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Daniel Penner's Posts


Biking basics for folks who’ve always wanted to ride, but didn’t dare [VIDEO]

The BasicsYou say you want to get around the city without spending the $9,000 to maintain and operate a car each year, and maybe get some exercise while you're at it? You don’t have that kind of cash. And you know, the planet. But those bike lanes can look pretty intimidating, with all the mustachioed hipsters on their superbad fixies, the spandex-clad adrenaline junkies, and the cars whizzing by.

What you need is a video that squeezes basic bicycle skills into four action-packed minutes, replete with a sick sound track and just maybe a crazy stunt or two.

Well, you’re in luck:


Tornadoes — another argument for American exceptionalism

Joplin, Mo.
Joplin, Mo.

By now you’ve probably seen the time-lapse of the funnel cloud raging through Moore, Okla., donated to the Red Cross, and thought to yourself, “Ohmygod, I am so glad I don’t live someplace where there are tornadoes.” Or maybe you do live someplace where there are tornadoes, and you’re wondering why God and/or the climate decided that your community should be blessed with this particular terror. Well, we wondered too.

Natural disasters are both devastating and frustrating, but particularly so when no one else in the world seems to get them. Seventy-five percent of all tornadoes on Earth occur in the United States [PDF]. To which we say, “Dammit America, why do you do this to us?”

Cue insightful map from the Weather Underground:

Click to embiggen.
Orangey-brown areas indicate preferred tornado hangout spots. Click to embiggen.

It’s possible the number of non-U.S. tornadoes could be much higher. Every continent except for Antarctica has reported tornadoes, but the numbers are sketchy. Some places, like Australia, are suspected of having lots of tornadoes, but many occur in less populated areas, so they are left to spin out uncounted and unnoticed. Other places, like the U.K., have lots of tornadoes (the most tornadoes per area, actually), but British tornadoes don’t have nearly the same magnitude.

From the good folks at PBS:

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


This town was almost blown off the map — now it’s back, and super green

If I were to tell you this is a story about a tornado in Kansas, it would probably bring to mind a certain doe-eyed girl and her little dog. Well, sometimes tornadoes transport girls and their adorable pets to magical lands. Other times they level entire towns.

That is what happened the night of May 4, 2007, when an EF-5 tornado (for non-Kansans, that’s a really freaking big -- the biggest, in fact) nearly two miles wide hit the town of Greensburg, a farming community in south-central Kansas. Almost all of the 1,383 residents lost their homes, nine died, and the town was left looking like this:

From Grain Elevator May 2007

The destruction was sudden and the rebuilding process was daunting. However, as thoughts on how to rebuild swirled, a number of people thought, “Hey, what if we rebuilt Greensburg with ‘green’ principles? Ha, guys, see what I did there? Do you get it? ... Guys?”

To which many of their neighbors responded with a “yes, we do get it” and a “yeah, we thought of that idea, too.” Even before the tornado hit, the community was shrinking and its population getting older. Greensburg residents knew they needed a new strategy. The tornado, awful as it was, provided a clean slate.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


Bike sharing goes big — but can it get over its little helmet problem?

We just don't get it -- why wouldn't everyone want to look like this?
We just don't get it -- why wouldn't everyone want to look like this?

Seattle crunches quite a bit of granola, hugs more than its allotted trees, and has the second highest bike commute rate for U.S cities. But, as of yet, it has no bicycle sharing system -- which is what all the cool, sustainable cities are doing. (I see you, Tulsa.)

Bikeshares make bicycles available to the public through a network of checkout stations, typically in densely populated areas. They can help cut down on traffic congestion, reduce pollution from cars, and act as the gateway bike for the beginners among us. Oh, and cycling makes us happy. Don’t you want to be happy, Seattle?

Yes, apparently.

In January, the nonprofit Puget Sound Bike Share announced its search for bike vendor proposals in King County, Wash., bringing Seattle one step closer to a bike sharing system. But here’s the problem: No bikeshare has ever been successful where there is a strict helmet law like Seattle’s, which requires cyclists to helmet up regardless of age. (Most municipalities only require children under a certain age to wear a helmet, or have no helmet law.)


If Seattle can pull this off, it will pave a path for cities aiming provide an easy, clean mode of transportation, even while insisting that riders protect their melons.

Read more: Cities


The Blue book on bikes: Everything you need to know and then some

everydaybicyclingAt some point in your life, I bet you've looked at yourself in the mirror and said, "Hey, I should take up biking. It seems so fun and cool and dammit, I bet the exercise’d be good for me."

Then you realized you didn't know much about cycling, lived in a city that has less-than-stellar bike infrastructure, and were intimidated by things like cars. Oh well.

But wait! Portland, Ore., bike blogger/evangelist Elly Blue has produced the 127-page solution to all of your pedaling problems -- Everyday Bicycling: How to Ride a Bike for Transportation. This little green book is a handy toolkit for the bicycle curious, full of practical info for people of all shapes, lifestyles, and wheel preferences.

At times, Blue’s words of wisdom may seem obvious to a seasoned cyclist, but that’s her magic: She is like that friend who knows everything about a topic but can still explain it in a way that doesn't make you feel like a complete idiot. Everyday Bicycling has all the pretense of a Jimmy Buffet concert -- and thankfully, none of the Hawaiian print.

Read more: Cities, Living


Matt Damon brings the fracking fight to the big screen

Focus Features
Alternate title: We Bought a Gas Farm.

Been jonesin' for a Hollywood movie about a hot-button environmental issue? One without animation, penguins, or Al Gore?

You’re in luck: Promised Land could be just the ticket when it hits theaters on Dec. 28. Beyond being the first environmental-issue drama with Oscar chances since Erin Brockovich, this movie about fracking in small-town America comes from some big-name players. Matt Damon, Frances McDormand, and John Krasinski star. Gus Van Sant directs. Damon and Krasinski wrote the script based on a story by Dave Eggers. Look closely: There might even be some Grist readers lurking in the background.

Read more: Climate & Energy