Sunday, December 30, 2007

Congressman's DC bike commute

Thought this was interesting... of course the guy is from Oregon:

For Congressman, Life in Bike Lane Comes Naturally --- Earl Blumenauer of Oregon Rides to the White House; Look Out for Motorcades
Greg Hitt, 29 December 2007, The Wall Street Journal, p. A1

WASHINGTON -- A little after 6:00 one morning, Earl Blumenauer emerged from his Capitol Hill row house. The temperature hovered near 40 degrees and it was really raining. The Oregon congressman hopped on his rust-colored Trek Portland, an aluminum-frame bicycle with a carbon front fork designed to absorb road shock, and pedaled to his office. . . . [find it on the web or through ur WSJ vendor.]


Good morning from Panera Café. Besides me, there are only four other people here on a rainy Sunday morning. Interestingly (the title says "interesting" (interesnaya) in Cyrillic), they are all Russian. I wonder how these terms will affect my AdSense ads.

One is a little four year old girl who occassionally punctuates the anglo-russian conversation with her father with dolphin-like squeals of delight. My Russian professor pointed out to me that Russian girls always have a ribbon in their hair, and that is true in this case. I have never seen one, in life or in art, without a ribbon. However, I never noticed if this is true for Yankee kids as well.

The woman next to me is having a web phone conversation and at one point seemed to be contorting to point her cam in my direction. Probably showing her Muscovite cousin what a simple Southerner looks like.

I just watched a movie with a kind of Russian theme, the Namesake. It is a sweeping epic of a family that emigrates from India to Boston. The son is given the name Gogol, after the mad Russian genius. It is a charming movie, but a long one.

I'd like to say something witty to embarrass the webspy lady next to me but I can't remember enough of the language. I don't want to sound like I'm eavesdropping either, but I only understand maybe two percent of the noise anyway. I'll probably just sit here like an ass. You can't talk to people about their kids either these days because they'll think you're some kind of pedo. And if you say anything wrong, it's hard to undo it due to language barriers and the difficulty of translating humor.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Household value chain engineering

Lately I have been obsess with "ecogeek" (name of a blog) items such as the Aerogarden the NatureMill composting system. It has got me wondering how far the concept of household cost engineering can be taken, by purchasing inputs at their rawest and cheapest and milking every bit of value out them along the way.

Let's say I grow my own vegetables or mushrooms or whatever, then incorporate it with bulk-purchased staples into delicious, inexpensive meals. Then I recycle the waste into the compost, which gets the whole cycle going again. I'd really like to see how far I could take this.

A lot of the value, I am thinking, would be in reducing trips to the supermarket. However this kind of cottage industry could take up a lot of real estate, which is pricey.

Still, one can spend a lot of money eating out these days. Can you make a $9 lunch at home for $4? It takes planning though. How bulk can you go? What is the most basic of ingredients? If you start making your beer, you buy kits of hops and grains and the like, e.g., instead of ready-made beer. The next step is to buy the individual components in bulk and assemble your own recipies. Then you start growing your own hops perhaps? Finally you start the little hops plants from seed instead of buying seedlings. How far can you take it before it becomes impractical? You're not going to till up your yard to grow barley are you?

I am focusing on the food portion of the budget because that is where recycling is apparent (via the compost cycle), and the technology and tools are within most people's grasp, and it is possible to see a marked increase in quality. It's not like I'm going to be pressing my own bicycle tires at home or anything. It is also possible to make your own clothing, but clothing is very cheap nowadays. (See for inspiration on saving on threads.)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Curious subculture

My interest in bike commuting has led me to an interesting discovery, the emerging pastime of "snowbiking." There are dozens of people, mainly in northern lattitudes, who devote their time to riding bicycles in the snow. Some of them train to race hundreds of miles across the frozen wastes like dogsledders. Many of them ride the Pugsley, a mountain bike with freakish 29" studded tires. It is interesting to see them overcome their obstacles with the latest equipment, physical conditioning, and inner fortitude. Here are a couple of representatives of this curious community:

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

How stupid is Yahoo!?

Yahoo! just deleted my e-mail account I had with them since 1998... hundreds of messages, pictures, a few songs. All gone forever in an instant. Good thing I migrated some addresses to Gmail. There was no explanation (some unspecified Terms of Service infraction) and no way to reach customer service.

Oddly, this came just a couple weeks after I started using Yahoo's paid web hosting service. I chose Yahoo for this mainly because I had been with them for so long. What a stupid way to run a business. Yahoo: you're no Google. You're not Facebook or MySpace or YouTube. And I'm not going back.

I surfed the web a little and found out Yahoo is deleting old accounts if they have unique names, which I think mine had. Is this any way to encourage loyalty?

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Christmas

My Christmas so far has been delightful, full of friendship and funship and wishes come true. While my smile is deep and true, underneath lies a heaviness of heart. I have been alone at Christmas before and I know it's a common condition. No matter how many smiles and seasons greetings you exchange with coworkers or acquaintances, there is a deep contentment that can come only from family. And I know that there are some whose loved ones are not safe and sound; I hold you close to me in my thoughts. May you find hope by the bright star of the east.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Isn't it ironic?

When your e-bike gets wet in the rain, yet your mushroom log dries out? :(

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Big honkin' mushroom

Mushroom #3 must be part portabello. Compare its girth to the lime, orange, and grapefruit in the bowl next to it.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Mushroom meet belly

I could not resist; my first mushroom became the focal point of my lunchtime ramen bowl. It was absolutely delicious.

Mo mushroom

It has been about eight days since I restarted the mushroom log and I have one that is nearly ready to harvest. This would cost good money in a gourmet store.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

e-bike rival

Someone else in my apartment complex has an e-bike! I am no longer unique. His looks like his was designed and built as an e-bike, rather than upgraded with a kit. Therefore, I deserve more street cred. I wonder if mine is faster.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Aerogarden dreams

I have been obsessing about Aerogarden. This is the automated hydroponic appliance for growing fresh herbs or salad greens in the privacy of your own home---fast.

Can I wait till Christmas? I saw one at Bed Bath & Beyond, they had some fake plants sticking out of them and they looked kind of cute. From what I understand they are very bright. Maybe I can park one next to my desk so I can read with the light. I saw where someone is rigging red and blue LEDs to replace the OEM lamps.

I love greens but they always get slimy pretty quick. And there's the whole pigshit e. coli contamination issue that emerged last year. Aerogarden would be an end run around all that. It says it's organic too.

It's also pretty expensive at around $150 but the company, Aerogrow, has invested literally millions in it. I hope it works out for them.

If I don't at least get one for xmas I will probably break open the piggybank. I can see people buying multiples, to keep all the various Aerogrow crops in rotation. My main concern is the cost of the energy it uses; how does it compare to the cost of cultivating, harvesting, bleaching, shipping, and refrigerating the grocery store alternative?

Random ranting

Isn't random ranting what blogs are for? I don't know where to start. Hershey's Kissables candy tastes like crap. It is all candy and no chocolate. I guess it would be OK sprinkled on ice cream or something.

My stupid mushroom log isn't doing anything. I got it off the Internet a couple weeks ago in hopes of cultivating scads of tasty shiitakes. OK, it does have a couple of little bumps on it that appear to be swelling. I have tried it in various locations. It comes with a little KKK-style clear plastic hood you're supposed to put on it for humidification, but that makes it look even crappier than it already does. I put a mint leaf on top for decoration; it seems to be thriving there. Otherwise it looks like a big moldy roll of toilet paper.

Well I have work to do. Yet it does not interest me. Has this ever happened to you?

Friday, November 30, 2007

e-bike tweek

I added a shiny new part to the e-bike yesterday and am very excited. The lowest chainring had gotten bent somehow, probably climbing a steep hill with a dead battery, although I feel that a lot of this bike was already due for replacement when I found it by the Dempsey Dumpster(tm).

The way it was bent looked impossible to correct without mangling the other gears; besides I figured it would get broken again. Also, this gave me the opportunity to get a both a little faster gearing on the top (44 teef vs. 42) and a little lower one (22 teef vs. 24) on the small chainring to give me more relevant pedaling speeds on the fairway and help climbing aforementioned big hills.

Original equipment was one of those cheap cranksets with all the sprockets riveted on; the upgrade (Shimano M440) has replaceable ones in case this happens again.

The main thing is, it's a shiny new part, resplendent in the black and silver scheme that covers the rest of the bike. It really makes the cheap metal and plastic pedals it's attached to look like crap. They are actually rusted and screaming for replacement. I might just repaint them for thriftiness's sake. Also, the seat is quite tattered and corroded; I figure you don't want a bike to look too nice on the mean streets.

I researched this crankset a lot on line before taking it to a local bike shop in my parents' town. They did a surprizingly good job, fixing it while I was at lunch at a cost much less than I was expecting! They had to use a different bracket (they gave me a used one cheap) as the new crankset was lower profile than the original. I am glad I didn't take on this project myself as I would have spent two weeks even getting the right parts. That would have meant missed rides, and extra gas expenses.

Interestingly, this crankset is a 9-speed dealie, which means it can work with narrower chains than came with my 7-speed setup. I just had the rear cassette (and chain) replaced---an expensive, frustrating experience---but now if it ever goes I can theoretically add more gears there too. Anyway, the new part is better than the originally but it was still pretty cheap. Which makes me a happy man.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The true cost of energy

The loss of rescue workers at the Utah mine reminds me that energy costs more than just money. So many people have died for it, in digging coal, soldiering for oil, or even choosing to pedal instead of drive. Hydroelectric dams have altered the temperature of SC rivers so that native fish can't thrive. France gets 76 percent of its electricity from nuclear reactors. China is building new reactors to meet the evergrowing demand for cheap goods. But energy is not cheap if you count the human cost. That's why it bugs me when people leave their SUVs idling at Starbucks. This country needs to learn to appreciate (value) energy, and rethink its insane energy/transportation policies.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Inspired by bike bloggers of yore. . .

I decided to get on my bike and ride, as Queen implored, after surfing the cyclecybersphere. It was good to get out, and I remembered the feeling of accomplishment and community I somehow get navigating my errands via two wheels.

Pretty soon drivers intrude with their---ugliness? or is it mere carelessness. I often ride on the sidewalk around here because I'm chickenshit and the concrete is typically in horrible condition, resulting in a battering ride for the bigass batteries bouncing about in the bike bag. The effect is accentuated by the hard, skinny hybrid tires someone gave me; I only have installed one, in the rear, but I can feel a difference.

I made a conscious effort to pedal more, which made it feel more like biking of yesteryear (I assembled my e-bike last fall). I have biked these streets for several years, with a few years off in the middle, and they seem familiar.

On the way back from the grocery store, I was reminded how dirty and low one can feel with the utilitarian biking experience, grocery bags dangling from one's Hard Rock. I seem to feel people looking down on me as if I am some kind of omega male, which I may well be.

At a stoplight I recognized my neighbor and waved her on, but she did not seem to recognize me, and turned away, perhaps embarrassed. I guess I look different with the helmet on and a sack of frozen food hanging from the handlebars.

Photo de moi

Photographic evidence that I was here.