Friday, July 30, 2010

Domes of Des Moines, Part 2

We have a diptych. I repeat, we have a diptych. (Or in this case, maybe a dipstick.)

Behind that homely unshaven mug is the geodesic goodness known as the Des Moines Botanical Center. Thank you, R. Buckminster "Any Relation To Steve?" Fuller.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Des Moines: Home Of Giant, Shiny Domes

Captured on my homeward commute via the wacky front-facing camera on my (apparently defective, if you read Consumer Reports) iPhone 4.

Now that I see this photo big, I think I look kinda like a young, squinty, angry Bob Roll. So I guess that makes it a photo of "Day Moyne."

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Ask Not For Whom The Recession Tolls

This one definitely earns the "things that suck" blog-search keyword.

I learned last week that it's highly likely (as in, almost certain) I'll be without a job by the end of the year. I make it a policy to keep my employer out of my blog (because, ironically enough, I didn't want to get fired), but If you watch the news, you can probably figure out where I work and/or worked. If you deduce it, I'd ask that you not mention it in the comments section -- even though they can't downsize me any more than they already intend to, I still have some things left to lose before I take the walk of shame with my stuff in a box.

I'm not whining, and I'm not desperate (yet) -- I did some good work, got some good experience, and at least I have some amorphous amount of time before the axe actually comes down. But the whole thing just leaves me kind of deflated.

Being me, my immediate reaction was to go for a ride, which was a good call. I swear, the sound of my good bike on smooth pavement at 18-20 mph would make an amazing white noise machine. That hum triggers the happy place in some reptilian corner of my brain, even when the higher functions are in four-alarm freakout.

So, dear readers, if you just happen to know someone who needs a freelance sentence-assembler (preferably in the bike industry, as that would pretty much be my dream gig), you know where to find me.

Now that I've had my vent, I'll keep the buzzkill off the blog, promise.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Went Down To The Crossroads

We're in recovery here at The Cycle World Headquarters, enjoying "Independence From Work" Day after a weekend at the 80-35 Music Festival. While this isn't a music blog per se, it does host the rantings of a rabid pro-Des Moineser (namely me), so I'm giving myself an off-topic pass on this one.

80-35 (named for the two interstates that converge here) is an annual outdoor music festival put on by the Greater Des Moines Music Coalition that pretty much takes over the west end of downtown Des Moines for 48 hours. There was some hullabaloo this year since we got a new sculpture garden right where the main stage used to be, but the organizers were able to keep the festival downtown (where it belongs, if you ask me), sticking the main stage right behind our controversially cool library in the shadow of our most-recognizable building, 801 Grand. In addition to the (paid) main stage, several smaller free stages host non-stop acts of all sorts.

The first thing I really like about 80-35 is that I always get exposed to bands that a) I've never heard of before (because I live under a rock, musically speaking), and b) I want to hear again. This year was no different. Here are some of my top "unknown to me "picks, in no particular order:
  •  Earl Greyhound. The "eardrum damage" award of the festival. Think early Soundgarden and maybe some Living Colour (yeah, showing my age with that reference). Tight and loud. Did I mention loud? I may have taken years off my hearing at their set, but it was worth it.
  • The Walkmen. I wish I could compare these guys to someone, but I'm coming up empty. Just a really enjoyable set despite the absolute downpour right in the middle of it. Kudos too for their ability to soldier on after the rain shorted out a guitar. I also enjoyed the guy behind me I dubbed Ironic Applause Man, who, instead of clapping after each song, would yell out something like, "I enjoyed that song! Please play another!" Comedic props to you, Ironic Applause Man.
  • Dar Williams. And now for something completely different. Okay, so this folky singer-songwriter wasn't a new discovery (since I'm a nerd for Iowa Public Radio and was an even bigger nerd for WYEP out of Pittsburgh before that), but she did generate a surprising amount of pre-set buzz and didn't disappoint. I may have been unduly influenced by the fact that she closed her set with a song called Iowa, though.
  • The Heavy. Seen a Kia commercial lately? With toys commandeering the family Canyonero and going on a joyride? Then you've heard The Heavy's "How You Like Me Now?" These guys dug themselves an audience-goodwill hole by going onstage when their set was supposed to start and doing a 30-minute sound check. Seriously? But it's telling that even with that deficit, it only took one song to win us over again. They're a weird mix of classic horn-funk (think James Brown at his best) and modern hard rock that works, and works well. It's telling that I actually felt like dancing at their set, since my dancing often makes others wonder if they should enjoy the irony or pity the sincerity (to steal a line from the hilarious Starz series Party Down).
Having mentioned that the music is the first thing I liked, here's my second: Des Moines, Iowa being PROUD of being Des Moines, Iowa. I've lived in some cities with a serious self-esteem problem -- I'm looking at you, Columbus OH, motto: "If only we had a professional sports team..." When I moved to Des Moines ten years ago, it was suffering the same low self-opinion. Not any more. I lost track of the number of hilariously-self-effacing-yet-proud t-shirts I saw from local success story Raygun. Some of my favorites:
  • Des Moines: Hell yes.
  • Iowa: Wave the next time you fly over.
  • Des Moines: French for "The Moines".
  • Des Moines: Let us exceed your already low expectations.
You get the idea. We like it here. We know what you think of us, and we don't particularly care. We'll even get a good laugh out of it. It's a feeling that's been growing for a while now, but events like 80-35 really bring it out. Maybe I was sampling a bit too much of the (Iowa-made) Olde Main Brewing Co. beer (good beer? at an outdoor music festival? seriously?), but I just got this surprised-yet-exuberant group-feeling all weekend. It was like we all wanted to congratulate ourselves and remind the rest of the world that yes, cool stuff like this really happens here.

It felt pretty darn good. Or, to put it in t-shirt form, Des Moines: Hell yes.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Origami, Part 6: Tweaking The Beast

Yes, dear reader, you can give me a "Finally! Gosh!" (in your best Napoleon Dynamite voice) now. It's the long-awaited Xootr Swift customization post. Break out your pocket of tots and get comfy.

Back when the Swift was just a gleam in my eye, I had some ideas about how I would tweak one to make it uniquely mine. That should tell you a lot about me and my bike habits... even the ones I'm just thinking about owning in the distant future are already in the queue for my workstand. The actual bike thwarted some of those imagined customizations -- sometimes for the better, sometimes not.
  • Drop bar conversion. The SRAM drivetrain uses one of their non-Shimano-compatible rear derailleurs with the 1:1 cable pull ratio... and the dumb thing works! I have a bad history with Grip Shift (dating back to the "X-Ray" models of the mid-90s that worked for about two dirty rides), but unlike me, they've learned a LOT in the intervening decade and a half. The relatively inexpensive SRAM stuff that came on the Swift is as crisp as any twist shifter I've experienced... so until it dies, it's staying on there, and I'll defer my drop-bar delusions (since the shifter won't fit on drops and the derailleur can't mix-and-match with drop-bar compatible Shimano shifters).
  • Brake upgrade. Dang, another inexpensive product exceeds my expectations. I also have a long history of loathing when it comes to Tektro v-brakes. Flexing, howling, impossible to keep centered... but enough about me. These Quartz models (methinks they're the M710 shown on that page) have been a pleasant surprise, though, displaying none of those qualities and looking kinda neat in the process (a very industrial, I-beam sort of thing). The stock pads are meh, but they'll do until they wear out.
  • Extra stem/bar for accessories. Thwarted. I expected the stem riser to be an inch and an eighth along its entire length, but it bulges not far below the stem to something bigger (I haven't measured, but my guess is an inch and a quarter). If I find a stem to fit that fat section of the riser (yeah, because there are SO many inch and a quarter threadless stems out there), I might still try it, but it hasn't been a priority yet. If  I go there, I suppose I could move the Grip Shift to the accessory bar, allowing me to go ahead with my drop-bar conversion plans.

So what did I actually change? Well, I always take the provided contact points (saddle, bars/grips and pedals) as little more than a manufacturer's suggestion, and the Swift was no different. The saddle was a bit squishy for my tastes (it's the newbie's paradox... the softest saddles can hurt the most) so it went to the parts box for something a little firmer, narrower and lighter. The stock pedals were swapped for some BMX platforms... not because the stock ones were bad (they're all metal and very nice, a big improvement over the usual OEM plastic disposables), just because I could. And I'm trying out some Ergon grips (a sponsor of the great Kent P and his recent -- epic! -- Tour Divide ride) -- jury's still out there. Tack on a big saddlebag, a bottle cage, a bell, and some clip-on fenders, and it's a bike!

Oh, there was one other thing: theft resistance. Des Moines isn't exactly a hotbed of bike pilfering, but I always try to make sure my bike is a harder target than the one locked next to it. To that end, I replaced the wheel quick releases with hex-head skewers, and even went so far as to do the same with the three quick release binders (two at the seatpost and one at the stem riser) that accommodate the folding process. CAUTION: I do NOT know if Xootr would recommend that last bit. I just assumed that since the folding QRs looked like seat binders, I could replace them safely with non-QR seat binders. So far, it's working out fine. It does slow the folding process, but since I plan to use the fold as a fairly rare "take it on a trip/shove it in a trunk" feature rather than a part of my daily commute (more on that in a future post), I don't mind.

Here's the final result, in bad, blurry, phone-photo form:

Folding bike at rest.

Hey, where'd my helmet go?

I like it! The bike, that is, not the crummy photography.

A Brief Photo Essay On The Potential Economic Impact Of Bad Proofreading

Captured at a favorite local restaurant:

Imagined lament of puzzled restauranteur: "I wonder why nobody ever orders #21?"