Monday, February 28, 2011

Picture of the day

When the video camera did not work, I took some shots with my pocket camera. The weather was great, sun was shining and the first birds were singing.
Does that underpass look very wide to you? It is. There's the bikeway on the left side and unpaved jogging/skiing path on the right. As bikers and pedestrians want snow off the path, and skiiers want snow on the path, they can't really share the path. Thus extra wide underpass.

Videoing is difficult

On Sunday I managed to get the MD80 Opticam working for a while. I got it to take about 50 minutes of video, before it shut down itself. Before that, the best I've managed is about 15 minutes or so (outdoors). Maybe that is because the manual says the operating range is from +10C upwards, and I've been trying to get it to work in -15C. I've even soldered a cell phone battery to give it more juice, and I've kept the battery in my pocket to keep it warm. Still, after a while the camera shuts down. When I come back inside and the camera warms up again, I can get a long video without recharging. This makes me think there is somekind of temperature sensor to protect from overheating, and when it's too cold the sensor sends wrong signal to the processor and it shuts down. Or it's just crap.

Still, I've got some good footage and lots of bad footage. A lot of is useless because it is too dark. Even early in the afternoon, around 16:00 (4pm) there is not enough light for the camera. Here in Very Northern Florida the days are pretty short in the winter. For example, on January 1st, sunrise at 10:25, sunset 14:18 (2:18 pm). So, MD80 is not a good choice for winter use.

Some of the footage is bad due to mounting problems. I've attached the camera to an elastic band and put that over my wool hat. Works pretty well, except for one problem. It's on my forehead, and I can't see where the camera is pointing. The camera can start to 'droop' and I'll notice nothing wrong. I took some awesome videos of my front wheel.

OK, there's another problem:  the position of my head changes. I can use a large mirror in the bathroom to aim the camera just right, but when I get on my bike (old, rusty mtb) I'm leaning forward a little. More footage of the front wheel. In traffic lights etc, when I'm standing around straight, I'm shooting the sky. I guess the same problem would be with a chest mount.

I've tried mounting the camera on the bike. When I had the camera on my forehead, I thought the picture was moving a lot. Apparently I tilt, turn and shake my head a lot. But when it's on the handlebars, the picture swings from side to side. I almost get seasick watching the video. The vibration is not too bad. In my previous mount I had some drooping problems, so I got some more footage of my front wheel. The current one works better, but even it has to be aimed properly.

So, the video from Sunday is mostly useless. I noticed it had some drooping problems while riding but fixed them with a piece of wire. The aim was bad, too low.

Today I had watched the take from Sunday and knew how to aim it better. The day was bright, and it was rather warm, maybe -1C so it should have been perfect. Now the camera kept shutting down. Apart from 10 and 19 minute segments, the camera shut down every 2 minutes or less. Great footage, though.

Maybe I'll build a box around the camera, insulate it, fill it with something warm and see if it helps to keep the camera going.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Taxi rat running on the bikeway: OYP-317

I was testing out my bike camera today and took a circuitous route to a supermarket. I've been trying to do a 'underpass galore'-video to show the underpasses I've told about before, and add some others. The camera keeps shutting down, and I'm not sure if it's because of the camera or the batteries or what. Today was a warm day, almost +0C, so it couldn't be the cold, could it?

Anyway, I had finished taking the video, or in other words, the camera stopped working, and I was almost at the supermarket, when a taxi arrived there. What happened next amazed me and made me curse the bad luck that the camera was dead. It was good youtube material, and might even get mentioned in local yellow papers. I could be famous in youtube. Damn.

The taxi driver did not turn to the parking lot, but drove past it to get to the bikeway. Then he drove along the bikeway to the front door of the supermarket. The passenger left the taxi, and the driver decided parking rules do not apply to him. He decided to wait for the passenger right there.
A car driving on the bikeway is pretty rare. Off my head I can remember two cases where I saw a car (not belonging to maintenance crews) on the bikeway in the last 10 years. They teach you in the school that bikeways are not for cars, in the drivers ed they teach you are not to drive on them, in the drivers lisence test driving on one means you failed. Maybe taxi drivers know better.

I took a picture of him and the car. I guess I had a smile on my face when I took that, because the driver smiled and waved. Did he know my smile was a evil smile because he was going to be in the internet? ;-E

Taxi OYP-317 drives on bikeway, illegal parking.
Sure, the taxi driver is in a customer service business. They are there to transport people and they are "competent, professional drivers". The driver just wanted to get his client a little closer to the door. He's just trying to do his job and be nice to the client.

Nope. I'm not buying that. The real reason why the driver broke the law?
He felt entitled to use the bikeway as a rat run, because there were other cars in the parking lot in the way. They'd block his way and make him wait. He was driving on an important business!

Another real reason is avoiding work. He would have to park the car in the back rows, as the closest ones were full. Then he would have to wait there and hope the client finds him again. Or he could wait standing outside for hours, in the freezing blizzard- errm , a few minutes in balmy +0C weather, for the client to come back. Or maybe he could have waited inside, there's even benches to sit on there. But then he'd have to help carry the awfully heavy shopping bags back to the taxi. That sounds like work, can't do that!

And for Finnish readers using search engines:

Taksi, mersu rekisterinumerolla OYP-317 ajeli pitkin Oulun pyöräteitä marketin etuovelle ja jäi pysäköintikieltoalueelle parkkiin. Mersumies ajaa autolla pyörätiellä kun ei viitsi ajaa parkkipaikalle :-/

Monday, February 21, 2011

Snow piles blocking visibility

In the other post I talked about the intersection near the railway station.
I went straight there, and about 400 meters later was in this intersection. It's pretty typical finnish intersection with traffic lights. Pedestrians and cyclists have a push button to inform the traffic light computer that they want to get across (I'm not sure if this intersection has automatic detectors). Looks like I have a green light.

Turn 90 degrees right and see the snowpile. The car drivers' field of vision is limited by a high pile of snow. Not that they suffer because of it, with the traffic lights controlling the traffic flow.

That is a car trailer, higher than the average sedan. The snow pile is between the road and the bikeway. Now it provides a "noice protection wall" and extra safety buffer for cyclists, just in case a car driver loses control of his vehicle.

Home from the railway station

Oulu is an university town, so we have lots of people who spend the week here and go visit their parents and friends on the weekends or the holidays. If you live far away, one of the best ways to do that is by train. You'll know that when you see the trains on fridays and sundays.  To get to the train station, you can take a bus, or bike there. Oh, you can get there by car, too, but then you'd have to park it somewhere. You can park your bike right at the train station. The photo was taken on an average -20C weekend. Typical of February.
The railway station is a small rectangular building and bike parking is provided at both ends of the station. During the cycling season, there's a lot more  bikes than places on the racks.

While I was taking pictures of the bike parking, I noticed some local youth biking past the railway station, three abreast:

They were biking on this pavement (MUP). In the grid street area most bikeways are on the pavement, because any bike lane markings would be under the snow. And sharing the busy street in the winter- no thanks!

Long shadows...
There's a long line of cars waiting at the traffic lights. The intersection is a busy one. The railroad track (north-south direction) splits the city in half, and one can get to the other side by underpasses or bridges. One of the underpasses is to the right.

There is also a big river which splits the city in half. Going straight, you get to one of the bridges, and turning left, you get to another bridge. So you can see why this intersection gets a lot of traffic.

A little closer
Now, remember there is an underpass to the right. Pedestrians and cyclists going straight get their own "express lane" next to the railway tracks on the bridge. They don't have to stop at the traffic lights.
A look from above.
The pedestrians and cyclist wanting to go to the other side of the tracks (for example to one of several supermarkets there) have more choices than motorists, because there is more underpasses available for them.

From the other side of the tracks
Note how the bikeways on both sides of the car lanes are higher than the car lanes? The trucks and other high vehicles need more clearance to get under the bridge. The underpass has to be dug wider and also lower for them, making the underpass more expensive. On the other hand, by building the bikeways at a higher level there is less earthworks needed, and the bikes get a flatter route with smaller uphills.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Winter biking in the local news

I wrote about local news a few days ago and I mentioned there was discussion going about making your bike winter proof by changing the grease to on that does not freeze. Apparently the staff of the newspaper noticed that was a good story idea. They sent a reporter to interview a bike mechanic. The story is a half-a-page long:
and tells you the basics of bike maintenance for the winter. Avoid water based greases, use one's that are more cold proof, teflon oil, blah blah. There's even a few quotes from the web forum:

"Even if you took the bike to the bike shop for a grease change once a week and bought a new bike twice a year, you'd still save so much money (compared to a car) you could have a vacation in the sunny beaches when it's too cold here. You'd even have enough money left over to mail your neighbours some, just to rub it in when they are stuck here, trying to scrape the ice off the windshields." Having a car is expensive, but thats a bit much. ;^D

Some commenters suggest using spray-on oils, others say they will evaporate and do not lubricate properly. One even talks about "aviation grease" which is supposed to be good for -80C, but the bike mechanic does not say anything about them. A quick google shows that there is such a thing, and does not seem to be very expensive either. Does anyone know which one would be suitable for a bicycle? :P

Bicycling got a half page, even though this is not cycling season. There was also one and half pages of car related stories and infomercials about new cars, and four pages of ads for new and used cars. Shows where the money is for the newspapers.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Snow and cold weather in the local news

It seems that there's so much snow that it's creating some problems even here in Very Northern Florida. In the city center the contractors are supposed to clean the streets by piling the snow and once the piles get too big they shoud transport them by tractor trailers or trucks to a snow dump. Obviosly they haven't done so, and now the local newspaper wrote a story about it. The text is in Finnish, but you can see that the snow piles are high. They're filling parking places and making streets narrower. The high piles block traffic signs and limit visibility.

A couple of days ago I took a scenic shot of a bikeway in a "suburb":

There's a road on the left, a snow pile, the bikeway, a bigger snowpile, and houses on the right. At this location the snow pile on the left is so high that a kid walking on the bikeway is just barely visible to a car driver. There was a short section about half a kilometer forward where the pile was so high that even an adult could barely see over the pile.

Here the bikeway maintenance crew apparently had problems with getting the bikeway cleared with a snow plow when the snow got too high on the sides. It's even worse closer to the underpass. You can't really push snow anywhere there. So they took their tractor powered rotary snow plow and threw the snow further away from the bikeway. Now the snow bank is about a meter and a half away from the edge of the bikeway and they can clean the bikeway with a small plow again. They do this (clear the edges of a bikeways and roads) later in the spring also on flat ground. Once the snow starts melting some of the water runs away from the bikeway, instead of all of it getting into the bikeway.

In another news, the trains have problems with the brakes freezing so trains are running late. Car batteries are running empty in the cold so some drivers are having problems with the car. Also, petrol stations even in southern Finland are selling "arctic" diesel because of the cold weather. The arctic diesel is usable in colder temperatures than regular diesel, which turns into jelly and clogs the fuel pipes at measly -30C.

The cell phone company Nokia has a lot of development done here in Oulu and now people are worried about their jobs because of the microsoft deal.
In the newspapers web forum there is heated discussion whether we should build the underground parking garage in the city center, now that there will be thousands of unemployed cell phone engineers who will leave the city.

Another thread was about should kids walk or bike to school when it is -30C or should they be taken by car or taxi or bus. Also there is chatting about changing the grease in your bike so you can ride in colder weather. There has not been any posts about dog poo yet.  :-D

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A ride in ± 32C

During the last year I have biked in ± 32C. Ever since I started this blog I wanted to write that, and now it's true.

In the summer, we had a few really hot days: +32C. In a country where we consider +25C a heat wave, that was really something exceptional. It was so hot and humid that I was sweating while cycling! The windchill was not enough to keep me cool. It was horrible, I say! :-)

Well, now we're having a cold week. The forecast says the highest temperatures will about -20C and the lowest will be well below -30C. Very good weather for freezing food out in the balcony before putting it in the freezer, or putting the bed clothes out to get some fresh air and kill any bugs in them. Just remember to take them back in a few hours before you want to go to bed.

So today I can make a post about biking in -32C. The weather was not very good for taking breathtaking cycling photos (a metal frame camera is cold on the fingers ), but I did take a few.

Here's a shot from near the front door of a supermarket. The cold weather means people are not spending their time outside unless they need to. So you can see there's only a few cars on the parking lot, a few bikes on the rack and no teenagers loitering about (is that good english?).

But why did I take this picture? Check out what they are selling: ice fishing gear! The lakes and the sea are frozen by now. To get through the half a meter thick ice you need an ice drill. A scoop to clear the hole from slush. Ice fishing rod for the fishing. Ice picks just in case the ice cracks and you fall in to the water. The best ice fishing season is about to begin.

You're looking at my underwear, you pervert!
When I came home I took a picture of what I had worn. Here is two piles of clothing: one for +32C and one for -32C. I'm sure you can guess which is which. Everything I wore is on the piles, except shoes. Shoes were not in the piles because they would have been hard to pile. And it also looks more dramatic this way.

On the -32C pile is:
  • longsleeved underwear
  • longsleeved "middlewear"
  • windproof outerwear. The jacket has a hood.
  • long sleeved leather mittens, with wool mittens inside.
  • a balaclava, a wool hat, a scarf
  • (army boots and socks not shown)
The weak point in my setup is the shoes. The army boots are a little too small to wear thick socks, so I have to do with thin ones. It's my feet that get cold first. With the hood up and the scarf in front of my face, my face is protected from any windchill effects.

My jacket is a new one, and my previous jacket did not have a hood on it. Even though the old jacket was thicker and supposedly warmer, I feel much warmer with the hood up on the new one. There's a lot of heat loss from the neck and head so keeping the head warm helps keeping you warm. I can recommend a jacket with a hood for winter biking. Of course the hood limits the field of vision and could be dangerous if you have cars coming at you from all directions.

I'm fine. It's just that my poor bike freezes... :-(

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"Think of the children"- reckless parents?

Today was a cold day. It was about -30C in the morning, warmed a little when the sun was up, to -25C. In the afternoon I was going from A to B when I noticed there was a bike with an extra seat on it at the gate to the kindergarten. That mean someone was there to pick up a little kid, on his/her bike.
At the other gate was another bike, this one with a trailer. Of course, there were some parents with their cars and SUV's, but they are not interesting enough for me to take photos: no accidents, no honking horns or fights over a parking place.

Now, remember that these were taken on a day with -30C temperatures. Were the parents reckless, putting their kids in danger? I don't think so. The kid in the first picture would be behind the parents back, protected from the windchill. In the second picture, the kid would have a ride of luxury. She'd fall asleep in there. Almost like when she was a baby and took a nap outside in the pram. Unless it's very cold, many babies sleep outside during the day.

But if they were brought here by car, they'd be warm because the car has a heater? Well, think about it. It's -30C outside, and the car will be that cold too. The ride to kindergarten will only a few minutes, and the heater does not have enough time to warm up the car unless the car was (illegally) left idling before the kid was brought in. So the kid has a cold ride in a car or on a bike.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bad plowing

I don't know who left this and why, but this is unacceptable. At the intersection of two busy bikeways, the snow plow man left a 20 cm high snow bump. Is this a speed bump? Are we really going too fast? Give it some more time and the hard packed snow will turn into ice and it will be twice as hard to remove.

A dangerous bump on the bikeway.

How to reduce car traffic- Short Trip Congestion Charge

Consider these three things:

  • There has been some plans to base insurance fees or taxes on vehicle miles travelled. The less you drive, the lower your fees or taxes.
  • Bikeshares usually give you the first 30 minutes for free. After that, you'll have to pay.
  • A lot of trips made by car are short. So short that a bike could be used instead.
Combined, they become the Short Trip Congestion Charge:
  • A gadget in the car measures the trip
  • Unlike the bike share, the first two miles cost you extra. The first mile will count as 5 miles for counting the insurance fees / taxes. The second mile will count as 3 miles.
  • after that, 1 mile = 1 mile
Short trips by car would cost more, making people want to walk and bike more. Of course, there's a big downside to this: there's no gadget to do this at the moment, and people would have to pay for it. But I think it could be an useful tool to stop people making ridiculously short trips by car.

Does the idea have any obvious faults that I haven't thought about?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Some pictures of snowy bikeways

Today was a bright, sunny day. At -10C, it was a typical day in February. When the sun is up and there is white snow everywhere, the day is bright indeed. The sun is not hot enough to melt any snow yet, and at nights it's -20C. In a month we can see the first signs of spring.

The snow has been pushed to a pile to clear the parking lot. The bigger area you need to clear, the higher the pile. Kids like them, to play king of the hill, to slide down or dig tunnels. But if the snow has been piled with a machine, it's likely to be too icy to dig tunnels. A few days ago a kid was (non-fatally) injured when a huge lump of frozen snow rolled down from top of the hill. But the snow here is fluffy right now.
A small parking lot, a small pile of snow.
The snow is about mid-thigh so walking in the forest would be hard. The bikeway is the easy way here :) Like I said before, the bikeways often go straight through the parks.

You can feel claustrofobic even outside...
Another shot on a bikeway through a forest. You can't say it is a park if it is not designed by landscaper and looked after by gardeners. It's almost wild forest, in the middle of the town.
It was a brighter day than this photo shows.
There are some unpaved paths around here. Some are not maintained at all in the winter. Others will be turned into ski paths. They're multi-use paths, not just multi-user paths. With street lights above you could ski in the middle of the night.
Maybe I should go downtown and take some pictures from the grid streets to show it's not just forests here.

Monday, February 07, 2011

A future without car crashes?

I just read an article in the BBC news about new technologies for cars to reduce crashes. Well, I think only one or two of the ideas told in the article could reduce crashes, the others are just stuff to deal with the damage after the crash. To actually get rid of the car crashes we would need to get rid of the cars. Even if we fully computerize the car and take the human away from the steering wheel, we'd still get some crashes due to malfunctions or extreme conditions. But we're not that far yet.

The item that actually sounds like it could prevent crashes is the Auto-brake system being developed by Volvo. The system looks for cars or pedestrians and if a crash is going to happen, it applies the brakes. The system seems to be designed to detect also pedestrians, not just cars. I think this will make texting, eating, reading and watching tv while driving more safe to others.

Information on the Advanced Vision System developed by GM is more vague. The system shows on a HUD where the curb is through heavy fog, allowing motorists drive faster. No mention is made if the system can also detect humans. I could find nothing with a quick google. In fact, the article says the system shows the edge of the road so "you can release your attention to other things that you should be scanning for." Speeding through the fog, trying to detect humans with old eyeballs mk.1?

In fact, I like both ideas, with a little tweaks.

The HUD system should not show the road. It should scan for humans and big animals, deers and elks and the likes. You do not want to hit any of them, so you want to see them. The auto-brake system should scan for all these things mentioned above. If the system had to brake, it would give you a few electric shocks to teach you a lesson. If it had to brake to avoid hitting a human, it'd give you lots of shocks, just to make sure you noticed.