Dutch public toilets

I recently took a trip to visit friends in Amsterdam and was pleasantly surprised at Dutch
standards for public toilettes:

  • Many public washrooms have floor to ceiling toilette stalls so that you have maximum privacy.
  • Many stalls have a dispenser that sprays sanitizer for you to wash the seat before sitting down.

When travelling to places with undesirable toilet conditions, I often re-purpose hand-sanitizer into toilet seat cleaner, so its nice to see this concept used officially.

Floor to ceiling toilet stalls

Floor to ceiling toilet stalls

Toilet seat sanitizer

Toilet seat sanitizer


Drop the Drop Bars! Changing handlebars is easy!

Convert your speed bike into a comfy upright city cruiser

After putting new upright bars on my bike last year, my boyfriend had been fantasizing outloud for a while about how much nicer his bike would be if he didn’t have to hunch over his drop bars. I decided to be nice and finally install some fancy new upright bars for him. Its REALLY easy.

Here is how:

1. Gather supplies

  • Allan keys and screw drivers. (Some bikes are fancy and you wont need a screw driver!)
  • new handle bars
  • grips (optional for now, recommended eventually)
  • new  brake cables – because the ones from your drop bars will likely be too short.
  • new brake cable housing
  • new brake levers
  • tin snips or something to cut the cable and cable housing

New/used parts cost about $30 from Our Community bikes.The handle bars and brake cables were new; the brake levers and cable housing was used.

Change handle bars

New parts.


2. Detach the brake cables from the brakes

Change handle bars

Detach brake cables from brakes.

Change handle bars

Unattached brake cables.


3. Remove old brake and grip tape from one half of the handlebar.

If the grip tape is in acceptable enough condition for you, save it to make some custom grips for your new upright bars!

Change handle bars

Unravel grip tape

Change handle bars

Remove interrupter brake if it exists

Change handle bars

The hex screw for to loosen the drop brake is hidden inside. Use an allan key to loosen the drop brake. A longer key is useful here.

Change handle bars

Use an allan key to loosen the drop brake. A longer key is useful here.

Change handle bars

One only needs to strip half of the bar.


4. Loosen the screw on the front of the stem if you have a quill stem (the older kind). Slide the handle bars off of the stem.

If you have a newer kind of stem, remove the plate holding the handle bars on and they will come off easily without having to be slid off.

Change handle bars

You may need to wedge the stem open somehow to allow the tight curves of the drop bars to move through.


5. Slide new handlebars onto the stem and tighten the front stem screw.


6. Attach brake levers to new bars.

Change handle bars

Attach new bars and brake levers.


7. Make sure the brake cable housing doesn’t have any inward-pointing barbs.

Change handle bars

Make sure the brake cable housing doesn’t have any inward-pointing barbs.


8. Thread brake cable housing to the back brake and trim it.

Remember allow for enough length so that your handle bars can move freely. Do the same for the front brakes. Remember typically front brakes are on the left-hand side and rear brakes are on the right hand side.


9. Thread the brake levers and brake cable housing with the brake cable.

Change handle bars

Thread brake cable through brakes and housing.

Change handle bars

Attach the cable to the brake levers.


10. Attach the brake cables to the brakes.


11. Thread the cable through the cable clamp nut.


12. Hold the brakes closed while pulling the cable tight.

This is probably the hardest part. Extra hands will be useful!


13. Tighten the nut and trim the cable.


14. Test brakes to make sure they are tight enough.


Ta dah! You are now done!

Change handlebars

Now your bike will spoon really nicely with other bikes that have upright bars!


Outdoor Fitness Equipment

I am back in Vancouver now from a trip to Guatemala and Mexico, and want to show some pictures of some of the cool free outdoor fitness equipment that I saw while away.

Places in Central America aren’t the only ones with this genius idea, but why doesn’t Vancouver, a city full of fitness freaks, have any decent outdoor exercise equipment beyond the occasional chin-up bar? (or does it?) It cant be the weather, because we have ideally mild weather for comfortably breaking a sweat.

Outdoor gyms would be perfect for our Sea Wall!

Outdoor fitness equiptment

An outdoor gym in Campeche, Mexico. Note the ‘sea wall’ complete with bike and pedestrian paths.

Outdoor fitness equiptment

Many machines use one’s own body weight for resistance.

Outdoor fitness equiptment

Not the prettiest picture, but proof that people actually use the equipment. Maybe they all waited until the hot sun had gone down?

Outdoor fitness equiptment

Exercise equipment in San Cristobal, Mexico.

Public Lab Vancouver

Join my kite mapping group to turn windy days into social aerial mapping fun! (English translation: take pictures from the sky with a kite)

Check out my kite mapping attempts so far here and here.

Future discussions and events may include DIY spectrometry, infrared photography, and other homebrew environmental sensing. (You can more about similar projects in other cities at Public Lab.)

Sign up here to discuss and hear about (and post your own) kite mapping activities, and to discuss DIY environmental sensing projects in the Vancouver area.

Kite Mapping Vancouver

Kite Mapping at Spanish banks

Kite Mapping Vancouver

Downtown from Spanish Banks

Kite Mapping Vancouver

Pretty trees in Vanier Park

Kite Mapping Vancouver

Burrard Street Bridge

Kite Mapping Vancouver

Boats in False Creek


The new BikeMaps.org site is really cool!

It displays ICBC cycling incident data, but the best part of it is that you can add bike thefts, hazards, and your own near misses and collisions which will later be properly statistically and spatially analysed to show hot spots of cycling safety, risk, and crime. You can also see current cycling incident hotspots by clicking the “incident heatmap” check box in the right hand legend.

A useful feature for me is that if you sign up for a free account, you can set up an area on the map where if there are any new incidents, you will be sent an email. This will be useful for me to get email alerts for any incidents on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive in my work with Streets For Everyone campaigning for various improvements to the Drive which include a separated bike lane.  I’ve also made an alert area for Main Street, which has an obvious need for a separated bike lane too.

This data and analysis from the BikeMaps project will help transportation planners see what’s working and what’s not with different cycling infrastructure types (or lack of thereof).

So get mapping to add bike thefts, hazards, and your own near misses and collisions by clicking the marker button at the left side of the map!


Add bike thefts, hazards, and your collisions and near misses to the map.

More evidence of Main Street's Dire need for a separated bike lane

Do you think Main Street needs a separated Dutch-style bike lane already?



Tin Can Rocket Stove

I came across an Instructables on how to make a mini rocket stove, and couldn’t resist building one of my own. If I cant have my dream cob house with a full-sized rocket stove, then I can have my mini camping rocket stove made from tin cans!

A rocket stove is a fireplace designed to burn small pieces of wood, like twigs and scraps. It is insulated to redirect heat back into the fire so that it burns more efficiently than a conventional stove, often so much so that neighbours are unable to detect a wood smoke smell (apparently).

Its not just the efficient burning that makes these stoves higher on the sustainability scale though. The fact that they work well with twigs means that you can harvest small branches from trees without killing the tree, and later return to harvest the tree’s regrowth over and over. This also means less work chopping firewood!

Rocket Stove Diagram

In a rocket stove, heat from the fire is directed back onto itself for a more complete burn.

If you are building a house with cob, it is typical to run the exhaust pipe from a stove through benches or bed platforms also made of cob which store the heat to be radiated back slowly and consistently throughout the day or night. Can you imagine how nice it would be on a cold winter’s night to curl up on a heated couch?

Anyway, building a mini rocket stove for the beach, or your emergency kit, or whatever else (your yacht?) is super easy. All you need are some tin snips and some material to insulate the chimney (for example: vermiculite, sand, pearlite), and maybe some wire clothes hangers.


Rocket Stove

Tin snips were super handy for cutting the cans. Its nice to have Electrician’s tools in the house!

Rocket Stove

Inside the unfinished rocket stove. I went overboard with some clay which wasn’t really necessary. I was too impatient to wait for it to dry before using the stove anyway, so it all cracked away. The stove works fine despite that.

Rocket Stove

Making the best smoky tomato sauce I have ever eaten!

Rocket Stove

You need to leave room to exhaust to escape. I found bending a clothes hanger worked well.

Rocket Stove

That’s a lot of soot for my first attempt at using the stove! Some not-so-efficient burning going on there, probably because the air intake became blocked by ash and coals.

Rocket Stove

Attempting to reduce soot by ensuring the air intake doesn’t become cluttered. I tested a sprout screen  which restricted airflow too much. Some twisted clothes hanger alone did the trick though.

Tastey burned food!

Tasty burned food! Maybe the rocket stove is better for pots and pans, ideally ones made of cast iron… This hot dog still tasted wonderful. (My partner wearily ate his out of politeness.)

Bike Rave

Last night I went to Bike Rave, an annual event where Vancouverites decorate their bikes with bright lights, tassels, glow sticks, and all things raver.  Upon cue, people who have speakers set up on their bikes all start a pre-mixed track of music which playes in-sync (in theory at least) as the mass of riders cycle around the Sea Wall.

It makes me really happy to see thousands of people turn out on bikes to anything. The numbers of Bike Ravers alone makes me hopeful that maybe transportation officials and other policy makers will take note of the growing cycle culture in this city and stop treating people who cycle as a fringe group that can be routed around everything else.

That said, the congestion of Bike Rave was too much for me to really enjoy it as a bike activity, or maybe even as a party in itself. There were so many people on the Sea Wall at the beginning, that no one could really get enough speed to balance properly for enjoyable riding. It was social however, but in a particular way. There were plenty of exchanges of, “nice ___” (fill in the blank with something like “lights“, “wig“, “bike“) for example, and plenty of random Timmy Burch-like shouts of “bike rave!”.  I think that I might have liked it better if I were under-the-influence, but definitely would have crashed if that were the case.

I love the Bike Rave concept, although I personally think it would have been better as a smaller event, or not confined to the narrow Sea Wall.  Even so, I am happy at the demonstration that so many people clearly want to be riding their bikes.

Good on the Bike Rave organizers for rallying literally thousands of people, most of which, seemed to be having a blast!

Streets For Everyone

For the last couple of months, I have been working like crazy with a bunch of awesome people to launch Streets For Everyone, a grass roots organization with the purpose of promoting the transformation of Vancouver streets into places that are much more than just for cars.

Given how much space streets take up in cities, isn’t it kind of crazy that we use them primarily for motor traffic. Lets multi-task streets and use that space more efficiently!

Should a street be primarily just for one form of transportation? Shouldn’t it also be a place just to be – a destination in itself? Let’s encourage forms of transportation that contribute less to climate change and pollution!

Streets For Everyone is currently focusing on championing improvements on Commercial Drive such as:

  • wider side walks and more cross walks for people walking,
  • better bus service and stops for people who are using transit,
  • an all-ages-and-abilities ‘bike’ lane for people who cycle, skateboard, scooter, wheelchair, etc.
  • more seating, and human spaces for people who just want to be
Streets For Everyone's installation at Commercial Drive's 2014 Car Free Day.

Streets For Everyone’s installation at Commercial Drive’s 2014 Car Free Day.


We wanted to highlight how these changes might look by creating a life-sized installation at this year’s Car Free Day. We made fun balloon-headed figurines to ride in our bright green separated bike lane, had a space to demonstrate widened side walks which included a covered seating area, and had parking and landscaping to separate people cycling from motor traffic. (You can find more photos of the event here.)

If you like what we are doing, there are many ways to help us including:

  • Joining Streets For Everyone by becoming a volunteer.
  • Signing the petition to make Commercial Drive inviting for more transportation modes and human activity.
  • Donating so that we can continue to promote our cause through fun events and outreach (printing itself is crazy expensive, wowee!).

Arduino Light Theremin

I first heard about Arduino this winter while working for Ecotrust Canada where they are using Arduino to develop open source commercial fisheries monitoring devices.

I was told that tinkering with Arduino is a good way to learn about electronics and microcontrolers and that it is easy peasy for someone with programming experience to get started, so I went out and bought myself a Arduino Starter Kit.

Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, but after seven years of producing things that only exist virtually or on a flat piece of paper, there is something so satisfying about building and programming something tangible that I can hold and interact with in the physical world.

One of the lessons in the starter kit is on how to build a light theremin with photoresistors. This is basically a noise making instrument that changes tone when you wave your hand in front of it.  Building it was pretty easy, and I added a couple of knobs to control the variables for note duration and the delay in between notes. You can check out the video below to see the not-terrible sounds it makes.

I highly recommend Arduino tinkering for anyone with geeky tendencies!

Arduino Theremin from Topophilo on Vimeo.

Urban Foraging Map

Urban Foraging Map

It was figs that got me into urban foraging.

I was an adult before I ever tasted a fresh fig. I didn’t think I liked them before then because the only figs that I had ever tried were in the gross brown centres of Fig Newton cookies. My first actual fresh fig was given to me in Argentina, and it quickly became my favourite fruit.

I assumed that figs were from Argentina, never having come across them fresh anywhere else before then, so I was doubly wowed when I happened across figs growing in the neighbourhood park near my house in Vancouver. My roommate and I hauled our kitchen chairs to the park and harvested a giant bowl of fruit that lasted us a good few days of munching.

Finding figs in the park kicked off my interest in ‘urban edibles’. It also kicked off my roommate’s interest and success at dumpster diving. In the evening she would wait behind the bread place on Granville Island for that day’s bread to be thrown out. From time to time, she would return home with garbage bags full of a variety of gourmet breads to share which we would then slice and freeze.

I’ve recently discovered fallingfruit.org, a crowd source interactive map for urban foragers. It shows the location fruit trees, nut trees, and many other freely pick-able edibles. Its creators have made use of open data, so the map for the City of Vancouver is pretty rich. I’ve now got my eye on a walnut and hazelnut tree for this fall!

I could spend hours exploring the city through this map!

FallenFruit.org also interestingly has a dumpster diving map which would please my old roommate!