Saturday, May 24, 2014

Interesting effects of moving to a new place

I feel a need to assert my identity. As if I need to start drawing lines, like "I'm a Mission guy, not one of those wacky SoMa nerds or bros in the Marina* or yuppie folks up in Russian Hill/Pac Heights/Nob Hill/whatever." I don't like admitting to people that I work in tech. I'm self-conscious about my Caltrain bike tag. I shopped for clothes, as if to say "I'm the kind of metropolitan guy who wears Beta Brand, not a techie rube who wears cargo pants and sneakers."

* I hear that there are bros here, and they live in the Marina? Huh? Whatever.

Relatedly, I always hear people complaining about gentrification, even though they're the gentrifiers. I mean, I'm one, right? But everyone always points the blame somewhere else. "Yeah, you just moved here, and you work in tech, but you're not like one of the problem people." Sure, nobody thinks they're a problem. It's like we're railing against some possibly-nonexistent Terrible Gentrifying People who just move in and make the city terrible by throwing money around.

But this is all just one story, right? You can tell a crummy story about any group of people. If your story is "Terrible Gentrifying People come in and throw money around", then you spend a lot of mental energy trying not to be one of those, instead of just doing good things.

(at some point, I was talking to someone about potential uses of tweets and stuff to help understand cities, and I mentioned gentrification, and he said something like "Don't do a project about gentrification. Stay away from gentrification. It's such a loaded, meaningless word.")

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Bike #...4?: A.C. Newman

Shiny, popular, fun, but your parents would still like it: I give you A.C. Newman. I needed a bike for my 3 months here, commuting ~5 miles each way daily, able to handle the hills of San Francisco, sturdy, ideally not getting many flats, hopefully not a super theft target.

A quick Craigslist search didn't reveal much that would fit all those needs. So I took the advice I recently gave to a friend on Craigslist and bought a $500 entry level hybrid, the Norco Indie 4.

Can I just take a minute and praise the $500 entry level hybrid? Bike companies should get together and give this a name. I'm talking about the Norco Indie 4, the Marin Larkspur, the Kona Dew, apparently the Trek 7.2, the Specialized Sirrus. They should get together and say "look, all these bikes are our versions of the $500 entry level hybrid", and then whenever your friend said "I'd like to try biking, what bike should I get?" you can say "go to your neighborhood bike store and get a $500 ELH." They're nice rides, smooth, comfortable, versatile, not super light or fast but they will get you where you want to go with a minimum of fuss. Quality bike-shop parts (not department-store), so you'll have a minimum of Bad Experiences (flat tires etc). They're not super slow, grumpy, or ugly either. This article calls them "fitness hybrids" (and in fact that article is a good guide if you're in the market), as opposed to "comfort hybrids".

Anyway, this one's got fat tires (but not like fat tires, 700x38c), fat aluminum frame, and flat bars. Disc brakes, which I don't really care either way about but might as well try. Low-end (but not like low-end) Shimano parts, but honestly I can't tell a difference, and it feels smoother than my mid-range Surly. (having pros putting it together probably helps.) I like it.

PLUS, I got to support Pedal Revolution, which seems like a darn cool place. Got some new gizmos too: locking skewers from Pinhead and a hardcore Kryptonite lock because I'm a small town boy terrified of theft in the big city, some Knog Blinder LED lights (USB chargeable!) because they're small enough for me to actually carry with me when I lock up the bike, and a sweet Giro helmet because I was not thinking enough to bring one (or lights or a lock) with me. Welp.

I call it A.C. Newman because it's from British Columbia and it's called the "Indie", and I don't know who's much more indie pop than the veritable BC New Pornographer Mr. Newman.

And if you're really stretching it, you could say it's got pretty fat tires and is not a super lightweight bike, so you could even call it (wait for it...) The Slow Wonder.

Goodbye Pittsburgh, Hello San Francisco, For Now

I think this is mostly a post for my future self. I have a pretty good record of a lot of my life on my blog, but the last year or so has been pretty blank. Some of that is busy-ness, some of it is really not feeling like recording anything. I don't have a hard life, by any measure, but recently it's been harder than it has been in the past.

Looking Forward: man! I'm in San Francisco! This is neat. I'm starting my internship at HP Labs next week. We're going to try to do something with smartphone overuse, to help people who think they use their phones too much to use them less. Tati's coming out for an internship too, but I don't want to speak for her too much; I'm just excited that she'll be here. This summer's shaping up to be pretty great.

San Francisco is a fun place. Big city! Bikes and coffee! Uh, exciting events that happen every so often! Point is, you can have the best things here, and you can meet other people who are also interested in having the best things. (it may be capitalist heaven, which is weird, but better than being a hell, I suppose.) And it turns out I know a lot of people around here already, from one thing or another.

Work-wise, I'm excited about work back at CMU too. Getting more into geography in many forms, trying to figure out what exactly we're going to do first, but moving right along. My advisor Jason is cool (would I write if he wasn't? regardless, it's true) and we both see a lot of potential in using social media data (tweets etc) to understand our cities better. Somehow.

Looking Backward: I've heard some people say the first year of a PhD is the hardest, and I've heard some people say the second year is the hardest, and I've heard some people say doing a thesis is the hardest, and they're all correct. At least, the first year and the second year are both definitely the hardest.

The hardest part is not knowing what I'm doing, and feeling like I'm not making progress. I *am* making progress, and I guess you could say I had my first paper acceptance this semester. It was a workshop, so that's not huge, but I guess it was a pretty competitive workshop actually, so it's something.

But anyway, other thing I did this semester #1: I built a bike. Other thing I did this semester #2: I learned a lot about design fiction. (a newish field blurring the lines between design and art, if you ask me. did you see the movie Her? that's kind of a good example of it: imagine the future, where we have some particular technology, but instead of focusing on the technology, focus on how it affects our lives.) I finished up the semester with a really fun project where I tried to make friends with some corporations on Twitter. Modern corporations are people, right, so I wanted to see what their personalities are like.

I'll be in Pittsburgh for at least three or four more years. Which is great, because I love it there. I feel like I have the best of all worlds: great close friends, and a wide social network too. Just wonderful folks. And I've got Tati, and a great family, and you know, I'm feeling more optimistic than I have in a long time. So that's something too.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

I built a real bike with gears!


I don't even know if I can remember all the parts that are on it, but at least I talked about a bunch of them in the last post. Further things:

Front derailleur: Shimano Tiagra R440 Double 9-speed braze-on, $31
Rear derailleur: Shimano Sora 3500 9-speed, medium cage ("cage" is the length of it, depends on the cassette), $28
Cassette (all the gears on the rear wheel): Shimano Tiagra HG50 9-speed road, 11-30 teeth. (so the smallest is 11, biggest is 30.) $19

Shifters: Shimano Tiagra R440 9-speed flat bar road shifters - $71. This was funny to me, that the shifters cost more than the derailleurs. I guess that's how it goes. Anyway, they're pretty good. They're trigger shifters, so you click with your thumb or pull the trigger with your finger to make it go up/down. Turns out a shifter for a double cog is just a triple shifter but you don't use all three speeds. Simple enough. Also, installing and tweaking these wasn't as much of a bear as I'd thought. Cables and housings were included with the shifters.
Cable stops (for shifter cables, that mount where downtube shifters would be if you're using those) from Iron City Bikes, $12. Turns out these ideally mount with the barrel under the screw, not above, but that's mostly a cosmetic difference.

Chain: SRAM PC951 9 speed chain, 114 links, $14. I thought I'd have to add/remove links, but I didn't; just put it on as is. I guess it's a 3/32-inch chain, as opposed to 1/8-inch (like my single speed). It's got a PowerLink connector, which seemed to me actually more difficult than just using a chain tool, but what do I know. I got this chain, the shifters, the cassette, and the derailleurs from

Brakes: Shimano... Alivio I think? V brakes, from Kraynick's, and I think like $15 each. Cables also $5 each, so total $40. Thing I didn't know: V brakes and road bike brakes aren't the same. They're both linear pull (as opposed to cantilever brakes) but V brakes look like this:
and road brakes look like this:

Pedals: cheap black metal platform pedals from Kraynick's, $15. I'm sold on metal pedals after some cheap plastic ones I had on my single speed actually broke. No clips or toe cages or anything; I find that annoying. (note: "clipless" does not mean "without any clips so you can ride it just like a normal bike pedal", it actually means "the kind of pedal you clip into", weirdly enough. if you want "normal" bike pedals that you can ride with your regular shoes, they're called "platform".)

Seatpost: Virtue Promax 27.2 integrated clamp seatpost, from Iron City bikes, $20. Not sure what Integrated Clamp means but this looks like all the other seatposts I'm used to.
Saddle: Virtue Rivet saddle, from Iron City bikes, $15 - this thing is pretty hard, I might change it with Brian Eno for a softer ride.

Handlebars: used flat black ones from Kraynick's, $3. I'm kind of looking for some new ones, as this is the single ugliest part of my bike now. But I do like them to be flat. Replacin' these with this XLC Comp flat bar, 25.4mm clamp diameter, 580mm long, 5 degree bend. I learned that 25.4mm is the old style, most new handlebars are 31.8mm, and that gives a smoother ride too. But this has to match the stem. Welp.
Grips: new ones from Kraynick's, $5. I did not know that hairspray really helps get them on. (and they're really hard to get on without hairspray.)

Fenders: like $20 from Kraynick's. Parts from Kraynick's, I can't really tell you much about them, because often I just ask him for X and he rummages behind a counter and finds X.

Front light: CatEye EL 135N, $22
Back light: Blackburn Mars 3.0, $19
Lock: OnGuard Bulldog Mini U-Lock, $37 - these are all pretty self explanatory, but I am springing for some pretty decent stuff because I am tired of my lights not working. I use lights that take AA/AAA batteries too, instead of watch batteries, because I can recharge them. Also, better bike needs a better lock? I don't know. I do know that a couple of my locks froze last winter and so I had to sort of worriedly breathe hot air and pour hot water on them to unfreeze them before I could unlock and ride them home. Ugh. Maybe this more expensive lock won't do that.

Total: $1302. Well, at least I got a good quality bike, and I must have saved some money by building it myself... wait. Oh well, at least I didn't spend way more than the bike costs. (and to be fair, I counted fenders, lights, lock, the whole deal, which I'm sure aren't included on that one.)

Interesting approx breakdown: frame $500, wheels/tires $250, drive train $125, shifter stuff $125, everything else $250.

But more importantly, hell, I learned a lot. And it was/is fun too! I'm riding it around, and it is nice to have gears. It is nice to ride on a bike that is made of really solid parts. It's nice to ride on a shiny new bike!

Name: "Stephen Malkmus" just doesn't fit. This bike is too shiny. Kind of sleek, dark, pricey, still just a little gritty, surly (hah), able to travel but really feels at home around a city... I'm now thinking Thom Yorke. (though willing to hear other recommendations.)

Thanks: to Jerry at Kraynick's, Ryan at Top Gear, Colin at Iron City, Stacey, and Dad for all in their own way helping make this bike happen!