New York City 2017 Bike Map Pays Tribute to Bill Cunningham

I finally had a chance to see the New York City 2017 Bike Map, and it took me a while to realize that the cover pays tribute to longtime New York Times fashion photographer and cultural icon Bill Cunningham. Cunningham was a well known bicycle enthusiast and was known to enjoy riding his bike to photograph New York street life in his weekly “On the Street” columns for the New York Times.

Film still from Bill Cunningham New York. First Thought Films/Zeitgeist Films.

There are a few giveaways that show the cover illustration depicts Cunningham:

  • it’s an older, white-haired man on cruiser,
  • he’s snapping a photo from his bike,
  • he’s wearing his trademark blue jacket and grey pants,
  • most obviously, the map indicates a credit of “Cover illustration of Bill Cunningham, used with permission of the Estate of William J. Cunningham.”

Bill Cunningham passed away at age 87 a year ago today. He was extensively covered in the 2010 documentary, Bill Cunningham New York, which as of today, is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

NYC Bike Map 2017 Inset Pays Tribute to Bill Cunningham

What’s Your Age?, How Old Are You?, When Were You Born?

If you ever participated in a research survey or a focus group, you’ve likely had to answer a question about your age. But have you had to answer three?

This is a screenshot of a survey from a major focus-group market-research company based here in New York. It asks for your age in three different ways:

  1. Enter your age in a text field.
  2. Select your age range.
  3. Input your date of birth.

In other words: what’s your age?, how old are you?, and when were you born?

It could be that they do this to ask so you don’t lie about your age. But I think they do this so they can filter the results in their spreadsheet and quickly find the subjects they want. For example: find people who were born before 1990, find people who are less between 28 and 34, or find people who reported to be between the age range of “28-34 years old,” etc.

Someone should show them that even in Google Forms, you can add calculation columns to help you find respondents within certain age ranges, respondents of specific ages, respondents who were born during certain years, or whatever combinations of these data. Honest. I’m not making this up. Isn’t Technology Great?!?

I won’t show them how to do it, but someone should…

But, hey, at least, this survey wasn’t as ugly as ones I’ve seen in the past.

Behold! New Bicycle Lanes Are Coming to East Williamsburg

One of the most infuriating aspects of having moved from Greenpoint-Long Island City to East Williamsburg–Bushwick, other than the difficulty of transporting household paper products in bulk, is that the area is decidedly hostile to bicycling.

Technically Williamsburg, Culturally Maspeth

The area is very industrial so there are a lot of trucks and commercial vehicles. Those vehicles are commonly double parked in the “bicycling margin” part of the roadways, forcing a cyclist into the middle of the road where motor vehicles travel. From my own observations, commercial vehicles also seem more likely to speed and engage in dangerous driving behavior for two reasons: First, commercial drivers are in a hurry to do their jobs and make their delivery schedules. Second, they also appear less cautious than other drivers often because they are driving someone else’s vehicle. And, as we know, because trucks and similar commercial vehicles are so heavy, they pose a greater danger to cyclists, pedestrians and even cars than a passenger vehicle in otherwise similar collision.

But it’s not just the trucks and commercial vehicles that make cycling so harrowing. Even private passenger vehicles engage in this kind of behavior, possibly because they are mimicking the behavior of their commercial counterparts. These drivers speed on side streets; they roll through stop signs, even when there are pedestrians present and are crossing the intersection; they make unsafe turns, failing to yield to traffic with the right-of-way; and on two-way streets, they will often cross the double-yellow line and speed against the direction of traffic in order to pass one of those double-parked vehicles that I mentioned earlier.

Double Parked

It’s not much better on the one-way streets. These streets, such as Scholes St and Montrose Avenue, are very wide. Cars will frequently drive side-by-side as if it were a two-lane road, except that it’s not a two-lane road. Those roads are designed to carry only one lane of traffic.

Side-by-side traffic on the single lane on Meserole Avenue.

Every traffic engineer knows that road width determines driving behavior, especially speeding, and these wide roads encourage some very dangerous driving behavior. Cars constantly race each other, as one tries to pass a slower vehicle to get ahead of it before the road narrows back to only accommodate one lane of cars. Every single time I bike along this corridor, I hear a car zooming past me with the sound of an engine in full throttle. When the car does overtake me and the other slower vehicle, it will pass me with as little as a foot of clearance. What’s even more infuriating is to see that almost every time a car does this, it will reach a red light and have to stop anyway. I usually arrive at that same red light a few seconds later. Congratulations, asshole. All that dangerous behavior resulted in no decrease in travel time.

And if all this wasn’t bad enough, the road conditions in this area are atrocious for cars and bicycles alike. Potholes, debris, and even deteriorated railroad tracks plague users of these roadways.

Cyclists especially feel all of these pain points on the east-west streets that funnel traffic between the Williamsburg Bridge and East Williamsburg–Bushwick, specifically the corridor along Scholes and Meserole Streets.

Bike Lanes and Road Diet

Scholes-Meserole Streets Corridor

Earlier this year, the NYC Department of Transportation planned a redesign of this corridor in anticipation of the looming L train shutdown in 2019. The DOT reasons that based on prior subway shutdowns, such as those after Hurricane Sandy and during the 2005 Transit Strike, the number of commuters crossing the East River by bicycle exploded as much as three-fold after Sandy and four-fold during the transit strike.1 The DOT is anticipating an increase in the number of cyclists in light of the L train shutdown and the the needs of commuters in neighborhoods between Bedford Ave and Myrtle-Wycoff stations on the L train route, specifically Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Ridgewood.

On Wednesday night, I began to see the new bicycle lanes on the aforementioned corridor along Scholes and Meserole Streets take shape. I am thrilled to see that this is coming to my neighborhood!

Fullsizeoutput 1029a

I can already imagine the reaction of area drivers who will claim that the narrower roadways will increase travel times. But this is simply not true. These lanes were only designed to carry one lane of traffic in each direction, and drivers will finally have to use them as they were designed. Just because some drivers once used the roadway to pass another vehicle—and now they can’t—didn’t help anyway. As I mentioned earlier, cars would race and pass each other only to arrive at the same red light within seconds of each other.

However, the efficacy of a bicycle lane and putting a roadway on a diet is only as good as the police enforcement. Although the new bicycle lane is not yet official, over the last two days, I already saw the most common problem plaguing bicycle lanes: cars using a bike lane as an automobile parking lane.

The DOT went through all this trouble to add a bicycle lane to improve traffic flow and increase safety, and all it takes is a few drivers to clog it up and force cyclists into the vehicle travel lanes, which then angers drivers who now must slow down for the bicycles that have to go around the parked cars.

This is why we can’t have nice things.


  1. Anecdotally, the lower increase in bicycle commuters after Sandy compared to the increase during the transit strike is because a lot of people had the week off work as many businesses in Manhattan couldn’t open. 

Why You Shouldn’t Believe That You Shouldn’t Buy AirPods

Back in September, shortly after Apple announced the new AirPods, the folks at Lightning Cans posted a lengthy article explaining why you shouldn’t buy Apple AirPods.

Their conclusion is based on two claims. Unfortunately, both are wrong.

“Because AirPods use Bluetooth, and Bluetooth ‘Is Terrible,’ Thus AirPods Sound Terrible”

First, they claim that AirPods will produce terrible audio because they use Bluetooth, and Bluetooth produces terrible audio. In both theory and in practice, sending an audio signal over a wire is much better than sending one over a wireless connection. As the article notes, “Audiophiles have long been repulsed by Bluetooth audio. The frequency range is limited, the sounds are distorted, connecting can be a nightmare and audio can stutter or stop mid-stream.” But Apple might have overcome many of these challenges, not by sending a raw audio signal over the wire, but instead sending a digital audio stream that is decoded by the new W1 chip.

In practice, these standard criticisms against Bluetooth headphones aren’t there with the AirPods. The quality of the audio is about the same as what you get with the wired EarPods. I wouldn’t have expected any less (or any more) than that. However, there are some issues with audio dropping out from time-to-time. I notice this mostly when I’m streaming audio in busy areas, such as Union Square in Manhattan, for example. I’m not sure if this is because my iPhone can’t stream the audio, using the cellular radio, and send the digital audio signal to both AirPods, in a crowded area with a lot of radio interference.

Also, while it is true that pairing a Bluetooth audio device, such as headphones or a speaker, can indeed be difficult, connecting these AirPods take no time. I opened the case with one hand while I had my iPhone in the other, and after one tap to connect my AirPods, I was listening to them in a matter of seconds. This process also invisibly paired my AirPods with my other devices: my iPad, my Apple Watch, and my MacBook Pro. This was the ultimate Apple experience: It Just Works.

In short, compared to the wired EarPods, AirPods sound just as good, and they work almost as well for keeping an audio stream going. However, there’s one difference between AirPods and EarPods: there’s no tangled wire that becomes a white bird’s nest in your hand.

“AirPods Require a Wired Connection for Charging”

Second, they claim that although AirPods are wireless, they require a charging case that is wired. They write, AirPods “have an internal lithium ion battery that works for a whopping 5 hours (so like, maybe a couple days), and then when they die, you need to put them into their special ‘charging case,’ which then needs to be plugged into a power source via a cable.”

This misrepresents how one charges AirPods. While it is true that you have to use the case to charge the AirPods, the case itself has its own battery. The charging case itself does not have to be connected to anything to charge the AirPods. However, because the case has a battery, which does become depleted after about five AirPods-charging cycles, it does need to be connected to a Lightning cable and a USB power source. You can use the same charging cable as the one you have for your phone. Moreover, charging the case takes a very short amount of time, less than an hour.

At some point, yes, charging AirPods requires a wired connection. But this is similar to what you have to do with just about any mobile device but less often. If you have an iPad, you normally don’t have to charge it on a nightly basis like you have to do with your phone. This is similar to what you do with the AirPods charging case. An occasional wired charge will suffice. But otherwise, using and charging AirPods is a wholly wireless experience.

Conclusion

This is the danger is writing a review of a product before it is released. Having used AirPods for a little more than two months, I can tell you that this is the best new Apple product the company has released in a long time. The audio is comparable to what you get with wired EarPods. Apple has produced wireless, Bluetooth earphones that sound as good as the wired ones. No doubt, EarPods provide a more reliable connection, but the convenience of going wireless outweighs those occasional connection issues.

Ultimately, consumer goods succeed not just on quality but on convenience. CDs provide superior audio fidelity than MP3/AAC files, but carrying around CDs is inherently inconvenient. And if you don’t believe that Bluetooth can succeed in the consumer space, I will admit my early skepticism about WiFi nearly twenty years ago: “isn’t Ethernet more reliable?” It is, but imagine what a smartphone would be like if we were tethered to a network router, untangling bird’s nests of Cat-6 cables.

And, no, they don’t fall out of your ears.

The above link to Amazon is an affiliate link. Shopping through that link will kick back a referral fee to me. Thanks for your support!

Ride with GPS Now Supports Apple Watch Navigation for Bicycle Routes

When Apple announced the Apple Watch back in 2014, I was at first skeptical about its utility but then after some consideration I reversed my position and saw how a smartwatch could be useful. One possible function that excited me was using the watch for navigating bicycling routes planned with route-planning software, such as Strava or Ride with GPS. At the time, I wrote:

In due time, I can see [Strava and Ride with GPS] making apps for the Apple Watch, just as they do for iPhone and other smartphones. Their smartwatch apps could communicate with an iPhone, securely stored in a Ziploc bag and safely tucked away in a jersey pockets. In fact, I’ll bet dollars to donuts that both of these companies have at least considered developing for the Apple Watch.

While I don’t use Strava, I learned earlier this week that Ride with GPS’s Apple Watch app can now display alerts for navigation. While I still rely on a Garmin Edge bike-mounted computer for navigation and to record my rides, this helps bring the smartwatch closer to what I saw as its potential. In fact, if you have an Apple Watch Series 2 (the one with a built-in GPS), you can leave your phone at home: the Apple Watch will navigate and record your ride all on its own.

I’ve said it before, but it might bear repeating. Sorry, Garmin. The days of the dedicated GPS bike computer appear to be numbered.

Fifty Years Ago Today… We Learned About a 19th Century Circus

Fifty years ago today, on June 1, 1967, the Beatles’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released in the United States. (The UK release was a few days earlier on May 26.)

You will no doubt hear a lot about this anniversary in the coming days, if you haven’t done so already. As a kid, I vividly remember the twentieth anniversary being a big deal, partly because because the opening lyric to the album’s title song is “It was twenty years ago today / Sgt. Pepper taught his band to play,” and because Capitol-EMI had released a digitally remastered CD of the album. CD was state-of-the-art in 1987. In that same spirit, Capitol EMI Universal Music Group released a newly remixed and remastered super-deluxe edition of Sgt. Pepper’s that includes a bunch of extras, such as some studio takes, a video documentary and a mono mix of the album. (There’s also a mere anniversary edition that won’t set you back $120.)

A reproduction of the 20th anniversary CD of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band released in 1987.

I first listened to Sgt. Pepper’s in the aftermath of the twentieth anniversary in 1987. One of the songs that always stuck out to me was “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” The song might not be the best one on the album, but with its circus-like atmosphere, achieved through a variety of archaic musical instruments and through innovative multitrack recording and mixing, it was a song that transported me to altogether different time and place. Curiously, the song also features the Andalusian Cadence, although I did not know that at the time.

The fiftieth anniversary remixed-and-remastered recordings are available on streaming services, such as Amazon, Spotify, and Apple Music, and after listening to the remixes, which do in fact sound richer than what was previously available on CD and digital formats, I revisited “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” What on earth is John Lennon signing about in this song?

In case you need a refresher, here’s the lyrics that open the song:

For the benefit of Mr. Kite
There will be a show tonight on trampoline
The Hendersons will all be there
Late of Pablo Fanque’s Fair—what a scene
Over men and horses, hoops and garters
Lastly through a hogshead of real fire!
In this way Mr. K. will challenge the world!

Writing in Smithsonian Magazine in 2011, Mike Dash wrote explains many of the references in this song, especially “Pablo Fanque’s Fair”. He explains how the song lyrics were based on an antique poster than John Lennon bought in Kent. The poster was “to benefit” a circus performance in 1843 run by Pablo Fanque, who was not only a very successful circus performer but was, in the golden age of the circus in Victorian England, a black man who owned his own circus(!).

A reproduction of the 1843 poster that inspired John Lennon to write “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” in 1967.

Looking at the poster, you can see how Lennon assimilated the various elements of the poster into his song. There’s of course Pablo Fanque’s Cirus Royal, the Hendersons, Henry the Horse dancing the waltz, the “somersets” (somersaults) and trampoline, and, of course, Mr. Kite himself.

But beyond the connection to the song, the article provides a deep and engaging historical account of Pablo Fanque and his circus. It’s worth a read to learn about the circus and the “entertainment industry” in Victorian England.

Last month, the longest running and last remaining American circus of the Victorian era closed. But the atmosphere of the circus, in general, and the story of a black circus entrepreneur, specifically, might not be entirely forgotten. Perhaps, because of the anniversary reissue of Sgt. Pepper’s, some curious listeners will hear “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” we will remember this odd Victorian-era entertainment and wonder what it was like to see Pablo Fanque’s Fair.

The Tale of Two Forks

Bicycling on Long Island has a questionable reputation among New York City-area cyclists. One reason, I think, is because the terrain is a lot more challenging and varied in places like Westchester County and across the Hudson in New Jersey and the not-quite-upstate New York counties of Rockland and Orange. Also, let’s not forget that most of Long Island is in Suffolk County, an area regarded as the worst in the USA for bicycling. But Long Island is also suboptimal for long-distance cyclists because one can only ride so far on Long Island before reaching the end of either fork. Nevertheless, there are plenty of good routes available, and a common way to expand the riding options is to ride along both forks of Long Island.

Over the last two weekends, I rode along the south fork to Montauk and along the north fork to Greenport, on two separate rides. The first was the annual Ride to Montauk, which I have ridden in some form or other since 2008, except for 2011. The second was what’s becoming a standard ride from Huntington to Greenport. Since I’ve done these rides—and recounted them on this site—so many times now, I won’t cover all the details, except for a few notes that were novel and stick out after the fact.

South Fork to Montauk

For the second year in a row, I skipped the full 150-mile route and opted instead for the 108-mile route that starts in Babylon. This year, I took advantage of the check-in in Brooklyn, at Atlantic Terminal, since that would spare me having to travel to Manhattan at 3:00 in the morning. However, that does not spare me from riding past bars at 3:00 AM when people are still out from the night before.

It never fails to amuse me that as I am about to start the Montauk ride, there are people still out from the night before.

As I arrived, I met a first-time rider who was doing her first century. Almost immediately, she admitted to being nervous to ride her first century. She said she trained with the New York Cycle Club, doing the C-SIG program, and that her longest ride was 70 miles in the hilly Bergen and Rockland counties region that seemingly every NYCC ride goes to every weekend. A few other riders and I advised her that the Babylon to Montauk route is significantly easier than what she rode on those club rides. However, Long Island can present one unique challenge that doesn’t factor as much as other rides in the area: the wind.

The headwind on this year’s ride was as bad as it was in 2014. We tried pace-lining to mitigate the effects, but I couldn’t keep up with my riding partners. I had a 16 MPH average speed for most of the first 50 miles, but once we got to Dune Road, the unrelenting headwind pushed that average way down. I was pedaling at almost full strength and the fastest I could manage was a meager 11 MPH.

Once I knew I couldn’t set a personal best for this ride and that we would be taking the 5:30 PM train home, I took it easy and kept a manageable pace to enjoy the scenery.

And to savor multiple slices of pie.

I finished the ride about fifty minutes slower than last year’s effort and managed a 15.1 MPH average speed, almost two full miles-per-hour slower than last year and about the same as what I did in 2014. However, because I took it easy, I wasn’t as exhausted afterward as I was in 2014. I told my friend Andre that I had another twenty miles in me. But aside from going to the lighthouse and back, I couldn’t go any further. I had really reached the end of the road. Besides, I really wanted to eat and have a beer.

North Fork to Greenport

This past weekend, I went with a small group from Huntington to Greenport, a ride that I’ve done a number of times now. Although you’re ever only about fifteen or so miles from the Montauk route, this is a significantly different ride. There are a few rolling hills on this ride, and Belle Terre east of Port Jefferson is certainly a noteworthy climb. Another way that this ride was different from last week’s Montauk ride was the wind on the Greenport ride was “favorable.” It was mostly from the north but later in the day, the wind began pushing us east. It was a welcome respite from the Montauk ride the week before.

The easy riding conditions made it so that we weren’t too hungry. Instead of eating at the crowded and expensive deli in Miller Place, we instead used the opportunity for a brief rest. A shaded porch welcomed us, but some big-city skepticism made us resist the temptation. We continued eastward.

As we usually do on these rides, we stopped for pie. Another group of cyclists also arrived at Briermere Farms in Riverhead at the same time as us. Their aim was to eat a strawberry rhubarb while we set our sights on a blueberry crisp.

When I asked where they were riding, one rider told me they were headed to Orient to catch a ferry. Their ultimate destination was Boston over a four-day period. It so happened that one of my friends was doing that same ride and, as soon as that thought crossed my mind, he rolls up to the pie stand. Hello Harry L!

About eleven miles later, partly on my insistence, we stopped at Lieb Cellars, a winery in Cutchogue. I had been there in January on a day trip, and I really enjoyed the dry sparkling cider. We split a bottle before heading out on our final eleven-mile stretch to Greenport.

Is there liquor in cider (“inside ‘er”)?

After a few sandwiches and a few beers, and yes, that pie, we were on our way to the train.

The pie after riding in my backpack for 22 miles from Riverhead to Greenport.

The only thing that is a big minus about these rides is the amount of time one spends on a train at the end of the rides. Each ride, from Montauk or from Greenport, takes about three hours to return to New York. Doing this on consecutive weekends can test your patience.

It might be time to ride somewhere else this coming weekend.

Forward Nation Radio

One of my former students at Queens College has been producing something really valuable lately. Forward Nation Radio launched in March as a videocast and podcast that the producer refers to as a “progressive show with ‘bite.'” The program arose as a response to what I would call the “fake news” echo chamber. This is where the commercial press publishes something critical about the president and then he and his surrogates cry “fake news.” The commercial press responds with “no, you’re fake news!” And on it goes…

The latest episode starts with a skit of a childlike Donald Trump character inviting his pal Sergey, presumably Sergey Kislyak, to come over to his White House for play. He entices him with a few secrets that he wants to tell him. It reminded me of what Harry Shearer does on Le Show, voicing several characters in humorous but chilling skits about current political topics.

The episode continues with a news summary, responding to listener feedback, and interjecting a healthy dose of political opinion. The host, David Leventhal, is undoubtedly a political progressive but offers well-reasoned and critical counter arguments to what you normally hear on commercial print and television media. And it is certainly a lot more thoughtful and educated what you get on right-wing propaganda outlets.

Leventhal’s finest moment in the episode came when he responded to an op-ed about the “lack of diversity” on campus, apparently written by one of Leventhal’s colleagues at Queens College. (Departmental infighting, anyone?) He immediately deconstructs the questions, noting that it is not referring to ethnic, gender, religious, or even income diversity. He quick identifies that the question is referring to ideological diversity: a balance between liberals and conservatives on campus. Leventhal draws on his professional experience to debunk this question: this was “bullshit” and “propaganda” thirty years ago, and it is “bullshit” and “propaganda” today, he says.

Leventhal take a long view about the purpose of labelling college campuses as liberal havens to undermine the value of education. He correctly identifies that what passes as conservative media is actually propaganda. The only way to counter propaganda is through education, he says. When quote-unquote conservative media rally against liberal bias in the media and in education, they are really trying to undermine the professional investigative methods of journalism to uncover truth and, at the same time, undermine the research methods and expertise of academics. In other words, quote-unquote conservatives aren’t represented on campus because those quote-unquote conservatives are actually propagandists who spread “alternate facts,” and Leventhal concludes, those “alternate facts…are not what should be peddled on college campuses.”

Of course, this is an extremely partisan series, but honestly, it was refreshing to listen someone use a balance of fact, reason, and emotion to argue against the attacks on journalism, academia, democracy, and even our own government that the right-wing is seeking to dismantle.

“MP3 is Dead,” or Real Fake News

A little over a week ago, I learned from Marco Arment that a number of news organizations erroneously reported that the MP3 format was dead. (NPR, d’oh!) The real news, however, was lot more complex and a lot less dramatic.

Technicolor and Fraunhofer, which owned and licensed the patents used to make MP3 work, had terminated the licensing program for software developers and hardware manufacturers to encode and playback MP3 files. Technicolor and Fraunhofer terminated the program because the patents they held and were used for MP3 had expired. Technicolor nor Fraunhofer no longer had a legal right to charge to license those patents. Thus, MP3 is now freely available for anyone to use: software developers and hardware manufacturers need not pay royalties to support MP3.

But that does not make for a dramatic story. Instead, either unintentionally or through sheer negligence, the story was that “MP3 was dead.” One writer even concluded his article with a eulogy of sorts, embedding the Susan Vega song that was the first to be encoded in MP3, in part to test the fidelity of the compression algorithm. Pour one out for MP3 while reciting “Tom’s Diner.”

MP3 is Free, Buy AAC

However, MP3 is not dead. The storyline that MP3 is dead seems to come from the former patent holders themselves. They likely pushed this storyline to gain support for a newer format that is still patent-protected, AAC. AAC is, by many measures, a better compression format. But as Marco Arment points out, MP3 is still overwhelming supported for most applications, including podcasts, because it’s a de-facto standard. And because it’s so widely supported and because a lot more people recognize “MP3” than those who know what “AAC” is, it’s unlikely that MP3 will disappear, especially now that it is free.

Because Technicolor and Fraunhofer could no longer profit from MP3, it meant they would have to find a new way to earn royalties on another audio codec. Declaring MP3 dead was a way to move users from the now-free MP3 codec to the patent-protected AAC.

The Techdirt podcast covered this subject in depth this week. They seemed unsympathetic to the former patent holders, and I can’t blame them. The patent holders could have announced something like “starting today, we’re suspending our MP3 licensing program and now anyone can use MP3 for free. This will give us a chance to focus on promoting new compression technologies, such as AAC, to become the newer and better successor to MP3.”

MP3 is dead, but only to Fraunhofer because they can’t make money from it.

OTA Isn’t Dead, Either

Declaring MP3 dead reminded me of what happened almost a decade ago with the digital broadcast TV transition.

In 2009, the FCC required almost all broadcast TV stations to turn off their analog over-the-air (OTA) signals. The most immediate effect was that, for people with older, analog-only TV receivers, they would have to get a digital-to-analog TV converter box or subscribe to a cable or satellite TV to continue to watch TV. Those with newer digital TV receivers would have to take no significant action to continue watching TV.

However, the storyline that came from this was that over-the-air broadcast TV was dead. As I noted in 2013, this was simply not true: rabbit ears still work. In fact, the DTV transition did lead to more cable and satellite subscribers. As a form of poetic justice, those gains have been wiped out by cord-cutting.

A profit motive seemed to drive the story that there would be no more “rabbit ears.” In the case of the the digital TV transition in 2009, I wrote that “cable and satellite companies took this as an opportunity to sign up new customers thinking that those that received over-the-air television would be doomed. Instead, they were just duped.”

Neither OTA nor MP3 is dead. In fact, both are very much alive and, best of all, they are both free!

What to Do Now that American Apparel is Gone

American Apparel Warehouse in Downtown Los Angeles, circa 2012

American Apparel Warehouse in Downtown Los Angeles, circa 2012

Although American Apparel earned a tarnished reputation for its racy ads and the repeated sexual harassment lawsuits filed against its founder, the company produced the best available shirts for screen printers. This is not to mention its commitment to manufacturing in the United States, specifically southern California, and some innovative designs. As one printer mentioned on a website I can’t find in my bookmarks, before American Apparel, it was virtually impossible to find 40-single, lightweight ring-spun cotton shirts. After American Apparel, this became an industry standard. In other words, that soft cotton t-shirt you’re wearing right now wasn’t widely available before American Apparel.

The company as we knew it no longer exists. American Apparel filed for bankruptcy in 2016 and, earlier this year, it was acquired by Gildan, a leading manufacturer of imprintables that manufactures most of its products outside the US and its home country of Canada, for $88 million.

For someone who preferred to use American Apparel for printing, I found that I have three options going forward:

  1. Source from the new American Apparel. Earlier this year, Gildan revived the brand and its made-in-USA offerings, but the selection is extremely limited. Gone, for example, are the poly-cotton neon heather pink shirts that my Ball Busters team wore last year. Pricing seems to be about the same as it was with the old company, but, given that Gildan intends to recover its $88 million investment in the company, it seems reasonable to presume that there must be some differences in manufacturing.
  2. Source from another mill. Since I knew that I wasn’t going to reliably source American Apparel shirts forever, I started to look for some alternatives. I used a few Gildan cotton shirts, particularly the ring-spun Soft Style, and a few other shirts from Bella and Canvas and Next Level Apparel. But I found that for the price, the best shirts I’ve printed come from Tultex. The shirts are made overseas, but they work almost as well for water-based printing as American Apparel shirts. The innovations of American Apparel have indeed become “industry standard.”
  3. Source from Los Angeles Apparel. American Apparel founder, Dov Charney, returned with a new company. Los Angeles Apparel manufactures its shirts in South Central Los Angeles, with the seemingly identical business model that he used for American Apparel. The company’s offerings are very limited, but the first ones are similar to the best-selling products from American Apparel: a ringspun cotton jersey shirt, a 50/50 poly-cotton t-shirt, and a poly-rayon-cotton triblend t-shirt, for example. The colors are also similar to the American Apparel line, but they by no means match the old or current American Apparel line.

While the old American Apparel is gone, the seem to be some choices for us. Each of them offers some advantages. There seems to be some continuity between new and old American Apparel products and, for those cases where I want to match the look of an older style (and where such stock exists), this seems to be a good option. I’ve been using the Tultex shirts, and those shirts have been well-received. Finally, Los Angeles Apparel seems to be a good option for a new look with a manufacturing process that we liked with the old American Apparel and to support manufacturing in Los Angeles, and I plan to these these shirts for upcoming projects.