This New Year's eve we are having a "Blue Moon". The Blue Moon is a second full moon within the same month. I don't know what it may mean, from an astrological perspective, to have the Blue Moon coincide with New Year's eve, but I hope it's auspicious for all of us.
I was interviewed last week by a reporter for the Downtown Journal who was looking for reaction from local cyclists to the Marq2 Project. The reporter had come across my blog, read up on that subject here and must have figured that I was guy with opinions and so he tracked me down.
I told the reporter that I had mixed feelings about the Marq2, because while the cyclists of Minneapolis lost two more bike lanes due to this project, I am also pro-transit, and I did think that this project was a positive move for transit. My main points on the Marq2 Project were that I felt the City failed to make accommodations for cyclists during construction, and cited examples of times when the bike lanes were closed with no suitable detours to make more room for cars on the construction-narrowed streets.
My other main point was that despite the lip service Minneapolis gives to trying to increase mode share for bikes, the reality is that our downtown bike infrastructure is not that great. The image above is an excerpt from the City of Minneapolis bike map that is available on line. The snip is the section that covers the heart of downtown. As you can see, we have designated bike lanes ringing the Central Business District, but nothing in the CBD itself. The north-south routes on Marquette and 2nd Ave have now been removed, so that means our only designated lane north-south routes are Hennepin and Park/Portland Ave. That's 10 to 11 blocks of the downtown area without a designated bike lane going north/south.
If you want to go east or west, your not much better off; we have east/west lanes south of the CBD on 9th/10th Ave. and we have an east bound lane on 4th (you are kind of SOL if you need to go west on the north end until you get as far north as River Road).
Now, I don't need a designated bike lane to get around downtown. I fall into the "A" rider category; I pick my routes based on convenience and speed, and I am willing to ride in traffic to do that. I do appreciate bike lanes and generally feel a little safer in a bike lane in heavy traffic areas, but I will claim my lane when I need to. The thing is, most people are not in this category. If Minneapolis truly wanted to increase mode share for bikes and decrease downtown traffic congestion, then putting in more designated bike routes in the CBD to encourage the less confident riders to commute by bike would be a logical solution.
The problem, I believe, is that doing so would mean taking away from the car lanes. Until Minneapolis is willing to do that, and create more space in the Right-of-Way for bikes, the claims about being so bike-friendly will only ring true for the recreational riders who are happy to toodle around on the Parkways as far as I am concerned.
Christmas brought us the much-hyped "The Storm of the Century" - supposedly the most snow we've had in years and years. What we actually got was about 9-inches of wet snow. Yes, it was inconvenient, but I would hardly say this was the worst that Mother Nature has to dish out for us this winter.
We did change our plans somewhat to accommodate the weather, traveling to my Mother-in-law's house before Christmas rather than over Christmas. We faired well, however. Plenty of wood for the fire place, plenty of food for the Christmas feast and plenty of time to relax. I finishing a few books, helped to push a slacker neighbor out of the snow, rumbled around the snowy streets in my four-wheel drive truck for a few days and generally enjoyed some adversity to life in a major city.
The downtime has me thinking about goal-setting for next year (I don't make resolutions; I do goal-setting instead). I did pretty well on my personal goals for 2009 in retrospect, and that feels like a victory to me. I am not quite ready to post the 2010 goals, but those will probably go up here in the near future.
Christmas 2009 was almost the Christmas that wasn't. December is always hectic at work, with the usual year-end duties like the annual off-site planning meeting, performance reviews, compensation committee, etc., Plus we had a few proposals to get out, board and bank meetings to attend, and personnel matters to resolve.
All this non-secular noise gets in the way of the Christmas spirit and saps my energy for much more than eating, sleeping and going to work.
Nevertheless, I have taken a few days off, gone for some walks in the woods, and I am now finding time for some Christmas thoughts (by the way, I love that "never the less" has been collapsed into one word).
I have seen a "friend" or two on Facebook join groups like "Keep Christ in Christmas" and read the predictable op-eds on the Holidays (my favorite was an absolute hissy-fit by Garrison Keillor in the Star Trib last Sunday), but despite this (or because of it), I find I am more tolerant of alternative takes on The Holiday this year.
We have taken in a few Quaker meetings at the Minneapolis Society of Friends meeting house recently, and it's been interesting. Friends believe that God speaks to them directly and individually, and they are not into spoken prayer and responsorials, which I am more familiar with. However, Friends meetings are not all silence; several times per meeting someone will get up and share a thought or insight. Sometimes I find I agree with what was said, other times I admit to wondering what the heck they are tuned into. But regardless of my reaction, I have come to realize that they felt moved to make a statement, and it was/is important to them, and therefore it's worthy of considering. After all, their insight might end up being an epiphany for me, potentially. It would be shame to miss an epiphany because I dismissed the words or speaker due to impatience or bias.
I have come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of Christmas presents - the common Christmas present is the material stuff that people give you at Christmas time; the second, more personal present is what you discover about yourself, based on the experiences of the past year.
I'll see what my common Christmas presents are tomorrow night, but I have concluded that my second, personal Christmas gift this year is greater appreciation for the importance of tolerance. There has been plenty of things I didn't like about this year and plenty of things I didn't agree with, but I can see that we all need a little adversity to grow, much like a knife needs a hard sharpening stone to regain its edge, and we need to be tolerant of other opinions and difficult situations to benefit from these learning opportunities.
On that note, I wish each and every one of you unconditional health, happiness, security and general well-being this Holiday season, whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Solstice, or Festivus!
This post marks yet another year I helped out with the Christmas Bird Count (CBC). I don't know how many of these I have done - maybe a dozen or so. When I started we had an area in Farmington near the refinery. After that we had an area in Eagan that included Lebanon Hills park. For the last three years (since I have been back from CT and AK) our area has been in southern Bloomington, and includes Nine Mile Creek park.
The Nine Mile Creek location has been surprisingly good. We have located Barred owls the previous two years (not this year, though) and we have a flock over-wintering Robins that only seems to get larger each year. This year we were treated to over 100 Robins. Nine Mile is also an awesome location for Red-bellied woodpeckers; this year we had 15 of them, which is a record for us at this location during the CBC.
One blessing was that it was 20 degrees and still today. Two years ago it was about -10 degrees out and last year we had heavy, heavy snow. Both make for slow birding. The warm weather was appreciated by birds and birders alike, and while we didn't see any "good" birds, we did see a lot of birds. Mobs of chickadees, swarms of robins and plenty of Mallards, woodpeckers and Goldfinches greeted us.
A little CBC history: prior to the turn of the century, there was a tradition in some locales of a "side hunt". People would divide up into teams, and venture afield with shotguns; the team that came back with the biggest pile of dead birds was the winner. Yea!! Ornithologist Frank Chapman, an early officer of the Audubon Society, proposed a new holiday tradition that would count birds without killing them. The first CBC was held on Christmas Day in 1900. They got 25 species, which is 6 better than we did today.
I'll post the day's tally once I get it, but it amounted 19 species as I recall. Like I said, nothing to write home about, but a good day afield.
We are on Day 2 of the new transit nervana promised by the completion of the Marq2 Project. The Marq2 project was a down-to-the-dirt reconfiguration of Marquette and 2nd Ave. in downtown Minneapolis. Previously, we had two north-bound car lanes on Marquette and one south-bound bus lane plus a nicely sized south-bound (counterflow) bike lane. We had the same, in mirror image, on 2nd Ave.
The Marq2 conversion gives us two north-bound car lanes, two southbound bus lanes and NO bike lane. I've bitched about that at length on this blog, ranted to Transit for Livable Communities (who seemed like they could care less) and otherwise shouted into the wind on this issue with no effect, so that's what we've got.
The concept for Marq2 is to move the express buses (mostly to the 'burbs but there are a few MPLS limited service routes that also get to use Marq2) north on 2nd and south on Marquette and get them out of the downtown quickly. Good idea in principle. The Marq2 project included real-time bus schedule screens and heated shelters (neither of which are installed yet, but that's a minor detail) and stops labeled "A", "B", "C" and "D". Buses leapfrog around each other, picking up passengers at every other stop or so and passing waiting buses in the new second lane.
It's been cold and life has been difficult these past few days, so I have retreated to transit for my commute lately. One route option for my commute is the 133, which gets to use the new Marq2 facilities, so I gave it a go last night and today. On the first ride from downtown, the bus was about 15 minutes late. Tonight we improved that by 5 minutes, so I boarded only 10 minutes late and got home about 15 minutes later than scheduled. I can see that the second lane makes a difference in moving through downtown, but I am still smarting from the loss of the bike lane. I think bikes could easily share the southbound lanes with buses on Marquette and the northbound lanes on 2nd and may claim it, but there are cops mid-block directing traffic that will ticket scofflaws, so I'll be doing this selectively.
I will be curious to see if the buses are on schedule by the end of the week (good thing we had the street closed off for a month fur bus "training" prior to opening the streets to transit, no?) and when the bus schedule boards and heated shelters get installed. Hopefully that won't be a "next spring" project.
This Saturday will be yet another Christmas Bird Count. I don't know how many of these I have done - a dozen, maybe? These are always a bit of a crap shoot; we usually see quite a lot of birds, but few good ones (although supposedly any bird is a "good bird" on CBC day).
That said, all birds are not equal. Like everyone else wandering around out there, we always get a lot of crows and chickadees, and in the warmer years we can pound out an impressive number of Canada geese as well. The best birds are the ones that seem to only come in single servings. We have seen Long-eared owls, snow buntings, Barred owls, Northern shrikes, and one year a Glaucus gull (although the GG was outside our CBC area) over the years, and those are the ones you remember for a long time afterward.
The CBC is one of the relatively few times per year when I venture afield with others. I have been doing most of my birding solo after losing partners to moves, family responsibilities and in one case, an untimely death. I used to joke that I had planned to go birding with a friend last weekend but he got married and had a family so he couldn't make it (in every jest there is a grain of truth).
At first solo birding seemed a bit odd; like going to the move theatre or eating in a restaurant alone. I've come around to it, though. I enjoy the operational flexibility of setting my own schedule, working as hard as I want to at it, and hitting the spots I want to explore. What I do miss, however, is sharing the experience with someone else. Unless you've been on the excursion, you can't really appreciate it fully, so that makes the war stories all that much more difficult to convey (and probably all that more tedious to my listeners as well).
I've toyed with the idea of seeking out a new partner once or twice, but it's kind of an important relationship and I am not sure a premeditated match would work all that well. I've ventured afield with some out-of-towners, or people that are new to the area before, and it's almost always a challenge. If we kept at it, we might both find the groove and work it out, but personality seems to count more than persistence for this sort of thing. I don't see my CBC partner but once or twice a year, it's like old times when we get together because we've had the same area for years now and he's one of these friends that you can not see for a year and just pick where you left off.
I am planning to participate in a few MOU trips this year, so perhaps I'll find a decent match through that little series of adventures. Until the right partner comes along, however, I will be very content to continue wandering off into the brush with my binoculars and me, myself and I.
It's always a little disappointing when a near perfect experience ends up getting tainted at the very end...
We snuck out of town on Friday for a quick get away to St. Peter, MN, booking a reservation at the Konsbruck Hotel, a new hotel in a historic building in downtown St. Peter. The Inn is located on the second floor, above Richard's Restaurant at 408 S. Third Street in downtown St. Peter.
The Konsbruck Inn It's a great combination of modern amenities and historic charm; the rooms were beautifully decorated with antiques, and the bed was large and exceptionally comfortable, and the room featured a new flat screen TV, a small fridge outfitted with complimentary snacks and soft drinks, and bathroom that had both a large shower and a beautiful, huge tub. The staff was very helpful and courteous, and delivered a complimentary rose to our room and promptly delivered a new light bulb for one of the lamps in our room after we noticed it was missing a bulb. In short, it was one of the best rooms we have stayed in a long time.
I sampled the dinner menu at Richard's that evening while the spouse and her sisters went to the concert at Gustavus. The hanger steak and small green salad were delicious and the service was excellent. While I was eating, a good acoustic band set up in a corner of the restaurant and began playing, making what seemed like a perfect evening just a little better.
One small cloud appeared on the horizon, however. I noticed a "No Parking after 2:00 AM" sign on the street when I pulled in to the hotel and looked for off-street parking associated with the hotel. The only parking behind the building that I saw had a large sign indicating it was reserved for a bar or social club next door (the Redman Club - how politically correct is that?), so after dinner I asked the front desk staff about parking. I was told by a staff person that I could park in front of the building and that they would let the City know that we were guests and identify our vehicles to allow for parking overnight.
It turns out that's not entirely correct (duh), and I awoke to find parking tickets on my truck and my wife's car. I admit to being more than a little irate about the whole thing, but to their credit, the Konsbruck Hotel promptly followed up on my complaint and set this misunderstanding right. What's more, the personal follow up on the problem really impressed me a lot - it's clear the management is really focused on the customer and that they are trying to really set themselves apart from the chains, which I applaud.
Two thumbs up for a great independent hotel with excellent customer service.
I read a thought-provoking post on Quince Urban Homestead tonight comparing our current state of affairs to 1776. I feel that this post is indicative of a growing sense of disillusionment resulting from the fact that despite the triumphant ascension of the Obama administration to the White House, it pretty much seems like status quo around here. We're still at war, still running up the deficit, still sending money to publicly held corporations (and now putting shareholder risk on the shoulders of the nation in the process), and still underfunding education, libraries and social services.
While it's tempting to say that we've been cheated and quip that the ubiquitous Shepard Fairey image had a typo and "Hope" should have an "N" instead of an "H", I think something is afoot that is more alarming than being misled by yet another politician.
I submit that we have allowed ourselves to become a nation that is run not "by and for the people", but rather by and for special interest groups. It seems like politics has become not so much about representing the Will of the People as it is the platform (or the battleground) for special interest groups to influence public policy to suit their agenda. Pick an issue - Israel, global warming, education, immigration, ethanol and wind power; you name it, and special interest groups are at work monitoring legislation and seeking "access" to sell their agendas to our elected officials.
About the only solution I can think of at the moment is to start a massive lobbying campaign to give the average people a voice in Washington. We'd have to have good old fashion caucuses or something to come up with a platform, but if we could get enough members, we could aggregate our votes and potentially gain influence, or at least have a voice in the debates. Otherwise a tea party might be in order here in the not-too-distant future.
Once during a particularly hectic period at work several years ago, I borrowed a chess timer to prove (to myself, I guess) that I had very little uninterrupted time. I would start the clock when I hung up the phone or someone left my office and stop it at the next interruption to measure how much"quiet time" I was getting at work. The longest period, as I recall, was about 7 minutes that day.
I do the same thing to myself when I am away from work, too. If I am home, in all likelihood I can be found on the computer, puttering in the basement workshop/music area, reading and/or listening to music or watching TV. Like the characters in Infinite Jest, I rarely sit still for very long without something to entertain me. And I doubt I am unique there; I think it's likely that many of us have programmed ourselves into a sort of hyper-stimulation dependency.
On Sunday, I took a break from my hyper-stimulation habit (for one hour, at least) by attending an unprogrammed Quaker meeting. Essentially, the way these meetings work is that the attenders (sic) gather together and sit silently, reflecting on God and finding a message or two. Eventually someone is moved to speak, and they do. The others listen silently and then reflect on the words, see if those words change their thoughts, and then do some more thinking.
I have always liked meditation (although I am admittedly not a big practitioner), but I was very surprised at how natural it felt to be among a group of people reflecting together, how quickly the time went by, and how interesting the whole experience was. I was never bored and never uncomfortable with the silence, and while I wouldn't say I "got a message", I certainly did get a few things worked out while I was there, and I find I am looking forward to more quiet time in the near future.
A reader of this blog was good enough to invite me to come on down to Miami tomorrow and ride a bike-based contraption called The Regurgitator and perhaps join in some festive Tall Bike Jousting.
That's kind of short notice for me, so I am not going to make this. Looking at The Regurgitator, that doesn't seem like something I would be up for, either. I have to admit, though, that the tall bike jousting looks like a lot of fun (up 'til the very end part).
At any rate, I thought some readers be interested in vicariously sampling the alt bike scene in Miami. The event will be at Art Basel, which modestly claims to be "the most important art show in the United States, a cultural and social highlight for the Americas".
Don't be disappointed if you really, really want to see this and just can't get away to Miami on a moments notice. You don't have to travel if you don't want to - you watch the festivities live on the interwebs at Bike Club Games right here.
Maybe I can get some of those MPLS bike polo players to organize a bike joust so I can see just how much this would hurt before I give it a go....
Things are getting away from me, it seems. I was in Anchorage for a series of meetings last weekend, recovered from all that on Monday, had one whirlwind day in the office followed by a few whirlwind days with the family for Thanksgiving, and now it's the weekend already.
MMRB had their Bike Blitz on today - that snuck up on me although I probably got an email on it. They have a request for 19 bikes through the United Way Holiday Wishes program. I went over there last year and helped out, and will so again today. It's becoming a Thanksgiving tradition, it seems. They had all but two of the bikes finished by the time I had to leave, so we got something done, and I got to meet a few Bike Lovers I hadn't met yet, so that was nice, too. While I was there, two people came into the shop to claim there bikes. They were both very happy to get them and very appreciative of the efforts of MMRB, so that was rewarding to see as well.
My Decembers have taken a turn for the worse the past couple of years, it seems. There's the holiday chaos and family visits, but on top of that I chair our company's compensation committee, which reaches a crescendo mid-December, we have our off-site planning meetings in early December, performance reviews are due in December. On top of that, several client need early invoices to close the books on yearly expenses. It's impossible to not slip into a reactive, d0-what-happens-next mode during December. Which is too bad, because December is also Christmas, and a fine time to ramp up the bird watching, start a new novel and fix up the bikes. At some point, I'd like to have a quiet, contemplative December, as it was meant to be.
One of the things I like about cycling is the endless opportunity to experiment with gear. Taken to an extreme this can be an expensive (or even decadent) pass-time, but like anything slightly deviant, if done in moderation it's a lot of fun.
My newest experiment is with some handlebars on my Marin mountain bike. The bike itself is an older, steel Marin with nice-for-the-era components. I found it on the consignment rack at a local bike shop last winter when I was in the market for a reasonably priced bad weather bike. The Marin is a little too nice to be a real winter beater, but it fit me well and was virtually new old stock, so it ended up coming home with me.
I had not ridden it much until this fall. The Rawland claimed almost all of my summer cycling time this year, but I figured that this would come in handy once the weather got more adverse. I outfitted the Marin with some fenders and moved a spare rack over to this bike anticipating commuting on it into the Fall and possibly the Winter. We have been blessed with a beautiful, if a little rainy, Fall. This gave me a lot of time on the bike, and woke me up to the fact that "bad weather" includes darkness (at least for me). The bike now sports a Superflash and my bright headlights as well.
I have come to really like this bike; it's as light as anything I ride except for my nice road bikes, and it is pretty lively and fun as well. My only real gripe was the handlebars, which were some flat aluminum bars under the Marin brand. I have never been a fan of flat bars because I like multiple hand positions, but the truth is that as short as my commute is, they were just fine. Never one to be satisfied with "just fine", I came across an interesting looking bar that a contact on Flickr was rocking on his old Kona.
After a few email exchanges to find out what the bar was and how my contact liked it, I ordered up a TiTec H bar for the Marin. Hiawatha set it up for me while I was out of town, so that part couldn't have been easier, and they did a great job with estimating the correct stem for me (it pays to know the mechanic, or rather for the mechanic to know you) and I have been happy with these things for a week now. Good looking, multiple hand positions, and plenty of room for lights.
I am tweaking brake lever position and still making peace with the trigger shifters, but this is a process, not a race to the finish. I'll need to see what works best and how things work with gloves, etc. My dream scenario for this bar is to totally wrap it with cork tape, but with brake levers and shifters, that might not be possible. Even so, it's better than my old flat bar, so I am sharing a few pics in case anyone else is dissatisfied with the usual offerings in the flat bar department.
After a fairly lengthy hiatus, I am heading back to Anchorage in the near future for a series of meetings. It's full-tilt winter in ANC right now, so I'll have to pack my long-john and head lamp, it seems.
I was reacquainting myself with the Anchorage scene in anticipation of my trip and checked back on the website for Speedway Cycles. Speedway is a relatively new shop; they were not in business when I lived up there. However, they are there now. This is a nice shop - they have more "nice" bikes than anyone in ANC, and to the extent that they are well known, it's for their Fat Back bikes. These are titanium Pugsley style snow bikes and a really something to behold. Speedway has a blog that has previously escaped my attention, but it is worth checking out if you are curious about the winter biking scene in Alaska and the extreme Fat Bikes.
Alaska is heading for Dark Times, I fear. Despite the conventional wisdom that Alaska is awash in energy, it's likely that Anchorage will face rolling brown-outs this winter due to natural gas shortages. The natural gas supply for south-central Alaska comes from Cook Inlet production fields, which are depleted and in decline. No new production is replacing this source, and the vast gas reserves of the North Slope are a long way from commercialization. Even if a North Slope gas pipeline were to start today, it's unlikely that gas would be flowing for at least 7 years.
Add to this the fact the might Trans-Alaska Pipeline is flowing at less than half capacity, and for the first time since forever ConocoPhillips will not be drilling a single exploration well in Alaska next year, and that the State of Alaska gets more than 80% of it's state budget from oil and gas revenues, it looks like very dark times in deed for our Alaskan cousins.
2010 - 2020 is going to be a very challenging decade for Alaska, no two ways about it. I hope the citizens wake up to this reality very soon and get the politicians aimed in the right direction, because otherwise it's going to be very, very unpleasant.
Thanksgiving Day 2009 is going to be a complicated one.
I am certain that many, many people will be glad to turn the page on 2009 and watch the twisted wreckage of this year settle into the sediments of history. Economic woes the likes of which we have not seen since the Great Depression have touched the lives of just about everyone, it seems. Friends and family have lost jobs, companies have downsized, retirements have been postponed and dreams put on hold. Add to this the typical litany of deaths, divorces, personal problems and other assorted mishaps and tragedies of a typical year and 2009 starts to looks pretty rough, indeed.
That said, I can't say it's been all bad, either. Frugality is the new chic, SUV sales are down and McMansions in the newest suburb look a little less toothsome these days. People are also more grateful for what they've got, based on what I have seen. I know offices that have had to put staff on furlough and effectively reduced their base compensation by as much as 24%, and while they don't like it one bit, those people are grateful to have a job at this point. The presumption of entitlement seems to be one of the victims of the recession, which is not all bad. On a personal note, I learned to slow down and appreciate the moment a little, as well.
I don't have my whole Thanksgiving Day toast thing ironed out just yet, but I think the theme of it is going to be appreciation for the lessons I have learned managing through the adversity of 2009, gratefulness that my friends and family fared as well as they did this year, and hopefulness that we actually learn something from the finance mess and carry these lessons into a future that is possibly a little smaller, but one hell of a lot smarter and just maybe a little more sustainable.
A new bike advocacy group is taking shape in Minneapolis. The as-yet-unnamed group is focused on Minneapolis cycling issues only (not pedestrians, not the Twin Cities, not Minnesota and not transit).
I think it's about time a group like this came together in Minneapolis. We have seen the City and elected officials give lip service to being pro-bike (Yay - We're Number 2!), and they through quite a bit of support behind Bike/Walk Week, but they have pretty consistently failed to plan for and accommodate cyclists in their construction projects, have failed to deliver on promises made during the planning of the Hennepin/First Ave. projects and are now offering sub-par solutions on that project, and they don't effectively promote bike boulevards and other options to promote cycling as an effective way to get cars off the road.
I think a vocal group that shapes policy, promotes cycling and calls for accountability from the City will only benefit Minneapolis cyclists. The next planning meeting will be Saturday, December 5. If anyone wants additional information on the group or would like to participate in the next planning meeting, post a comment or send me an email and I"ll be happy to pass on the relevant information.
With the Marq2 Project, I began to suspect that Minneapolis could care less about providing safe accommodations for bike commuters downtown. We have now recently undergone a lane conversion on Hennepin Ave. and 1st Ave. in downtown Minneapolis. It's got a lot of the cycling community up in arms because what was promised seems to differ a bit from what was actually delivered.
Here's the concept for First Avenue:
Looks nice, huh? Here's the Plan for First Ave. that the City presented to us:
Here's the reality of the conversion on First Ave.:
This has been a problem from the get-go, with cars encroaching on the bike lane, passengers opening doors into bike lane (and even if they looked for cyclists, the side view mirrors are set for the driver, so they can't see cyclists in the mirror from the passenger seat), and drivers wondering into the bike lane to plug the parking meters. At least now, thanks to pressure from the cycling community, the City is starting to ticket cars in the bike lane, but relegating bikes to the gutter (with no chance of avoiding the door zone) is a bad, bad idea.
Of course, the reason we have this situation is that the City does not have the balls to restrict on-street parking on First Ave. or take away a lane for cars. This begs the question of whether or not Minneapolis deserves all the accolades they get being such a bicycle-friendly city. Yes, we have a greenway and some multiple use trails around the lakes, but although we have recreational amenities, bike facilities for commuters are poor, especially downtown. I wish we could get the cycle-friendly awards revoked until this gets fixed so our elected officials could not point to this and feel good about themselves.
My wife was amazed to see that the bathroom in our basement positively sparkles at the moment. This not typically the case; we have two bathrooms, one upstairs and the other in the basement. She generally uses the bathroom upstairs while I tend to use the bathroom downstairs.
Why the separate-but-equal bathrooms? Whiskers. My bathroom tends to be accented with stray whiskers in the sink, on the countertop and pretty much everywhere else. As my wife will quickly point out with little prompting, any out of place body part, component (or fluid, for that matter) is disgusting. Therefore, she is happy to avoid the downstairs bathroom to the extent she can.
Things changed this weekend, however. I applied "shop mentality" to the problem of bathroom cleaning, and in so doing, I think I made a mental breakthrough that has all kinds of interesting possibilities. What do I mean by "shop mentality"? Consider the typical home repair shop:
Yes - there is a little clutter, but these are all projects in progress. I have my tools organized in that red metal tool chest. Big clunky tools like a rubber mallet and a hack saw, plus the tire levers and patch kits are in the top part. Small tools like spoke wrenches and measuring tools are in the top drawer; bike-specific tools like the crank-puller and pin spanners are in the next drawer. Open-end wrenches and cone wrenches are in the third drawer, along with a cable puller, and the bottom drawer has the big flat stuff like a chain whip, a lock ring remover and a headset wrench. The black rolling thing has spare parts, degreaser and other large junk squirreled away in it.
I like this set-up because I have been working at amassing it for some time. What that means is:
1.) it's relatively complete; I rarely have to make do with a tool that doesn't fit or is not intended for its purpose;
2.) I know where everything is and it's handy, usually no more than a step or two away, and;
3.) I know how to use all of this stuff (generally speaking).
This kind of preparation helps to remove one of the most common barriers to doing a good job - laziness. Laziness is an incredibly pernicious quality suck; most of us would try to use a butter knife if it was handy and screwdriver was more than a flight of stairs away (even though we would all admit that a screw driver does an absolute shit job of tightening a screw). Another benefit to this is that the right tool simply works much better and is much more satisfying to use, which can be rewarding in itself. Therefore, in my book, one of the best things a person can do to improve their level of bike maintenance is to get their home shop relatively complete and in some sort of order that works for them.
What does this have to do with bathroom cleaning you ask? This weekend, I used the same rationale and constructed a tool kit for bathroom cleaning:
I went to Menard's and headed to the cleaning aisle. I sized up my maintenance job (shower stalls, mirrors, sinks, toilet, etc.) and scanned the shelves for what seemed to be the best products at the best value and got a small arsenal of cleaners, brushes and rags, all for less than $20. At home, I assembled my cleaning tool kit, taking care to ensure that it was organized and portable, so I would have all this stuff within reach, and promptly applied myself to cleaning the bath with a craftsmen mentality rather than a chore mentality.
I am either very simple-minded or brilliant, because this worked like a charm. I now derive satisfaction from my clean mirror and spotless sink, and I admit to a certain pride in my shower floor as well.
Maybe it's the change in season, maybe it's the shift away from Daylight Savings Time and the resulting early nights, but for whatever reason, every year at this time I seem to be fascinated with the moon.
Here's a beautiful photo of the full Beaver Moon (e.g. November's full moon) rising somewhere over the U.K. We had one nearly as good over South Minneapolis last night, but I was not able to catch it on film, or pixels or whatever.
I have long suspected that stressful or emotional times can evoke deep, strong memories and feelings of place more effectively than simply spending extended periods of time in an area.
I drove through the Midway section of St. Paul early this afternoon to paw through the bike garage at MMRB and visit the Menard's before heading home to watch the football game this afternoon.
I was struck by how familiar this area was and how strongly I felt about it although I rarely go over there. If you haven't been there, it's a kind of seedy, industrial area shaped by University Ave., Prior Ave. and I-94. The reason for this heightened feeling of place, of course, is that we started the company I have worked for 17 years ago to the day in this neighborhood.
We got a short term lease on a small building at 520 Lynnhurst Ave (across a little park from Porky's Drive-in). We only worked in that space for about 5 or 6 months before we moved to Butler Square, but to this day I know that area like the back of my hand and it resonates with me every time I go there. The major change since we were there is the construction of the Menard's - this used to be a motel and restaurant/bar that was called the Irish Well, but that's gone and it's a Menard's parking lot now. Otherwise, it's all pretty much the same - the Midway Liquor store, the saw repair place and sign making shop...
It's a pretty non-remarkable area, really. Yet, I have a strong sense of attachment to it. The stress and excitement of this time in my life seems to have etched those memories deeper into my psyche, despite the short time I worked there.
As the last week of October edges by it's safe to say we are now in the shoulder season for cycling. As I posted earlier, so far so good on the commuting front. The dark has been no problem at all, and we've had some colder temps, but with lows in the mid-30's I have had no trouble whatsoever.
I am noticing fewer cyclists on the road and more empty space at the racks downtown. I am feeling like it's more important than ever to keep riding in this shoulder season. It's like the old folk tale of the guy who goes out to the barn every day to pick up his newly born calf. When his neighbor asks why the hell he is doing that, he replies "if I do this every day, eventually I'll be able to pick up a bull!".
Maybe it's a poor analogy, but I think if I ride every day, pretty soon I'll be riding in winter. I suspect it would be very difficult to re-start after a week or so off the bike at this point. Probably more so when it's really cold. On the other hand, keeping doing what you are doing is relatively easily (momentum vs. inertia).
I am actually liking the shoulder season more than mid-summer; To keep me comfy, I have a very nice REI wind/rain jacket that I love, and to make it even better, it was a little too snug this spring, but fits now. Plus, I am now wearing a really bad-ass snowboard helmet for a little extra warmth - it looks really Mad Max and hard core (at least by my standards). I've also seen some good sunrises, too.
Unrelated but potentially interesting, I have a friend leading an exploratory discussion of bike advocacy in Minneapolis. Yes, we do have Transit for Livable Communities and MN Bike Alliance, but TLC seems like a gong show at times and MN Bike Alliance has a state-wide focus. The thrust of this potential advocacy group will be Minneapolis.
The first meeting will be Saturday, October 31 at 11:00 AM at the offices of Twin Cities Streets for People at 212 3rd Ave. No., Suite 515. If you are at all interested, this could be an opportunity to help shape the platform of a group focused on bicycling in Minneapolis. As they say, history is made by the ones the showed up. I am planning on being there and hope plenty of others show up as well.
Despite holding my breath in the elevator, and what I now admit was approaching obsessive hand-washing for the past several weeks, I seem to have come down with some sort of illness yesterday. I felt great when I got up at 6:00, but by about 11:00 I had a screaming headache, was tired and felt out of sorts. I left work and holed up at the house where I dozed, read and made a vat of bean soup to feed on.
Today brings a sore throat and fatigue. Fatigue really sucks; it's worse than "feeling tired". On the bright side, I have some time to get caught up on my reading. I made the tactical error of starting several books at the same time (I know better, but could not delay gratification). I am currently stalled out on a re-read of Infinite Jest, in the home stretch of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and falling behind on some assigned reading for work (Who's Got Your Back? and Quiet Leadership). To make matters worse, I subscribed to the New Yorker again (on the Kindle this time), so a new one of those chunks in to the e-book every week as well. I hope finish Zen and the Art this week and pass it on, and then I'll probably crank out the office assignments, since Infinite Jest will take a long time to get through and seems better suited to winter evenings anyway.
This evening is the Sandwhich Cats' Mill City Tweed Ride. It's not too late to grab a tweed coat, tie on an ascot and head down to Gold Medal Park if you are so inclined. I have this on my calendar and had hoped to do this just for the novelty of it, but riding around in today's sleet while wearing wet wool (in my weakened condition, no less) would probably kill me, and my co-workers would be really pissed of about that, so I'll stay home and drink hot tea instead.
So, with that, I am going to put on another kettle of water on the stove and find the comforter. Here's a video of a catastrophic wind turbine failure for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!
We have had some crappy weather, but (so far) I have had no problem staying on the bike.
Today started dark and wet... It was pretty much still night at 7:00 when I left for work, and the weather was partly to mostly crappy - rain (but not much wind) was predicted all day.
I opted for my snow boarding helmet (warmer) and my REI rain jacket, plus some REI house-brand Scholer pants and some water-proof boots. I recently put a cheap LED head lamp on my helmet - It was only $5 at Northern Tool, and it shines,so when I make eye-contact with drivers, they get flashed. Plus, it's got a kick-ass Mad Max vibe that I am really enjoying this week.
The gear was a great combination - I was comfy and dry. I have some rain pants that I need to find - if it was any colder, I would want them, but at 45 degrees, I was just fine in this outfit (although I probably looked like some sort of clown from a Mad Max Movie to the casual observer).
Please join me in welcoming our newest Minneapolis bike blogger to the "blogosphere" (I hate that term). Yes - Hercules T. Rockefeller got off his butt and started a blog recently!
His site is Minneapolis Bike Nice (we'll see if there's a legal dispute about the name). Thanks for the shout out, HTR, and welcome to the club. You'll be getting your Minneapolis Bike Blog member ring, and a copy of the terms and conditions and the non-compete agreement in the near future. Please sign and return a copy to everyone else with a blog and you're good to go.
I laid in wood for the winter today. It was a trip down to the garden center rather than a trip to the forest, but it still felt like getting ready for winter nonetheless.
The 1/2 cord I bought this year is quite a bit larger than the 1/3 cord I bought last year (sorry for all the fractions), so that's good - math still works at least. Last year 1/3 cord kept us, but I am feeling that it's going to be a longer winter, and there's some peace of mind that comes from having wood. I think my little fire wood rack is groaning under the weight of the load, however.
Despite the larger load, the work was easier because the weather was fine and the spouse helped me out for the last part of the load, which was much appreciated.
We are back from a long weekend in Connecticut. We lived in CT for about 2.5 years while I worked on a project out there. We left Connecticut for Anchorage in 2003, and then returned to MPLS in 2006. My time in Connecticut was difficult, but it was transformational in several ways. We had not been back to Connecticut since our departure in 2003, so I was curious to see what (if anything) had changed.
It's clear that the recession has hit the Nutmeg State pretty hard. I saw closed stores, many more homes for sale, and other stores that had greatly declined since we lived there. Our B&B host had an interesting comment - she told us that the recession had hurt, but they realize now that things had begun to turn for the worse several years before the recession officially began.
Connecticut is a bit of a conundrum; yes, the Gold Coast, Blue-blood, limousine liberal stereotype of parts of Connecticut has some real truth to it, but parts of the state are very working class, or quite rural, and in a lot of ways just as... um... backward as dear old Wisconsin.
Similarly, I have mixed feelings about the state; to this day, I am simultaneously attracted to, and repulsed, by Connecticut. The limousine liberal, Ivy League, political correctness (which can approach the totalitarian intolerance of the Taliban) repulses me, to say the very least. However, the eastern hardwood forest, the history and the Atlantic seaboard birding is very intriguing and I enjoyed those aspects of Connecticut a lot.
The hiking in CT is some of the very best we have ever experienced. The Blue Trail system is a true jewel of the state. We had the Mattabesett trail in our backyard when we lived there, and we have never hiked so much, or enjoyed hiking so much, as when we lived in Guilford. The Connecticut Forest and Park Association looks after the trails and publishes a very good guide to these trails. They are well worth supporting. Another interesting book on the landscape of the Northeast is Reading the Forested Landscape by Tom Wessels. I learned a lot from this book and had the good fortune to read it early in my time in CT, so I was able to make sense of most of what I found in the woods.
We also visited Haddam and Higganum, two small, very old towns on the Connecticut River due east from where we used to live. I always thought this part of Connecticut was particularly creepy. It's dark and gloomy, and evokes images of Ichabod Crane being chased by the Headless Horseman. Keeping with this theme, we stopped at the Burial Grounds for Thirty Mile Plantation in Haddam. I love the old cemeteries of Connecticut, and this is a particularly good one. I read, and still have, a copy of an interesting book on Puritan cemeteries and burial tradition called Graven Images. It's a very interesting read that's as much sociology as history.
And finally, the birds...
I hooked up with Jerry Connoly (owner of the Audubon Shop in Madison) for his Saturday morning bird watching field trip yesterday. A mere $4 admission got me a front row seat with one of the better birders in the Northeast, and we hit a birding hotspot near Madison that is always productive, it seems. Plus, the salt marshes at Hammonasset State Park are always beautiful, and Fall is particularly nice. Our best bird of the day was the Hudsonian godwit, but the Palm Warblers, Pectoral sandpiper, Cooper's hawks, and probable Red-throated loons were good as well.
So, I have proved to myself that if I could bum around Connecticut watching the birds, prowling the cemeteries and taking in the rural landscapes, I would be very happy indeed. Still, it's good to be home and back at my desk. More photos from the Connecticut adventure are available on the Flickr site for your viewing pleasure.
I girded my loins for a venture into the suburbs (believe it) and drove to Fridley this morning to help out Mr. Michael Recycles Bicycles with a recycling day effort.
It didn't help that we had the first snow of the season last night and it was probably in the high-20's when I left at 7:30 this morning, but it warmed up pretty fast and turned into a pretty nice day.
Something like 100 bikes were dropped off today, and of those, about 50 were salvageable. These were loaded onto trailers to be hauled back to the MMRB shop on Prior Ave. in St. Paul. The remaining bikes became on-the-spot-tear-down projects. Tear-down amounts to removing anything that is not metal from the bikes, hauling the carcass over to the scrap metal dumpsters and putting the plastic/rubber into the garbage.
It was hard work; I was outside about 7 hours today doing this. My hands ache and my face feels wind-burned, but it was fun and we did good deeds, which counts for something.
I was most impressed with the number of people that were hauling in electronics and scrap metal to get rid of - when I arrived at about 8:00 this morning, the line of cars waiting to get in stretched what would be equivalent to about 4 city blocks, and this was an hour before the gates opened. The amount of waste is simply staggering.
I am getting too many hits recently on an old post for MMRB, so here is a compilation of MMRB information to make thing easier for all of us.
No, I am not a shill and have no affiliation with this shop; I just like their mission and have fun hanging out with them...
Mr. Michael Recycles Bicycles (MMRB) is a not-for-profit bike shop in the Midway (as we know, easily the hippest part of St. Paul). Basically, they collect discarded bikes, fix them up to safe condition and give them to needy folks. They do sell some things in the shop to cover expenses, but mostly this is a ministry - the bikes are placed with families and individuals that need them and can't afford them). It's a good place to look for used parts, cheap frames, and wheels (not racing wheels - think polo wheels). They had a really nice Campy Nuovo Record component set the last time I was in there as well as a sweet mag trainer (winter IS coming).
I have volunteered there a few times, and will be doing so again this weekend. The owners are great - Mike and Benita take this ministry seriously and they work hard and take care of their volunteers. Both have full-time jobs and do this in their spare time, so the hours of the shop are a little sketchy. This month, they are open Sundays from 12:00 - 4:00, Tuesday's from 7:00 - 9:00, and Thursday's from 7:00 - 9:00.
I'll post some pics from Saturday's adventure, but if you are looking for a winter beater, fixed gear frame, need some parts to make a "vintage" bike work, or want to do something good, look up MMRB.
Check back later for pics and tales of the Fridley recycle event.
Today was a test of my gear and my resolve. Despite steady, cold rain, I got on my bike and rode to work this morning.
It went well. I wish I could tell you a story about how challenging this was (There I was, staring into the teeth of the storm....) but the whole thing was sort of a lay-up.
I have a bike with fenders and a rack, and some waterproof bags, so keeping my office clothes and my ass dry was not too much of a challenge. I also have lights, so visibility is fine as well.
For on-the-bike attire, I opted for a rain jacket and my usual canvas-like knicker/rock-climbing pants that I have been wearing all year. The rain jacket is quite nice; it's from REI and I bought it last year at some end-of-season sale. I couldn't find my full-finger gloves, so I went with some fingerless gloves instead. Much to my surprise, despite the 45 degree temps, I was just fine with those.
The opportunity for improvement is on the lower half of my body; the Kuhl knickers have been excellent for general riding/commuting in good weather, but they get wet, obviously. In warm weather I don't really care about getting wet, but some rain pants would be a good addition for cold rain. Also, I don't know what to do about my feet - I wore some broken-down running shoes today and got wet feet. It was not cold enough to be a problem, but if it were any colder I might feel otherwise. I suppose neoprene booties or something is probably the correct answer, but the fact of the matter is that as short as my commute is (5.5 miles one way), I can probably get away with sub-par gear and save a little money.
It was raining on the way home, too, but my stuff dried out pretty well during the day, and once your home, who cares? I was glad to get a chance to test my gear (and not suffer in the testing), and I was glad that I still wanted to ride despite the weather. It was very satisfying to be the only bike locked up at the IDS Center ramp today, too.
Six days ago I left for Portland and the 9th International Symposium on Environmental Concerns in Rights-of-Way Management (ROW9). This event rolls around about every four years and is the only professional conference specifically addressing environmental issues affecting linear facilities (pipelines, power lines, etc.). Consequently, we have been active in the leadership of this conference for years and send as many as six of our staff to present papers at the symposium.
Last December, I was recruited to step in as the "acting" Chair of the ROW9 steering committee. Soon after that, "Acting Chair" became "Chair" because who would want that job? I agreed because I value the symposium, have tremendous respect for some of the people on the steering committee, and appreciate the value of this event to the industry (and, at the rate things were going, this may well have been the last one, so someone had to do something).
I have never done anything like this in my life, and it was a scary learning experience, but the upshot is that it was by all accounts a rousing success - we had about 350 paid attendees (which amazes the hell out of me since the economy has been so bad) and we were able to bring in a number of well-done research and case study papers this year.
As intimidating as some people find it to speak in public, or to stick their neck out at a major professional event, I found having to be "on" all of the time to be more of a challenge. Opening the event is easy -- but being energetic and interested at the end-of-the-day mixer, and then going out to dinner with a client after that, and putting in two more full days is Another Thing Altogether...
I proved to myself once again that I am no extrovert; I can bluff it for awhile, but eventually I have to retreat to my cave and gather back my energy.
I am really happy it all went well and our staff's papers were well received, and now with the momentum from ROW9, I am certain we'll have a ROW10 that is bigger and better, but for at least the next couple of days, I plan to pull back into my shell and keep to myself for awhile.
After keeping an eye on the left front tire of the Mighty Tundra for a few weeks, I determined that I did, in fact, have a slow leak. The Spouse drove it in to a local purveyor of automobile repair services this morning and when I came home today after work, she had this sheet metal screw laying on my keyboard for me. It looks like it might be a license plate screw.
At any rate, what with this thorn being pulled from the paw of the Mighty Tundra, I am reminded of Androcles and the Lion at the moment.
After a near-miss accident in downtown Minneapolis on September 9, I have been more consistent in using lights in dim conditions. I don't know if it would have prevented the mashing I almost received on 9th Street, but it certainly would not have hurt my odds (on a side-note, I've also been wearing my dorky yellow PDRMO* vest as well).
After some research and hand-wringing, I sprung for a set of Nite Rider dual lights about two months ago. Yes, the Nite Riders are expensive, but the sting of that was offset somewhat by a coupon I earned via Do.Cycle miles that I racked up by commuting on my bike (I am also down a shirt size, too).
The Nite Riders are great - they attach in less than a minute, fit all my bikes, and they are very bright. They have a day-visible flash mode that I have been using on early morning commutes and in rain/gloom. I think the flashers really make a difference; I have noticed fewer cars turning in front of me (I think) and it's obvious that I get more attention from pedestrians, which I think correlates to more attention from drivers as well. It's also a lot of fun to zoom around the IDS Center parking ramp with the strobe blazing away; it scares the shit out of the lawyers shuffling to the elevators.
On the rear end, I am running a Super Flash. This seems to be way better than this POS that keeps falling off my bag and smashing on the ground - it's a miracle that blinky still works, but it does, so I still have it laying around somewhere.
My ultimate favorite flasher is the "UFO". It's made by a company called Filzer. The UFO is a tiny (but bright) LED flasher that clips onto a messenger bag, under-the-seat bag, or even a zipper pull. It's got a "rotating" setting, a flash setting and a steady setting. The thing is essentially weightless and is only about an inch long, but it's very effective. The clip is well-designed and because it weighs so little, it never bounces off the bag. The things only cost something like $12 (CDN), too.
Testimonial: I was riding back from MMRB on Prior Ave. in St. Paul at about 9:00 PM earlier this summer. A couple in a car pulled up beside me while I was waiting for a stop light. The passenger in the car rolled down her window and told me how great the light was ("We saw you from two blocks away! Where can I get one of those!?"). I told her that sadly, the only place I have ever found these was in Canada. I found mine (both a white and red one) at Mountain Equipment Co-op in Calgary. I wish-wish-wish a good local bike shop would start carrying these units.
It's getting noticeable darker, so I expect I'll be using these more and more in the coming weeks (and hopefully months). And I hope they work for me.
Earlier this summer, I started a loose and fairly unorganized series of Dutch-treat lunches for Bike Lovers (and their friends) who work downtown. The mission is to meet up somewhere on the third Thursday of the month, more or less, get out of the office, and get to know some other bike riders. Anyone can call for a lunch at any time, but we at least try to meet once a month.
Our "Downtown Dining Club" has its own thread on MBL. So far, we have gotten together at Peter's Grill, Asia Max, My Burger and maybe one or two other places since its inception. I think Sorento, Black Bamboo and some Chinese place in One Financial Plaza might be on the list as well.
Today, the DDC thread sprang to life - not because someone declared "Lunch On" but because somebody (not one of us, thank goodness) "reportedly" found a dead mouse in their salad at a local restaurant. That's so nasty I can't begin to tell you how nasty it is. The Downtown Dining Club link has a photo; the "dead mouse" link has the full story.
Anybody that's interested in joining us can subscribe to the MBL thread, or just watch it, and find the next time and place. We won't be hitting the mouse salad place anytime soon, though.
We signed up with a CSA this spring for the first time ever. I was a little nervous about it (would we be able to keep up with the produce?) but for some reason I was stoked to do this.
We were blessed to have friends that were willing to split a share with us, so I pulled down the CSA guide from the interwebs, back in March, did some research, and landed on Big Woods Farms.
Why? Because they don't deliver the to the Seward Co-op. Pretty much every damn farm I looked at delivered to the Seward co-op, which I don't care for and is not on my route(s). I decided to start an insurgent insurgency and split from the program altogether and go with an outsider.
Big Woods drops off at a house near that coffee shop on 50th street and 28th Ave. in So. MPLS (Nokomis Beach?) and has been in business for over 15 years, so they seemed like a good bet. I called them up to sound them out and they were great on the phone; friendly, helpful and not full of themselves. I signed up that night.
The produce has been great; we have gotten a bushel basket of veggies every week since June, it seems. This weekend was the "Fall Harvest Fest" at Big Woods. We headed down to Nerstrand to help out with the squash harvest, scored some of the best pumpkins we have ever had (absolutely no kidding) and took a bunch of extra squash home for ourselves and our share-mates. Well worth the time for the harvest and well worth the money for the share.
Much of the credit for the success of this goes to my lovely wife, who took the lead role in recipes and cooking for the produce. There's no way I could have kept up with this and eaten it up on my own.
This is well worth doing if you like vegetables. If you want to eat better, or want to improve your diet, this will be a challenge for you; the produce comes every week, and it doesn't keep all that long (although CSA stuff keeps longer than grocery store produce). If you are committed, this would be a great way to improve your diet and keep your food-dollars in the community. If you don' like to "eat healthy", this would overwhelm you in the first month - don't try it.