Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Inclusion vs Exclusion

The original title of this post was "Everything I love is dominated by elitist assholes", but I've toned it down a bit. I had been watching my favorite documentary, "El Sistema", about the music program in Venezuela that tries to be as inclusive as humanly possible -- I swear to god, they even have an orchestra for deaf children. The founder, Jose Antonio Abreu noted "The root cause of all our social problems is exclusion.” For some reason, that sentiment has stuck with me for the past year or so. As I examined many of my interests and hobbies, I realized that each one suffered greatly from a sense of exclusion.

Classical Music
When Jose Abreu began El Sistema in 1975, it could have been said by critics that exposing poor Venezuelan children to classical music was wrongheaded. Classical music is for old, white, rich people in the United States and Europe, right? But by expanding classical music into a population where it had not been accessible many strong musicians emerged, most notably Gustavo Dudamel who was appointed music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. This is the core reason diversity and inclusion are not mere lofty principles to strive towards when you have the time, but rather sources of strength. Cutting off major sections of the population to something great weakens the whole because the genius of so many goes unexpressed. Had Abreu not began El Sistema, Gustavo Dudamel (who is from a poor family) would likely not conduct Los Angeles today.

Sometimes I get asked whether I grew up sailing, which always makes me laugh. If you knew my parents you'd understand. My story of getting into it is this: The first time I drove up Chuckanut Hwy near Bellingham, I looked out onto the San Juan Islands and said "I have got to get out there." I took a class at WWU, which was a fine introduction, but I needed a next step. I found an ad in the local paper from an engineless sailor who would take you sailing out of Squalicum Harbor for free provided that you learn a few terms and knots before you showed up. Be at the dock at 8am sharp. This was Jay Fitzgerald of Oar Club fame. He had a pretty tough time taking people out for free, especially since getting anyone in Bellingham to show up at 8am is pretty futile. I'm still glad he did it -- without him there is no way I'd be sailing the way I do today. One of my favorite things he's said: "People often ask me who I think the best sailor in the world is or was. I've always said: probably some kid in Mongolia. Genius is nothing without opportunity."

Today, I look at the marina in Ballard and ask what kind of message it sends to kids going to Golden Gardens in the summer from, say, Rainier Valley or Federal Way. It's hundreds of big ol' sailboats with locked gates at the top of the dock. Stay out. No trespassing. This area is for rich people. If you want to get into sailing, there is a fine school next to the Yacht Broker's office (ie, not gonna happen). And every time I think of this I get sad because it's actually quite easy to sail for free if you're in the club. Racing boats need crew. Stick around long enough, and some boat will take you on. I have several friends who constantly sail and never pay a dollar in moorage, new sails, or haul out costs. There's just no way a poor kid from a bad neighborhood is ever going to know it's possible. And honestly, if some 17-year-old Mexican boy hung around the marina he would likely get strange looks until he was discouraged to leave.

Areas for hope on this front are 1) Sandpoint Sailing, who aims to make sailing accessible for all. You can volunteer with them in exchange for sailing time. 2) Matt Rutherford, from Annapolis, MD. This badass set a record by sailing solo around the Americas while raising money for a sailing club for the disabled. More of this, please.

The low cost of entry into cycling makes this perhaps the hobby of mine with the greatest potential for inclusion. However, this possibility is often adversely affected by Bicycle Culture. Cyclists have a distinct in-group mentality which intimidates and scares off many. (I'm looking at you, .83). When I first started dating my girlfriend (who had just moved from Chicago and hadn't ridden a bike since she was 12), I actually had bicycle friends of mine say to my face and in her presence "What the hell Bob, why are you dating her if she doesn't ride bikes?" This understandably turned her off to biking and it took a lot of time and work to undo the damage. Now, luckily, I have got her riding quite a bit.

This experience, among other things, led me to get involved with Seattle Greenways. Our group holds that for far too long, bicycle infrastructure in Seattle has been geared (no pun intended) towards young, strong, confident riders at the expense of others. We aim to build a network of walking and cycling routes for users of All Ages and Abilities. We don't think streets ought to be designed for "cyclists", but rather moms, grandparents, children, and whoever wants to get to school or work in a safe, healthy way.

It's often claimed that software is a pure meritocracy. Like most myths, it's rooted at least partially in truth. If you're part of the in-group, it is indeed a meritocracy. This was recently debated on the internet. See Andrew Sullivan. I have mixed feelings about this. Many people in software are some of the most pleasant, chill folks that exist. Others are nice enough but they have no idea how much negative impact their condescending know-it-all attitude can have, especially in introductory Computer Science classes. I could say a lot more about this, but I'd probably get in trouble.

I was very pleased to see this addressed by my old coworker, Paul Watts. (Apparently the link on his page is busted... grr). He made a strong case that if you're not being actively inclusive, you are part of the problem. I could not agree more. Another source for hope is my buddy Perry Fizzano who is the Chair of the Computer Science department at WWU. He got a sizable grant to encourage more women to enter Math and Computer Science.

I've struggled a lot thinking how to make my activities and interests more inclusive. I've been handed a lot of opportunities in life - probably more than average. Should I just continue in my own self-interest by riding bikes and going sailing all the time? Or do I have a moral responsibility to pay it forward and help the next generation of kids get into this cool stuff? Stay tuned...

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sailing to Poulsbo

This weekend I decided it would be a good idea to spend the night in Liberty Bay, aka Poulsbo. First of all, here's the wind that was detected at West Point (the lighthouse at Discovery Park, for you landlubbers):

This is what meteorologists refer to as "jack shit". I knew this was in the cards, as the forecasts had called for high pressure and (therefore) light air.

This presents certain challenges for an engineless vessel. One thing's for sure -- you've got to time the currents right. Luckily, these are much more predictable than the weather!

I shoved off at 8:30AM on Saturday. There was a light Southerly which blew me across the Sound towards Port Madison. The wind got spotty as I entered the lee of Bainbridge. I rowed and sailed as the wind allowed, making my way towards Agate Pass. The current would begin being in my favor at 10AM. (Ie, slack current was 10AM, followed by a 1 kt flood through Agate). Look here.

Many hours of light wind sailing and rowing later, I was making my way towards Liberty Bay. There was a group of Scoters making their usual ridiculous noises.

I finally dropped anchor, drank a beer and ate some beef bourguignon. The view with my meal was great.

The schedule in the morning was a bit less friendly. There was a 5AM slack tide, which meant waking up at 4:30AM. I pulled anchor and was thrilled to get a light breeze - no rowing! Coffee was made. The sun rose.

Nothing like drifting along at 1.5 knots (rowing, "sailing", rowing, "sailing") will make you so excited to get an actual 6 knot breeze. It feels like a hurricane!

Look at those ripples! I think we're even heeling a bit.

Max ebb was 7:30AM, 2 knots. Good time was made. The wind started coming in from the NW enough that as I headed North towards the Agate Pass bridge on a port tack, I could pinch up a bit to avoid tacking my big ol' genoa. This is much easier to do with current on your butt. Here's what that looked like:

The current spat me into the Sound. Second coffee was made. The wind shifted (obviously it gets funneled by the topography at Agate), and I noticed that it was coming straight out of the East which is not common. The cold inland air was spilling towards sea level, creating offshore flow. I had to tack *across* Puget Sound which (again) is rare.

As the morning wore on, the Easterly pooped out. Some time went by and I noticed a wind line approached from the North. This was enough to get me home. Dock lines were made fast at 12:30PM.

Poulsbo is a great destination from Shilshole, since you are guaranteed to make port as long as you follow the tide cycle. For example, starting at Poulsbo on Sunday at 5AM, I had a 6.5 hour "battery" (ie, energy stored in the risen water) to propel me through Agate. As long as you row at 1 knot, you're going to make the pass. If there's wind, it's that much easier. Then you have the rest of the day to get across the Sound, which you're going to do eventually, even in this shit:

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Bellingham Ride

When my buddy Daniel Featherhead suggested we ride bikes to Bellingham to celebrate his 30th birthday, I knew I couldn't refuse.

Here's my route.

The day started off foggy but as time went by, well, it stayed foggy.

Some time before Snohomish, we encountered some pretty awful black ice.

We had to walk for a mile or so -- I've never seen so much road ice. Luckily the conditions improved before we were able to bomb down Springhetti Hill into Snohomish in time for a much needed bakery stop.

We were so cold that we ended up buying hand warmers from a hardware store for our hands and feet. I wrapped newspaper over my socks and stuffed a heat pad into my shoe.

After a long, hard slog we finally crossed the South fork of Skagit River and the sun broke out. Fir Island is a great place to ride, although I was a bit disappointed that we saw no snow geese.

We met my sister Margaret, her boyfriend Andrew, and Daniel's friend Tyson in Edison, just South of Chuckanut Drive. It was great to have a good group of folks to ride this hills of Chuckanut.

This was supposedly my 23rd time doing this ride, but honestly I've lost track. The great part about doing a stretch over and over again is that you become familiar with the area in a way not possible by any other mode of travel (except for maybe walking, which I'm way too lazy to do). I highly recommend this ride to anybody looking for a fun 100-miler: it's mostly flat, has plenty of stops to eat yummy food, and is 80% trails and quiet back country roads.

Above: Mr. Featherhead, Old Pioneer Hwy.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Admiralty Inlet Loop

Today I did my first ever Admiralty Inlet Loop, thusly named for the body of water it circumnavigates.

I love this trip. There are three WA State Ferries involved, and four stretches of biking.

Stretch 1: Home to Edmonds

12 miles

I left at 4:15am in order to catch the 5:35am Edmonds-Kinston ferry. This is a short stretch, but catching this ferry is crucial since the next ferry departure is 7:10am. Lesson learned from this stretch: sailing sucks. There is no way I could ever get here under sail in 45 minutes.

Stretch 2: Kingston to Port Townsend

~38 miles.

This was a little sketchy. I was biking down Hwy 104 in the pitch dark. On one hand it was kinda dangerous, on the other hand there were very few cars. Whether it's more dangerous than regular riding, I still am not sure. I kept counting to 5 and then checking behind me so that no cars snuck up on me. Most cars completely changed lanes and were totally cool. I was mostly scared of possible drunk drivers. Luckily I recently bought a 600 lumen headlight so I could see all the bumps on the shoulder.

Experiencing the bison-laden, foggy hills of Beaver Valley at dawn without a soul in sight was worth the entire trip -- John Denver would've been happy.

Bombing into PT at 8:30am was like a dream, assuming your dreams include paper mills and the associated smell. I found a bike that had spent some time in the drink:

I had time to grab a coffee cake and latte from UnderTown Cafe. I bought a ferry ticket in advance and boarded the 9:30am boat.

Stretch 3: Keystone to Clinton

25 miles

Whidbey Island has its own beauty -- farm land, gradual curves, rolling hills.

The wind was not strong, but it was coming out of the South and held some moisture. My feet were completely soaked and frozen by now. I turned down Smuggler's Cove Rd to escape the annoying highway. Saw some signs about property owners not wanting to pay for dredging Lagoon Point (need to look this up). I bonked out pretty hard at this point and was waiting to enter Freeland, WA to eat. I thought I was screwed and would have to settle for gas station food. Instead, I found this:

Artichoke and sun-dried tomato frittata with a quinoa side salad and coffee. Hell yes. If you ever need a pit stop in Freeland on Whidbey, check out Timbuktu Cafe.

The race to the ferry was less important -- Clinton-Mukilteo leaves every half hour on the half hour. When I got to the final hill I checked my watch: 12:48pm. I hit the high gear and bombed down the hill just in time to catch the walk-biker loading for the 1pm ferry. Whew.

Stretch 4: Mukilteo to Home

22 miles if you know the way. More if you're me.

I just have this to say about Mukilteo, Lynnwood, Edmonds, and Shoreline: Screw 'em. The neighborhoods are not walkable, there is very little signage, and the biking is terrible. I usually avoid this place. It seems as if the entire area is an exercise in just how many millions of dollars worth of salmon habitat, useful land, and human health can be destroyed by low-density shitty houses. There is really nothing good to say about this stretch, and I would just as soon take the bus.


This is a great ride. What I like about it is that each chunk is broken up into X number of miles with a ferry ride in between. Just get off the ferry and don't stop riding until you get to the next ferry. It's a 100-mile ride that involves a lot of sitting on your ass and not biking. I can't wait to do this again in the summer when the visibility is better.

When I got home, Stacey had just finished making coffee cake and a fresh brew of coffee. What a sight for sore eyes (I'm talking about Stacey, not the coffee). We rode our bikes into downtown Ballard later to catch up with some old friends. It was the warmest, driest bit of biking I had done all day.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Bob Hall's Bicycle Master Plan

Seattle's Department of Transportation (SDOT) is performing a scheduled update of it's five-year-old Bicycle Master Plan (BMP). Information can be found here.
It's basically complete horse shit. Here's why:
Not a master plan
Call me nit-picky, but I was hoping that a Bicycle Master Plan would be, well, a little more master planny. So far everything in the plan is disjointed and piece meal: "Safety! Bike lanes! Education!" Those are nice ideas, but squishing a few good ideas together is not a plan. There isn't a single section that attempts to answer questions like this: "How will a cyclist get from the University District to Capitol Hill in a safe, continuous, easy to follow path with the least steep hills possible?" We have been talking about biking in Seattle for decades now and still nobody can answer this.
A plan, at the highest level, should look like this:

Each node would be a major destination of Seattle (Ballard, Fremont, Capitol Hill, Downtown, etc). Each line represents a clear path between each destination, and the weights of each edge reflect how much of a pain in the ass it is to ride this path at present. THIS DOES NOT CURRENTLY EXIST. Instead, SDOT installs bicycle lanes which actually end at intersections (EG: 20th Ave NW & NW 65th St).
During presentations, planners asked us: "Which street do you think needs to be added to or removed from our map, or which intersections?". WRONG QUESTION. Any given street or intersection does not matter as long as you can still get from Point A to Point B in a safe, continuous route.
Written by and for people who already bike
People who bike most places right now are basically crazy people. (This includes myself). They're exposing themselves to a significant amount of risk that the general public is not willing to take.

The Master Plan should adopt a safety classification system for streets. For example, the Mineta Report sets up four Levels of Traffic Stress (LTS). Simply put, LTS1 means a child is safe to ride on this street, LTS2 means an average person is fine, LTS3 means only risk takers feel ok, and LTS4 basically means Aurora Avenue. The master network needs to establish routes between popular destinations in Seattle, and each section needs to be LTS2 for the entire duration of that route. If only a quarter mile of the route is unsafe, the entire route is unsafe (because a rider still has to deal with the unsafe section).
In short, planners should (counterintuitively) not focus that much on cyclists. Instead, they should focus almost all of their energy on people who would ride but (rightly) consider doing so to be too dangerous.
SDOT rightly took a lot of shit for installing Sharrows (painted pictures of bikes with chevrons) on major arterials as part of the 2007 Master Plan. Some have speculated that this was a kind of accounting trick to increase the number of miles of "bicycle infrastructure" they've created. This is a little bit like a computer programmer measuring success by the number of lines of code written. Sharrows on busy streets (like NW 65th St) are totally unsafe and are frankly a complete fucking atrocity. They are not "better than nothing". They communicate to new cyclists that this is a reasonably safe street to bike on when it is not.
Riddled with obfuscating language
Take a look at their PDF entitled Plan Policy Framework and Facility Designation Criteria. For starters, the first page contains Vision, Goals, and Objectives. Um, what's the difference between a Goal and an Objective? Who knows. Here's one of the Objectives (remember, not to be confused with a Goal!) of the new plan:
Employ best practices and context sensitivity to design facilities for optimum levels of bicycling comfort.
Yeah, that's crystal clear. Somebody should get right on that. Hey, maybe I can write goals like this too. I'll try: "Facilitate leading edge designs to incorporate multi-modal use patterns into the urban framework." Career in urban planning here I come!
This one is my favorite (from PowerPoint Presentation, page 3):
Focused on completing the urban bicycle trail system and expanding on-street bicycle facilities
Right, so your focus was on facilities that were either trails or on the street... in other words, everything. You focused on everything, which is the opposite of focus. I can only conclude that the author followed a formula taught by some Communications 101 professor which is as follows: 1) Create five bullet points 2) Make the first word of each bullet point an action word like "Enact", "Identify", "Improve" or "Create" and 3) fill in the rest with bullshit. This is bad enough as a formula for a PowerPoint presentation, but it seems as if it was used for the BMP itself.
Seattle needs a real Bicycle Master Plan and we need it yesterday. The plan needs to be holistic, comprehensive and should outline a complete network of LTS2 routes throughout the city. We could have and should have designed this back in 1975. By 2007 there was no excuse, and dammit now it's 2012. The reasons for implementing aggressive bicycle infrastructure are getting stronger, not weaker (the details of which deserve its own post). The community feedback to SDOT should be this: Back to the drawing board.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bob Hall's Ride-in-the-Rain Advice


Riding your bike in the winter sucks. It's cold, wet, and visibility (both yours and that of drivers) goes way down. However, the extent to which Seattle is an awful place to ride in the winter is greatly exaggerated, shitty as it may be. We live in a marine temperate climate, so the temperature is regulated in a huge way. For all the people who say Seattle weather is horrible for biking, my challenge to them is this: Name me the city where the weather is great for biking all year. Coastal Southern California comes to mind (emphasis on the "coastal"). Besides that, most other cities have pretty horrible weather for a large part of the year: Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Phoenix (summers), Houston, Boston, etc.
The point is this: Seattle has relatively mild winters, but it is dark and wet and that's no fun either. I keep promising to move to Santa Barbara and someday I will. But in the mean time, here's how I get by.
By the way, I approach this topic with a real specific bent. All the gear I use is chosen with these 2 things in mind:
1) Looks good. Imagine the typical commuter: neon green jacket, spandex, etc. I don't want to look like that.
2) Price. One of my main reasons for cycling is to be frugal. Frugal doesn't mean cheap. It means knowing when to plunk down the $200 on the good version, but also when to skate by with what works.


Buy some. This bit of advice is not original, and there are plenty of places to read why they are the best thing ever.


It's an article of faith in Seattle that you're supposed to deplore cotton and love wool. This is reasonable enough, although it tends to get fetishized a bit. Keep an eye out and you'll see dudes clad head-to-toe in wool, panties included. Having said that, go buy a used Pendleton shirt somewhere and some Smartwool socks. Both of these items will serve you well.
You'll see a lot of bicycle-specific wool pants for about $120. They're nice, but I consider them prohibitively expensive. My choice is something I call "Old Man Cowboy Pants." They're polyester with a splash of spandex mixed in.

They cost about $34 and repel rain equally as well as wool. I buy mine from Shepler's Bonus points if you hem them into shorts. This combo, with black polypro long underwear is my battle uniform.

Shoe dryer!

This is the number one piece of equipment that I don't hear people talk about much but I find indispensable. It'll set you back a whole $30. You can buy one on Amazon It's easy: put your wet shoes on when you come home at night and then find yourself delighted in the morning when they are bone dry. My girlfriend can testify that this GREATLY reduces foot odor.


When it gets really cold and shitty in December/January, I've gained a lot of pleasure by donning these fine gloves.
They're not waterproof, but they are warm. I buy mine at H&M for $6. Buy 3 pairs, and rotate them daily when they get wet. Keeping an extra pair in your bag for your poor friend wearing "cycling gloves" gets you extra credit.

On Brook's Saddles

The Brooks is extremely popular, but you'll hear a lot of ignorance about how leather can't hold up in wet conditions. Go tell that to loggers. That's why I use a proper beeswax-based boot treatment sold by White's Boots in Spokane, WA. Don't use those silly little plastic bags to cover your saddle. Use this: White's Boots Preservative Brooks will sell you a tin of leather preservative, but for a lot more money.


Some advice from Cliff Mass: Use our new fancy radar to see when the rain is coming!
You can use this tool to make your own short-term weather forecasts. For example, sometimes you can see that it's raining now but it's going to blow away with clear skies behind it. Sometimes it's worth it to wait at home for 20 minutes knowing that the rain will clear up soon. Link here

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Day 7

July 13, 2010

35º 25' N, 160º 35' W

View Larger Map

The first thing to happen today was seeing a bunch of dolphins off the starboard side. There were at least a dozen of them leaping out of one wave and into the other. Very cool. I don't think good pictures could have been taken of it since it was gray and overcast. It was a very impressive sight to be there.

Other than that it's just the same old routine. If the passage takes 21 days we're one third done... if it takes 28 days we're a quarter done. Either way we're now past a good chunk of the trip and no longer starting out. I've settled into a pretty normal routine: Wake up, make coffee, move bowels, hang out in the cockpit, do my daytime watch, read about celestial navigation (which is complicated by the way), write a bit, then eventually fall asleep, then wake up for night shift, go to bed. Repeat as needed.

I wonder what Stacey is doing today. Hopefully she's having fun and staying well fed.