NYC bicycle abuse

critical mass in times squareIf you’ve ever been in New York on the last Friday of any month, you’ve probably come into contact with the NYC Critical Mass bike ride wherein hundreds of bicyclists “spontaneously come together to ride the ordinarily car-clogged streets of their cities.” I’ve seen this spectacle twice completely by chance, and it’s awesome.

Tension has been rising between these peaceful bikers and police, who claim their actions to be a dangerous act. This dispute reached its apex during the RNC when the NYC office of transportation declared Critical Mass to be “Disorderly Conduct and Obstructing Governmental Administration.” Since then numerous bikers have been harassed and sometimes even arrested on charges of traffic violations. Yesterday I recieved this email from my friend Jamie:

Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2005 12:26:45 -0500 (EST)
From: Jamie Rollins
Subject: biking is a crime
So you guys might be interested to hear that I was arrested Friday night for riding my bicycle here in New York City. Yes, you heard me right; I was arrested for riding my bike, IN A BIKE LANE, in Manhattan on Friday night. I was riding during the monthly Critical Mass bike rally, which the city of New York seems to have deemed a criminal activity.

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Academic conference spam

About two years ago I started getting peculiar messages from unknown academics about conferences I’d never heard of. They all follow a standard form, with a subject like “inviting you to participate in BLAH-05.” Some address me as “potential speaker,” some “Dr. Cameron A. Marlow,” and some simple “Dr. Marlow.” This isn’t all that surprising, given that lots of legitimate emails I get from academic institutions refer to me as a Dr. (it’s much more offensive not to refer to a Ph.D. as Dr. than it is to inflate the ego of a mere student).

an increase in conference spam
An increase in conference spam

The surprising thing about these emails is that they’ve been increasing in frequency pretty regularly. They have moved from the space of “oversized conference list” to legitimate spam. In some cases I’ve gotten emailed multiple times about the same conference, and for a subject that’s about as close to my research as I am to finishing my course in Scientology.

So who are these people? Given the regular structure of the emails, I assume that they’re being sent out from one master list. Some arrive from, which appears to be a collection of losely-related conferences, and others from, an ISP in Serbia.

How big is this network? Did I get randomly added to some master list, or are they spidering for academic’s email addresses? Has anyone actually gone to one of their conferences? As with most spam, lots of questions, few answers.

Blizzard of ’05

As the snow slowly blankets the urban landscape here in Cambridge, I can’t help but think back to the last time we had snow like this. That would be, umm, last Saturday through Sunday. I love the snow. I also love blizzards, white-outs, winter weather events and snow emergencies. I classify these things as “fun disasters.”

Besides all of the truly bad side effects (snow shovel heart attacks, destroyed property, etc.), a big snowy storm forces people into a kind of alternate reality where the rules are different. Cars are silent and share the roads with pedestrians, people stop and chat in the street, stores offer free services, and everything happens at molasses-speed. There’s a solidarity in a good snow storm, a combination of “what the hell happened?!” and “I’ll shovel your car if you shovel mine,” that makes the city seem more amiable for a while.

The futile life of dogs in the winter
The futile life of dogs in the winter

One of the changes I’m not so fond of is depicted above. Sure, dogs have to pee, and unlike New York, Cambridge dog-owners actually clean up after their dogs in the snow. But can’t someone explain to the modern pooch the futility of their efforts? Can’t they pee somewhere that I don’t have to look? If you’re horrified by this image (as I am), you can check out some other photos from this crazy time:

Photos from the blizzard of 05

Best Coffee Ever: Gimme Coffee

I’m not usually that impressed when someone receives a “Best of” award. The ones given out here in Boston include hundreds of categories, such as the illustrious Best Jewelry, Classic, West; and who can forget the inimitable Best Men’s Clothing Store on the Cape. This is Economics 101: given a fixed demand for “Best of” reviews, the more the supply, the lower the value of each award.

The science I’m about to drop here comes in the form of one award in one category for my entire life. It’s the Cameron Marlow lifetime achievement award for best coffee ever consumed. And the award goes to … Gimme Coffee! Located under the bright red awning at 495 Lorimer in Brooklyn, this spartan shop contains an espresso machine, a few tables and little else. But the coffee they make there is unsurpassed in my existence. Each cup is made by a small staff that (not surprising for Williamsburg) takes the art of coffee-making very seriously.

beautiful cup of coffee
Gimme Coffee’s average cup of joe

This cup of coffee has forced countless trips to Williamsburg and rerouted my New York entrance/exit route to always include a segment along the BQE. If you go there, there aren’t many options: large/small, filter/espresso/cappuccino/latte. I recommend a large latte (pictured above). The espresso is brewed in a machine that appears to have been bred with a motorcycle:

mad espresso machine
Gimme Coffee Machine

Manufactured by Kees van der Western of Holland, self-titled espressonist, this machine pours out the darkest, richest espresso I have ever tasted. It’s worth the trip to Brooklyn, no joke.

Media Lab Europe to close

media lab europeMedia Lab Europe (MLE) announced today that it will be winding down it’s operations in Dublin. Apparently it was not able to raise the €50 million necessary to stay alive before it’s time ran out.

As many of you know, I spent some time at MLE and I have to say that it engendered an academic environment like no other I’ve been in. I imagine it’s similar to the atomosphere that the MIT Media Lab had at its inception: tons of space, enthusiastic students and an experimental attidude that assumes nothing is impossible.

I’m not aware of the cause of its failure, whether financial or political, but I’m extremely sorry to see it go. I hope the current students there find a new home that is rewarding as their old space in the Guiness Hop Store.