Dec 31, 2010

The Things I Carry

The Things I Carry
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
Photo documentation of the everyday things I carry in my messenger bag or briefcase.

From left to right:

- Dale Earnhardt signature disposal lighter that I found at the airport . I don't smoke, but it's good to have the capability to burn stuff now and then.

- Cheap mechanical pencil from the office. I accidentally bring about 3 of these home a week. Periodically my wife rounds them up from around the house, puts a rubber band around them, and tucks them in my bag to send them back to their native habitat. This one escaped that fate - at least thus far.

- Sharpening steel - this is really nice. I have no idea where I got this, but it's the best knife sharpener in our house. I hope I never lose this thing.

- Titanium spork. Titanium!!

- A nice waterproof ink pen (also from the office, but this one was given to me, so it's not really misappropriation of office supplies).

- A really big USB jump drive with a rubber armoured case. These are handy as hell if you blog or swap photos and files with people. I have two of these, one in my bag and the other at the office.

- Tactical flashlight. This is from Cabella's and it's blindingly bright. It shines white or blue. Why blue? Blue is useful for following blood trails. I have never gotten to use that feature, but it's there just in case I feel like doing that at some point in the future. Good to be prepared.

- A wireless internet USB device. My brother gave this to me for Christmas and I love it. Never to be stranded without the internet again. Virgin wireless, pay-as-you-go, no contract. Freedom, sweet freedom.

- Memory card USB device. This enables me to snarf photos from my camera's memory card on to a PC without a cable and without using the camera's battery. Very handy.

- Lens pen for cleaning binoculars, spotting scopes and sometimes computer keyboards.

- Not visible but very much present is a lens cloth for cleaning my glasses. That's tucked in one of the pockets, behind the flashlight.

All of this fits in a Maxpedition pocket pack, which fits neatly in BDU cargo pockets, messenger bags, etc. I use at least one thing from this pack just about every day of the week.

Dec 30, 2010

A New Project is Brewing

Happy in the car
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
I completed my second wheel and brought that in for a final blessing from the high priest of spoked things this afternoon. The wheel, which will be the front half of a pair of Deore/Velocity Synergy wheels I built for the Rawland, turned out well. I took this home from Hiawatha laced but not tensioned or trued. In the basement, I got the wheel up to tension, fixed an out-of-round problem and then got it trued up quite well. Jim tweaked it a bit but it only needed some minor attention, so a pat on the back to myself. I am feeling as smugly satisfied as Coltrane the Cat for that one.

Last night over glass of wine at the Dakota, my wife confided in me that she is curious about riding single speed after I sang its praises this year. That set the wheels in motion (no pun intended) and I am hatching scheme involves building a flip-flop single speed wheel using a Sun CR18 rim for a Phillips 3-speed that is cluttering up the garage. I'll keep the 3-speed bits but swap out the wheels for a true single, drop the gearing down to about 64 inches or so and see what happens.

I think it will be a success. She likes the bike; it's comfortable and upright so she can look around on it, and it's got nice old British style. Worst case scenario and she hates this contraption, then I have a second set of Sun rims and an extra flip-flop hub laying around, all of which I can find a use for in about 4 minutes.

With the holidays nearly over, it's good to turn to another project to fill the winter evenings.

Dec 27, 2010

Epiphanies and Hard Fought Battles

Last summer when I was driving back from my parents house in Wisconsin on a hot Sunday afternoon, I happened upon a car accident that was in the process of being cleaned up. The crash happened at the intersection of Delaware Street and Highway 110 in Invergrove Heights or Eagan or whatever. It was hard to tell exactly what transpired, but one thing was readily apparent - a little station wagon had one of those "press to walk" poles speared right through the window and dash board.

How does that even happen? Those poles are attached to the ground very well, but it must have been sheared off by another vehicle and flown through the air end over end, hitting the station wagon just right and with enough force to impale the car like an  hors d oeuvre. I can only imagine what the driver of the station thought (an extreme variety of "WTF" no doubt) when s/he collected their senses after this incident. If I didn't get the photo, I would not expect anyone to actually believe this story, but there it is for your consideration.

I have been reflecting on wake-up calls/revelations/epiphanies/life changing moments and was reminded of this photo, so I dug back in the Flickr pile and pulled this out. If getting your car speared by a pole on a clear sunny afternoon is not a wake-up call, I don't know what is.

I personally know at least two people that have had personal wake up calls; one involved a lightning bolt that hit a tree near where they were standing; the other was a more routine but very effective health scare. I've had one of these myself (sort of). I was flying in a small plane coming back from an administrative hearing in rural North Dakota when we had to take emergency evasive action to avoid another plane over the western suburbs of Minneapolis. Although I am generally a nervous flyer, the whole expereince (steep dive, hard turn to the north, another climb and then re-routed over Wisconsin) was strangely serene and beautiful, that's how I know it was a "close call".

I suppose if anyone lives long enough, it's inevitable that they get a wake-up call at some point. Unfortunately, I also suspect that most revelations are not bolts of lighting that are over in an instant, but instead are long, slow drawn-out processes of self discovery fueled by vague dis-satisfaction, frustration, a feeling of stagnation, or maybe even failure.

The trick here is discernment, and recognizing personal challenges and unhappiness as a means to finding what's wrong and setting it right rather than as an end in itself (i.e. one's destiny). It would be so much easier for most people if they could just buy a life-changing experience at the mall, but that's not an option yet.

I hear Apple is working on that, however.

Dec 23, 2010

Merry Christmas!!

frosted pine
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
I'll be off the air for a few days, but I wanted to wish you all a very merry Christmas, happy holidays and best wishes for the New Year. Thanks for stopping by and reading this blog, and thanks for your comments.

Have a safe and festive weekend!

Dec 19, 2010

Getting Stuff Done

My energy level has been much better the last couple of weeks. Accordingly, it's been a busy but satisfying weekend. Saturday started early with a wheel building class at HCHQ. I had signed up for one of these earlier, but demands at work precluded me from making that appointment, so Jim was good enough to move me into the December class.

I had all the components, which I had purchased about two years ago, I think and never gotten around to successfully building. It was good I waited, though, because I swapped out the hubs I had for some disc-specific Deore's and now these will be used on the Rawland.

The wheels (at least the one I finished completely) turned out very well. I am very pleased with myself for completing this. It's been a goal for some time, and with the guidance of an experienced builder, I picked up some useful tips that I would not have gotten from pouring over Sheldon and Jobst's musings.

On Saturday afternoon, I picked a new snowblower. It's not a monster, but it's certainly bigger and more powerful than I the little one I had been using. This unit is a Toro 722 (e.g. 7 horse power and 22 inches wide at the mouth). It's a 4 cycle, so no more mixing oil and gasoline, too. I cleared out the neighbors back parking pad for her in anticipation of snow tomorrow and then tacked my bus stop, which has been absolutely impassable for over a week now.

If it were just us, I could have made do with the smaller snowblower, but I am clearing out neighbors quite a lot this winter, so I am rationalizing this as an altruistic thing, but really, it's a lot of fun to blast snow all over the place. Still, I think the riders of the 14 and 133 will appreciate not having to scramble over snow banks or wait in the street for a bus. I am still debating with myself whether or not I'll try and send a bill to the City for this service. That might cut down on the good karma, however.

Tomorrow will be another adventure - a day at the range. We'll be firing everything from pistols to rifles to shotguns and then a proficiency test at the end. I have no concern about passing the proficiency test. I have not shot in a long time, but it's like riding a bicycle. Sort of.

Dec 15, 2010

Hold That Thought, Please.

I've been riding the bus a lot since it's gotten cold and snowy, partly because I wimped out and have not been called to the bike as much as I would like and partly because I have this book club and need a little time to read, and the bus provides that opportunity nicely.

I am coming up on my third winter of riding the bus - I started in March of 2009. It's certainly easier than it used to be, and I have found a number ways to use the time, minimize the inconvenience and maximize the enjoyment of transit. In fact, I have been mulling over a "how to ride the bus" post in the recesses of my little brain as I type this now.

One of the things that transit is reconnecting me with the experience of humanity on a grander scale. In my job, I have a corner office and a recptionist that screens calls, and although people stop in, it's certainly not like working in a noisey cube farm. What's more, we have a quiet house with no children and we don't do a lot of entertaining, so unless we go to a concert or something, my most intense exposure to people (both in density and duration) is generally the bus ride. In fact, we were packed in like sardines yesterday on a slow cold ride home.

The morning commute is generally pacific; I get on early in the route and I am often the first person on the bus. As we move along picking up others, it is typically quiet as people read, check their email and generally mind there own business. In the afternoon, the bus is more crowded and there is generally more conversation.

That comfortable routine was turned on it's head today when two women got on the bus in South Minneapolis. They were chatting when they got on, continuing a conversation that started at the bus stop. For the entire ride downtown, they continued their conversation, pausing only long enough to inhale life-sustaining oxygen. This steady torrent of vowels and consonents lasted at least 30 minutes without pause. It was an amazing performance, really.

For our benefit, they sat in the very front of the bus, facing each other, so we all got to enjoy this display of relentless and unmitigated communication.

I chuckeled to myself when I remembered the very carefully worded, but very sound, guidance the Society of Friends gives regarding speaking at Meetings. I think we could all benefit at times from considering whether we are truly being called to speak or simply filling voids.

Dec 14, 2010

More Snowpocalypse

Some good imagery from the weekend snowstorm....

This was originally posted on MPR's website. The second one makes me smile the widest, however:

Enjoy the snow!

Dec 13, 2010

Welcome Winter

Back Deck
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
The weather forecasters were rewarded with an accurate forecast this weekend; Minneapolis got almost 18 inches of snow and high winds. The snow started on Friday and continued throughout the day on Saturday. The roof on the metrodome collapsed on Sunday morning due to the snow, so you know it was a significant weather event.

The tally for Saturday includes an X-C ski outing (I was reminded once more that I am a really poor skier), a snow shoe hike, four separate sorties with the snowblower, and 5 cars extricated from snow banks. I was a little stiff on Sunday, but not as bad as I would have expected.

Now we've got cold; temperatures never made it above 5 degrees at our house today. I took a day off the get caught up on a few things so I was out and about running errands. Driving is still difficult but it's do-able. We finished our "snow emergency" so we have been plowed on both sides of the street, but the City declared a second (back-to-back) snow emergency, so hopefully they will widen things out a bit.

Despite the cold weather, it's all-systems go for our first book club meeting tomorrow at Townhall Tap. Hopefully we'll have a few people show up for beer if not book-talk.

Stay warm, stay safe!

Dec 11, 2010

SIlent Voices

Originally uploaded by overly curious bystander
Do you hear a silent voice
A silent voice calling you out?
Calling you out by name?

The last of all the fools
Has finally gone away
Leaving only that which remains

My silent voice waits patiently
Watching each night and day
Call again and wait for reply
But things overwhelms me at times

Do you listen?
Do you answer?
Do you even hear?
Or is it just wind and the trees?

A silent voice speaks to me
It speaks in you and even they
Whether heard whether heeded whether understood
It never goes away.

Dec 9, 2010

Better Cyclopath by Spring!

Comrades! I am re-posting a message from our friends at Cyclopath:

Dear snakshak:
I'm Mikhil Masli from Cyclopath HQ. Thank you for helping to make Cyclopath one of the best cycling resources in the world, right here in Minnesota! On behalf of Cyclopath, I'm requesting just 1 minute of your time. 
To prepare Cyclopath for the next cycling season, we at the HQ are launching a  campaign called "Better Cyclopath by Spring". The aim of this campaign is to ensure that by the time Spring arrives, Cyclopath has more information and is ready to help many more cyclists like you than last year.
Would you spare a minute to help this campaign? All we are asking you to do is to read a note and extract only one tag (single word label) from it (this should just take you a minute).
  Note: Very good mixed use path. It's asphalt of decent quality. Watch for pedestrians and cars on the streets turning onto Lexingon.
  Tag: cars OR decent quality OR pedestrians OR mixed use
If you agree now, we'll contact you with specific instructions in near future, after we have heard from more people.
Please click here to express your interest and commitment:
If you have any questions, please reply to this e-mail or contact
Thank you for participating in Cyclopath!

Mikhil Masli
on behalf of the Cyclopath team
GroupLens Research 
University of Minnesota
Cyclopath has already demonstrated itself to be a great resource to Twin Cities cyclists. I have tried Google Maps"bike there" tool and Cyclopath and came down on the side of Cyclopath for use in the metro area. Notes are important to optimizing routes, so if you have time and are knowledgeable about an area, spend a minute or two and help clean up the Cyclopath wiki.

Thanks and ride safe out there!!

Dec 4, 2010


We got about 6 inches of beautiful fluffy snow that started yesterday afternoon and continued through the night. After running around this morning with the snowblower and digging out our house and all of our neighbors the snowy streets were only a minor inconvenience ( here's to 4-wheel drive).

I am pretty convinced that a bike can be as good a form of transportation in winter as a car, and better than a car on ice. After a slight hiatus from the bike I finally wheeled it out and went for a ride this evening. It felt VERY good to be on a bike again. The alleys were tricky - packed snow over ice. That was very squirmy, even with studded tires. The side streets, however, are very rideable in the tire tracks and the trail along the Parkway is generally in good condition. The only tricky stuff out there are the intersections,  where the plow spooge blocks the trail crossings.

The secret, to the extent that there is a secret, to winter riding is base layers. I invested in two Smartwool base layer tops this winter. They are expensive, but unbeatable for warmth, breathability and light weight. I like these under a light jacket more than a sweater for riding in winter. I told my co-workers that I am sorry, but I will not be taking my Smartwool off until May (and in every jest there is a grain of truth). The addition of a Grovecraft wool hat has also been a blessing. Holly's hats are wonderful soft Merino wool and fit better than any other ones I have tried. She was selling these at No-Coast today and also sells at Freewheel, Hiawatha and I think at the Hub.

The only winter cycling problem I am still having is my eyes. They tear a lot in cold weather, but I have a pretty low tolerance for goggles. I feel claustrophobic in goggles and they steam up (or my glasses steam up) as soon as I stop, so I am always taking the damn things on and off at stop lights. I am considering getting some of those wrap-around glasses with prescription inserts. Maybe Santa will deliver the goods on that this year.

The final thing that makes winter riding easier is the right bike. I could not be happier with my single speed MTB. I picked this for $60 at a garage sale this summer. With the addition of some wide fenders (I had to hack off the front of the front fender to clear the cantilever brake cables), lights and now studded tires, this bike is amazing. Although this is not a high end bike, it's a very good bike - it's perfect for it's purpose. That's my definition of a "good bike". I know a lot of people ride road bikes in winter, but I prefer a mountain bike with a small frame for better handling. I am never going to win a speed record on this, but then I am never going to win a speed record on a racing bike, either.

Finally, it's just a lot more fun and engaging to ride a bike in winter than it is to drive. Even with studs, I find you have to pay a little more attention, and the little fishtails and side-slips keep you very in touch with the road conditions. You are also presented with a lot of little challenges, like busting through a ridge of plowed snow at an intersection. You think nothing of this in a car, if you even notice it all. On a bike, you to come with a strategy in half a second, bust through it, and then you give yourself a little high-five when you succeed. That's good clean fun.

If you have not tried it, put on some long underwear, find a plowed trail and go for a little spin. It's a beautiful way to enjoy winter and a lot more accessible than most people would think.

Dec 3, 2010

Living for the Weekend

Lots going on this weekend, but fortunately the action is all going down in the same place and on the same day.

I discovered a Minneapolis Writer's Group that meets on Saturday mornings at Midtown Global Market. I plan to sample that tomorrow for the first time ever. I think it will be an interesting and fun experience. Thanks to my day-job, I tend to write well under pressure, and the new venue and experience may tap some hidden vein of creativity. I suspect that this may become a gateway into further shenanigans, however. One of my long-held but unspoken personal goals is to read my own stuff at a poetry slam at some point in my life. This writer's group seems like a pretty logical stepping stone in that direction. We'll see about that.

Another happening, the No-Coast Craft-a-Rama is also going down at that same location tomorrow. I know a few people that are exhibiting (and hopefully selling) at this event. We went last year and the stuff they had was exceptional and unique and kind of weird. I am hoping for the same this year.

Finally, on the same day at the same venue, Blue Wolf is playing at 12:30. For you cats that are not hep to the scene, let me lay it down... Blue Wolf is a bluegrass band that we follow because the guitar player is a friend and sort of the brains of the operation. They are fun to watch and very talented - we've seen them at DuLono's a few times now and NEVER been disappointed. Be there or be square, Daddy-O.

Now for confession...

I've been a big wuss and have not ridden my bike for at least a week, now. I've used my need to read as an excuse to ride the bus to work. Hopefully I'll get back in the saddle over the weekend and sustain that into a commute here next week. That said, I've made peace with the bus and have a post brewing about just exactly how one should ride the bus, so stay tuned for that. Plus, I've made a few new Bus Friends, too.

The photo, in case anyone is interested, is dawn this morning from my porch.