Dec 31, 2008

Florida



Black Skimmer's were sighted today at Fort Clinch State Park.  These were one of my top targets because I have not seen Skimmer's yet.  These guys were pretty cooperative and even posed for a few pictures.


Northeast Florida is a bird paradise, but it looks like the recession and housing crisis has gutted the place.  We drove though the town of Fernandian Beach, FL this afternoon after bagging lots 'o birds and found literally every other house to be either for sale or for rent.

More photos on the Flickr site - link on the left

I Bet My New Year's Eve was Weirder Than Yours...

We had the opportunity to observe New Year's Eve (at least that portion between 9:00 and 10:00 PM) in the bar at the beautiful Holiday Inn in St. Augustine, FL.  We are down here on a much-needed vacation and have had some awesome bird-watching while we were here, but we also had the unusual problem of having New Year's Eve happen while we are camping out at a Holiday Inn.

We are not big New Year's Eve party people in the first place. Usually I heat up some pizza rolls and we drink a cheap bottle of champagne (well... it's Brut, actually - as we all know, it's only "Champagne" if it's really from France). However, now that we are stuck in a motel in a tourist town on New Year's Eve, we had to do something or else our only option would be watching South Park on cable.

Fortunately for us, we learned from the kid at the bar that Kenyon Dye and his On-line Piano Bar would be performing at the very Holiday Inn we are staying at!!  We also learned that immediately after this event, the sad hotel bar would be gutted and the room turned into a banquet hall. The kid tending bar was philosophical about it, but you could tell he was sorry to see the place demolished. It was a poignant Last Night at the Lobster moment for all of  us when we heard this.

At any rate, we stopped by after the St. Augustine New Year's Eve fireworks (shot off at 8:30 over the ocean and very nice).  The scene at the Holiday Inn was straight out of Saturday Night Live - about 30 baby-boomers hanging around a piano stage, singing along and playing various percussion instruments while some guy sang "Crocodile Rock" and "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?".  To add to all this, the whole thing is broadcast on the web, with an "IM" window, so people can request songs, chat with others watching the virtual concert and just generally take in the scene from wherever they happen to be.

We only lasted for one glass of wine - Molly had to beat it out of there because it was creeping her out too much.  I went back to snap this photo at the top of this post so you, too, could experience a little of the ambiance at the Holiday Inn on New Year's Eve.

That's it. Glad to see 2008 go. Hopefully 2009 will be better!!!!

Dec 28, 2008

Harlequin Duck at Prescott, WI



We ventured to Prescott, WI this morning to see if we could find the Harlequin Duck that has been reported on the MOU site in the past several days to weeks.

It was cold but sunny and beautiful, and we managed to find the duck - that almost never happens to me, so I was a bit dumbstruck that it was actually there.  We also collected several Tundra swans, a boatload of Common Goldeneye and Canada geese, a couple of Canvasbacks and one cold and lonely Coot. I did not get a picture of the duck, but Molly was able to get this one of me because I was moving a lot slower than the duck was.

Sensing that the bird gods were smiling on me today, I talked The Boss into taking a lap around the airport on our return trip to see if we could find that damn Snowy owl, but alas, I was skunked again on that one.

Dec 26, 2008

Merry Christmas!


We made it back from our annual Christmas visit to The Ancestral Homeland late this afternoon. We had a very nice visit with all of my side of the family, and we faired well enough on the road despite several large winter storms that moved through southern Wisconsin while we were traveling.

Molly was good enough to get me a "Flip" - this is a very cool little digital video camera that can record up to an hour of video and upload it to a blog, Flickr site, or a computer. I joked that I will probably end up capturing live action images of a bike crash while I am screwing around with this on a ride (I note that in every jest there is a grain of truth). We also pulled down some good Wisconsin swag from my brother, a self-heating coffee mug and some home-made slippers from my sisters, and from my parent's, an awesome caramel apple from a local candy shop (these are amazing).

The best part is that the fun is not over - I have to duck into the office for a little on Saturday, then I have another week off to regroup. Looking forward to that!

I hope you all had a happy and safe holiday. Now, go look for owls or ride you bike if it's nice out!!

Dec 22, 2008

So Stupid it's Brilliant


I was doing a little Christmas shopping this afternoon and stopped in at a gift shop in South Minneapolis to browse the fares.  On the shelf was something so stupid, it was brilliant!  

It was a bag of rounded river rocks in a range of sizes.  The rocks were in a mesh bag that was tied shut with some environmentally friendly and organically wholesome twine, and attached to the twine was a non-glossy, new-agey cardboard strip that urged me to "Find Balance". On the label is a picture of the rocks stacked up in a little monument.

Brilliant!! This person went out to Lake Michigan, scored some free rocks, and is now bagging and selling them to the new age/wellness crowd for more money than I thought they could get away with, and it's because of the branding.  They took the basic Pet Rock concept (sell something worthless by finding an angle) and one-upped it.  They tapped the wellness movement, hit the baby boomers, fit in to the new age group and tapped the green movement all in one act of really ballsy branding and marketing.  It worked on me - I bought a rock set today just to reward the blatant capitalism behind this product (probably not what the shop intended, but as the customer I reserve the right to my motivation).  

When I lived in Connecticut, I would come across very impressive piles of precariously piled rocks out in the middle of the woods.  This was clearly one of my neighbor's hobbies, but I never figured out who was doing it. I did an on-line search just now and came across a lot of information on stacking rocks. Apparently this is a big deal to some people, so we'll see if this transforms my life or if these end up in potted plants around the house by this time next year.

That's it. Keep your balance!

Dec 21, 2008

Practice Estimating Flock Sizes


With temps well below zero and a biting wind, I opted to do some birding from the comfort of the Mighty Tundra this morning before attempting some Christmas shopping.  A Snowy owl has again been sited at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, so I prowled Cargo Road (with a few other bird nerds) to see if I could find it.  Snowy owls are seen fairly consistently at the airport during winter.  

Many are surprised about owls at the airport, but in fact, a lot of my best bird watching has been at fairly urban/disturbed sites rather than in what your would think of as "natural" settings.  Favorite spots include a sewage treatment plant near Shakopee for Barrow's goldeneye and other waterfowl (I also saw a Northern shrike and Long-eared owl there once as well), the grain elevators on Hiawatha Ave. for an occasional Prairie falcon, and the metal recycling place north of the Wakota Bridge for migrant waterfowl. Before the airport expansion, the Richfield community gardens that were located at the eastern end of 66th Street were great for Sparrows, and a Short-eared owl was seen there as well.  Eastern screech owls are present in the oaks along West River Parkway south of Lake Street.

No luck today on my Snowy owl quest, although the owl was relocated later this afternoon sitting out in the fields near one of the runways, so it's out there.

The Iowa Ornithologist's Union (IOU) has a link on their site to help practice estimating the number of birds in a flock.  This is surprisingly difficult, but with a little practice I was able to get my failure rate to around +/- 10% on most tries (with some spectacular over- or under-estimates thrown in).  Here is the link if you care to give it a try.

That's it - stay warm and pay attention, owls are everywhere this winter, it seems.

Dec 20, 2008

Christmas Bird Count 2008



Once again, I was part of the Christmas Bird Count this year. A friend and I have done this for years now. Our current area is in southern Bloomington (bounded by I-35W and France Ave. from east to west and by Old Shakopee Road to the Minnesota River north to south).


We had a very snowy day for counting birds, but did alright despite the poor conditions. The only truly birdy area in our count zone is Nine-Mile Creek park. This year we had no open water and already plenty of snow on the ground. Surprisingly, every year we pound out a bunch of Robins in Nine-Mile Creek park. We also got the usual assortment of Downy, Hairy and Red-bellied woodpeckers, a bag full of chickadees, etc. Last year we got a Barred owl and we were very pleased to find him (or perhaps, her) again this year as well.

After a couple of hours of work, we swung down to Black Dog Lake to try and find some good gulls. Hands down, the birding at Black Dog was the best of the day - we were rewarded with nice views of a Rough-legged hawk, a Glaucus gull (that's the first time I have been confident in my I.D. of one of these guys), a probable Thayer's gull, a Pelican, and a bunch of assorted Mergansers. Black Dog is not in our CBC area, so we can't truly count these, but we'll make these "good birds" get in to the data in case they got missed by the group that had Black Dog Lake (possible, but not likely that they would be missed).

EDIT - Scott sent me our tally for the day, so here it is:

2008 Christmas Bird Count Tally


Hairy Woodpecker – 5

Downy Woodpecker – 14

Chickadee – 58

American Robin – 42

Mallard – 47

Blue Jay – 3

American Goldfinch – 28

Red-tailed Hawk – 2

American Crow – 10

Starling – 5

White breasted Nuthatch – 14

Brown creeper – 1

Northern Cardinal – 17

American Tree Sparrow – 23

Barred owl – 1

Dark-eyed junco – 3

Along Black Dog Road

Glaucous Gull – 1

Thayer’s Gull – 1

American White Pelican – 1

Hooded Mergansers – 11



Dec 19, 2008

Declining Demand for Oil

Bloomberg ran an article today on the steepening decline in demand for oil and how it is driving the price per barrel down despite OPEC's attempts to cut production and control prices. This week's EIA Petroleum Status Report states that weekly refinery inputs (e.g. crude oil) averaged about 14.6 MM bbl/day (which is down about 415,000 bbl/day from last week for those keeping close score).

In the grand scheme of things, 415,000 bbl's just is not that much oil, so I fail to see how this decrease could possible result in the plummeting price of oil. Something is up here and I am not sure what it is.

For the record, my preference is to have oil relatively high because in my opinion, that will enable alternatives to be more cost competitive while not crippling the economy. I would like to see us move to a more diversified energy base and decrease fossil fuel consumption, but it's nonsense to think that solar cells on roofs and compact fluorescent bulbs can get us there. This is a pretty fundamental change in our economy and our energy infrastructure, and it's going to have to go slow to not traumatize us.

More Whining about Marq2


It snowed a little bit early this morning so I was able to take a (poor) picture with my cell phone to demonstrate what effective use Metro Transit is making of their second south-bound lane on Marquette Ave.  

At least I see one bike rode through there.  I say we take it back if they are not going to use this.

Dec 17, 2008

MARQ2: Meh.

"MARQ2" Project is now just about complete between 7th and 8th Street. For those not as close to this project, here's the background. This project preserves the two north-bound car lanes on Marquette Ave. and removes one south-bound, counterflow bike lane that was sandwiched between the north-bound lanes and a single south-bound bus lane to replace it with two south-bound bus lanes. While I knew I would miss the south-bound lane, I did not bank on the impact of the newly opened hotel to screw this up further for bicyclists.

The Foshay Tower has been converted into the swank "W" hotel (rooms are $400 per night if you are interested). The valet parking/customer drop off area in front of the hotel essentially necks Marquette down to one lane, so to get north bikers have to dodge doors and avoid getting a sideview mirror in the back of the head for that block.

They had some people taking comments on the project in the skyway on Monday and I told them that this was much less safe for bicycles than the previous arrangement. Although they will be letting bikes ride up Nicollet Ave. now, the entrance to the IDS Center is (still) on Marquette Ave., and the only way to get to that is on the busy/no bike lane 8th Ave. or to ride/walk the sidewalk (unsafe or inconvenient, take your pick). The project reps pointed out that bikes can ride in the bus lanes during non-peak hours, but that does not help commuters. She finally admitted that the project did not really support cyclists, but I doubt they will be able to do much about this.

If you click the image in this post, you can see how few streets in downtown are set up for bikes and how few connections to good streets there really are (google "complete streets" for more info). I don't really mind riding in traffic, but it really puts a lot of my co-workers off.

If Minneapolis really wants to be seen as bike-friendly, they need to look hard at this issue and make a few more connections in their central business district.

My Christmas Execution Plan

It is one week or so before Christmas and I am reflecting on the holiday season...

The reality of my life right now is that the Christmas season generally coincides with a lot of decidedly non-Christmasy activities, including:
  • Helping to develop next year's operating budget;
  • Guiding the Compensation Committee through the minefield of raises, promotions and bonuses for a lot of people;
  • Developing annual scopes of work, cost estimates and contract renewals for key clients;
  • Drafting and overseeing fee schedule notification letters;
  • Trying to complete project deliverables by year-end;
  • Completing performance reviews and conducting year-end discussions with employees;
  • Leading our strategic planning meetings, and, last but not least;
  • Trying to think about Christmas and get "in the spirit".
It's not all cubes and offices - there is always a huge, beautifully decorated tree and school kids playing holiday concerts in the Crystal Court during the lunch hour. We get a ton of cards and thank-you gifts from clients and companies the work for us at this time of year, and generally the project work slows down a little as well.  But still, the day-to-day reality of this time of year can really get in the way if you are trying to enjoy the season.

This year I am going to do what any self-respecting, busy executive would do - I am going to be super-efficient!  I am going to fit my family visits, holiday reflections and some much anticipated time off into a glorious two week X-mas orgy. I plan to focus on that (almost) exclusively (the "be here now" principal) and  let the office run itself for awhile.  My theory is that if I can focus more fully on just relaxing, slowing down and enjoying things, that might be more rewarding than bleeding out the Christmas cheer a little at a time. 

Who knows, I may very well turn into Scrooge on Christmas morning - we'll have to wait and see about that.

Dec 14, 2008

Guide to Winter Tires

I came across a site tonight that provides a lot of information on various brands and models of studded tires. I don't generally support the mail order shops but consider this a good reference for those interested in studded tires, so I am posting it. I am confident that your local bike shop can order most - if not all - of the tires listed in this article if you see one that looks good.  

Think globally, shop locally.

Dec 13, 2008

Creek Assault: Fail

C'est la vie...

The ride up Minnehaha Creek was a bit of a failure.  It turns out that 3 - 4 inches of loose snow are pretty tough to ride through in spite of the wide Endomorph tires on the Pugsley.  Even with my weight over the rear wheel a lot, I had trouble getting any real traction and would end up eventually augering the front wheel into a death turn and have to put a foot down.  

So much for that little adventure. Maybe a little later, when the snow is packed down more...

Had a nice spin down the Parkway, however, enjoying our 30 degree warmth but because I lowered the saddle a bit and rode the tires pretty soft for this outing the bike felt pretty weird and bouncy.   

Dec 11, 2008

Sinead O'Connor The Last Day Of our Acquaintance Live

Sinead O'Connor was (and probably still is) scary powerful. This is was recorded live in Holland in 1995 and the reverberations can still be felt by sensitive seismic equipment in North America.

Amazing performance. Oh-ho-ho.

Do Urban Bike Paths Increase Crime?

Somebody hit this blog today searching for information on the greenway crime alert (it amazes how fast stuff gets picked up by Google after it's posted). That search led me to a far more interesting article than my post from yesterday.

This article was dredged up by that greenway crime search. It dates back to 2000 and examines the experiences of Eugene, OR as they developed a bike trail along the Williamette River. I have heard of spats in the Midwest over Rails-to-Trails initiatives where local residents are certain that the trail will provide a superhighway for murders and kidnappers before, and it looks like Eugene went through the same public discourse. What's interesting about this article is that it is very thoughtful and examines how crime statistics work (factoring population to get to incidents per "resident" and the problems that bike trails present with that approach). It also touches on what makes for a safer trail, so that seems relevant these days.

You need to brace yourself - the article is 7 pages long, but it's a good read if you are interested in this topic.

Enjoy!

Dec 10, 2008

Greenway Crime Alert

This is all over the MPLS cycle blogs and MBL, but I am going to post this, too,  in case anyone missed this.  I guess I am glad the city is now paying attention, but telling us to stay of the Greenway after dark seems like surrendering the trail system to the thugs. Why don't we just move out of to Lakeville while we are at it?  

---------------------------------
*CRIME ALERT: Recent robbery/assaults on the Midtown Greenway.*
*Attention Residents*
*Dec. 09, 2008*

*Robbery/Assaults *
*'Midtown Greenway - Hiawatha LRT Trail'*

Recently we've had series of robbery/assaults on the Midtown Greenway. They've occurred in both the 3rd and 5th Precincts at different locations along the trail. Typically the victim is surrounded and pushed off their bicycle. The attackers are taking wallets, backpacks and purses.  Many of the assaults have occurred after dark. Some have occurred during daylight hours. So far the attackers are not stealing the victim's bicycles.

The suspects have been described by their victims as groups of 2 or 3 younger males.  At this time we do not have more specific descriptions of the suspects.  It appears that more than one group of suspects may be committing these crimes.
The Minneapolis Police Department is investigating these crimes.  Police are doing extra patrol on the Greenway. The Police Dept. met with the Midtown Greenway Coalition to discuss some prevention strategies.  

*What You Can Do?*
- If you can, avoid riding or walking the Greenway after dark.
 - Whenever possible ride/walk with others, not alone. You are much safer with a group than you are alone.
 - There are "Bluelight" phones at intervals on the Greenway that will connect you directly to 911. Carry a cell phone as well. If you aren't close to a phone, you can call 911 if you need help
-Pay attention to your surroundings. If you see people ahead of you, that make you nervous or uncomfortable, exit the Greenway at the nearest ramp.
 -If you should be assaulted, try to stay calm. Give the attackers what they want. The more you resist, the more likely it is that you will be injured.
- Be sure to wear a bike helmet while riding. If will reduce you chances of injury considerably.
- When you call 911 give the operator your location. Due to recent changes in our police reporting system, the Greenway is now listed as a street (i.e. Midtown Greenway W. (Nicollet Ave. westward) and Midtown Greenway E. (East of Nicollet to the river). When you riding or walking during daylight hours take some time to familiarize yourself with the addresses of the cross streets over the trail. It will help ensure a quicker police response.

If you have questions please contact Crime Prevention Specialist Don Greeley at the 3rd Precinct - 673-3482  or
Carla Nielson, Crime Prevention Specialist 
Minneapolis Police Department, Franklin Safety Center 
(612) 871-8090

*"To Protect With Courage"**" 
*To Serve With Compassion*"*

Dec 9, 2008

Go West, Young Man



On Saturday, I plan to ride my Pug up Minnehaha Creek for a stretch.  I'll bring a camera and take some pictures, but if anyone wants to come along, they are welcome.  I talked to a knowledgeable source about this idea recently and he advised large tires, cautioned that the recent snowfall would render most studded tires ineffective, and briefly described "falling on his ass" the one time he tried this. So all that kind of... intrigued me.  Plus, this fits into my plan to try and spend more time on the bike this winter in a sort of weird way.

We'll see how it goes, but here's the basic plan:

Minnehaha Creek Route from Bloomington Ave. to France Ave.

Dec 8, 2008

Winter Biking - the Mental Aspect

Winter pulled into the Minne-no-place metro area today.  Molly was visiting her parents in Southern MN and I was worried all day about her driving around in this mess, and I was treated to the first snow-induced grid-lock mess that downtown Minneapolis becomes on days like these.

As the season turns, I have began to think a little more seriously about riding a bike in winter. I am, admittedly, a pretty fair weather rider. I think that is partly because I hardly have time to ride my bike when it's sunny and beautiful out, and secondly because I don't like to ride in the dark very much.  So, in winter, it's easy to make excuses for why I drove instead of rode.

But, that said, I have been thinking about trying to get on the bike a little more this winter.  To that end, I have upgraded my gear a bit (bought a better light, invested in another rear flasher, upgraded to a cheap snow board helmet, etc.). I also mounted my widest tires on the Cross Check and have it aimed out in the garage to make it easy to get out the door.

I have also been prowling some websites and came across some good links that are worth sharing.  I am convinced that hands-down, the best site for information on winter biking is icebike.org.  There is a ton of useful information on this site; they have a guide on clothing (there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing), another series of pages is devoted to bike handling, and an interesting survey of 20 Questions that winter bikers have completed and icebike.org has posted for all to see.

They also have an interesting survey (with NO results yet) on mechanical failures due to winter conditions.  I would suspect that mechanical failures would increase in cold weather (we see this with pipeline construction regularly), but so far the jury is out on whether this impacts bicycles.

Finally, the relatively few times I have gotten out in winter, I have been frustrated that I seem to crawl along. Icebike.org even has a page on that.  Icebike.org is not the only site - search "winter bicycling" and you will get a ton of hits and most of them have useful information (use a lot of lights, dress in layers,  the first mile is the hardest, etc., etc.).

What I don't see on the site (or other sites) is how to get the motivation - how to actually get out the door and ride your bike when it's cold and nasty out.  I have concluded that gear is easy if you can afford it, but the mental aspect is more difficult - and you can't buy that.

At any rate, I pledge to try.  I aim to ride more this winter, and hopefully commute in to work as well.  I plan to take this step-wise, however.  Start small, have a victory or two, and then take it from there.  We'll see.

Stay warm and dry!!

Dec 3, 2008

Who Are All These Bloggers?

Slate.Com ran an article back in July that riffed on a Pew study about bloggers. The Pew survey referenced in the article seems to be only semi-scientific but the results seem spot-on to me.  Here is an excerpt:

"About half [of the bloggers] are under the age of 30. About half use a pseudonym. About half say creative self-expression or documenting personal experiences is a major reason for blogging. About half think their audience is folks they already know. Half say changing people's minds is not a major reason behind their blog, and about half had never published before starting their blog."

Of course, since Pew slices the world into halves, EVERYONE fits into the profile (great way to be correct, when you think about it).  

I know a handful of bloggers. Not a big sample, but I know these people personally, so I will be more bold than the tepid Pew position.  While you can never really know what someone is thinking, I suspect that most of them are not out to change public opinion (in fact, it seems to me like most of them could care less about public opinion).  Furthermore, I suspect that most post as a creative outlet first and to share and store useful information secondly. Most know (more or less) who their readers are.  Most also post under pseudonyms, and are over 30 years old. 

I think the most important tidbit from this article is that the blog super-stars do not fit the typical blogger mold. For the most part, the Big Deal bloggers are published people with an agenda. They fancy themselves to be opinion leaders and are using the internet to try and advance that vision. 

I would hazard a guess that most blogger (the "silent majority") do not fit that model at all.  So, when you see references in the media to bloggers, do not put us all in the same bucket, because I suspect we don't all fit the media's notion.

Nov 29, 2008

Red Bull Wisdom

Last summer, the people at Red Bull erected giant black cubes on the Stone Arch bridge for their traveling "Illume" exhibit. This entailed illuminated photos of extreme people doing extreme things in natural settings, which is consistent with the branding Red Bull pays so much attention to.


I debated about posting the link to the exhibit since it would only promote the product and event, but in the end, I decided to provide it.


At the time these were going up, I was pretty outraged.  I dragged Molly down there on a really hot day and took these photos, thinking I was going to post a pithy condemnation of Red Bull using our public space to promote their products to the people of Minneapolis.  

It was pretty flagrant, in retrospect. They dropped these things right in the middle of the bike lanes and put up signs up asking everyone to be careful.

However, something came up and I never got to that post. Eventually the things came down and I kind of forgot all about it. Until I came across these photos from last summer.

What strikes me this time around was how time blunts ones reaction to things.  This Illume exhibit really kind of pissed me off when it got installed, but that sense of indignation was eroded rather quickly by the more mundane, day-to-day issues of modern life.  Now that it's been about 5 or 6 months, it's like this never happened.  Kind of makes me glad I did not pitch a fit, but also makes me wonder if anything I think is important now will really matter in a year as well.

I kind of like the photos - some local lefty paper asked for permission to use one or two for an article they were going to do on the exhibit.  I gave them permission but never followed up to see if they used any of them.  The full size versions of these are on the Flickr site.

That's it. Don't take anything too seriously.

Bike Blitz at Mr. Michael Recycles Bicycles

Saturday I donated about half a day to Mr. Michael Recycles Bicycles for their pre-holiday Bike Blitz. Between this and the Walk For/Against Hunger, I am off to a pretty good start on my recent plans for redemption.

For those that don't know about Mr. Michael, it's worth your time to follow the link. Mike and his wife Benita operate a not-for-profit company (in their spare time, I might add) that salvages cast-off bicycles, fixes them up, and basically gives them away to anyone that wants one. They tell their story better than I could, so here it is. Here's another article from TwinCities.Com that gives a feel for how they do things.

They operate a used bike and parts shop on Prior Ave. in St. Paul (on the same block as the first office of Natural Resource Group, interestingly) that is open only a few hours per week because they both work full time. Proceeds from the shop go to cover the cost of the bike donation business. They are supplemented when possible by volunteers to help get the bikes back on the road. I forget the exact number, but I think Mike told me that they have place something like 480 bikes with people this year alone.

This was my first time helping out with a Bike Blitz, so I had no idea what to expect. It was pretty much what I expected - Saturday morning bluegrass on the radio, plenty of coffee and a cluttered but comfortable shop. They have a couple of repair stands, a truing stand and plenty of tools and parts at hand, and the company was great. We seemed to have plenty of volunteers, including a few Bike Lovers and one very qualified bike mechanic. We were also offered plenty of food - tasty vegetarian soup, nachos, veggies, and homemade apple pie, which was delicious.


The Bike Blitz effort goes to fulfill wish lists for people that are hoping for a bike but maybe can't afford one. I ended up working on a bunch of 20-inch BMX bikes for the most part, as well as a snazzy pink princess bike or two. We were able, in the time I was there, to get through their entire holiday order, which felt good. As I was packing up a few other volunteers came to help out, so I am sure they will be able to work ahead. It helped that all of the volunteers were pretty knowledgeable about things, so it was an efficient operation.

All in all, this was a great thing to do with a Saturday, and I plan to head back for another Bike Blitz in the future. They need to have a few more of these because I got a peek in one of the storage buildings and it's pretty much full to the roof with bikes waiting to be repaired.

KTUU 2008 Sarah Palin turkey interview

I had heard about Palin's Turkey Massacre interview on the news and seen a reference to it on Andrew Halcro's blog, but until I came across the You Tube feed on Mello Velo, I had not seen this. This should be incorporated into every media training program out there as an example of what not to do...

If you are distracted by the guy feeding the turkeys into the woodchipper, here is a little bit of what she actually said in her interview:

"Plans just include gettin' through the budget process that were going through right now. Building the state's budget based on the price of oil that has plummeted so greatly and reigning in the growth of government and plans like that, that have to do with governing this state and building this team that is continually being built to provide good services to Alaskans, so in my role as governor that's what my plans are all around."

I guess I don't have any questions after hearing that explanation.

Nov 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!!



Happy Thanksgiving!!

We kicked the day off with a Walk to End Hunger (not a Walk For Hunger, like a lot of people were saying) at the Mall of America early this morning. We were "walk-ons" and did not get sponsors before hand, but we made a contribution at the sign-in table, got a free bottled water and a cheap tee-shirt, and did a few laps around the MOA. Live music was provided as well.

The most interesting site at the MOA was Bernhard Eisel's Giant, which was hanging in the window of the Columbia store.

Followed that up with the first Spinervals workout of the off-season to make room for the turkey.  The Spinervals series is good but like any time on a trainer, it can get dull. I was very pleased that I was able to stay on the bike for the full 80 minutes.  I think it builds mental toughness as well as aerobic base.

The dinner itself was lovely - had some friends over to eat the bird, visit, etc. We enjoyed that a lot and have plenty of left-overs as well.

Tomorrow promises to be very north slope gas related but we'll see more friends in the evening and then a fun-filled weekend (I hope).

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving and spent some quality time with friends and family.  That's it, ride safe and stay warm!!

Nov 22, 2008

MBL Swap Meet


The Bike Lover's held a swap meet on Sunday at Solomon's Porch, a Christian church on 46th Street just west of I-35W in South MPLS.  I packed up a Rubbermaid tote full of cast-off parts and headed over there about 12:00 to try and get rid of the old junk and score some new junk. As the picture above indicates, basically, as someone arrived, they were swarmed and the good stuff carted off in short order, leaving the misfit parts for the late-comers.

It was pretty sparsely attended.  Despite having (hand's down) the lousiest pile of used bike parts in the room, I managed to get rid of a crank set off an old Raleigh, two seat posts and to saddles* and a few other miscellaneous parts.  Interestingly (at least to me), I had two new-in-the-box 26-inch inner tubes that nobody wanted. I finally gave them away to a couple of guys that had stuff on tables.

For the most part, the stuff was not too interesting - lots of used tires and old wheels (singles - very few pairs).  There were good deals to be found, however. I heard that one person sold a set of new wheels off a Crosscheck for $25 and a Brooks saddle for $20 or so.  The guy at the table next to me had  a Mavic/Ultegra wheel for $20 that was tempting, but I truly have no use for such a thing at the moment.

Otherwise a very quiet weekend for us. Getting back from Anchorage always drains me somewhat, so we got caught up on sleep, ran errands and got ready for T-day. Molly and I will be hosting a few friends at our house this year and we are looking forward to that. She let me get a 19 pound bird and I get to use my beloved roaster oven, so I've got my bases covered.


* actually, these were more "ass-hatchets" than saddles, but the buyer will find that out in due time.

Another Take on Economic Stimulation

It's been another tough week for economic news and I am starting to see the effects close to home. I am sensing some increased uncertainty in capital projects, seeing a lot of houses on the market and store fronts for rent, and neither of us are feeling like a big Christmas is in order this year.

President-elect Obama is now proposing his own economic stimulus package. The NY Times ran an article on it here and a video of his short speech is available on You Tube (click window above to view).

I like the sounds of this program better than the previous bail-outs. Obama is talking about a two year program to repair infrastructure, modernizing schools and move us toward renewable energy. This seems a lot more pragmatic than pouring money into banks or cutting loans to out-of-touch auto manufacturers. Sort of a modern New Deal.

I will be curious to see if he is able to pull this off and how effective this is.

Nov 16, 2008

DIY Cyclocross Conversions

As I peer into my crystal ball, two trends are revealing themselves:

I predict that the fixed gear conversion movement will be eclipsed by utility bikes in the very near future, if not already.  Extracycles, Big Dummy's and Kona's will be lined up outside of bars and restaurants (as well as grocery stores, Home Depot's, laundromats, office buildings, librarys, schools, and other places you don't generally see fixed gear at because they are so handy).

Also, because utility bikes are expensive, a cheaper, second-best (cyclocross conversions) will emerge. To that end, here's a how-to article on cyclocross conversion from Active.com.

Volunteer Opportunity Nov. 29-30

Mr. Michael Recycles Bicycles is looking for a few handy volunteers to help repair used bicycles over the Thanksgiving weekend.  Here's an announcement re-posted from their website:

Attention Volunteers!

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

We are having our next blitz on Saturday, November 29 between 10 AM and 6 PM and again on Sunday the 30th from noon to 4 PM.  The focus of this blitz will be to prepare bicycles for Holiday Wishes recipients.  If we complete all of those, then we will work on some kid-size bicycles to make available to people who don’t qualify for one of the charity programs but still are looking for gifts for their kids.  We will offer our usual array of food and drink for the volunteers, so please consider coming to the shop and fixing some bicycles.  If you are not a bicycle mechanic but want to help, come anyway because we have some work available that does not involve fixing bicycles.

We have lots of great used parts to sell.  In fact, we have just as much, if not more, than the basement over at One on One, so if you didn’t find what you were looking for in Geno’s stash,  come over and check out ours.  All funds received from the sales of our parts, accessories, and the bike art goes to offset expenses of the shop.  Check us out, we are affordable and the money helps the needy get bicycles.

I am not very familiar with Mr. Michael but I am planning to donate some time to help them out.  He and his wife run the shop, selling use parts and bikes to cover their primary mission, which is giving away bicycles to needy people.  They get the bikes at recycle events and accept donations as well.  Contact information is available on their website (link above). I bet this will be pretty fun, and I am curious to learn more about Mr. Michael and his bicycle ministry, and to lend a hand as well. 

How To Find Meaningful Work

A woman from Madison named Penelope Trunk writes a good blog called Brazen Careerist. I don't spend much time on career-type blogs, but scanning though some of her recent posts today, I came across an article entitled How to Find Meaningful Work. I particularly liked her point in this article that work does not give your life meaning, per se. In fact, she has a longer article on this very subject here.

I am coming to understand that the trick to this is to develop a career that pays the bills and does not suck the life out of you so you have the time and energy to devote to whatever the hell you think matters most. Sometimes easier said than done, but always worth striving for. The real hard work, and the most important part of this, I think, is figuring out what matters to you personally and then managing your life to pursue this. Don't get me wrong on this point - I get tremendous satisfaction from my job and take great pride in some of the projects that I have helped bring to reality, but without the other part of the equation, it's pretty easy to get out of balance quickly.

Nov 15, 2008

Southern Minnesota


Following
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
My Father-in-law was discharged from the Mankato hospital this afternoon following surgery earlier this week. Molly and I headed down to 'Kato to pick him up and take him back to the farm south of Delevan. He was in good spirits and was very keen on scoring a ham sandwich from Jimmy John's before we got out of town. The photo is from my truck as I followed Molly and her Dad back to the farm. Molly will be staying with her parents for a few days but I came back because of a pending trip to Anchorage to work on the Big Pipe.

November is a tough month in MN. The leaves are down and the weather is typically partly to mostly lousy, but today was pretty good. Sunny and cool, but good clouds and a good sunset. The Beaver Moon is now in decline, but I got some good views of the waning Beaver on the drive back tonight. The Trip Planner email from Northwest/Delta promises me temps of 6 degrees in Anchorage, so I will probably end up appreciating November in MN by this time next week.


Despite the generally flat topography, the relentless wind and the agricultural land use of this part of the state, I have come to like southern Minnesota. The towns are all interesting, if a little run down, and there are good place names, like Good Thunder, Olivia, and Rapidan. There's also some quirk (Keister and Amboy, for instance). I have seen some of the best thunder storms and sunsets of my life at my in-laws as well. The landscapes, with open fields, wind breaks and old farm buildings, can be quite beautiful. Some day I am going to try a black and white photography project down there.

Nov 13, 2008

Security Camera Video of Bridge Collapse

Here is the video from the security camera that caught the I-35W bridge actually going down. This was clipped from CNN and linked via You Tube. I wanted to get this out there in case anyone had not seen it.

Tough Out There


It's been a week of tough news on many fronts, from personal to national.  

I dropped a lot of money on auto maintenance today.  My truck has almost 66,000 miles on it and by now I needed new tires (I was still running on the ones that came with the vehicle) as well as some hefty scheduled maintenance and wear-and-tear repairs.  Despite the cost, I think it was a good deal; the thing is paid off and I pretty much decided that I am going to drive the Mighty Tundra until the wheels fall. I like it, it's been no trouble at all and I don't feel like I want to take on a new car purchase anytime soon. Also, the new tires are clearly better than the ones I was riding on, so it's a better experience for driver and passenger. The fact of the matter is that compared to when we lived out east or even in ANC, I don't drive it all that much, so this should tide me over for a good while. I also sprung for a transit pass today - I am going to try and take the bus rather than drive when the weather sucks. We'll see how that goes...

It is also disappointingly predictable that today Al Franken initiated a lawsuit over the Coleman-Frankin election recount. It was inevitable - both Frankin and Coleman are ruthless snakes who will do whatever it takes to seize power (please pardon the hyperbole).  After watching about 10 minutes of the last debate between Frankin, Coleman and Barkley, I decided to vote for Barkley simply because he did not appear to be a mean, delusional man.  My prediction is that the spirit of Saint Paul (Wellstone, that is) will be invoked by the Democrats before this over ("Paul Wellstone would have wanted all of our citizen's voices to be heard", or something to that effect).

In other dreary news, the National Transportation Safety Board began hearings into the I-35W bridge collapse today.  Essentially, the findings of the investigation were as follows:
  • The bridge was doomed from the start because some of the gusset plates that were used when it was built were undersized and not up to the job of holding up the bridge.
  • Corrosion, lack of maintenance and the general decline of our society were not the primary cause of the collapse - it was "design error" (nevermind about inspection and repair error, please).
  • Additional lanes and barriers were added to the bridge after its construction and nobody apparently checked whether or not it could hold the increased load, I guess.
  • An engineering company that inspected the bridge before the most recent repairs noted strain in the bridge but that seems to be about it.
  • The resurfacing crews that were working the day the bridge collapsed had put about 280 tons of equipment on the bridge very near the weak gusset plates at about 3:00 (2.5 hours or so before it collapsed).
Lawsuits over this have now been initiated against the engineering company and the construction company that was working when the bridge fell down. More will follow, I am sure.

Finally, the economy is still slowly circling the drain.

So, not much good news out there unless you look for it.  And I did.  I had a good meeting with the Midtown Greenway Coalition staff today about getting a Trail Watch program going, had dinner with a friend last night at Common Roots and took most of today off to get away from work for a bit. Plus, I might learn how to knit in the not-too-distant future.

That's it. Keep your chin up, stay dry and for God's sakes, turn your light on if you are riding at night, dammit!

Nov 11, 2008

The Trophy Kids Go To Work


The Wall Street Journal ran an article in late October about the "Millennial" generation entering the work force.  Conventional wisdom chides the Millennials for an entitlement mentality and a lack of willingness to dig in and work hard.  We have experienced this phenomenon to some extent at my office and I hear about this from colleagues at other companies as well.  As a Gen X'er, this is a little hard for me to relate to.  Us Generation X people are supposed to be quite jaded and cynical (we grew up with many parents divorced, large companies laying off our parents and little trust in government to fix anything, so we tend to have a "look out for number 1" mindset and little loyalty to anything, supposedly). It will be interesting to see how this shakes out in the coming years as the Millennials find out what it takes to move up the corporate ladder. 

The full text of the article can be found on the Wall Street Journal's site at this location. It's worth the click if you have the time.

Nov 10, 2008

How Do They Know?

How do birds work out which way they are all going to face when they sit on a wire. It's eerie.

Shine On, Beaver Moon...

According to the Farmer's Almanac, the full moon of November is the Beaver Moon. One theory is that now is the time set your beaver traps, another that the beavers are actively getting ready for winter (how does a beaver prepare for winter? Maybe insulating the lodge? stocking up on used paperbacks? Sadly, the Almanac does not say).

Here's a Cliff's Notes version to the moons of the year:

December: Cold Moon or Long Nights Moon (no explanation necessary if you live in a northern climate).

January: Wolf Moon (supposedly named for the howling of cold and hungry wolves)

February: Snow Moon or Hunger Moon (self explanatory)

March: Worm Moon or Crow Moon or Sap Moon (worm casts appear in March, a harbinger of Robins to come, Crows "caw" and the sap starts flowing in the trees).

April: Pink Moon (not the color - the flower; moss Pink, which is a ground Phlox).

May: Flower Moon (self explanatory).

June: Strawberry Moon (again, self explanatory).

July: Buck Moon or Thunder Moon (July is when male deer start getting their antlers).

August: Sturgeon Moon (Sturgeon were most readily caught in August).

September: Harvest Moon 

October: Hunter Moon (deer are fat and crops are in, so let's go hunting).

Nov 9, 2008

Pelicans!


Molly and I went to Blackdog Lake today to some cold weather birding.


We were rewarded with some pelicans hunkered up against the far shore of the lake. I tried to take some photos with my digital camera by holding it up to the eyepiece of the spotting scope and surprisingly, they sort of turned out. These won't be winning any National Geographic awards, but I am surprised that you can actually tell what these are supposed to be.

We also spied a pair of hooded mergansers on the little pond the model boat racers use during the summer.

Molly looked lovely as she busied herself picking up some trash while I scoped the lake for interesting waterfowl.


Nov 5, 2008

An Engineer's Guide to Cats

From the Best of You Tube. Do you know your cats aspect ratio?

Bicycle Clip Art and Trail Watch in MPLS?


I discovered a
website tonight that has bicycle themed clip art available. Here is a sample for your viewing pleasure.

I got a contact from the Good People at the Midtown Greenway Coalition today about organizing a citizen's patrol of the Greenway in response to some recent assaults, attempted assaults and other incidents that have occurred recently.  

I was very active in the Anchorage Trail Watch program when we lived there between 2003 and 2006.  The Anchorage Trail Watch program was effective In the first months of 2003 operations, over 150 individuals had signed up to become Trail Watch volunteers.  Trail Watch volunteers helped summon emergency responders for injured trail users and  assisted stranded cyclists to repair their bikes, reported suspicious activity on trails and in trail parking lots that has led to targeted police patrols.  Trail Watch reports of litter resulted in the removal of over 1 ton of garbage by ARBRA volunteers.  By the end of 2006, over 300 individuals were active volunteers supporting the efforts of Trails Watch.  We also reported a lot of graffiti to the city which would send crews around to remove it.

I am looking forward to helping the Greenway Coalition with this effort and hope it can as effective in MPLS as it was in ANC.  

That's it. Be careful out there.

Nov 2, 2008

Hard on Equipment


I  must be hard on equipment. Today I broke my supposedly "unbreakable" Freddy Fenders. While locking up at the IDS Center this morning for a short catch-up session in my office, I noticed that my rear fender was no longer attached to the frame very well.  I thought I had probably lost a bolt, but actually the fender was missing a hunk of itself and the "all-weather unbreakable polycarbonate" was broken clean through above the bolt.

I debated getting another set of ninja-black Freddy's but opted instead for a set  of sliver ones.  I mounted them this afternoon and they don't look too bad, but unfortunately they have a big freaking "Planet Bike" advertisement on the rear fender that I could not see in the store.  I may try and strip that off if I can find my decal remover. 

At any rate, here is the Cross Check sporting the new fenders, with a complimentary view of my cluttered basement thrown in for free.

Here is more of a full bike shot as well.


On a more exciting note, when I left the office I decided to ride home on the West River Parkway since it is now opened up after the completion of the I-35W bridge repairs.  As I headed north on Hennepin Ave. to the river, I had to pull over for a bunch of fire trucks that turned east right in front of me.   What else could I do but follow?  I was surprised to see smoke coming out of the mega-sized postal facility on the river and about a dozen fire trucks parked in the street. Hopefully nothing too serious, but we will be curious if our mail seems a bit smoky tomorrow.

That's it.  Ride safe and have fun.

Nov 1, 2008

Late Fall


I spent a little time this afternoon "laying in" wood for winter.  That's an expression I used to hear out east but people don't seem to use much in Minnesota.  Like any self respecting urban dweller, I got a load of organic, free-range wood that was humanely harvested in a sustainable manner by sensitive, thoughtful people who care about the earth.  This year I bought 1/3 of a cord. Last year I made the mistake of getting 1/2 cord and we had to stash it all over the place, but it did last all winter. This will probably not quite make it through the winter, but that's okay.

The halloween kegger was a smashing success.  We got rolling about 6:00 and stayed 'til about 8:30, although some of my more socially inclined neighbors shut 'er down about midnight.  We hauled lawn chairs out and set up around a fire pit in the front yard, sipping wine and beer and munching appetizers that all the neighbors brought over. 

Tonight's event - a birthday party for a friend's one-year-old daughter. Yes - the party never stops at our house!

Oct 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Two things that I find truly horrifying combined into one Halloween terror - stories of stolen bikes and videos of somebody's cute kid talking.

The horror....

We will have employee's kids trick-or-treating in the office today (never mind that I have a client meeting at 10:00) and we have been invited to a bonfire "kegger" in my neighbors front yard tonight (yee-hah!) so that will mix it up a bit for us.

Nice to back from ANC and in the Twin Towns again.

Oct 28, 2008

The Katmai

Tonight at dinner, a couple was sitting at the table next to me were getting caught up on each other's day. The woman had done some sight-seeing and shopping in Anchorage; her husband (or partner) had been participating in U.S. Coast Guard hearings at the Anchorage Hilton on the October 22, 2008 sinking of the 93-foot Katmai off the coast of Alaska last week.




ADN covered the first day of the hearings here. It is quite a story, and because it happened while I was in Anchorage, it was a Big News event, but tonight it got even more intense for me.



According to the guy at the next table, the testimony from the hearing was pretty straightforward but sobering; the weather was horrible - 80 knot winds and high waves. It sounds like Katmai developed a starboard list and could not correct it. Normally, taking on a little water is not a problem, but for whatever reason, they could not keep up with it. Katmai developed an increasing starboard list, and at one point they turned to port, hit a wave trough and augered-in, rolling the boat. Apparently the source of the leak could not be determined - the boat should have been battened down because it was full and heading to Dutch Harbor to unload, so hatches should have been closed and it should have been tight.




The hearings into this accident will likely go on for a few more days, and I suspect at some point some additional recommendations will be made on operating fishing boats off the coast of Alaska, but tonight it became more than a story on the second page of the newspaper for me.

Oct 27, 2008

Those Alaskans...

... and their Pugsleys.
The Anchorage Daily News ran an interesting article in the Sunday sports section about two guys from Anchorage who rode their Pugsleys and pack-rafted from Yakutat to Cordova. All told, this was about a 300 mile journey. The full write up and a few photos are available on the ADN site here.
One of the adventurers, Eric Parsons, probably wins the prize for most expensive component ever installed on a Pugsley. His chain ring bolts loosened and he accidentally ripped his chain ring apart, and his bike was paws-up without a replacement. No problem for Eric, however: he put a call (on a satellite phone) to Speedway Cycles in Anchorage and ordered a replacement chain ring, had it shipped to Yakutat, and then arranged for a bush plane to drop the parts off on the beach they were camping out on. I don't even want to know what that repair cost (without shop labor, no less).
More details can be found on their blog, which can be at viewed here (warning - if you click the link, you need to understand that "bomber" is Anchoragese for "really quite good"). It's worth going to the blog - they posted more photos of the ride and have other insights that ADN did not pick up, like gear reviews. Apparently they ran their Pugs as fixed gears, that's why the chain ring had to be replaced (no other chain ring to ride on). That's pretty hard core.
That's it. I am out of here on the Red Tail at 9:45 tomorrow morning, so with any luck I should be back in MPLS by dinner time.

Oct 25, 2008

Anchorage Mural and Chugach Mountains


Here is the view from the elevator lobby of our office in Anchorage. The mural of whales is by the famous artist who's name I forget and the mountains in the background are the Chugach range, immediately east of Anchorage.

Oct 24, 2008

Fatbacks at Speedway Cycles in ANC


Today after work I stopped in at Speedway Cycles in the heart of the colorful Spenard section of Anchorage. Speedway is the home of the Fatback bicycle. For those that do not know these machines, they are the Rolls Royce version of a Pugsley. Titanium frames, high end components, etc. Speedway was started about a year ago by the inventor/creator of the Fatback.











According to the website, a Fatback can be built out to about 23 pounds(!). They are not cheap - the price tag on the one I fondled was $3,999, but they are very nicely finished titanium dream machines.

Anchorage is much better off with Speedway in town. There was no LBS selling high end bikes off the floor in Anchorage prior to this. Yes, The Bicycle Shop had some high end Specialized and Trek's, and That Other Shop carried Giants, but Speedway has a few Moots, Parlee's and lots of Kona's on the floor and ready to go.

There is also some old (like 1980's) racing gear on display in the shop as well - I suspect the owner might have ridden the Coor's Classic and other U.S. circuits in the early '80's but I did not get a chance to talk to him.

So, with that, I leave you with a sunset over seedy and storied Spenard. Check the link for Speedway and stop in the shop if you get a chance. It's well worth the time.

Oct 22, 2008

Hello, I am Cheney Wolfhound Palin!

I shamlessly stole this link from Brother Yam's blog. You enter your name and it rebrands you as a Palin.... according to the interweb, if Sarah Palin were my mother, I would be named:


Cheney Wolfhound Palin



If that were the case, I would probably also not be posting this because I would have hung myself from a highway overpass (in broad daylight) long, long ago.


Be that as it may, thanks, Brother Yam, for posting the link - it cracked me up. Try it yourself and see what could have been...


Here's a photo from the last frontier to satisfy those of you that were searching for "Palin" and sadly blundered into this post.

Oct 21, 2008

I Can Spot a Waterford from 4,000 Miles Away


The conventional wisdom among my married friends is that the wife needs to essentially train the husband in order for things to work out in the long run.

Happily for me, some of my training has rubbed off on the wife, however.


Today, I was unexpectedly treated to photos of a Waterford she saw while in Maine last week. It's a fine, fine woman that keeps an eye peeled for a sweet bike, and then takes the time snap a picture, and email them over to me.

This is almost the color of purple I wanted to get my Waterford 1200 painted last winter; I was going for that rich purple 3Rensho used to paint some of their road bikes, but I locked in on a sweet metallic orange instead. No regrets, but it's nice to see what that purple looks like again.

Enjoy the bike porn!