Jun 30, 2009

Mystery Tool

Jaws Open
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
At a garage sale in Phillips recently, I came across a fantastic old tool of some sort. I have no idea what it is, but I had to buy it. It appears to be solid brass, and has a handle that opens to spread two jaws with hooks on the end apart a couple of inches. It's got a dog on the underside for mounting in a work bench.

The worksmanship in this thing is amazing. All of the parts are machined and it's stamped with a manufacturer name and serial number or something. More photos of the mystery tool are located at the Flickr site.

If any readers have ideas on what this might be, I would love to hear your thoughts. I plan to send photos to the Historical Society as well, so we'll see if they have any ideas as well.

Infinite Summer

One of the best books I have ever read, on average, is David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest (IJ). I say "on average" because it's a little inconsistent. I finished it about three weeks ago, and loaned my copy to a friend that is interested in reading it.

Last weekend, a friend alerted me to Infinite Summer. It's an on-line book club sort of thing where we have a schedule and participate in a discussion via blog. Brilliant!

I am now heading for another couple of months of IJ, this time with the benefit of a discussion group.

So far, so good. I am getting much more out of the book on the second reading. I am pretty confident that DFW has some of the best descriptive writing I have ever experienced. At times it seems like the book is about to fly apart - plots don't tie together, long subplots don't seem to be advancing any themes, and some times it's just difficult to tell what's going on. Plus, it's wicked long - 1079 pages or so. Extensively footnoted. Many words that never, ever come up in daily useage (fantods being one of my favorites).

This go around, I am going to read it on the Kindle, which I think will be competitive advantage because the Kindle has the New Oxford American Dictionary (a theme of the book and the only place you will ever find some of the words in the story) built right in. I have had more than my fair share of advanced literature, so I think I'll be able to hold my own in the discussion as well.

I am also eager to get back into the book (or any book) because I find that if I am not reading something, I tend to be a little less creative and less likely to write for pleasure, so perhaps this will help to summon the muses as well.

Jun 24, 2009

TLC Bike Walk and Adopt a Project

I went to a Transit for Livable Communities meeting tonight. The main thrust of the evening event was to recruit concerned users to monitor/sponsor/adopt a project and then work the phones, take photos, send letters and emails, etc. to keep these moving and make sure that bike/walk commitments and opportunities are pursued during development of the projects. TLC passed out maps of the funded projects and a spreadsheet with some basic information (project name, TLC project number, grantee and completion date).

One thing i concluded is that there's something seriously wrong at The City if they are not keeping the funders apprised of project status and are not being accountable for delivering these projects that are approved and funded. That's pretty basic project control activity and would cause a lot of problems if somebody tried to do this in the private sector.

I was really disappointed to see the lack of attention that downtown MPLS is getting in these projects, but I won't go off on that issue again here. The fact is that that there are no plans to increase bike/walk ability on east-west routes downtown and the only north-south attention is Hennepin Ave.
So, given that, I looked at the map again to see if there was some other project near my routes that I could at least get behind. I saw one that looked good called the Southern Connector. I can't tell exactly what the project is from the information I got tonight, so I googled it and the only hit that looks close is this.
Not much help.
If you don't have the time or curiosity to follow the link, I'll tell you it takes you to TLC's own page, with a URL that says "Southern Connector" but you get a "Page Not Found" message.
I hope this "Adopt a Project" effort works. It would be very frustrating if these projects got funded but not followed through on. That said, "Adopt a Project" seems like kind of band-aid measure to me, however. I think the underlying problem is going to take more than volunteers hassling the City to get them to follow through. TLC and The City need to look at bigger, organizational and process level solutions here or we'll be chasing City people around trying to get things done for a very long time.

Jun 23, 2009

The Trouble with MultI-Modal Transit

Bike at Bus Stop
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
With construction tying up downtown MPLS like a Christmas present, I considered going multi-modal a few weeks ago. My plan was to walk my bike north a few blocks to the light rail station, use my transit pass to board the light rail, and then let LRT carry me serenely out of the chaos and noise of downtown to something like 50th street or the VA station, where I would debark and have a pleasant ride home.

As I approached the light rail station, I watched the train pull slowly away without me. Groaning, I swiped my pass and stood there for about 5 minutes, waiting for the next train, which was due in about 5 more minutes. Finally, a small, quiet voice in my head punched through and screamed "YOU HAVE A DAMN BIKE! WHY ARE YOU WAITING HERE?!

Good question.

I had no good answer. I got on my bike and rode home, and have not tried that since then.

The Joys of Pressure Washing

I am absolutely convinced that more men would do housework if you could use a pressure washer inside. I got a very basic, home-use pressure washer two weeks ago and it's about the best toy ever. I pressure washed the deck the day I brought it home and did a bunch of lawn furniture for a friend tonight.

The deck was what finally got me to move on this. The estimate we got from a handyman to pressure wash the deck was something like $220. Unbelievable. I bought a new pressure washer at Home Depot for $150 or so and did it myself. Plus now I have the pressure washer. It's not a super high pressure unit, but it's plenty adequate for what I need to do.

If anyone wants to come over and pressure wash a mountain bike or Cross bike, shoot me an email and we'll work something out. Something like this is too good not to share...

Jun 22, 2009

A Friendly Town

The conventional wisdom is that hot, steamy weather makes people cranky. That wasn't my experience today, despite a reading of 94 degrees when I left the office this afternoon.

The day began with a hearty "Bike Love!" from somebody that passed me on Park Ave. just about 7:30 AM this morning. I hollered back but don't know that greeter was. On the way home, I rode with a guy on a really slick folder (forget the name; it was German, I think). We chatted about folding bikes, the merits of 650b wheels and frames for commuting most of the way from downtown to about Lake St. before we parted ways.

It was hot, hot, hot, though. When I got home I ran through the sprinkler like a little kid and then broke out my special Anti-Monkey Butt powder (seriously). I feel much better now. Tomorrow is supposedly going to be worse, but I am going to go for it.

Jun 21, 2009

The World is Less Safe Now...

...because I have an angle grinder! A friend gave me a used one today in appreciation for help with a number of things. I can't wait to use it.

I am not sure what I am going to do with it, except grind stuff. I am suddenly seeing all the metal, tile and concrete in my neighborhood in a whole new light (and by a whole new light I mean GRINDABLE).

You'll probably want to keep the kids and pets in the house for awhile until I get tired of this thing.

Jun 20, 2009

Odd and Ends

On Thursday, I met up with a friend for a beer and some mandatory appetizer's ("we're not a bar and we're in South MPLS so you need to order food, too") before going to the grand opening of Full Cycle.

Publicly available information on Full Cycle is spotty, at best. I know that it gas some affiliation with Pillsbury
House, and that QBP is a sponsor.  The phone number of the place is visible in the photo of the front of the shop. It's on Chicago Ave. between 35th and 36th Streets.

The mission is good - they work with
disadvantaged and homeless youth to put them on bikes and give them some skills around bike repair. That's something I support, so I headed over to mark the occasion and place a few bids on the silent auction fund raiser. We'll see if I win anything...

This would be a good place to hit if you are looking for a used bike or a frame for a fixed gear project. Some decent Cannondale and Trek frames, and a crazy number of Fuji's for some reason. No hidden treasures that I saw, and I even prowled the basement.

On to the intrigue...

I responded to a mysterious solicitation on MBL the other day and plan to participate in a cycling focus group. It's apparently being led by a market research firm to get feedback on some sort of new cycling technique. We'll get a review of a new book covering these techniques, try them out for ourselves, and get a gift for participating (sweet - another water bottle).

For the life of me, I can't imagine what these techniques could be. "Spinning" was discovered back in the early 1980's. Aerodynamics shortly after that. What could this Next Big Thing possibly be? If it's really innovative, I look forward to having the inside scoop and dancing away from everyone else as early as a week from today. I am really intrigued to find out what this is all about, but I am also bringing my Kryptonite in case things get weird and little U-lock protection becomes necessary (just kidding, Mom). I plan to bring my camera and will take some photos if that's allowed, and will report back next week with the details.

Lastly, I quit Facebook last week after giving it about 5 months or so. It was kind of fun at first, and I liked being able to make "friends" with people on MBL or that sometimes read this blog, but for the most part, I'd rather spend my screen time on this site and monitoring friends blogs. Nothing against Facebook - after trying it I can see that it serves a purpose, it's just not quite for me.

Summer arrives tomorrow. Balmy fragrant mornings are totally the fruit at the bottom of my yogurt parfait. Get out and enjoy it before it's gone.

Jun 17, 2009

In Case You are Wondering: The Top 50 Bike Blogs

At Least London Cyclists' opinion, that is. Check it out, you might find one you like.

Oil $110/bbl by Next Year?

The Energy Letter ran an interesting article recently that I caught today at work. I have seen recent press releases from both ConocoPhillips and ENI stating that the recent increase in crude oil prices is not supported by actual demand. With demand down and reserves near capacity, prices should be stable, but in fact they are rising to the highest levels since November 2008.

What's up with that?

The author suggests it's not those treacherous speculators, but rather futures based on lagging production. I subscribe to that theory. I believe we'll have a spike in oil and gasoline prices next year as demand picks up and production lags. You can't just turn a drill rig on instantly, and there is going to have to be sustained demand and higher prices for production to increase to meet demand and pull prices back down. 

I don't if $110 is the correct answer, but I would venture that "significantly higher than today" will be a pretty accurate forecast.

Jun 16, 2009

Beautiful Bed for Sale!

Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
I am selling a beautiful solid oak bed. It's a double, not a Queen, but it's solid oak and finished by hand. I am hoping for $225 or so. That's a heck of a deal for a piece like this, but I am helping out a friend here and we want to move this piece out of the garage. Comment if interested and I'll be in touch to arrange a viewing time.

Sweet dreams!

Jun 13, 2009

The First Really Nice Day of 2009

It was readily apparent that today was the first really wicked nice day of 2009 in Minneapolis. Sunny, warm, low humidity. It was awesome. 

We met friends for breakfast at the BW and they had the windows up and the breezes were coming in. And it was good. The Spouse and I then rode over to another friend's house in Kenwood this afternoon and it was an absolute free-for-all on the Parkway and around the Lakes. 

I am absolutely convinced that commuting downtown by bike in the rain at rush hour is safer than riding on the Minneapolis bike trails on a warm sunny day. Huge numbers of people out today. Bikers, walkers, rollerbladers, dog-walkers all claiming the day. Lake Calhoun was crawling with sunbathers (I thought that was out what with skin cancer and all). It looked like some sort of Red Cross mass-casualty drill with all those people laying around on the ground. 

On the negative side, if you drove your car, yoy had plenty of time to enjoy the weather because traffic was a freaking mess. Both I-35W and I-94 have large sections of road closed in MPLS today due to construction, so that shunted a lot of traffic off on to Cedar Ave. and plugged up the Crosstown most of the day. Better to stay on the bike or the deck today. Also on the negative side, I am missing the Fat Tire Tour of Milwaukee this weekend, but another weekend out-of-town didn't sound good and I had some things flare up at work late this week that kept me home, so maybe next year...

Tomorrow should be even nicer. I am hosting a company geocaching event over at Hyland Lake Park in Bloomington on Sunday afternoon, and we could have not gotten luckier with the weather. Hopefully people will have some fun and not get too much sun, and hopefully the ticks won't be too bad.

Jun 11, 2009

The True Cost of Infrastructure Improvements

The current onslaught of road repairs is really trying my patience. Those that have been here before know about the Marq2. It's got downtown tied up like a Christmas present and will for the rest of the summer. It drives me nuts partly because it has got traffic messed up and has rerouted buses, but now the noise is positively giving me the howling fantods. Sitting in my 10th floor office I listen to a Vac truck about 7 hours out of the day right now. No wonder I have been out of sorts...

If that's not enough, these photos are from my very own neighborhood. We are getting our water mains "relined", whatever that means. Vogon Destructor Crews arrived in Northrup a few weeks ago and chopped up the pavement, erected barriers and dropped mounds of dirt here and there.

What's interesting is that I have never, ever seen these people working. Not once. Never. They must keep banker's hours, because I can see signs of activity, but I have never actually seen anything happen.

I am sure the project is expensive. You can't even put up a stop light without it costing an unbelievable amount of money, so this has to be big bucks. But I am certain none of the estimates for these projects take into account the hassle-factor from people that are directly affected. 

Good thing, that, or The City would probably lay on one seriously hefty special assessment on me for all this mess.


Every now and then, something happens in your everyday life that fits a song perfectly. Life really should have a sound track.

Today's song:

"It's the sound of my ego spinning out of control
Sounds in my head that might never come out
Stuck in my head, and forever reverberate -
How do you pluck them out?"

Supposedly, all the music on this actually a synth and NOT a guitar. I don't know if I believe that.

NOTE: Bob rides a bike in this video!!

Jun 7, 2009

Meet the Bronze Queen of the Lake

Enough of waiting for summer! I braved the cold breezes and headed to that mysterious lake known by some as "Nokomis" this morning to try and lure the Bronze Queen of the Lake from her hiding place. 

Armed with a bag of my secret "Dough Ball  Delight" recipe, I patiently plied the waters of the mighty Nokomis, and was rewarded with this beauty. The runs were angry and the battle fierce, but in the end, I brought her to my feet. Interestingly, the hook broke as I was freeing this magnificent creature. 

To think how close I came to losing this trophy...

EDIT: For those of you that have earned the Boy Scouts "Finger Printing" merit badge, you will no doubt notice that the middle finger on my left hand sports the "tented arch".

Jun 3, 2009

Transmission and Wind

I came across a very good paper produced by National Grid on technical and policy constraints surrounding wind power. It's interesting to note that "the grid" was largely developed on a utility-by-utility basis. In other words, each utility system operator built a network of generation and distribution based on their specific geographic areas needs. Makes perfect sense when you think about it, but one of the consequences of this is that it can be difficult to move electricity from new/unconventional sources into the grid, particularly if those sources are a long way away (e.g. North Dakota). 

It's also good to see that the problem of wind power intermittency (e.g. no electricity because the wind is not right) is perhaps not as big a problem as we might have thought. There was/is a concern that wind generation would have to be supplemented with an array of gas-fired peaker generation to cover demand and maintain deliverability while wind conditions are not favorable. It looks like that may less of a problem than expected, which is good, because generation plants are not cheap.

I find the regulatory reforms described in the paper to be innovative and probably necessary if wind is ever going to truly be a major source of electric power.