Friday, April 30, 2010

it's too complicated: a rant

I don't like complicated. And I'm beginning to realize I mostly don't like computers because they are way too complicated for me.

Switching to Blogger, for instance, was supposed to be easy. It was supposed to be easier and better than Live Journal, where the ads were taking over the site and getting in the way of blogging. But the truth is that the problem may be me. I may not be cut out for this computerized world.

The amount of time it has taken me to learn just the few things I know how to do, well, I've given that a lot of thought. And switching to Blogger has been fraught with all kinds of anxieties, including losing info I thought I'd successfully saved to the new blog, not understanding how to manipulate things on the screen, and realizing that what I really want is a blog where everything is formatted FOR me, where I don't have to learn all this damned code.

I'm not a code kinda gal. Don't know it, don't understand it, don't really care about it, don't need it in my life to pay bills or be happy.

This is not about Blogger as much as it is about me and the kind of person I am, the way I learn things, and the way I want to spend my time.

And that is why I am reconsidering blogging. It feels like such a huge time-suck and I am reevaluating how much time I want to spend in front of a computer at all. Realizing that I may, indeed, have little of importance to say most of the time, and that my little posts about bikes and parts and rides may not make a huge difference, or certainly as big a difference as my face-to-face interactions with people do. This is why I have resisted cell-phones, Facebook and all the other time-sucks in the electronic universe that threaten to tear me away from real-time, face-to-face living.

I'm not sure I want to adapt. I'm not sure adapting would be the healthiest thing for me and who I am, who I want to be in this world. I get frustrated at computerized everything when it gets complicated because I'm a tactile, experiential learner. I learn by touching and messing around with things in a physical, visceral way. I take things apart and put them back together again to understand how they work. I can't do that with a computer, and when something doesn't work in a computer I mostly freak the fuck out.
And when I get like this all I want to do is rebel against the electronicness, the untouchability of it all.

So my frustration with the complicatedness of computers and how they don't really fit my learning style may be an invitation to a larger reexamination of how I spend my waking hours. I'm sure that among the most computer-savvy of you, you will scratch your heads and wonder how someone like me could possibly be living in this time and continue to be so resistant to all this stuff, but I am. Sometimes it just reaches out and slaps me and reminds me that I'm spending too much time here. Today is one of those days.

tech talk: mystery rim

Yesterday at work, a co-worker brought me a wheel to inspect. It had come off a used bike we were overhauling for resale. He felt we should replace the wheel before putting the refurbished bike out on the floor, and I agreed. But he wanted to know if I thought we could re-sell the wheel as-is. The issue was a small hole in the rim.

mystery rim

The puncture had been made from the underside of the rim, and the wheel's owner had sanded down the sharp edges of the hole.

Looking at the damage, I suggested that it wasn't a great idea to sell the wheel with any sort of guarantee, even though the wheel was true and round and the Deore hub was in excellent shape. (I always tend to err on the side of CYA when it comes to things like this. I think my co-workers keep asking for my opinion because they think someday I'll let my legal paranoia down. It hasn't happened yet in my fifteen years at the shop.) However, it was unusual, so I asked to take a few pictures before he took the wheel away.

Turning it over, I saw the whatever had caused the puncture had poked its way through from the underside.

mystery rim

mystery rim

The consensus among those of us on shift was that somehow, a nail had poked through tire, tube and rim all the way, though it would have to be in the perfect position and the wheel would've had to hit it with enough downward force for this to have happened. I'd never seen anything like this before. Thoughts?

Monday, April 26, 2010

let's go for a bike ride: monster cookie metric century

Pal Lynne had recommended the Monster Cookie Metric Century to me as a way for me to ride that distance this spring. When it became clear that Oregon Randonneurs wouldn’t offer an official populaire until next fall, the Monster Cookie became pretty much my only option for an organized ride of that length.

When I say “organized ride”, let me emphasize that the Monster Cookie is NOT a populaire, NOT a randonnee, NOT a ride where one has to be self-sufficient to quite that degree. In this contest, “organized ride” means that there are sag and mechanical support vehicles, fully-stocked rest stops and a lunch stop that includes catered box lunches for riders who pre-registered (including me and Lynne). Having not done any ambitious riding other than a couple of St. Johns loops and a Rocky Butte climb over the winter, an “organized ride” turned out to have been a good choice for me.

We arrived at the state Capitol building and Lynne was amazed at how crowded it was at 8:00 am. There were easily two to three thousand cyclists lined up to get their packets and a couple hundred more lined up for same-day registration. By 8:40, after Lynne was accosted and greeted by a dozen or so of her Portland Velo buddies, we were off. We’d been given a cue sheet, but didn’t need it; the route was well-marked with painted symbols on the road and, well, there were so many participants that we were never actually alone on the road – for the entire day.

monster cookie ride

The route was a loop from the state Capitol to Champoeg Park and back again, taking us through Salem suburbs and out into the gently rolling farmland of the Willamette Valley. The sun came out from behind the clouds and warmed things up quickly. I’d started the day in wool jersey, arm warmers, and my long-sleeved OrRando jersey as a sweater. I’d shed the long-sleeved jersey at the first rest stop, 15 miles in. As advertised, the rest stops for the Monster Cookie were well-stocked with good basic bike food: fruit, bagels with peanut butter and jelly, and, true to the ride’s name, lots of cookies. Along with the regular choices – chocolate chip, peanut butter and such – were Mexican wedding cookies (Lynne’s favorite) and coconut macaroons (which were basically small and densely packed coconut sugar-bombs). I ate two and stuffed two more in my jersey pocket for the road.

monster cookie ride

Several Rivendells besides ours were in evidence along the route, including this beautiful All-Rounder we admired at the rest stop:

monster cookie ride

As we rolled along, admiring the rich green colors of the spring fields, faster riders passed us clad in jerseys from all over, including club jerseys from Oregon, Washington and northern California, indicating how popular this ride had become. Portland Velo, one of Oregon’s largest cycling clubs with nearly 500 members, was well represented with several groups passing us and shouting hello to Lynne as they did. I was under-trained for this distance and focused on maintaining an even pace of around 11-12 mph. Lynne told me to let her know if we got too fast for my comfort. Mostly it was fine. I let Lynne know that I would probably deal with most of the uphills by sprinting up them so as not to lose momentum, and that she could pass me on the way back down (I’m not a confident descender). Lynne’s strength is not climbing (it's endurance, and she can ride my butt into the ground) so she was fine with that suggestion. We leapfrogged each other over the gentle rollers that dotted the route, and continued our conversation when we’d caught up to each other again. Most of the time I fell behind Lynne but it was not a problem, and she patiently waited for me to catch up again.

We turned onto the familiar road that led us to Champoeg Park, our lunch stop. Cecil, who’d been nursing an injured foot and had graduated from her walking boot a few weeks ago, had arranged to meet us at Champoeg for our lunch stop. She’d ridden there from her home in Portland, making for a round trip of about 50 miles. (Cecil doesn’t exactly over-train, she under-rests.)

monster cookie ride

Lunch was catered for pre-registrants. My turkey sandwich was not bad, and a pile of potato chips and some fruit helped round out the meal. We sat on the grass in a sea of bikes and their colorfully-clad riders, chatting and joking with Cecil, who was in excellent spirits. After lunch, my knee-warmers came off; the temperature had warmed into the 60’s. We said goodbye to Cecil, who rode back to Portland. Although I’d been careful to stretch during the lunch stop, my legs still felt stiff and thick as we climbed the slope out of the park. I shed the arm-warmers soon after we were back on the road.

The 15 miles to the final rest stop passed without incident, though I did have to walk my bike up the steepest hill of the ride because by then I was getting quite tired. Lynne waited for me at the top, and greeted me with a smile. There is no shame in walking your bike up a hill, especially when you’re riding 62 miles in a day. We chatted and leapfrogged each other some more, with Lynne doing most of the riding at the front because I was getting more fatigued.

At the last rest stop (located at the church where the first stop had been), I refilled my water bottles, ate some more macaroons and fished around for the gel-blocks that had been part of my rider’s packet. I opened the packet and tried one, flavored “blueberry-pomegranate”, and immediately regretted it. It tasted hideous. I looked at the packet. It contained four gel blocks, labeled a “one day supply”. I can’t imagine living on a pack of these on a long one-day ride. I gave the rest to Lynne and grabbed a couple more macaroons for the road.

The last twenty miles were tough. I was really fatigued by now, and even the bucolic rural scenery wasn’t enough to bolster my flagging legs, which had turned to rubber. I choked down a macaroon, gulped some water, and kept spinning. The only bright spot was that my trick knee hadn’t really bothered me all day, except on the hill I’d had to walk up. The sun was beginning its descent in the late April sky, and the breeze from the river cooled me as we entered the suburbs of Keizer. In the heart of suburbia, on a street lined with neat, middle-class homes and trimmed lawns, we passed three girls staffing a lemonade stand. They called out in their best middle-school singsong, “Lemonade, all money goes to charity!” That was enough for us. Lynne did a quick U-turn, I followed, and I handed the girls a dollar bill for two glasses of cold lemonade. It was exactly what I needed with six miles and change left in the ride, and by the time we rolled into downtown Salem and the Capitol came into view, I was more than ready to get off my bike. After a bit of faffing, we were back in the van and heading home. We capped it off with dinner at County Cork before calling it a lovely day.

monster cookie ride

Total distance (according to my cyclometer): 61.9 miles.

Average speed (according to Lynne’s much fancier computer): 12.1 mph.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

drumming again

To recap: In the winter of 2007-2008 I began playing drums again after a decade-long hiatus forced by injury. While I couldn't play mallet/keyboard percussion as well as before (I can't hold four mallets comfortably anymore because of the injury), I discovered that, with practice, I could get back most of my snare drum chops. In summer 2008 I auditioned for Pacific Crest Wind Ensemble, was accepted and spent one semester playing with them. For a number of reasons it didn't work out and I quit the group after Thanksgiving.

But I could play again, and I realized I wanted to. I began cobbling together a sort of drumkit, slowly and one piece at a time. Meanwhile, I needed to figure out where and how I might do that.

Enter Sweetie and Klezmer music.

Sweetie used to sing in a local Klezmer band called Fermisht Nussen (roughly translated, "Mixed Nuts" in Yiddish). The band broke up a couple of years ago but a few of the former members would meet from time to time and make music. I was invited to join Sweetie and a couple of her former bandmates for a gig at the local Jewish rest home. All I had that was ready to go was a snare drum and some sticks and brushes (I had a hi-hat stand, a bass pedal and no cymbals). In spite of how ill-equipped I was, I said yes. And I went and played and had a really great time.

After that, I began moving quickly to assemble the rest of a tiny drumkit. Between online sales of bike parts from my stash and a couple of local trades of parts and labor, I managed to put together something resembling a sideways cocktail kit.
meanwhile, Sweetie and I included more Jewish music in our at-home listening, and she began teaching me some of what she knows about it.

This past week I finished assembling the kit. The biggest challenges were acquiring cymbals -- even cheap ones cost a lot -- and converting a floor tom into a tiny bass drum. The conversion required replacing the tom hoops with larger bass drum hoops and adding spurs on the sides to prevent the drum from creeping every time I applied the pedal. I left one of the three floor tom leg mounts on the drum to function as a mount for a small cymbal arm.


For now I'm using a stuffed animal to muffle the bass drum (it's looking a little forlorn at being squashed against the inside of the head there) --

beat the pig

--eventually it will be replaced by something a little more appropriate (a Remo Muff'l Ring).

I assembled it at home and Sweetie insisted on getting a picture of me actually playing it.

trying it out

Yeah, that's traditional grip. Most drummers I know play matched grip but traditional grip is how I learned and it's what I'm used to.

Sweetie wishes we could go to KlezKamp, this thing back east where people go to learn more about Klezmer and play together. More specifically, she wants to send ME so I can study with Elaine Hoffman Watts, the great Klezmer drummer.

I'm looking forward to playing more with Sweetie and her pals this summer. Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

do we have a right to cheap stuff?

A customer called me today and informed me that our shop was still being listed as a dealer for "Brand X" bags, 3 1/2 years after our co-op had made the decision to stop carrying their product. We'd made the decision because we decided that we would try to promote, where possible, products made in countries where fair wages and good working conditions were the law of the land. This meant that we could no longer sell bags made in China or most of SE Asia. So out went "Brand X" from our inventory.

Obviously, we cannot make this decision with everything we sell. Case in point: All of the inner tubes in the entire world are made in one of TWO factories, and neither is located in what would be considered a fair-wage country. So we're SOL as far as inner tubes -- and most tires -- go. But when and where possible, our shop chooses to promote products made in our local region, or the US, or a fair-wage country. So today, we are sitting on some very nice US-made bike bags that aren't selling very well -- because they cost noticeably more than the bags offered by "Brand X".

When the customer asked why we stopped carrying "Brand X" and I explained it to her, she thanked me and said she would look for another store that would sell her the bag she wanted. "I think your policy is out of step with the real world," she told me, "and I would invite you to reconsider it. If you don't sell affordable things no one will shop there."

Which leads to my quandry: Do we really have a right to demand and expect cheap stuff? And if we don't, why are corporations and governments acting as though we do? And now that we've started this cycle and developing countries are following our lead to perpetuate it -- who's going to try and stop them from having their turn at rampant prosperity and consumerism?

I am really wrestling with my work these days, and wondering if I could possibly do it in a way that makes it any more appropriate (for society and the planet). Today I am having my doubts.

Monday, April 19, 2010

there's beausage, and then there's just a tear

Grant Peterson of Rivendell Bicycle Works coined a word a few years back, called "beausage". He uses the term regularly to define bike-related objects that become, in his opinion, more beautiful with age and wear.

I understand beausage, and I like it. When I was a kid I loved wearing out my sneakers before I could outgrow them -- and when I hit my growth spurts that didn't happen as often. So I would wear them hard on purpose -- skidding to a stop using the soles of my sneakers instead of using the coaster brake on my bike, or climbing up trees and sliding down the longest branches back to the ground, knowing that the sliding would scrape against the rough bark and wear out my jeans faster. There was something really cool about wearing your own clothes hard enough and long enough for them to acquire a particular shape, a faded look, a texture that said you were the only person who'd ever worn this garment or used this hammer, or whatever. After I stopped growing I was able to relax and allow the natural wear-and-tear process to just happen on its own without pushing it along.

Sometimes there's beausage, and sometimes there's just a tear that needs mending.
Case in point: my Carradice saddlebag, purchased new in 1997 and used regularly in all weather ever since. I've never re-waxed the cotton -- it was stiff when I got it -- and over the years it has faded from heavy use and exposure to sunlight and rain.
This week, the tiny hole at the corner of the bag became a tear, and I had to fix it before things got out of hand.


repair, up close

The bag still has beausage to spare. Now, it won't rip apart and leak the contents out into the street. because there's beausage, and then there's just stuff that needs mending.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

new-old designs for cargo bikes

In the last week I've had several great discussions about the future of cargo-biking, with designers, builders and sales reps. Out of those discussions has come my own desire for someone to produce a cargo bike that would retail, fully-built, for under $1,000.
I want to see this happen because I think cargo biking is definitely part of the future of sustainable cities, but there just won't be enough buy-in until we make the bikes affordable for a larger segment of the bike-riding public.

There are basically three ways to go, design-wise: 2-wheeled front-loader, 2-wheeled rear-loader and 3- or 4-wheeled cycletruck. Of these three, the first is probably the easiest to own from a logistical and storage standpoint.

Here's an example of a front-loading 2-wheeler, created by Portland framebuilder Joseph Ahearne:

Here's an example of a rear-loading cargo bike (this is my Surly Big Dummy):

And this is an example of a cycletruck -- this is an older model called the Brox that I discovered when I first began working in a bike shop. At the time most of the bike lanes in Portland weren't wide enough to accommodate this vehicle, but I dreamed of owning one for a long time:

The deal with all of these cargo bikes is that they are fairly expensive for the average bike rider. By average I mean someone who could not imagine spending more than several hundred dollars on a sturdy, go-everywhere, do-everything bicycle, even one they'd use as daily transportation. The cheapest of these bikes fully-built will cost about $2,000; the most expensive (The Brox) runs around $4,500 including import fees (it's a UK product). And that's where the average bike rider will turn on his heel and go back out the door.

So this week I began having discussions with a couple of dealer reps and told them I want their companies to consider designing a cargo bike that would retail for under $1,000, fully-built and ready to ride.

A few changes to bring the price down would include:

--V-brakes instead of disc brakes (but make sure the frame has fittings for both kinds of brakes to give the owner a choice);
--Flat pedals
--Basic drive-train with alpine triple cranks and 7- or 8-speed cassette and derailleurs (internally-geared hubs are great but the decent ones cost more than an externally-geared drive-train and don't offer the same range of gears)

I'd also suggest making a thorn-proof inner tube standard for the rear tire to reduce the likelihood of roadside repairs, which can be time-consuming for a cargo bike.

I'm happy to report that both of the companies whose reps I spoke to ARE discussing adding cargo bikes to their line-ups. One has gone as far as to produce a prototype of a rear-loading model that would retail for around $800, complete. I've see pictures and it bears a strong resemblance to the Surly Big Dummy (though the frame's main triangles are a little different). It even accepts the Xtracycle bags and snap-deck.
The other company isn't as far along in development and I'm hoping they might consider a short-wheelbase, front-loading model.

I think if we can get the price down, then more folks would consider buying a cargo bike instead of a used car. What do you think? Discuss.

Friday, April 16, 2010

not sure about this but here i go

After no small amount of wrestling with the previous home of my blog, including the latest episode where I was asked how much I was willing to PAY for answers to technical questions for a FREE blog, I have decided to change homes.

At first blush, this DOES look harder and more complicated. I don't DO complicated well, so I'm making the switch and also asking those closest to me to do a lot of hand-holding while I learn my way around this thing. I am also NOT good at finding my way around Web sites on my own. (I find "help" pages to be mostly unhelpful and slightly over my head.)

Looking at the various doo-dads (like how to move posts from my old blog to this one) I cannot find my way around even the "Help" section. (What's an "xml"? I don't think my computer has this.) So I will likely forget about transferring over old files from the-blog-that-must-not-be-named. Just finding the help pages I need looks like too much hassle for me.

In the meantime I cannot promise frequent blogging here. It will take me awhile to learn how to use the new site more comfortably and, well, life is short. I still have to figure out how to save this address, and tell my friends I've moved, and all of that. And while most of you may find this no big deal, for me it's all complicated. it took me many weeks to learn how to use the previous blog and I expect an equally painful and prolonged process here. That's not necessarily a reflection of Blogger, but more a reflection of what a struggle electronic technology is for me.

I like my technology to be more obvious, something I can hold in my hand and adjust with an appropriate tool. Computers simply don't work that way and every new thing I must learn on them comes with no small amount of fear and trauma and until I dial it in. I just don't think like most computer users.

In the end I may end up not blogging much anymore. Just trying to navigate my way around the new blog is already intimidating as hell, and makes me wish I could just bury my head in the sand and forget the whole thing.

So don't hold your breath looking for anything new and cool here for a little while.