Sunday, October 04, 2009

Go see Capitalism: A Love Story

Hi everybody,

It's me, Garlynn.

I'm just writing with a movie recommendation that I think you should all see.

And I'm a bit conflicted about this, because, well, this movie, called "Capitalism: A Love Story", by Michael Moore, is a pro-American screed against the capitalist system that is holding us all down. So, it doesn't make much sense to go out and line some corporate pocket in order to see it. If you can figure out a way to sneak into the theater for free, well, I highly encourage it. Otherwise, well, do what you have to do.

Personally, out of all the people whose pockets I could potentially line, however, Michael Moore ranks pretty low among those who it would piss me off to do so. This is, apparently, his best movie yet, which sets a pretty high bar -- and if lining his pocket now rather than later is the real choice, I'd rather do that now if that's what it takes to send a proper f*ck-you to Wall Street. (It's just the corporate middle-men who run AMC and United and the other corporate soul-sucking theatre chains that I'm less happy about, but then again, well, at least they've agreed to show his movie.)

Here's what the San Francisco Chronicle has to say about the movie. And below that, is what Michael Moore wrote that convinced me to go see it tonight -- I just got back from the theater, and let me tell you, it's worth it. It's a rousing movie, and I hope it inspires us all.



San Francisco Chronicle:

"Documentary, 127 minutes, Rated R

Love him or hate him, Michael Moore's latest, most impassioned diatribe has a flat-out polemic wizardry that'll frizz your hair and break your heart: promoting a radical democratization of economy, he touches on everything from the low pay of airline pilots to the 2008 financial meltdown. Simplistic, smart-alecky, primo Moore. -- A. Biancolli, SF Chronicle"

Michael Moore:

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Michael Moore
Date: Sat, Oct 3, 2009 at 2:17 PM
Subject: A Great Opening Night -- Do Not Put Off Seeing "Capitalism: A Love Story" -- GO TONIGHT! All of Wall Street is Watching!
To: garlynn

A Great Opening Night -- Do Not Put Off Seeing "Capitalism: A Love Story" -- GO TONIGHT! All of Wall Street is Watching!
Saturday, October 3rd, 2009


Thank you, all of you, who packed the theaters across North America last night to see my new film. The movie houses were rockin'! The national movie exit poll company announced this morning that the audiences in America gave "Capitalism: A Love Story" a rare "A" rating! Wow, thank you! In most multiplexes where "Capitalism" played, it was the #1 or #2 top-grossing movie there for the evening. That is nothing short of amazing.

For those of you waiting till next week to see it, I can't say this strongly enough: Do not put off going to see "Capitalism: A Love Story." It is not just a movie. It is a referendum that is being closely watched by the CEOs of America. Let me tell you bluntly, the suits on Wall Street are closely watching to see how this movie does this weekend. So, too, are the members of Congress. If "Capitalism" has a huge opening, it will send shivers down their corporate spines, telling them loud and clear that the American people are mad as hell and are not into taking it any more. It will put all the bosses on notice that the vast Obama-voting majority has awoken from its silence and are out in full force.

But if the attendance is just "ok" or "so-so," then they will be relieved knowing that there is not a popular groundswell of opposition out there -- and then they can go about their business as usual. I'd like to send them a different message.

Treat tonight and tomorrow as if it were election day. Blow their minds on Monday morning when they show up at their executive suites, switch on CNBC or Fox Business News, and learn that America turned out in droves to participate in a raucous denunciation of Wall Street and everything it stands for. I often hear people ask, "What can I do to make my voice heard?" Your answer is at the nearest theater showing this movie. Trust me, packing these movie houses tonight and tomorrow will eff them up in an overwhelming and profound way.

Last night, there were many reports of spontaneous cheering throughout the film in nearly all the theaters. Theater managers reported difficulties in getting people to clear the theater lobby afterwards because groups of total strangers assembled to passionately discuss what they just saw. One manager wrote to me and said, "It's a good thing we carry Gummy Bears and Junior Mints at the concessions stand instead of pitchforks and torches! These crowds were ready to march over to the local Citibank and do something!" Another manager said a crowd in the lobby formed around the little Chase ATM machine next to his popcorn stand and started to "yell at it." Jeez! (Click here to see some of the cell phone photos fans have sent from various theaters around the country last night.)

Here's what I've heard the most about last night: Audiences were stunned and shocked by many of the things I reveal in the movie -- stuff that the networks have refused to show them -- even though they have the footage! They purposely withhold this news from you, the public. And because I dare to show it, some networks now refuse to license any of their footage to me. So I get my hands on it and put it in the movie anyway. I truly don't care. I'm sick and tired of the truth not being told to the American people -- and I am willing to suffer whatever the consequences come my way because I showed it to you. Fortunately we have "fair use" laws in this country that have kept my hide out of court so far. There is something so patently wrong with not being told what Wall Street and Corporate America are up to. If you go see "Capitalism" tonight, you'll see what I mean. You will alternately have your head spinning and then find yourself laughing your ass off!

Much more is riding on the success of this movie than the amount of popcorn that is sold. If we do well this weekend, the studio will expand the film to smaller towns next week. Don't put off seeing it! Click here to find out where it's playing and order your tickets now. Call some friends and make a night of it. My crew and I have put nearly two years of our lives into this and I am honored that it has been so well received. Join in on the fun of giving AIG, GM, Bank of America and all the other thieves the shellacking they deserve. And send me a photo of you and the crowd there tonight! I'll post it and personally send it to the heads of all the financial institutions and the members of Congress. They need to get a clue -- right now -- and I'd like you to help me send them that clue!

Thanks again, and I'll see you tonight at the movies!

Michael Moore

P.S. No, I'm not receiving any money from anybody to write this post.
P.P.S. I plead the fifth as to whether or not I paid any money to get into the movie theater tonight.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Dutch Cargo Bike!

Meet Franny, my Dutch cargo bike. Yes, that's me after riding it home from the grocery store, with two full bags of groceries on the front rack, along with my messenger bag, which generally holds my lunch bag and other stuff... Also, I *do* normally wear a helmet while riding, which you can see resting on the rear rack -- I took it off for the photo!

Why a big and heavy Dutch Bike? It's not just about having a heavy bike so as to give the rider a Cadillac-type ride. These bikes are built to carry racks, bags, baskets and child seats, while remaining stable. They maintain generous clearances around your feet and have the structural integrity to support heavier loads. These bikes are built for everyday transport of both people and things. They're not built for racing (though there is a pretty amusing video from 1933 of folks racing these 50-plus-pound beasts around the streets of Bussum, near Amsterdam -- actually, what they're racing are called transportfietsen, or Transport Bikes, which were used by bakers and butchers to deliver their wares -- those were the delivery boys doing the racing!), but rather for everyday transportation, in style.

The previous owner tells me that it is a Franssen Panningen (a fact that I have been unable to confirm or deny via the interwebs). I bought it off Craigslist from a guy in L.A., who had it imported from The Netherlands a few years ago, but then discovered that it was too tall for him to ride safely with his daughter on the back. So, my friend agreed to put it in the back of his truck and deliver it to me on his next trip north to the Bay Area... and now it's mine! A mechanic (who used to work at Tip Top Bike Shop, near my house in north Oakland, and was previously an employee of the Dutch Bike Company in Florida) who inspected it tells me that it is actually an unbranded Azor Opafiets, based on the lugs and the welding. Azor is a well-respected Dutch bicycle manufacturer that is known for producing frames and complete bicycles of a very high quality. My frame is no exception, though I have had to slowly upgrade the components one by one to bring them up to the same standard...

When it first showed up at my house, it looked like this:

Stock, it came with a front hub drum brake, operated by a hand lever, and a rear coaster brake hub with an internal Sturmey-Archer 3-speed gearset (model 'AWC (II)'), operated by a gripshift on the handlebar. It also came with front and rear fenders, rear skirt/coat guards, a full-enclosure chain guard, plastic pedals, a nice black paint job, lots of chrome, a stock vinyl sprung seat, a front and rear incandescent-bulb lighting system operated by a bell dynamo running on the front tire, and a really nice Dutch bell.

One of the first things I did was to remove the bell dynamo (Named for its shape, that's a type of dynamo, or electric generator, that operates by friction by rotating against your front or rear tire) and incandescent lighting system. I replaced it with a system of lights that runs off a hub-based dynamo generator (which still includes a drum brake, but is frictionless, operating instead using magnets), and turns itself off and on based on the ambient lighting level, but that I can also switch on or off manually if I want to. I did it using these components:

- a Sturmey-Archer X-FDD Generator/Brake Hub:

- a switched Busch and Müller Lumotec Oval Senso Plus headlight with standlight and sensor:

- a Busch and Müller 4D Lite Plus fender mount taillight, with a metal bar to protect the plastic lens in case of a rear end collision, and a Standlight:

Next, in order to make it into a proper cargo bike, I added a five-rail Cetma rack with custom handlebar mounts and struts, made in Eugene, Oregon:

This rack can carry a LOT. I've carried C on it, and she weighs like... uh... as much as a human being... I've also carried home four 15-pound bags of compost for the garden, no problems. Here's a photo of me bringing home a TREE on the rack (along with my bag, which probably also had a 6-pack of beer in it):

I also wanted a comfier seat for my ride, given the generally poor condition of roads in the Bay Area. I chose a classic choice to match the classic style of the bicycle -- a Brooks B.135 double-sprung saddle with a two-wire frame, which looked like this when it was new:

However, I recently performed a procedure on it to make it "Butchered and Tied," resulting in it looking like this:

What has happened is to bring the middle of the seat down and away from constant contact with the sensitive groin area of the rider. This, on a Brooks Saddle, also loosens the seat, making for a much more comfortable ride on both counts.

Another modification that I've made is to the coat guard, which previously had basically a friction fit onto the fender. I drilled a hole in the front and in the back, on each side, through the coat guard and the fender, and threaded a small piece of steel wire through the hole to hold the coat guard in place as the bicycle goes over the major bumps that I encounter constantly when cycling in the Bay Area. The modification looks like this:

I just twist up the end of the wire like a twist-tie, so that if I ever need to remove the coat guard, I can just untwist the wire and unthread it to facilitate the removal. (Or, cut the wire.)

Next, I'd like to add a Sturmey-Archer X-RD8 internal 8-speed rear hub with drum brake, to give me an easier time getting this nearly-50-pound bicycle up hills. While I'll miss the coaster brake, I'm sure I'll eventually get used to it, and having a drum brake on both the front and the rear should give the bike amazing stopping power. This modification will also require the addition of a new front crankset, because the X-RD8 has as its lowest gear a direct drive ratio, while my current 3-speed Sturmey-Archer rear hub actually has a 33% reduction for its lower gear. The result is that, while I can get away with a 46-tooth cog on the front today, after the upgrade I will need more like a 28-to-34-tooth cog in order to get the big beasty up the hills. The choice of 28 or 34 teeth depends on whether I can successfully find a set of 74mm Bolt-Center-Diameter [BCD] cranks, or whether I'm limited to the chainring that can be bolted directly to 110mm BCD cranks. Here's what I'm talking about, for you folks who, like me a week ago, just got lost by that previous sentence:

As you can see, the smaller BCD size allows for a smaller chainring, which in turn has fewer teeth. If I'm limited by the chainring that will fit onto the larger BCD-sized cranks, it necessarily has a larger diameter, meaning more teeth.  In fact, I probably just need that very same adapter pictured in the above photo, if only I can find it...

I will keep you posted as the process evolves, right here on this blog. Until then, happy cycling!


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Little Buddy cleans the floors while we slack...

I'm beginning to finally feel like I may be living in the 21st century.


Well... it's not the flying car.

But, a robot just cleaned my kitchen floor for the third time this afternoon (the first two times were this past weekend), and, I must say, I'm very impressed.

It's not just the labor-saving function. Sure, neither C nor I enjoy cleaning the floors very much. Especially not mopping. But, we do enjoy a clean floor.

And our little buddy, the robot floor-cleaner, cleans better than either one of us could. He's got a special process that he uses.

First, we fill him with 2 ounces of vinegar, diluted with enough warm water to finish filling up his clean water tank (about 4 cups of water plus the 2 ounces of vinegar).

Then, with his battery charged, we set him loose. Generally, it's a good idea for us to leave the room, and take any chairs or other obstacles with us, so he can clean under them. This past weekend, we worked in the garden; this afternoon, C was working from home, and I was at work in Berkeley.

While we're gone/out of the room, he moves around the floor, avoiding obstacles, and eventually cleaning all of it. His process is simple.

First, he sweeps big chunks off the floor and vacuums them up.

Then, he sprays some cleaning solution.

Then, he brushes the wetted floor, and at the same time, sucks up the moisture, which is deposited into his dirty fluid tank.

Finally, he air-dries the floor.

All of this happens continuously, and he remains in constant motion.

I must say, when he's done... well, the kitchen floor has honestly never been that clean before. Not even when C's mom was here that one time!! (I may get in trouble for saying that, though...)

Little Buddy is officially known as an iRobot Scooba, from U.S. Robotics Corporation, but that's kind of a mouthful....

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Why there is no

There is a There is a There is a muni bites blog.

But, there is no There is no There is no trimetbites blog.


Because, fundamentally, the transit operator for the Portland, Oregon tri-county metropolitan area, Tri-Met, does not suck, and while it may annoy people on occasion as they arrive at their bus stop only to see the tail-lights of their bus receding into the distance... they don't tend to hold a grudge, because the next bus will show up generally when it is supposed to, and the riding experience will not be an awful one (indeed, it may be a very friendly, relaxing and good one).

Your average Californian might say.... "Huh?"*

That's because, in the Bay Area at least (if not in most of California), the transit systems just seem to have a knack for pissing off their customers in such a way that their customers will go home, buy a website and start spewing forth pretty much the nastiest things they can think of to say. And, other people will find those websites, login, and write something that is pretty much in agreement.

Things don't have to be this way.

In Portland (Oregon), Tri-Met has for years been known as an innovative transit agency. Part of this innovation is the concept that customer service is important, and must be done right. Of course, part of what is happening is also that Portland just has a more civil, nice culture than what is found in the San Francisco Bay Area... people are more polite to one another there, on average, even downright friendly most of the time. I can't remember the last time that Tri-Met's union threatened to strike, though I find a reference to the agency writing a strike contingency manual in... 1985. Indeed, now the union is a lot more likely to work with management to improve the operation of the system in such a manner that they can save the taxpayers money, a process known as the Productivity Improvement Process (PIP).

I think that a lot of the story with regards to Tri-Met comes down to enlightened leadership. The system has been blessed with very talented staff and managers for decades. The current General Manager, Fred Hansen, was Bill Clinton's Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (the number two person appointed by the President charged with protecting the environment, 1994-1998), and is now recognized as a world leader in providing excellent transit service, and making the most out of limited resources.

Fundamentally, I think what needs to happen in the Bay Area with the transit operators is simple: The current system of 22+ major transit operators needs to be merged into one regional transit agency, with local oversight boards elected locally, with short term limits to keep the boards from becoming dominated by the sort of fungus that rules the BART board, for instance. And, a new general manager needs to be hired for this regional transit agency, one who is (like Fred Hansen) fundamentally an environmentalist, one who gets it, who understands that the role of transit is to support land use, to encourage the urban lifestyle, to be a pleasurable way to extend the range of the pedestrian, to act as an amenity to the cities that it serves, and to treat the customer as if their happiness while riding transit were paramount.

That's all.

I won't be holding my breath, but at least I'll say what needs to be said.

* I was going to say San Francisco Bay Area resident, but... well, maybe that might be more appropriate, I don't know if anybody hates Sacramento or San Diego's transit systems, though I'm pretty sure that a lot of folks in Los Angeles hate the MTA)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Ideal Plug-In Diesel-Electric Wagon...

There has been some discussion elsewhere on the web about wagons, and whether the term "station wagon", and the awful American implementations of this concept over the years, have killed off this vehicle class for good or not. Personally, I think the wagon is poised for a comeback. Perhaps, however, it needs to be re-branded as an "estate", using the British terminology, or a "Touring" vehicle, using the German lingo? Let's just put this out there right now, for anybody who does not know yet: Wagons are not slow. Some wagons have a top speed above 200 mph, and some drivers claim that wagons are actually more stable than sedans at high speeds:

I love wagons/estates/touring models. I own a 1987 Mercedes-Benz 300TD, which I picked up used a few years back when I made the decision to run my personal vehicle fleet entirely on biodiesel. It is currently the NEWEST Mercedes diesel wagon available for sale in the United States (yes, 1987 was the last year that Mercedes brought a diesel wagon to this country). IMHO, it still performs in many respects in a comparable fashion to new Mercedes cars, in terms of fuel economy, performance, styling, handling and other attributes (New Volkswagen diesels wagons, on the other hand, have vastly superior fuel economy, but I'm not sure how they compare in other fashions). Being the first year of the w124 body styling, it is only two generations removed from the current batch of Mercedes cars, and in many ways is really only one generation removed:

In fact, I would say that it represents the pinnacle of wagon design for Mercedes. In terms of interior space versus exterior size versus fuel economy, it still wins. Too many newer wagons slope the rear angle (from the back of the roof to the top of the bumper) at too much of an angle, which limits the cargo capacity of the wagon for large loads. I like wagons where the rear end is very close to vertical (though a certain amount of angle is necessary there for styling purposes, I believe):

What would an ideal new Mercedes (or other) wagon look like, for me?

* It would incorporate many of the features the Mercedes S-class vehicles have had since the early 1980s, including:
- Adjustable hydraulic ride height, allowing it to be raised when a high-clearance vehicle is needed because of poor road conditions, leveled off for normal in-city driving & driveways, or lowered for high-speed driving on the highways or cornering in the twisties. This function should be used-adjustable/selectable -- there should be a way for the user to select each height profile manually, or select an automatic mode that would allow the car computer to select the most appropriate height given speed & handling dynamics. I would prefer the all-manual mode, but I know many people are a bit too absent-minded to remember to switch to the correct mode, and they would need the computer to do it for them.
-Automatic close-finishing on all doors. My wagon has this on just the rear gate, but I wish it had it on all the doors. Never have to slam a door again -- let the motor suck it the rest of the way shut every time. This would be a very classy feature.
-Heated seats. 'nuff said.

* It would incorporate all of the features that my wagon (and any Mercedes wagon from the 1980s) already have:
- Automatic load leveling (part of the dynamic hydraulic suspension) to steady the car while under load in corners.
- Mono-wiper for the windshield. This is the most advanced windshield wiper ever developed. I have no idea why MBZ abandoned it in favor of dual wipers for the latest models -- the mono-wiper is a far superior system. It's symmetrical. It cleans the windshield better. It also looks cooler.
- Headlight washers. I actually prefer my mechanical washers to the newer jet-style systems. No idea why this system was eliminated from the newer models.
- Built-in cargo nets, third-row of seating (allowing up to 6 passengers plus the driver for 7 total vehicle occupants, if two of them are very short) and of course power front seats.

Finally, it should include these features that no Mercedes sold in America yet has:

- Mercedes' brand-new Rudolph Diesel 150th Anniversary 4-cylinder engine (2.1 liter CDI diesel engine, producing 204 hp with 500 Nm of torque while consuming just 5.4 liters of diesel per 100 km. This 4-cylinder engine will scream from 0 to 100km/h in 7.7 seconds if placed in a C-Class saloon by fully deploying its two turbochargers. The two-stage turbocharging should take care of the notorious 'turbo-lag' on a single turbocharged engines) should be the primary power plant:

- A plug-in hybrid option should be available for mating to the above 4-cylinder diesel engine, allowing the vehicle to achieve over 100mpg when used for less than, say, 50 miles on a daily basis. This should include a user-selectable all-electric mode for economical in-city driving.

Note: Volvo has just announced a new plug-in hybrid diesel wagon -- will theirs beat Mercedes to American shores?

- Related to the electric drive system, perhaps it could have electric wheel-motors on all four wheels, allowing for 4-wheel-drive while in electric mode (the diesel drive shaft should still connect just to the two rear wheels for maximum efficiency, and that rear-wheel-drive feel while in diesel mode):

- Certified to run on 100% biodiesel without voiding the factory warranty.

And, of course, it should have a 7-speaker surround sound system with included subwoofer and rear-seat LCD screens (plus LCD screen in the main console that has limited functionality while the vehicle is in motion to comply with local regulations) DVD player, auxiliary and digital in-ports, and the option to add a Mac Mini to serve as the CPU for the vehicle's entertainment and navigation systems.

Finally... it should come with at least a 10-year, if not a 20-year, financing package and warranty. A vehicle of this quality level should not become obsolete. It should be built to give many decades of reliable service. It should be user-maintainable and user-serviceable. All of its systems should be engineered to the highest level of quality and durability. A user would expect to pay a premium for all of this, but in return, should expect that the system will last for a very long time indeed. As they say about the diesel Mercedes vehicles of years past, "You will tire of it before it tires of you", meaning it is likely to live well beyond the time that you have use for it. And that is the way that it should be.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

TransLink & BART: A Follow-Up

TransLink is now up and running on BART -- this is a fact that I can now personally verify.

This morning, I caught an AC Transit bus in north Oakland, and after first receiving three beeps from the TransLink reader (and an admonishment from the bus driver to "Get back here and tag it again, it beeped three times!" -- successfully tagged again and paid my fare with my TransLink card. No cash involved. The fare came out of my general "e-purse" on the card, which I had previously filled using a Commuter Check by physically going to Elephant Pharmacy (R.I.P.) and being assisted by their friendly customer service center.

After my meeting in downtown Oakland, I caught BART, entering the system using my TransLink card. I exited the system in downtown Berkeley, again tagging my card on the round luminous circle on top of the fare gate, causing the orange arms of doom to part and allow me to pass. My co-worker commented at this point that he saw somebody else tag out without removing their TransLink card from their wallet, which is good -- this was expected all along (and indeed, when I participated in the original TransLink pilot program in 2001, I routinely tagged in and out of the BART system without removing my card from my wallet). I then caught another AC Transit bus from downtown Berkeley up to the office in the gourmet ghetto -- and attempted but failed to tag with my card still in my wallet. I had to take the card out to tag -- apparently, it was buried too deep in the wallet to be read.

Prior to my trip home, I moved the position of my TransLink card in my wallet, such that it was positioned next to the leather (rather than behind 10 other plastic cards of some variety or another). Sure enough, I was able to tag on both the bus from north Berkeley to downtown Berkeley, and the next bus from downtown Berkeley to north Oakland, without removing the card from my wallet.

So, after a full day of using TransLink to ride both AC Transit and BART, I can report that it seems fully operational, and ready for anybody to use! Congratulations are truly in order, all around! Round of drinks, on me!

Now... regular readers of this blog might feel somewhat let down if I ended this post on such a positive note, without some kind of constructive criticism that may prove useful to our enlightened regional leadership. So, here it comes.

Issue 1:

BART currently has a policy that "Passengers are always responsible for fare payment. Please be sure to bring along other means of payment such as an EZ Rider card, a BART blue ticket or cash as backup during the rollout period." Let's dig down a little deeper, and examine this policy.

Scenario 1: You arrive at a BART station. You tag your card, the faregates open, you enter the system, travel to your destination, tag the card, the faregates open again, and you exit the system. This is the ideal scenario. Great, and congratulations -- you've successfully used TransLink to ride BART!

Scenario 2: You arrive at a BART station. You tag your card, but something goes wrong, and the faregates don't open. Instead, a message pops up on the faregate to "See Agent." Seeing no agent, and being in a hurry, you must provide an alternate form of payment to enter the system. In this case, yes, you should use a paper ticket. You do, you make your journey, and use the paper ticket again to exit the system. Fine. Pain in the butt -- but, fine.

Scenario 3: You arrive at a BART station. You tag your card, the faregates open, you enter the system, travel to your destination, tag the card and -- the faregates don't open. Now what?
- Option 1: You pull out your paper ticket. It was not used to enter the system, so it will not work properly to exit the system. One possibility is that it will deduct the maximum amount (something like $9.60 now, I believe) possible. The other is that it will just not work.
- Option 2: You go talk to the station agent, if you can find one. They charge your paper ticket for the correct amount for your journey, and cancel out the pending charge on your TransLink card. NOTE: I'm not sure that they actually have the ability to do either of these things... in fact, I'm pretty certain that they can't.
- Option 3: You exit the system using the swinging door next to the station agent's booth. If there is an agent present, you stop to explain to them the issue, and if they cannot read your TransLink card and ensure that your account is only debited the correct amount for the journey that you made, then you exit the system and you ride for free. Why? It is BART's responsibility to properly install, configure and maintain their fare collection systems. If they fail in this obligation, then it is THEIR failure, not yours, and they must forfeit their right to collect fare until they can resolve the issue or provide an alternate and convenient means for fare collection. This puts the burden on BART to quickly and efficiently stem the bleeding, and fix the problem ASAP so they can resume proper revenue collection.

Clearly, BART needs to clarify its policies with regards to Scenario 3, as this is a potentially very frustrating issue for the (hopefully small) minority of riders who may someday find themselves in this situation.

Issue 2:

I've got a stack of old paper BART tickets that's three inches high. Most of them don't have much value on them. Yet, as far as I know, there's no easy way to combine them all and add their value to my TransLink card. This process needs to be clarified, and made easy for the BART-riding public during this transition period from paper to electronic fare collection.

Issue 3:

There's not very good signage at BART stations, on the BART website, or even (as far as I can tell) on the TransLink website that clearly and easily shows TransLink users where to tag their cards on the BART fare gates to enter and exit the system. I know, it's probably bleedingly obvious to most of us, but I think that a small TransLink logo in the middle of the luminous white circle atop the BART fare gates would do wonders to clarify this simple item for customers. Besides, it would be a much more elegant solution than the clumsy graphic that I'm using atop this blog post...

Issue 4:

Yeesh, does this list ever end? I was taught to try to make three points in general, because three is a good number. But, here I go on to number four anyways... BART and its unions have announced that the BART strike will begin this coming Sunday night, August 16th, 2009. Aside from the fact that this will mean that, temporarily at least (I hope), BART will cease to take TransLink (again...), this also means that it is going to become rather difficult to cross the bay in a timely manner during rush hour using your TransLink card. Though the AC Transit TransBay buses are normally a good option, they don't have a dedicated lane to run in across the bridge, so they're going to be stuck in the same 30-mile-long traffic jam as everyone else (or, however big it winds up being). Which brings me to my main point: The Alameda-Oakland ferry service does not yet use Translink. I recommend that somebody go snag like the four readers from the warehouse that they would need to turn on Translink on these ferries ASAP, and install them on the boats over the weekend. I know, it's a relatively minor issue, but hey, it's also a relatively good excuse to finally do something quickly, for a change.

As the Obama administration/Rahm Emmanuel like to say, "Let no good crisis go to waste." Let's turn on TransLink for the Alameda/Oakland ferry in anticipation of the upcoming BART strike!

That's all for now - -except, one last time, congratulations to all for getting TransLink finally opened on BART!!!


Thursday, August 06, 2009

Fun with Kitteh

And now, for something completely different...

Introducing Huasca Kitteh!

This series of photos was taken by Carryh on her cell phone camera, and picture-messaged to my cell phone along with some commentary. For your humorous relief, I'm going to share some selections from the series with you here. The caption will come first, then the photo. Nada mas. Here we go!




Im gonna take the car for a spin, k?


Hiding places...


And now he's a little angel...


I'll water the tomatoes next...


No coffee, no work!


What 2 do when printer doesnt work...take a nap on it.


And finally, this is what happened when I attempted to introduce Huasca to Viola the chicken:

What are YOU?!?!?!?!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

We're growing our own!!

OK, as promised, here is an update post on the progress of our own attempts to grow our own (no, not that stuff, it hasn't yet been legalized for non-medical use here)! Above is the back of our house, as seen from the backyard. That's a peach tree taking up the right half of the photo -- and yes, they're delicious, even if it does have leaf blight this year... we've heard that spraying a copper solution on the tree while it is dormant over the winter is a completely-organic way to cure the leaf blight.

Inspired by the Forest Garden book, we planted our yard over the winter, got chickens, installed a living fence to keep the chickens from crapping all over the deck, planted stuff to grow on the living fence, and then, most recently, got a kitteh to keep an eye on everything. Or, you know, do whatever it is that cats do.

Here's our little kitty, Huasca, on his harness & leash, stalking the three chickens (Henrietta -- Henny Penny -- is the small tan one, Viola the big white one, and Edith the brownish one):

Here's Huasca through the living fence... even now that he's older and can go out in the yard off-leash, he still enjoys stalking the chickens:

Speaking of chickens, this is our famous chicken, Viola, on a ladder:

She was probably peering over the fence at this morning glory jungle in the neighbor's yard. Yes, there is a lemon tree under there somewhere, and it's prolific and gives tasty fruit:

In our raised beds, on the other side of a short chicken-wire fence from the ladder, is this not-quite ripe purple pepper (I think it's a sweet):

Here are a couple of tomatoes on a plant in the raised beds. As you can see, the fruit is beautiful (it's delicious, too), but the plant is less-than-picture perfect. I don't care, as long as the tomatoes are prolific and tasty:

Here is one of the first strawberries from the new plants we put in this spring (there were already a few strawberry plants struggling to survive when we moved in):

Here's a shot that gives some more context for the raised beds. Those are hops growing up the string in front of the back fence, and in front of them, sun flowers... blueberries are under the hops, tomatoes in the foreground in the raised beds, along with onions, leeks & lettuce:

Here's a close-up shot of some of the blueberries on their bush under the avocado tree:

Here's a little yellow summer squash, growing next to the raised beds, on their side of the chickenwire fence that separates the vegetable garden from the chicken run portion of the yard:

In the middle of the backyard, we planted a 4-on-1 apple tree, which Carryh is watering in this shot:

This is an extremely rare double rainbow that appeared over our backyard during a freak July rainstorm:

I was going to make a fire in the chiminea on our back deck, but as I was crumpling up newspaper to get it going, raindrops started falling on my head... so, I stopped, grabbed the camera (Pentax K10 SLR, great camera, BTW), and started shooting, and that's when I noticed that rainbow... and then the second one... Awesome color during a rainstorm at dusk... and, we managed to still have a wonderful hang-out session around the fire afterwards!

Next to the deck: There's a Gewurztraminer grape in there somewhere, sharing the living fence with the purple beans. Also, down below in the bed is lavender, lettuce, some kind of squash, and some other stuff:

On the other side of the garden gate from the deck is this little area. Cucumbers, tomatoes, peas, beans and squash grow in a little bed, and a lot of them are climbing up our living fence/chicken barrier:

In the foreground: The living fence/chicken barrier and the little bed underneath it, with peas, squash, beans, cukes, etc... In the background, the bamboo (source of the poles that stake up the beans & fruit trees), the apple tree, the pear tree, the peach tree, and rear fence/potting bench:

Here's a purple flower on a green bean stalk growing up a pole cut from the bamboo grove:

These purple beans are on another beanstalk growing up another of our bamboo poles:

Underneath the beanstalk is a nice patch of squash and stuff, including this nice big fat green zucchini:

Next to that is our baby fig tree, with our first figs! (They're delicious...) It's a Kadota fig:

That's me with a bowl full of produce from our garden. I've got tomatoes, zucchini, some other kind of white zucchini squash, green beans, purple beans, cucumber and peas. That's our kitchen in the background:

Here's Carryh holding the same basket, in our kitchen... I think she actually was the one who picked the veggies and arranged them so nicely (you can tell, I'm sure):

And after all that time out in the dirty yard, everybody needs a bath -- even Huasca. Washa-A-Huasca!

If we made all of this possible in the back yard of a small 30x100 foot lot, you can certainly do the same in your own back (or front) yard, if you're lucky enough to have one. If not, if you live in an apartment or some other area where you don't have yard access -- considering getting a plot at a local community garden. If all the plots are full, or you don't have a community garden nearby -- start one! Go ahead, just do it -- Guerrilla Gardening is in, man!