Bicycling in Alternate Universe Boston

My bicycle route takes me out of Medford, through Somerville and Cambridge, and then across the Salt & Pepper Bridge into Boston. Crossing that bridge is like turning a video game up to Hard Mode — all the bike lanes disappear and suddenly there are double-parked cars to contend with. I ride fully alert and very defensively, so if a cab cuts me off taking a right turn I’m rarely surprised.

Today I biked in and, as always, it was smooth sailing until I crossed that bridge. On Congress Street there was a black SUV in front of me moving slowly and straddling two lanes. I could see through the rear window that he was on a cell phone. I employed my usual strategy and backed way off, giving him space to drive erratically, but he was moving so slowly that I had to pass him or stop. He drifted over toward the left lane and seemed satisfied with that choice, so I started approaching him on the right.

That, of course, is when he saw some sort of traffic ahead, slammed on the brakes, and took a hard right into my lane. I hit the brakes, which my bike has because I like being able to stop quickly. On the scale of 1 to 10, 1 being a light tap and 10 being a death grip, I had to apply about an 8 of pressure. Alarming, but not life-flashing-before-my-eyes. I’m stopped, he stopped, there is honking behind us.

(You may notice that so far we are in Regular Universe Boston.)

I’m someone that never honks in traffic because by the time I realize I should be honking the other asshole is already halfway down the block. But today I gave that guy the biggest finger ever and a loud FUCK YOU to go with it. And he saw it. At that point he did not try to run over me, so I was already feeling good about myself.

I took off, and soon a car pulled up alongside me with the window rolled down. I was ready for it: you asshole bikes shouldn’t be on the road, get on the sidewalk, etc etc. Instead I heard:

“Did you see that guy? On the phone! I don’t know how you guys do it.”

Then another cyclist rode up alongside me and checked to make sure the guy in the car wasn’t giving me static. I said something like “He’s being a good guy!” I found it hard to find words to express that the guy in the car was “being nice.” This is a very foreign concept and my language seems to have difficulty expressing the idea. The cyclist said the asshole in the SUV pissed off like three more cars behind us, and all that honking was definitely for him.

If a cyclist can get cut off — while passing on the right no less — and still get support from other Boston drivers, I have to wonder if I’m in the right universe.

OMG Police Brutality

Unfortunately for the Occupy protesters’ messaging, this guy is right:

Boston Globe reporter on Occupy Boston arrests

Based on the videos I’ve seen, I pretty much agree. The Boston Police did show restraint, although that one guy just getting pushed over seemed unprovoked.

However: It’s clear that there’s a lot of propaganda coming out of the city now, between blaming the arrests on “anarchists” or evicting “to protect the plants.” It’s clear to me what this was: a show of force to tell Occupy Boston “we’ll let you have your little crappy plot of land next to the big ugly vent, but don’t think about getting any bigger.” The lawn next to Dewey Square was just a big barely-utilized field before, so who cares if a bunch of tents pop up for (as the city thinks) a couple weeks? But if they’d allowed the tents to remain in the next park, Occupy would have quickly outgrown that area and would have continued to move down the greenway. Occupy Boston is a manageable protest right now. If it remains manageable, nothing will come of it. Nothing will change if everyone’s still comfortable.

Occupy Boston

OccupyBoston_4 by Niklas Weikert, on Flickr

I attended a general assembly at Occupy Boston on Thursday night and I got to see, as the slogan goes, “what democracy looks like.” A week earlier I’d attended the initial planning session and thought the group was laughably over-organized. There were subcommittees, a series of hand gestures, and a complicated procedure for calling on speakers and making decisions. At thursday’s meeting the reason for all that process became clear: it’s really, really hard to get passionate individuals to stay on topic.

We spent an hour discussing (arguing would be too strong a word) whether to add a specific general idea to a list of ideas that will be considered for inclusion on a document in the future. That overstates things a little: a lot of the discussion was clarifying whether or not the specific topic would be announced right away, or if it would be held back until the whole document was done. The worry was that by announcing this single topic, the media would assume this was the primary concern for the group. This was an important discussion to have, and I think everyone was happy with the decision that was reached.

But it’s easy to see how, based on the rules of process, it will be hard to come to an agreement on actual details. Right now anyone can veto a proposal, and as the vague amorphous anger becomes more specific someone is going to be annoyed with the result. As an example, either the Paul-ies are going to be mad that Ending the Fed isn’t a major priority, or a non-Paul-y (like me) is going to be mad that Ending the Fed is a major priority. As long as a decision hasn’t been made, every protester assumes that the group agrees with him or herself.

The Boston protest is still in its early stages, and the facilitators running the meetings are still getting a hang of the complicated process. I think they need to have a stronger hand and make sure the process is going ahead as it’s been defined. Then, as the rest of the people learn the rules it will get easier to stay on topic. There are always going to be idiots who offer a “friendly amendment” as an excuse to inject whatever personal pet issue they are obsessed with, but they’ll just be like the annoying radio show caller that gets shut down quickly.

The support for the movement is growing daily, with unions, (more unions), ice cream manufacturers, and general folk of all stripes joining up. And with a high degree of tolerance coming from the Boston Police, I think Occupy Boston will have the time they need to mature.

a train passes in the rain: medford.

The last time I used my neato binaural microphones was 2006, and that makes me feel guilty. Every so often I find them in a drawer and think, “I should really use these sometime.” During the last huge thunderstorm I tried to use them, but by the time I figured out how to record audio on linux (yeah, I know) the storm was basically over. Tonight it’s raining again and my recording system works. And since we live next to the train, I made sure to check the schedule first to make sure a train would pass while I was recording. Now you, too, can pretend you live in Medford next to the tracks.

This recording should be listened to with headphones. That way you’ll get the full 3D-sound effect.

(ps, I don’t know who makes this little audio playback applet, but it’s great. I stole it from another web page, but if anyone knows whose this is, let me know.)

Well, that was fucked up

Here were are, stopped in the left turn lane of a stop light at a big intersection (McGrath and Broadway) when a BMW sloowly runs the light opposite us, doesn’t turn, and comes slowly towards us, and towards (I honk), and towards, until I realize they’re not going to stop at all and I try to get the fuck out of the way. They continue on McGrath headed south on the wrong side of the road. We did suffer a glancing blow, but just minor damage and everyone all right. Reported plate number to police. WTF!

The extent of the damage, although this really overstates the case since many of those scratches were pre-existing.

Small chunk of plastic missing -- all in all, could have been a lot worse

Bicycle v. Boston

I recently went to a DJ show at Good Life, and since these shows usually last longer than the T runs and I also hate cabs, I decided to bike both ways (about 5.5 miles each way). It had been flurrying all day, but there wasn’t enough snow or ice on the roads to make me worried about wiping out.

One factor I hadn’t considered, however, was road salt:

My bike, caked with salt and grime
My bike, caked with salt and grime

Closeup of salt and grime
Closeup of salt and grime

I’ve wiped as much of it off as I can, but it’s too cold to wash the bike (it would probably just freeze). My hope is that the chain isn’t ruined and my components aren’t all going to rust. Ah well, the show was fun.

How to watch post-season baseball without wanting to stab yourself in the face

You want to watch the post season, but you can’t stand the awful, brain-dead commentary. What do you do? Well, if you use linux, you can spend 7 innings out of nine trying to get jack audio to work — which, when it finally does work, does the job well:

Using jack to delay audio

For those who aren’t familiar with JACK, it’s a “professional”-quality audio library that’s designed for low-latency audio routing and mixing. It’s great if you want to easily pipe audio from one application to another. In this case, I want to take the baseball AM radio broadcast, feed it into my laptop, delay it 7 seconds, and then output it.

So, you can see in the “Connections” window (using the program qjackctl) that the system input is tied to a program called jack-rack, and then jack-rack is fed back to the system output. Jack-rack is a program that supports many interesting audio plugins, like echos, flanges, pitch changes… and delays. Here, I have a seven second delay turned on.

And that’s it. All the difficulty with JACK is getting it to work without stuttering or skipping, which required that I install a “realtime”-quality kernel, edit files in /etc/security, and tweak all sorts of stupid options. As I say, it took me 7 innings of Game 6.

But now it’s working, and I can enjoy game 7 with good commentary from the very beginning!

(It occurs to me I should have gotten this working sooner in the season, but I had forgotten just how bad the national announcers were)

edit: Ah yes, why the delay at all? Because the HD feed is delayed by 7 seconds compared to the radio broadcast. I probably should have mentioned that.

Ben Folds, The Symphony, and Getting Punched in the Face

Char and I went to see Ben Folds at the opening of the Boston Pops season. It was fun, except for the part where some guy in the second balcony started punching some other guy in the face.

I’m not making this up!

Some guy whose post I found on technorati:

so i’m sitting here in the center on second balcony and to the left of me on the same level in the middle of the sound someone screams and everyone looks over there and it looked like someone was about to fall over the edge or something. then i kept watching and the guy goes up a couple rows and looks like hes talking to this other guy and then all of a sudden punches him. and then proceeds to keep punching him. the people around there try to restrain him and stuff, but it was really intense. and people were kind of screaming, so it even stopped the music for a couple minutes as they got it under control. but seriously who fights at a freaking boston pops concert. anyway.

That’s pretty much the way I remember it, although I missed the part where someone was about to fall off the balcony. I heard a woman’s voice cry out, and I couldn’t figure out where it came from. I thought maybe someone had too much to drink. And then I saw a commotion way over on the left side, and sure enough some guy just starts punching someone else in the face.

In the movies, when things like that happen, there is always the horrified “oh!” of gentle-men and -women in the audience. Funny enough, it actually happens in real life too! People were still mumbling to each other after the orchestra started up again.

Other than that, the concert was excellent. The hall sounded beautiful, and Ben Folds rocked the house. It was quite a meeting of two very different audiences — the regular Pops crowd, and a lot of Ben Folds fans. (Note: the altercation appeared to be between regular-pops-crowd-types, not rowdy young ben-folds-types.)

A night to remember!

Update: the em-ess-em picks up on the story

Update with picture!

This looks like it’s getting a decent amount of play, so you can probably take it from here and search google news for more info.

Where are the Granny Smith apples?

Char and I have been trying to find Granny Smith apples for a couple weeks now, and no store we’ve been to has them. We’ve looked in Shaw’s, Whole Foods, and even Market Basket, to no avail. Where did they all go? Are they out of season or something?

As a spoiled westerner I’m not used to growing seasons actually mattering, so this has been a weird experience. The stores have plenty of other varieties of apple, but I much prefer the tart Granny Smith. My current theory is that there is one boat that brings all the imported apples to the north east. Sometime last month it sank off the coast of South America, leaving us without green apples for the forseeable future.

edit: success! Harvest Coop had Granny Smiths, although many were bruised. I think it was the leftovers from the last successful shipment before the boat sank.