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

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

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


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!