Monday, December 31, 2007

Q4 2007 Report

So here's the last one, October 1 to December 31, 2007. If you want to catch up on the whole saga, be sure to check out the Q1, Q2, and Q3 reports at your leisure.

My mileage goal for the year was 3650, and as of yesterday's ride, I'm at 3651. That's 901 for this quarter, the last 197 of which were in December on a big dorky mountain bike with studded tires and a really uncomfortable saddle (should have counted the December miles double.) Most of the rest of the remaining miles were on the Woodpecker and the Trucker, and a few on the road bike and the Xtrakoram.

Coming attractions include a Surly Big Dummy (on order, due in February), a long-overdue Electra Amsterdam review (no, I hadn't forgotten), hopefully some hub dynamo lighting information and a new sewing machine capable of stitching canvas for homemade bags.

Not much happened with gardening in the last few months. I did build a new raised bed in the back yard in October, which is now under a foot of snow.

As is our community garden space.

Not like it was in July:

I've been getting seed catalogs in the mail and am making a list for next spring. I think we're going to replace the pear tree with some berry bushes. Maybe gooseberry, honeyberry and everbearing raspberries. We'll see.

Made a perfect score on my Master Gardener exam, and have only to finish my volunteer hours.

1. Replace your incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents. This is pretty much over with. I think we might replace a few more, but the existing arrangement, along with our new refrigerator, seems to be saving us quite a few kWh.

2. Retrofit your home for energy conservation. The insulation projects I'd talked about in previous quarterly reports have seen some progress. In the attic, we moved all the stored items downstairs for a day so I could tear up the decking and add more fiberglass. I also sealed around the chimney with RTV silicone and caulked the plumbing penetrations. Then I re-laid the decking and put the stored items back. We'll soon put the Christmas decorations back up and seal the hatch for the remainder of the winter.

For the third fall in a row, I dug down 4 feet along the outside of the foundation and added foam board insulation, clad above ground level with fiber cement board and stucco. This project is nearly complete.

Inside the foundation, I'm planning to finish adding foam insulation, steel studs, fiberglass insulation and drywall to the last 30 percent of walls that are still bare concrete block. I moved some plumbing last week in preparation for this project, and hope to have it completed by mid-February. The plan is then to get a chest freezer for some additional food storage.

The small cellar-like cold room I built in the basement for storing certain vegetables works okay, but isn't really cold enough in the fall to keep squash and the like from spoiling. Hmmmm.

3. Cut back on your gasoline consumption. We managed to put less than 8,000 miles on the car this year, down from an average of just over 11,000 per year.

4. Plant an organic vegetable garden. This went pretty well. We'll be moving to a new community garden plot next year. With the pear tree gone, there should be more sun available in the back yard for a bigger garden at home.

5. Compost your food waste. Made a lot of compost this year. Hope to blog the operation sometime this spring.

6. Take up a handicraft. I've been thinking about doing more woodworking. In my spare time.

11. Come up with some new resolutions for 2008. 'Nuf said.

So that's it for 2007. It was, all things considered, a pretty good year.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Last Ride of the Year

Went out yesterday afternoon for the last ride of the year. Thanks to the 32 inches of snow we've had so far this month (second-highest December since record keeping began, right after 35 inches in 2000) the streets are still a mess. Here we see a vehicle parked overnight pretty much right in the lane of traffic (click for big.) Wish I could say that this is an unusual occurance, but it's like this all over downtown Madison.

In spite of having full fenders and a big ol' mudflap on the Moose, it ended up with a coating of salt all over the drivetrain after about a mile. Time for a bath and some lube (chicka-chicka, bow-wow!)

I started out thinking I'd go about 4 miles, but ended up going all the way around Lake Monona. Here we are at the Olbrich Thai Pavilion. Went twelve and a half miles, for a December total of 203—all of it on this bike.

And here we are again at the Madison Brass Works sign. When I stopped to take this, I had forgotten that unlike my tires, my boots do not have studs. Fortunately, I fell onto a harmless snowbank.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Keep Yer Lousy Twenty Bucks

In other news, the Bicycle Commuter Act was stripped from the recently-passed federal energy bill. It would have offered a $240 tax incentive every 15 months to people who regularly commute by bicycle. This would have brought bike commuters some parity with other vehicular commuters (see below.)

Back in June, the resident Libertarian crackpot our local cycling list (actually, that would be an insult to Libertarians, so let's just call him a crackpot) had this to say:

If I read the last message [...] correctly, there might be a $20./mo tax benefit from riding a bike to work? As if that could be checked or enforced? But regardless, just think of the small percentage of American tax payers even able to take advantage of such a "special interest tax break"! Indeed, this isn't one to "big business"—"big farmers"—"big universities"—or other bignesses—but, folks, let's be consistent—this is an unfair special interest tax break under the guise of "social engineering."

Usually I know better than to feed the trolls, but I couldn't let the less-informed think that such was the case:

Perhaps you should familiarize yourself with the federal tax code. Other commuters already enjoy the benefit of tax breaks to cover the cost of commuting. Transit, vanpool and (drumroll, please) parking are already covered. And guess what's more? Their monthly benefits are far higher:

Up to $105/month for transit expenses;
Up to $105/month for vanpool expenses; and
Up to $205/month for parking at or near an employer’s worksite, or at a facility from which employee commutes via transit, vanpool, or carpool

Kinda makes 20 bucks a month seem paltry, doesn't it? This may indeed be "social engineering," but not really in the direction you were thinking.

And no need to take my word for any of this of course. Just Google Section 132(f) of the federal tax code or "Commuter Choice Tax Benefit," or check out this handy table.

Personally, I think tax breaks for bike commuting are every bit as worthy as those for transit, vanpooling, and even park-and-ride costs. Unfortunately, House Republicans were having none of it. According to Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA):

[...] Mr. Speaker, [this energy bill] gives a tax credit to people for riding their bikes to work. I am sorry, but gas prices and climate change aren't going to be fixed by making people ride their bikes to work. This isn't a plan to make America energy independent and to free us from foreign oil. It is just a dream for the political left in this country. And let me repeat, Mr. Speaker, it raises taxes, it is anti-nuclear and anti-dams, it forces people out of their cars, and gives tax credits for riding their bike to work.

I find it creepy that Doc somehow knew it's been my longstanding ambition to boot hardworking Americans out of their cars by day while cuddling and spooning Fidel by night. The Honorable Doc's collegue Rep. John Boner (R-OH) made similar claims in his speech on the house floor.

Maybe they're right. Maybe bicycle commuting won't solve America's energy problem. So if only we could harness the hot air they produce to generate electricity. Perhaps they could even reduce our carbon footprint by shoving lumps of coal up their puckered Republican pooholes and waiting for the inevitable diamonds to form. Talk about killing two birds with one stone— we could become energy independant, sequester untold tonnes of carbon, and become the world's leading diamond exporter.

The cruel irony here is that the Hummer loophole remains in the legislation:

[...] the bill failed to kill the special federal tax deduction for Hummers. And Yukons. And Suburbans. Any SUV big enough to get single-digit city mileage is deemed a work vehicle, and anyone smart enough to claim a business use (think real estate sales or a hair salon) gets a tax deduction for buying one, up to $100,000 (yes, you read that right).

So realtors and dentists can still write off their Escalades and Armadas. Good for them. What mystifies me is that the passage of this bill is somehow viewed as a victory by environmental groups. I just don't see it. Sure, there's an increase in CAFE Standards, but it's so modest that it's the moral equivalent of doing nothing.

By not owning a second car, I'm already saving way, way more than what the tax benefit would have offered. So the Feds can keep their crumbs as far as I'm concerned. The real lost opportunity in this is for bike shops, who might well have gained something in sales and service revenue. All the more reason to visit the LBS...

Friday, December 21, 2007


From the perspective of most folks, I'm sure the mere presence of snowflakes is enough to dissuade one from riding one's bicycle to work. Here's what it takes to dissuade me (from the Wisconsin DNR Air Quality listserv):

From: "DNR Air Quality Report"
Date: December 20, 2007 10:18:51 AM CST
Subject: Air Quality Advisory for Particle Pollution (Red)

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is issuing an Air Quality Advisory for Particle Pollution (Red) effective Thursday, December 20, 2007 10:16:53 AM through Friday, December 21, 2007 11:59:59 AM for Dane, Jefferson, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Racine and Waukesha counties.

The advisory is being issued because of persistent elevated levels of fine particles in the air. These fine particles come primarily from combustion sources, such as power plants, factories and other industrial sources, vehicle exhaust, and wood fires.

The Air Quality Index is currently in the red level, which is considered unhealthy for everyone, especially people with heart or lung disease including asthma, older adults and children. When a red advisory is issued for particle pollution, everyone should cut back or reschedule strenuous activities and people in sensitive groups should avoid any strenuous activity.

People with lung diseases such as asthma and bronchitis, and heart disease should pay attention to car diac symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath or respiratory symptoms like coughing, wheezing and discomfort when taking a breath, and consult with their physician if they have concerns or are experiencing symptoms. Fine particle pollution deposits itself deep into the lungs and cannot easily be exhaled. People who are at risk are particularly vulnerable after several days of high particle pollution exposure.

To receive air quality advisories by e-mail, visit

There are several actions the public can take to reduce their contributions to this regional air quality problem:

  • Reduce driving when possible and don't leave vehicle engines idling.

  • Postpone activities that use small gasoline and diesel engines.

  • Minimize outdoor wood fires.

  • Conserve electricity.

For more ideas on how you can reduce your emissions today and every day visit: Do a little, save a lot!
For more information:

So I took the bus today.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Joy of Winter

We just keep pluggin' away.

Rake the roof...

one scoop at a time.

Wait for the one available street lane.

Share the truly multi-use path.

Grow another chincicle...

and wait for it to melt before parting ways with your balaclava.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More Snow

We got another 5 inches yesterday during the work day (I took the bus) for a grand total of about 12 since December 1. This of course with a generous helping of sleet and freezing rain thrown in. Fortunately, we did not get the freezing rain that much of the midwest got yesterday. What a mess.

Here's what it looks like when you don't use the car for a couple of snowy days. It's listing to port because we didn't get the driveway cleared well enough back on 12-2, and as I had mentioned in a previous post, that ended up being a one-way ticket to Screwsville. To the right we have one of the finest selections of snow-removal implements in town—4 shovels, 2 brooms and an ice chopper. Not pictured are the grain shovel and the pickaxe, but we've used those too (being careful not to damage the concrete with the pickaxe.) Tomorrow I'll be putting the roof rake together too. In the foreground to the left is the Moose, all set to make its cross-town run, which went pretty well today. The plows were out all night and the bike paths and streets were mostly a nice smooth hardpack.

Here's the cowpath leading back to the garage, made by the aforementioned grain shovel. We've given up on the rest of the driveway. Maybe next year.

Just one last comment on the Soglin thing. During the WIBA radio interview, he was asked why people ride in the snow. To this he replied with some hogwash about an excess of testosterone. Well, lemme tell ya Paul, the only thing an excess of testosterone is doing for me lately is to make the hair on my head migrate to just about every other part of my body. Time to start shopping for a better explaination, because I saw no fewer than six (count 'em, 6) female icebikers out there today.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

O Tannenbaum

This weekend provided an opportunity for the Babilonias to get a tree. Here's a pic of yours truly showing it the business end of a bow saw. Happy Holidays from my good side.

Friday, December 07, 2007

So Shoot Me

The weather continued to be lousy this week, but we had plenty of good entertainment to keep us warm. Tuesday night we got more snow, as I had mentioned was predicted in my previous post. Wednesday morning, I was cruising the Web over a cup of coffee and ran across something interesting on a blog written by former Madison mayor Paul Soglin:

The bicyclists who braved the week's second storm [Tuesday] should be taken out and shot. Spare them and the poor driver, when they skid on treacherous streets and slide under the wheels of a truck delivering fresh vegetables.

I will give them a pass on the first storm. Not because it was not forecasted (it was), but because every one gets a little giddy and reckless with the season's first major storm.

Now, I'm not really sure what Paul is up to here. At first, I was pretty pissed off that he would say something that stupid.

So I gave the hornet's nest a pretty swift kick.

I posted links to his blog to the local bicycle list (Bikies) and to the Icebike list, which is international. Paul soon found himself with plenty of hits and more than a couple of comments. The next day, he posted Part 2 in an attempt to defend the indefensible. Then, George Hesselberg from the Wisconsin State Journal somehow picked up on the fracas and ran an article titled "Soglin feeling heat from bikers". The Capital Times chimed in later in the day with another article titled "Former Madison mayor criticized for suggesting shooting cyclists"

But golly, I have to say my absolute favorite thing of all was the moment when the clock radio alarm went off this morning at 6:30, and the AM radio station we listen to had the whole bloody mess as it's top story, complete with an interview with a rather sleepy Paul. You could almost hear his beadhead over the airwaves! The missus thought I was sobbing, but I guess that's what choking back laughter so one could hear the radio sounds like. Seriously folks, was this a slow news day, or what? Maybe we just needed some comic relief from the lousy weather.

Later, I just had to sigh—I mean, check out what Madison's city engineer had to say about Soglin on the local e-mail list:

Paul Soglin was supportive of our efforts to keep the major bike paths operational (particularly the SW Bike Path) during the winter, although some of his immediate staff questioned the expenditures.

[Let's leave aside for a minute that the Southwest Bike Path didn't exist during either of Soglin's stints as mayor—I think the engineer may have been thinking of another path.] So bicycling in Madison improved during Soglin's tenure, and Soglin himself does do some riding. Cyclists do owe the guy some respect.

But "taken out and shot?"

I can respect anyone's God-given right to complain. Nobody wants to be inconvenienced during a snowstorm, so if somebody wants to call cyclists stupid or crazy, which some are, I can deal with that. But the suggestion of violence? What's that about?

Well, later on word on the street had it that was that the whole shooting thing was Soglin's idea of a joke in response to the arrest of a teacher over in Cudahy for comments he posted on a conservative site called Boots and Sabers.


That's what I said. You can read about the teacher thing here. I'm not sure I get the connection (if there is one) or why Soglin chose to exersize his free speech by suggesting cyclists should be shot. Perhaps we'll never know.

Okay, that's enough pixels for this one. Tempest in a teapot!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Weather Permitting

The Moose came out for this morning's commute, and it was a good thing too. Street conditions are as bad as I've ever seen them, even according to the guy in charge of plowing (and no shortage of grousing about it.) All the wet, heavy snow we got, followed by sleet and rain, has frozen into a rock-hard crust. Even a two-hundred-pounder like myself can walk right on top of the snow cover without breaking through. Those who did not finish with their snow removal duties (including the city of Madison and the University of Wisconsin) are in a real world of hurt. One would need an ice chopper at the least and would be better off with a sledghammer or pickaxe. Even then, there's the quarter-inch of ice underneath it all that has bonded to every paved surface in town, including most of the bicycle facilities. Even though the paths were plowed, we might be better off at this point using one of the UW's Zambonis to at least make them available for use with skates. With studded tires it was sketchy going, and I can hardly imagine going as far as I did without them.

The good news? Another three to six inches of powder on top of it all this afternoon into tonight.

Only 173 miles to go to get to 3650 for the year!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Schnowschtorm 2

Yesterday was an eerie repeat of last year's December first snowstorm, except that this year it fell on a Saturday. I didn't go to the farmer's market, but I did end up riding to my LBS to get a shim so I could put a 7-speed cassette on an 8-speed hub. Not easy going—see the photo of the bike path above. On top of that 3 inches of snow, we got an inch or two of sleet, followed by maybe a quarter- to half-inch of rain. Miserable shoveling. Can't wait until tonight, when temperatures are forecast to drop into the teens...