Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

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

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What is going ON here?

Since I've been tracking this and making notes for a while, look at this Yahoo finance chart tracking the USD / CAD exchange for 1y.



When last I visited BC, they had been trading at almost parallel for some time.

What's happened in the past weeks and months?

* The US economy is in, or almost in, depending upon who you query, a full-blown recession.

* The Fed has reduced the fed funds target rate such that real interest rates are negative

* Stocks are crushed, but fluctuating wildly. The Dow had dropped below 8,000 briefly, and also had record gaining days. On the whole, significant losses.

* Let's not even talk about the banking crisis and the unfortunately-named "bailout."

* Balance of payments shows tilts further into a negative current account

WHY IS THE DOLLAR RISING?



Silver prices, 2008

AND :



Oil prices, weekly.

(yes, I borrowed these charts from Kitco and Omega Research / Tradingcharts dot com. Sorry.)

This is not "supposed" to happen like this. It's time for me to break out some economics textbooks and dust off my memory of how marginalism and the IS / LM model is described in economic orthodoxy.

Thankfully, this all works out for yours truly, not being yet bitten by the recession bug, who has a job, pays more interest than he earns (on student loans), and is contemplating travel abroad.

Still.

It gives one pause.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Bike Review of the Day:

"i ride this bike hard in the trails by my place and for those kinda places it the best. when its the streets it the best to like once i hit a pot hole and bent my forks on my old bike and then i bought this bike hit the same pot hole and my forks did not bend."

NOICE!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Pet Peeve of the Day : eBay Collections:

Dear Accounts Receivable Representative,

I was surprised to receive a series of notices that started like this "eBay Collections Notice - Action Required" My seller account was current, so what could this collection notice be about? The email, though, is merely a "payment reminder," mentioning that it was, after all, the 5th, and that my payment was due in just ten short days! Thanks for the heads up, but, I received the invoice, and I know that my payments are due on the 15th.

Furthermore, it's not in good form to be sending around messages from "COLLECTIONS" on accounts that are still current. Everyone else has a department called Accounts Receivable, right? That kind of panic-button tactic is analagous to those magazine subscription sweepstakes that say, "WINNER!" on them, or the car loan advertisments designed to look like checks.

Then, in another week, on the 12th, I got ANOTHER such FRIENDLY REMINDER from eBay Collections.

Wow, what would happen on the 15th? Would I be banned forever? Would my computer be fried from afar by an electromagnetic pulse?

Seriously, guys. Relax. You'll get paid.

Anyone know anyone else that fear-factors for their money like that?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Product review: Rocket Shower Body Cleaner

Situation:

You've just finished a race or group ride. One hundred miles of sweating later, you pull into the parking lot, chug some gatorade and stuff a few Clif bars into your face -- or maybe it's a Coke and cookies, whatever. Now you've got to get out of your chamois (Fine, I'll write "Shammy," if that makes you feel better) and get into some clothes for the drive home.

Complication:

You're carpooling with two other riders. That's four hundred miles of sweating. The staging area is just a parking lot with porta potties -- no shower facilities present. The drive home is three hours. This is going to get pretty bad.

Original Solution: Did you remember to bring baby wipes? That goopy Purell hand sanitizer stuff? Let's find a gas station with a walk-in bathroom and use those, plus about five million paper towels, to try to achieve some semblance of clean.

New plan: Rocket Shower.

This stuff is, let's all admit it, unfortunately named. Who wants to say, "I just took a Rocket shower!" But, apart from that, what's the deal here? Essentially like baby wipes and moisturizers in a bottle, this stuff is kind of a next-best-thing. Yours truly is kind of quirky when it comes to ride sweating, so I'm a bit of a strange test subject. I sweat quite little, but I absolutely hate the feeling of dirt and junk on my skin after a ride -- it makes me feel run down and exhausted until I can get to a shower.

I was dubious, then, about Rocket Shower's efficacy. I mean, seriously? Witch hazel? Was this going to be another Assos Chamois cream?

Well, kind of. It does essentially contain a bunch of alcohol plus some oils and herbal stuff. It stings if you get it into little cuts. Spray on, wax wipe off. Done. Its scent really does dissipate as it evaporates, it's not loaded with scents, perfumes, sodium lauryl phosphate, and whatever scary stuff Febreeze contains. Do I feel clean after using it?

Kind of. The worst part is my face, which still feels a bit grimy. I'll admit I've been conservative in hosing my face down with Rocket Shower, considering I'd rather not burn my eyes out with the alcohol in there. Overall, though, it's a heck of a lot better than if I didn't have anything, and -- how shall I put this -- I think it'll help avoid saddle sores in the future. I'm still glad that I have access to real shower facilities at work after my hour-long daily bike commute in. Still, I will certainly put some in my travel bag for future events.
Product Review -- Lezyne Pressure Drive pump


All right, I was not exactly happy to hear the hissing noise from my back tire, but I will admit that the second thought in my mind, after an obscenity, was, "I get to try out my new pump in the heat of battle!" I'd used it before in the garage, and it worked admirably, but you know how things change when you're frustrated and late and trying to get going again as quickly as possible. It doesn't help when you are as mechanically inclined as yours truly, who managed to rip the valve stem out of his last tube the last time he tried to change a flat tire on the way to work.

Now, there was once a day when every bike pretty much had a frame pump mounted to it. They often came with the bike, painted to match. Haven't you seen Breaking Away? On modern bikes, though, they are far less common -- carbon frames and compact geometry play a part, and so do tougher tires, CO2 inflators, and, yes, cell phones.

This has ushered in an era of new, completely useless hand pumps. You know the kind. Every company out there makes one that advertises it has a 100psi capacity, or whatever, but that's for the Incredible Hulk. Working in a clean room. If you've ever tried to use one, you know what a bear it is: one hand desperately trying to hold the pump head onto the valve stem, hoping you get the seal right, the other furiously trying to get more air into the thing than comes out.

Eventually, maybe you get it inflated enough to ride home as you desperately hope you don't pinch flat your sixty-five pounds of air on the way. No good.

Here's the alternative: a Lezyne Pressure Drive pump. This thing falls into the category of "why didn't they think of this sooner?" It's simple, effective, and, as much as a tire pump can be, it's attractive. All metal with a CNC-machine aluminum housing, this thing will stand up to lots of use, but the secret weapon is the thread-on, reversible hose. Instead of trying to wedge the thing against the valve stem as mentioned above, you thread the hose out of one end of the pump and screw it into the other -- one side for Presta valves, one for Schraders -- and use both hands to inflate at a comfortable angle.

A Lezyne pump comes standard on all of Raleigh's road steel bikes, like Yours Truly's Sojourn. I thought the inclusion of the compact Pressure Drive on the Sojourn was a bit paradoxical, since the touring bike includes a pump peg on the top tube to mount a full-sized frame pump, but I believe Lezyne's Road Drive frame pump was not released upon production of the bike.



Lezyne has only been on the market for a couple of years, but take a moment to flip through their website. I think they're set to become the Silca of the twenty-first century. If you don't know what that means it may not be a big deal to you -- I mean, come on, it's a tire pump, right? -- but mine kept me from being late to work. If you've bothered to read this far, you probably know how much that matters. (Ed note -- As of 20th Oct 08, their full line of track pumps and frame pumps don't appear on their website. Hopefully they add them soon.)

To be fair, there are other alternatives for reasonable roadside inflation, like the Topeak Mini Morph, but I've never found one as simple and effective as the Pressure Drive.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Light Followup --

Mister Briglights passed me again this morning, again, after it was bright enough that lights weren't really helping, anyway. I turned my light back on, covered it with my hand, and said "cover, please?" I couldn't tell if he understood or not, since I couldn't see him, then switched my not-helpful light off.

About ten minutes later -- this is about 7:30 am, mind you, and it's only partly cloudy, so I can see just fine -- I see another bike headlight coming towards me. This one isn't the super bright HID nightmare, it's just a battery-powered little job, and I'm not too concerned.

As she passes me, she shouts, "you need lights!"

I guess I can't win.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A quick request:

If you ride with a headlight on the roads, can you find an option besides an ARC / HID style light? They make some nice LEDs these days.

But, you say, I ride on pitch black rural roads in the middle of nowhere! Okay, you can keep your HID, but can you PLEASE turn the thing off before you get on the MUT?

Riding to work today, it'd already gotten light enough that I had switched off my Cateye Doubleshot light. You approach me from the other direction, and it's fully light enough to see, you know, everything, and then I get struck by blindnes by your ridiculous light.

Ouch! Turn it off.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Yesterday:

Index Mountain, from alongside the peak.





And, Bellevue, from the sky:




The week, the weather, and the snow reminded me of one year ago:

That one aberrant sunny week in October, and I, determined to visit uncharted territory for yours truly, rented a car and headed north to Vancouver. I started pretty much downtown, and by the time I got there, it was raining hard, though not terribly cold in the city. There's a bit of an irony to me in using a car to go on a bike ride, but, it was worth it. I rolled gently through Stanley park, across Lion's Gate bridge, and then east, through the rain and the mist, to Dollarton. Deep cove, though, was really only a glance from the road as I searched for the road UP. I had higher places in mind for the day.

I turn back north to west, up Mount Seymour parkway, and rain becomes fog became cloud and swallows the rest of the world. Now there are no more homes, no more shops, no more anything but trees, road, and rain. Perhaps two forest service vehicles and three private cars pass me on the entire trip up, and I relax into the steady burn of a mountain climb. I zip up my jersey against the cold, now, about halfway up the mountain, and I briefly shiver as I try not to think about the temperature coming down! It's only ten in the morning, I think. It will warm up.

A curious bear wanders out from the shrouded trees just a bit ahead of me, and regards me with some curiosity. I slide on arm-warmers after he crosses the road, round another hairpin, and another. I have no sense of how far I have to go, I cannot see the top whatsoever. Only the kilometer flags beside the road, counting off the climb, give me some sense of my progress. My lungs agree with the cool, high air: each sharp, pair of breaths of cool air in is followed by a single exhalation, in-in-OUT,in-in-OUT, the indescribable euphoria amidst the pain, the flashes of beauty amidst the blur of clouds that become my vision.

At the roadside, clumps of dirty, half-melted snow gradually become a purer shade of white, the rain stops and becomes one or two flecks of snow on my glasses. A brief flicker of adrenaline, then, and in what seems simultaneously like forever and a moment, I round the final bend, pull up, exhausted, into the ski station parking lot, and examine the unpaved trail that leads up to the slopes. Perhaps another day.

The rest of the memory is a trance-like blur: the frigid descent, the shaking shoulders flinging the thumb-width of tire rubber side to side, numb fingers trying to keep the speed below eighty kilometers per hour, to give me some chance of stopping before each bend. The cruise back west, the sun breaking the clouds' hold at sea level, navigating the suburban north of Vancouver, riding along the shoulder of the 1 freeway and marvelling at NOT BEING THE ONLY ONE doing so. The climb up to Cypress Bowl, all yellow and bright and not nearly as gruelling as Seymour was, and rounding the corner to see Horseshoe Bay sparkling in the autumn evening as I pedal, more slowly now, along the undulations of Marine Drive, the seamless joints of exurbia -- Caufield, Sherman, Dundrave, Capilano, and at last, the bridge again.

The sun is descending as I become one of dozens of cyclists, joggers, roller-bladers within Stanley Park, the busy pedestrian traffic of West End buildings.

My main reaction at this point is a frustration at international labor laws. I mean, what a backyard.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Pas du Dopage!

Sure, I questioned Ricco and Piepoli's performances in this year's Tour de France. They were, perhaps, Extraterrestrial, Mister Simoni?

Apart from that, though, how about Stephen Schumacher? I mean, sure they guy has had some impressive one-day performances in the past, but he's never one a major time trial in his life, and he just CRUSHED Cancellara and the world.

In what seems like such a familiar refrain these days: not so fast.

This also probably means that Cancellara has won another time trial, that Piepoli retires, and that David Millar lost the first TT by fractions of a second.

Deep breath. Try not to say things like "Tour de Farce."

I'm not even sure what else to make of that.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Viva Portlandia!

You never know what you had, they say, right? I left Portland over two years ago, and was only scratching the surface of appreciating the veloculture that's progressed into a frenzy there. Jonathan does a thorough job of showing off the City of Roses and Bicycles -- in particular, check THIS (caution: flash) out. Looking at the photos, I might think I was seeing part of an charity event ride like the Portland Bridge Pedal, but, it's just morning rush hour on a early day in mid-fall.

(Bikeportland's blog was down as of 12:00pm 3rd October. No explanation at this point, hopefully minor technical difficulties that will be resolved soon. -- ed)

If you build it, they will come says the 1989 cliche about a baseball field, but is it the truth with bike infrastructure? Portland had a great network of bike lanes as it was, but they've filled out the rest of the infrastructure admirably. It might be the most european-style bike-friendly city in the country. Even better than the bike boulevards, the racks and the lanes, the signage and the parking oases, is this:

People are using it.

Check it out:



This is outside Stumptown Coffee on SE Belmont. Notice: Spaces to fit 1.5 cars have been removed. In their place are space to secure perhaps a dozen bicycles, perhaps more.

Also in the Hawthorne neigborhood, new Bike Oases have been installed. As opposed to the bike corrals, like the one on Belmont, these allow for parking on an extended sidewalk, feature space for perhaps 25 bicycles.



Here's what it looks like with some bikes in it!



So you know it's not just quirky Hawthorne, here's the one outside the Ace Hotel (A tres cool place to stay, if you like, and it also features a stumptown coffee that opens into its lobby)



And here's Northeast Portland, at Whole Foods:



All in all, the lesson is this:



(Driving a car is still okay in Portland, but expect to share the road. Just like your mommy taught you to.)