More Cheap Fixies

Commute by Bike has a review of the low, low priced $219 (shipping included) Critical Cycles fixed-gear bike. It comes in lots of bright colors, and only one brake – which is inexplicably on the rear wheel. I’m guessing a healthy share of their focus groups quickly gave up fixed gear and flipped over to the freewheel hub.

The review didn’t specify the gearing setup, so I went and checked: and the Critical Cycles website doesn’t say.

Weird. Might be important to some people.

A reviewer on Amazon said the bike has a 48/16 setup, which if true would be pretty steep. Its likelier a 44/16, which isn’t bad. It’s what I ride on my rain bike, and roughly equivalent to the 48/18 on my primary ride. It’s a ratio that will serve in most situations. If the place you live is hillier and you feel tempted to lighten it up, it’s probably better to consider whether fixed gear is really for you. At least once every few weeks, legs flying as I go down Pine Street, I ask whether I wouldn’t be happier flipping back to a single-speed freewheel. But so far I haven’t.

So whaddaya think – who’s up for dropping a couple hundred bucks on what appears to be a serviceable, if garish, fixed gear bike? Probably a better choice, even at twice the price, than these $99 Walmart beauties.

Campaigning on Blind Faith

It’s been nearly two weeks since the election, and I’m still struck by the comparison between the campaigns run by “community organizer” Obama and “businessman” Romney.

One campaign was a data-driven juggernaut, executing on its get-out-the-vote strategy in a systematic and fluid manner. The other was a mess, plagued by IT problems, poor communication and high levels of insularity and confirmation bias.

It’s not terribly surprising that Obama ran an effective campaign. He has experienced staff, and incumbency confers significant monetary and organizational advantages. But what of the man who promised to bring his years of business experience to the problem of managing the country? Should we heave a sigh of relief that Mitt wasn’t given the chance to bungle running the country as badly as his campaign was mismanaged?

In fact, it’s not that big of a shock that things floundered so badly for team Romney on election night. Many businesses, are, in fact, poorly run – and when faced with decent competition, left lurching in the dust.

Somewhat more surprising was the insularity that left Romney so convinced he was going to win that he didn’t even write a concession speech. While some businesses persist in burying bad news and choosing to credit only that which they want to hear, the accessibility of business performance data and the growth of tools to analyze it have made such willful blindness less and less of an option.

One week before the election, all objective data pointed to the extreme likelihood of an Obama win. Everyone (led by Nate Silver) was predicting the same thing. And most importantly, European sports books – where real money was being wagered on the outcome – were seeing a big move toward longer and longer odds for the former governor. And this pattern only accelerated as the final days to the election ticked off. By the day before the election, betting odds on Romney were 4-1 – basically the same odds the Baylor University football team has of beating #1 rated Kansas State in tomorrow’s game.

Like a mismatched football game, Romney could have pulled out a monumental underdog victory. It happens. But unlike the Republicans, underdog football teams go into such games with no illusions about the likely outcome. The coaches will motivate, the players will compete with grit, but they all know what they are up against.

So many on the right were so committed to their thesis of victory that they blinded themselves to the avalanche of data pointing in the opposition direction. They squinted hard and focused only on the few thin reeds that, lined up correctly, could deliver the outcome they were looking for. And then they really believed it. That’s strange, and a little scary – especially coming from an outfit that sold hard on bringing their business prowess to government.

Building the “Greenest Building on the Planet”

The Bullitt Center, under construction

Moving to Seattle over a decade ago from the Bay Area, I was struck by the lack of urbanity up here. For all its big-city aspirations, Seattle was – and still is, in many places – a city of single-family, separated houses and an urban core pockmarked with surface level parking lots.

So it’s been great to see the amount of urban infill that’s been happening on Capitol Hill over the last two years. With the economy improving, many stalled projects have sprung to life, and the neighborhood is bristling with cranes. Most of the projects are 5-6 story apartment and condo buildings, the sort of thing that leads to cries of “gentrification” but which are the necessary building blocks of a vibrant, walkable (and bike-able!) urban neighborhood.

Amidst these projects is the Bullitt Center. Perched above downtown, at the corner of 15th and Madison, the Bullitt Center is being built and billed as the “Greenest Commercial Building in the World.” From a massive, solar-capturing roof, to rainwater-collection systems, to a design that ensures no occupant is more than 30 feet from a window, the Bullitt Center is an attempt at maximum sustainability in a commercial structure.

What’s been really interesting to watch, however, is the juxtaposition between the construction of the Bullitt Center and all of the other buildings going up in the neighborhood. All that sustainability doesn’t come cheap, and the builders claim to be building the Bullitt Center to last 250 years (compared to the 40-year standard of a typical condo development). So it’s taking much longer. There’s also that crazy, cantilevered roof, the high ceilings and the massive amount of timber-frame construction going into a building whose height would dictate steel and concrete.

A typical condo project rises down the block from the Bullitt Center