On Cycling Season

I’ve been off the grid lately, on a journey that confirmed in my mind that the bicycle is both the most elegant machine ever developed by man, as well as the key to freedom.

With a lightweight backpack containing only a t-shirt, shorts, sandals and a few tools, I flew with my road bike to Amsterdam the first week of May. Arriving at dawn, and meeting my friend Scott at Bicycle Mark’s house in town, we re-assembled our bikes and hit the road.

We had no map and no itinerary; our only goal was to by in Paris at the end of the fourth day. Our journey took us south along the Dutch coast, into Belgium and finally across the French border into Dunqurque.

This part of the world is heavenly for cyclists, with bike lines beside every road and useful signs pointing the direction to the next town. Riding 50 and 85 miles per day, we would end the days tired and hungry, celebrating our accomplishment with a few beers before finding a hostel or guest house.

On most days, I would settle in behind Scott’s slipstream (he is a ridiculously powerful athlete, nearly making the Olympics in rowing), and we’d cruise through the Dutch countryside, passing old farm houses as well as historic windmills and new wind turbines.

We survived the week with only one flat tire, outside of Bruges, where a friendly fellow, whose kids were selling lemonade to cyclists, gave us directions and offered a bike pump. After 220 miles (400 km), we arrived at Dunqurque train station and took the TGV to Paris to make a Friday night party.

I spent a good amount of time on my bike in Paris as well; the city has become much friendlier to cyclists since the installation of Velib. At 5:30AM on my last day in Europe, after a long evening, I road my bike across town to Gare du Nord to catch my train back to Amsterdam. With the first hints of dawn appearing, and the roads completely desolate, Paris was mine.


Kenya Charges Man for SMS Hate Speech

I've been off the grid lately, having cycling adventures and moving to San Francisco. More on that later, for now:

In February, I wrote about how SMS messages promoted violence in post-presidential election violence in Kenya. Thanks to my friend Hannah in Nairobi, I learned that the the Government has recently charged a 'employee of a 5-star hotel' with promoting ethnic-based violence via SMS message.

One of the hundreds of hate short text messages sent during the post-poll violence was read out in a Nairobi court on Wednesday.

Mr Emmanuel Siundu Waya, an employee of a five star hotel, was charged with initiating it.

The court was taken through a chain of how the short text message (SMS) was forwarded to at least six people within hours last December 31.

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Mapping Genocide: Google Earth and Darfur

Stacy Perlman, a senior at Northeastern University, interviewed me a few weeks back for a piece on the use of Google Maps for human rights activism. The result, "Mapping Genocide: Google Earth and Darfur," is a wonderful narrative piece of journalism, plotting the emergence of Crisis in Darfur through Ushahidi. Stacy captures the crucial crux of this issue:

While there is no way to monitor how many people have been influenced by the map to join an advocacy group, lobby congress or donate money, a case study report on the project noted that “more than 100,000 have visited the “What Can I Do?” page on the museum’s site to find out how they can help.” The page provides a variety of ways to take a stand including contacting the media to tell them there is a lack of coverage on the issue and communicating with decision-makers such as the U.S. government and the United Nations about the need for humanitarian assistance.

While crediting the Crisis in Darfur Map as a great awareness tool, Joshua Goldstein, a graduate research assistant at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School noted that the obvious pushback to a project like this is that “at the end of the day you’re not saving lives.” Although awareness about Darfur is critical, Goldstein makes the point that awareness that leads to activism is even more crucial.