Monday, May 30, 2011

Review: More than a year with the Amazon Kindle

First off, let me repeat my standard Amazon disclaimer. I'm an Amazon Affiliate. If you go to Amazon via some link of mine and buy anything from them within 24 hours, some of your purchase price goes to me (about 6% on average). It doesn't cost you any more to buy the item but instead of all the money going to some big faceless corporation in Seattle, some of it goes to a bike riding guy in Issaquah, WA. And by the way, everybody I know who works at Amazon has a face as well and if Amazon is big and successful it seems to have something to do with them being pretty damn smart.

But, I digress. Expect a lot of digressions ahead. For your first digression, you can read the review of the Kindle I wrote back in March of 2010. Everything I wrote there still holds true and if you read that I won't feel the need to repeat the things I've covered there.

I'm still totally happy with my Kindle. It's a handy damn piece of technology that just plain works. Yep, newer ones are out now that do a bit more stuff or do the existing things better. And yeah, the price has dropped. Right now, if I busted or lost my Kindle, I'd replace it with a Graphite 6" Kindle 3G+Wi-Fi. If I wanted to save a few bucks, I might get the version that's a bit cheaper because it displays ads on the screen-saver. You can read hundreds of reviews of the various flavors of the Kindles on the net but everything I'm going to mention in this review relates to stuff that I've done with my older Kindle.

The first thing to understand about a Kindle is that it makes it super easy to carry a lot of virtual books with you. Going on vacation or a bike tour or headed to the coffee shop or the dentist's office? Bring a Kindle an you can have the latest 1000 page best seller, some essays from Emerson, a pulp stories from the 1950s, the book from a South African novelist that won't see print in the US for another 6 get the idea. Of course Amazon's store makes it really easy to buy stuff for the Kindle but you can also load up on free books from sites like or

The Kindle can make reading both more private (if you want) or more public (if you want). On the subway, reading your Kindle, nobody knows if you're reading Gibbon's Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire or the latest story of teen vampires from Stephanie Meyer. But, if you're one of those people (like me) who likes to share interesting lines you find in a book or jot down notes, the Kindle total has that aspect of reading down. Not only can you highlight text and jot notes, but you can share those notes and highlights via Twitter. Again, this is something you can do, but you don't have to do. But via Twitter I've learned of new writers, found new books and generally broadened my reading experience.

Here's an example. I'm a fan of William Gibson and I follow him on Twitter. He goes silent when he's working on a new book, but once the manuscript is in the hands of the publisher or he's out on a book tour he's out there tweeting away. So I knew when Zero History was coming out last fall and I pre-ordered it on my Kindle and it appeared magically there (because we're living in the freakin future, folks). And I completely enjoyed it and tweeted out some excerpts and maybe some folks followed those links and bought some more copies of Bill's book. Good for Bill. BTW, it's a damn good book.

At various times William Gibson raved about the novels of Lauren Beukes and while her paper novels at the time were not for sale in the US, I was able to get the Kindle versions for less than $5 each and I was blown away by her way with a story. BTW, Lauren recently won the Arthur C. Clarke award for Science Fiction for her novel Zoo City, so I guess I wasn't the only one blown away.

Of course I've found some duds in my Kindle reading but another neat thing with the Kindle is that you can download samples from most books to get a feel for them. Also, many authors are releasing their out-of-print backstock titles on the Kindle for free or at low prices to help drum up demand for their newer titles. And small, indie authors are publishing straight to the Kindle. Some of these books are very good and about 70% of the sale price goes to the author. I took a $3 chance on indie author Ray Doty and bought Out of the Black. For the price of a cup of fancy coffee I got a great thriller and Ray made a couple of bucks.

Reading on the Kindle is great. Battery life is terrific and I hear the battery life is about twice as good on the new ones. The new screen is supposed to be even crisper but the screen on my Kindle is a joy to read on even in full daylight. Another advantage of the Kindle is that you can pick a comfortable font size, so if you want all your books can be large print books. The Kindle doesn't have a backlight and while reading lights are available, I sometimes use a headlamp. More often for night reading, I actually usually use the Kindle software on my ARCHOS 32. There is also free Kindle software for iPhones, iPads, Droids, PCs and what have you. The neat thing is that the software keeps your place in whatever you're reading, no matter what device you are on. Whenever I switch between devices, Amazon keeps track of where I am. (And yes, that is kind of creepy!)

While the Kindle is, first and foremost, a book reader, there are some handy apps and services you can access via the "experimental" web browser. My 3G Kindle has free wireless connection to the internet and yes, it's really free. I've paid for my Kindle and I've paid for books I've bought, but I've never had to pay anything to access the net via my Kindle. And that's a really handy thing.

Here are a few useful Kindle sites: -- This site lets me browse and post to Twitter via my Kindle. -- This site uses Google to translate between various languages. -- A simple link to the Google Directions.

There are also some handy applications and games available for the Kindle, costing anywhere from $1 to $3. I've found Notepad, Easy Calculator and Calendar Pro to be worthwhile and both Christine and I are hooked on the word game Panda Poet.

In the year-plus that I've had my Kindle, it's gone with me on various bike trips, tours to the backwoods and trips to Portland. When Christine and I went to Lopez Island last fall, our Kindles went with us. The Kindles have held up fine and are still going strong.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wistfulness at Timber Ridge

Last Friday was Bike To Work Day and eventually I did bike to work but before I went to the Bicycle Center, I spent about half the day at Timber Ridge at Talus. Timber Ridge is a picturesque senior living facility located on the eastern slope of Cougar Mountain here in Issaquah and they were having health and wellness fair for the staff and residents. I enjoy talking about biking, walking and other healthy ways of getting around so when the folks at Timber Ridge asked me to help out with their event, of course I said yes.

I loaded a hundred bike maps and some Bicycle Alliance brochures onto Christine's bike and rode up the mountain to Talus. I took Christine's bike on this mission because it has the nicest basket for map hauling and it is the most "normal" looking bike in my household. I wanted to talk about bikes in general and not spend all my time explaining how my little Dahon folds up or how the massive wheels on my 29er let me roll more easily over ruts and logs.

It was an interesting event. Talus feels like a mountain resort. Since it is a senior facility, many of the residents have some kind of health or mobility issues but the inspirational thing was seeing how interested these folks were in maintaining what mobility they have. And some of the residents seemed like they should be profiled in "Spry Codger" magazine. (And if that magazine doesn't exist, someone should publish it. Make the print large. You could build a subscriber base of folks who still read print, who have money and needs that advertisers want to reach. And if you want a cycling columnist, drop me a note. But I digress...)

I got a lot of wistful looks and comments from folks who can no longer ride a bicycle. Maybe their balance is gone, maybe their arthritis is too bad. Some need a cane or a walker or a wheelchair to get around at all. But these people, whose bodies no longer obey their every desire and whose memories might be similarly limited would tell me of the joy they'd felt while riding a bicycle. A silver-haired grandmother told me of her bike rides to school as she took a map for her granddaughter. A bald man with a cane told me of his bike ride across the country back in the 1970s. They all thanked me for being there.

I gave away a lot of maps by pointing out that the bike map is also a good walking map, as it shows where the hills are and shows the trails and quieter streets. And I gave away maps and talked about riding with the staff members of Talus and other people at the fair.

I don't know how many year's I'll be able to ride a bicycle. I think I have years more on the roads and trails but none of us know what the future holds. But these older folks inspired me and made this fifty-two year old feel like a kid. I'm glad I can ride.

If you can ride, get out there. It's a beautiful world.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah, WA USA

P.S. Thanks to those of you who have already contributed to Team Turtle and our efforts to help fight Arthritis. As of this writing, thanks to your generosity, we've raised $860. Christine, Michael and I sure appreciate your support.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Urbana Bike: Final Ride, Final Impressions

For the past couple of months, I've had the use of an Urbana Bike. Haniya provided me with the bike and I've really enjoyed the time I've had with this rugged beast of a bike but today was the day I had to return the bike. Larry at Working Dog Bicycles in Seattle is the local Urbana dealer so all I had to do was ride the bike in to Seattle. Of course there would be the little problem of getting home (Issaquah and Seattle are about 17 miles distant). I could take the bus back home, but where's the adventure in that?

But I own a Dahon, which folds up into a dense little package. And I have this Urbana which has this awesome rack on the back that could easily carry the weight of the Dahon without complaining. The solution was obvious.

I strapped a couple of one by two hunks of wood to the rack to make a broader platform for the Dahon bag, strapped the bagged bike to the Urbana and rode to Seattle. It was an extremely uneventful trip.

Working Dog is a bike shop with a bike commuter and urban utility focus. Larry stocks practical bikes from manufacturers including Urbana, Dahon and Linus. My black review Urbana looked right at home next to it's yellow and chocolate brown siblings while I did the everyday magic trick of unfolding my Dahon and transforming its carry bag into a rear rack trunk.

My first impressions of the Urbana had been positive and in the two months I've had with the bike it has been completely trouble free. In those two months, the only maintenance I've had to do on the bike was to pump up the tires (when I first got the bike) and lube the chain a couple of times after some very wet rides. As I've noted elsewhere, the tires are wonderful and the bike is tough. And it does very well at hauling heavy loads.

My only complaints with the Urbana have been minor or in some cases, hypothetical. The bike lacks bottle bosses but it's not really a bike you take on long, thirsty trips. My coffee mug hangs fine off the handlebars. The front fender looks a bit short but in the course of a very wet March and April, I found them perfectly fine. The Urbana became my foul-weather bike of choice. Finally if I ever did have a puncture on the rear tire, the kickstand overlaps the tab for the rear brake on the hub, so there are more bolts to loosen back there than it seems there should be, but the tires are so bomb-proof I never had to futz with changing a tire.

The Nexus shifting and the brakes both performed flawlessly over two months of damp and hilly riding. The tires still look new. I managed to rub a bit of paint off the rear rack hauling various things around but other than that the bike is unscathed from being knocked around the rough streets and trails of the Puget Sound area.

The Urbana is not a light bike but it's very well balanced. Even doing awkward things with this bike, like carrying a 25 pound folding bike on the rear rack or hauling the bike up and down a flight of stairs, the Urbana just works. I live in a 2nd floor walk-up apartment and I got real good at grabbing the Urbana at the low point of it's U-shaped frame and hauling it up the stairs.

In an ideal world the Urbana would cost less than it does or maybe I'd be richer but the truth of the matter is it costs a decent chunk of change to put together a bike with a bomb-proof frame, the toughest, most comfy tires I've ever ridden, a rack that can haul ridiculous loads, brakes that can reliably stop a bike burdened with a ridiculous load and well you get the picture. But a fully loaded Urbana still costs less than a really crappy car. And it is a really good bike.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

When the Driving's Done: A Moderate Manifesto

It's Bike To Work Month and I'm one of those guys who gets called now and then to say something on the subject. Today I was one of the people asked to say a few words and answer some questions about bicycling for a brown bag seminar for the City of Issaquah employees. These things are mostly question and answer sessions, but you have to have some kind of introductory remarks. So I went over to City Hall with a nice Trek Allant and a bunch of bike maps and this is what I said.


I'd like to thank Micah for inviting me here to talk about bike commuting. I'm sure he thinks I'm going to talk about bike commuting. All you folks probably came here thinking that I'm going to talk about bike commuting, but I've got to confess, I'm not actually going to talk that much about bike commuting. What I am going to talk about today is how we get where we need to go and ways to do that without getting in a car and driving. I'm going to talk about bad things and good things and walking and biking and taking the bus. I hope you find it worth your time.

I'm going to start today with a quote from one of my favorite authors, the novelist T.C. Boyle. Boyle is describing one of his characters who actually isn't actually stuck in traffic at this moment, she's in her kitchen which is within hearing distance of the freeway:

"A horn sounds out on the freeway, a sudden sharp buzz of irritation and rebuke, and then another answers and another. She pictures the drivers, voluntarily caged, one hand clamped to the wheel, the other to the cell phone. They want. All of them. They want things, space, resources, attention to their immediate needs, but they're getting none of it--or not enough. Never enough. Of course, she's one of them, though her needs are more moderate, or at least she likes to think so."

-- T.C. Boyle, When the Killing's Done

We've all been there, right? Stuck, not where we need to be. Irritated.

One phrase sticks in my head. "Voluntarily caged..." My initial reaction is to object, "no I have to be..." where ever it is I need to be. "Need" as in "I need to be at work on time" or "I need to wear a suit for this presentation and can't be all sweaty" or "I need to drop my kids off at school or pick up the groceries at Costco..." Need. As in I need to drive.

But do we all need to drive, all the time? If we're all on the freeway or on Front Street at the same time, our needs are our undoing. There has to be a better way.

There is a better way. I know it. I live it, right here in this little town. I don't drive, I haven't driven in years. I'm happier and healthier since I don't spend my life voluntarily caged. And later I'll answer whatever questions you have about living car-free in a car-centric world but right now I'm not going to tell you that you don't need to drive to work. I don't know what your situation is. But I am going to suggest one simple thing that will improve your life and the lives of all of us. It'll save you money and improve your health. It'll make the air cleaner and the roads less crowded. It's really simple.

Drive less.

That's it.

Now here are some stats to back up this simple idea.

Most trips Americans make are short: 49% are less than 3 miles, 39% are less than 2 miles, and 24% are less than 1 mile. For trips less than a mile, I'll probably walk. I love biking, I'm a bike guy and I work in a bike shop but if I'm going less than a mile, I walk. I don't find it to be worth the time to strap on my helmet, unlock and lock my bike. Why in the world would I drive that distance?

Now you might be thinking that driving is quicker or you can haul more stuff or it's more comfortable but think about parking. Think about traffic. Think about what you really need to haul from here to there. Sure, maybe you drive some trips. But do you have to drive every trip?

My carfree wife loves to recount the tale of the only time she was late to a church meeting. It was a rainy evening and Christine accepted the offer of a car ride from a well-meaning friend. And, of course, they wound up stuck in traffic on Front Street. On foot, under her umbrella on the damp days, Christine's trips are consistently quicker and less stressful.

Let's talk for a bit about health. 3 hours of biking per week reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke by 50%. 50% is a lot. In fact, it's huge. If a drug had that kind of effect, it'd be worth billions.

Now you can get that 3 hours a week in lots of ways, fun ways and useful ways. And that's the thing, biking is fun. Remember when you were a kid, the thrill of going someplace under your own power? That fun is still there.

Maybe you ride on the trail along Lake Sammamish or maybe you ride on some of the quieter streets in your neighborhood. Find someplace you want to ride and ride there. I've got a nice stash of King County Bike Maps here and I'll be happy to give you one. And if you've got questions about biking anywhere around here, ask me.

I sometimes refer to myself as a retired bike commuter because I now live four blocks the Bicycle Center, the shop where I work. It's less than a mile, so I walk to work. In April I joined this thing called the 30 Days of Biking in which I made the pledge to ride my bike everyday. Just a bit, there was no minimum distance requirement. So I just went out and rode. I decided I'd post a picture everyday and blog about it. I wound up exploring this town quite a bit and I rode into Seattle a few times. Many days I only rode for a couple of miles, maybe to the coffee shop or the grocery store. It adds up. In April, I rode 237 miles.

Since I like the coffee at Tully's and the granola bars at Trader Joe's, one of my very common trips is from downtown Issaquah (I live two doors east of City Hall) to the commercial area north of I-90. Since there's the north branch of City Hall up there, I imagine some of you city employees might make this trip often as well. I'm here to tell you, it's a nice trip by bike, thanks to the many fine trails we have in this city. I've seen deer on the trail and eagles soaring on the thermals. I don't feel trapped or caged on the trip, I feel alive.

If you don't feel like walking or biking, we have a good shuttle bus in our town, the Route 200 Freebie. Studies have shown that "people who live in communities with high-quality public transportation drive less, exercise more, live longer, and are generally healthier than residents of communities that lack quality public transit.” And every mile you are not driving is more money in your pocket.

While biking, walking or taking the bus are clearly good for you, you also help make things better for all of us by with every trip you don’t take in your car. Traffic congestion wastes nearly 3 billion gallons of gas per year in the U.S. For every 1 mile pedaled or walked rather than driven, about 1 pound of CO² is saved. Those little steps you take get us all a bit closer to a better place for all of us.

You don’t have to make a big change in your life to make a difference in the world. What I’m suggesting today is a moderate manifesto, a small commitment to drive a bit less and to move around a bit more under your own power. You’ll be healthier, you’ll save money and you won’t be stuck. You’ll be moving toward the better world we’re all building, one step and one pedal stroke at a time.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Team Turtle: Riding Slowly For A Cause

Years ago the great Sheldon Brown wrote a small essay in which he asked the question "Are Charity Rides A Good Thing?" While Sheldon rightfully questions the equating of cycling and suffering, I've found that I can ride my bike, convey the joy of cycling and raise money for good causes. In the past I've ridden or helped with the Seattle Century to raise money for Bike Works and I also had a great time raising money for folks fighting cancer on the 2009 Seattle Livestrong Ride.

In 2011, I'll be riding my bike in support of a few causes and the main cause I'm supporting this year is the Arthritis Foundation. My pal Tai Lee is the smiling guy pictured at the top of this blog post and he not only has a great ride, he has a really important cause. Thanks to Tai, I have a great answer to this question:

Why support the Arthritis Foundation?

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that there are over 50 million people in the United States diagnosed with arthritis, which is over one-fifth of the general population. Their estimate grows to 67 million, or one-quarter of the general population, by the year 2030. Arthritis is a disease that affects people of all demographics, including 300,000 children affected by chronic auto-immune diseases conditions. The CDC also estimates that roughly one-third of diagnosed cases of arthritis result in some form of limited mobility or disability and costs the US economy $128 billion annually.

The Arthritis Foundation is the only national not-for-profit organization that supports the more than 100 types of arthritis and related conditions. Founded in 1948, the Arthritis Foundation has multiple service points located throughout the country. The Pacific Northwest Chapter covers Washington, Oregon and Alaska. The Arthritis Foundation is the largest private, not-for-profit contributor to arthritis research in the world, funding more than $380 million in research grants since 1948. The foundation helps people take control of arthritis by providing public health education; pursuing public policy and legislation; and conducting evidence-based programs to improve the quality of life for those living with arthritis.

For every dollar raised by the Arthritis Foundation:

  • 49¢ goes towards funding research approved by our Peer Review Process.
  • 19¢ goes towards Public Education programs, such as our Kids and Teens camps.
  • 8¢ goes towards Patient and Community Services, such as Lifestyle Improvement exercise programs.
  • 4¢ goes towards Professional Education programs, updating medical providers on the latest in arthritis treatment.
  • 10¢ cents goes towards Fundraising efforts.
  • 10¢ cents goes towards Administrative costs.
The cause is good and I'm very glad to see the bulk of the money goes straight into research, support and education.

Last year my big adventure was the Tour Divide and I was able to have that adventure thanks to the help of a huge number of great friends who I tried to repay with pictures and stories from the trail. I explained the whole process in a post I called "Help From My Friends." As my son noted, "Gee, Old Man, You're really good at begging for money on the internet!" In 2011, I'm using my amazing begging powers for the Arthritis Foundation.

Years ago I raced up a chunk of the Pacific Coast and absolutely fell in love with the beauty of the Oregon Coast. I vowed to return someday, but to take my time. Last year I ultimately re-learned again that the journey really is the reward and I tried to convince people with my call-ins and my reports to just go. Get on a bike, get out in the world and go. It's a beautiful world.

I don't know how many people heard my message, but I know for sure one did: my wife Christine. We made plans, vague plans, but plans nonetheless, to tour in 2011. And then my pal Tai came along and said "have I got a ride for you!"

The People's Coast Classic is an amazing ride. In September, Christine and I will ride the length of the Oregon Coast. While this ride will be shorter and slower than some rides I've done in the past, it will be the longest tour Christine has ever done. We've formed a team, called Team Turtle and we can absolutely, positively promise that we will not be the fastest riders on the coast this autumn. We will persist. What haste we have will be of the slow variety. My friend Michael Rasmussen (who should not be confused with the bike racer of the same name) has also signed up to be a part of Team Turtle. There are a few more spots on Team Turtle and if you have what it takes to be slow and beg your friends for money for a good cause, you can join us.

If riding and begging aren't your style but you'd still like to help, you can go to either


and donate what you can. As I noted above, the money goes to a very good cause.

Here's what you get for your money:
  • The great feeling you get from doing good.
  • A tax deduction.
  • A whole bunch of blog posts and pictures as the Turtles train for, prepare and ride the ride.
  • Other incentives I'll come up with later (Team Turtle T-shirts perhaps?) Anyone who donates any amount will be entered into whatever incentive plans I come up with between now and September (Hey, I'm making this up as I go along!)
  • Huge thanks from all of us on Team Turtle.

Stay tuned to the blog for more details. Oh, and in case you folks are wondering, I'm planning on doing this ride on my little red Dahon 3-speed.

Keep 'em rolling and thanks for your support.

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA