Monday, July 28, 2008

The Breast Cancer Site is having trouble

Every now and then, someone will solicit me to help a cause and I won't tell them to go to hell. Helping fund breast cancer detection is one such cause - women in the US have a 1 in 8 chance of developing it (Wikepedia - Breast Cancer) and a 1 in 35 chance of dying from it (that's all women - so more like 1 in 4 for women who have breast cancer.) Anyway, it's highly treatable with early detection, and the breast cancer site has a click-through set up whereby their sponsors donate money that the Breast Cancer Foundation uses to fund mammography for under-privileged women. So it's a lot like those ads about getting a free TV, except that you don't have to sign up for anything, give them an e-mail address, answer inane questions about Jessica Simpson, etc. etc. and it's not a scam.

Follow the link, and then click the big pink button near the top of the page.

The Breast Cancer Site

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Forty Miles

Or 39.9 if you're splitting hairs. The last time I did a ride this long, I was at UCSC and it was the two rides from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. One of the things that I love about doing a decently long ride is that you get to see a variety of different environments. I rode urban streets, a fair amount of shoreline roadway, some random bike paths passing through areas without roads, rolling hills, and the world's second longest floating bridge.

It was also fun to do some real mileage with friends. We didn't talk a whole lot, but it's nice to share the ride and sprinkle in some drafting now and then. Of course it didn't hurt to be doing the ride with a guide - the whole loop is signed, more-or-less, but the more-or-less and transitions between road and path could have been difficult to figure out if I was on my own.

Around mile 20, my knee started to bother me a little bit, but we stopped and stretched and it calmed down. It feels pretty good at the moment. I think it helps to be riding with friends - without an impressive degree of organization it's a somewhat slower pace than when I'm riding solo. I was also trying for an 18mph pace as the point where I started to really push, rather than the 20mph pace I've been trying for on my shorter rides in New York.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Five things I want from a city

I was driving back to Seattle yesterday from the job my friend got me in Issaquah, which is a suburb to the southeast, when I found myself thinking about what I need from Seattle in order to decide to move here. I think it comes down to five things - I need to be able to work in a job I don't hate, design shows, go dancing, ride my bikes and go skiing. The first three I already have in New York. The last two, though, I find frustrating and nearly impossible respectively.

So far, I'm already working as a stagehand. It doesn't mean all that much - my friend got me the job - but it suggests that there's a decent amount of work to be had. There are also a couple of employment options I haven't had time to pursue, since I've been working, and the union, which sounds like it's relatively easy to get into, at least as a general stagehand. My friend was grousing about their apprentice program today, so maybe advancing within the union is tricky right now. I'm not too concerned about that, because being a stagehand is just a job, so as long as it pays I'm happy.

The next thing is that I want to do is design shows. That's not just a job - I love telling stories, although I don't necessarily feel like I have any stories of my own to tell yet. Design is a way of helping someone to tell a story, and I think that absent telling my own, that's pretty cool. This area bears further investigation. Since I've been caught up in having a job, trying to secure housing, etc. etc. I haven't looked at it as much. However, Seattle is supposed to have a huge independent theatre scene with production values roughly in between Off-off-Broadway and Off-Broadway. Since in New York, Off-off usually can't afford me and Off is looking for a more experienced lighting designer, this could be perfect. Of course Seattle also has the larger regional theatre appropriate to a city of its size, so it's not like there'd be nowhere to grow as I design more shows and want to take on bigger challenges.

Going dancing has already happened by accident, which ended up being a very fun evening. On the principle that people who are any good at partnering are at least somewhat hooked into the swing scene, I asked around and found the local calendar web site (every city with a swing dance scene has one and only one.) So in that area as well, more dancing awaits. I've heard that the blues scene in this city is awesome too.

All that leaves the two areas where living in New York has been very disappointing. One of the reasons I think I need to actually move to a city where the access to skiing is better is that I think that it gets in the way of building the career I want if I leave the city for months at a time to go skiing. Two years ago, when I spent five months in Lake Tahoe and collected 90 days of skiing and snowboarding, I didn't do anything about trying to design more shows while I was away. That's a pretty big problem since spring is a big season for openings and it's also the time to be looking for summer work. Essentially I left myself the summer to look for something to do in the fall before leaving. I did luck into a show, and it's one of the better ones I've done, but if I lived in one place year round I think I'd be better able to create the career I want. I want skiing to be something that I can go and do on random days off during the week, for a week at a time a few times a season, maybe after work sometimes, but not something that takes me away from my "real life."

Last season was an experiment in having a less disruptive season in terms of being able to work, and I'd say it was moderately successful - I was back in New York in time for Fashion Week, and when those paychecks came in I stopped being broke from spending a lot of time in Tahoe working for ridiculously low pay. People I worked for hadn't forgotten I exist, so even without Fashion Week, getting back into my regular work load wasn't too hard. However, I was still away for a really big chunk of time rather than promoting myself and it also wasn't as many ski days as I'd have liked to do. I filled out my season with some family trips (thanks, Mom!) and some day trips but it wasn't like my 90 day season either.

My theory about the winter is that if I do the appropriate coursework to be a ski patroller and join National Ski Patrol at one of the local resorts, I'll be committed to a certain number of on-hill days doing that and between the season pass at that resort and visiting privileges at others I'll be able to add all the days I can fit into my schedule. Given the drive times, I may still spend a fair amount on hotels, but at least that's lift and plane tickets out of my ski budget. More importantly, I'll still be living full-time in Seattle so aside from my commitment to NSP, I'll be able to make myself available for work and production meetings and promote myself as those opportunities come up.

While I haven't been able to properly explore cycling here in Seattle yet, I get the impression that it's a really great place to do it. My LeMond recently and I got to ride it yestoday. The trail that everyone talks about is nice and long, which is cool, and supposedly leads into some nice, long road loops. I'm looking forward to exploring that further. I did a little riding when I'd just arrived on my friend's hybrid and found the city very friendly to cyclists. There are bike lanes all over the place, and drivers are accustomed to sharing the road. There are also nice, big hills and mountains all over the place and the local mountain bike advocacy group has secured access to lots of them. In New York, I spend at least as much time getting to where I want to ride as riding, and I would prefer to have more fun with the sport.

I guess I'm not that solid as to whether or not Seattle has everything I want. But then, no city will ever be completely perfect for me or any other individual. I'm over New York, so I figured I'd probably get an idea very quickly as to whether or not Seattle would work for me, and so far it's very appealing.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Messing around in Seattle

Most of my readers already know I'm in Seattle for the month. If you didn't... Now you do. I got in yesterday morning after the usual crappy United flight. United has committed some additional sins against human dignity in air travel. They now give you only one free checked bag. The second bag is $50, and overweight bags are $100. They've switched their fleet to Airbus planes, with their less-reclining seats. They try to talk their travelers into spending extra money for two more inches of legroom when they send the "confirm online" e-mail. And they even ding you $2 for having a skycap check your bag from outside the terminal instead of choking up the lines inside that are already long and choked. I totally fail to understand this last.

So I got into the airport a little early, met my friend, and we went to pick up my rental car. It's a Dodge Caliber. These things suck. It's a five-door with incredibly poor visibility, kind of on par with a box truck except that trucks have bigger mirrors. Supposedly it's got incredibly cool folding seats, but I haven't played with that yet. It's basically Dodge's more expensive answer to the Honda Fit, down to being front wheel drive (and feeling it) and having drum brakes on the rear wheels. Anyway, it's not like I'm going to have the car for that long, and when I'm shopping for a real one I'll try for a Subaru.

After that was lunch with friends and a pilgrimage out to a park that not only has a velodrome but has some freestanding climbing walls and a spire. They should change the name from "Marrymore Park" to "Andrew Park." My friend taught me how to use the ATC device I've had kicking around with my climbing gear since February, so that was cool. It was kind of embarrassing to only know how to use the automatic, cam-locking, idiot-proof(ish) but non-versatile device that my gym in NY uses.

The pre-dinner conversation was something along the lines of "we should ride bikes to the park" "Andrew doesn't have a bike" "we still have your old hybrid kicking around." Following that, my friends made the mistake of letting me and my multi-tool attack the aforementioned hybrid. I didn't get too crazy about performance tuning, but I thought the riding position was completely unacceptable and turned it into this.


I only did a couple of things to the bike. I lowered the stem all the way, then adjusted the angle to 90 degrees (it wouldn't go smaller, unfortunately.) Then I took everything off the handlebars and flipped them over - they're on the bike upside down now. If they were riser bars before, I guess one might call them dropper bars now? Or faller bars? In any case, the riding position is slightly lower than on my mountain bike and feels longer, but I think it's not because I had to put the saddle as far back on its rails as it can go and I still feel like I'm sitting too far back on it, so I think the top tube's too short for me. I also through on my venerable Time ATACs, so it's got clipless pedals. The trip there and back was quite amusing - this bike is definitely the silliest non-Burning Man bike modification I've ever done. It does ride better, though.

After dinner, we went to the park. The park in question is a beach on Puget Sound. There were lots of people there, even though it was fairly cold, and some people were practicing on a slackline, kind of like a tightrope but without the tight. Riding over on the hybrid was funny. It's got a sprint speed kind of like a real bike, but I had to lean back because it's got a garbage suspension fork on the front that can soak up energy. Its cruising speed, however, is much slower.

This morning I rode further into Seattle with my friend and had breakfast before she had to work. I figured it would be good to get started semi-early in the morning and there's also the whole jetlag thing. I'm glad I modified the hybrid because trying to do that ride in an upright position would have been pretty unpleasant. After that, I rode around for a while.

Seattle has a mountain bike park under I-5 that I wanted to look at. I even tried to ride parts of it, but I had a lot of trouble with the 40mm tires on the bike. For comparison, my mountain bike has 54mm tires with a large tread mounted on wider rims than the hybrid, so the whole system can run at a much lower pressure without pinch-flatting or wallowing, and the contact patch is much bigger. It's also a much lighter bike, and while I recently discovered that the suspension fork hasn't been functioning correctly, even when it only half-works, it's superior to the one on the hybrid. I decided that I didn't need to kill myself, so I left. It's a cool park, though - lots of stuff isn't finished, but they have a neat switchbacking section that would give a rider excellent low-speed stability and a great pedal-up if they practiced on it some, lots of log rides, a couple of teeter-totters, and a small hanging bridge. I couldn't get the hybrid through any of this stuff, but I'm promising myself that I'll revisit it on a real mountain bike at some point.

Next I rode north across one of the bridges and poked around the University of Washington. It's a more urban feeling campus than UC Berkeley, and not all that attractive. The surrounding neighborhood is nice, though. Most of what I've seen of Seattle, at least north of the canal, seems to be a lot like Berkeley - densely packed houses, narrow streets, lots of traffic calming devices. The main drags are nice, though. They seem to have mainly local stores - there's some character. After that, I found my way home along the bike path that runs the length of the canal, with a stop for coffee (served in a real mug) along the way. It's really nice here. As best as I can figure out on Google Earth, I did 15.2 miles. But that involves some guessing about turns.

My friends insist on the importance of using fenders here, and the one who commuted all winter says he actually wore out a set of rims too. So between that and the hills, I think that if I move I'll leave Skank in New York and put together a light touring-based commuter here. I think it would be really cool to do a disc front/cantilever rear braking system to reduce wear, at least on the front rim, and have full fenders and a rear rack. The distances involved here seem to be longer, and the streets are long enough to get a decent flow going, so it would be cool to get the load back off my back and into panniers. Also I haven't built up a load-carrying bike in a while.