Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

You'd think with a computer in front of me at my new nine-to-five, I could post MORE, but that'd involve me doing my own personal typing at work. Still, I've had little time and energy to sit at the home computer thereafter. It feels like homework, I suppose.

Here's the Mojo Bicycle Cafe in San Francisco, CA. I have a mind to review a bunch of coffee bars in SFO, PDX, and SEA, when I get time, whenever THAT is.

Friday, August 22, 2008


You remember the Wal-Mart Varsity I tested last year? I realized I hadn't previously uploaded the wrap-up to my blog, so, here it is...

Rather than donate it to a generic charity, I passed it on at no charge to Carrie, a coworker at Starbucks. She had been bicycling to work out of necessity and not really enjoying it. It made me sad, because she talked up her fitness gains but was really excited she'd gotten hired at SBUX (it's a second job for her) because she hoped to buy a car again soon.

She was riding a cheap old MTB in poor condition, even though her entire 5-mile commute is on paved roads. At first I wondered if the bike was her size, but then I realized, hey, these things are one size fits all! Actually, since it was a little bit small for me, it shouldn't do her too badly, mostly she just needs something that rolls a little better, and that's in good repair.

Conclusions from this cyclist on what you get for $200 -- is this worth it? My answer is a fairly solid NO. There is almost no type of cyclist that this is the ideal bike for. I'd either spend more money on a slightly better entry-level machine, or get something used.

What's right with it:

Wheels: these are actually pretty good. 36 spoke, Joytech hubs, not terribly out of true from the factory. If I could just buy the wheel / tire / tube package for $50, for a basic bike (or a rehabilitation project,) I think I might. The tires are 25mm, quite tough, and have sorta okay rolling resistance. Their ride quality is quite poor, though, and they are scary un-grippy in highspeed turns, but what do you expect?

Frame: yes, it's an aluminum frame from China that probaby costs about five dollars. But despite fat, fairly ugly welds, it's at least kinda smoothly put together, and clearcoated aluminum is an okay color. It's not a badlooking bike, all in all.

Brakes : the calipers themselves are generic dual-pivots, but they are smooth enough. I've seen scarier generic brakes on "real" road bikes. The stock pads, though, are another story: they are less grippy than the tires! Thankfully, that's an easy fix.

But, the bad parts outweigh the good:

Derailleurs -- Stock "Falcon" stamped-steel pieces do more flexing than shifting. Swapping to Sora ($12 for the pair from Recycled Cycles in Seattle) 7-speed units markedly increased performance. I was somewhat surprised to feel the difference.

Shifters -- Stem-mounted shifters are okay for basic bikes, but these ones aren't even that. They lightly clamp to the bars just beside the stem, and are a huge bear to get adjusted right. Also, I REALLY wish they did not bother to 'index' the rear shifter. There is no option to turn it to friction, so most of the time the 7-speed rear gives me more like 5 gears, and it makes a lot of noise. It's because of these things that I never even took it to a Tuesday Night Worlds: I can't make it shift DECISIVELY. Sometimes it'll hang up between gears, and I've had a couple of scary moments when the thing ghost-shifted under pressure. While I didn't care if this made me lose the race, I DID care if I crashed people out!

Crankset -- Actually, the problem here is the chainrings. Whose idea was it to give a bike targeted at the department-store crowd a 52 x 42 double? Okay, sure, there's a 28t sprocket, but 42 x 28 is NOT that light a gear for a recreational rider! It looks sharp, though, and it's much easier to adjust a cheap double than a triple. Still, while a 50 x 34 compact would probably be ideal spec, can't you at least track down a 39-tooth chainring?

Assembly -- The bike, as pre-assembled at Walmart, could barely ride. If one was not at least basically versed in bicycle mechanics, woe be unto whomever takes the first ride! Out of four brake pads, only one was calibrated enough to touch the wheels, and that was a rear pad. And I don't even want to tell you what the brake levers looked like.

Clearances, braze-ons, odd bits: So, they grabbed a Generic Steel Fork from the parts bin with fender eyelets. +1. Then, they leave neither eyelet nor clearance at the rear triangle for a fender. -3. Seriously, pick one. Also, it has a front quick release, but rear axle nuts. Could you just pick one, again? And, what's up with the 1.25-pound steel stem? I know weight is not a giant issue here, but, really, for a "lightweight aluminum racing frame," I don't get it. How much does the most generic aluminum stem in the world cost, another quarter?

NUTS AND BOLTS : Yeah, the bike was assembled with hard-to adjust, annoying nuts and bolts. Party like it's 1972! No allen keys required on this bike! Added to the rear axle, and you need to bring a set of box wrenches with you on a ride to make adjustments...

So, while Carrie will do well with the bike on her daily commute to work, and some fitness rides on the MUT, the cost / benefit math on the purchase just doesn't add up. It makes compromises, and we'd expect that at this price point, but it makes all of the wrong ones.
((Also, I hate supporting chinese child slave labor, but this isn't PO))

This was a fun experiment, though. Thanks again to everyone who helped!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Yours Truly is in San Francisco. Photos, stories to follow.

Here's an observation from the slightly awkward, somewhat aging, but overall effective BART commuter train:

San Francisco Bay Area --
Population: ~7,000,000
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) -- 104 miles of rail
San Francisco Municipal Rail (MUNI) -- >70 rail-miles

Portland, Oregon --
Metro Area Population: ~2,000,000
Metropolitan Area Express (MAX)light rail -- 44 rail-miles (current.)
18-month expansion: >70 miles
Portland Streetcar: ~10 miles and growing

Puget Sound Area (Seattle-Tacoma-Olympia) --
Population: ~4,000,000
Commuter Lightrail: No Current Service Exists. 18-month expansion: ~16 miles.
Seattle Streetcar, 3.6 miles, Tacoma Streetcar, 1.6 miles.

Selected Sources:

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Ever lose your wallet? Ever find one? Is there a behavioral norm here?

Yesterday, in one of my last weeks' days at the cafe, I found a wallet. A fat, black leather, three-tiered-middle-aged-man's wallet. Inside were a drivers' license (Thomas, a caucasian male born 1963), concealed carry permit, insurance card from the Firefighters' Association, several credit / bank cards, $128 in cash, and a bank recepit indicating a checking balance of $650, and a savings balance of almost $7,000.

After waiting a couple hours to see if Thomas returned on his own, on lunch I used the phone book to call the guy up. I reached Thomas's parents' house and spoke with his mother -- turn out Thomas was a junior. The mother gave me the sons' cell phone, I reached him, and he returned later to pick up the wallet.

I returned Thomas's wallet with every dollar in place, though of course I have no way of knowing whether a previous "finder" had removed some bills and replaced the wallet, I find this unlikely.

Thomas took the wallet, said, "thanks very much," and left the store.

The questions I have are these: if you found this wallet, nearly everyone would of course declare that they'd return it. But, honestly, would you be at all tempted to remove any of the cash before its return? I was tempted, of course, but did not. Now, was I affected by the fact that the guy was a firefighter? Did it matter to me that I've recently been hired on at a job that pays a real living wage? Six months ago, I was eating almost exclusively pasta and oatmeal. Would it have made a difference then?

Second, if you LOST this wallet, what would you do if it were found and returned to you? How grateful would you be, and how would you express this gratitude? Thomas seemed sincere enough, but it wasn't the over-the-top thankfulness that I'd probably have shown. Similarly, I think if one person had found mine, I'd likely try to give them some of the cash in it as a reward -- the credit cards and licenses are the more annoying loss, but I'd still be pretty impressed to get all of the cash back. If it were at a business like a cafe, I'd probably put a ten or twenty dollar bill in the tip jar, at least.

I'm not saying that I feel diminished in any way by Thomas's level of appreciation, or that I EXPECTED more, but I know I'd have offered more if it were the billfold of yours truly.


Monday, August 04, 2008

It's getting about impossible to use my computer any longer. Any agreement that this is the power supply? It will randomly, entirely freeze pretty well at random, but usually when I start up a program that'd take extra processor resources, or load up a website that has flash.

On the plus side, I ordered an iPhone. It's the first consumer good (consumables notwithstanding) I've bought for myself, because I wanted it, in quite a long time. Granted it's useful, but I don't need it, like the black slacks I bought for work at the cafe a few months ago.

Now, on to the real post. A shout goes out to Ernest Hemingway, whose immediately accessible works, despite their age, inspired this post about the Secret Beach, which feels entirely more like Nick Adams at thirteen than Yours Truly at twenty-six.

I took a couple of shots of this last summer, before they'd paved over the Milton Interurban Trail. Now there are occasional joggers, stroller-pushers, and dog walkers cruising along the thing, instead of essentially nobody. The trail contains the entryway to the beach, so I think a few more people have found it now, than before.

Still, when you get there, it doesn't feel immediately like it's been too touched by humanity. The only part that makes it clear that is HAS been so affected is the trash: there are a good handful of wrappers and boxes down here. The relative lack, though, of beer bottles makes me think it's still not too many adults that have discovered this place on their own. Mostly, though, it's because this is not a park at all, simply a wetland preserve, so the City doesn't come down and do cleanup here.

Every time I go down, I try to bring back out a few things that someone has left behind.

The open area is a sandy meadow, not as fine as ocean sands but the banks of some ancient river, now migrated and redirected to the creek that still runs just below me. This creek actually skims just past my apartment complex's property, which is how I discovered the Beach, and it led to a realization about the irony of apartment names. Most suburban apartment complexes are madlibs like this: "[Adj.] [Noun]" or "[Noun] [Prep. phrase] [Noun]"

Who wouldn't want to live at, oh, say, The Meadows on Beaver Dell?

Well, the one in which Yours Truly resides is called "Copper Creek." Of course, I then expected an eponymous body of water to flow near it, but so far as I can tell there is no copper creek. This is the Hylebos, but I suppose that doesn't sound as good in a "For Rent" magazine, does it?

Anyhow, here's the Hylebos creek. You can see more clearly here than anywhere else the signs of humanity, but at least it's just Conservation International, trying to keep the wetlands at least partially protected from the Scourge of Suburbia. Can someone more versed in wetlands preservation tell me what those stakes are for?

But, overall, you feel like you are really in the middle of nowhere, and if the semi-distant Lloyd Gravel is shut down for the day, you really can't hear the highway or anything else over the creek, the bugs, the birds. Around here, this might be the Last Good Country.