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Norman Sperling
2625 Alcatraz Avenue #235
Berkeley, CA 94705-2702

cellphone 650 - 200 - 9211
eMail normsperling [at] gmail.com


The Rubber Met the Road, and the Road Won

© Norman Sperling, February 19, 2012

My ancient Nishiki bike has blown its last tire. It's been nickel-and-diming me to death for years. The seat has problems, the front wheel makes noises, spokes keep breaking, ... It's way past its prime, always needing this and that readjusted or replaced. It's worn out, and just going to get worse.

It was built in Japan in 1976. I bought it used and with rust spots, in Oakland in the mid 1980s. I probably rode it 300 days a year, roughly 5 miles each. So I've pedaled 37,000 miles on it! It doesn't owe me anything.

It's taken me lots of places. It's seen a whole lot of Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda, San Mateo, Burlingame, Millbrae, Foster City, Belmont, San Carlos, and Redwood City. In the last 2 years I've ridden it along all of San Mateo County's Bay Trail, except the part in East Palo Alto.

My son Mason says I can use his bike because he never does. I spent an hour reinflating tires, banishing cobwebs and leaves, raising and then replacing the seat (with the old one I don't like from the Nishiki). I discovered that its seat-bolt isn't 9/16 inch, it's really 14 mm, as demonstrated when I found the right wrench. I raised the handlebars the last inch that their structure allowed.

After a couple times around the block, I felt stable enough for a short jaunt. It's OK, but a very different feel. It makes me lean much more forward than I like, so my neck and wrists and arms complain. I do like the shock-absorbing rear wheel, the handlebar gearshift (no more reaching for an inconvenient lever) and the wide, knobby tires (no more dodging grates, but they feel funny vibrating as I roll).

My next bike will probably be my last. So I want handlebars that put the handles where my hands actually are - similar to my old Schwinndlebars. I want a comfortable seat like a Brooks saddle, with a shock absorber. I want strong sturdy tires that resist punctures on gravel paths, a major time-and-money waster with the old bike's thin tires.

With my Great Science Trek coming up, the bike has to fold to avoid taking up too much space in my camper. A folder would also be wise for the probably-small car and dwelling I expect after the Trek. Weight isn't an issue, though, because I use the bike for exercise. I've started looking at Brompton and Dahon, but they give me sticker-shock.

Lane Bike

© Norman Sperling, November 10, 2011

Decades ago, safety experts decreed that pavement writing that needs more than one word had to put the first word first, then a gap, then the second word, then another gap and the third word, etc. This way, people would read the words in the proper order.

That only works if the words are widely spread. By 20 years ago, that important factor became neglected. So now they put successive words right on top of one another, where the eye naturally reads the top one first. Hence:
for the bike lane I pedal in, and
when there is a stop-sign ahead.

The requirement that the first word be encountered first is remembered, but the requirement of sufficient spacing is forgotten. This looks stupid, confuses drivers needlessly, and tells everyone that the people responsible for it are mindless followers of rules that they don’t understand ... and misapply.

Find the original spacing standard (or update it), and trumpet it so loudly that the Public Works workers in the street understand and follow it.

Skipping Transit Stops

© Norman Sperling, November 29, 2010

Transit ridership soars when the ride speeds up. Here on the peninsula south of San Francisco, CalTrain's "Baby Bullet" doesn't actually go faster than other trains, but it does skip a lot of stops, including the slowing down for them. Ridership is up importantly because it's so fast. It's the preferred transit ... even though it's not cheap, and the San Francisco terminal isn't particularly close to all the sky-scrapers.

The speeding up comes from skipping stops. How about EVERY rush-hour train skipping every other station? First send an "Odds" train that only stops at odd-numbered stations, then an "Evens" train. Every station gets served, and all the trains get to the other end much faster.

To outflank a violent front

Heading south on I-75 to outflank the violent front. Will reassess from central Florida.

Mix Rube Goldberg's inventiveness with current culture

The Big Bento Box of Unuseless Japanese Inventions: The Art of Chindogu. By Kenji Kawakami. Translated and additional text by Dan Papia: WW Norton, 2005. 0-393-32676-4.

reviewed by Norman Sperling, JIR v49 #6, November 2005, p29.

Rube Goldberg founded the modern era of humorous inventions in the US, and Heath Robinson did the same in the UK, in the first half of the 1900s. Even now, "Rube Goldberg contraptions" call to mind not only his cartooning style but his inventive wit.

The Journal of Irreproducible Results
This Book Warps Space and Time
What Your Astronomy Textbook Won't Tell You

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