Ride Your Bike In Traffic and Live Longer

Summary: Your life expectancy is higher if you get in traffic on a bike instead of in a car.  Biking alongside cars might seem dangerous – and this misconception may deter potential cyclists or lead them to risky behavior like riding on the sidewalk – but the health benefits greatly exceed the dangers of crashes and other risks.

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Last week, The Ann (an Ann Arbor magazine) showcased a story by a local NPR station about bikes and cars co-existing on the road.  The Ann added their own more-provocative title: “Who owns the road: drivers or cyclists?”

Their framing succeeded in drumming up conflict-oriented comments from readers.  Reading the comments, I was struck by two things:

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How to Teach Yourself R

(Or, “how to teach professionals to teach themselves R”).

Background: I taught myself R in 2014 from public web resources, and since then have steered several cohorts of data analysts at my organization through various R curricula, adapting based on their feedback.

This is geared toward people teaching themselves R outside of graduate school (I perceive graduate students to have more built-in applications and more time for learning, though I don’t speak from experience).  I say “students” below but I am referring to professionals.  This advice assumes little or no programming experience in other languages, e.g., people making the shift from Excel to R (I maintain that Excel is one of R’s chief competitors).  If you already work in say, Stata, you may face fewer frustrations (and might consider DataCamp’s modules geared specifically to folks in your situation). 

I’ve tried combinations of Coursera’s Data Science Specialization, DataCamp’s R courses, and the “R for Data Science” textbook.  Here’s what I’ve learned about learning and teaching R and what I recommend.

I see three big things that will help you learn R:

  1. A problem you really want to solve
  2. A self-study resource
  3. A coach/community to help you

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Batch 71: Scio Pilsner

There’s a closet in my basement that hovers near 50 degrees in the winter.  So before spring arrives, I wanted to take advantage of my natural “temperature control” and brew a lager.  I don’t brew many lagers, but the provocative Brulosophy experiments on lager yeast fermentation temperature gave me peace of mind that if a warm spell comes through and the room gets a little warmer, it’ll be fine.

This was a convenience recipe in other regards.  I used dry yeast to avoid needing a massive starter and I used up half a bag of leftover pils malt.  And I ran off 5 gallons of wort before adding flame-out hops, to ferment with an ale yeast and use to top up the 53 gallon barrel at my house that is mostly full of funky dark saison.  It’s nice to get rid of the headspace in the barrel, and we wager no one will notice 10% of hoppy Belgian ale blended in.

This is one of my favorite parts of using a plate chiller: being able to split batches by running off and chilling part of the brew, then adding and boiling as needed for the remaining share.

Condensation: the price of drinking cold beer in the warm sun

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Batch 70: Eclipse Lodi Ranch 11 Cab

I’ve made country wine with Concord grapes, and wine from a kit that cost $2/bottle but tasted like $8/bottle.  But I’d rather drink beer than wine I can get for $8/bottle.  So I thought I’d try a kit that costs $6/bottle and see if it makes wine I actually want to drink.

In late 2016 I purchased  the Winexpert Eclipse Lodi Ranch 11 Cabernet Sauvignon kit.  Not sure what year that makes the grapes.  I’m not going to write much about ingredients or process since I followed the kit directions, unless otherwise noted.

2017-02-04: “Brewed” this with my 2 y/o son.  Despite the helper, kept good sanitation.  OG was around 1.093, though perhaps more sugars dissolved in from the grape skins.

Fermentation temperature bounced around from the minimum (72F) up to the mid-80s, as I crudely warmed it through a Michigan basement in winter.

I stirred the grape skin bag back down into the must, near-daily, for the first week.

2017-02-13 – 9 days: racked to a glass carboy.  Gravity is about .992!  Wine yeasts don’t play.

Batch 68: Zingibier V (Spiced Ginger Belgian-style ale)

As a beginning homebrewer, I got lucky and struck gold.  Literally: my improvised recipe for an imperial spiced witbier won a gold medal at the 2010 National Homebrew Competition.

This is my fifth rebrewing of that recipe, tinkering with it each time.  I don’t often repeat in my brewing schedule, but I enjoy learning from iterations of this recipe.

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Batch 67: Tart of Darkness clone sour stout

A friend came into a 53 gallon Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve 9 year whiskey barrel that now lives in my basement and houses homebrew.  We’ve done a Russian Imperial Stout, a Scotch Ale, and an Oud Bruin.  The fresh barrel contributed a massive oak character, but over 3 batches and 1.5 years, the oak faded.  When the barrel naturally went sour during the Scotch Ale, we switched to intentionally soured beers and added 8 sachets of the Flemish Ale F4 blend from Blackman Yeast.

Next up is a sour stout, very low on hops (<10 IBUs), inspired by The Bruery’s Tart of Darkness.  The low IBUs are friendlier to souring microbes and also avoid the clashing of bitterness and acidity.

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Batch 64: Barrel Aged Strong Scotch Ale on Black Raspberries

The 2nd beer in the Knob Creek barrel collaboration.

I brewed two 5-gallon shares of this beer, in collaboration with a fellow barrel members.  Others used different recipes.  We brewed in summer 2015, then aged the beer in the barrel for about 6 months, pulling it January 2016.  It went naturally sour in the barrel, making the sour aspect of this lambic-esque in that it spontaneously soured from organisms present in the surrounding environment.

I aged my ~4.5 gallons on 1.5lbs of wild black raspberries for another 4 months in a secondary carboy. It took a while to carb up, the result of have aged for over a year.  I’ll add yeast at bottling for future barrel-aged sours.  But carbed up eventually, and it’s good.

Summer 2016: this beer placed 2nd in the American Wild Ale category at the 2016 Michigan Beer Cup.

March 2017: funny that I originally worried about whether this would carbonate; it has continued to ferment in the bottle and now gushes upon opening if not very cold.  Not coincidentally, it’s developing a more prominent Brett funk.  If I had a 4th slot for this year’s Nat’l Homebrew Competition, I might enter it – which also means it’s not one of my top 3 beers right now.  But it’s still quite nice.

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Can a Twitter bot increase voter turnout?

Summary: in 2015 I created a Twitter bot, @AnnArborVotes (code on GitHub).  I searched Twitter for 52,000 unique voter names, matching names from the Ann Arbor, MI voter rolls to Twitter accounts based nearby.  The bot then tweeted messages to a randomly-selected half of those 2,091 matched individuals, encouraging them to vote in a local primary election that is ordinarily very low-turnout.

I then examined who actually voted (a matter of public record).  There was no overall difference between the treatment and control groups. I observed a promising difference in the voting rate when looking only at active Twitter users, i.e., those who had tweeted in the month before I visited their profile. These active users only comprised 7% of my matched voters, however, and the difference in this small subgroup was not statistically significant (n = 150, voting rates of 23% vs 15%, p = 0.28).

I gave a talk summarizing the experiment at Nerd Nite Ann Arbor that is accessible to laypeople (it was at a bar and meant to be entertainment):

This video is hosted by the amazing Ann Arbor District Library – here is their page with multiple formats of this video and a summary of the talk.  Here are the slides from the talk (PDF), but they’ll make more sense with the video’s voiceover.

The full write-up:

I love the R programming language (#rstats) and wanted a side project.  I’d been curious about Twitter bots.  And I’m vexed by how low voter turnout is in local elections.  Thus, this experiment.
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Expertise vs. Emotion at Ann Arbor City Council

Removed from scientific context, vaccinating your kid sounds crazy.  Let’s stick a needle in their arm and put disease and chemicals into their body.  To prevent an illness nobody you know has ever gotten.  And on top of your kid crying, and your own lack of experience with the disease, you have neighbors whispering in your ear (or posting loudly on social media) how dangerous vaccines are.

Instead of putting it to a popular vote, though, or listening to the loudest voices on your Facebook feed, you listen to your child’s pediatrician (I hope) and bodies of experts like the AMA and CDC, who unanimously cite overwhelming evidence in favor of vaccinations.

For every decision, there are gut feelings and personal opinions about the issue, and then there are the scientific arguments – what does the evidence say?  Most often, these come from experts in the field, who have devoted years to mastering the topic.

Would #a2council vaccinate?

The greatest  conflicts in Ann Arbor politics are often driven by clashes between gut feelings (either voiced by citizens or held by CMs) and expert opinions.

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