Every morning, without fail, within a minute or two of starting my cycle commute, my eyes start watering, and I look either like I’ve just had some incredibly traumatic news, or I’m having a St John of the Cross moment. I am not alone in this.

Many of the threads that address this issue (just google “watery eyes cycling“, and there’s a flood of them) suffer from the problem that there’s no common scale to describe the severity of the problem. For those with Sjögren’s syndrome, there’s the Schirmer Tear Test, but this is hard to implement in cycling conditions without endangering other road users.

I propose a new standard method for measuring the rate at which tears emerge when cycling:
OPM, or Osbornes Per Minute.

(From The Sun)

Single tear-track of UK Chancellor George Osborne

















Recording the number of single tear-tracks, or Osbornes, per minute (an interval that permits sufficient drying to distinguish between successive individual lacrimal secretions, and additionally a workable measure of acceleration or deceleration of the phenomenon) is relatively easy for an individual patient (“cyclist”), and, judging by early tests conducted over the past three mornings, the reliability of self-reported incidences is quite high.

[Full text of paper forthcoming*]

*Not actually forthcoming

Last October my organisation moved offices from West to Central London, reducing my commute  from 9 miles each way to 5. I was running out of excuses not to cycle to work, reduced to arguing that there’s not much room for a bike in a flat with toddlers. Andrea suggested I try out his Brompton. Clever, sure, but how absurdly Lilliputian, I thought. Look:

But I climbed on, and rode round the courtyard outside. Something happened. In minutes, I went from feeling absurd and wobbly, to feeling exhilarated. This was genuine chemistry… I borrowed the bike for a week to cycle to Millbank, and it was heaven. I’d arrive at work wearing a broad grin – and returning the bike to him felt a real wrench.

So I decided to buy one through work. Little did I anticipate the knots I’d tie myself into, as first I confronted the Brompton order form, and then trawled website after website trying to understand what different options meant. (I haven’t cycled regularly since the early 90s…) What the hell was “lowered gearing”? Should I get 1 gear, 2, 3 or 6? Firm suspension or normal? Hub dynamo lighting? And as for the colour…

So, in case it’s helpful to others, here are the resources I found useful in deciding which Brompton configuration to buy.

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I spotted this incredibly inappropriately-named children's product last night in the chain store Butler's in Islington, London. It's difficult to know where to begin with just how wrong this is. It's got to go down as maybe one of the worst clusterfucks in marketing/product naming history. It seems there are other animals in the Hot'N'Tots range - a bear, for example, on the Butler's Germany online store, which also has a glamour shot on Butler's Hungary's Flickr account. But it doesn't make the play on words OK. Here's their contact form, should you want to get in touch...

The name Khoekhoe most accurately translates to 'People People'. They were traditionally—and are still occasionally in colloquial language—known to white colonists as the Hottentots, a name that is currently generally considered offensive (e.g. by the Oxford Dictionary of South African English). The word "hottentot" meant "stutterer" or "stammerer" in the colonists' northern dialect of Dutch, although some Dutch use the verb stotteren to describe the clicking sounds (klik being the normal onomatopoeia, parallel to English) typically used in the Khoisan languages. (Source)

I’m really very saddened to learn of the death of Persephone Miel two weeks ago.  There’s little more to say than that, really – it’s a genuine loss, both on a professional and a personal level.  I knew Persephone through friends, through her work, and through many lengthy conversations at conferences we both attended both in the US and elsewhere – conversations that ranged far and wide, and always left me feeling richer.  I found her funny and engaging, knowledgeable and professional, generous and open, and I – like many others – shall miss her.  My condolences to her family, friends and colleagues worldwide.

It happens I was recently reading a blog post about the Proserpine/Persephone myth, containing these lines by American poet and translator Roger Hunt Carroll, now brought back to mind by reading Doc Searls’ post on preserving Persephone’s work in cyberspace:

There can be no farewell:
I will come this way again in forms
created from other lives,
bound with lilac and softer flowers
whose breath will speak my advent and reprise.

A few weeks ago, I downloaded a job-lot of kiddies’ songs from Amazon to keep my babies amused.  Uncle Larry unearthed rather an incongruous gem among them – Spike JonesDer Fuehrer’s Face.  Despite the initial WTF, and my kids’ indifference to the track, I find myself unable to get this particular – and most brilliantly mocking – verse out of my head:

Is we not the supermen?
Aryan pure supermen?
Ja we is the supermen
Super duper supermen!

It’s a version of the Oliver Wallace song from Disney’s 1943 Donald Duck anti-Nazi (or perhaps anti-Nutzi) short, which I post here for your enjoyment:

Panels tend to be pretty man-heavy, in my experience.  I’ve spoken on quite a few human rights, tech, media development and journalism panels in the 3 years since I joined WITNESS in New York, and, although these sectors are often driven by the work and ideas of women, and many of the conference organisers are women, those with the mic are more often than not men (including me).

Curating panels isn’t any easier – in the PEN World Voices Festival in 2008 we had three successive female participants drop out of one panel, only to see them replaced by a phalanx of (very able) male speakers (although somehow Mary Robinson kindly agreed to introduce the panel, thereby restoring some kind of natural order), and in 2009, we didn’t have any, as the one woman on the panel, Kathrin Roeggla, was unable to travel to New York.  The 2009 panel itself was fine – wonderful, actually – but there was something in the specific maleness of the bonhomie that left me uncomfortably self-conscious.

Last year, I had the honour and privilege of delivering a keynote speech at the O’Reilly Conference, ETech (thanks to Joi Ito), which, looking back at the programme, seems like another overwhelmingly male-dominated conference agenda (O’Reilly now has a diversity statement, and it will be interesting to see how this impacts on the perceived quality of their conferences).  Despite this, it’s largely the presentations, ideas, conversations with women at the conference that I found most surprising and thought-provoking (honourable mentions for Julian Bleecker, Aaron Koblin, Mike Migurski and a couple of others).  So for Ada Lovelace Day, here are short intros to three women – all of whom were also extremely generous with their time in allowing me to ask even basic questions – doing work of very different kinds selected from (Sh)ETech 2009:

Elizabeth Goodman was my stand-out conversation at ETech – totally fascinating work in California on urban green spaces, informed by a huge range of learning and references, and though I missed her presentation (photo by @moleitau), an extended conversation by the piano more than made up for that.

On reflection, tied for first place was Molly Steenson – I didn’t see Molly’s presentation (there’s a theme emerging here) but her Ignite talk was witty, learned and about one of my favourite things – communication and technology in 19th Century France.

Ashwini Asokan of Intel® Corporation patiently took a chunk of time to explain to me some of the deeper concepts and research behind her presentation about localised uses of technology – really specific work, rooted in reality, and real experiences, and highly recommended.

Others whose work I have followed in more detail in the year that has passed since then include Jennifer Magnolfi of Herman Miller, and Jane McGonigal – but of those whose work I encountered at ETech itself, Elizabeth, Molly and Ashwini’s work continues to resonate for me, and I strongly encourage you to seek their work out.

At university, I was blessed with a range of extraordinary and inspirational tutors.  One of my favourites was Professor Patrick McGuinness, who encouraged – perhaps since he’s also a poet – nonlinear thinking, making of connections, and explorations.  I was particularly struck and moved by his analysis of Mallarme’s Pour Un Tombeau D’Anatole – “210 sheets of pencilled notes towards a poem about the death of [his son] Anatole”.  He subsequently translated the work.  In 2002, a section of McGuinness’ translation was published in the LRB, along with brief notes.  Having recently becoming a parent (with “Anatole” on the baby-naming shortlist…), I wanted to re-read it.  It still shatters, moves, uplifts me, because of rather than despite its broken form, and I encourage you to read it.


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