Categorized: My Favorite

My Favorite Bike Lights: Blackburn 100 Front & 20 Rear Light Set

Having used dozens of different bike lights over the years, my current favorites are the Blackburn 100 Front and 20 Rear Light Set. I bought a set back in December, but they were stolen when I parked my bike on a busy street in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I ordered a replacement set, and because I bought them from eBay, I was asked to write a review. Below is an expanded version of what I posted to eBay.

The set comes with a white front light and a red rear light, each with three modes: a mix of steady light and blinking modes. The front, white light is rated for 100 lumens, and the rear, red light is at 20 lumens. In practical terms, these are bright enough to be seen on city streets, where there is some streetlamp illumination, but they also work in a pinch as “see” lights to shine your path on a dark road.

Mounting the lights is easy. Just stretch the rubber strap over your handlebar and seat post, and fasten the strap over the notch. The lights are also easy to remove and are portable. This is important because you should remove your lights when parking your bike, otherwise you might find that someone has stolen them. That’s exactly what happened to me, as I noted above. However, these lights are a little bigger than most other lights I’ve used, but they’re still small enough to fit in your bag or even your pocket.

The other great thing about these lights is you can use them for a long time between charge cycles. The lights are a bit bigger than the Knog Blinder lights that were my previous choice, but the increased bulk presumably supports a larger battery. You only need to charge these lights about once a week in the dark, winter months, and significantly less often during the summer.

There are a few of minor drawbacks, however. First, the package includes only one Micro USB charging cable. Unless you have other cables lying around, you can only charge one light at a time. However, you can buy short Micro USB cables for a few bucks. Second, if you have a handlebar with an oversized, 31.8mm diameter, you have to really pull on mounting strap to wrap it around your handlebar. I’ve done this for months, and as long as you uniformly stretch it, it won’t weaken or break.

One of the things that you’ll find if you buy bike lights is that there are so many bad ones out there. At the moment, these are the best ones because they offer bright illumination and portability, are easy to remove without tools, cost about $60 for the set, offer a long burn time, and can be charged via USB.

The above links to Amazon are affiliate links. Shopping through those links will kick back a referral fee to me. Thanks for your support!

Why 2015 Was the Best Year in the US since 2009

Get out your perpetual calendar and look forward to 2020. That’s because in five years, we will experience a similarly awesome year as 2015.

Two thousand fifteen was the best year ever because major US holidays fall on days for maximizing vacation time around the summer and mid-winter holidays.

The colloquial summer season in the United States, when most everyone plans their vacations and such, starts on the Friday before Memorial Day and ends on Labor Day. In 2015, the unofficial summer season was as long as it could be: a full sixteen weeks.

  • Memorial Day is always the last Monday of May. In 2015, Memorial Day was on May 25, which meant that the colloquial summer started on the earliest possible date, Friday, May 22.
  • Labor Day is always the first Monday of September. In 2015, Labor Day was on September 7, which meant that colloquial summer ended on the latest possible date, Monday, September 7.

For fans of summer like me, this was much better than 2014 when summer ended on September 1, and better than 2010 when summer started as late as Friday, May 28. Those years sucked!

It was also great because Independence Day, July 4, occurred on a Saturday. Most everyone I knew observed it on July 3, granting many workers a comfortable three-day weekend.

The winter holidays were similarly charmed. This past year Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, December 24 and December 31, respectively fell on Thursdays while Christmas Day and New Year’s Day fell on Fridays. That allowed many workers to have two successive four-day weekends! Take three days off in between, and you could have had with eleven consecutive days off. Not a bad way to end this great year.

I first noticed this in 2009, and I looked forward to it every year since. Usually, these kind of years occur every seven years or so, but we have two leap years coming: one in 2016 and another one in 2020. That will accelerate the frequency of this kind of year.

It will happen again in four short years: in 2020. That’s plenty of time to plan an extended summer vacation or midwinter getaway. Or both.

Happy new year, everyone!

Back to the Charity Stripe

At the risk of sounding like this guy, it’s worth remembering that this is not only the end of the year and the holiday season, this is also the end of the 2015 tax year. If you itemize your deductions, this would be a good time to evaluate your finances and donate some money to a cause or two. Or more.

Choosing where to donate money is challenging. Not only are there myriad worthy causes out there, there is a lot of pressure from just about every non-profit organization that you have ever patronized. If you subscribed to its email list, liked it on Facebook, or followed it on other social networking sites, you have undoubtedly heard its call for a donation. And since you’re a good person, it’s hard to say no to many of them.

Also, it’s not an exaggeration to say that these fundraising campaigns resemble holiday sales in their year-end “donate now” pleas.

Years ago, I heard an interview with someone who manages a large endowment that donates million of dollars to many causes. If you think your Facebook feed is crowded with pleas for money now, imagine what this this executive gets on a weekly basis. Rather than deciding on a case-by-case basis where to donate the money, she revealed that the endowment only grants money to organizations working on a set of specific, predetermined causes. In other words, they have decided in advance what causes are important to fund and donate only to those. It’s a sane approach for a multibillion-dollar endowment, it’s a sane approach for a millionaire one-percenter, and it’s a sane approach for someone with more limited resources, like you.

My own philanthropy is very limited, but I decided years ago I would focus on two causes very important to our lives: transportation and communication. In my estimation, access to transportation and to communication are human rights.

Some day, I’ll articulate my reasons for my thinking, but for now, I would like to offer my own list of worthy organizations and their Charity Navigator scores. Perhaps you will consider them worthy of a year-end charitable gift, too.

  1. Transportation Alternatives is a New York City–based organization that advocates for bicyclists and pedestrians. Over the last fifteen years, they have helped remake New York City streets from high-speed arteries for automobiles to a more “complete streets” design for a variety of transport modes. They are a big reason why New York City has so many more bike lanes that a decade ago. Motorists at first hate them, but they really shouldn’t because, with a bike lane, bicyclists will stay out of your way.

    Your locality likely has a similar organization advocating for more intelligent uses of roads and other transportation infrastructure. Support it!

    Charity Navigator: 4/4

  2. Electronic Frontier Foundation has been a mensch for computing and the Internet for over twenty-five years. They have been instrumental in the fight against unfair anti-circumvention laws, net neutrality, and many other causes.

    Charity Navigator: 4/4

  3. Wikipedia. Although you know that if everyone reading Jimmy Wales’s plea donated $3, their fundraising needs would be met in an hour. You also know that you’ve been seeing that plea for weeks, meaning that you’re going to have to pick up the slack.

    Charity Navigator: 4/4

  4. Internet Archive aims to be for the world’s largest computer network what the Alexandrine Library was for the ancient world: a collection of all the world’s knowledge. Don’t let a lack of funds do to this valuable resource what the Romans: destroy and cause an irretrievable loss of public knowledge.

    Charity Navigator: Unrated, Private Foundation

  5. Speaking of libraries, your local public library could use some money. Public libraries are not only organs of information for everyone, they provide space for scholars, children, and the inquisitive. The New York Public Library has been actively asking for donations over the last few weeks, but they have close to $700 million of hedge-fund billionaire’s money. Your local library probably doesn’t.

    Charity Navigator: 4/4 for New York Public Library

Incidentally, Charity Navigator is also a non-profit organization and is itself seeking donations.

Charity Stripe

Today is the last day of the year, and, as such, it is the last opportunity to reduce your tax bill by donating to some worthwhile causes. Donate tomorrow and you likely won’t see any tax benefits until 2016.

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Here are some great charitable organizations I have supported this year, and I would encourage you to do the same.

  • Free Press is grassroots organization is ramping up to oppose the Comcast–Time Warner Cable merger and to promote Net Neutrality. As a media scholar, I can’t see any benefits that consumers and Internet users would see if we allow Comcast to acquire Time Warner Cable or if we don’t protect and promote an open Internet.
  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been protecting your rights on the Internet even before there was an Internet. I’m really excited about their role in deploying a new Certificate Authority to make encrypting the web much easier.
  • Transportation Alternatives has been instrumental in making the streets of New York more favorable for bicyclists and pedestrians. Please donate to make the bike lobby—not this one—all the more powerful.
  • The Brooklyn Greenway Initiative hosted an Epic Bicycle Ride this summer. Donate to these guys so they can someday realize a waterfront bicycle path. You could also donate to the East Coast Greenway to build a continuous path from Florida to Maine, a portion of which I rode in November from Brooklyn to New Haven.
  • Second to Wikipedia, the Internet Archive is one of the Internet resources I most frequently use for preparing lectures. Not only can you find old webpages, there there a treasure trove of old radio programs.
  • Light Industry is my favorite microcinema in New York City. Not only do they keep experimental film alive in New York City, they are conveniently located to me in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. While it is a bit frustrating that they don’t schedule film screenings on a regular basis, I imagine this ensures that they schedule something if it is worthwhile and logistically feasible.
  • Now that I moved to the other side of the Newtown Creek, I subsist mostly of take-out and the buffet at the Faculty lounge. But in my previous life, I used to get really excited about the greenmarket season to eat like an artisanal hipster. Grow NYC runs a bunch of programs that support community farmers to promote the city’s Greenmarkets. Donate $100 and get a cookbook.

In addition to feeling good about donating to these causes, some wealthy people are offering matching donations. This serves two purposes: it rallies would-be donors, and I would imagine, it reduces their own substantial tax bill. These matching donations are also great for these charitable organizations. For example, your one-dollar donation to Free Press and the Electronic Frontier Foundation mean they receive two dollars in support. And, in the case of Transportation Alternatives and the Internet Archive, they are due to receive $2 for every dollar they raise from individual donors. That means that your one-dollar donation yields three dollars in support.

But you should really give more than one dollar. Much more.