Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sailing Across America

Lately I’ve been messing around with bicycles and sails, trying to combine the two technologies into a more perfect machine. Although it’s been done before, previous bike/sail designs were built around the sailboat model, with a large mast and triangular sail: excellent for harnessing the wind, but practically useless on roads. I’ve been working with smaller, more discreet sails that can be folded out when there’s a tailwind and back when there isn’t. Bike sails are cheap and easy to make, requiring little more than a beach chair, yard sign and duct tape.

In the spring I took this bike out to the Great Plains to test it in big wind. Starting in Chadron, Nebraska, up by the Wyoming border, I set out to go literally whichever way the wind was blowing. Eight days later I was in Waterloo, Iowa: just shy of the Mississippi River. 850 miles on a fully loaded bike, and I was hardly even tired. It was incredible.

This was back in April, with winds averaging between 25 and 30 mph - with gusts up to 50 - coming straight out of the west. The wind on the plains is awesome: it comes whipping across the prairie, shrieking through the power lines and ripping at everything that isn’t nailed or bolted down. When I was stopped, or at low speeds, the wind almost tore the bike apart, so it was important to either quickly find shelter or get back up to speed.

When I was moving though… wow. All around me everything was chaos: an entire landscape of crops, grasses and trees bucking and heaving in the wind, while on the bike everything was still - sometimes almost perfectly still - enough to light a match and let it burn. It was a bizarre, otherworldly feeling, and one I’ll never forget.

With a cruising speed between 18 and 23 mph, I was able to do over 100 miles a day easily - almost lazily - crossing practically a third of the country sitting on my ass. Yes, I had to pedal, but I didn’t have to pedal much.

In September I decided to really put things to the test and see how long it’d take to go coast-to-coast. Starting at the mouth of the Columbia River I headed east, reaching Virginia Beach, Virginia 3,867 miles and two months later. Here’s what I learned along the way:

1.) The United States is much bigger than it looks on the map.

2.) You can’t count on the wind.

3.) Having a large American flag on the back of your bike will give you an extra two or three feet of room from passing traffic.

In general, bicycle sailing works best in the West, in the deserts and plains. East of the Mississippi there’s just too many trees. The sails work best in high winds, 15/20 mph and above, and for hill climbing, where even a slight wind assist feels almost magical.

I may try this again in the spring, using a standard road bike and thin tires. Until then, the coast-to-coast bikesailing record stands at an easily breakable 64 days.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

St. Pete for Wikileaks

The good folks at St. Pete for Peace employ the fiendishly clever Ladder Technology to speak out on Wikileaks around Tampa Bay. More Here.

"We were taken to war in Iraq on a lie. Hundreds of thousands are now dead. Just imagine if the men who planned this war crime back in 2002 had had a WikiLeaks to deal with..."

"Openness, transparency -- these are among the few weapons the citizenry has to protect itself from the powerful and the corrupt. What if within days of August 4th, 1964 -- after the Pentagon had made up the lie that our ship was attacked by the North Vietnamese in the Gulf of Tonkin -- there had been a WikiLeaks to tell the American people that the whole thing was made up? I guess 58,000 of our soldiers (and 2 million Vietnamese) might be alive today."

-Michael Moore from "Why I'm posting bail..."

Friday, November 26, 2010

Fair Game

This sign was placed over the Pasadena Freeway near downtown LA on October 29th, timed to coincide with the opening of the film "Fair Game" about Ambassador Joe Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame. (My apologies for the photo quality, it was taken off a computer screen.) The sign itself stayed up for 22 hours, including that Friday's rush hour.

Friday, October 08, 2010

How To Make A Bicycle Sail

What You'll Need:

An aluminum beach chair
Plastic yard sign with "H" shaped wire frame
Hacksaw, Duct Tape and Scissors

Step 1) Dismantle beach chair with hacksaw. Take "U" shaped tubing from seat and backrest and slowly bend them to desired shape.

Step 2) Cut yard sign in half, place inside the tubing and attach/fill in the gaps with duct tape.

For standard bikes simply tape the sails to the sides of the wire frame, using duct tape as the hinge. Bungee or tape the wire frame to the rack and seatback. Broomstick/crossbar should be bungeed/taped on the front of the rack just in front of the sail. Attach sail edges to crossbar with bungee cords or duct tape.

For Recumbents the proceedure is the same except the wire frame ends should be bent at right angles and then extended with ballpoint pen tubes or aluminum tent pole pieces to accomodate sail height. The end result should look something like this:

(recumbent style shown - standard bike sails should have a thinner gap)

Attach wire frame to seatback crossbars and backstays with duct tape. Sail crossbar should fit in between sail and seatback.

Obviously there will be differences in beach chairs, racks and bicycles, but the beauty of bikesail technology is that it can be designed, built, modified and repaired using little more than duct tape, tubing and wire. So long as you have panels that you can fold out when there's wind and fold back when there isn't, you're sailing.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Phoenix: At Least It's A Dry Hate

Hey Scarlet, Greetings from Arizona:
We broke out the overhead projector to ridicule Sen. John McCain for running this advertisement. He looks so certain that the answer to Arizona’s problems is to “finish the dang fence.” I haven’t seen the ad for a while, but it is interesting to note that the anti-immigrant sheriff with whom he’s strolling along the ridiculously-easy-to-scale border wall comes from a non-border county. Seems there’s no depth too low for politicians to sink when it comes to pounding the immigrants in order to win the xenophobia vote.

Oh, wait, here’s a guy who went a little lower. Too bad there aren’t words that can be used to score a cheap pun using this candidate’s name: Barry Wong.
Next are a couple of signs that are posted in honor of the AZ governor who speaks with forked tongue. She has no way of knowing how many border crossers are out there, since no one knows the number who are there and don’t get caught, but she has assured her anti-immigrant base that most of them are smuggling drugs. Oh, and the rash of beheadings has to be a highlight in the “How to Win Elections Using Bullshit” manual. A journalist on a talk show actually told her that there were no reports of beheadings, but did that fact resonate with our Guv? Once your pointed your wagon down the fecal trail, there’s nothing left do to but plow ahead.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Monday, May 10, 2010

Los Angeles

Measuring 24 feet across, this stayed up over the Pasadena Freeway for 18 hours with an audience of roughly 8,000 cars per hour. This message brought to you courtesy of The Tribunes of the People.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Earth Day (Week, Month, Year, Life)

Probably the most useful thing you can do right now to save this planet is to sit down and ask yourself what's the most useful thing you can do to save this planet.
Normally we're asked to consider this in our role as consumers, and although that's certainly a start, it hardly scratches the surface of our potential. I'm asking you to consider the question in your role as a unique individual: What are your talents, your arts, your pleasures, and how can you apply them in defense of Mother Earth?
Since my talents seem to lie in the field of mass-communications, I decided to have a couple of hundred posters printed up for use on the freeways: the ones shown here along with others I'll be introducing later. Like with the signs and slogans I put up during the Bush years, there's no assurance these will actually do any good, but I do like the way they look, especially from the road.
While it's easy to dismiss our efforts, either as individuals or collectively, as being far too little far too late, I think the stakes are way too high to afford the luxury of inaction. It isn't just the survival of the species homo sapien I'm talking about, or even the survival of life on earth: there's a good chance that it's much, much bigger than that.
After all, it's quite possible that life on earth is actually the only life there is: that everything else in the universe, throughout the entirety of time and space, is either blazing with fire or cold and dead, and that this little planet of ours is the only place where life of any sort exists or ever has. Until we get some definitive proof otherwise, I'm afraid those are the stakes.
Granted, saving life on earth may seem a bit daunting at first, and compounding it with the notion that you may be saving all life throughout the universe probably doesn't help much. Remember though that the first step is easy: sit down and spend some time figuring out how you're going to do it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Obama Nominates Jew To Supreme Court

(Illustration Courtesy of Texas Dept. of Education)

(from our Inbox) President Barack Obama has just nominated Jesus Christ, an immigrant originally born to a virgin mother in Bethlehem, to fill the new vacancy on the Supreme Court. Although Mr. Christ is over 2,000 years old, He is immortal, so Democrats and Republicans expect that He will serve on the high court forever or until He decides to start the End Times. Republicans are expected to fight the nomination on the grounds that Mr. Christ would radically move the Court to the left.

The GOP is also concerned that, despite decades of controversy and speculation, Mr. Christ has never revealed his position on abortion. Mr. Christ, according to many authorities, is expected to oppose the death penalty in all forms. Michael Steele, the head of the GOP national committee, issued a statement: "Christ is a complete mystery to us. He won't reveal His physical appearance and many of His positions are unknown or the subject of speculation. He is a stealth candidate. Why won't He reveal himself? Who does He think He is?"

Republicans are reportedly outraged that Mr. Obama even considered Mr. Christ, who has been widely quoted for his sentiments supporting the poor over the wealthy. In a Facebook post, former half-term Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin called for an investigation into the Bethlehem chapter of ACORN because of what she termed the "highly suspicious" coincidence that both President Obama and Mr. Christ had each spent three years as community organizers. In her post, Palin also wrote that "More and more of good God-fearing smalltime Americans from hardworking smalltime towns from great parts of this real America, West, South, East, North, are seeing more and more every day that Christ is a community organizer. We don't need another community organizer in the White House!"

Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) asked, "We're not even sure where He was born. Why is He afraid to show us his birth certificate?" Bachmann also announced that she would vote "no" when the Christ nomination came before the House of Representatives. Later, her congressional staff released a statement saying that the Congresswoman had forgotten that the House does not vote on judicial nominations.

According to Rush Limbaugh, "Christ doesn't know anything about free enterprise. This is part of the Obama conspiracy to drag us to socialism. If this guy is approved, I'm moving to the Dominican Republic." Sobbing, Glenn Beck attacked Christ's support for the separation of church and state, telling his audience "You know who else wanted a separation of church and state? Hitler."

Democrats are hopeful that Mr. Christ's past associations with prostitutes will earn him at least one Republican vote, that of Sen. David Vitter (R-LA).

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Thank You Mr. President

After a year of bashing from the corporate media and their tea party stooges, President Obama managed to pass health care reform.
While I don't pretend to know every nuance of the bill, whom it helps or how it could be better, I do feel a bit of thanks is in order for the man who pushed it through.
These signs went up in Berkeley, San Francisco, Marin and Sonoma Counties and were seen by at least a hundred thousand motorists and, depending on how long they stay up, possibly a couple hundred thousand more.

Using cardboard, paint and an overhead projector, they took about four hours to make and cost practically nothing. (Buying a Prius really cuts down costs as well.)
Thanks to the Supreme Court, who apparently doesn't understand that most Americans can't afford to buy TV commercials, we can look forward to a political landscape where individual free speech is all but drowned out by corporate advertising, making this sort of low-cost/high-profile activism even more relevant in the future.

For some history, how-to and legal notes, visit

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Granny D: 1910 - 2010

"Where authority and power flow down from above, from heaven to the White House to husbands and ayatollahs, the free and joyful living of people can be quite the enemy ... When people begin to really live their lives, the black and white certainties do not turn to shades of gray, but to the million-jeweled hews of a morning's dew..."