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Ideas

Brainiac

What happened to your stolen bike

And more recent highlights from the Ideas blog

Matthew Callahan/Globe Staff

To own a bicycle in the city is, inevitably, to have it stolen. What exactly happens to all those stolen bikes? In an article for Outside magazine, Patrick Symmes takes the obvious step: He attaches a hidden GPS device to his bike, lets it be stolen, and tracks it afterward.

“90 percent of bike thieves,” he discovers, “are drug addicts.” They take the bikes to chop shops, where parts are swapped and identifying features erased. The newly anonymous Frankenbikes are then passed on to resellers, who hawk them on Craigslist or at flea markets. In bike-centric cities like San Francisco, special police squads routinely plant bikes, then track bicycle thieves to their hideouts. But bike theft is nearly impossible to stop, because bikes are both expensive and laughably easy to steal.

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“In America’s rough streets,” Symmes points out, “there are four forms of currency--cash, sex, drugs, and bicycles. Of those, only one is routinely left outside unattended.”

Baffled!

Writing at his website, BLDGBLOG, architectural critic Geoff Manaugh highlights an architectural feature called the “baffle”--an arrangement of walls and corridors specifically designed to make your enemies vulnerable as they advance through your castle. A huge variety of baffles are all compiled in one paper, “Baffles and Bastions: The Universal Features of Fortifications,” by three anthropologists, Lawrence H. Keeley, Marisa Fontana, and Russell Quick.

Baffle, knight in a cubicle, brainiac illustration

Istockphoto; Matthew Callahan/Globe Staff Photo Illustration

In many cases, baffles are perfectly normal-looking structures--you might find accidentally implemented in any office building (or at airport security). But there are new, high-tech forms of baffling, too. In another post, Manaugh quotes from the new book “Top Secret America,” in which Dana Priest and William Arkin, reporters for The Washington Post, describe how the federal government disguises the route to Fort Meade, a military base full of intelligence analysts outside of Washington, D.C.:

Most people don’t realize when they’re nearing the epicenter of Fort Meade’s [intelligence buildings], even when the GPS on their car dashboard suddenly begins giving incorrect directions, trapping the driver in a series of U-turns, because the government is jamming all nearby signals.

Joshua Rothman is a doctoral candidate in the Harvard English department and an instructor in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.

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