Thursday, September 30, 2010

Twice Pipes for the Rumbling Dry Heart of Desert, Earth, and Sky

Installation of one of the taller pylons at the Soleri Bridge and Plaza Project in Scottsdale

Scorpion trumpets on the left, Gila Monster bugles on the right

Pylon squared + 1/2 ground squared = crane squared COS (doors) ARCTAN (sound of bells)

"You think we're going to finish by 11/6 in time for the OSG photo shoot?"

Crane operators with a frightening instinct for visual balance

One more to go

Morning sounds: dripping water
the wing beats of birds
morning car commuters catching their breath as they glance up and blast by
me standing on a bridge with my bicycle, looking down the water listening to my own breathing.

Construction approaching 90% complete (est). Drop in one more pylon, string some wires, trim and tidy, done. My next post on this project will be on 11/06/2010.

Get up. Go ride.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

On Tubesday Were Applied the Shiny Lamina of Infinity at the Soleri Bridge and Plaza Project

If they don't make the OSG photo shoot date, it won't be due to lack of equipment

Measure twice, cast shadows once

No, that's not a truck spoiler

After installation: shiny pylons getting ready for full bridge status

All that these stairs lack now is a powerful cup of coffee and the sound of bells in the wind

After this is complete, I'll come out here and give readings from Voltaire's Treatise on Tolerance.
But the whole time I'll be remembering this blue man-lifter that helped to wrap these pylons in their shiny lamina.

Previous Soleri Bridge and Plaza project post including videos of dropping the span into place.

Notable today: The Phoenix New Times Jackalope Ranch blog mentioned One Speed: Go! as one the the blogs that makes them happy in a write-up that very clearly describes what I like to do here. Thanks Jackalopes! Get up. Go ride.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What a Waterful World This Would Be

Cool sight on a hot day (click for widescreen wallpaper version)

She's posing for a photo shoot, with the photographer just off to the left, shooting up at her from a low angle, and an assistant to the front and right holding a white reflector to light her up just so. He was talking to her, and she was moving around, but all I could hear was falling water of the Arizona Falls. The way that the water breaks up from abstract streaky sheets at the top of this photo into discrete drops by the time it reaches the bottom appeals to me. Also, I imagine that she's quite beautiful, which the photo allows for, but does not prove or disprove, equally probable. I nearly rode across the bridge, around to the other side of the falls, to take pix from the other side of the falls, but stopped myself: what would be the point? My imagination was already fueled. I already had this shot. Additional information, further photons, more bytes, detailed specification, settling the question: all unnecessary. The cosmos spins a little bit better for me not knowing, for once.

She's the woman in the falls, anything's possible, and she's a dream. Leave it. There's no reason to clear up the mystery.

I was hot and thirsty, so I took a long, cool drink, and watched their photo shoot through the falling water. Anything's possible. Get up. Go ride.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Map Room

"Map Room", a large stone slab with a representation of an ancient canal system map cut into it

I mentioned in my Canalscape post that the Sunnyslope Canal Demonstration project won an American Society of Landscape Architects design award in 2001, but I didn't have any good pictures of it then. Here's my favorite part, a big stone slab which depicts a map, or perhaps model would be a better term since it once did something, too, and in my book any time a map does anything physical like put actual water where water would go, or put actual dirt or plants where they would go, it becomes a model. I said "once did something" because I don't think the water fixture that used to fill it up fills it up any more. It looks used up. Which is appropriate, since the map is of the canal system created by the Hohokams in this valley over the nearly 1500 years they lived here, and "hohokam" means "all used up". Their canal engineering was pretty good, though, because many of today's canals follow the ancient routes they dug by hand. I could bring a couple of extra bottles of water up here to dump in here and watch it evaporate. Maybe I could ponder why a people who made their homes here for 1500 years decided to leave. From what I understand from visiting the Pueblo Grande museum, there's no clear archeological evidence to support an explanation for their departure, so the old standbys are proffered: disease, famine, war, overpopulation, drought. So for more reason than one, this might be a good place to stop on a bike ride to ponder where we've been, and where we go from here. Which is probably one of the intents of the landscape designers who put this slab here. Although I've also seen it used for cleaning fish pulled out of the canal. Probably not native species, though, probably the fat triploid grass carp, err, "white amurs" SRP puts in here to control weeds. "Triploid" means that they are induced to have three sets of chromosomes in order to prevent them from reproducing. Seedless watermelons are also triploid. I wonder if you could catch a grass carp using seedless watermelon for bait. Get up. Go ride.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

What's time to a pig

A city person riding his bike through the countryside sees a farmer holding a pig up to a tree. 

When he gets closer, it looks like the farmer is holding the pig so that it can reach an apple in order to eat it.

Excuse me, he says, but that seems incredibly inefficient. Wouldn't it save time to knock the apples onto the ground and let the pig eat them down there?

Sure, said the farmer, but what's time to a pig?

Get up. Go ride.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Upgrade Your Bicycle Mind

What I've learned so far

If you saw the earlier post on this topic, please consider this the condensed version. I wanted to boil it down to create a quick, one-click reference for future use. I realize that number 4 covers a lot of ground, but what it conceals in brevity it makes up for in wide applicability, since traffic laws relevant to cycling still vary significantly from place to place. 

However, based on frequency of occurrence as well as high rank in the United States as contributing causes of bicycle - motor vehicle accidents, I nearly replaced number 4 with "Don't run stop signals, merge properly, and always watch for crossing traffic in every instance." I have two reasons for not going with that currently: it omits other important, possibly locale-specific, traffic laws that ought to be observed by cyclists, and also is a statement that just feels to me a little above my current skill or knowledge level about cycling on the streets and roads in traffic.  Number 2, then is up for review since the current number 4 would appear to cover it, but riding against traffic seems like such an ingrained and wrong concept that I feel it deserves its own place on the list. It seems to me like the most egregious manifestation of Forester's "cyclist inferiority superstition" (CIS)* that I want to call it out separately.

This attempt has been humbling for me: I know more what I don't know, now. Sometimes, attempting to boil your thoughts down has the effect of highlighting room for learning and personal growth. So this should be considered a beta version, 0.9, open for future revision as I learn new practical lessons, or gain additional insight with the coming release of the 7th edition of Effective Cycling by John Forester. I enjoyed reading the 6th so much that I plan to also purchase the 7th, assuming that John Schubert is correct when he states that it will be coming out later this year. I am most curious about what subjects will be updated, as well as what will be added. Will he change or update his recommendations on bicycle lubrication using SAE 90 gear oil? I haven't tried that, because I cringe to imagine what my chain would look like after one mile's worth of canal dust. Yikes. But if he sticks with that recommendation (get it?), I will give it a shot. A persnickety, anti-trendy part of me urgently wishes to pull out an old fashioned oil can loaded with Forester's lube recipe at a group ride just to see the reactions. Although I'm not sure if SAE 90 gear oil is safe for carbon fiber. John? Thoughts? Get up. Go ride.

*EDIT: John, I actually prefer your original formulation, "Cyclist Inferiority Superstition", to your latter revision to "Cyclist Inferiority Phobia". Supersitition is something palpably wrong but supposed to be true, but not based on specific experience or memory. Phobias are often results of actual past situations, and surface as visceral aversion to repetition of that situation. Subscribers to and promulgators of the concept of cyclist inferiority are unlikely to have ever seen the concept proven, and are further unlikely to place themselves into a situation represented by the superstition. Phobiacs likely have an actual, and possibly understandable, experience that they could point to which could represent the origin of their phobia--falling from a high place, frightened by a creepy clown, falling into deep water, etc. But cyclist inferiority subscribers won't have much to go on except the supposition itself. Unless they do. Which would make them an actual phobiac. For example, I could understand if James Cracknell now has some deep-seated concerns about cyclists being struck from behind, based on his recent terrible accident, even though the statistical occurrence level of such events is quite low compared to other causes for bicycle - motor vehicle accidents. But rest, reflection, and counseling may possibly, with time, put it into perspective for him. Which brings up the ultimate difference: phobias need professional psychological counseling to overcome, and seem unlikely to be ever overcome by reason alone, while superstitions can be argued away eventually. A non-psychologist can't talk people scared of clowns out of their fears. But I think it is possible to reason with people who think cyclists occupy an inherently inferior position in the vehicular pecking order.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Most Important Signals for Cyclists

Greetings, Master. Welcome home from your cycling commute.
We have kept watch over the basil and bananas. They are safe.
We require food now.

I arrived home from work rather late the other night, well after dark. The rest of the family was on a brief out-of-town trip that left me home in charge of the felines. As I pedaled home in the dark at an hour advanced enough that the streets were quiet, I experienced a strong sense of foretelling or prognostication that when I unlocked the door and turned on the light, the cats would be waiting for me on the table. I had a mental image of them in a configuration like the one pictured above, accompanied by a high degree of certainty--not necessarily this exact permutation mind you, but sitting at attention, on the table, looking at me, waiting for me expectantly to come through the door, impatient for dinner.

First reply: no, this doesn't happen every night, or even often. In fact, I don't think it's every happened before. This is not our normal pattern.

Second reply: no, this post is not just about cats, it's about cyclists and signals. Just a sec, I'm getting to it.

The sense that they would be waiting for me was so strong that I took out my camera before I opened the door, turned it on, and checked to make sure the flash was charged. Then I unlocked the door, left my bike outside for a minute, went in, and took the picture. It turned out that my foretelling was correct, I got the picture, and I thought: I know why that just happened.

lemma1: It happened because I am familiar with the daily rhythms and movements of the cats. It also happened because I found it quite easy to get inside their alien little minds, and imagine what they would be thinking. Instantly, without effort, while riding my bicycle in the darkness a few miles from home. With enough confidence to prepare for what was about to happen and react to it with effect when it did happen as I thought it would. I knew what their goal would be, and I knew how they would react to the signal of me unlocking the door and turning on the light. Maybe you see where I am going with this now.

The previous night when I was riding home, it was still light out. There's one busy street that intersects the canal that I usually cross in two hops: I cross the northbound lanes first, wait for traffic to clear in the southbound lanes, and then cross them. I'm not sure that's a completely kosher technique, but I end up doing it every time, and there's enough space clearly blocked off in the median that I have no significant concerns while I wait. It would be better if there was a tunnel under that crossing, and there will be eventually if they ever finish it, but in the meantime, I two-hop it.

Anyway, that time, I made the first hop successfully, and coasted to a stop in the median, but did something different from normal: instead of looking at the southbound traffic to assess it, since I was feeling kind of tired, and certain that I was going to stop after one hop, I did not look at traffic. Instead, I just sort of looked down at my own front tire, feeling relaxed, just eased into position to wait for the clot of cars to pass.

Screech of tires, whine of brakes. What the?  

Soon as I looked up, I knew what had happened: an old lady had perceived a cyclist crossing a busy road, noticed that the cyclist was not looking at all the traffic rushing down the road, and came to the reasonable conclusion that cyclist was clueless or otherwise impaired, and was about to ride right in front of her. So she made a panic stop.

The thing is: this is exactly what I would want her to do in this situation, very possibly what I would do if I were in her place, yet I, the cyclist, screwed it up. I hope that I didn't scare her too much. I'm sorry. I would buy her a bunch of roses if I could track her down. But, at least I learned a lesson from my error: a glance, a nod, a look in a specific direction, can be a powerful signal, and is one of four primary tools that are totally within a cyclist's control to use to signal their intent, to influence the behavior of drivers, and to take advantage of deep-seated human nature that people have generally little or no awareness of. 

These four signals can be utilized at little cost to the cyclist and none to the taxpayer, do not require federal grants or significant infrastructure changes, and are in many ways superior to fixed mechanical or paint-based alternatives, as these are almost unlimited in possibilities since they are so flexible in their form and usage. The four signals are:

1) Hand signals indicating left turn, right turn, and slow/stop;
2) A front white light and rear red light at night;
3) Conscious, effective, predictable control of travel speed and direction, with lane specificity;
4) The gaze, glance, or look, emphasized and embellished by head position and rotation.

All of these forms of signals can be used to effectively share the road. They all take advantage of the pattern which I labeled "lemma1" above for your reference. Slightly reworded, same pattern:

lemma1A: The list 1-4 above are effective signals because I am familiar with the daily rhythms and movements of drivers. They are also effective because I find it quite easy to get inside their minds, and imagine what they are thinking. Instantly, without effort, while riding my bicycle a few miles from home. With enough confidence to prepare for what is about to happen, and react to it with effect when it does happen as I thought it would. I have a good idea what their goal is, and I have confidence in signaling to them to confirm to them what mine is, since they share the same, parallel sense of what I might do next.

lemma1 and lemma1A are not sure things. Nothing with human behavior is, right? But they are reliable enough to be extremely useful, and that's what I seek: useful levers to skew the outcome in my favor. Items 1-3 are either obvious, or need posts of their own for further elaboration. I included them here because they all spawn from lemma1A. 

But item 4 began to seem amazingly powerful to me, once I started consciously employing it. It's almost unfair, how strong an influence it has on unsuspecting drivers. And before I wrap this up with a few illustrative uses, I'll mention its opposite, or non-usage, scenario.

If you look at all cars as anonymous steel robots, and expect them to overlook you and ignore you, item 4 has no application for you, and is useless: you can stare at an empty car all day long, with the happiest, or most stern, or most intense gaze you can muster, and nothing will happen. It will miss whatever signal you are sending it.

But a human, or a cat for that matter, can't help but be affected if you look at it, and it sees you looking at it. At first I thought it was probably a remnant of a predator-avoidance reflex, and I can't entirely discount that, but it seems more likely to me a competitor-sizing-up reaction, or alternately, a potential mate evaluation. I can't entirely explain it, but I can easily illustrate it: if you ride your entire ride staring at your own front tire, you will have one sort of ride, and if you ride the entire ride looking at people to signal your intentions with high confidence, and what the hell, waving happily at everyone you meet, you will have another sort of ride. Of course not everyone will see you. But many will, and you can tell the difference.

My favorite is the glance over the left shoulder. It's almost insane how powerful it is. I use it every morning when I approach the roundabouts. Just as the bicycle lane ends and I go vehicular, I glance over my left shoulder AT any driver who happens to be there coming up behind me, and I'm telling you, done correctly, it almost paralyzes them in their tracks. Not always, but so often that it almost seems magic. As I do it, I think "I see you driver coming up behind me, want you to know that I see you, and that I intend to proceed through the roundabout first, OK?" and they can read my mind, I tell you. Just like I read my cats' minds before I came through the back door.

A couple of times, the opposite happened, the driver had no idea I was even there, and just blasted past me through the roundabout, but I had no problem because I was looking at them as they did it. Win-win. And you thought I had some altruistic reason for suggesting that you "see other users of the road as people!" Altruism, shmaltruism, I want you to understand their buttons and levers, and push them to achieve your own happy bicycling ends by using the signals at your disposal. 

Drivers: look at them. Bend them to your will. Get up. Go ride.

EDIT: Steve A's post today in a very similar spirit leads me to the proposition that Yetis are Psychic.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Stairway to Gabion (Part 2 of the Chaparral Water Treatment Plant Revisit)

Rocks in cages could be steps, too, couldn't they? With a fine enough mesh, smaller than toes.

I love the way they've let the vegetation grow into the architectural elements. The photos of the place right after it was built, over on the Swaback Partners site, are cool, but stark and without greenery. Now that nature has been given a part to play, the structures appear more in harmony with the setting.

Gabion walled restroom. See that drinking fountain in there? ICE COLD, and plenty of pressure to fill a water bottle to the top. Straight from Le Source Chaparral (treated canal water).

Other than being visually stunning, and uncommon to see in this application, I wonder what gabion walls actually do? Other than repel cannon balls, I mean. And stand up to flood waters in washes. A subject for further bicycle-based research, I think.

Whoever designed the desert landscaping nailed it. Not with rusty nails, I mean, they did an excellent job of carefully placing a variety of indigenous plants in a scattered plan that looks natural yet integrates with a highly built and architecturally bold setting. Check this out, for example.

Aloes actually eat gabion buttresses. At night, when no one is around, they dine. Rock and rusty iron is their favorite midnight snack. It's what gives them healing powers. And you thought it was "natural".

There are some similar, and not-so-similar, structures that I plan to ride out and examine up close, but they are farther afield that the Chaparral WTP, so I plan to wait for cooler weather. Mid to upper double digits is what I'm shooting for. I've had my fill of gabion for a while. Don't get me wrong, this was a delicious four course meal of ground barriers, walls, buttresses, and columns, with cactus cream and eau de Chaparral for dessert, but since I am not yet making progress with convincing Mrs. Alpha to permit a few strings of gabion cages in the front yard, or, you know, a huge gabion walled man-cave out back with buttresses and rebar stairs, I'll have to file them under G for good ideas. 

A bike shop with gabion walls, hmmmm. How chic. Get up. Go ride.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Gabion Buttresses at Chaparral Water Treatment Plant, Scottsdale, Arizona

All Your Space Are Belong to Rust

Rocks Encased in Rusty Steel Cages, Shade Panels Suspended from Rusted Towers, Desert

I visited the Chaparral Water Treatment Plant (WTP) in Scottsdale back in March to take a look at its distinctive architecture, get some pictures of it, and ride around. That was a very good blog week for me, the one in which I saw the egrets along the canal, visited Lizard Acres, and also the Horseshoe fountain. In truth, I still don't think of the original post about the WTP as one of my best, but for whatever reason, it continues to bring in search traffic. I don't know why exactly, but there's interest out there in gabion structures in Arizona consisting of rocks held within rusty cages used to construct buttresses and adorn water treatment plants. I thought I could do better with the photographs than last time, so I went back to give it a try.

A curving wall of cages and rebar holding back a narrowly focused rock collection

Subtle variations in color, shape, size and textures add interest

Along the north side, gabion buttresses and shade panels work together to manage the sunlight
Cactus planters in curves to complement all the lines
Water capture basin at Chapparal Water Treatment Plant: does not add significantly to the output of the plant

A fountain: it was cool and refreshing to splash it on me on this hot day

That's probably enough photos for one post. I will put the rest in a part 2 tomorrow. I enjoy stopping by this place. This time back, it seemed like I saw more, probably because the first time I was here it all looked pretty strange. Yet familiar. Strangely familiar. Rusty steel and baskets filled with rocks built into gabion walls belong in the desert. Probably because the sun beats everything else into powder in a few years. Along with pools of cool water, structures and trees making shade, benches for sitting, and a stunningly clean public restroom with the county's coldest public drinking fountain for refilling your water bottle. If there was a hot dog stand, coffee, and wireless Internet access here, I might never leave. Get up. Go ride.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Dense Signage

I had to stop, get off my bike, and take notes just to read all these signs

Including the "Rent Condo" sign taped to the pole along with the flashing programmable one obscured by the trees, I had to pause a moment to take it all in. USDOT TIGER, hmmm, yeah, me too, I was wonder what the heck that is. TIGER: Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery. There's also a TIGER II. Does TIGER (I) have a site? In an ideal world, it would be the same url pattern as TIGER II, except with a 'I' behind it, or possibly nothing, just TIGER. But no. Next I found this link to a pdf file "TIGER vs. NII" which is not yet the TIGER site. There's a which is just a "this service is no longer active" explanation, but no, which is fun to try to say: "tiger dot DOT dot gov", which may be why they didn't go that route. So the answers are here in an FAQ, for now: TIGER is $1.5 billion in grants to build transportation infrastructure. TIGER II is $600 million more. It's odd, though, because the TIGER FAQ includes a list of final recipients of grants, and there are no projects listed in Phoenix. There is a project called "Modern Streetcar" in Tucson, which sounds cool, but I doubt it will reach this far. I even read the long list of TIGER wannabes here, which lists lots of Arizona applicants, but none in this area. So I will have to investigate further. There is a minuscule chance they are storing signs here in preparation for moving them to Tucson. But I doubt it.

I am hopeful that the grant, whatever it may be for, will include money to hire people to place electronic road information signs in positions where you can actually read them.

Get up. Go ride.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Neither Regardeth He the Crying of the Driver

Stopped in a shady bus stop to hydrate and cool down for a few minutes on a silly-hot day in Phoenix. One of the last days of summer: record heat, looks like we will make it to 110F. I drank four or five full water bottles, and still lost about four pounds of water weight. I saw plenty of others out and about on bicycles in the heat of the afternoon, though, enjoying this early fall weather with me.

Well watcha sittin around waiting for, Jack?

...and not to sit still

...spinning an appropriate gear at a rapid cadence

The time-honored method of beating the heat: massive sugar drinks from the convenience mart.

That's all. I have about four pounds of water I better go and drink before I fall over. I do make my own electolyte drink, btw, by throwing in a couple of spoons of sugar, a pinch of salt, and a little potassium supplement. I was so caked with salt after the ride that the cats were licking me. Which tickles, but hey, felines got to get their salt too, right? Actually, I'm sure their ultra-expensive food already has an optimal balance of all the vitamins and minerals they need. Seriously guys, go out to the barn and kill some mice for dinner, wouldya? The yard and street is full of pigeons, go work for your food once, you furry salt-moochers!

Get up. Go ride.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Most Important Cycling Upgrade of All

It's right there, between your shoulders and your helmet

The most important cycling upgrade of all is available to anyone. It is free of charge. It doesn't require any special ability, experience, or even a great deal of preparation. Everyone who rides a bicycle already has at least one. All that is required to upgrade is to actually use it actively. 

Now, this may seem obvious to many, yet, every day I see clear evidence that, either by conscious decision, or lack of awareness (and I hope for all of us the majority is the latter rather than the former), this natural resource for cyclists is seriously underused.

I've tried to boil it down to a few starter ideas to plant the seeds that might blossom in fertile ground into happy, permanent brain trees which take fuller advantage of this resource we already possess. I see so many violators of one or more of these almost every day that I feel compelled to print them on little cards, chase people down and hand them out. Or something. 

1. See other users of the road as people, and act toward them as you would wish them to act toward you, no matter what your immediate perception of them. Your initial perception may be wrong, but the simple moral imperative to treat others as you wish to be treated never will be wrong.
2. Ride in the same direction as traffic and not against it.
3. Be aware of your surroundings, and be prepared to respond gracefully to the unexpected.
4. Obey the traffic laws.
5. Research the cycling techniques appropriate to your environment, and practice them.
6. Ride predictably and signal your intentions clearly with ample advanced warning.
7. Have fun.

As guidelines, reality may require that any of them be bent or adjusted from time to time. I'm not putting them forward as hard and fast statements of necessity. I'm saying, it would be a better cycling world if more cyclists would make that free upgrade and give these a thought or two when they ride. Because, while obviously none of us follows all of them 100% of the time, too many of us do none of them all of the time, and that's actually bad for everyone. I see a lot of upgrade potential out there every day. You! Stop running that red light, it's time to upgrade! You! Stop riding against traffic, it's time to upgrade! The rest of you! Have a great weekend! Get up. Go ride.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

I See Small Things Like These

Moth on my door as I departed for my bicycle commute.

Yes I would like some please

Late Summer Flowers having One Final Fling on the Mountain

Be on the lookout. I have a good track record.

I see small things like these on my daily commute. By riding slower than a car, primarily along neighborhood streets with houses and people rather than through concrete canyons at breakneck speeds inside a closed metal box, I see small things like these. By being in the free, open air, soaking in the sunshine and permitting my skin to naturally generate more than my daily requirement of vitamin D, I see small things like these along the way.

Sometimes, as with the tortoise sign, and the lemonade stand sign, I paused and thought about the stories behind them, the parts that you can conclude with some confidence from the evidence presented, the parts that you might guess at, and the secrets that surely lurk somewhere beneath, but that you'll never know. A tortoise is an unreliable narrator, that much I know. One who tells very sloooooow stories, but full of wisdom. Or at least, tortoise wisdom. Which sounds pretty wise. More wise than driving a dumb old car to work, anyway. Get up. Go ride.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Midweek Reminders to Self of Recent Adventures

Bip puts eyes on the goal

Usually means you are at the top, or at least, pretty darn high

And there's a fence. And antennas. Excessive explanation.

That's Humphreys Peak in the distance in the background, high point in Arizona, 12,637 feet. Interesting hike up there. I feel like I should post a picture, even though it's been a few years since the last time I was up there.

From a hike up Humphreys Peak a few years ago. Ran into some weather up there. Took excellent rain gear, though, so no problemo.
Wednesday reminders. I need some. Wait, what day is it? Get up. Go ride.