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Exploring Mexico City by Bike

As part of a family vacation I brought my Brompton SL-3 to Mexico City.

At just over 8.91 million people, It’s one of the most densely populated cities in the world, and it sprawls covering 571 square miles. It’s a great city for getting around by bike. I found dedicated bike lanes, a high tolerance for sharing the road, and cyclists of all stripes–from parents taking teenagers to school, to fixie riders and just about everything in between. The official, EcoBici bikes and docks are the ubiquitous with 452 stations offering 6,000+ bikes across the city. Dockless bikes, like Jump also dot the urban landscape.

Pedaling Mexico City

What about the experience of riding?

Mexico City consists of major thoroughfares–like Avenida de les Insurgentes–where there are several lanes of traffic going in each direction it’s a small island in the middle. These roads often feature a dedicated bus lane, which also doubles for a bike lane. These lanes are separated by very low rise dividers and unlike New York City, where bike lanes are often used for parking, in CD MX, bike lanes live up to their names.

Such lanes may sound like a luxury but they are essential given how heavy the traffic is. Mexico City ranks at 13th world wide for traffic congestion. In my experience, finding a bike lane was a pleasant, if somewhat unexpected surprise. Most of the time I rode amidst the heavy traffic along side, between and close to cars, weaving to move at a faster clip.

When traveling with family (who are yet to be persuaded about the merits of riding bikes in city traffic) I found myself in Ubers or taxis. Unlike my experience on the bike, we were always in traffic, which I then commandeered to practice my limited Spanish .The conversations went something like this.

“There is a lot of traffic.”

“Yes, always.”


“Yes, always.”

There is not only car traffic but many people making their way. While in the taxi when I looked across at the Durango metro bus stop and saw passengers waiting to board. There seem to be as many people on the bus as there are cars on the streets.

That said, the side streets are luxurious, peaceful and not congested. There is a mix of grand, classical buildings, decaying facades, green parks with flowers, and of course, dogs, every where dogs.

One other thing I did notice was that the air seemed a bit thick with fumes from cars, trucks and buses at times. Indeed, my phone reminded me that the air quality was at risk for sensitive populations. That didn’t stop me, or the cyclists of this fine city.

Note: I have had some luck stowing the Brompton the overhead but after one stern Australian bureaucrat made me run a security gauntlet a second time I opted for a bike case, thinking that now whenever I travel the bike comes with me as a checked bag. I know, it’s kind of boring but it takes the stress out of wondering if I am going to get through security.

Really: Test to learn?

Friday's Times reports on a study from Science, their headline, "To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test."   The study, originally published in Science,, compares testing to concept mapping and other study methods.  Researchers found that students who took a test, did better at retrieving information than students who created visual maps of what they learned.  How did the study measure what students remembered?  By having students complete short answer tests and later, create concept maps from memory.  Undoubtedly, tests can help us remember material.  A more important question is, will tests help apply knowledge in context and to real-world experiences?  I fear that these results will be grist for those that are vested in using test scores as proof of student achievement.  I appreciate the challenge of measuring student progress.  Somehow, you need to assess student performance.  To me, the test is often just a measure of how students did on that test and not a demonstration of mastery or how that knowledge could be applied.  

Soon, Watson, an IBM Supercomputer, will face off against the best human Jeopardy contestants.  You can bet that these contestants practice by playing the game, by testing their knowledge over and over as does Watson.  They will undoubtedly have mastered a range of content to be successful in their quest.  There's speculation about who will win.  I hate making predictions, but my hunch is that Watson will give the humans a run for the money, and like the Chess super-computer, Deep Blue, eventually win. To me, a victory like this is not a triumph of machine over man–but a celebration of our humanity.  Those engineers at IBM programmed Watson to learn and compete. That kind of accomplishment is a real demonstration of mastery.  The tests, like Jeopardy, are games.  They can be interesting, and do show some mastery of a subject, but the real measure of success is what can be done with what we learn.  So I say, let's have students writing computer programs, or explanations of experiments as alternatives to tests.

A Week with Apple’s iPad

We've had our iPad since the harried UPS Delivery person brought it on last Saturday. Here are my impressions after spending a week with the device.  IPad_NYTimes

It is a joy to read on, from how crisp and beautiful the type looks on screen to the brightness of the display. I've been reading eBooks from Amazon, and Apple, and articles from the New York Times, NPR and USA Today.  These applications bring back the joy of flipping through pages and stumbling upon articles that I might have passed over but are worth my attention.  Reading feels familiar and effortless.  Yet, the iPad is much more than an eBook reader. 

Like its iPhone cousin, the device is a shape shifter–perhaps you remember the wonder twins, Zan and Jayna, These DC Comic Superheros took on other forms when they touched their hands together–and 250px-Wondertwinsross assumed different shapes and properties. The iPad, like it's predecessor, the iPhone, when connected to the iTunes store, takes on different forms. It's a book; no it's a video from Netflix, no; it's my music collection; wait; it's a collection of scholarly papers; hold it, now it's my kid's coloring book. Perhaps this is the real genius of the device and the business model. Not only has Steve Jobs sold me this device capable of assuming so many shapes, but he's sold me a store of stores that I can access at anytime, from almost anywhere.  And that's what I have been doing, shopping.  After the iPad arrived, I found myself filling it up–with free books from Apple's new book store, syncing the Kindle eBooks that I had already purchased from Amazon, the National Geographic world atlas, the star gazing map that superimposes star charts in the night sky. It feels a little bit like surfing the internet for the first time. I'm giddy at the knowledge buffet that has been put before me and that is so easy to transport. So it's great for shopping and and consuming content, but how would the iPad fare as a primary computing device?

Last week provided me with a test scenario: WiFi enabled jury duty waiting rooms. I left the laptop at home and took my iPad. I was able to respond to email, use the web-browser to check on course Web sites–the kind of tasks that I generally have to do on a laptop or desktop because of page loading times and the amount of screen real estate required. I find typing on the touch screen a bit awkward. The two thumbs method doesn't work; the iPad is just too big in portrait mode. I had better luck when I laid it on my lap and reverted to two handed typing, but I make many mistakes.  Many applications have been redesigned to take advantage of the extra screen real estate.  Those that present content, such as NYTimes Editor's Picks, and the ABC Video application really shine, though designers are still making sense of how to navigate–it's not always clear when a swipe or a tap will do. NYTimes Editor's Pick application is something of a rebuke for the "Most Emailed" feature. I miss those stories on my iPad, but I guess I'm back to reading the version that everyone's reading–at least for now.

In spite of the wealth of new things that I have, I'm wishing for a way to cleanly annotate PDF documents. I've found an application called "Papers," that excels at organizing scholarly articles (I'm reading more these days as part of graduate studies in NYU Steinhardt's Education, Communication and Technology program) but it doesn't allow me to highlight or make notes in-line–at least not yet. Still, I am able to make page level notes and add bookmarks. I have access to many articles as opposed to a few, but my interaction has changed.  I miss my notes in the margins. 

I have found that the iPad can be helpful in meetings because it's easy to look something up and pass along. I found myself using it in an information architecture meeting to refer to how existing pages are designed.  A laptop would have been intrusive, but the iPad felt like just the right way to be able to take a look at a page and then share it with the person sitting next to me. I expect that we'll be seeing more of these in meetings for agendas, and supporting materials. Again, I want to be able to annotate–not just read. 
When we ordered the iPad I joked that it was my daughter's first computer. It's interesting to think that she may grow up without having to use a keyboard, where machine interaction is based on touch and  gesture. The real challenge will be in making sure that we do more than distract and amuse ourselves. The iPad opens up new avenues for imagination, creation and sharing. It's up to us to avail ourselves of those opportunities.

Yes to Universal Health Care

This morning I took a few minutes out to email my elected representatives to let them know that I support universal health care.  Perhaps you'd like to do the same?  Here's my note.  I used the email wizard, which took all of 5 minutes on US Capitol by bobistraveling, on Flickr, some rights reserved.

Dear Elected Representatives:

As I read news reports of the  debate on health care coverage, I
feel the voices of ordinary citizens are being drowned out.  I want you
all to know that I support universal health care coverage–including an
option where the US Government provides a plan.  The costs of not having
health care to our people and our economy are too great.  We deserve a
better system than the one we have and better care.  Please work with the President and
get health care reform passed in 2009.


Ted Bongiovanni

Spreading Lies: McCain Campaign

I can’t say that that I’m surprised that the McCain campaign has resorted to lies and distortion to scare and deceive American voters–this is the Republican party that launched a smear campaign against McCain himself back in 2000 when it looked like he might defeat Governor Bush.  The deceptive tactics that McCain has employed–chronicled and debunked in this video, show just how low he’s willing to stoop.  These ads all from the “straight talk” express.  Doublespeak, is more like it.  
America deserves better–needs better leaders than what we’re getting from McCain and his doublespeak campaign.
Credits: Video is from: Brave New Films
Larry Lessig inspired me to get the word out.

Scrabulous is Fabulous

I am a mediocre Scrabble player at best, but recently I’ve discovered Scrabulous, an online knockoff of Scrabble offered through Facebook and I found my inner bionic Scrabble superhero.  Full disclosure: I don’t play the game online the same way I play sit-down, face-to-face Scrabble games, where, according to the rules that you have to keep all of the words in your head and have the pressure of the person sitting across from you to move.  Online, I approach the game differently.

I take advantage of every tool at my disposal, which is to say things like the 2 letter word list and dictionary built right into the application.  Someone also went and whipped up a nifty little webpage that even looks for patterns from your letters and suggest words.  I know, it’s cheating you might say, but here’s what I say, it’s learning.  I learned more about how to play the game by 1) playing with players who were much better than me, and seeing what they do, 2) trying to emulate their play – I never realized just how quickly multiple little words add up and 3) by using the resources at my disposal to discover patterns that I didn’t know existed, and I think, making me a better player for the next time I sit down to a real board.  Though I wonder if I would enjoy the game as much if I didn’t have my bionic abilities. 

As Csikszentmihalyi writes in “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,” [learners should have] "a sense that one’s skills are adequate to cope with the challenges at hand, in a goal-directed, rule-bound action system that provides clear clues as to how well one is performing." 

Scrabulous meets these conditions.  Go on, play a game.  Not on Facebook? Head on over to   With the power of the internet, you too can go from drab to fab!