Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Share the road

I have been passing this recently felled sign every day on my bike ride home (Cornwallis Rd westbound, near NE Creek Pkwy, in Durham).

Dancing with cars is a rush, but has its risks.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Inside Hilton Head

Hilton Head Island is a beautiful island paradise, 12 miles in length, just offshore from southern South Carolina. It has sparkling white wide sandy beaches, gentle ocean waters, lush trees and vegetation, and a large network of walking and biking paths, along with an overabundance of gated communities, trendy cars, fake lighthouses, championship golf courses, dozens of private jets, hundreds of tennis courses, and thousands of handsome obnoxious rich people.

It is beautiful. And most rich people disappear after Labor Day.

Photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/sagittandy/HHI#

Monday, September 22, 2008

Cleaning the shed/workshop

After filling two huge garbage canisters and taking one carload to the dump, I can see the floor of my little shed, I can walk to the back, and I can almost see the surface of the workbench. The bike pile is gone, projects never started, parts for cars I no longer own, wood cutoffs, metal scraps, plumbing parts, beach umbrella poles, gone, gone, gone. I'm on a roll.

Next, the jam-packed attic overhead.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bicycling in Umstead Park

A triathlete friend from the gym took me biking in Umstead State Park near Raleigh this morning. Three hours, perfect weather, mostly wide crushed gravel trails, mostly manageable hills, and she was mostly patient with me.

Photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/sagittandy/BikingInUmsteadPark#

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Tie dye, or not tie dye?

I was tempted to buy this, but I don't think it is me.

(Centerfest street arts fair, downtown Durham)

Flat tire in the driveway

WTF? How does a tire on the junker truck get an inch-long slit in the tread while it is sitting motionless in the driveway for three weeks? Then the nuisance: dig out the jack, the lug wrench, the spare tire, whine, whine, whine. I am finally ready to sell the beast, as soon as I sell the railcar and its flatbed trailer.

It's time to unload all the junk. Soon...

Friday, September 19, 2008

Return to bicycle commuting

I returned to bike commuting yesterday and today (Thursday and Friday), my first time since the summer. Weather was mild and perfect. Took it slow both days. 9 miles one-way. I survived. Traffic was cordial. Most traffic light sensor loops worked well. Riding both mornings in the dark, I encountered only about 8 joggers on the trail with no lights or reflectors. Not bad. One jogger had a bright headlamp; I thanked him as I passed.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Burning Man 2008

Here is my trip report from Burning Man 2008. I ported it to this blog long after it was originally written...


This year's report is a long and unorganized ramble of lists and stories. Skip around as you like. My favorite stories are marked with a yellow smiley face in the text.

Travel Overview

I drove 2500 miles from North Carolina to Nevada and California. I started Tuesday night 8/19 and arrived Reno Friday afternoon 8/22. Daughter Becky flew from Brooklyn NY to Reno on Friday evening. I arrived with about four hours to spare, and picked her up at the Reno airport.

Becky and I toured Yosemite Valley on Saturday 8/23. We walked through the valley, lingered in the Ansel Adams gallery, and took a guided tour on an open-air tram.
On Sunday 8/24, we toured Lake Tahoe. We lounged on the beach, watched volleyball, took a two-hour cataraman sailboat cruise, and inhaled the beauty of it all.

Then the fun began. We arrived at camp Hushville at Burningman about 10am Monday 8/25. Within an hour, we were enveloped by a thick dust storm. I forced myself not to think about just being on the beach 24 hours earlier. From then on, however, from Tuesday through Friday, the weather was absolutely glorious.

On Thursday, Becky's friend Uma flew from Portland to Reno. We left BM to pick her up. It was a surreal experience to leave BM and come back in. Uma was a BM newbie, and had a great time during her short stay.

We broke camp and packed everything up on Saturday afternoon, during our second dust storm of the week. We drove out of BM early Sunday morning following the burn, and drove to Reno.

After grazing at a casino breakfast buffet, washing the car for the first time, and changing its air filter, I dropped the girls off at their hotel and started driving the 2500 miles home. The girls flew from Reno to their homes on Monday morning. I arrived home at daybreak Wednesday morning.

Best one thing done pre-playa

I built a trailer. Succumbing to the typical pattern for new burners, I brought more stuff to the playa this year (three bikes, supplies and water for three people, etc). Since a 1996 Honda Civic with 160K miles was my youngest and most reliable vehicle, I decided to build an ultralight trailer to tote all the schwag. Hauling a trailer voids the Honda's warranty, but hey, that expired 130K miles ago.

I started by adding a trailer hitch to the Civic (hitch instructable - I love writing instructables) and wired the car for trailer lights.

Then I built a small Harbor Freight trailer kit (trailer kit)
I upgraded it a little, with a longer tongue, more angle irons, bigger tires, LED lights, etc
Next I built a plywood box on top. The box is sized to hold milk crates, tents, spare tire, tools, etc. And I put some rails on the side to hold bikes.
I built the trailer in my parents' garage in New Jersey. It was a nice father-son project. I drove it home on a 500 mile shakedown cruise from NJ to NC. It pulled fine.

Then came time for the big trip westbound. To my pleasant surprise, everything worked flawlessly. I couldn't tell the trailer was behind me as I drove, unless I looked back in the mirror or hit some bad bumps. The Civic averaged 32.8 mpg over the whole trip at interstate speed limits. This was great, considering the Civic with no trailer got 38mpg last year. The trailer tires and bearings stayed cool the whole trip. And no flat tires. Woo hoo. Success.

Other good things done pre-playa

  • I sealed all my tent mesh panels with ripstop nylon (tent instructable). Unfortunately, the tent filled with dust as we were setting it up during Monday's storm. Nonetheless, I am confident that no additional dust got in the rest of the week. I am positive.
  • I bought a bellows pump and fabricated a custom nozzle to fit our air mattresses (pump instructable). It worked great.
  • I hacked a blanket into a playa coat (front view) (rear view). The blanket has a gorgeous picture of a Wood Duck, but I didn't like the way it looked as a coat. And it was way too hot to wear in the evening with this year's mild weather. Luckily it still served as a blanket in the tent and was great in the early morning chills.
  • I sewed a pair of gaiters from the sleeves of a man's silk shirt after reading that playa dust does not stick to silk. I tied the top of the gaiters over my calves with strings, and I attached the bottoms to my work boots with binder clips. I was pleasantly surprised that they worked very well. I hope to improve on them next year.

Best big thing enjoyed on-playa

I was fortunate to be adopted again this year by a group of Hushvillians from Seattle. We biked and bantered, marvelled and complained, in groups big and small. Far more than the art, music, lights, spectacle, and dust, these special folks were the best part of the week for me. I could never say enough.

Neatest litte moments on-playa

  • Becky and I climbed the man in a dust storm Monday night. As we climbed, the wind continued but the dust abated. It was neat looking down on the cloud of dust.
  • I enjoyed helping Gary, Patrick, and Eugene build a big geodesic dome in Hushville. This valuable experience convinced me not to build a dome of my own.
  • When climbing the temple one cool evening, we noticed the air temperature was much warmer upstairs than on the ground. Some wierd inversion.
  • I climbed all the major artworks with friends from Hushville. It was so neat to hang upside-down on the baseball bat pyramid, after yielding to intense heckling from friends.
  • Went on an Earth Guardians bus tour. Saw hot springs, climbed The Black Rock, heard incredible facts and figures.
  • A large group of Hushvillians went to hear Megan sing at the British Cabaret. She was great. It was the musical highlight of my week.
  • Speaking of singing, I heard someone else (who will remain nameless) sing 'Yes, we have no bananas' in Russian to a group of Russians. It was, ahem, a highlight of another sort.
  • I got a nice backhanded compliment about my attempts at costuming: 'at least I was trying'.
  • I got to see the Opulent Temple this year. I love the music and spectacle, and the way they have things set up. I missed it last year, but happened upon it this year while biking the Esplanade, woo hoo.
  • While biking on the deep playa one hot afternoon, a group of us were gifted servings of coconut milk from some nice burners. It was surprisingly delicious and refreshing.
  • A Hushville friend and I watched the sun rise one morning, sitting on lawn chairs under warm and cozy blankets. Exquisite.
  • A crowd of Hushvillians and I relaxed and had our teeth chattered in the big blue art thingy with low frequency sounds channellingSchumann Resonances.
  • I was entranced watching little remote-controlled cars decorated with EL wire to look like sharks. Jaws opened and closed, fins wiggled back and forth. Best of all, the operators were more than geeks. They put on a great show, interacting with the viewing public. A wonderful little vignette.
  • I biked around the perimeter fence one morning by myself. I watched planes at the airport, stopped to dance at "The End", picked up moop, and waved to LEOs (law enforcement officers). I also tried some Darwinian behavior, more about that later...
  • I enjoyed watching the Black Rock City Ballet. My enjoyment went through three phases: First I was awed by the athleticism. Then I marvelled at how the dancers remembered all the sequences. Lastly, some of the graceful artistry started hitting me. Wow.
  • I loved impromptu dancing whenever a mobile boom box pulled up. It was so cool to have an art car stop alongside you, begin blasting techno, and all the people around would start dancing like Pavlov. Then after some time, the car would pull away and the people would resume their activities. I enjoyed it several times, on the deep playa and on the Esplanade, alone and with others. Amazing.

Best idea seen on-playa

John from Seattle attaches golf balls to his bike kickstands instead of tennis balls. A tight force-fit holds better than tennis balls. Excellent idea.

Best gift received on-playa

John (the same guy) is a juggler.  He gave me my first juggling lesson. It was intense. Boy, I could get into this. And it is a stand-up hobby, to boot.

More costumes

This wig matched my original hair length and color (when I had hair and it had color). I had to buy it. Rock star.

Hardest Lesson Learned

And now my best self-deprecating story of BM08: Remember Your Recently Healed Injuries


I didn't tell anyone, but I injured my knee 17 days before departing for BM. Boy, was I pissed with the timing. But thanks to two doctor visits, intense therapy, and sheer force of will, I ditched the crutch and departed on schedule.

Then three days of driving completed the healing. While driving, the knee had complete rest sitting motionless, and I kept an ice pack on it almost continuously. In fact, it healed so well that I completely forgot about it by Wednesday. And that is where the story picks up...

Lesson 1

So there I was on Wednesday night in the deep playa at an art installation called "The Pool". It had a delightful set of lilypads on the ground which flashed lights in patterns when you jumped on them. So I jumped. I giddily jumped from one lilypad to another, trying to figure out the patterns.

That is, until I heard a familiar pop, felt a familiar jolt in my knee, and heard familiar voices in my head singing "We're Baaack". Uh oh, imagine my response. I hobbled back to the tent uttering unpleasantries and dug out the ice bag and drugs. Arrgh.

But wait, there's more...

Lesson 2

Thanks to my friends Mr Ice and Mr Advil, I was out biking the perimeter fence on Friday morning. I enjoyed it so much that I did not feel the continuous throbbing in my knee. I just didn't feel it. Bliss

Now there are several renowned hoopers from Carrboro NC who recommend hooping blindfolded as a way to improve the bond between hoop and hooper. I have always been intrigued by the concept. And on Friday morning, I remembered that concept, and wondered if it would work with a bike.

So with no forethought, and with absolutely no common sense, I closed my eyes.

Onward I rode. I stayed balanced. I counted to ten. I opened my eyes. I was still on track. Cool, I thought.

I did it again. Still on track. Hey, this is good.

I methodically increased the amount of time with my eyes closed. When I went beyond 30 seconds, I felt myself going into a trance. It was better than meditation. I was floating. All I felt was the rhythm of the pedals and the wind on my face. In fact, I thought I could navigate by the wind on my face. So I continued.

The trance felt really good when I eased up to 60 seconds. Again and again, it was wonderful.

Then I decided to go for the big time. And that is when a jagged metal fence post decided to come into my life. It rammed smack into the middle of my bad knee, caught my pedal, trapped my bike, and launched me from the trance over the handlebars and onto the ground.

Gadzooks, I blurted, what was that? First confusion, then anger at the fence post, then sober introspection. Hmm, I could have been impaled. Darwin is here. Show yourself, you coward. So again I hobbled back to my tent in pain, this time also streaming blood from several openings. (Bad burner, blood is moop.) But this time, finally, I promised to remember the injury.


Later that night, when it was time to go out, a friend said she was feeling tired from the week. She asked if we could forego biking tonight and instead just walk to some nearby venues. I raised my head as a Faux Gentleman, and gallantly accomodated her request. Little did she know that I was not going anywhere near a bike for the rest of the week, hehe.

Newly discovered creature comforts

I certainly don't need any of these things, but I heard they might be helpful for other people...
  • Saline nasal spray (non-medicated). DON'T INHALE!!!   Do spray it right before blowing nose to loosen caked playa dust
  • Lubricated tissues. Unlike the cheap ones made of sandpaper, you can blow your nose as often as you like.
  • Non-addictive eye drops. Great right before bed.
  • A tiny spray bottle with water in the knapsack for extra cleanliness in the porto. Spritz the bits. Think bidet.

Funny moments on-playa

  • I introduced myself and Becky to some Hushville neighbors. I failed to mention that Becky and I were father and daughter. The neighbor made an innocent comment about our two tents serving as separate sleeping quarters. I quickly told them Becky was my daughter! Well, what a look of surprise and disbelief. Luckily I did not have gold chains or a hairy chest, or they would have never believed me!
  • I thoroughly enjoyed teasing my Hushville friends about carrying FILM cameras. Ignoring the fact that I am so stuck in 1979 myself, I took great glee in teasing others about using FILM.
  • I had to be on my best behavior all week. Daughter Becky found me everywhere I went.

Most unexpected activity

 I got in the habit of buying a bag of ice twice a day, once in the morning, and once right before dinner. I'm a little slow with social things, but by my third time on line, I noticed this amazing thing happening on line: Speed Dating at Arctica!

In the two minutes it took to walk through the queue line, all sorts of people were hitting on each other. I kid you not.

Ever the good engineer, I listened and analyzed as I stood on line. Everyone used the same lines. First, a compliment: "Nice costume". Then some filler "Is this your first burn?" and "Where are you from?" And finally, the big question "Would you like to go with me to see...?" It worked half the time, and half not, but that still yielded a huge number of successes. Incredible. Arctica is the new bar scene.

It seemed so easy that I decided to try my luck.

The first hurdle is getting on line next to someone who matches your age and gender preferences. This is totally random, unless you act like a letch and wait until someone appropriate gets on line, then you jump behind. Of course, I would never do that.  I got lucky two times, finding myself in line next to a middle-aged woman by herself.

The first time, I opened with "hey, nice goggles", complimenting her big yellow bug-eyed ski goggles. She rejected me in the oddest way. She took a deep breath and commenced to talk non-stop for the next two minutes. I had no chance to understand, react, or interact. I didn't get to say another word. In a flash, she was at the cash register and I was breathless. Phew.

The second woman was really cool. I complimented her on something. "Thanks" she said without looking at me. I waited a few seconds. "Fourth burn?" I asked. After a pregnant pause she said "Fifth", as a slight smirk appeared on her face. And before I could go to the next step, she said "and I'm from Portland". I laughed out loud, "Cool. And I am from North Carolina".

Well, that broke the ice. She knew someone in Charlotte, and we had a nice chat until the cash register. We were not interested in making plans to go out, but she surprised me by cupping her palm on my cheek and blowing a kiss. So many vibes. Amazing.

    Things that didn't work

    • I had made some PVC pipes with rebar inside to weight down the perimeter of my tent. The joints went together fine at home, but not on the playa.  I could not force-fit them together.  I suspect they distorted in the sun in my car while driving to the playa.
    • One of our air mattresses leaked. Dagnabbit, I couldn't find and fix the hole. Thus I soured on the air mattresses. Next time we will try pads.
    • I started shinnying up the fronds at the top of this tower until I started swaying and realized they were not supported anywhere. Darwin was trying to get me all week.
    • I drove the last leg of my return trip without stopping to sleep. Nebraska City NE to Durham NC. Almost 1200 miles in 24.5 hours (4am Tuesday to 4:30am Wednesday). Not smart. I'll never do that again.

    Things that didn't matter

    • While preparing for BM, I compiled a short list of people and camps I wanted to visit. Well, I didn't visit any of them. Not to worry, I had more than enough fun with the folks in Hushville.


    • We brought jars of salted mixed nuts to eat this year. The crunch was a great garnish to our traditional canned slop food. We also filled small bags with nuts each day for the knapsacks. They made great snacks in the deep playa.
    • And we brought small containers of ready-to-eat pudding (chocolate, vanilla, butterscotch). It was a decadent snack and desert. Ah, pudding followed by a nap.
    • I did not fret about eating at strict mealtimes this year. Instead, I grabbed something substantial every time I went to my tent. I was never hungry this year.
    • Despite that, I lost 12 lbs this year at BM. On one hand, I hope it improves my performance when I resume bike commuting. On the other hand, I can't continue this every year. Last year I lost 10 lbs and kept it off. Not good. Need to eat more.

    Biggest goal for BM09

    •  I want to learn how to dance at BM. I can't figure it out on my own. I watched intently at several venues this year trying to immitate it, but I couldn't get it. At home earlier this year, I took two different hip-hop classes, and went out to several clubs, but it was not the same. I am stuck. I am reduced to grovelling and asking for help

      So I am thinking of organizing "Teach a Geek to Dance" at BM09. I'll probably need to recruit eight instructors to teach this one student. Watch the Hushville newsgroup to see if I really do it.

    Other ideas for BM09

    • I want a minivan. They swallow up tons of stuff for transport to the playa. And I noticed how many people enjoyed sleeping in them. While I like my Honda and I like my new trailer, a minivan provides a nice tight package. I want one.
    • Depart Saturday morning to go home. The long holiday weekend of Saturday, Sunday, and Monday will make for a nice ride back to NC. Besides, seen one burn,...
    • Save old sneakers. Bring them to BM. Wear a clean pair every other day.
    • Bring less water. We brought way too much water again this year. We only consumed 5 quarts per person per day. Since we only use it for drinking, and since we also drink the water from purchased melted ice, we can bring less next time.
    • Be sure to change the car's air filter after leaving. I changed my Honda's air filter on Sunday morning as soon as we got to Reno. The old one was caked with playa dust. Do it again next year.

    Funny things seen and done while driving

    • On the way to BM, I drove away from a lunch stop with a full large drink cup sitting on the roof of my car. Five minutes down the road I wondered 'Hey, where did I put that drink? Oh nooooo!'
    • After leaving BM Sunday morning, at the Save Mart bike donation place in Reno, I accidentally drove the car and trailer over an unseen curb. Hey, what was that? Where did that come from? Becky and Uma loved it.
    • I saw a cowboy coffee house named "Lasso Expresso". Cute.
    • Saw a store named "Bar Stool Showroom". A whole store dedicated to bar stools. I guess they understand their priorities in that town.
    • Many towns along the way advertise themselves as "Certified Business Locations". I wonder what it means. Reminds me of ads for "Certified Used Cars".
    • I repeatedly caught funny looks from people in passing cars as they watched me bopping, singing, and drumming to the techno music blasting in my car. Prudes.

    Burn Night

    We finally finished packing during Saturday's dust storm (and I posed for my last embarrassing photo; the sunglasses were doing a lot of good, hehe.)

    And shortly thereafter, another burn. Very nice.


    So on that note, it's time once again to bring some 'Joy of Playa' back into our default lives. Good luck everyone