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Friday, December 19, 2014

Sunday Ride

I used to take this kind of outing for granted.

It was kind of an improvised affair. I originally planned to ride to my brother's house for a soirée celebrating my Dad's and stepmother's birthdays. He lives a ways out in the golden ghetto that is Johnson County, Kansas, I think door to door it was shaping up to be about a 22 mile ride. I didn't get as early a start as I wanted, and I was worried about making it on time—odysseys by bike into the deep burbs are sometimes challenging on a time-frame because you'll be counting on a stretch of trail that turns out to be torn up for a highway project and the next thing you know you've got a five mile detour, and in any case it's hard to make up lost time on a bike.

Corinna had suggested riding part way with me, then turning around to come home and get my car, meet me at my brother's. She's getting tons better, but she doesn't have the range to do a 40-plus round trip, and time wise I wasn't up for round trip. So I'd ride there, we'd drive back together with my bike on my handy-dandy rack.

She suggested that we both just ride together part way and then double back and drive together from home, saying I'd get the same number of miles in, but of course that wouldn't be true. I'm used to this, it's nothing to do with her brain injury, there has never been a plan she hasn't wanted to tweak, revise, edit or propose an alternative to. It's not that things have to be her way, she vandalizes plans of her own devising with the same disregard she shows to mine. Instead of doing A B and C, she'll say, I could just do D and E, F would cover the same bases as A and B and C was probably a bad idea in the first place.

But in this case, while I knew I wasn't getting any 22 miles in, more like a dozen, my fears of ending up an hour late compounded the delight of just riding around with Corinna and I went with it. We kind of toured Argentine and then looped through the West Bottoms before coming home and getting in the car.

She spotted these murals, they're on Leslie's Taqueria, a place I've ridden by dozens of times and never noticed the art. It's mostly tucked into an alley and behind the building, but it's obviously been there for some time, the paint is peeling.

Besides rediscovering the joy of riding bikes for the hell of it with my wife, I rediscovered my pocket camera. My Nikon D7000 has been a dream come true on many levels, I'm a very satisfied customer there. That 35mm prime lens is awesome, and one of these days I plan to add an 85mm and maybe a wide angle of some sort as well.

But since getting it, I've kind of forgotten the pocket cameras I used to shoot incessantly. They were all I could afford for a long time, and I learned a lot of manual shooting with Canon Powershots over the years that translated to the dSLR when I finally got it. But I never shoot my D7000 from the saddle as I ride around, it's too unwieldy and too expensive if I were to drop it. I picked up a used Canon Powershot to replace the last one I broke, got it off Craigslist for $80 last may, but I keep forgetting I have it.

But it's perfect for those moments when you spy some folk art and don't want to stop, haul out your big rig and all that. Or for shooting pics of your wife riding with you.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Biz Card

Also while sorting out stuff that needed to go, I found my first business card. Well, not quite, I had one and press credentials at Nadler Publishing back in my first job, but when Nadler folded and I tried to make a living as a freelance graphic designer, I had cards made. Sprung for two colors of thermography even.

A lot of things I designed circa 1996 are pretty painful for me to look at. This card isn't the next Coca Cola logo but it's not terrible IMHO.

I like it better than the logo I did for a hamburger joint that's still flying a version of my design 18 years later. I probably don't need to tell you that all the contact info is invalid these days—as if anyone has a fax or a pager in 2014. Okay, I do know some people who still use a fax machine. They're the people who call asking about the file for a job, and when I say I emailed it to them, they say, "I don't check my email every day."

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Portrait of the Lobster as a Young Pretentious Dork

I cleaned out some boxes from when I moved in here at the Lobsterland Poetry Farm. That was roughly what, three years ago? Some boxes had been packed hastily and stacked in a corner in the garage and kind of forgotten about. Like they became a part of the support beam they nestled against, I was mostly unaware of their existence except every once in a while, those times when I'd say, "Most of that is probably shit I should throw away, but I'd have to sort through it."

I finally sorted through it, and most of it was indeed shit to throw away. Then there was my rocket with lobster claw shaped fins, that's a keeper. A few other things, and some pictures. And stuff. Stuff like this nametag from Okon87, a Science Fiction convention in Tulsa I attended in 1987 (the name kind of says that, huh?)—not my first con, but probably the first I travelled for.

I remember checking in and being asked my name, and inexplicably saying, "Shockley." The calligrapher nerd at the check-in table dutifully inscribe me Shockley and that was officially my name for the whole weekend. I am not named Shockley, and I've never known anyone with that as a first name (though a girl I went to junior high with had that surname).

I have no idea what that was supposed to mean, but I think that was the con where I ended up making out with a girl called Carellan Beltanis (I'm sure that was on her birth certificate as much as Shockley was on mine) in a Sheraton hotel room. My friends were impressed because this was a scene, a Science Fiction Convention, where there were about 19 hormone driven teenage males for every female of any age or persuasion: getting a cute girl to make out with you on a hotel bed, that was almost incredible enough to be the basis of a new Science Fiction novel or comic book or something.

The nametag was serving as a bookmark in a Larry Niven novel I bought and got autographed at that con, where I met C.J. Cherryh, Robert Asprin and other luminaries of the SF world. Nivens inscribed the book, of course, to Shockley since that's what my nametag said.

Monday, December 08, 2014


BikeWalk KC had a stuffing party, how could I refuse?

First off, their offices are on my ride home anyway. Second, they promised pizza. Third, while they didn't say 'and beer' when they promised pizza, I know these people, and you can't have pizza without beer. Fourth, as if I needed a fourth reason, it was a chance to hang with some of my favorite people.

I sealed a few envelopes, took a few pics. Didn't get much of Rachel which turns out to be a dirty shame because she's taking a bike advocacy job in Atlanta and has one foot out the door as far as KC goes.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Westheight Homes Tour

I live in the poor man's Brookside. Same basic mix of architecture, home age, etc., but real estate in my neighborhood commands about a third the price. Our homeowners association is pretty easy going, too (I don't know anyone from Brookside's association, but swank neighborhoods seem to inspire the Carolyn Burnhams of the world to take leadership roles).

This pink bedroom in the Senator Darby mansion, I remember it from a couple years ago on the tour, I want to paint my bedroom this color. The Poet Laureate of Lobsterland says she wouldn't be able to fall asleep in a room painted this color, and since she's my wife, I guess I need to get my pink on elsewhere. I still love the color, though.

There's a vaguely Spanish house designed by Louis Curtis that was on the tour this year. It's probably the home in my neighborhood I covet most. There's lots of swell digs to be had around here, including some much, much larger than this, but this joint is all curb appeal. Inside, it's an unusual layout, though a logical one with the bedrooms in their own wing and the other living areas kind of arrayed in a horseshoe around that.

It also features the largest and most interesting collection of bottle openers I've ever seen. Even one from Alcatraz.

Most of the homes on the tour don't inspire me to want to move around the corner really. They're nice to visit, don't get me wrong, they're splendid. But they represent a lifestyle I don't aspire to, even if I had unlimited means, it just doesn't feel like home to me. But that Louis Curtis joint, if it ever comes on the market at a price I can afford at the time, I'd jump at moving around the corner. The facts that it's on the National Register, was designed by a famous architect, etc., probably translate to what Realtors commonly refer to as Outside My Price Range, but it's a dream house for sure. To my surprise, Corinna seemed to really dig it, too, saying when we emerged that it had a strong sense of peace.

The model train set in one of the houses really slayed me, too. It's a monument to patience, in a finished attic upstairs from a classic Hammond B3 Organ (I'd covet that but an instrument like that should be owned by someone who knows more than the opening riff from Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor BWV 565).

My photography on this tour is a disappointment to me. I put my kit lens on because the 35mm prime lens I shoot 99% of the time just sucks for trying to shoot rooms in a house, not a wide enough angle. The kit lens gets me to 18mm, which isn't as wide as I'd like for this kind of shooting, but it gives me a fighting chance to get a room in frame. It's a sluggish lens, though, wide open it's only an f3.5.

Compounding the challenges of working with that glass, I'm on the steep side of a learning curve with a new piece of equipment, a speedlight. I was in a thrift store Saturday, struck out on Hawaiian shirts, but they had a couple of cameras with speedlights attached for cheap. I mean cheap. These were old 35mm film cameras, and while I didn't expect something like the SB-910, but if it would shake hands with my D7000, I figured it'd be good training wheels for external flash photography.

In the thrift store, I tried switching the speedlights from the two cameras that had them to each other and a third 35mm camera. They were all different makes, none of them Nikon. There was a Pentax, a Ricoh and a Minolta. The speedlights seemed to fit the hotshoes on all three, so I took the Ricoh which had a Simon Pyrotechnics Tsi-124 mounted on it. Seven bucks. The Pentax was two dollars less, but the Ricoh had a 50mm lens labeled 'Rikenon' so I thought maybe I'd picked up a 50mm f1.2 prime lens that fit a Nikon mount.

Well, the Simon does indeed fit the hotshoe on my Nikon, though the lens doesn't seem to. Most everything I know about photography is in the available light area, and I tend to trust the camera's metering, typically shooting in Aperture Priority so I control the depth of field and the camera figures out the exposure. I shoot manual a bit, but still, I'm relying on the camera's meter to tell me I've got the exposure right.

With a speedlight, you're working with light the camera can't meter because it strobes on with the shutter, after all those calculations have been made. What makes it more complicated, if the shutter and the speedlight aren't in sync, the shutter actually casts a shadow over your picture. The shot of the basement bar you can see this a little, there are shots I took that where the bottom two thirds of the shot are basically blacked out.

I experimented some with the sync speed, tilting the angle of the head and so on. Did some online homework, too, found some YouTube videos that were helpful. Found nothing at all about Simon Pyrotechnics or this model of speedlight, which I take it indicates that it was produced briefly in the 1980s, when there was no internet, and exited the market fast enough that there's not a cult following of some sort.

The best results I got still kinda sucked. Most of the better shots I took today were ambient light, no speedlight, crank the ISO and try to have a steady hand. The light looks harsh and artificial, and falls off strangely at the edges. I have more study to do if I'm going to incorporate this as a tool in my arsenal (and yes, I have a diffuser I could have put on it and will probably do so next time).

Christmas Decorations

Seventh of December, I still don't have my outside lights up yet. Usually I try to do it Thanksgiving weekend, then see if I can bring them in the house by May.

I did manage to put up our tree, then dragged the chest of decorations into the living room. Without prompting, Mo put everything she could fit on the tree.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


Pub N Pedal might rival this, but today I think Cranksgiving is my favorite alleycat. The fact that I basically never miss it probably says it all, I'm hit and miss on actually attending Pub N Pedal, as much as I do love it.

The first time I ever rode with panniers was my first Cranksgiving.

Of course it's fun to get to go riding bikes around town, and it's a good cause. If you don't already know about Cranksgiving, it's a food-raiser for St. Peter's food bank in the form of an alleycat race. The manifest includes a list of items the food pantry needs, and a list of ten grocery stores.

First person back with something from the list from every store on the list wins fastest rider. There's men's and women's categories, but I learned the first time I did this ride that I am not fast enough to compete in this category. Corinna has won fastest female a few times, but the time I did all ten stores, I got back and there wasn't any beer left. Granted, there's a hundred liquor stores where I can buy my own beer, but to get back to chili and no beer, well, that takes a little of the flavor out of Cranksgiving.

Fortunately, there are more ways to win. Though winning isn't a big deal to me, any competition is more fun when you have something like a chance. Which brings us to Heaviest Load. This is the genius category of Cranksgiving, because people competing for fastest rider might be tempted to buy the lightest weight items on the list, and in the smallest quantities to make sure they get back fast.

Heaviest Load, though, that's a category that generates donations. Personally, I came in with 62 pounds of stuff. I was buying whole cases of canned goods, gallon jugs of cooking oil, though I knew I really didn't have a dog in the fight Trailers are the key to Heaviest Load, and I didn't even have my front rack on my bike to allow four panniers instead of two.

When I got back there was a guy who'd already brought in 172 lbs, and shortly thereafter, the female winner for Heaviest Load arrived with a trailer rated for 300 lbs loaded with a whopping 480 lbs of groceries.

There was also a team Heaviest Load category, and the team that won brought in 1,161 lbs, which is how St. Peter's ended up more than doubling last year's total. Weight doesn't tell the whole story, I know, but well over two tons of necessities were gathered.

The after party is half the fun of Cranksgiving. Various breweries donate their finest to the cause and there's a chili buffet. 75th Street Brewery even donated five gallons of Golden Ale, which is nice, maybe KC Hopps can pay their printing bill while they're into the whole generosity thing. Sorry, maybe that's talking out of school, but that company stiffed my employer for something well into five figures worth of printing, and for me that makes their beer taste jank even when it's free.

Anyway, the chili buffet was really something. They had the table ranked from mild to hot, with a couple crock pots of chicken noodle soup. Naturally, I went straight to the hottest chili, which had a skull and crossbones sign and the bleached skeletons of previous consumers scattered around it.

They weren't lying, I felt that chili all the way to my bowels immediately after swallowing the first bite. So naturally I ate a whole bowl of it and let the endorphins kick in.

A good time was had by all.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Into the Cold

Perfect riding weather seems to vary widely from person to person. I have friends who have rules, no riding alone, no riding in the dark, no riding below 50ºF, not in the rain, and so on. I used to have some of those limits myself, with the result that the bike might not get ridden for a few months.

I started out with some of those rules, but it's so damned limiting. Next thing you know it's Valentine's Day, you're fatter than ever and your bike hasn't been out of the garage in months.

I confess my heart isn't always in it, especially at the change of the seasons when the body isn't acclimated to the new realities. I remember when I was a kid riding the bus to school, we had a cold snap that lasted several days where the daytime highs weren't out of the single digits. I got off the bus one afternoon with my coat unbuttoned, no scarf, no cap, no gloves, just relishing the sunshiny 22ºF weather. Once you get used to 6ºF, 22ºF feels like a heat wave.

We've had the opposite this fall, a total Indian summer, the Poet Laureate of Lobsterland was still harvesting chard and rhubarb in the middle of November. So when the cold snap it, under its new nom de guerre 'polar vortex' hit, I was still used to preparing for rides with the question of pants or no pants?

I've got it down to a science, or nearly: above 60ºF, cycling shorts, Chacos and a Hawaiian shirt, that's all I need for a ride. Below 60ºF, the Chacos lose out to Brooks Adrenalines, and I might wear pants over my cycling shorts. Below 50ºF, now we want sleeves, probably a long sleeved t-shirt under the Hawaiian. If it rains, we're now getting into the Rain Suit Zone where I'll put on my waterproof over-layer that was probably designed for wrestlers trying to cut weight. If it's warm and you get rained on, it's just supplemental sweat. But cold and rainy, that's another story. Below 30ºF, you won't get rained on because it will be snow and sleet, and that's actually easier to deal with. Jersey gloves start to come in by the mid 40s and so do balaclavas. Layers start to include wool, thermal underwear, wool socks.

Monday was full bore cold weather gear. Screw those Brooks running shoes with their mesh tops, I wore my Red Wing Oxfords, wool socks, Carhart thermal underwear, a long sleeved T, the sleeves from my Pearl Izumi cycling jacket, a virgin wool sweater made in Canada (I think meant for crab fishermen), and a Hawaiian shirt because you gotta keep it real. I had a balaclava, cycling gloves for padding, jersey gloves, and the lobster claw military surplus sniper mittens Corinna got me for Christmas a few years ago.

And I was still pretty chilly when I got to work. Should have put in chemical warmers in my toes, I know that lesson, be out for an hour in the teens, you'll be glad for Toasty Toes. Might have benefitted from them in my mittens, too.

Got home, had the hardest time warming back up. Finally took a hot shower, put on my one-piece thermals, sweatpants, wool socks, a sweater and then realized the thermostat was set to OFF. Corinna's tinnitus makes my CPAP unbearable, so she sleeps in the basement by the furnace that's not much better on that front, so the thermostat sometimes gets set to nevermind.

Anyway, I got my epic on, just under 26 miles round trip with temperatures never going above 20F. Hardcore points, cool points, bike commuter points, headwinds coming home points: whatever they are I guess I earned them. But my schedule basically doesn't allow me another bike ride this week, at least not a commuting ride, so Monday was now or never on that.

It was 17ºF when I rode out in the morning, all layered up. Northwest winds meant a tailwind so it was cold but at least the wind was at my bike. Coming home in the evening, the thermometer was officially two degrees higher but that northwest wind in my face, it felt way colder. Going down hills my sinuses ached from the cold where the balaclava doesn't cover.

I was cold but I was also struck by the image of Westport Presbyterian being rebuilt. It burned a couple years back, and they've been reconstructing in fits and starts. One of those churches that didn't draw so many to service on Sunday morning but did (does) tons for the community.

I'm not sure I really got the shot, but I parked my cold bike and walked about around the site for a few minutes and tried.