Sep 30, 2010

My Position on Ads

Hear me comrades!
I note that many blogs display advertisements;
A trend I understand in this difficult economy.
We have all felt the impact in one way or another.
That so many of us have lost jobs cannot be denied.
However, I feel that
Advertising on this space would perhaps...

Compromise my editorial integrity.
Yea, verily - the freedom to speak one's mind without
Concern, or fear of repercussion, is a core value to me.
Long will I defend this right.
Each author must stand for what they believe.
Readers must as well.
Yes - that's my position on advertising.

Sep 29, 2010

Improvement for the Worse

As I sawed through the newspaper, catching up on how Bristol Palin faired on "Dancing with the Stars" and why I should consider installing a flat screen TV on my deck, I found myself staring pensively out the window, contemplating our current status as a nation.

We got ourselves off to a good start, that's for sure. We were founded as a nation of do-it-yourselfers, and a little self-conscious about our home-spun roots. The pewter craft of colonial America (yes, Paul Revere, et al) was a calculated, premeditated movement to demonstrate to England that we, too, could make nice stuff, even if we were a frontier colony. We also worked hard early on to establish colleges and universities that could rival Cambridge and Oxford, to prove that Europe did not have an exclusive on knowledge.

But I think what we are best know for is not this little chip-on-the-shoulder, but rather innovation. That old "Yankee ingenuity". We built the Golden Gate bridge. We settled the frontier (with atrocities along the way), built the railroads and cities and then rose to feed the world, according to the history books.

Sadly, we seem to be lacking that sort of drive and ethic these days. Our bridges are falling down, our pipelines are leaking, steel is made in Japan and bikes are made in Taiwan, and the pyramid scheme of housing was brought down by lenders who didn't understand the basic concept of risk.

A friend sent a link to a recent post on Gin and Tacos that I think sums it all up better than I can. The link is worth reading, but here's a toothsome quote:
"The real issue, and I mean the real, honest-to-god Problem With The World Today, is that Americans as a nation are dumb. Really fucking dumb."
I think that author is on to something. I don't stop with the premise that most Americans are simply stupid, however. Rather, I assert that we have made ourselves functionally stupid.

I think we've improved our lives enough, and eliminated enough predators, to effectively nullify the role of common sense and situational awareness in self preservation, therefore we are simply de-evolving into idiocracy. Honestly, the only predator I face on a regular basis is traffic, like the bus in the bike lane at the top of this post. If I can manage that, I really don't need to fear for my life for the rest of the day.

I think I am right on this, but I am not sure what the call to action is here. There might be a few basic actions that most of us can take with relative ease that might help to stem this troubling tide and help make the nation safer for thought and craft. Things like:

  • Try not to live further away from your work than you could walk or ride a bike;
  • Grow at least a little of your own food;
  • Read more and watch TV less;
  • Learn to knit, sew, can and do basic repairs by yourself;
  • Cook from scratch, and;
  • Cooperate with neighbors and share resources like snowblowers and lawn mowers.
These actions would be more hassle, but the planning that would be involved would be good for our brains, the skills gained would benefit our arts and letters, and the collaboration involved would be good for our communities and neighborhoods. 

And it would be a lot more sustainable than what most of us are doing currently.

Sep 26, 2010

The Latest in Frame Protection

Oh My God
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
This gem turned up Craig's List earlier this week. I see it's still out there.
"this is a hand built Italian aluminium frame.set up as a single speed with a new bottom bracket new crank orign 8 tiki bars ritchey stem ritchey carbon seat post carbon fiber fork velo seat new pedals fsa headset shimano alfine chain tensioner will need a spacer for the chain tensioner to get the right chain can single it or make it a is painted with truck bed liner witch makes it very tough it will resist almost anything it is shiny now but get flat when it cures fully is it really cool and very tough. 450.00 but open to reasonable offers. would like to sell it today. 23"frame"
Good Lord. Why anyone would glop bedliner all over a bike is beyond me. Probably the same school of thought that drives people to spray a popcorn ceiling in rather than actually fix the plaster and water damage. Yeesh.

Sep 25, 2010

Love is All Around

No, I have not had some sort of conversion or an epiphany about the true nature of universal love.

More importantly, I have found the MP3 version of Husker Du's immortal cover of "Love is All Around", better know as the the theme song from the Mary Tyler Moore show. Although the hysteria is settling down, pride of place has fueled a long-running love affair between Minneapolis and Mary Tyler Moore. We have a bronze statute of Mary on Nicolet Mall that recalls the point in the opening credits where she throws her hat in the air, reruns of MTM used to run constantly on cable TV and people still point out "Mary's House" to each other over by Lake Calharriet.

One of my favorite local homage's to MTM is from the influential Minneapolis band Husker Du. They recorded a cover of Love is All Around that I have only ever heard on Youtube videos. Apparently this was released on a B side at one point, but never made any of the albums. The Husker Du version of this song crushes the Joan Jett cover like a grape, and what's more fun is that they filmed the video for it on Nicolet Mall and in the IDS Center, riffing on the opening of the MTM show pretty shamelessly. Between Bob Mould's voice on this and the driving Husker Du chords, it's got a lot better sense of place and captures Minneapolis better, I think.

Today I found the downloadable MP3 version of this song. It's located right here.

Here's to small victories.

Sep 18, 2010

Gentleman Cyclist's ABCE Ride

Peace Garden Stop
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
I rode the All-British Cycling Event with the Gentleman Cyclists today. And by "today", I mean "all day".

We met up in a parking lot in the scenic North Loop at 9:00 this morning, and after a rousing rendition of "God Save the Queen" on the harmonica by Pete (Wrong Way) Jourdain, we rolled out.

It turns out that I was not properly attired for this ride. While I was comfortable despite the cool, damp weather, I was wearing no tweed and no knickers; I looked more like an urban bike anarchist than a gentleman cyclist. Being gentlemen, they accepted me into their ranks nonetheless.

The route took us through a lot of Minneapolis and St. Paul, with plenty of stops along the way (Freewheel Midtown, the Peace Garden, lunch at 48th and Chicago, a pause at Minnehaha Falls, another stop overlooking the river over Hidden Falls, tea in Crocus Hill, a ramble around historic St. Paul, etc.).

We made it back to the parking lot by about 5:30 or so. All told, probably somewhere around 37 leisurely miles. The Gentleman Cyclists are indeed gentlemen - the company was great and the ride was enjoyable. I think, though, that I am going to have to spin off a more hardcore 3-speed faction that rides faster, takes fewer and shorter breaks and ventures further afield. I imagine more shants, tattoos and earrings in this group, but since it doesn't exist yet, we'll have to wait and see.

Perhaps we will call ourselves The Gentleman Cyclists "Corps of Discovery" because "3-Speed Adventure Society" seems to be taken already. Maybe the 3-Speed Adventure Society is accepting local chapters; I'll have to check that out.

Sep 16, 2010

PVD and The Daily Planet

The Daily Planet
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
Business took me to Providence, RI (with a side-trip to Boston) this week. I haven't been to Providence for about a year, so it was interesting to see how it's faired over the past 12 months.

For the most part, Providence looks good for a Northeast city; there are several new buildings on the edge of downtown and the area I was staying in was tied up in knots by some sort of movie production that was being filmed a block from my hotel. Lots of trucks, people with walkie-talkies, cables all over the ground and lighting systems arranged around the streets. It felt vibrant and fun.

The best discovery of the trip was not recent, however. Thanks to my fractured Spanish, I was able to converse with my cabbie enough to learn that PVD has a long history in the film industry. In fact, the skyscraper that is now housing the Providence operations of Bank of America previously served as the headquarters of "The Daily Planet" (workplace of Clark Kent and Lois Lane) during the 1950's version of Superman. I did a double-take and sure-enough, my Spanish didn't fail me - this building was, in fact, the Daily Planet.

Damn. For all the times I've been to PVD I have never noticed this before.

I gave the cabbies a generous tip for that little pieces of "Place" trivia.

Sep 12, 2010

Andover Recycling Day

Much of my Saturday was spent in Andover (where?) helping out at a recycling event. MMRB works several recycling days a year, taking in bikes people are tossing out and bringing the "keepers" back to the shop for repairs and placement (for free) with people that need them.

I had worked last fall at the Fridley recycling day with MMRB and had heard that Andover was usually a bigger event, so I was eager to give Andover a go and the date fit with an open weekend, so I packed my tools, stand and a table and met the crew in Andover about 8:45 AM.

The work at these events amounts to mostly stripping down bikes that are too far gone, salvaging what's worth saving, tossing all the plastic and rubber garbage, and recycling the metal while we are at the recycling event. The goal is to not bring "tear-downs" home since they take up space in the storage units and take time to tear them down. Plus, there's the problem of disposing them. So much better to keep up on the tear downs while we are there if possible.

We did pretty well on the keeping up. In addition to the "staff" of MMRB, we were joined by Mitchell from Leonardo's Basement and Minnesota Roller Girl Barbie Brawl (really and truly). Leonard's Basement sounds fascinating - it's an educational program where children and teens can learn welding and metal working and make things under the direction of some creative, skilled people. After talking with Mitchell, I think I need to get over there and check it out.

I lost count of how many bikes came in, how many came home and how we (or I) tore down. The photos are the two loads of bikes that went back to the shop - there were a few more in the bed of my truck as well and we had to leave a few more behind to get later.

These events are tiring, but they give a person that good volunteer feeling. I swear that I use my pedal wrench more in one day of recycling than I do the entire rest of the year. That's when a good tool pays off.

Sep 10, 2010

Eggs and Harshing Somebody's Mellow

Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
The ride home tonight was more engaging than usual.

After nearly getting left-hooked at Portland and Franklin (so much for front and rear lights and a hi-viz vest, I guess), I headed south on Chicago. There's been a hospital construction project going on most of the summer at Abbott Northwestern. I noticed today that they finally got around to installing the art. Several gigantic eggs were installed on both side of Chicago Ave. sometime during the day, it seems.

These will be great for photo tag.

Further south, I was bumping along somewhere around 35th street when I spied a young guy ride north in the south bound lane (the infamous bike-salmon). He's smiling ear-to-ear and holding his right arm up in the universal gesture for "hello" and "halt".

I kind of stared him down and swung out a little further into the lane to make room for this clown without breaking cadence. As I we met, I said "Wrong way, Dude" and kept pedaling on by.

His grin vaporized and he said "Oh..." and dropped his arm.

Only then did I realize that this poor guy was hoping for a friendly "high-five" as we passed. I felt kind of bad about harshing his mellow (I am such a curmudgeon). He was going the wrong way, though, so I bolstered myself with a shot of righteous indignation and proceeded homeward.

The high-five is kind of a nice bike fellowship gesture, I guess, but there will be a lot of lost teeth if this ever catches on. I prefer to holler and wave to other riders, myself.

Sep 8, 2010

Headlong into Mediocrity

This past holiday weekend we packed a picnic lunch and headed north to Banning State Park, near Sandstone, MN. I have always liked Banning, despite an ill-fated May camping trip we took there early in our marriage that resulted in the most amazing wood tick infestation I have ever seen. Regardless of the ticks, the Kettle River in this park is spectacular, and there are not one but two historic sandstone quarries within the confines of Banning and Robinson Park, immediately south of Banning.

These quarries were vibrant from 1910 until the 1940's or so. Sandstone was quarried to make some beautiful buildings in downtown Minneapolis like this one and this one, and was used to construct the iconic Stone Arch Bridge. Small pieces of stone not suitable for building were either used for railroad ballast or chiseled into cobblestones and used to pave streets. In fact, I am pretty certain I rode over a block or two of cobbles from these quarries in Crocus Hill during our most recent 3-Speed Ride.

What brought about the end of stone construction and the supporting quarry business? The advent of steel frame and concrete construction techniques. I defy anyone to name a beautiful steel frame/concrete building, yet stone construction was brought to a halt by this advance in technology. Skeptical? Ladies and Gentlemen - I give you Multifoods Tower.

It's this way with a lot of things. Another case in point is furnaces. Forced air hear is the default in new construction. Not because it's better, but because it's cheaper to install. Radiant heat works great; the boiler in my 90-year old house has been replaced once, but all the pipes and radiators are original. The heat from the radiators is even - it does not heat up the room, then cool off until it switches on again. Also, radiators are not dusty and don't dry the air out as much as forced air heat does. Unfortunately, you need plumbers, or at least pipe fitters, to install radiant heat. Virtually anyone can do the sheet metal work required to install ducts for forced air heat. So, although the system is inferior for the entire life of the building, we all end up with forced air in newer buildings.

Similarly, plaster versus sheet rock. It's hard to even find qualified people to re-plaster walls in old homes. Stucco versus vinyl siding. Quality paint jobs versus powdercoating. Faux town squares in the suburbs versus the real downtowns that were decimated by the stripmalls. I could go on and on but neither of us has the patience for that...

In his September 2 podcast, Jim Kunstler speculated that the retracting economies and crumbling infrastructure may actually move us away from the modular, pre-fabricated, mass-produced construction techniques that have seemingly made America unable to construct anything that looks good, and back towards a more local, craft-based approach to construction. I hope that's true, because it's really insulting and numbing to keep getting crappy crap that looks like crap shoved at us when you see so many reminders that a little skill and craft can have such a positive impact on the built environment.

I have to go lie down now.

Sep 5, 2010

Early Fall Rides

The weather has taken a decided turn this week; after what seemed like weeks of hazy/hot/humid, we were treated to a distinct chill in the air, and I saw my first flocks of geese flying south in "V" formation on Wednesday.

These bright, crisp and clear days of early Fall seem the best for riding. I have taken advantage of this with two recreational rides in the past two days. The first was the "noob" ride. Our original plan was to ride the north half of the Grand Rounds, but we changed up our route plans on the fly to accommodate a few people that wanted to hit the gravel ride, which was leaving our from M'haha Falls at 5:00. The northern route would have put the gravel ride out of reach given our 3:00 start time.

Instead, we rode along the river, through the U of M campus and down through Hidden Falls, missing a turn sort of on purpose to look at Crosby pond, then heading back across the river on 55 through Fort Snelling before parting ways.

This was a fun, easy ride - I had not been to Hidden Falls yet this season. It was great to meet some new people, as well - other than Kyle, who parks next to me at the bike rack in the IDS Center, I had not met any of these people previously. That was my primary motivation for convening another noob ride; they were all fun to hang out with and enthusiastic about the ride and the day.

Today was our third MPLS Bike Love 3-speed ride. This ride was also cross-posted on Gentleman Cyclist, so we got a few new people to come out today, which was great. Today's route was a convoluted meander through the scenic neighborhoods of Cathedral Hill and Crocus Hill, some of the more historic neighborhoods of St. Paul. We rolled by a house that Sinclair Lewis rented and very near another that housed F. Scott Fitzgerald, so the glamor of days gone by touched us briefly during our outing. Those neighborhoods are still beautiful today. It helped that Gary narrated as we went, being a local and all.

One of today's unexpected treats was a participant that showed up on a 1915 Raleigh cross-frame bike. This was a true artifact, and tricked out with period-correct accoutrements including an old light and map case. Here's a link to a video of this very bike made at the 2009 ABCE ride that's worth looking at.

The 3-speeders are a scene unto themselves. Every bit as fanatical and into the gear as hard core roadies, it turns out. I blundered into my 1974 Raleigh Sport because it was ridiculously cheap and a nice project for the summer. I was kind of drawn in by the quirk-factor, but this bike has turned out to be kind of fun to ride as well. I don't know that I'll ever be as driven as some of these folks when it comes to old English bikes, but I have registered for next year's Lake Pepin 3-Speed Tour already, and I am contemplating participating in the ABCE event in New Brighton in a few weeks as well.

I have done damn little recreational riding but one hell of a lot of commuting this season. I clearly need to re-prioritize my life or something.

Sep 2, 2010

The Joy of Rain

Raleigh M-200
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
I finally got a decent rain-ride in this morning. I left the house to face a steady, warm rain that continued to the edge of downtown.

It was fabulous. I really like riding in rain - at least warm rain.

Earlier this summer I scored a low-end, aluminum Raleigh mountain bike that had been single-speeded for a very favorable price. I tricked it out with some Freddy fenders and lights, but other than that, this bike is un-modified (by me). This is now my go-to mount for "bad weather"; it comes out when it's wet, snowy or dark (yes - I count darkness as "bad weather").

I find that having a bike like this makes riding in poor weather a lot less of a big deal because I am not worrying about the equipment, which I find liberating. I am also comfortable locking this one up in sketchy neighborhoods, too, which is a nice bonus.

Singled out, I am not going to set any speed records, but I do think that I ride a more consistent pace on a single speed. That's borne-out by the fact that I am not that much slower on the single as opposed to my multi-geared bikes. What's more, the single speed gives more feedback, conveying minor changes in topography and wind conditions, and the lack of shifting makes the ride a pure and simple exploration of cycling.

Couple of Rides

This evening I saw the first flock of geese flying south - a harbinger of the coming winter, no doubt.

Spurred by our slide towards the dark times, I am pulling together a few rides this weekend. The first is a MPLS Bike Love "Noob" ride. We will be meeting at Gold Medal Park at 3:00 PM on Saturday, Sept. 4. For those not in-the-know, "noobs" are people that are new to a forum. On Bike Love, I think people make it past noob status at 20 on-line posts.

I think a better definition of "noob" (and the target for this ride) is anyone that may be new to the forum - or - may be a long-timer that has not actually gotten out and ridden on a group ride like this very much. The point of this ride is to get out and meet some new people, maybe make some friends, and have a cheap good time. Each and every one of you is welcome to join the noob ride, whether or not you have an account on MBL. If you are at all interested in meeting some other bike riders and seeing the sights of the MPLS riverfront, northeast MPLS, Theo Wirth, the Greenway, etc. get yourself over to Gold Medal Park and we will be happy to welcome you. The route will probably something like this.

The second ride of the weekend is a 3-speed ride. We'll be meeting at Trotter's Cafe in St. Paul at 10:00 on Sunday, Sept. 5. This ride will be a meander through some of the nice neighborhoods in St. Paul, including Crocus Hill. If you want to come early and have a cup of coffee at Trotter's, I'll probably be there. Otherwise, we will roll-out between 10:00 and 10:15 for this Gentleman Cyclist style adventure. I think this has also been posted on Gentleman Cyclist, so we may have some new (i.e. non-Bike Lover) 3 speeders there) as well. A lunch stop will be a very good possibility give the time, location and participants. If you don't have a 3-speed, we won't criticize you, but don't shift too much.

That's the plan for the weekend, so if you have time and interest, we'll put the welcome mat out. Ride safe!