct, but NyceW offers two sturdy Montague packages, the $1,950 to $2,850 Crosstown + Bionx and the $2,100 to $3,000 Paratrooper + Bionx. In these 43 lb packages the battery is mounted DT style on a locking tube just above and ahead of the pedal axle. It isn’t as elegant as the hub battery, but it looks less clumsy than mounting above the top tube. Either of these will carry 250 lb riders, and rather quickly.

In the realm of dedicated folding electric bikes, Prodeco makes less expensive but heavier machines with lithium iron phosphate batteries. The $1,400 Mariner, Storm and Genesis have 8 speeds and weigh in at 46, 49 and 55 lbs, respectively. The $1,300 step-through Stride weighs 46 lbs. Prodecos are cheaper at Amazon, where Zap has a good video review of his Storm. Reviews are generally positive, but many note that the range is lower than promised, and even Zap admits that you don’t want to pedal a dead Storm uphill. Seems like a good bike for retirees.

The $1,450 EZeeBike Quando is another single-gear, step-through moped, and weighs 48 lbs. ElectricVehiclesNW still lists it.

Looking at the weights of these other bikes, I appreciated that my folding Xootr Swift is very light at about 11.2 kg/25 lbs. Some of the Bike Friday models are a pound lighter, but at twice the price. I dropped an email to Xootr asking if they had experience adding a Bionx system using the CrossRack, which mounts behind the saddle.

They did not, but they told me that Xootr will soon be selling the 16.5 kg/36 lb Swift-e – an electric assist version of the Swift – in the US. The 36V 9Ah Swift-e is reviewed in this PDF from a UK bike magazine, and should list for under $2,000. From the pictures, one would hardly notice that it is an electric bike. I only live three hours from Scranton, so I wonder if they would retrofit my Swift if I drove it up there.

Cold War Still Frosty

We learned in school that the Ukraine was the breadbasket of the USSR. One of my high school friends – a smart, hard-working kid from a large Catholic family – was of Ukrainian extraction. That’s about the extent of my expertise on the current Ukrainian situation. When I heard that protestors had chased Yanukovych – a corrupt authoritarian – out of his Kiev palace, it felt like good news.

But on Press the Meet last weekend, it seemed as though the Cold War had never ended. Obamanaut and National Security Adviser Susan Rice was pleased with the rebuke to pro-Russian elements:

The United States is on the side of the Ukrainian people. And the Ukrainian people have indicated from the outset, three months ago, when this began, that President Yanukovych, at the time, his decision to turn away from Europe, was not the choice of the Ukrainian people. The Ukrainian people expressed themselves peacefully. They were met with violence. And that did not — end well for Yanukovych.

Of course the US is not even on the side of a lot of American people, but they are certainly in opposition to anyone that wants to get closer to Vlad Putin. More on that later.

At the roundtable, Chris Matthews invoked the Cold War. Judy Woodruff invoked the Cold War. David Brooks talked about Putin’s reaction. Host David Gregory was struck by Josh Marshall saying on TPM that Russia doesn’t matter. But Helene Cooper switched it back to asking how Putin will react. Brooks wondered if Putin would bring troops into the Ukraine, and Matthews thought the Ukrainian revolutionaries were still wearing ski masks so Putin couldn’t round them up when he came in. So clearly a lot of folk think Russia does matter.

Dmitry Orlov was clearly on the side of Russia during the Georgia & Ossetia beat downs, so it was no surprise that in Shock Over Ukraine, he was dubious about a pro-Euro Ukraine. Orlov’s guest poster suggested that vastly unfavorable IMF terms were the real reason behind Yanukovych’s decision to go with Putin instead of the Eastern Partnership:

Gazing down from their lofty diplomatic perch, these [EU] experts were blindsided when the barbarous dictator [Yanukovych] suddenly decided to do a bit of arithmetic, spotted a flaw in the deal (Ukrainian national bankruptcy) and swiftly decided to take his 46 million slaves away from the EU and give them to Moscow instead. And then, due to their ridiculous bureaucracy and complete lack of understanding of Ukrainian reality, they allowed an initially peaceful protest to develop into something like civil war.

Apparently Yanukovych could follow the money even while he was misappropriating it.

In a Feb 22nd Electric Politics podcast, The Ukraine Blues (h/t to CMaukonen), retired NYU prof and Russia scholar Dr Stephen F Cohen thought the sticking point was that Ukraine would have had to hew to NATO protocols even though in Russia’s shadow. He also spoke at length about how Putin could be an important partner for the US, if only they would allow it. Cohen feels that the US is intent on bringing former Russian territories into the US sphere of influence despite the risks of a hot war.

On Camera in Baltimore

We often throw around the term Draconian to describe unusually harsh or unforgiving laws and penalties. Draco was among the first to codify the laws of Athens on wooden tablets – a good thing – but he also assigned slavery and death as a recourse for many minor matters – not a good thing for minor offenders. The similarly-named Vlad Dracul, or Vlad III, who briefly ruled part of what we now call Romania, was posthumously given the nickname of Țepeș (“Impaler”) after his preferred method of punishment – rumoured to have been imposed for the slightest offense.

Here in Baltimore we’ve been having a broughaha over speed cameras. Many were put in a few years ago, then found to be giving some tickets to cars that weren’t even moving. On Feb 20th, The Atlantic’s Cities blog summed up:

Baltimore’s particular speed camera problem first came to light in 2012, when the Baltimore Sun revealed that at least seven of the city’s 83 radar cameras, all of them owned and operated by Xerox State and Local Solutions, were prone to issuing fines to drivers who were not exceeding the speed limit. Xerox itself claimed it found only five cameras that didn’t work, and shut them down. The city, meanwhile, downplayed the problem even further, claiming the error rate for Xerox speed cameras was “one-quarter of one percent.” In short: Nothing to see here!

Xerox’s contract with Baltimore ended in 2012, but the deal is making headlines again thanks to a recent audit showing the company’s cameras performed worse than even the Sun realized. The big takeaway? That error rate of “one-quarter of one percent”—promoted by city officials!—was actually upwards of 10 percent; 26 percent of issued citations were “questionable.”

I do like that people have slowed down on the hill between my apartment and the light rail, but the cameras have essentially created a series of morning drag races at the next traffic light as Lexus and Benz drivers – tired of doing only 25 mph – accelerate to be the first in line to get onto I-83. Should there be even more cameras?

Also on Feb 20th, Streetsblog came out in support of speed and red light cameras with, There Is No Doubt That Automated Traffic Enforcement Saves Lives:

The de Blasio administration is seeking permission from Albany to install speed and red light cameras as the city sees fit, while [Jennifer Lynch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation] argues that “New York has not shown that adding cameras to city streets and mandating private vehicle monitoring will prevent pedestrian deaths.” … If NYC implemented speed cameras citywide and achieved a 30 percent reduction in traffic deaths and serious injuries — the low end of the typical range of improvement in these studies — nearly 100 lives would be saved and nearly 1,000 life-altering injuries would be prevented each year.

There is no doubt that using speed cameras and red light cameras to impose fines will slow down traffic, but there is also no doubt that confiscating cars and throwing the offenders in prison would do the same. There is also no doubt that impaling offenders on poles along the roadway would deliver an even stronger message.

The question is not only whether cameras work, it is also whether the fines are imposed fairly and justly.

Whether accidentally, or accidentally on-purpose, speed cameras seem to err on the side of issuing too many tickets. Red light cameras have been shown to be unjust on-purpose. Operators and local jurisdictions have shortened yellow light timing to maximize profits. Local governments make challenging tickets as time-consuming as possible. That is not justice, it is entrapment and revenue enhancement.

No one wants people running red lights or speeding recklessly, so if speed cameras accurately measured velocity, would it make sense to have them everywhere? As a bicycle commuter I wouldn’t mind too much if cars slowed down. But by necessity I’m also a car driver, and one quibble is that speed limits are conservative. By car or bike, I drive faster when traffic is light, when the weather is good, etc, and slower at night, or in the rain. The speed camera just measures against one dumb number.

Another quibble is that once they teach people that all the streets are being watched, only a few fools will drive too fast and governments can kiss that speed camera income goodbye. So as a practical matter, localities will only put speed cameras in some places, and not in others.

More Bitter Truth: Cut All Processed Foods

In, Learning to Cut the Sugar, at the NY Times Well blog, Dr Robert Lustig clarifies that he is actually recommending that we cut all processed foods.

Q. A lot of studies lately have extolled the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Do you favor one diet or cuisine over another?

A. I don’t have any money on any specific cuisine or diet. I think they could all work, and they all did work at one time. But now they don’t because they’re processed.

Pioppi, Italy, is where the Mediterranean diet was centered. Did they have pasta? No. It was meat and vegetables, and some red wine and olive oil. The bottom line is every country has its cuisine, and every cuisine works for that country. But there’s one thing that doesn’t work for any country: processed food. And any country that adopts processed food, which is now everywhere, is getting sick. This is why I want to be known as the anti-processed food guy, not the anti-sugar guy.

So how are the big ag forces going to spin this?

Good Woody, Bad Woody

The Academy Awards are a few weeks away, and we are pawns in a public relations chess match. While Wallace Shawn speaks highly of Woody Allen:

In fact, like so many of those who have worked with him repeatedly over the decades, I’ve found him to be not merely thoughtful, serious and honest, but extraordinary and even inspiring in his thoughtfulness, seriousness and honesty. Of the people I’ve known, he’s one of those I’ve respected most.

… in, An Oscar Voter Spills Secrets on Woodygate, Wolfgate, and Awards Scandals … an anonymous “Pat” professes to ignore the person in determining his Oscar votes, but has a remarkably different opinion of Allen:

… A movie stands on its own. I’m not crazy about what he did, but on the other hand, you do a movie, and if it’s a good movie, it’s a good movie, and if it isn’t, it isn’t. …

I think some voters are not going to vote for Woody because of [the Farrow scandal]. I know a couple of people who think he’s disgusting. He’s the most unpleasant person to work for. The assistant director tells you, “You are not to talk to Woody Allen.” Except for the major stars. One woman actor I know tried to approach Woody on the set and she was fired.

Update 20140225: Susan Estrich at Noozhawk, tries to clear away the the misinformation:

As best I can tell, if the decision not to prosecute Allen was the right one, it was so not because anyone who knew anything concluded that Dylan and her mother were lying, but because the trial would have been a nightmare for her, she would have been savaged by defense lawyers, and, as badly scarred as she reportedly was by her childhood, a failed prosecution only would have been worse. In fact, this is precisely what the prosecutor told Orth: that he did have probable cause, but the trial would have been too much for the “child victim” (his phrase), and without her there would be no case.

So he and the judge in the custody case did the best they could by Dylan, given Allen’s “lack of judgment, insight and impulse control” (the judge’s words), protecting her from a painful and fruitless trial and denying her father’s petition for custody and visitation.

Your Snake-Hand Amendment Rights

Citizens! Your right to bear poisonous snakes is under attack. With the unfortunate death of Pastor Jamie Coots last week, there are those who say that poisonous snakes are too dangerous for the safety of the general public.

Our country, our nation, our homeland, has enjoyed a long tradition of responsible citizens domesticating all sorts of animals: chimpanzees, lions, piranha, and yes, snakes.

We of the National Reptile-handling Association (NRhA) believe the only solution is for congress to pass a new amendment to the constitution guaranteeing us the right to bear poisonous snakes, whether concealed karaits or openly-handled rattlers.

Don’t let the government intrude between you and your snake. Support the Snake-Hand Amendment now!

Farrow Abuse Claims ‘Inconceivable’

In, The Woody Allen case, which has been simultaneously carried in publications around the world, actor Wallace Shawn warns us against committing another of the classic blunders:

As a student of history in college, I learned that one can only come close to certainty about what happened in the past when overwhelming evidence happens to be available. But in the absence of that overwhelming evidence, one doesn’t just speculate, one proposes theories based on the evidence one has.

As a student not of history but of life, I have to say that I feel I’ve learned certain things over the years that point away from any automatic assumption of Woody Allen’s guilt. First of all, I feel I’ve definitely learned that a person’s involvement in surprising or atypical sexual behavior does not mean that that person is capable of anything. It was once believed that any man who loved other men was a danger to young boys, but we now know that that was very wrong. I’ve also learned that people behave differently in love affairs from the way they behave in the rest of their lives. People can have love affairs and lie about them, while remaining truthful and dependable in regard to everything else. And I’ve learned that there are older men who fall in love with very young women and in the process upend their own lives and the lives of their families, but that does not mean that they also molest children.

Shawn is well known for nodding and smiling in My Dinner With Andre, and for playing the Grand Nagus on several episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space 9, but is best known for playing the haplessly evil Vizzini in The Princess Bride – an almost inexhaustible source of quotes. Trying to prove Dylan’s claims against an influential celebrity like Allen is a lot like getting involved in a land war in Asia – the terrain and everyone you meet will be against you. Including the likeable Mr Shawn.

What Allen would prefer, of course, is that we all admit that we we don’t have definitive proof of molestation, and say nothing at all. But Dylan has spoken up, so are we to ignore her? As Shawn notes above, one can propose theories based on the evidence, and we do have the court documents, the public record of Allen’s life and his work.

My reaction is still to suspect that Allen was grooming Dylan for abuse. He wasn’t any sort of expert at grooming – not at all at Sandusky’s level – but for someone that had become used to getting his own way, he was grooming the rest of the family to see his physical intimacy with Dylan as unremarkable.