Bike share in Shanghai

July 26, 2017 at 14:47 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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I had to visit Shanghai recently, and was amazed by the number of bike share bikes there were everywhere. And I mean everywhere. The system there does not rely on the docking stations more common elsewhere, but rather the bikes can be picked up and left anywhere, meaning there are bikes scattered all over the place. You literally can’t walk more than a few metres without coming upon one. It’s quite amazing.

Each bike has a unique QR code on the rear, and to use the bike you scan this with an app. This then tells you the unlock code for the bike, and you can punch in the number and ride away. When you’ve finished with it, you simply click the lock, and leave the bike wherever you want. The first fifty minutes of use are free, and after that it’s I think a few Yuan per hour.

They are certainly well used, with people zipping about on the distinctive bikes everywhere. There are no bicycle lanes or facilities, and the traffic is heavy, but it all just mixes together and I didn’t see any aggression from drivers towards cyclists. Cyclists seem to be able to go on and off the footpaths, ride through red lights, down the street the wrong way and so on without anyone really batting an eyelid. I understand they are supported by the government in order to try and reduce the horrific air pollution in Shanghai.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to try out the bikes for myself. Maybe next time…

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The Restorer – Michael Sala

July 19, 2017 at 15:18 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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The Restorer is Micheal Sala’s second novel, and is set in Newcastle, a small city a few hours north of Sydney in Australia. It’s a novel about one family, as their father, Roy, attempts to heal the rifts in their past by buying a near-derelict house in a new city and restoring it – and, he hopes, his family too.

At first, things seem to improve, but the bubbling tensions below the surface continually threaten to erupt, driven by Roy’s unpredictable, brooding violence. This is a very bleak book, and we are drawn into the struggles, dysfunction and violence of both this one family, and the wider society they inhabit.

One of the strengths of the book is that we end up empathising with all the characters; they are all in some way trying to overcome their flaws and break free of their pasts. However, ultimately Roy is unable to contain or tame his violence, and as the book progresses it crescendos towards a devastating finale. This is an intense portrait of a violent family, and has its roots in Sala’s own upbringing, and the fear of provoking his violent stepfather. It’s a beautifully written yet brutal story, and is utterly compelling.

Finishing touches

July 14, 2017 at 14:08 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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Finally, the last few bits for the transformation of the Radish from a 2 x toddler to a 2 x small girl transporter arrived.

Now the rack passenger has a comfy cushion for their bottom, and foot rests for their feet. I had to buy them from the US, and while the prices were OK, the shipping was (as you might imagine) a bit steep. I wish there was an Xtracycle distributor here in Australia. Surely there’s a market for one? Anyway, thanks to Matt at BikeShopHub in Flagstaff, Arizona, for patiently answering my emails and sorting everything for me.

Separately to getting all the rack bits, I also have had the drive train replaced, as the rear derailleur had sort of lost all its springiness – I guess the weight of that long chain takes its toll over seven years, and it was drooping badly and not changing at all well. It’s now all new and snappy, and feels very nice. Oddly the bike shop didn’t change the chainwheel, despite it being worn into sharks teeth. This meant the chain still rattled somewhat, and didn’t feel smooth. I have no idea why they didn’t change this (as they changed everything else), but it did mean I could buy one online and do it myself. It’s not often I get to use my crank-puller. I have most of the tools for bike maintenance, but for the most part am too lazy to do things myself. ┬áStill, this little job was easy enough, and now the drivechain is silky-smooth and silent. I’m sure it makes for a very relaxing ride for the passengers!

New York 2140 – Kim Stanley Robinson

July 4, 2017 at 14:22 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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I bought this as an easy read for a long plane trip, and it served its purpose admirably. It’s a sci-fi book (something you might possibly deduce from the title…) set in a world where sea level has risen forty feet as a result of global warming, and the world is finding a new equilibrium. Much of Manhattan is now underwater, but life in the most solid tall buildings goes on, with the streets becoming a sort of Venetian canal network. The weaker, smaller buildings are gradually slumping into the water, whilst even larger skyscrapers are constructed on higher ground. It’s quite an evocative picture of a possible near future, with humanity living both differently yet also rather similarly to today. One similarity is the global financial markets; still managing trillions of dollars of money, all leveraged and borrowed, and ripe for collapse. Both financial and literal liquidity are woven together neatly throughout the book.

Into this scenery is placed an eclectic cast of characters; software coders, a tough policewoman, a social lawyer, a banker, a TV reality star, two savvy street kids and a lugubrious building supervisor. The opening of the book is strong, as these characters are sketched out, and it becomes clear that it is one of those books where the lives of these characters gradually become entangled and drawn together. Ultimately, however, the way this happens and the end result is a bit unsatisfactory – it’s all rather rushed and much too neat. Still, as a book to pass the time its certainly to be recommended, and threaded through it is a commentary on our own time, and our negligence in dealing with the climate crisis the world is currently in.

Postscript: I read the final chapters of this book as the results of the June 2017 UK general election were coming in, and there was a certain frisson in seeing the people perhaps rise up and smash the neoliberal order that has held the world in such a grip since the 1980s – exactly as was happening in the chapters I was reading. Alas, the UK election result was rather more messy and did little more than rattle the hegemony a little, unlike the all-too-neat ending of this book.

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