Archive for March, 2010

2010 MS150: Continental Classic Strikes Again!

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Back in February, I mentioned that the training rides for the 2010 edition of the MS150 had begun. Well, spring forward a couple of weeks, and it is time once again for the Continental Classic, 2010 edition. But first, the Song of the Blog (since I hear those are trendy amongst the younger kids these days):

Give a little bit
Give a little bit of your love to me
Give a little bit
I’ll give a little bit of my love to you
There’s so much that we need to share
So send a smile and show you care


I’ll give a little bit
I’ll give a little bit of my life for you
So give a little bit
Oh give a little bit of your time to me
See the man with the lonely eyes
Oh take his hand, you’ll be surprised

Why is this particular song getting such special treatment? After all, it’s really not as good as The Beatles “All You Need is Love”, nor does it have the choral integrity of something like “We Are the World”. Instead, this song has a particular place in my heart because it was what came on the radio at 4:30am on a particular Sunday as I was pulling out of our driveway. So, SuperTramp is now forever linked in my mind with my first MS150. If you haven’t already, and you have the means, please give a little bit.

Back to the Continental Classic…

Most organized rides have a “conga line” of cars carrying bicycles going into the parking area. It always brings a smile to my face.

Last year, I entitled the accompanying blog post Looking for a Montage. The Continental Cycling Classic was my first organized group ride, and it was also my entry into true road cycling. As a result, when I told Bob that it was my anniversary, she looked at me very quizzically. I had to explain that this was the ride where I feel like I started making the shift from being a recreational cyclist (or occasionally a wreckreational cyclist) to being something a little more serious. It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year and at times it feels hard to believe that it has ONLY been a year.

The Continental 777 barbecue grill getting set-up for the Big Feed after the ride. We skipped the hot dogs in search of higher-quality and quantity food.

What’s changed? Well, first off I have a cool cycling computer from Garmin that shows things like the route I took. This year, I did the 67mile route, rather than the 47 (48.5, really) route.

The T-shirt for the ride also strongly points out the rolling hills in the area. Last year’s shirt had the motto, “Just ride those hills!”, and this year’s shirt had the motto, “Got Hills?”. Oh, yes, we had hills.

Overall, my speed actually came down this year vs. last (14.6mph vs. 15.3mph), and while it is easy to blame the increased distance for the decline, that wasn’t the reason at all. This year, I rode a 61 mile ride the day before (Gator Ride), and I rode the last 40 miles with Oncologist Dave from the group who ride at West End Bikes. Dave and I had gotten separated at the start, so I ended up waiting until the very last riders had gone, and then spent the first 30 miles hammering (somewhat) to try to find him. We connected at the rest stop in Anderson, where we were able to then ride together for the remainder of the course. Dave had my utmost respect since he did the ride on an OLD hybrid with a hole in the saddle and a drivetrain that made me cringe with all of the noise it made. I had to remind him of the practical information linkage between his energy intake, liver function and exercise capacity, but once he understood that it would be relevant, he could talk my ear off with the technical details. He’s now in the process of shopping for a new road bike. Go, Dave!

Welcome back bluebonnets!

Friday, March 26th, 2010

It’s spring again this week in Houston. (By “again” I mean since two weeks ago.) As I returned from a meeting midday, Bill asserted, “We’re going to lunch and you’re bringing your camera. We’re going somewhere we can eat al fresco. Then I’m taking you to Jackson Hill Park. And you won’t step into traffic.”

I’m coming to recognize that the rare occasions when Bill asserts A Plan generally lead to good outcomes, and I agreed. Today’s agenda turned out to be stalking bluebonnets. I had fun this afternoon, and I hope you enjoy our photos (click for larger):

bluebonnets by downtown

lotsa bluebonnets

bluebonnet closeup


tree with bluebonnets


I’ve got the Power!

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

We all know that I’ve got a bit of a toy habit, or at least we do now, so it is a little disingenuous for me to describe a PowerTap as my “Christmas Gift” to me, but that’s approximately what the rationalization was. What’s a PowerTap? We’ll get to that in a minute. First, we have the Song of the Blog:

Snap! – The Power

Like the crack of the whip, I snap attack,
Front to back, in this thing called rap.
Dig it like a shovel rhyme devil,
On a heavenly level,
Bang the bass, turn up the treble.
Radical mind, day and night, all the time
Seven to fourteen wise divine
Maniac brainiac winning the game
I’m the lyrical Jesse James

Back in December, Bob and Mom gave me a measurement package from Third Coast Training. While that was great to give me baseline numbers for how my metabolism worked in conjunction with my ability to pedal, I also wanted to have better data as I was riding to understand how I was progressing and what kind of calorie expenditure I was producing. For that, I needed a way to measure my power output, and that’s where the PowerTap comes into play. Beware, extreme cycling geekery begins here…

For those of you who have managed to put freshman physics behind you (did I mention that one of my riding buddies is Dr. Duck’s son-in-law?), here’s a quick refresher:
Force equals mass times acceleration

Work equals force times distance
Power equals work divided by time

When one pedals, the circular motion of the crank arms is turned into linear motion of the chain, which is then converted into circular motion by the rear (drive) wheel. As a result, force is applied in a constrained, pivoting plane, aka torque:

Are your eyeballs bleeding yet?

Once you get back from running away from your computer, screaming, we can get back to the narrative.

So, why all the technical stuff, and by “technical stuff”, I mean physics I’m embarrassed to admit to having had to do a bit of re-reading to refresh my understanding? Well, it turns out that the body is actually a machine! Yep, 100% full-blooded Cylon, that’s me. I guess I just didn’t know it at the time!

It turns out that the human body is somewhere between 20% – 25% efficient in converting stored energy into physical work. In other words, since one calorie is 4.184 joules, and one joule is the base unit of work, you can approximate how many calories you burned doing exercise by looking at your total work output and changing the unit of measure. Don’t forget, though, that metabolically we deal in “C”alories (aka kilocalories), so you are really comparing kilojoules (kJ) to Calories. So, if you want to know how many calories you really expended on a treadmill, see if the machine will tell you your total work output in kJ or Watts (Watt is the measure of Power, which is Work over Time, but it gets confused because the letter “W” often represents total Work in classical mechanics problems). If it tells you Calories, you don’t necessarily know what conversion process the machine is using to get to that number. Here’s one way to tell: if your Calorie expenditure seems sensitive to your weight, then chances are that the machine is computing Calories somewhat or completely independently of its power sensor. This is called foreshadowing.

So, back to this PowerTap thing. The PowerTap is essentially a torque sensor (strain gauge) built into the rear hub that transmits data wirelessly to my Garmin cycling computer. So, whenever I pedal, it sends a signal to my computer with how hard I’m pedaling for how long. The computer then aggregates the data for viewing and later analysis (I love the download capabilities of my Garmin). This then leads to some interesting possible scenarios between what the sensor says versus what some of the embedded physiological models in the computer say about how much work I’m doing at any given time.

Tri-County Hill Hopper – 2/21/2010
Back in February, I did a ride that began in Round Top, about 20 miles outside of Brenham, and that covered a bit over 60 miles of fairly rolling terrain. According to my Garmin, the 67.74 miles covered 3,165 feet of climbing and caused me to burn 6,338 Calories.
Google Maps for the 2010 Tri-County Hill Hopper

However, when I pulled the workout file into a software package that is dedicated to analyzing files from power meters, it said that I had “only” expended 3,557kJ, or approximately 3,600 Calories. Why the discrepancy? Simple, really. The calorie expenditure in the Garmin has embedded in it an assumption that all of the motion on the bike is caused by the rider (true) constantly putting power to the pedals (definitely not true — thank whatever deity you want that for very uphill there’s a down!). So, we go from “crunch all you want” to “good ride, but let’s stick to only one dessert.” Poo.

Mayor nominates Christof to METRO board!

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

At a City Hall press conference his afternoon, Houston Mayor Annise Parker announced her nominees to serve on the METRO board, including my friend and CTC colleague, Christof Spieler:

Blogger, lawyer, engineer tapped for Metro board

Mayor Annise Parker today proposed a diverse group of veteran Houston wonks and even a few relative newcomers to the board of the Metropolitan Transit Authority today, ending months of speculation about the team that would lead the embattled transportation entity into a new era.

Her choices, which require City Council approval, are Gilbert Garcia, an investment banker and Parker transition team co-chairman; Christof Spieler, an engineer, blogger and transportation analyst for the Citizens’ Transportation Coalition; lawyers Dwight E. Jefferson and Carrin S. Patman; and engineer Allen Dale Watson, of Cobb Fendley.


Mayor press conference

Though Bill is joking about me “engineering a political appointment”, this really has everything to do with how talented Christof is. He will be real asset to METRO and we can count on him to improve transit in our city. How cool is that?

It’s official: Chris is employed again!

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

It’s been almost eight months since UH closed the Lab School where my brother taught for more than a decade. He sent countless resumes and interviewed for several positions, but the market has been tough, until now.

Chris just signed a one-year employment contract to become the Interim Head of School of the St. James School. It’s an Episcopal pre-school in Houston’s Third Ward neighborhood, near UH. He starts part time on April 1 to overlap with the departing principal, and will go full time on July 1. Chris is charged with growing and marketing the tiny school, and the Rector seems excited for Chris to bring constructivist learning theory into the classrooms.

Chris was a “lead teacher” at UH, and often served as the backup school administrator. Becoming an administrator is a natural career step that should make him much more employable going forward.

Chris employed!

St James contract

Chris says that seeing the words “chief executive” on a contract with his name on it was memorable. As he thinks about the role he’s stepping into, he vascillates between “ecstasy” and “abject terror,” but I’m confident he’ll figure it all out. Suffice it to say I’m really, really happy for him!

Eight days in the Pacific Northwest…

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

I sometimes joke that something hasn’t really “happened” until I blog about it, but that poses a challenge. The more busy and interesting our lives are, the harder it is to make time to blog.

During our last vacation to Cozumel, it was easy to blog early and often because the afternoons were too hot to do anything else. But the trip we took in February to Portland and Seattle was so jam-packed I didn’t even attempt to blog before we got home. Since then I’ve stayed too busy to blog. And then our blog went missing for several days. But we definitely enjoyed a marvelous trip, so here — more than a month overdue — are some of my favorite moments:

Walking and transiting all over downtown Portland. In urban planning circles, Portland is widely-regarded as one of the most walkable, transit-friendly cities in the US, with a wonderful quality of life. My friend and CTC colleague, Christof Spieler, convinced us that given a trip to the Pacific Northwest, we should fly into Portland to explore the city for a day before heading to Seattle.

Between noon Monday and noon Tuesday, we did just that. We explored downtown, parks, vibrant urban neighborhoods, and the waterfront… all without ever using a car. Portland is also bike-friendly and I’ll be sure to rent one the next time we’re there.

Pioneer Square Court House
Pioneer Courthouse Square has a marvelous pedestrian plaza

bronze beavers on transit mall
Bronze beavers play on a water feature in the transit mall

Bill and Christof downtown Portland
Bill and Christof in downtown Portland

Riding trains with Christof. Christof knows more about what makes high-quality transit service than anyone I know. Portland has invested in a lot of great transit service, and the opportunity to travel with Christof as an expert guide was both fun and informative.

In Portland, we rode the MAX light rail in from the airport and out to Union Station. We rode the streetcar south to the waterfront and north for dinner at Wildwood on 21st St. We even took the aerial tram up to OHSU for great views of the city and the Willamette River. On Tuesday, we rode Amtrak’s Cascades service up the coast from Portland to Seattle.

In Seattle, we rode Sound Transit’s link light rail to/from the airport as well as one afternoon just to explore station areas. We also rode the South Lake Union… Streetcar to explore Paul Allen’s multi-billion-dollar redevelopment effort. In both cities, Christof trekked out without us on several occasions to ride commuter rail and other services. He’s dedicated!

Bob on TriMet MAX light rail
Bob on the TriMet MAX light rail from the airport

Portland streetcar w Christof
Portland’s streetcar vehicles look happy to me

Portland tram w Christof
The tram climbs 500 feet during the 3-minute trip up to OHSU

Christof stalking Amtrak
Christof shoots more and better transit photos than I do

Bill and Christof shooting Puget Sound
Bill and Christof attempting to shoot dusk on Puget Sound

Walking and transiting all over downtown Seattle. Like Portland, Seattle, is incredibly pedestrian-friendly. Except for a day trip to Everett and Mukilteo, we explored Seattle neighborhoods via walking and transit (and Bill by bicycle, but that comes later).

Fifth Avenue morning rush
Morning rush on Fifth Avenue

Bob and Christof photographing
Bob and Christof under the monorail station

Bob and Bill at Pike Place
Bob and Bill at Pike Place


The Original Starbucks. Bill thinks he first encountered Starbucks coffee ~1996 during the Philip Morris SAP project in Richmond. During many subsequent years working in NYC, he’s consumed a LOT of Starbucks, venti iced skinny caramel Frappucinos (TM) to be specific. At home, he now favors the great local barristas at The Coffee Groundz in Midtown Houston. But given an opportunity to visit the little coffee shop at Pike Place that became a global machine, we had to go. And yes, I bought a mug. But I bought my lattes for breakfast at the Seattle’s Best Coffee further up Pike St.

Bill enters Starbucks
The original Starbucks shop at Pike Place

Boeing Everett factory tour. Bill and I have spent a lot of time in Boeing aircraft over the years, mostly 737 variations. And Jean still works for Boeing’s aerospace group. The Boeing factory where they assemble 747s, 767s, and the brand-new 787 Dreamliners is the largest building in the world (by interior volume) and we were eager to see what they do there. So we rented a car for the day to drive up to Everett for the plant tour. All photography was thoroughly prohibited, but the tour was still jaw-dropping. We also visited Snohomish County’s opportunistic Future of Flight visitor center.

Boeing's Everett factory

Boeing 747 assembly
Images courtesy of The Boeing Company.

Lunch in Mukilteo. On our way to Everett, we stopped for lunch in the old waterfront town of Mukilteo, which overlooks Puget Sound. We lingered in a charming beach park while Christof captured great photos of BNSF freight trains passing nearby. We then enjoyed a lunch of local seafood at Ivar’s by the landing where Puget Sound ferries came and went.

Mukilteo overlooks Puget Sound

Bob stalks seagull

Mukilteo ferry

My conference talk. The 9th annual New Partners for Smart Growth conference was the justification for the trip, and I was invited to present in a panel on grassroots involvement in transportation planning. The room (of 50) was packed and I knew at the time that I delivered a better PowerPoint than any of the other panelists. But over the next two days, strangers continued to approach me and say some variation of, “You gave the talk from Houston, right? That was great! Good luck with your effort…” Their affirmations were very, very gratifying.

The Hiram Chittenden Locks. Known locally as the Ballard Locks, they span the ship canal between Lake Washington and Puget Sound, segregating fresh- from salt-water. It’s both cool and vaguely disconcerting that you can walk across the top of the lock doors at one end or the other at any time. I talked with a cyclist coming across the locks who explained that he cycles across the locks from his home on the Magnolia side to his office on the Ballard side, even in the cold gray drizzle, because it would take him 5 minutes longer by car and be more stressful. I also talked with a Corps operator who explained the locks have dozens of moorings inside because, in summer, people on kayaks and jet skis use the locks, too. The site also includes a fish ladder to enable spawning salmon to traverse the locks in spring.

Bill by the Ballard Locks

Ballard lock in action
These locks operate 24/7 to keep maritime traffic moving

The Fremont Troll. North of downtown Seattle, there’s a bridge that takes Aurora Ave (WA-99) over Lake Union at the ship canal. The northern end where NW 35th St passes under the bridge structure used to be a Dark Scary Place where Bad Things happened. But the Fremont neighborhood got organized in 1990 and leveraged the fist matching grant from the City of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods to build a massive public art piece that transformed the location into a source of neighborhood pride.

Bob, Bill, and the Fremont Troll

Dinner with one of Bill’s Spectracal partners. The little software company Bill conjured up in 2005 has almost escaped mention in our blog. Nonetheless, SpectraCal has an office in Seattle where Bill’s business partners and a half dozen employees work. I got to see the office for the first time, and we enjoyed dinner twice with L.A. and his wife Gillian, once at a chic Vietnamese place, and once at their home. I managed to come home with no photos of us together, but they’re really wonderful people.

Bill outside Spectracal's Seattle office
Foil on the windows eliminates light for sensor testing

Walk audit of downtown Seattle. Thirty years ago, Dan Burden became the “Johnny Appleseed” of walkability and is now an internationally-recognized expert on how to make our cities better for people, instead of cars. On Sunday morning, Dan led two dozen of us on a 16-block tour of Pike St, Post Alley, and University St. He taught us to “see differently” and the Seattle DOT folks on the tour showed off some of their projects. I came away with lots of good ideas for making Houston more walkable.

seattle walk audit w Dan Burden
This ample Pike Street sidewalk is 22 feet wide from building facade to back-of-curb

Sending Bill to ride with the Cascade Bicycle Club. While I was walking with Dan, the Cascade Bicycle Club led Bill and a dozen others on a bike tour of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” of downtown Seattle’s on- and off-street bicycle facilities. The best part? Bill likes hills… lots of hills.

Pike Place Fish. About ten years ago, I came across a clever business book called, Fish! A remarkable way to boost morale and improve results. In it, the author describes Pike Place Fish as, “a world famous market that is wildly successful thanks to its fun, bustling, joyful atmosphere and great customer service.” I decided our trip to Seattle wouldn’t be complete without meeting these guys. When we visited Pike Place early in the week, we somehow walked right past them, so we went back on Monday before flying out, and it was worth it. I got to chat with Justin and Scott about their business and they even threw a salmon for me.

Pike Place fish
These boys visit the Fish guys every day on their walk to school

Bob and the Fish guys
Bob, Justin, and Scott at Pike Place Fish

(I’ve got video of the guys throwing a salmon for me, but we shot it in AVCHD format and I don’t have a codec to play it here yet. Humph!)

As I said at the outset, our eight days in the Pacific Northwest were jam packed. Choosing just two dozen photos to capture the experience was tough. But I’m up for the challenge of going back and trying again. :-)

Where did our blog go?!?

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

One day last week, Bill went looking for our blog and found this:

not our blog

While that *is* our web domain, that obviously is *not* our blog.


One possibility is our blog got hacked. Another possibility is our webhost migrated our content to a different server and missed. We don’t know. Fortunately, our webhost was able to recover all of our domain content from automatic backup files, and we’re back.

All’s well that ends well, right?