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From Issue #19 June 20, 2013

Editor’s Note

We like bikes; this issue’s articles; and your letters.

By Glenn Fleishman Twitter icon 

Several weeks ago, Elly Blue and Lianne Bergeron nearly simultaneously asked to write about Dutch cargo bikes, known as bakfietsen in the Netherlands. I was floored by the synchronicity, but the more I read about the state of cycling in northern Europe in particular and the significant movements toward an increased use of bikes for commuting and errands in America, it made sense to run both articles for perspective: “A Bicycle Built for Six” and “Hub and Spoke.” (We have six articles in this issue as we consider these a paired set.)

Tech is a component in what’s happening with cycling. Bike-sharing systems use solar power, cellular data links, and smartphone apps. Google Maps’ biking directions shouldn’t be underemphasized as a way of making people feel more comfortable about routes they choose. And multi-modal transit, in which you might bike, walk, take a light-rail or commuter train, and a streetcar is hardly unusual for casual trips and regular work days. (On a recent trip from Seattle to New York, I walked to a bus that passed me off to a light-rail train that dropped me off at a plane that took me to a monorail, and thence to a commuter train and a subway to get to my destination.)

Lianne lives in the Netherlands, outside of Amsterdam. Her husband, whom she met while working in that city, is Dutch, and they have four lovely children who are transported around their town by cargo bike — along with groceries, beehives (!!), and much more. For those who don’t live in or haven’t visited Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and other countries in the vicinity, you might be stunned by the volume of biking. Lianne and her husband have a car and mostly forget to use it.

Elly lives in the bike mecca of Portland, Oregon, one of the most progressive cities in America in terms of being accessible to both pedestrians and cyclists. Portland chose this route, in part, because it was in dire straits decades ago. City planners engaged in a host of zoning and other changes that encouraged density in the city. They planned and regularly brought in on time and often under budget long runs of light-rail, backed in the city center with streetcars. Biking was absolutely a part of this, requiring changes all over to make riding safe and feasible. It also meant giving priority at crosswalks and in light-timing to walkers and riders.

But Elly grew up in Hamden, Connecticut, hardly a hotbed during her youth of safe streets or bike commuting. On a trip home in 2008, she discovered seedlings of family-scale biking pushing through the asphalt; when traveling back this last May, she happened upon a blooming revolution. What she found is not unique. All over America, bike-sharing systems and improvements in infrastructure to handle cycles have popped up.

Bike-sharing systems already available in London, Paris, and Beijing are being joined by one in New York (in the middle of a bumpy launch) and soon by one in Chicago. These aren’t fads. The systems already deployed have seen heavy use and keep expanding. Gas is expensive and unlikely to get cheaper. The steel that goes into cars isn’t dropping in price, either. As governments start to assess the real cost of automotive infrastructure, as well as the true environmental and health costs, biking continues to emerge as a viable alternative.

Don’t take me, Elly, or Lianne for idealists. I was a bike commuter (two to three days a week) for about 20 years in Seattle, and I watched growing cadres of cyclists around me. Lianne is part of the 84 percent of Dutch who cycle regularly. Elly may be an advocate, but her work is paying dividends, as anyone who lives in a large American city can see. The future is in 19th-century technology, not this newfangled automobile!

Weighty matters

Joe Ray came to us with a story. “It’s about weighing ingredients on scales,” he said. I was dubious. But, as he explains in “Weight for It,” the notion of using volume (the three-dimensional space displaced) instead of weight (gravitational force applied to mass) is a bit absurd in recipes that call for precision and replicability. Now that’s exciting to this geek. Many chefs turned to digital scales a while ago, and the method is trickling down to home kitchens. Cookbooks need to be updated, but that is already happening. We’ll all be minor food scientists in the future — with fewer dishes to clean up.

Marco Tabini had a knack as a kid for taking things apart. The trouble? He didn’t know how to — or even want to — put them back together. That changed, as he describes in “Parental Controls,” when his family purchased and eventually allowed him to use a computer. The perfection and physical indestructibility of code appealed to him. His story about parents setting limits and kids’ exceeding them is familiar to any reader of any generation.

Alice picked up the bottle labeled “Drink Me” and took a slug, and the world grew around her. Or did she shrink? In “Tiny Furniture,” Tad Hunt describes how a small apartment became the right fit for him and his wife after they made a momentous decision about the rest of their life.

Finally, in a perfectly safe-for-work article, our regular contributor Chris Stokel-Walker talks to a self-taught sex educator. Laci Green doesn’t work at a hospital, youth center, or high school. Rather, she’s part of a burgeoning crowd of young people who teach frankly about sex on YouTube and elsewhere in straightforward, fun videos that eschew prurience. Her undergraduate work led her to evaluate research with rigor, and she combines reliable information with a cheerful approach in her videos as Chris explains in “Well Positioned.”

Hair shirt

Our “Dog” T-shirt, designed by Christa Mrgan from the illustration she created for John Moltz’s article “Staying Power,” hit the target and will be produced. Thank you! We’ll be trying different ways of making art and photography from The Magazine available to readers in the future.

One of the things we learned is that the crowdfunding-shirt source we used didn’t make it possible to order “standard” (i.e., men’s blocky cut), women’s cut, and children’s size T-shirts in a single campaign.

Letters

You can tap the Share button in iOS at the top of any article and then tap Write Letter to Editor. Or email us with your thoughts, noting any article to which it applies. We also read comments and questions on Facebook, Twitter, and App.net. (Although we see iTunes reviews, we cannot respond there; please contact us directly with any issues that need a response.)

On “An Inconvenient Tooth

Timothy:

I found it odd that an article about a city disregarding science did not, aside from mentioning the CDC and ADA positions, directly address scientific data surrounding some of the concerns raised in Portland.

I readily accept the CDC and ADA statements about the effect of certain concentrations of fluoride on human health, so I had no concern there. But I had never before heard that fluoride might be an issue with salmon, and the article provided no information on those specific concerns. This bothered me, so I went to try to find some.

I like salmon. They’re tasty.

Unfortunately, best as I can tell, concentrations of fluoride below the EPA maximum do seem to have adverse effects on migrating salmon:

It almost feels as though the article dismisses this legitimate concern with the same breath as it does the less-informed concerns: “common sense was in short supply.”

We had looked into the studies around salmon and fluoride concentration (particularly as it enters the Columbia River), and they seemed to make sweeping conclusions without enough supporting data. The salmon issue was also a minor player in the overall debate in Portland, which focused on human health and whether a conspiracy was afoot to adulterate the water.

However, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, a group passionately concerned about the effect of any human activity on salmon and other fish for which its members have historic and restored rights, believes the available research isn’t sufficient to support fluoridation. Its executive director voted no on the initiative. Their complaints about a lack of data go back as far as 1985.

Reporter Alison Hallett replies further:

You’re right, this issue deserved more than an “it’s common sense!” explanation. According to the Portland Water Bureau, the fluoride added to Portland’s water would have been diluted after processing in wastewater treatment plants to less than 0.2 parts per million [0.2mg/L], with further dilution occurring after that water entered the Columbia River.

The resulting fluoride levels, according to my reading of various studies summarized here, would have been below even conservative safe levels of fluoride for freshwater salmon species.

On “Staying Power

Isaac:

Dog’s API is probably even worse than Facebook’s API. I can only imagine the sheer frustration when you make a sit call to dog/, and sometimes you get a return value of 1, or sorta, or no way. Horrible API.

On “Face It: It’s Over

Chris:

My wife of seven years rather abruptly left me last September. I defriended and blocked her on Facebook immediately. She no longer wanted to be part of my life, and I wanted no part of her in mine, not even online.

I couldn’t stop her from stalking me on Twitter, however, which has recently resulted in loads of unnecessary drama from her after she read less than complimentary opinions about herself. She pitched a fit in her Facebook feed and demanded of 15 people that they defriend me. Five people took her up on it. The rest laughed at her.

My parents divorced in 1987, long before social media introduced these new communication complications. Back then, it seems like “no contact” was much easier to enforce.

On “Restoration Hardware

Thom:

In every issue of The Magazine to date, I’ve found at least one thing I want to read. This might sound like damning with faint praise, but it’s not intended that way — I’ve cancelled subscriptions to print magazines with four times the articles because they failed to achieve this.

At the risk of just blowing sunshine everywhere, I need to say this: “Restoration Hardware” is the perfect article. I’m one of those people who bought an SX-70 on eBay after I saw a Japanese tourist with one and thought it was a tiny printer. And I thought I knew all I’d needed to know about them, and had read all I’d ever need to read.

My hat’s off to Gabe Bullard — this is a fine bit of reportage.

Glenn Fleishman is the editor and publisher of The Magazine, and contributes reguarly to the Economist, Boing Boing, TidBITS, and Macworld. The father of two, Glenn won two episodes of Jeopardy! in 2012, and he won't let you forget it.

You can purchase our complete archives, almost 300 articles, as a DRM-free ebook in PDF, EPUB, and MOBI formats. We ceased publication of new work on December 18, 2014.
You can purchase our complete archives, almost 300 articles, as a DRM-free ebook in PDF, EPUB, and MOBI formats.
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