Songbook of Weeks: Bike to work week

Since Bicycle Day isn’t actually about bicycles in any way, we might as well celebrate bike to work week (which is happening in Vancouver this week).

Queen – Bicycle Race
St. Vincent – Bicycle
Pink Floyd – Bike
mum – Slow Bicycle
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Bicycle
Be your own pet – Bicycle, Bicycle
Vampire Weekend – Obvious Bicycle
Herman van Veen – Fiets

Anything you wanna add?

Posted in biking, songbook of days | Leave a comment

I wanna be non-doored

As recently mentioned, getting doored by a car sucks a lot, and my theory is that fear of dooring probably makes people bike in a less safe manner overall. But there is an easy cure for dooring: get drivers to open doors with the far hand (that is the right hand in right-side driving countries). That way, as a driver you sort of can’t help but look outside as you’re opening the door, and as a result, you’re gonna avoid dooring people.

But how do you compel drivers to do that? We want right-handed opening to be completely automatic, like shoulder-checking during right turns or putting on a signal to switch lanes. Making dooring punishable by a $100 fine is not an effective method, because most of the time you open doors the wrong way you don’t actually hit anybody and it doesn’t become automatic to check for cyclists.

Here is what I think should be done: make it illegal to open doors with the wrong hand when you’re parallel parked. For one thing, if you do it on your driving test, that should be a big demerit. For another, if a cop catches you doing it, it should be a fine.

Yes, I feel uncomfortable proposing making something else illegal. One worry is that this will create another law that everyone is breaking all the time, which is a recipe for sporadic targeted enforcement and basically petty tyranny by the police. But I think this is somewhat less ripe for abuse than other laws because drivers open their doors for such a small portion of the time that they’re behind the wheel. If you want to catch somebody, they’re much more likely to be breaking the law in some way that’s already punishable than by opening the door wrong. That gives me hope that this is something that can be enforced in a mostly legitimate and not overbearing manner.

So I say it’s worth a shot. Introduce a fine for left-handed door opening. Let’s do this, New Mexico. The other way to promote correct door opening technique is to be somewhat obnoxious to your friends and family when they open their car doors wrong. Let’s do that as well.

Posted in biking | Leave a comment

Worthwhile Canadian Politics Maps

Here are some really great maps showing responses to poll questions before the 2011 federal elections in every Canadian riding:

This explains pretty much everything about how politics in Canada works. Here are some things I think are interesting:

1. Québec is different. It’s totally out of step with the rest of Canada  on most questions. And in unorthodox fashion. It is way more left-wing economically while trusting government significantly less. And it’s also way more left-wing culturally while also being way more xenophobic. In a sense, when we ask why the Parti Québecois has the weird, oftentimes unpleasant agenda that they do, maybe the answer is that they’re tailoring themseleves to the political requirements of what Québeckers want

2. Another part where Québec is out of step with Canada is that it wants closer cooperation with the US. Which at first seems strange since the views of Alberta, say, are much closer to what we think of as US politics. But the difference is that Québec doesn’t define itself against the US – because it defines itself against Canada. BC is the most anti-American province by far, which might have to do with the fact that it’s probably the place where crossing the border means the least. It might also have to do with the lumber industry.

3. They went and imported a piece of Alberta into the Fraser Valley. The Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon district is apparently totally out of step with the rest of BC, but totally in step with Alberta on the environment, economics, the military, even marijuana and abortion. Why, Chilliwack, why?

4. Newfoundland hates the environment. When my friends Anya and Maria were biking through Newfoundland, they found a lot of people who work in Fort MacMurray and spend freewheelingly in their home province. This picture is consistent with Newfoundland ridings having a rosier picture of the oil sands than their neighbours. And also the oil industry at home and the decimation of the cod fishery has made Newfies less ready to support environment than anywhere outside of Alberta. At the same time, Newfoundland has been a poor province for long enough that in many other respects – like wanting stronger pensions – it is very much unlike Alberta.

5. Alberta is kinda OK with Québec separating. This is my favourite part of the survey. Alberta and Québec couldn’t be more different in terms of opinion (except wanting less immigration) but that is also exactly why they agree that they shouldn’t be in the same country. We finally don’t have to take orders from those oil baron buffoons, say Québecers. Good riddance, maybe we won’t have to support those lazy frogs, say the Albertans.

6. Unlike the US, the views of people on the environment and on social and economic issues are not strongly coupled. I already mentioned Newfoundland. Another case is BC, where some of the most pro-environment ridings are also the ones that are most economically conservative. This is a good sign that culture war politics hasn’t yet totally triumphed in Canada, and a push for a conservative environmentalism is something that can be done.

7. Similarly, the views of people on immigration and on social and economic issues are not strongly coupled. Or, at least, that coupling is reverse in Québec compared to the rest of Canada.

8. Saskatoon, Regina and Nova Scotia like immigrants. Unlike the other niche trends, I don’t know the reason behind this one. Can someone illuminate? Are there lots of new immigrants there? Or, conversely, not enough?

9. Yukon is the best. I kinda figured as much. But New Brunswick’s weird mix of social conservatism, wanting higher taxes and strong deficit concerns, was, on the other hand, a complete surprise.

Posted in no value added, politics | Leave a comment

Summer quotes from vzglyad

Back in summer, I wanted to write a post quoting translations from Russian media outlets to give an example of the totally different reality with respect to Ukraine that Russians have access to. Now, thankfully, talk of impending World War in Russian outlets has quieted down somewhat and that’s all to the good.

So maybe the correct thing to do is to let bygones be bygones. But, because reading it had caused me so much frustration, I still want to mention the Konstantin Rykov-founded, out of some kind of weird revenge more than anything. No other website I know combines having a serious, measured tone with opinions that are often completely demented. Here are three quotes from editorials written in one week this summer at Vzglyad:

“it can’t be doubted that one of the main American goals [in the Ukraine crisis] is regime change in Russia”

“Expert discussions of the Boeing crash will now consist of arguing over how many demons can fit on the head of a pin. Everything [i.e. that plane was downed by Ukrainians] is clear to everyone already, what remains is to invent a way to save the current US administration while avoiding worldwide war”

“Along with the kindling the Ukrainian flashpoint for a chaotic global war, the USA continues to support armed conflicts in Syria and Iraq, to destabilize the situation in the Near and Middle East, to prepare an incursion of talibs and Islamic fighters into Central Asia, to plan colour revolutions in Russia and other nations of the Eurasian integration, and to organize coups d’etat in Latin American countries that have come out from under its control”

Posted in history, media, politics | 1 Comment

For the bicycle-curious

And now, some good news: David Roberts, superstar environmental journalist has apparently recently returned from a year-long hiatus at grist, which is great, because he is a very good journalist (note, this was a lot more recent when I started writing this post). In connection to this, I was browsing the grist website and came upon something unrelated: a video by Daniel Penner about starting to bike for the bicycle curious. Here it is.


The good parts: this video is nicely hipster-charming, features Mayor McGinn, Top Pot Doughnuts and shots of the city of Seattle, and is informative. Another good part: the goal. I think getting people to try biking is a good cause for many reasons, but, as someone who bikes, the main thing that the cause has going for it is that I think it is the most important step that can be taken for bicycle safety. So, as someone who wholeheartedly endorses the underlying message, I wanna go through the video point by point and talk about what I think grist got right, what it got wrong, etc.

1. Plan a route. This is indispensable advice for biking in Seattle, and in many other places. But it shouldn’t be. While planning a route is never a bad idea, it’s also something most people don’t bother with if they have a rough idea of the city and are going by car, for example. Going by bike should be the same, but as a beginning cyclist in North America it isn’t, because there are some streets you don’t want to bike on. The ultimate solution to that is to make those streets more bikeable. But your average North American city is not going to turn overnight into a place where every single street has a segregated bike lane. The easy solution is good signage. If you are biking on a street where it’s not comfortable, (a) there should be a street nearby going to the same place where it is comfortable and (b) signs should let you know that there is this option. I continue to think that the lowest hanging fruit in bicycle infrastructure budgets is signage (and more biker-controlled intersections) and if a city was serious about making biking easy for the uninitiated, more maps, distance markers, clearer and more frequent signs would be the indispensable first step.

2. Bike check: check tires / check brakes. Excellent advice. Of course, it also helps to know what to do when your checks fail. Know your nearest bike shop!

3. Suit up: dress for the weather / protect the head / no spandex required. I like the “no spandex required” message. The point is, to get somewhere on a bike, you don’t need to be a “biker”. People who are really into biking as a hobby or profession may have super-cool messenger bags or clip-in shoes or those weird bike cap things or whatever. But the smaller that population is as a proportion of the people biking, the healthier the biking scene in a city, roughly. Biking shouldn’t need accessories because it should be easy and convenient to do at any time, rather than some special hassle. Which is why I don’t like mandatory helmet laws, for example.

4. Find your zen. This is dumb. You don’t need to pep talk yourself into riding a bike. Just do it.

(not a number) she uses a single speed bike. In Seattle. In a part of Seattle that isn’t Georgetown even. That seems… how shall I say it? Unwise?

5. Use a bike lane where possible. Duh.

6. Avoid door zones. This is a huge psychological issue more than anything. I’ve been doored, and it’s scary riding thinking that it can happen at any point. As a result, I go out of my way to avoid door zones, and so make other types of collisions more likely. Since by far the majority and the most serious types of collisions are with moving cars, my guess is that this is objectively a bad idea. But the fear of getting blindsided by a door is just so high that I still do it, and so do most other people. Fortunately, there is an easy fix from the drivers perspective: open the door with the further hand! It works! This one is on you, drivers. Hopefully more on this soon in a separate post.

7. Claim the lane. I’m not sure about this one. As a biker, you should not have to give up your safety just for a car’s slightly greater convenience. So claim the lane if you need it for visibility, for example. But if you don’t need it, there’s no reason to take up a lane that I can see. I don’t think antagonizing drivers is good either as a strategy or as a goal in itself.

8. Expect the unexpected. Don’t do that, silly! That would make the unexpected expected, which would make it something that this bullet point no longer asks you to expect! What a conundrum! OK, I know the point is: be alert to what’s on the road. And that’s damn important. And also totally common sense. Nothing bike-specific here.

9. Making turns. Good to know that the two-step manoeuvre is called the Copenhagen left turn. Getting into traffic to turn left on a big street is definitely something that makes me feel unsafe at times, so letting people know that the Copenhagen turn is an option and making it sound cool is a good idea. All the same, making left turns is not nearly as frightening as the video makes it out to be.

10. Respect pedestrians. A-men. For me, the number one rule a new biker needs to learn that isn’t blindingly obvious. I mean, respect cars, too. But respect pedestrians because you’re in a position of power over them and so respecting their right of way and movements is just basic not being a dick. Although, as you can tell, I think the less preparation necessary for biking the better, this is really something that needs to be learned right at the start, because there really isn’t anything that will cause you to learn.

11. Occasionally people will throw stuff at you. What kind of terrible dystopian world does this video live in? I’ve never had anyone throw stuff at me while I was on a bicycle in Seattle, so if this is happening to you, something is probably going terribly wrong. And also you should report it. I thought maybe I just had an atypical experience, so I asked several people who bike more than me, and none of the people I asked had ever had stuff thrown at them while/for biking (including T., who used to work as a bike messenger. Although last week a pedestrian told V. they hoped that V. got run over by a car, so it’s definitely not because there aren’t assholes out there on the street). But putting this point in is totally discouraging to a potential cyclist. I don’t know, maybe some people enjoy this kind of stuff, but if I was considering biking and watched this video, I think my reaction would be “Oh gee, I’d love to, but not so much if people will OCCASIONALLY PELT ME WITH GARBAGE!!” Are you trying to encourage potential cyclists or scare them off?

12. But mostly you’ll feel good about yourself. True.

Overall this is just repeating what I have long said on this blog: for bike policies to be effective, they have to work for people who are not seasoned bikers and aren’t planning to go through a ton of prep. But because those are not the people who are going to care at all about bike issues or bike advocacy, currently pro-bike policy, to the extent that it exists at all, is skewed towards the subset of people who are way into biking already. But you don’t have to be a messenger or act like a messenger or bike like a messenger (please don’t bike like a messenger) to go biking. Thus, I think the grist video is good in that it attempts to disintimidate people somewhat, but is not radical enough in how disintimidating it should be.

Posted in biking | 3 Comments

Unjustified expansion: not just for Russia any more

That’s right, we’re bringing the hockey-geopolitics metaphor back, but now in reverse, to talk about hockey. In case you didn’t know, talk of NHL expansion is afoot. A report surfaced listing Toronto, Québec, Seattle and Las Vegas as potential expansion candidates. And although the NHL quickly denied the report, in modern media, denials are parsed for being admissions of something only slightly different. Thus everyone became convinced that expansion of some kind is going to happen. At Grantland, Sean McIndoe goes over the pros and cons. His biggest takeaway: expansion is actually awesome because it involves an expansion draft and those things are craaazy.

So, you might say, cool, let’s go ahead with expansion. I want to try to dissuade you. Also, as someone who has avowed conservatism (not in politics but in worldview) several times on this blog, I want to write an opinion that is actually conservative in some way. So what are the arguments against expansion? One needn’t go any further than the best argument for: the expansion draft. Hockey-peripheral events like the draft and the trade deadline are way more fun for the pundit than they are for the hockey fan. So they often blow the amount of fun of the event out of proportion. I like hockey, but I don’t care about the draft, and I wouldn’t care about the expansion draft either. It might be fun for McIndoe, but basically everyone else won’t care. And that’s the best reason to do it? I have already written about why I don’t think it’s a good idea to bring hockey to Seattle. But really, all those arguments are nothing. My main contention boils down to one thing: rent seeking. So here it is, the least sophisticated, most foolproof argument against any expansion, ever: are you a fan of an NHL team? Yes? Well, with expansion, the team you’re a fan of is going to be less likely to win a Stanley Cup.

Fig. 1: probability of at least one Cup-less team as a function of seasons played

Fig. 1: probability of at least one Cup-less team as a function of seasons played

Simple. However, we at Rated Zed are nothing if not top-notch hockey analytics people (hire us!) and so we proceed to quantify just how much worse for you, as a fan, a 34-team league is than a 30-team one. What we shall see is that while over the course of a season, the difference between a 30 and 34 team league is small, over the course of your entire fanhood, they can be large. And pretty tragic. Basically, entire fanbases will be turned into the sad spectacle that is the Chicago Cubs faithful.

We go with the following assumption: there is absolute parity. Each season, a random team wins the Stanley Cup, and there is no correlation between one year and the next. This is obviously not true and not desirable, but if you care about this, it’s probably because your team hasn’t won anything in a while, and so this assumption is actually excessively optimistic. If your team sucks now, keep in mind that everything we say from now on is actually going to be even worse in your case. Also, you’re not 5. So you have even fewer fan-years left.

In fig. 1,  we list the chances that there is a team that has never won the Stanley Cup, after a given number of seasons, for several league sizes (the calculations are done analytically, by counting all possible arrangements of n-1 winning teams in an n-team league). Here we see that the 30 team league is already a destroyer of dreams. Chances are that somewhere today (Buffalo? Probably Buffalo), a baby boy is born kicking and screaming that will be dragged (kicking and screaming) into hockey fanhood as a toddler. A century later, he will be a wizened old man, the oldest in town, telling his great-great-grandchildren about that one time his team almost made it. “The skate was in the crease!” (or some similar nonsense) he will ramble droolingly, as all his descendants look around, embarrassed. This is incredibly sad. With a 34-team league, that depressing scenario becomes a near certainty.

probability of a league with at least three Cup-less teams as a function of seasons played

Fig. 2: probability of a league with at least three Cup-less teams as a function of seasons played

But who cares about the very worst team! After all, you say, I’m not a fan of the Sabres / Canucks / Leafs / Bluejackets / Panthers / whoever your preferred goat is. Surely my team will not be the one paragon of futility! Here is where the currently talked-about expansion really bites you: the number of cup-less teams will grow. For example (see Fig. 2) the likelihood of three cupless teams over an entire fan-life (assuming one can’t make conscious fanhood decisions before 5 and a life expectance of 80 years) goes from less than 40% likelihood for a 30 team league to over 70% for a 34 team one. It’s not any more encouraging if you look at shorter timescales. For example, the likelihood of your one preferred team winning a Cup within the next 25 years, already just barely over 50%, takes a 5% drop from expansion. Want to look at the stats more in-depth? Don’t. It’s too depressing.

Fig. 3: misery from expansion increases more than proportionally

Fig. 3: misery from expansion increases more than proportionally

This is of course unsurprising: more teams means more cupless teams even if proportionality was conserved. But it’s actually worse than that, as Fig. 3 demonstrates. There is much more likely to be 3 cupless teams in a 36 team league than 2 cupless ones in a 24 team one. This too is pretty straightforward if you think about it. But somehow no one ever mentions this as a drawback to expansion. Part of the reason we watch sports is because we want our favourites to win. For most North American sports leagues, expansion has already obliterated that dream for most fans at anywhere near a reasonable timescale. Adding more teams means more sadsack fanbases and more misery. Don’t do it.

Posted in hockey, The future | 1 Comment

Zolltan Nuclear Bomb Prediction Special

(Engraving by Albrecht Duerer)

And you thought the previous post was in bad taste! How about jokes mashing up hockey and millions of people dying terrible deaths? Sounds like a great idea, right?

I’ve always wanted to do a prediction style post on what country will drop the next nuclear bomb, but have never gotten around to it. With the current climate in world affairs, however, I have come to realize I better write such a post soon or it will no longer be relevant. And that would be a big embarrassment for this blog, which prides itself on being current.

Sadly, nuclear proliferation has not yet gotten so out of hand that I can think of 16 worthwhile candidates for the first round playoffs. So, the bracket will be padded with some unworthwhile candidates. Consider them the geopolitical equivalent of the Columbus Bluejackets.

Western Conference

(1) USA v. (8) A corporation U!S!A! U!S!A! But zolltan, corporations are eeeevil! Okay, true, but don’t make me laugh. The USA is such a juggernaut in these playoffs that no measly 8 seed provides any kind of competition. It’s got the offense, it’s got the defense. It’s more likely to drop a nuclear bomb by accident than anyone else is to do it on purpose. That’s how in command it is. USA in 4

(2) India v. (7) UK. A surprisingly high ranking for India. And with bellicose nationalists in ascendance, India has a potential nuclear confrontation in its pocket. But is India likely to use nuclear weapons first? It seems like the country can’t agrree on anything and by the time the Trinamool Congress and the seven different Janata Dal parties etc. all agree that something should be done, I’m sure we’ll be deep in nuclear winter already. In other words, the chemistry is just not there. Whereas the britishers are all about primacy. If they ever use nuclear weapons, you can be sure that they’ll be first. That can-do spirit means they have the intangibles to pull this one out. A risky pick and the stats-heads are not going to like this one, but sometimes we go with the gut feeling. I predict the upset of the tournament. Great Britain in 7

(3) Israel v. (6) There’s not going to be a nuclear bomb dropped ever. At first glance, this seems an uninspiring matchup between two unlikely candidates. Particularly the idea of no nuclear bombs ever at first seems laughable. World peace, ha! But the sneaky six seed is not as bereft of an offensive arsenal as it seems. Its secret weapon: the potential invention and use of a technology more deadly than nuclear weapons. Or, you know, any number of other ways the entire earth could be screwed in relatively short order. It’s actually a formidable foe. On the other end, you might say that Israel, an undersized opponent, would have trouble in the more physical areas of the game. However, sometimes it’s not the size of the dog in the fight. Israel is the only contender here that is small enough to have worries about total annihilation in a non-apocalyptic scenarios, and thus the moral barriers to dropping the bomb are much lower. They’re willing to go into the dirty areas where other players can’t. Therefore, I believe this series is theirs for the taking. Israel in 5

(4) Pakistan v. (5) Non-state terrorist actor. Pakistan is a country that has nuclear weapons. And also it’s a country where there is a huge amount of instability that we basically all agree to ignore for some reason. For example, this is happening in Pakistan right now. Also, this. Did you know that? Cause I didn’t. Also, it’s not clear that Pakistan’s government is in control of anything, and if it is, whether it still will be shortly. And there’s all sorts of militant groups active in the country. Did I mention there’s a bunch of nuclear weapons lying about? No problem there, no sir! The terrorists, on the other hand, have less natural talent, but an innovative coaching strategy. They aren’t going to develop or independently obtain nuclear weapons. But with the taboo against openly bombing other people with nuclear bombs pretty high, who is to say that a rogue state wouldn’t just make the bomb available to some terrorists who can then detontate it with tacit backing of that state, but without making the state as likely to suffer the consequences. A rogue state like, oh, I dunno, Pakistan? In other words, these are two sleeper picks to go very far in this tournament, but sadly, one of them will have to be eliminated in the first round. If I had to make a prediction, I would say there is just too much experience on the terrorist side to be easily cowed by brash Pakistan. Terrorists in 6

Eastern Conference

(1) Russia v. (8) France. Why is France in the Eastern Conference? Am I so blinkered that I bought into Mark Steyn’s stupid Eurabia thing? No, don’t worry, it’s nothing of the kind. Simply, this tournament has weird conferences / playoff seeding schemes. If it’s good enough for the NCAA and the CFL, it’s good enough for the world (TM). Also, this matchup is a cakewalk. The only reason to fear an upset is if Russia changes its name to something else and puts itself out of the running. The country’s roster is too stacked, in terms of people who don’t mind contemplating a nuclear apocalypse. Russia, as Kiselev reminds us, is the only country that can turn the US into radioactive ash, and it’s the only real contender with the US for the title. France just doesn’t have any offensive weapons to compare. Russia in 4

(2) China v. (7) Some country that doesn’t exist yet. Once again a 2 seed that’s at first glance very vulnerable. Currently, there is no geopolitical situation that I can think of where China might be tempted to use a nuclear weapon if that situation somehow develops. But, in the long run, its rise as a world power will necessarily enmesh it in further international conflicts, and its often ruthless politics mean it is not to be discounted. So both teams are youth-laden and looking towards the future, in a sense. But considering China currently has more tools at its disposal (read: a country, and nuclear weapons), I just don’t see this as having high upset potential. China in 6

(3) North Korea v. (6) A multinational government. To me, it’s sad that North Korea is this joke punchline to the west, whereas in actuality it is one of the greatest tragedies of the world. And yet, here I am, using it as a joke punchline. A very hard-fought series, but in the end, the North Koreans are just too enigmatic to rely on. Their production is inconsistent, and so I have to go with the upset: a multinational government in 6

(4) Iran v. (5) Saudi Arabia. Some high rankings for countries that currently don’t have nuclear weapons, but I think justifiable. Iran is well on its way, and the fundamentals for them achieving nuclear weaponry are just too solid to ignore. Whereas Saudi Arabia has all but confirmed that it can purchase nuclear weapons and will do so as soon as Iran becomes nuclear-capable. And while neither currently has the leadership that seems likely to use the bomb, the thing with pushing radical world’s end theology on your subjects is that some people come to believe it, and those people have a chance to get power, too. Iranian politicians have several times mentioned they would like to see Israel destroyed, and so I believe they are the more motivated team. Iran in 6

Posted in politics, The future, Uncategorized | Leave a comment