April 26, 2014

Flower Girl

View of the upper west side of Old La Honda Road.
Overheard as a tandem was descending Old La Honda Road: “I think it might be safer to go down 84.” [Yes, cap'n, it is.] Old La Honda is a lovely climb, but a bad choice for the return trip.

One source of entertainment for a slow climber (me) is the occasional snippet of conversation caught as riders pass. Like the group of three guys mentioning a particular actor, murdered some 35 years ago, and the ignominious details that emerged about his private life. How did that subject come up? [It's probably better that I don't know.]

Most of our group was headed for the coast. My ride buddy and I were of a similar mind: keep it short on a windy, chilly day. She graciously insisted that she had only been at the top for a few minutes before I arrived.

I convinced her to drop down the west side, with its expansive views; we were surprised by the wildflowers. After some determined research on Calflora, I can put names to all that I photographed.

Cow Parsnip (white) in bloom
Cow Parsnip

Crimson Columbine in bloom
Crimson Columbine

California Goldenbanner (yellow), Winter Vetch (purple), and Indian Paintbrush (red)
California Goldenbanner, Winter Vetch, and Indian

It was just a coincidence that we traveled the same distance today as my regular morning commute, but with a tad more climbing (2,190 feet, vs. 385 feet) and scenery.

Being in the neighborhood, on the drive home I made one extra stop. My red cells did a fine job of getting me up the hill today, and now some of them will go on to do something important.

Blood donation #55

April 23, 2014

If By Chance

As I coasted home through the park, I noticed that the resident population of Canada Geese had been much reduced. Is it a lucky side effect of the drought, or have the (trained) dogs finally driven them away?

Great Blue Heron standing in a field at dusk
Then I spotted a lone, lean bird in the grass. I slowed to a stop. A Great Blue Heron! My presence gave the bird a dilemma: Take flight, possibly losing the furry prey clenched in its beak, or stand its ground. As I fished my cell phone out of my bag, I watched it maneuver and swallow its prize in a single gulp.

Even the most routine commute rides pack in their share of surprises. In the past two weeks, two colleagues have caught up to me on the evening ride home and slowed to chat.

Feeling lazy this morning, I got a late start. Random factors aligned to stop me at a particular intersection at a particular moment in time. “Pep?” To my right was a former colleague I have not seen in years; we worked for the same company twice (my previous two jobs).

There are three ways for me to cross that busy thoroughfare; I study the traffic flow and signals each morning before I commit. Today, the quickest approach led me onto the perimeter loop of a community college—and to this unexpected meeting at a red light. We had a chance to chat over the next mile before our routes diverged. Both of us were biking to work. Both of us got a late start. Neither of us chooses to cut through the college every morning.

With this recent spate of chance encounters, I cannot help but wonder at the chances missed.

April 22, 2014

Narrative Clip Oddities

I used a Narrative Clip on three bike rides, capturing more than 4,000 photos. Most were unremarkable, few were worth keeping, many were blurry or distorted. Five of the better photos are posted in Scenes from a Commute. Five of the oddest are featured here.

Other photos captured at the top of Montebello were fine. The color balance is wacky in this one. [The road is not painted green.]

Trees and road with greenish color balance (Narrative Clip)
The descent jostled the camera, which captured many photos of my front wheel. A JPEG expert could probably explain what went wrong with this one.

JPEG image processing error (Narrative Clip)
Purple haze on the Stevens Creek Trail.

Shady trail with purple overcast (Narrative Clip)
The wooden planks on this bridge make for a bumpy ride. The camera doesn't cope well with vibration.

Distorted image of cyclist on a bike/ped bridge (Narrative Clip)
There were plenty of distorted images, evidently motion-induced. This office building really stands out. Blurry, I can understand. In focus but wavy, I do not understand.

Distorted image of office building and environs (Narrative Clip)
Sadly, the Clip arrived too late to capture four generations at a dual 90th birthday party earlier this year. Those were some moments I could imagine keeping.

April 21, 2014

Narrative Clip

And now for something completely different ... If you're not into geeky gadget reviews, move along, nothing to see here.

When I learned about the Memoto camera last spring, I was intrigued. I placed my order in May and looked forward to wearing it at some late summer/early fall events.

Orange Narrative Clip hanging in front of handlebar.
Start-ups being start-ups, stuff happens. (And doesn't happen.) Production was delayed, and delayed again. Naming difficulties morphed the catchy “Memoto” into the “Narrative Clip.” I was excited when, at long last, the little orange square arrived this month. The battery charge registered at more than 50%. I improvised a way to mount it on my bike and pedaled home from work.

tl;dr More than a few kinks remain in the product and it is poorly suited for capturing photos while in motion.

Fail #1: My first attempt captured nothing. The start page says:
The photos are stored in the built in flash drive until you connect the camera to your computer.
Maybe there is a requirement to initialize the device first, by connecting it to a computer, before it will store photos? The Narrative Uploader reported 0 photos when I connected the camera to my PC, post-ride.

Fail #2: The uploader then insisted that a new firmware version was available, but every attempt to update the firmware failed. The device reported version 0.7.5; the “new” version was 0.7.2.
if device_version < new_version
then update
else exit
Fail #3: The old firmware has since forced itself onto my device, downgrading it to 0.7.2. If the downgrade was intentional, I guess 0.7.5 was released prematurely. If the downgrade was unintentional ... more sloppy coding.

Fully charged and (apparently) initialized, I mounted it to my bike for Sunday's ride. Regrettably, it was pointed at the sky when a memorable interaction transpired, so it didn't capture a photo of The Morning Wacko.

Fail #4: Smartphone app required. Narrative's model is that you will upload all your photos to their cloud (free for the first year). But there is no web interface to interact with your photos; apps are available for Android or Apple devices. When the Android app asked for permission to “read sensitive log data,” I would not press “install.” [Turns out this permission will only work on older versions of Android or rooted devices, but the app simply should not request this.]

Once the device was attached to my PC, the uploader started uploading photos. Without the Android app to view them, this upload would be a waste of bandwidth and space. While it was running, I configured the uploader to save the files only to my local disk. Maybe that confused it? It would ultimately freeze; restarting it did not solve the problem.

I have always had a knack for breaking things.

Fail #5: Lost photos. The last photo saved was taken about an hour before my ride ended. Either the device stopped taking photos or the confused uploader reset the flash storage before it finished extracting photos. We'll never know.

Fail #6: Photos of blackness. The device has no on/off switch. It will only stop taking photos if you place it face down. If you put it in a dark place (e.g., a pocket) it will wake up periodically to check for light. While it is easy enough to delete these, capturing them drains the battery for nought.

Fail #7: Battery life. The claim is 24-30 hours. I was out and about for less than 6 hours, stashing the Clip in a pouch at the end of the ride. When I attached it to my PC, the app reported 17% charge remaining. The charge seems to drop about 13% per day when the device is left face down on my desk.

The photos appear to be sensibly named with a timestamp, in GMT. The rate of photo-taking is unpredictable. My outing lasted ~340 minutes, which should have captured about 680 photos (at the default rate of 2 per minute). Instead, the Clip captured at least 2,000 photos. My hunch is that the “double-touch” (take a photo now) feature is sensitive to vibration on the bike.

Without post-processing in Narrative's cloud, I needed to rotate all my photos locally either 90 or 180 degrees (I tried two different mounting orientations). Most would require straightening, as well.

The photos themselves? Precious few are worth a first, much less a second, look. Five of the best are featured in Scenes from a Commute. I'll share some odd ones tomorrow.

April 19, 2014

Davenport Landing

Cliffs and trails at Davenport Beach
There is a high-surf advisory this weekend, but the Pacific appeared no rougher than usual today. I paused to enjoy my lunch in the quirky enclave of Davenport. I had been on the fence about venturing farther north with the group; I was unsure about adding more miles and climbing given that the toughest climb of the day was still ahead.

Headwind clinched the deal. I would have taken the position of la lanterne rouge without the wind penalty. Davenport would be my turnaround point.

“The flower helps!” a rider called out as he passed me. (A rocket booster would help more, I thought.) Some racers appeared to be doing hill repeats on Bonny Doon. They thanked me as I edged right to help them pass, and virtually every one of them praised my flower. Keeping it on my saddlebag today was a tough call, but I had decided my neon-yellow cycling jacket would be visible enough in the redwood forest without adding a blinking taillight.

Male California Quail perched on a fencepost
A stone's throw from Quail Drive [I kid you not], look who posed on a post for me! He eyed me warily as I stopped and pulled out my camera, but did not budge until I was done.

As I dawdled through the fire zone on Martin Road, another rider from our group caught up. A much stronger rider than I am, he relaxed his pace to chat. Our meeting was an uncanny coincidence—he had just read my blog a few days earlier. He is planning to do the five-pass Alta Alpina Challenge this year, and one of my ride buddies had pointed him at Five.

My route covered 30 miles with 4,560 feet of climbing. When you consider that this was a loop, and what goes up must come down ... well, you do the math. I like to ride my bicycle up steep hills, it's true—but I like riding downhill even more.

April 17, 2014

Scenes from a Commute

Bright yellow flowers on a California flannel bush (Fremontodendron californicum) along the Stevens Creek Trail
Some California flannel bushes are in full bloom along the Stevens Creek Trail, others have already peaked.

“You got it! You can take him!” Stopped at a traffic light, a motorist made me laugh. He was referring to the shirt-less, helmet-less dude in front of me.

It was a hectic week, jam-packed with meetings and a couple of way-too-early days. Energized by one productive-but-intense review, I remarked “That was fun!” One of the engineers deadpanned “You like to ride a bicycle up steep hills.”

Biking home is a great way to unwind. I squeezed in two bicycle commutes and was tempted to make it a three-fer, but decided to save my legs for Saturday.

The trail is not uniformly scenic.

High voltage towers and lines along the Stevens Creek Trail (Narrative Clip)
The first of five bridges on the way home.

Bike-ped bridge over Moffett Blvd. (Narrative Clip)
I have been playing with a new gadget that automatically captures a photo every 30 seconds. Needless to say, most of the shots are utterly worthless. Here is a selfie as I cross the last bridge before leaving the trail.

Shadow of pep crossing a bike-ped bridge over Hwy 85. (Narrative Clip)
As I browsed through the collection (more than 2,000 photos for the round trip), I was surprised to see things I have otherwise never noticed. Here I am signaling a right turn, somewhere. (I'm not exactly sure where.)

Shadow of bicycle and pep signaling a right turn. (Narrative Clip)
Like many digital cameras, this one is challenged by the sky.

Shadow of pep and bicycle in late-day light next to a retaining wall. (Narrative Clip)
In principle, the little camera seemed ideal for biking. In reality, not so much.

April 13, 2014

The Morning Wacko

View to the east from Ridge Winery: Montebello Road, hazy valley, and distant hills.
How many random factors came together to stop me at a particular intersection at a particular moment in time? [More than I can count.] The vagaries of getting up, getting dressed, assembling lunch and my gear, setting up the bike, pedaling on my way. Pausing for cross traffic, and another stoplight. Flying downhill, slowing to check for traffic merging from the freeway, and then rolling to a stop at a red light at a particular intersection at a particular moment in time.

I glanced to my left. The walk signal was flashing; this would be a long light. An old man in a light blue jacket, tall and robust, was crossing the street, staring at me. He veered out of the crosswalk to confront me, gruffly asking if I paid $3,000—or $4,000—for my bike.

There is no satisfactory answer to his question. He knows it's not a cheap bicycle. “Maybe,” I said; “it's old, I've had it a long time.”

It was 9:00 a.m. on Sunday morning and there was no one else in sight.

Nothing prepared me for the ugly question that next spewed from his mouth. A question with centuries-deep roots in ignorance and hatred.

“Are you a member of the Jewish clan?”

My blood froze. A storm of profanities raged in my brain. More furious than frightened, I summoned a reply. “No, I am not,” I said curtly. He continued on his way, rambling about the bike he got from Goodwill and suggesting that I should go spend more of my money on a new one.

How many random factors came together to stop me at that particular intersection at that particular moment in time? Thirty seconds, either way, would have spared me this encounter with the scum of the earth and this reminder that bigotry is alive right here in my own town, in the liberal Bay Area, in the twenty-first century.

Poppy-covered hillside with old grape vines and trees at Ridge Winery.
Following this rude wake-up call, it is not hard to imagine that the rest of my day was considerably more pleasant. I biked to the start of our club ride, meeting up with friends old and new, with diverse national heritages and beliefs, from all walks of life. The morning gloom burned off sooner than my thoughts about the morning's sickening start.

Our ride leader insisted that we were welcome to picnic at Ridge Winery. After climbing to the top of Montebello we headed a mile or so back down and turned into their driveway. It was an unexpectedly lovely spot, but it is reserved for customers only. [That, I expected.]

A day of stark contrasts: 39 miles and 3,500 feet of climbing with scenic views, and one chance encounter with abhorrent views.

April 12, 2014


I never tire of visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium. A new exhibit (Tentacles) has just opened. With some help from MBARI, they can share some uncommon finds. If you stop by soon, you might see some deep sea visitors—a pair of Flapjack Octopuses.

I never tire of looking out onto Monterey Bay, either. To our delight, a mother otter and her pup floated past the building, not far offshore.

Cephalopoda include cuttlesfishes as well as squid and octopuses. I didn't realize they were mollusks, minus the shell.

Nor did I realize that the chambered nautilus is a Cephalopod.

Chambered nautilus
We don't often see much of an octopus; the creature will habitually draw tightly into a corner, maybe exposing a few suction cups on the glass. The resident Giant Pacific Octopuses, not to be outdone by the splashy new exhibit on the opposite side of the building, decided to put on a show. I have seen them unfurl and slide along the glass before, but tonight—they swam!

Giant Pacific Octopus
Every tank is worth a closer look. This fish was annoyed at being found, despite some impressive camouflage.

Fish hiding in pink coral
Well worth the trip, again and again.

April 6, 2014

Poppy Rocks

California poppies blooming on a rocky hillside
Ride 100 km on a warm spring day? It's a job. Someone's got to do it.

Next week is one of our club's main events, when approximately 1800 cyclists will visit to ride on some of our favorite roads. Supporting all those folks would not be possible without the volunteer labor of hundreds of club members (before, during, and after the event). Some volunteers can ride that day, but most of us will be busy at our stations.

Volunteers, instead, are invited to ride the course a week in advance, and today was that day. A couple of rest stops are set up for us with water and snacks, finishing with a barbecue lunch. [We miss out on the famous nut breads and wraps. Of course, we could make those anytime.]

Field carpeted with wild mustard at the foot of green hills
Back to the job: We're looking for potential problems to fix before next Saturday. For my part, I called attention to a potentially troublesome pothole and a spot where some arrows on the pavement might help.

The biggest problem of the day had four legs and a collar. I saw the loose dog. He was intently watching something on the other side of a fence.

Then he saw me.

How fast can a dog run? [Pretty darned fast.] How fast can I sprint? [Not that fast.] In a matter of seconds, I accelerated from 11 to 21 mph and my heart rate spiked from 145 to 175 bpm. The snarling, barking menace was keeping pace, inches away. I had visions of his fangs shredding my left calf.

That stretch of road was level, with a slight downhill advantage yards ahead. Primarily, I got lucky—I could not out-sprint the little monster.

Uvas Reservoir, nearly run dry
Recent rains have turned the hills green and coaxed out the wildflowers, but not relieved the drought. There was precious little water to see on our “reservoir loop;” by summer's end, there may be none.

For the day, 66 miles with just a little climbing (2,420 feet). I hope our guests will enjoy a day as picture-perfect as today.