Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bike Commuting - something for everyone.

Here's a photo I took while riding this AM.

First off - I don't ride around pretending I'm Annie Leibowitz, we were on a smooth shoulder, no traffic behind us, no real threats, and I didn't spend much time setting up the shot. Don't take this photo as an endorsement of stupid things like texting while driving. If you decide to do photography on your bike, don't do it absentmindedly.


The three riders I was behind represented a spectrum that shows bike commuting isn't limited to any specific segment these days.

1) The guy in front was dressed nicely for work, riding a road bike, and had just gotten off the Caltrain I was on, having boarded in San Francisco. He was using a backpack - more typical of someone who is just "going to work". His fitness matched his bike, not his backpack. He was probably in his late 40's.

2) The Pen Velo guy I had been chasing on Central Expressway for a mile or so without much success. He had come from somewhere North of Mountain View and 7 miles later when I pulled into nVidia, he kept going. Full kit and a messenger bag. 35-45 years old.

3) The third guy was on a hardtail Mountain bike with slicks, T-shirt, shorts. He turned onto Central at Whisman and saved me because he knew the Pen Velo guy, who then slowed allowing me to latch on. Panniers. He was also pretty fit, but when Pen Velo decided to amp it up and I followed, he let us go (I think he was almost to his office). Early to mid 30's.

We were cruising along when this photo was taken, I figured Pen Velo would drop the hammer sooner or later and it would be best to just sit in and wait for the ride. I even gave him a couple of lackadasical pulls. Note that we had also just passed someone on a knobby tired hardtail. 5 riders on this same stretch of Central Expressway, only 2 of whom had come from the magnet that is Caltrain.

No women in this photo - but there were 4-5 of them on the train with me (out of 20 or so riders for the trip on our 16 capacity bike car that was full from SF).

The numbers of bike commuters compared to 11 years ago when I started commuting with bike/caltrain? There is no comparison, the increase is impossible to miss. In San Francisco it's a bike traffic jam on Valencia, Division, and Townsend. On the Peninsula, the roads are more wide open and the destinations more spread out, but I usually see someone on a bike crossing at every major intersection I pass on the way to work, either going through his green light or waiting at a red as I roll through on green.

You can do it too. Bike to Work Day is May 14.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sign of the Auto Apocalypse? Mr Roadshow devotes column to bikes.

My friend Dan Connelly has at least once in the past made a disparaging remark about Gary Richards, the San Jose Mercury News' "Mr Roadshow" whose column deals with various issues with roads in the Silicon Valley. I'm a bit of a map and transportation freak in general and can even take some pleasure in the minutia of road design for autos, though these days it is more curiousity than anything and I don't really care if they fix such and such freeway offramp - more traffic may mean that more will turn in their car keys.

Most of his columns are question and answer sessions from readers aggravated at some random traffic engineering feature - along the lines "Why don't they put more metering lights on 85" or "Why do they have metering lights on 85". It's very amusing when he can come up with completely contradictory questions like this. Often time the reader has a point, and he can act as sort of a consumer advocate getting word to the right guy at Caltrans to fix an issue.

Once upon a time - I don't have the details - there was a question about the auto infrastructure at some particular intersection I was very familiar with - I am thinking Mofett and Mathilda. My annoyance was that this intersection had no bike sensor so I always had to run the red light to make a left turn, but the intersection was very heavily trafficked such that this was a very dangerous maneuver. I never heard back from Mr Roadshow - of course not, because "all he cares about is cars".

I also came after him about his "Why I drive" column that included "Daydreaming" - he didn't print my rant but he printed some others that aligned with my thoughts.

To his credit Gary has always been VERY critical of drunk drivers.

Anywho, I subscribe to his updates. Today, his entire column was on bikes. New bike bridges just constructed, new bridges being planned, old bridges being torn down which will be replaced by new ones. This was a follow up to an article about the new Borregas Avenue Bridge. Wait - that's TWO articles by Mr. Roadshow fully devoted to bikes in a month.

The times they are a changing...

Sunday, April 26, 2009


Now there's a 10 cent word!

I finally picked up a fancy-schmancy compost bin.

After a few unsuccessful months of trying to pick up one used, I just bought one. I was roundly taunted by the woman I bought worms from who has been composting since the 70's in old milk jugs. At least I bought the worms local - finagling a ride back and forth over Twin Peaks in the deal.

Here's the little darlings.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Pedestrian Cyclist collisions.

I dropped this comment at CBS5 Eye on Blogs and decided to reprint it here with a minor rewrite to correct something I thought was a bit inaccurate.

The topic - cyclists running lights/signs and endangering pedestrians. Pedestrians are a new class of folk demonizing cyclists - reference the comment in this Streetsblog post.

Yes, cars are more dangerous and getting hit by a bike is unlikely to be fatal but it's still no walk in the park, especially for children and the elderly. One of my colleagues is permanently disabled and, ironically, can no longer ride a bike because a cyclist slammed into her - yeah, she'd probably be dead if it were a car but that's not too terribly comforting. Also, far too many bicyclists are a penchant for yelling at pedestrians as they run stop signs and otherwise push themselves into our right of way - it happens to me at least once a week and it's terrifying and physically intimidating.

Anyway, here's my rant.

There is a lot of selective vision going on - pedestrians *expect* cars and are hyper vigilant to them They are a well known phenomena so pedestrians react to them without even thinking - which prevents so many close calls.

Additionally, people pretty much understands how cars operate traditionally - they are in a lane and they are lined up. And they expect those cars to be "what is in the road". So when they look to enter a street, they examine the "car travel lane". But in 2000's San Francisco there are also these things called bicycles which operate in a different part of the roadway than the cars - a part of the roadway that the typical person is not examining for danger, and a part that is not subject to the same traffic flow of the primary lane. That increases the close calls from a cyclist as a cyclist can be rolling up along a line of non-moving cars at 15 MPH from 30 yards away where the pedestrian only sees that traffic is blocked up and thus the road is safe. The primary situation where I have issues with this is from people entering the roadway mid-block - either as jaywalkers but more frequently to access the driver side door of their parked car.

And finally - people just expect close calls with cars and so those incidents are not seared into their memory like a close call with a cyclist is.

This all adds up to a natural bias - there are more close calls between cyclists and pedestrians than there might otherwise be in large part because of the fact that pedestrians are not trained to expect cyclists in the roadway. Pedestrians have a lower level of car interaction than there might otherwise be not because cars follow the law - but because they are hypervigilant and cede their right of way to poor drivers. Even if they recognize that they have saved their own life by their defensive walking - they forget this by the time they actually cross the street.

I fully think part of the animosity is caused because cyclists can very clearly see this and can't figure out why it's not so obvious to the other road users - including the pedestrians who should be the cyclists strongest allies.

Sadly, while I was in the process of writing my comment of Brittney's blog post - I looked up to see a report on the news that a three year old girl was killed by a motorist who turned right through a crosswalk without verifying that the crosswalk is clear. Yes - I am editorializing without the facts - but in this case I find the burden of proof to be on the motorist - if the pedestrian has a walk signal and there is a collision, the motorist is at fault. Had this mother looked to her left and noticed the driver not respecting the right of way, she would have waited for the driver to complete violating her right of way and then not given it a second thought.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

San Francisco Street Food

Tonight I'm sitting at home watching Liam while my wife goes out to a well deserved birthday dinner. Liam has enough "fussy potential" that we decided not to impose him on a babysitter. But he's being quiet enough for me to blog. I had hoped to have a Creme Brulee tonight but my plan was foiled - so instead I will only write about the Creme Brulee that I didn't get to eat - in fact have yet to try.

There have always been street vendors in San Francisco selling food in a non brick-and-mortar style, but there are some new entries that have taken the concept of street food to the Web 2.0 world, deserving a blog entry.

The most ubiquitous street food in San Francisco is the Taco Truck. Been blogged to death, my favorite is El Tonayense at 14th/Harrison, good pork tacos and on my way home from Caltrain.

Old School street food - The Tamale Lady. Usually found in Mission area bars (she was kicked out of Noe's bar when Cybelle's Pizza was taken over by the owner's son - asshole) and typically a staple at Dolores Park Movie Night.

The Yelp report on the Tamale Lady from "Mickey S" refers to meeting her at 22nd St Caltrain. This is not in fact "The" Tamale Lady - it's just "A" Tamale Lady.

I visited her tonight and got some great tamales and a crappy photo. She's been meeting Caltrain commuters coming home at night to 22nd Street for 4 years or so. I had started to wonder where she was as she had been MIA for a while, but she was there tonight to get me some Liam-sitting dinner. I scored 2 cheese tamales (with a jalepeno in it) for $1.50 each. Nice.

This does point out a shortcoming in street food 1.0 - I can't plan on my way home if I want a tamale or not, nor do I know if the Tamale Lady will be showing up at Lone Palm. Enter Creme Brulee Man , Amuse Bouche guy , and the Magic Curry Cart!

These three gunslingers have used the power of twitter for good, not evil. Wait for the tweet, and go get the food! Sadly Mr. Creme Brulee showed up at his home base of 19th and Linda 15 minutes after my Liam shift began.

More on the Amuse Bouch guy at Eye on Blogs

Creme Brulee man from Broke Ass Stuart

Magic Curry Man at Mission Mission

Amuse Bouche's can be found mostly at 24th St BART in the AM with breakfast treats and Chai. The Magic Curry and Creme Brulee (the guys are brothers) are usually at 19th/Linda or at Dolores Park.

I don't know how easy it is to transport the Creme Brulee Cart but I'm volunteering to tow it to Justin Herman Plaza for Critical Mass. Well, maybe not this month - Liam hasn't converted to Creme Brulee yet.

Update: Bounty from Curtis the Creme Brulee guy from his visit to Noe Valley.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

This guy doesn't get it...

Obama says that we don't torture because that's not what we do.

We also don't maliciously edit wiki pages, even if the target is a Capital A Asshole.

See - on my blog I can say that Michele Bachmann is a Capital A Asshole if I want to, but defacing wikipedia is just lowering yourself to Dick Cheney's level. Actually I wouldn't call Michele a Capital A Asshole anyway. I mean, Dude, do you have to curse so much? There are much more polite ways to point out just how strange it is that someone like Michele Bachmann ended up in Congress.

Not that I didn't find this a bit funny.

Have to hand it to Wikipedia - this one lasted 6 minutes.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Urban Gardening and my new tomato seedlings

I'm not the only one planting some random food in San Francisco. There is a (very) small movement to organize all these people with a couple of plants into a de facto collective. It's called Garden Registry . This one is only for San Francisco and the Chron did a story on it. The comments pointed out Veggie Trader which provides the same service without the San Francisco Values.

I don't think I'm going to end up with any surplus Cilantro but this might end up being good for one or two batches of scrambled eggs or something.

I'm also trying to grow some seedlings for tomatoes, peppers, and basil. The tomatoes germinated and are loving the heat wave in San Francisco - in theory they should be getting "hardened" with increasing amounts of sunshine daily, but I don't think I can really convince my wife to put the plants in and out on a timer - so I've basically decided each morning whether to put them out.

I put a few seeds per planting starter in the hopes I would get one - but I had a pretty high success rate, germinating them indoors under a light bulb. I've thinned them a bit, if I get time I am going to try to prick a few out and put them into other bins I have lying around to see if I can get more total seedlings. We have room for a lot of tomatoes in Healdsburg, but if I can get a lot of seedlings to grow I might even tempt fate and try to grow a plant in SF. There really isn't the same sort of sun in SF that you get in Sonoma County though. If I do really well I'll give some away.

The heat also brought out the Jalepenos (foreground). Bell Peppers not so much. I also have several basil seedlings that I will try to transplant into separate containers so I can keep one or two here, and put some up in Healdsburg where that stuff goes nuts. And maybe some more freebies for the SF gardeners.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Obama on High Speed Rail

Obama said, "This is not some fanciful, pie-in-the-sky vision of the future. It's happening now. The problem is, it's happening elsewhere." He cited superior high-speed rail travel in countries like China, Japan, France and Spain.

Word. Of course Fox News will probably report tonight that "Obama hates the US, wants it to be Europe". Guys - sometimes we just suck at some things. We lost the World Baseball Classic for example. While I would like to win that as well, High Speed Rail will improve our competitiveness and needs to happen. The sooner the better.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Gardening blogs.

As I muddle around with my own gardening, I'm getting a lot of info from bloggers out there, both experienced farmers who produce for restaurants and stores, and smaller ones. Here are some blogs I am following.

Noe Farm Report - my "neighbors". They are growning a lot more in the neighborhood we live in than I - right now I am only growing Cilantro, Dill, and Arugula in San Francisco, given I have the advantage of the plot in Healdsburg. They have built some raised beds and clearly have more sun as their arugula is kicking my arugula's butt.

Soma Farm Report - Noe farm report's Northern twin. They are in a warmer sunnier area of town, we'll see how they do. They are installing of drip irrigation - something I've become very familiar with up in Healdsburg.

Love Apple Farms - Ben Lomond. Cynthia grows the vegetables for Manresa, a highly regarded restaurant in Los Gatos. Some interesting info on Tomato planting - she digs a big hole, puts fishheads and eggshells in, then buries the plant to the leaves, and does a deep starter watering. I, on the other hand, dig a small hole and slop the plant in. I will be adjusting my technique! I got massive tomato production last year but I worry that was because I was starting with fantastically amended soil that the previous owner set up for me. I need to keep it going. Cynthia also gives classes on various topics - I'm eyeing a class on Beekeeping if Liam consents to let me go. The dream would be to commute to the class on bike :)

Tiny Farm Blog - a wealth of knowledge from this blog from Ontario, Canada.

A few weeks back I took some potting soil and mixed it - for better or worse - with soil from a particularly fertile spot in Healdsburg and added a little chicken manure, and planted some seeds in some old starter bins I had. This is not necessarily any more intelligent than how I started the Cilantro and Dill from seed in SF by planting them in soil from the SF backyard - my current opinion (right or wrong) is that this is better for drainage around the seed. Current status - the heirloom tomatoes and basil have come up, the Bell/Jalepeno peppers and squash are still dormant. I put in multiple seeds hoping one would come up and to thin if I got more. The tomatoes have come up with multiple shoots, I might research if I can prick out the extra seedlings and get more starts - I've decided to plant tomatoes and cucumbers on some extra land in Healdsburg - the soil is good but I need to run a drip and install a timer. The question is - will I need to rely on starts or can I get these seedlings into the garden.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The safest route to school is the route to the closest school.

My wife just sent me the following email from the Golden Gate Mothers Group.

Last night’s school student assignment meeting

Tue Apr 14, 2009 8:46 am (PDT)

Here's a brief update of last night's meeting on the SFUSD school assignment redesign. There were 3 general scenarios presented for K. The first involves automatic assignment to your attendance area school with choice/lottery for special programs and extra seats. The second involves choice/assignment to a school in your attendance area zone with choice/lottery for special programs and extra seats. The third choice is similar to our current system, which is primarily considered a choice system (even though 1/3 or more get none of their choices).

HERE'S THE CRITICAL POINT: attendance area is defined by academic/economic/linguistic/racial diversity, geographic barriers, enrollment projections, student density, and school capacity. Proximity or neighborhood is not any part of this!!! Here is the quote from the presentation, "Proximity is not a priority but should be considered when it does not compromise academic/economic/linguistic/racial diversity." In case the implication of this is not clear, it means that your attendance area is not necessarily where you live and could in fact be anywhere in the city.

Two of the Board of Ed Commissioners (Norton and Yee) pushed for simulations that are neighborhood based. Commissioner Wynns seems think proximity is unimportant and said, "we just keep hearing from a vocal minority that parents want neighborhood schools." Commissioner Mendoza seemed on the fence about choice vs. neighborhood but recognized that distance to the school was important in her family's situation. I couldn't tell what Commissioner Kim's position is. Most notably, there was an impressive showing from the community. There must have been 50 families and 30-something stayed to give public comment. This is the kind of effort we need if we have any hope of influencing the outcome. I had to leave just after I made my comment (I was third) but I would love to hear about the rest of the comments - so if you went and stayed for the comments, please pass on any information you have.

Now is the time to speak up if we don't want to be stuck with an assignment process that is unworkable for SF families! The next meeting is on April 25th, 1-2:30, through Parents for Public Schools: After that there is a meeting on May 11 at 6pm in the Excelsior (scroll down on above link). Also, please send comments. The SFUSD lead on this is Orla O'Keeffe ( – she is a special assistant to the superintendent. You can also email the SFUSD Superintendent, Carlos Garcia at Our elected officials working on this are the Board of Ed. Commissioners.

Here are their emails: Kim-Shree Maufas:

Jane Kim (Chair of redesign BOE committee):

Sandra Lee Fewer:

Hyra Mendoza:

Rachel Norton:

Jill Wynns:

Norman Yee:

Lastly, here's the email address for comments on SFUSD's assignment redesign website:

Please keep the effort up – we can make a difference!

I am painfully aware that there is an elementary school 2 blocks from my front door. Why is this painful - do I not relish the youth of America, instead wishing that Children be seen and not heard?

Au contraire! To quote the diva - I believe the Children are our Future. The reason the school being so close is sort of a problem is that I have to ride past it at "Rush Hour" in the AM. Cars line up in the opposite direction that I am traveling, and after dropping off their kid, they pull out into my travel lane pretty much without looking to see that this very well may painfully introduce me to their windshield. This car dance every morning is an affront to all those who walked to school, 7 miles, uphill each way, in a blinding snowstorm. It's like these kids are made of sugar.

However, I also see dozens of children being walked to school. Wonderful. But if you live in Cole Valley it's sort of hard to walk your kid 4 miles over Twin Peaks to school. Thus the rash of drivers. In fact I get a second helping on my way to Caltrain in front of the Harvey Milk Academy on 19th St. And you see very few kids on bikes - it's not impossible, the SFBC is pushing for Safe Routes to School - maybe someday we'll have our own Freiker!

Now - some intellectual honesty is required. Absolutely some of the people who will fight for geographic assignments are primarily interested in replicating what goes on in pretty much every other school district in the world - the reason you moved to where you did was so your kid could go to the "good school". If you have money, you get to go to a better school.

This is how it works anyway! If you have money and you don't get the school you want in SF via lottery, you pay your way into a private school or you move to Marin/Burlingame/Piedmont. You can say what you want about spoiled rich kids, but those kids will bring a lot more to the table than just their blonde hair and blue eyes (or their parent's drug stash in the case of Marin County). I'm going to go out on a limb and say that parents who are willing to move out of SF just to get their kids a decent school, would be willing to show up at bake sales and PTA meetings.

Nobody is "forced" to move out of SF in the pursuit of good schools but it does happen, and the net impact of those kids leaving the city is detrimental on the SFUSD. And those that don't, are in many cases required to drive their kids all over the city to get them to school, which is a detriment to the city (traffic), the kids (time, going to a school in a car instead of getting exercise), and the parents (time in a time limited world, and you bond better with your child *walking* to school instead of with them in the back seat).

Of course the 800 lb gorilla in the room for the neighborhood schools advocates who (please say I am not alone) also care about Social Justice is that while San Francisco may already have polarized neighborhoods, polarizing the schools as well creates a host of new problems and is detrimental to the kids who don't have the inherent advantage of living in Noe Valley or Pacific Heights. I fully believe this problem can be solved without denying the chance for parents to walk their kids to school and attend PTA meetings with time they are no longer spending driving from the Sunset to the Mission. Proximity can be factored in while giving opportunity to those who want the opportunity to attend schools outside their neighborhood. If the belief is that schools in "good" neighborhoods are inherently better due to the advantages that the student body has outside of school and parental involvement, the school district can attempt to mitigate that with financial wrenches - increasing pay for teachers, resources available, etc... at troubled schools (this is sort of the opposite of merit pay - instead of paying more to the teachers who have better students, pay more to the teachers who have a tougher task, incenting teachers to take on that job).

The benefits are many fold. There are strollers all over Noe Valley, but not so many pickup basketball games with teenagers. The neighborhood is not stable because there is turnover when children reach school age. This is bad for the fabric of neighborhoods, bad for children who are yanked out of their Neighborhoods after 5 years of bonding with the kids on the block, bad for the children (and bike commuters!) who must navigate the cars zipping around schools in the morning, and bad for the City in terms of traffic, in terms of school stability, in terms of livability.

I'm not an educator but that's my take. I'll fully admit that I am incented by not wanting to move and wanting Liam to attend Alvarado with the friends he will meet the next 4 years of his life.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Paris-Roubaix Viewing report.

I got up at 3:30 AM on Sunday to watch the Paris-Roubaix cycling race going on in Northern France on . This is a great race, super dramatic. It showcases some uniqueness to cycling - to win this race you pretty much need to put yourself into the position that if you get good luck and don't get any bad luck, you can win. The winning break was down to 6 riders. One crashed and took out another. A third waited for his fallen teammate. A fourth was held up by the crash and had to chase the leading two, then when one of them also crashed, the held up rider was again held up, leaving the winner as basically the guy who didn't get unlucky. Well that and because the winner - Tom Boonen, is one of the toughest dudes out there.

This race is known for 27 sections of "pave" - cobblestone roads that are very difficult to ride. The critical one is the section through the "Forest of Arenberg"

Getting up at 3:30 AM also gave me the opportunity to take care of my 2 month old son during his middle of the night wakey wakey time. I wasn't alone - my buddy Troy was also up at this time, watching the race with his two young daughters. We emailed a few bits of commentary about the race - this was the best one...

Troy writes...

Is Liam watching? I'm here with both girls, and Cadence likes Flecha's jersey, but picks Boonen 'cause of the rainbow stripes on the arm.


Liam decided to throw a dump I had to change during the Forest! What was he thinking!

Per Troy

Should have made him sit in it for a few k. He'll learn someday-don't shit during the cobbles, you don't know what you'll miss.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Warning signs - agriculture.

We're in Sonoma County this weekend. I went out to check on the fruit trees and saw some very distressing things. Sure it's nice to see that there are plenty of fruits on the trees. But this is scary...

This fig is near full size and in theory will start to ripen. That should not be happening in April. Last year we started to harvest figs in *August*. The unseasonably warm weather in January brought the buds out. The rain in February helped things along, which was fine, but those January blooms could all be dead in the water if we get a nominal April freeze. The plants are too far along for this time of year due to the warm January.

More pictures at my wife's wine country blog including an Almond tree that is loaded - too early from my understanding.

Global Warming? Who knows, but it's unsettling no matter what, for this season's harvest.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Water conservation - way of the future in Sonoma County

Today I am up in Sonoma County - and the weather is gorgeous. Just got back from a walk down Limerick Lane and returned to see the Japanese Maple is in full leaf in the front yard of the Vacation Rental we own in Sonoma County Wine Country

Somehow the Cilantro I planted a few weeks back and as of 2 weeks ago had sprouted, has disappeared. But the spring lettuces, mint, parsley, and oregano are in full force and some early tomato starts that I put in seem to be taking. The fruit trees are budding, I'm sure in May I will have to come back and thin the fruit. This year I'm going to try to grow some "pears in a bottle" to then fill with brandy. Yum.

Our property has a lot of landscaping, fruit, roses, and the veggies I am growing. It also has some big redwood trees that perhaps aren't so appropriate for the valley location we are in. Translation - a lot of water needed for plants, in addition to the water needed for people. This is a problem because Sonoma County, like the rest of Northern California, is in a bit of a drought.

For us, it's a real big issue because we are on a well. We don't get any benefit from storage at Lake Sonoma, or detriment from the lake being empty. We have to manage our own water supply. When we use too much, the well can empty and the pump shuts down. Generally speaking, the less we use, the better.

This weekend we took a first step for some innovative water conservation. We installed a hot water recirculating pump using the fine folks at Bragg Plumbing

It was pretty easy to sell my wife on the concept of spending the money on the system because it has the nice side effect that when you turn on the shower - bang - you get hot water right away. And I'm sure our customers will like that as well.

It works like this. Hot water runs from your hot water heater tank to the various outlets in your house, and comes out the spigots. When you turn the hot water off, the water currently in the hot water lines then starts to cool down since it is no longer in the tank. So when you come back much later to take a shower - brrr... the water is too cold. So you wait - in our case probably about 5 minutes during which 20 or so gallons of precious water goes down the drain.

The recirculation pump connects the cold water line to the hot water line via a t-valve at the furthest point in the house from the tank. Every 15 minutes or so, the pump kicks on and pushes new hot water into the lines. Since the spigot is not on, the t-valve opens and the hot water now goes into the cold water lines. Where does this water go? Back into the hot water tank, basically, because since the pump is pulling water from the tank, the tank now pulls more water in, coming from the same place the cold water comes from in the first place. Basically.

For water challenged Sonoma County this is a huge win, saving lots of water. In our case it's a bit of a bummer, because our water is coming from the water table itself - so there is no way we can keep the water we save from being pumped up by the grape growers down the street. But it still provides a buffer right now for the water in the well. Longer term should we put in a water tank, we'll be saving water that we've pulled from the well ahead of time. We also get an immediate benefit now in that we are on a septic system in addition to having a well. Less water down the drain means less water into our septic.

Water is pretty much our biggest concern right now so this is a big benefit, but there are costs in addition to money. The pump draws electricity of course.More importantly, we are now putting cold water back into the pump which will use more propane than if we weren't running water. This is mitigated a bit in that the pump has a timer and an on/off switch. When we are out of town we turn it off. When it's on, the timer allows us to not run the pump in the middle of the night for example.

Users of city water would benefit in ways that are far more measureable in the event that Sonoma County puts people on water restrictions.

Monday we are meeting with people from Bragg to discuss ways to further mitigate the tradeoffs that the pump brings, and use our water more efficiently. We are considering a solar hot water system that will mitigate the propane problem by using solar energy to heat the hot water. Our biggest propane usage right now is by far our hot water heater, and propane is expensive - it's more expensive than Natural Gas to start with and we have to pay for delivery (if any potential renters were wondering if our house was "away from it all" - it's far enough away from the city slickers that there is no city water, sewer, or natural gas. We do have electricity and the internet however - maybe that's not a good thing!). Anyway, if we can cut the propane usage with Solar Hot Water the system could pay for itself very quickly and insulate us from future issues with propane.

Additionally, we are looking at a gray water system where the shower and sink water form the bathroom will be drawn into a cistern and can be used for underground irrigation. This would allow us to keep those redwood trees without a lot of guilt. It will be a lot of backbreaking work for me to dig the irrigation lines, but hey - I'm not made of sugar you know.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Not surprisingly, this guy didn't get into Michigan

Now I don't feel so bad about Sparty getting ass-whupped by UNC.

Zack Colman - Sparty at large, shows why Michigan State is Michigan's little sister with an imbecilic rant about bicyclists, admitting that some of his favorite things to do while driving are Text Messaging, playing with his iPod, and driving half asleep to class after going out on a bender.

Ridiculous. Perhaps Zack is still hungover from not getting into his "A School", unlike the other Zack Colman seen in his facebook photo taunting the junior Zack Colman. Poor Zack.

If you want to mention this to his boss...

Editor in Chief, Kristen Daum,

More on this particular genius courtesy of BikeSnobNYC

Greening Caltrain - Destination Tag Give-away

A question that is frequently asked on Caltrain's bike car - "Where do you get one of those yellow tags". The tags referred to are destination tags that you hang on your bike to indicate what stop you will be getting off at. The bikes are stacked in a rack one on top of the other, so the tags allow cyclists to organize their bikes and not block in someone who needs to get off before them.

Anyway, the correct answer today for "where do you get a yellow tag" is "You don't". Caltrain has stopped producing the yellow vinyl bike tags. The reason is pretty much "cost" - I have been told they cost on the order of a dollar a piece to make, and in many cases they don't have a longer shelf life than the second most popular option - handwritten notes on whatever flyer is sitting in the Caltrain "Take One" slots in the bike car.

Amusingly, at the JPB meeting where someone from Caltrain mentioned that they would no longer be producing the tags, in addition to mentioning cost she said "We're trying to be more green and the tags were made of plastic". So is the tupperware I use to bring my lunch in, but since I use that indefinitely, it's more green than endless numbers of paper bags. But I digress.

Caltrain has put up a replica online for people to print out. "2. Print the 8.5” X 11” document on bright yellow paper or use color printer." Really, you don't need to put color paper into your printer or waste your colored toner - white will work. But here's another option.

From the SFBC's Bikes On Board project.

Hello Cyclist,

Destination Tag Give-away
Great news! SFBC's BIKES ONboard project will be distributing green
destination tags to Caltrain bike customers. Every bike needs a
destination tag to smooth on- and off- boarding in the bike car, and
Caltrain has stopped providing the yellow vinyl tags.

SFBC tags are green, because cyclists do the most to "green" Caltrain
cyclists don't use cars or buses or shuttles at either end of their
commutes. Caltrain's parking lots and shuttles are heavily subsidized, so
cyclists not only 'green' Caltrain, they also save Caltrain money.

Look for volunteers distributing the tags, or stop by the SFBC office to
pick one up (995 Market St., Suite 1550). Or, you can print your own:

Of course if you don't come pick one up, you don't get the lanyard and name holder :)

One nice advantage to the system SFBC is passing out is that if you - like me - use many stations, you can flip the cards in the name badge lanyard in order to change the stations as needed.

Once upon a time I saw a photo of a tag where someone had solved this problem by putting a spinner on an old compact disc. Anyone?

Another useful bike tag hack by kwc.

Monday, April 6, 2009

What a waste...

I am a huge fan of college basketball. I am also known to make an occasional wager. So March Madness pools - fahgeddabout it - I'm in. But generally I seem to suck, mostly due to a little bit of Big Ten homerism. The only time I ever got the final game correct, I picked Illinois over UNC in 2005. Given that was hardly a stretch - pretty much everyone in the only money pool I was in that year had the same final game and I finished something like 5th out of 9.

This year I entered only one pool where I had to chip in some money. I quickly whipped my bracket together. Not wanting to go with all chalk, I came up with UCLA and Purdue in the Final Four - neglecting that UCLA was going to be playing Villanova in Philadelphia in the second round. I had Louisville over UNC in the final, and suffice to say I finished way at the bottom of the 30 or so in this pool.

On the first morning of the tourney, I decided to throw some brackets into the free pools run by Yahoo! and ESPN. ESPN's pool gets something like 5 million entries, so they have a lot of variations covered and you *really* have to nail it to win the $10,000 or so they give the winner. When George Mason made the final four, there were actually a few people who not only picked GM, but also had the other three final four picks. Amazing.

Anyway - I rapidly threw together my picks for the ESPN pool and came up with this.

Classic. I come up with MSU over UNC, and throw Villanova into the Final Four. This actually puts me in the top 1% of the ESPN pool and if MSU wins I'll be much higher given that UNC is the consensus choice. Had I put this entry into my Fraternity pool I'd be running away with it. Sadly - I get nothing and like it. Oh well, hopefully Sparty can represent the Big 10 well tonight.

Are the times changing or is California that far ahead of the curve...

Deborah Matis-Engle was sentenced Friday by a judge in Redding, Calif to 6 years in jail for an incident causing the death of 46-year-old Petra Winn. She was charged with vehicular manslaughter - despite the tenor of the article, texting while driving was not illegal at the time in California. She was placed under arrest for drunk driving based on her behavior at the time of the crash but no evidence of drugs or alcohol was found. Can I conclude she was just rung up for being reckless? The CHP officer denoted that he felt there was gross negligence based on her knowing there were some one way traffic controls in the area. All that taken in - I think it's pretty fair to say the fact she was texting (paying bills via her phone) had much to do with the sentence.

Compare and contrast to the case of Jessica Stark of Champaign-Urbana (yes the home of my Alma Mater) who killed Matthew Wilhem while downloading a ringtone. The case is somewhat similar - but unlike the CHP officer in Redding, the DA in Illinois that the driver had "no reasonable expectation of a bike on the side of the road." Aside from that conclusion being somewhat dubious - there are cyclists and walkers using that road with at least nominal frequency - her behavior was negligent on its face regardless. Had she been staring at her phone and the car in front of her slowed to make a left hand turn, boom. Being that Stark was driving fast on a busy road, there is no way downloading a ringtone is not negligent.

Of course, the cynic has to point out the obvious sad difference. Stark killed a cyclist, Matis-Engle killed another motorist. Does the disparity say that motorists get an expectation of safety and cyclists don't?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Willie Brown's delusional world

How does Willie Brown get away with it. I can't figure out if he is stupid, arrogant, or what.

Today - in the Chronicle

A major war is going on between former state Sen. Quentin Kopp and the rest of the world.

He has decided that the high-speed rail line should end at Fourth and Townsend streets, not downtown at the Transbay Terminal.

Basically, he thinks the station should be able to accommodate a train every 5 minutes, as if there is ever going to be a train every 5 minutes.

His call for the Fourth and Townsend site is also inconsistent with 25 years of city planning.

But he is the chairman of the High Speed Rail Commission, and that is power.

So I've enlisted myself to become involved and to join with other members of the commission to get Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to weigh in.

High-speed rail is one of the projects that is ready to go and it has a lot of backers. In fact, it is probably the only issue that Mayor Gavin Newsom and Supervisor Chris Daly agree on.

So Kopp is going to get piled on.

Brown is no longer an elected official but of course fancies himself to be still a bit of a power broker. The question I have - who actually wants this guy brokering anything?

"as if there is ever going to be a train every 5 minutes."

That's 12 trains an hour. Currently Caltrain runs 6 trains an hour just for local service during rush hour so 12 an hour isn't that far fetched when you electrify the trains and add in HSR.

But I digress.

"His call for the Fourth and Townsend site is also inconsistent with 25 years of city planning."

For those not paying attention, for 8 of those 25 years, Brown was the Mayor. So let us look at Brown's position as Mayor.

It was less than two years ago that San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown torpedoed attempts to extend the railroad from its present terminal at Fourth and Townsend streets to the Transbay Terminal via underground tracks, calling the plan too expensive.

But Brown changed his tune last December after backers of the downtown extension qualified an initiative for the November 1999 ballot, which is when he will be running for re-election.

Brown's little ditty today conveniently neglects the fact that he was against it before he was for it - to the major detriment of the extension. He flip flopped not because he had a sudden burst of intelligence regarding policy - he was worried he would lose the election. If you think it was too expensive then, what is it now?

I'm looking somewhat in vain for Brown's exact quote - I remember it from just after I moved to SF from Palo Alto in 1998. Basically he said he didn't want to spend all the money to build something that only benefits people on the peninsula commuting to San Francisco. He failed to think about the impact on HSR and to foresee that huge expansion of the reverse commute population - a 2nd/Mission station would improve the commute for a lot of Caltrain reverse commuters.

I'm not so sure we should build this thing now. Had we taken the bull by the horns back then we'd be pretty happy today. But Willie is more about his myopic vision - that extends pretty much to the tip of his fedora - than about vision of the future of the Bay Area and California.

How did we get 16 years of Brown/Newsom. Wow.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Difference between cycling/walking - and driving

This morning, 7 AM, Noe Valley. I was riding my bike down 24th St, as I crossed Church I heard "Murph!" I turned to my right and some guy was waving at me and said "Have a good ride", I sort of mumbled something like "Yeah thanks", and rolled on. I certainly didn't utilize my best social manners in this instance but I was scrambling to make a train and trying not to bite it on the J-Church tracks. All said and done - I didn't quite establish who the guy was - leaning against the outside wall of Happy Donuts. My best guess is that it's someone from the Google ride and that he was waiting for a Google shuttle.

Suffice to say, had either of us been in a car, this little interaction never happens. I get this sort of interaction on a daily basis. It's certainly helped by being part of a couple of large communities that spend a lot of time together and not in a car - the SFBC the Caltrain Biker Cabal, and SF2G of course. Throw in the people walking their dogs and (now) babies around Noe Valley and SF can become a pretty small town pretty quick - and that's a good thing.

So who was the mystery man giving me a hollah today? I did in fact have a decent ride and getting a shout out was a good part of it.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Cheap organic produce

The front deck Cilantro is coming in.

I did screw this one up pretty badly but we'll get a mini crop. Turns out Cilantro has two seeds per seed, so to speak. I germinated these things inside (I would carry them out for sun in the AM) in some re-used plastic start containers from last year, then transplanted the 4 best to this pot. Then I thinned 2 of them out. Or at least I thought that's what I did. Since each "seed" has 2 seeds, each plant was actually 2 plants. I should have thinned out 1 from each instead of pulling 2 "pairs". And I should have done it sooner.

Now these guys are a bit crowded but I'm going to let them run their course while I start some new ones. I have 4 decent arugula plants going in the backyard and a dill plant that is growing very fast. The arugula sort of requires actual ground but the herbs only require a pot, and can almost certainly be grown inside.

I'm not the only person growing food in Noe Valley - check out the Noe Valley Farm Report. He's also a big fan of arugula. Wait til he finds out that it grows like a crazy weed. I've cut the Healdsburg argula back to the nub twice, and it's come back like crazy both times. Good thing to be a fan of - it's not hard to grow.