Mar 31, 2009

Mt. Redoubt Eruption

The Anchorage Daily News has some interesting photos of the Mt. Redoubt ash fall in Anchorage and the surrounding area and the plumes from the recent eruptions. Here's a sample of two from the over 120 photos readers submitted at ADN. The ash fall has been a pain for the folks up there. It's high abrasive, so it's bad news to get in your eyes, breathe in, etc. and it's hard on car finishes, air filters, etc. Hopefully the worst is over, but for geology nerds, this is fascinating stuff.

Bonehead Moves, Park Tool and Strategic Reconfiguration Phase 4

Note in the photo at right that although the bike owner has removed the front wheel to secure it to the frame and rear wheel, s/he missed the pole entirely. This turns a securely locked bike into a convenient car-trunk-sized package that anyone can carry off to work on the u-lock in the comfort of their living room (with a tasty cold beverage beside them, no less). 

I am embarrassed to admit that I actually did the same thing about two weeks ago running a quick errand at the shady little convenience store on Cedar Ave. and 47th street or so. Luckily nothing bad happened.

On an unrelated note,Lennard Zinn penned an interesting piece on Minnesota's own Park Tool Company in the latest VeloNews. I like all the Park stuff I have and I like that they are local. It's a good example of a small company that found a niche, kept quality high and was able to carve out a name for themselves through good times and bad times.

On another unrelated note, I unloaded another bike yesterday. The fixed gear is gone. Or at least the frame and crank is. I still have the wheels, which are newish and quite nice (and some bullhorns, too for that matter). I may sell those separately or may keep them to maximize operational flexibility in the future. At any rate, I am now down two bikes for the year (the Pug) and the fixed gear conversion. I found both of these to be kind of impractical for me, so I was lucky to be able to send them to better homes where they will each loved and ridden by good people.

And that makes room for the possibility of Phase 4 of the Strategic Reconfiguration, maybe. I am thinking perhaps a 650B all-arounder. Something to fill in the space left by the trusty Cross Check, which is now an Xtracycle conversion. I really think that X is going to be great, but that leaves me with a road bike that sports 700x25 high pressure tires or a mountain bike, and I am thinking something a little more relaxed with some wider tires, room for fenders, etc. might be a useful addition to the stable. 

We'll see what comes to pass. 

Mar 30, 2009

Wind Turbine Syndrome?

Oregon News ran an article this weekend, I think, about health issues associated with wind turbines. "Wind Turbine Syndrome" apparently manifests itself with symptoms that include headaches, dizziness and memory loss. This is attributed to prolonged exposure to the noise of the turbines and vibration.

I don't know about that - I have to believe that living near an airport or an intersection is noisier than living near a wind farm. But I also know that anger, stress and frustration can take a very real physical, and emotional, toll on a person, so maybe there is something to this.

I am not sure know what to think. I have seen videos of turbines on You Tube made specifically about the noise issue - some say wind turbine noise is not a problem, others maintain that is a serious issue that is impacting anyone who lives near these units. Neither side seems to be particularly objective on the topic, and I suspect the true answer comes down to design and operating conditions, with older turbines being worse than new turbines.

At any rate, people are rising up and opposing this supposedly green energy source with the same vigor that I have seen applied to "dirty tar sands" oil and other conventional fossil fuels. I think the real challenge here is siting - we are all familiar with NIMBYs (Not in My Backyard) and you may have heard of BANANAs (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything), but the fact of the matter is that good sites for wind farm development are finite, and sometimes people live near those sites. And not every site is suitable for development, so try as we may, we are going to have siting conflicts with wind turbines, just like we do with transmission lines, pipelines and power plants.

Mar 29, 2009


A poem by my sister-in-law, Amy, about my Father-in-law. This was read at the wake a week ago, and we are glad to get a copy of the text.


He worked hard, and loved it, and grew a seed farm. 
He grew a reputation: fair and honest, no harm.

With father and brothers, hired men and St. Isidore,
the Seed Farm served its purpose: fed and educated us all.
With the Soybean Board and Crop Improvement
he expanded markets and furthered the movement.

He guided his customers as he would’ve his own,
he grieved the crop failures . . . he spent hours on the phone
to find those early beans, to connect this load with that,
he’d keep a guy afloat -- that stayed underneath his hat.

And there was church and finding readers,
and the DFL, promoting leaders.
The Navy gave him sea legs, he took soybeans round the world,
Elderhostel, blackjack, Texas Hold-'Em kept his mind unfurled.

Then he’d come home, 
so late and tired,
he’d come home,
and eat his supper,
he’d come home, 
and greet his family,
then he’d go back 
to tend the mill.

But he was there most every supper,
He was right there in the pew,
He loaned chapstick or his hanky,
His blue bathrobe healed the flu.

He taught beanwalking in summer, and some hot afternoons
he’d pack inner tubes and screaming kids and off we’d go
to the cool blue Bass Lake! where we’d have
lessons about leisure: Great Scott! and Pete’s Sake . . .
we’d worked hard and could play hard, take a dip at the lake.

He’d take pictures and show slides, risk R-movies, teach to drive,
hand out presents every Christmas, make us laugh until we cried.
He was there for every sacrament, he was there, just right behind,
he conveyed confidence in our efforts, we saw evidence of pride.

He laid the foundation, framed walls to stand tall,
launched nine kids safely, 

now he’s left us
we will not fall.

He was the cool to our mother’s heat. 
He was detached, sometimes a relief.
At Valentines we got a glimpse: 
the Knight, on a dog like this . . .

our old man, 
who loved Joanne.

For he was there and he was ours.

He showed that hard work,
good records, prayers and plans;
lived deeply, 
with room for fun

was how it’s done.

Mar 27, 2009

Cyclopath Needs Your Help

Back in October, I ran a short post about Cyclopath, a geowiki aimed at Twin Cities cyclists. I got an email earlier this week from the good people behind Cyclopath looking for some help from the cycling community to make Cyclopath better. I edited it a bit to fit in the links, but otherwise here's the info straight from the source....
Dear Cyclopath Community Member,

Spring is almost here, and we at Cyclopath Headquarters would like to enter the mainstream cycling season as the best resource we can be.

Some parts of the map still need attention from human eyes and minds -- i.e., yours! To make this easier, we have made two major improvements:

1. We have made Cyclopath's editing tools easier to use, and we have produced videos showing the systems's features and how to use them. You can view these tutorials online
right here.

2. We have created a system which will automatically direct you to areas of the map that need work (more bikeability ratings entered or edits to the geography of the map itself).
This link will take you to such an area and provide instructions.

Please click the link whenever you have a few minutes to help the Cyclopat community. This work will improve the Cyclopath experience for all cyclists, particularly improving the quality of computed routes.

If you have any questions, reply to this e-mail or contact

Thanks, and we hope you enjoy Cyclopath!

Reid Priedhorsky
Mikhil Masli
Loren Terveen
and the rest of the Cyclopath team

Mar 26, 2009

Where Water and Energy Converge

A co-worked sent me a link today to an interesting Wall Street Journal article that talks about how water (or lack thereof) is beginning to influence the selection of electric generation options in the West. One of the constraints that needs to be evaluated and managed when siting conventional generation is water. Conventional generation requires a steady stream of water for cooling and/or steam. However, water is a scarce commodity in the West, and that scarcity is making wind power and solar power, which do not require large volumes of water, to become a more attractive option.

How significant is water use for electric generation? According to the article, power generation accounts for about half of all water appropriations in the U.S.  (that's a lot of water, believe me).

I am pro-alternative energy, but I keep coming back to the fact that for a stable economy we need reliable energy, and for that we need reliable base generation. Tolerating brown-outs and lost productivity because it's cloudy or the wind is not blowing would not be an acceptable energy policy in our world as we know it. 

However, these disadvantages can be mitigated to some extent (thought not entirely) by maximizing use of alternative electricity sources in favorable locations (and by the way, not all locations are favorable). There is clearly a need and a place for solar and wind in the energy mix, but there is also a place for coal, natural gas fired peaking plants, and dare I say it, nuclear energy in our generation portfolio.

Mar 24, 2009

Falling Slowly

A very pretty song from Glen Hansard (of The Frames) and his sweetie Marketa Irglova. They did a sound track together for some movie that my wife saw and she connected me to this song.

Side note - it looks like it would be a long and difficult assignment to be Glen Hansard's guitar.

Mar 23, 2009

Transit Battles Back

Hub and Spokes recently flagged an interesting article on the apparent resurgence of mass transit. According to the New York Times, ridership on mass transit in 2008 surpassed the levels seen prior to the construction of the interstate highway system. 

When you consider population growth since then, it does not seem like transit is making that strong a comeback, but one of the most interesting statistic in the NYT article is that the use of public transportation in the United States has risen 38% since 1995.  That trend continued despite the resent drop in gasoline prices, as a matter of fact. One transit pundit quoted in the article observes that this is the "leading edge" of a push for more public transportation and more walkable neighborhoods. 

Let's hope so.

Thanks for pointing that article out, H&S. The full text of the NYT article can be found here.

Mar 22, 2009

Minnesota Birding Calendar

I have imbedded the HTML code from a Google calendar that I developed tonight to capture phenology data and field trip dates from the Minnesota Ornithologist's Union publication Minnesota Birding. I am entering repeating occurences for median arrival dates, so eventually, I will end up with a pretty comprehensive phenology calendar, but so far it's just March and April. The calendar can be found at the very very bottom of this page.

Signs of Spring

Headed out to the St. Croix river valley late this morning to look for signs of spring. Prescot, WI has seemingly been abandoned by the waterfowl, who are sick of that scene and exploring newly opened water elsewhere, apparently.

I motored north to Afton State Park and was treated to sightings of Eastern meadowlarks and Blue birds. I expected the Blue birds - those things are thick over there, but I was pretty stoked to see the meadowlarks. I don't recall seeing meadowlarks at Afton previously - it may be that prairie restoration projects are getting to the point where grassland bird habitat is better, or it may be that I just caught migrants moving through. These two looked like they were fixing to stay, however.

Here is a poor photo of the meadowlark. The digital zoom on my camera leaves a little to be desired (I know... poor is the craftsman that blames the tool) but you can kind of see his awesome yellowness on top of a Blue bird house there in the middle of the photo.  I thought this was a little early to find a meadowlark, but Janssen puts early arrival in early to mid-March, so I guess that's right on schedule.

The last sign of spring was Minnehaha Parkway. It was just... infested with people on bikes, kids on bikes, people walking dogs, people walking, people on rollerblades, etc. It was a parade out there. Everyone seems glad to have a little warm weather and they'll take it inspite of the stiff breezes today. 

I agree.

All Kinds of Good

Pardon the product plug, but I've just got to spout off about my Chrome Mini-Metro bag. 

I have been using* a large Banjo Brothers bag occasionally for commuting and errands (usually I use* some panniers, but for odd sized stuff it's hard to beat this bag). It's great because it's big and waterproof. But it's almost too big to use for anything else. The Chrome bags caught my eye awhile ago, and I succumbed to their siren song about two weeks ago. 

It works well on the bike and I find I can do most my odds-and-end errands with just this. I am very fond of the seat-belt buckle closure on the strap as well, and it seems every bit as water-tight as the Banjo Bros. bag. The smaller size is nice because I find I use it off the bike as well. It works well on the bus and I tend to dump in whatever book I am reading**, binoculars***, camera****, notebook*****, etc. on road trips as well.

My only gripe is the price. I will be the first to tell you that the Banjo Brothers stuff, across the board, is a wicked good value. I've got the big mess bag and two(?) under the seat bags and they are very nice and very reasonably priced. The Chrome stuff is arguably a little better looking, or at least more stylish, but you pay for your vanity with Chrome. Still, I expect this to last a good long time and think it will be a very useful addition to the arsenal, so I think I got a good value here.

* and by "use" I mean "Rock" (or "Rawk" as you prefer).

**Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace

***Nikon Prostaff, 8x25

****Olympus Stylus 790 sw

*****Moleskine (the notebook of Hemingway and Picaso)

Mar 21, 2009

Mike Willette
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
My Father-in-Law, Mike Willette, passed away on Friday at the age of 79. He was without a doubt one of the most diligent and hardworking men I have ever met.

I first met Mike in 1987 or so, when Molly brought me out to her parents house to meet them. for the first time We had been going out for awhile and it was time to meet the folks, so we piled into her K car and headed from Madison, WI to Delavan, MN, arriving late at night, after everyone else had gone to bed. There was a note on the counter instructing Molly to "put me in the basement" (it turns out there was a guest bed down there).

We got to know each other during that visit, which included a trip to the local watering hole with Molly, playing "500" and on an errand (that I think was fabricated) that he and I did to go pick up a computer that was being repaired in Wells, MN. That side trip started with the now famous words, "The roosters need to get out of the hen house". We stopped to admire the new Wells waster water treatment facility on the way back. It was actually a lot of fun.

I was lucky enough to marry into the family in April, 1990. He and his brothers ran the Willette Seed Farm for many years, taking over from their father. The farm was a very impressive operation, and was the source of many funny stories and fond memories (The Big Stuck is a favorite). Too many stories and memories to even begin to try and capture in this post.

He was great, he was a role model in many ways, and we are all going to miss him very much!

Right-Click on Mac!?!

For the most part, I have been very happy with my Mac Book. It's been trouble-free, fairly easy to use and has more than enough power for what I do on a computer. My only real frustration has been the lack of a right-click feature. I do a lot of those "right click" functions regularly and miss the ease of grabbing a link or a photo when I see something on the internets that grabs my attention.

It turns out this is an operator problem, and not necessarily a Mac short-coming. Here's how to right-click. The short answer is hold down the *control* while clicking. Awesome. Now if they would just put a USB port in back, or on the right side of the computer, to support the mouse....

Mar 19, 2009

I Love This Photo

cement granville at dusk
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
Molly took this photo on Granville Island in Vancouver a few weeks ago. I moved a copy of it to the Flickr site tonight because I like it so much.


So Far, So Good

On the bus
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
The move to car-light has gone surprisingly easily, so far.

I turned in my paid parking pass at my office on March 1 and have been getting to work on a "Go-To" card with no real problems or inconveniences, and for the most part, I have been able to use my bike for the other miscellaneous errands.

It's a lot easier than I anticipated to not use a car at all during the week because of my 9 to 5 (actually more like 7:30 - 5:30) job. I can take either of two routes into downtown and the time difference between them is only about 10 minutes, so I take whichever bus comes first. I read book, don't talk to my Bus Friend, and then walk a few blocks downtown and I am in the office. Piece of cake. On the way home, I can get off at either Bloomington Ave. (close to home) or Chicago Ave. (close to some shops) so I can generally fend for myself to and from work. Minor errands are easy on a bike and I have a grocery store, a convenience store and a dry cleaner close by (within walking distance, in fact), so that helps.

I had to go into the office this weekend and rode in for that errand. Luck was with me, as I said before, because it was warm and beautiful (but a little windy) on Saturday.

I will not likely become a car-free zealot; I can see a place for cars in most people's lives and do not resent people for owning and driving them. I can, however, also foresee becoming a one car family in the not-so-distant future. With the Mighty Tundra sitting idle in front of my house, I wonder if someone else could perhaps put it to better use. That said, it's paid off, I like the truck, and I can afford the insurance, so I am not inclined to make too hasty a decision about that. Perhaps a loan to a needy and worthy relative might be in order...

Mar 18, 2009

Pipe Dreams

Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
A long, but very good article from Conde Nast's Portfolio.Com on Sarah Palin and her role in North Slope gas development. If you are a Palin fan, you won't like this article, but it is very well done and I find it to be quite factual.

I forgive them the title - it's a well worn cliche that the press cannot resist and I have seen it on every project I have been involved with.


Mar 16, 2009

Twin Cities Street Cars

If you ever come across a road in REALLY bad shape in Minneapolis, you can sometimes see evidence of street cars under the pavement. I saw this on Bloomington Ave. south of 38th Street last fall. I came across this interesting video from the Historical Society on the history of Twin Cities street cars tonight and thought it worthy of sharing for those of you that are into transit. 

The Sweet Smell of Success?

Based on Nickel's suggestion an an unslaked thirst for literary fame, I sent a previous post to Bus Tales and it got published. Sweet! I had not seen this site before, but Bus Tales has some funny stuff on it. Thanks for the suggestion, Nickel!

Mar 15, 2009

5 x 5

I learned tonight that the expression "five by five" has it's roots in radio. I have heard people use this expression when they mean "good" (for instance, the Space Marine piloting the landing craft in Aliens announces to the crew of final decent "We are in the pipe five by five").

The short answer is that 5 x 5 is the best possible rating for loudness and clarity. The long story is more involved, but it still amounts to "loud and clear".

Mar 13, 2009

Bus Friends

On March 1, I turned in my paid parking pass in the IDS Center ramp and exchanged it for a bus pass. It seemed like the right thing to do on a few levels; it saves my employer a little extra money each month and we are watching expenses like everyone else, I live close to three bus routes that can take me downtown, including one that is a limited stop route so I really don't have a decent excuse, and it's more incentive to ride my bike.  Plus, it was apparent that most of my car trips were only to the office and back.

The bus experience has been good. It requires a little more planning around departure times, but I am enjoying being able to read, or just zone out, on the bus. You can't do that driving (or at least you are not supposed to). I also like that it controls how late I work. I tend to get into something  at the office and will stay later than I would like. Finally, I admit to feeling a little righteous about it as well.

I also find Minneapolis bus society to be interesting. I already have a "Bus Friend" that sits with me in the morning. I get on at one of the very first stops on the limited stop route, so I can grab a seat no problem. 

Once all of the entirely empty seats are taken, the dynamic changes; people getting on the bus have only about 3 seconds or so size up everyone on the bus and decide who they are going to sit with. My Bus Friend gets on at this point in the route. Generally, she will glance around the bus and nonchalantly come over and sit with me, probably because I look like I bathe and probably won't be too creepy. 

I like my Bus Friend although I have no idea who she is, where she is going, what her name is or what she does. It's a surprising rich non-relationship. Here are the general rules as I have come to understand them for building and maintaining a healthy Bus Friendship:
  • Don't really acknowledge them - this is a subtle friendship. You can nod at them, but much more than that starts to get a little creepy.
  • Try not to look at what they are reading, that starts to get a little creepy, too.
  • Act like you could care less if they sit with you or not. Being eager to sit with you Bus Friend is a little creepy.
  • Watch out for your bus friend; if their mittens fall on the disgusting floor let them know; don't help them too much or things start to get creepy.
  • Do not breathe through you mouth when sitting with your Bus Friend.
  • Always sit in the same location if you want to keep your Bus Friend. Changing seats from your usual spot says to your Bus Friend "Fuck you! I moved so you won't be able to find me!". Nobody needs that kind of rejection at 7:00 AM. Unless you mean it.
  • If your Bus Friend does not show up one day, but is there the next day, it is permissible to raise your eye brows in acknowledgement when you see each other. Anything more than that gets kind of creepy.
Essentially, I have concluded that to be good Bus Friends, you both need to make a (silent and mysterious) commitment to each to be friendly within a narrow spectrum, and avoid being weird or creepy. Bus Friends provide a valuable service to each other - it's a little familiarity and also some insurance that weird or creepy people won't come over and sit with you. 

I find maintaining these carefully orchestrated non-relationship to be one of the more interesting aspects of my bus ride. Although, I have to admit that the fact that I have  thought so much about Bus Friends is, in itself, probably a little creepy.

Mar 11, 2009

Bon Voyage, Little Cat

I am very sad to say that my trusty, 19-year old cat, Martha (aka Little Cat or simply "Little"), has passed on.

We got her almost 19 years ago from some trailer park kind of duplex in South Minneapolis. We thought at the time that she would be a good companion to Big Cat, who came into our lives about one year earlier. It turns out Big and Little never really got along all that well, but they reached A Certain Understanding and were companions, if not buddies, for nearly 10 years.

Big Cat passed on when we were living in Connecticut, back in 2002 or so, and Little really came into her own after that. She became the queen of the castle and very much enjoyed being the only Cat. Big was a very large black and white tuxedo cat, and was very close to Molly, while Little was smaller, long haired grey and white with unusual markings, and she was more bonded to me.

Little (and Big) accompanied us from Minnesota to Connecticut. Neither of us will ever forget driving from Minneapolis to Guilford with two cats in the back of my Jeep. After the Northeast stint, Little came with us to Alaska, and from Alaska back to Minnesota once more. She was the most well-traveled cat I have known. She prospered in each location, and easily became a Connecticat, and then an Arctic Cat, and finally a Minnesota kitty once more.

One of her favorite things was to sit in my lap while I read the paper and push her head into my left hand, using it like a sling. She would zone out for along time while I read the paper and drank my morning coffee. Her second favorite thing was to sit on the desk next to the computer with me while I typed, surfed, blogged, etc.

She had a great life and we enjoyed having her in our life a lot. I wish she had seen one more summer, sitting on the deck in the sun, but it was not meant to be. We will miss her (a lot), but understand that things change. And I expect we'll meet up again at some point down the road.

Mar 8, 2009

Where the Heck Have I Been?

Vancouver! That's where...

We returned late yesterday from a 3.5 day weekend in Vancouver. Vancouver was fabulous! Possibly the best trip we have ever taken. 

The Vancouver skyline is dominated by "see-throughs". These are glass skyscrapers that appear to be almost all identical. Apparently, these were built around the time China was reclaiming Hong Kong. Many Hong Kongese feared life under Chinese rule, and built get-away condos in Vancouver. It turns out that life under China is not so bad, and many of these potential ex-pats never made the move, so many of these are empty. Nevertheless, they rule the skyline and are quite striking.  There's also a bunch of cool neighborhoods, a nice downtown, a drug-infested hell hole part of town, and lots of nature right out of the city. "Kits" is hipper than anything I have seen in MPLS, as well.

Vancouver looks like a cycling paradise as well. Many many of the streets have designated bike lanes that are almost as wide as the car lanes, and most of those that don't have a designated lane have sharrows. The only downside is that there is almost nowhere that's flat. It would be a challenging introduction to hills at the beginning, but I saw many riders and they were all kicking ass on the hills, so I am sure it's do-able.

Lots more Vancouver photos, and a very short video of Friday morning Tai Chi club, at the Flickr site located over here.

In other news, I heard Warren Buffet on the radio tonight talking about how this economic downturn has really changed peoples behaviour [note the honorary Canadian spelling] as a result of this economic crisis.  I agree. I am seeing fewer cars on the road, I think, and I personally gave up my paid downtown parking for a bus pass this month. I figure it's incentive to take my bike to work more, and even on bad days there's no reason I should not be riding the bus since I live to a convenient route. The only thing I am surrendering, really, is some freedom on when I leave work. So far, so good. And I find that I actually like planning to catch a bus because it make me wrap things up more neatly and gets me out the door on time (It's hard to argue with "gotta go - gonna miss my bus!").

Finally, we are also zeroing in a CSA and going to give that a go this summer. We are still a little nervous about drowning in vegetables, but we are likely going in with a friend so we have a little bit of a pressure valve there (sneak a few extra into his bag when he's not looking).

That's the news for now. Take care and watch out for tomorrow's 8 inches (of snow, that is).

Mar 4, 2009

So Long, Kookie!

While reading the Anchorage Daily News on-line today, my eye caught site of an unexpected headline to a small article:

"Bald Eagle Carries Off Chihuahua Puppy"

That's what I like about the Daily News - they don't pull any punches or sugar coat the story.

The full text of the story, which happened in Homer (the hometown of Jewel!) can be found at the Homer Tribune.  When I was in high school I knew a girl who lost a pet hamster to a hawk once, but this is somehow more shocking. If this can happen in Homer, it can happen anywhere, I guess that's another reason to keep your pet on a leash.

Sorry - I love animals, I really do. I just could not resist that.

Mar 1, 2009

Late Winter Walk

Critter Tracks
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
The wife and I walked around Fort Snelling this afternoon for a much-needed change of pace. We were rewarded with the sighting of a dozen wild turkeys (they were walking along the road, heading to the officer's club from what I can tell). Many skiers were out and about and the birds were very active. Despite a very cold start to the day (-7 at the house), there was even some warmth in the afternoon sun.

As we round the corner into March, I am glad to begin putting this winter behind us. I long for warn evenings, thunder storms, the smell of rain, and going bare foot.

For now, I have to settle for thinking about that, but maybe within the next month or so, I'll start getting some of my wishes.