Sunday, May 31, 2009

Plastic bike

First Launched in 1981, the Itera plastic bicycle was feted as the future of cycling by it's creators, the volvo car company.

Rather than make the bike out of welded metal tubes, as manufacturers had been doing for about a hundred years, they decided to make their bike entirely from injection molded plastics. They used a variety of strong and durable plastics that had already been developed for use in cars, so they didn't have to do a whole lot of research work to get the project started. The swedish government liked the idea, and gave the company a big grant to get the venture going.

It has been estimated that around 30,000 were made but by the time the factory closed in 1985, only a small proportion of them had actually sold. It achieved a small measure of success in its native Sweden, but was greeted with horror everywhere else. This failure was put down to people being unwilling to adapt to new technology, to poor marketing, and to concerns about the bikes creaking all the time.

What its supporters seemed to have completely failed to take into account, however, is the possibility that the itera bike failed, not because the public weren't ready for its innovative construction, but because it was quite possibly the ugliest thing anyone had ever seen. And this was in the 1980s, remember, a time when people had been forced to acclimatise to much more pervasive and grevious muntiness than anything you might see today.

Even if you disregard the paint-job, which was sadly fairly fashionable at the time (the hall of the house I grew up in was painted a similar combination of brown, orange, and beige by the previous owners) it still looks like a incorrectly molded piece of outdoor plumbing from the soviet union.

Interestingly, while they were a failure in Europe. The warehouses full of leftover bikes were shipped to the Caribbean and sold for a knock-down price. Over there people weren't so picky about looks, apparently, and the idea of a bike that didn't rust away in the tropical humidity had widespread appeal.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

I don't think I really have a particular theme for this post, let alone a coherent idea to write about, so this is probably going to be a little disjointed.

The giant book of sex that I've been working on for the last year or so is finally coming to an end now. All that is left to do is the seemingly unending stream of corrections and revisions which, whilst getting more and more minor, never seem to decrease in number. Either way, I think it's going to print soon, so I'll be off writing about something else (religion I think) and probably getting equally nerdily obsessed with that. Something I've noticed is that my interest in human sexuality hasn't diminished as the amount of time I've had to spend writing about it has declined. Obviously, I had an interest in the subject to begin with, but it wasn't a very academic one.

One of the blogs that I read on the subject, by Dr. Petra Boynton, recently linked an article which touched something of a nerve with me in relation to the now mostly completed book. It's called The New Romantics by the brilliantly named Drake Bennett (no idea who he is, I'm just in awe of his name) and discusses the medicalisation of human sexuality.

This article revived a sense of unease I've had with the Big Sex Book from the start of my involvement with it. As it is a reference book, aimed at high schools, it sticks to a very dry, inoffensive tone. Sexuality is discussed in terms of medical conditions, pathological behaviors, and anatomical interactions. There are concessions to the stickier, less easily quantified aspects of sexuality, but usually, these are left out, either for fear of sounding too informal, or because of the possible moral backlash such discussions might provoke. Discussions of teenage sexual activity are usually framed by concepts of social norms, media influence, and peer pressure. The idea that young people, especially young women, might start having sex because they're horny, or because they're in love is rarely mentioned.

In fact, that's a good example. I said, "because they're horny, or because they're in love". The two things usually go together, for me at least they are part of the same thing. The book discusses emotions and ideas of love and affection; it also discusses hormones, reproductive urges, and the whole sticky-sweaty, in-out-in-out, tongues and hands thing. There is always some sense of separation, however, which strikes me as a damaging view to be teaching. The impression I often got from articles was that sex was a side-effect of love, or vice versa - depending on the article.

Hmm. I'll extend and revise this at some point. I've got to go and meet some friends pubwise now/

Thursday, May 21, 2009

cunning id

Before I start this, I feel I should explain that I'm not crazy. That doesn't bode well for the rest of the post, I know, but I've read more of the DSM-IV-TR than most people, and I don't think I meet any of the diagnostic criteria for bonkers*. Under normal circumstances, even in situations of stress or mental anguish, there is only one consciousness in my head, and I have complete sovereignty over the lands of me.There is one particular situation, however, in which I seem to become less of a person and more of a one-man argument.

I don't sleep a whole lot, which means that waking up is often a difficult and confusing process for me. In the seconds that pass between the alarm going off and the sane part of my brain gaining full control, there is a brief period of conflict between the me that usually just wants sleep, food, and woman (I will resist the urge to give my subconscious a name, because that's a step too far into crazyland) and the me that knows I have to get up and go to work. During this time dream-logic still applies** and sleep-food-woman me will use the best arguments dream logic posesses to get me to switch off my alarm and sleep until noon.

Sometimes these are sucessful, sometimes they fail, and every now and then they're just too weird to do either properly. A good example of the latter is the occasion when -- after staying up all night writing an essay --I woke up convinced that in order to switch off my alarm I had to delete my Mum's phone number from my mobile.

These events used to be rare, but my new phone (which I use as an alarm clock) is unpleasantly loud, which seems to make my subconscious especially resentful. There are two buttons on the phone which control the alarm -- one puts it on snooze, the other disables it. I was late to work last week because some part of my brain managed to convince me that the button marked "Stop" actually meant "stop being so damn loud." This morning it went a step further. I thought that it was making me answer quiz questions before it would go back into snooze mode (which isn't a bad idea for an alarm clock). I nearly tricked myself into switching it off twice when trying to think of the answer to the question I was dreaming (hallucinating?) I could see on the screen.

I probably need to get some more sleep, that, or get a more inscrutable alarm clock.


*That particular term isn't in the DSM, but it should be.
**You know, like when Morgan Freeman offers you a lift in his helicopter, whilst somehow being your cat at the same time.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Behold, a wheely-bag. These things are always annoying for commuters like myself. They drag along behind the person pulling them and are too low to be seen in a crowd. This means that if someone with a wheely-bag crosses your path in an underground station you are likely to go arse-over-tit on the floor.

While this is annoying, I've done my share of international travel, so I'm not going to rail against big luggage with wheels. I know how much easier they make life. My problem is with shit like the bag pictured above. Believe it or not, it was actually smaller than it looks in that picture -- a small laptop bag with fucking wheels on. Why couldn't he just pick it up? He's not old or weak or feeble, and unless it was filled with gold it can't have been that heavy.

I just want to stamp on them.


Sunday, May 10, 2009


This started as a comment on a friend's photos of their proud culinary achievements. The dish in question looked very pretty but involved copious quantities of asparagus, which made me go into a wibbly-wobbly cinematic flashback.


I used to eat some very strange things when I was a kid. The most peculiar of these were probably the foods I consumed as a result of my close friendship with my grandmother's slightly retarded pet spaniel, Archie. I decided, some time around the age of three, that I wanted to be a dog when I grew up*. The reasons for this have slipped my memory, but they probably had something to do with Archie's ability to evade effort, exercise, and baths. I developed a taste for dry dog food, especially the charcoal biscuits -- I had an unusually lustrous, glossy coat as a child. Once, in imitation of my slightly 'special' canine friend, I ate a big handful of freshly mown grass.

Needless to say, it tasted disgusting, and I think I came very close to spraying some St Patrick's day-style barf across my grandma's neatly maintained garden. The upside of this memorable, if unpleasant, experience was that I became one of the very few people in the world who can adequately describe the taste of asparagus.

In case you'd not figured out what comparison I'm going to draw yet -- it's grass. I had asparagus for the first time on a pizza a few years ago and, after picking most of it off, spent the rest of the evening feeling rather nostalgic for Archie; the overweight, excitable spaniel with an extraordinary phobia of other dogs.

I'm always a little baffled why asparagus is considered such a glamorous foodstuff, considering you can get something just as tasty (and just as digestible, from what I remember of the pizza) for free, and tidy up your garden at the same time.


*I can't scratch my ears with my feet or track people by smell, so I'm going to assume I've failed in that particular ambition.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Fuck you, Maine

First Iowa and Vermont, now Maine has decided to legalise same-sex marriage. This makes me very annoyed.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not in the jesus corner, nor do I think that giving people rights automatically takes rights away from others. I have no problem whatsoever with gay marriage from a social or ethical point of view.

But why, oh why do all these states have to suddenly decide to liberalize their marriage laws this close to my print deadline? The article on Marriage Rights has been amended so many times that there's no room for any more states. I've already had to put Iowa and Vermont into the list of states that allow gay marriage, now I've got to fit Maine in. Maine! Argh. It's five letters and one syllable--I can't hyphenate that. It's going to carry the bottom line over, I just know it, and I'm going to have to spend ages rewording the paragraphs on the next page to stop the crosshead under the picture in column 2 from getting pushed out of place.

Oof, editorial change you can believe in eh? damn democrats and their social reform.