Sunday, November 28, 2004

Three Speed Bicycles

Three Speed Bicycles is a paen to the english bicycles that were popular in the United States in the two decades before the "Bike Boom" of the early 1970s. These internal-hub geared bicycles can still be found in garages and yard sales, but are becoming scarcer and more coveted in recent years. The author opines:

Once upon a time there were bicycles that seemed to invite you to go for a ride. They had fenders to keep themselves and their riders clean. They had a chainguard to protect their rider's trouser cuff. They had a saddle that, though not as comfortable as an easy chair, at least didn't seem like it was on the attack. They had few enough gears for the correct one to be easily chosen, (3, 4, or 5), and yet there were enough to make the bicycle easy to ride. They had tires that were just wide enough to go just about anywhere except in the rough and mud. They had handlebar grips that were padded well enough that gloves were usually not needed by their rider. It was easy to hang bags and baskets on them if your travel required that you take luggage and such with you. Their parts, except for cables and brake blocks, seemed to be almost permanent.
English three speeds are relatively heavy, compared to modern racing bikes, but are extremely durable and practical vehicles. The author (I can't seem to find his name on the site, only a photo) reproduces vintage owner's manuals, parts diagrams, and picture galleries of tantalizing machines.
Posted by Hello

Sunday, November 21, 2004

First-Person Shooter

My dad forwarded me an email about this. At first I thought LIVE-SHOT(tm) was one of those hunting computer games. I don't understand the appeal of computer games about hunting or fishing. I have never hunted and rarely fished, but I would think that most of the appeal of either activity would be to smell and see things around you, to be out-of-doors, talk to friends, etc.; but no matter: LIVE-SHOT(tm) is far weirder than this.

When you subscribe to LIVE-SHOT(tm), you are able to schedule target-shooting sessions on a real shooting range somewhere in Texas (of course). An actual rifle is pointed at an actual target down range. The real-life rifle is mounted on a servo-controlled platform, which you, the customer, control with your computer mouse. For about half-a-dollar per shot, you hear the sounds and see the results of your shooting by webcam. Whatever.

By far the most demented part of this scheme, however, is the LIVE-SHOT(tm) company's plans to introduce hunting-by-webcam. In the near future, captive animals will be brought within view of one of these webcam-controlled rifles, whereupon a customer can shoot the animal by clicking a mouse button. LIVE-SHOT(tm) touts this as a way for disabled or handicapped people to hunt, but it reminds me of those pictures of an Egyptian Pharaoh smashing a line of captives with his mace, one-by-one. "Hunting" corralled animals for entertainment is tasteless enough, but to do it remotely, from one's home office? How freaking stupid.

As an aside, the technology used to control and aim the rifle should appear in the next season of 24, Alias, or some other appropriate work of fiction. A character could set one of these devices up in a hotel-room window, and conduct an assassination from an internet cafe several time-zones away. You read it here first. Posted by Hello

Saturday, November 20, 2004


Reg has starting teaching Yoga at my old school again. He emails this interesting link, and writes

Have you read Steven Pressfield's "Gates of Fire" or Ernle Bradford's "Thermopylae:The Battle for the West"? One of the students wanted my opinion on whether the stand of the Spartans and their allies was an act of heroism or folly. My inclination is toward heroic self-sacrice but I'm going to read up so I can make an informed argument.

How discussion of people transfixing each other with spears affects the mellow environment of a yoga class, I do not know. Nevertheless, while I have not yet heard of Bradford, I did read Pressfield last year. His book is entertaining - sort of like a Patrick O'Brian novel, but with spears and sandals instead of floggings and grapeshot.

Pressfield's book does a good job of making the Thermopylae story plausible, and even humane. His Spartans are not mirthless automatons or gods who shit marble (to quote Amadeus), but fairly three-dimensional human beings. While Pressfield does address aspects of Lacedaemonian society that might be uncomfortable to modern readers, such as the helot-hunting death squads, his overall sympathy towards the Spartans is evident.

The battle at Thermopylae itself is often hyped by others, as a "stand of 300 against an army of 2,000,000". Pressfield describes a more down-to-earth, believable conflict - a positional defense by several thousand Spartiates and Allies against several divisions of Persians. Many on the Persian side are somewhat unmotivated allies, and even the best Persian troops, the Immortals, are fundamentally ill-equipped to face what is to them a novelty: heavy infantry.

Reading Pressfield's battle descriptions, one can see that he is heavily influenced by Victor Davis Hanson's The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece. Hanson's book does for the Hoplite battle what John Keegan's The Face of Battle did for Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme: to attempt to answer the questions, what did it feel like, smell like, to be standing there in this horrible event, in the dust and sweat? Hanson describes in detail what, at that time, was a new and strange type of warfare: two tightly-packed groups of humans pushing against each other with spears in a sort of bloody rugby scrum. When one side tired and turned to run away, they were set upon in a murdurous frenzy by the victors.

Elsewhere in the world, warfare was more tentative, indirect, closer to the game-like ritual battles of 'primitive' tribes. The Greeks were the first soldiers who would have understood the stated purpose of a 20th century company of Marines: to "close with and destroy the enemy ". According to Keegan in his History of Warfare, an Asian army of this same era would have been bewildered by the idea of "closing with" the enemy, and so was unready to face the bronze-encased, turtle-like Greeks. This mismatch eventually leads to the whole Alexander thing - the Greek method of war was like a big boulder sitting on a ledge, waiting to roll down on everyone else. Indeed, once can argue that this kernel of unrelenting fierceness the Greeks introduced travels all the way down to us, through the Romans, the colonial wars of Europe, all the way to Hamburg, Dresden, and Hiroshima.

George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh plan to make a film of _Gates of Fire_, but I am having trouble imagining Bruce Willis in the role of Leonidas, as has been rumored. The role of Leonidas as depicted in the novel should, without doubt, be played by Jürgen Prochnow. I do hope, also, that they do not depict the Thermopylae-era Spartans with the upside-down "V"s on their shields - that detail is from the Peloponnesian War , two generations later (unfortunately, Frank Miller's graphic novel 300 makes this mistake).

The site Reg sent has a nice page on equipment. We are used to seeing crusty greenish-bronze objects from antiquity underneath the cases of a museum, and so it is a shock to see how the panoply was originally intended to look: highly polished to a mirror sheen. To us, this effect looks strangely artificial and cheap. Shiny objects are easy to obtain in our world, such as a two-dollar roll of tinfoil. However, 2500 years ago the look of polished metal must have been startling; in a world of coarse-spun wool and pottery, a burnished cuirass signified fabulous wealth. It would be nice to own some of this stuff, but I might be mistaken for a Goldwing-riding, sword-collecting sysadmin.

For those that do enjoy looking at pictures of gleaming ancient weapons, let me recommend Peter Connolley's book Greece and Rome at War. There is a painted depiction of a Spartan in the book that looks suspiciously like Sean Connery.

Did the failure of the Persian attempt to invade Greece have any real long-term effect on western history? Did the Greeks "save" civilization? Pressfield's book implies 'yes', but I am not sure this is true. I'm still thinking about it. Comments and opinions are welcome.Posted by Hello

Thursday, November 18, 2004

I bet they have some diabolical machine. I wonder what it looks like?

Thank you for the introduction, Jennifer. A new example of the Bloomin' Onion(tm) Slicer can be had for $350 retail at "The Peanut King". This is an industrial-grade piece of restaurant equipment, which should give good service in the home kitchen.

One can read about the Bloomin Onion(tm) slicing procedure in detail at Note the onion pictured in the machine itself, looking somewhat like a hapless hobbit head clamped into some infernal machine of Sauron's. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Museu de Física da Universidade de Coimbra

I found this site back in 1998. It is published by the Portugese University of Coimbra's physics museum, and contains photos of the museum's collection of small machines. These machines appear to be demonstration models of primitive engineering and mathematics tools. Some of the crane designs remained static for centuries; if I am not mistaken, many of the models themselves were built in the 18th century. There are several excellent model cranes, devices, and other artifacts.

I researched these engines for a project that would show objects from the barren windswept plateau of Lugubria Major, a graduate-school short story by L. Posted by Hello

Brick wallpaper

For a few days in October, the rising sun would shine directly into the narrow alley between our building and the next. This would only last for a few minutes, and would light up the brick texture of the neighboring wall in a spectacular way. This picture was taking looking out the office window at about 7:30am. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

1997 Ford Aspire hatchback...

...manual transmission, radio, new EGR valve. A couple of dents...a bit under the grill is held together with duct tape, but you don't notice that unless you look hard at it. This is my brother's car, which he left behind when moving to Florida. Listed on craigslist here.

I took the picture at the Maudsley Arts Center a couple of weeks ago, before the first snow. This is where L and I got married in 2002. Posted by Hello

A last bit of Swiss Army bike pornography, complete with leather satchel case, and handlebar bag with blanket. You could go camping on this bike. You'd have to walk it up the largest hills, though. Posted by Hello

Sunday, November 14, 2004


I like this soap very much. I first learned about it through Grant Peterson's Rivendell catalog. L was kind enough to purchase some of this soap last week, and it has put me in a happy mood ever since. The cake of soap itself is very dark green, almost black. It has a pungent creosote odor, and can be used for shaving. Barbara, our previous landlady, once smelt a bar of Grandpa's Pine Tar Soap and recoiled in horror.Posted by Hello

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Entrances To Hell

Entrances To Hell is a site that Bill (the same Bill who is trying to have me sent to a cork-lined cellar underneath Nebraska Avenue) sent to me almost a year ago. I wish I had thought of it. So far, the Bill Masheen entry is the only one I have found with an accompanying sound file:

As the Battle of Epping Forest neared its climax, Winston Churchill siezed a unique opportunity and actually managed to capture the devil with his bare hands. In the frantic struggle to escape, the devil bit off his own left arm before returning in a great fury to his underworld home via Bill Masheen. While he waited for the missing limb to grow back Satan made numerous phone calls to the British Government in a vain attempt to seek compensation. Bill Masheen repels wildlife for unknown reasons and emits clouds of thick black smoke in the early morning (approx 5am GMT).

I am sure such entrances exist in Eastern Massachusetts, but I have not yet had the time yet to catalogue them.


...One of the best musical themes in the film, the Rolling Stones' "I am Waiting", does not appear on the soundtrack album. Max, during the somber sequence that this music accompanies, is dressed in Dickies, a brownish jacket and a Leonid Brezhnev hat, which for some reason always reminds us of our friend Ian.Posted by Hello

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

In case anyone reading this blog has not yet seen this movie (and I suspect this number is small), I recommend Rushmore (1998, Wes Anderson) enthusiastically and without reservation.

Update: We watched it again tonight for the first time in a couple of years. The film is set in 1997, and yet I have always had the sense that the date of the film is ambiguous, and is meant to take place about ten years earlier.

The protagonist, Max Fischer, is 15 during the action of the film. Max attends Rushmore from 1985 until 1997, gaining admittance at age 3 or 4 for writing "a little one-act play about Watergate". His mother dies in 1989.

If we subtract ten years from all of the above dates, the background of the film seems to make just as much sense. Max would have written the Watergate play soon after the event, instead of during the Reagan administration. Note the paper that Herman Blume is reading his speech from in the chapel scene: it appears to have been typed on an electric typewriter, not printed on an ink-jet printer. The cars and bicycles shown in the film seem to fit into a late-80s setting, and I don't remember seeing a single computer screen or laptop in the whole movie.

Herman mangles Max's sport-touring bicycle, and Max reverts to riding a woman's three-speed bike with an internal hub gear and a child seat on the back - his mother's old bike, and of a style common to the late 60s or early-70s. Dirk Calloway's bike is a red racing-style bike, something one would expect an eight-year-old to have in the mid-1980s, but would be unusual by 1997.
Posted by Hello

"Unlock It!"

Rich kids = bad?
Rushmore = best school in nation?
This guy = best chapel speaker _I have ever seen_.
Posted by Hello

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Bicycles on Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge

This picture was taken about 1/2 mile from the bicycle racks outside building #5 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The MIT racks were festooned with hundreds of student's bicycles, almost all of which were mountain bikes: "sporty"-looking, knobby tires, no fenders, no integral lights or cargo-carrying equipment. These are the typical city bicycles one finds in an American city or college campus, and yet their owners would be better served by a purpose-built utility bike, such as the Biria TC Top-3 below.

Why am I posting all of these bike pictures? Cycling has become much more popular in the United States in the last three decades. Yet, despite the racing-"bike boom" of the early 1970s and the mountain-bike wave of the 1980s, true utility bicycling has yet to catch on in the United States. Most bicycles are sold in the US without mudgards, racks, or generator lights, and few owners think to add these items afterwards. Recreational bicycling is relatively successful here, but many recreational users thing of the bike not as an everyday tool, but as a piece of specialty equipment to be donned for a episode of physical training, like a pair of skiis. American city bicyclists persist in carrying cargo in backpacks, using LED blinkers at night in lieu of headlights (or no lights at all), and riding in the rain without fenders. It is as if one decided to go grocery shopping using a VW sandrail instead of a Honda Civic.

In short, I hope to attract some attention to the idea of using roadsters, city bikes, and utility bicycles for everyday trips. They are nice to look at as well. Posted by Hello

Kronan with Front Carrier

A fetching blue Kronan outfitted with a front cargo carrier. The carrier's weight is attached to the bicycle frame, not the fork, which is perhaps a superior design. The Kronan front rack is available in North America for $50. Posted by Hello

Kronan "Classic" Men's Bicycle

The Kronan is a Swedish bicycle, in production since 1996. It is a reproduction (or, an interpretation) of an army design from 1942, put back into production by a Swedish entrepreneur when surplus stocks of the original Kronans ran out. The Kronan is a heavy, slow, single-speed utility bike with a coaster brake (a three-speed version is also available). It is available in a variety of bright colors, as well as a step-through "female" version. The Kronan is sold directly through the manufacturer, is inexpensive ($359.00 for the single-speed), and seems to have attracted the attention of various design publications.

The "men's" Kronan has a pleasing, chunky design, while the step-through version is somewhat less attractive. The rear rack is wide and substantial. The optional front carrier is especially useful-looking. While I don't like the idea of a bike with only one rear coaster brake, a front cable caliper brake could be added.

I considered a Kronan as a utility bicycle - something to chain to a light-post in front of the building, and use for grocery runs. The women's Kronan uses standard 700c tires (47-622), but the men's version is inexplicably outfitted with the 54-584 tire - a obscure size used for french utility bicycles that would be difficult to replace in the United States. A good utility bicycle should be able to accept Nokian studded tires in the winter and the invincible Conti Top Touring tires in the summer. The men's Kronan can use neither of these, which is a major drawback.

An example of the original Kronan can be found here. Posted by Hello

Original Raleigh DL-1

This is the bicycle upon which the Indian Eastman Roadster is based. Extraordinarily laid-back frame angles and a Brooks saddle sprung like a box-spring are intended for unimproved rural roads. The thought of changing a rear flat on this bicycle fills me with dread, but I have read that the trick is to only take out the part of the tube that is punctured, patch it, and reinsert it betwen the rim and tire (tyre?). No SPD clipless bicycle shoes or Spandex are required to ride this machine, but the rod brakes-on-steel-rims are purported to have problems in the rain.Posted by Hello

Eastman (Indian) Roadster Bicycle

This is a picture of a Indian-made roadster bicycle, a clone of the venerable English Raleigh DL-1. The bike has a full chaincase, a highly-sprung saddle, and somewhat marginal rod-operated brakes. It weighs 50 pounds unloaded.

The design is many decades old, and this style of bike represents over half of the bicycles ever made. Many people in China and India still use "heavy" roadsters for primary transportation, although in both countries their use is in decline.

I have not yet ridden one of these monsters, but I hold them in a certain awe. I did see my first one up-close - a green "mens" model - in a bicycle rack at Columbia University last month. Apparently some underground business person is assembling and selling these bikes through the New York City Craigslist - no check, no credit cards, just $150 cash and the bike is delivered on a Sunday morning anywhere on the island of Manhatten. Tempting.

Picture, once again, from Yellow Jersey.Posted by Hello

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