Traveling Trackball, AKA “GSD Better!”

Recently I purchased a trackball and a hardshell case for that trackball, which I then wrote a review of over yonder “A Review of the MX Ergo Advanced Wireless“. The hardshell case primarily because I displace a lot during the course of the day. Whether traveling far away from home or just within the city in which I live (i.e. Seattle these days, but in the past Portland, Memphis, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Krakow, etc) it’s been very important to have computer gear that holds up well to these movements during the day. Here is a video that details the trackball, hardshell case, and some of the different places I’ve used it since purchase. Below the video I elaborate on two of the scenarios I use these devices.

Trackball Travels

Coffee Shop Cycling Displacements

Often during the day, at least a non-pandemic day, I work coffee shop to coffee shop. Meeting other coders, working alone, or having meetings in person in coffee shops. As I move from coffee shop to coffee shop, sometimes I use transit (bus/train/tram/streetcar/etc) but more often I bike from shop to shop. During these displacements computer gear can get banged up heavily. That’s where the hardshell case for the trackball is hugely important!

Here are some detailed “product” shots from Amazon/co2CREA, and the link itself to the product if you want to pick it up.

While cycling all sorts of things can happen. I could biff it (i.e. *wreck*) on my pack (i.e. messenger bag, or backpack) and things are safe from direct impact in there, but can still be squished. I could toss my bag down or set it somewhere and it gets kicked, hit, or falls. The number of impact scenarios are numerous. But it doesn’t stop there while out cycling, since most of my packs are waterproof it’s nice to have individual elements packed in water resistant packages for when I pull them out of their pack. You get the idea, there’s a lot of potential oops scenarios, and for maximum gear lifespan it’s best to keep them safe.

Railroading Baggage Pannier Packing Style

Alright, using panniers for bike and train combo trips is another one of my specialties. I take a lot of train trips. Sometimes I ride coach, sometimes I get a roomette or bedroom, and on some trains I may end up standing. Whatever the case, traveling means luggage of some sort and luggage gets banged around. Again I’ve got my packs, but also in this scenario I routinely use my panniers. The combination is great as the survivability of devices – Apple Laptop + hardshell case for pointing device plus tough packs with panniers holding the remainder of things means surviving insane things like train wrecks (i.e. my experience of the train wreck of 501), or just regular travel trips like my trips to San Francisco for QCon, or my trip to Olympia, Washington to speak at a users’ group.

In summary, if you want to enjoy the bikey life combo powered with the rail life and keep your gear intact, it’s a good idea to pick up a hardshell case.

Talking Tacoma on The Train

Ever been to Tacoma, Washington? Ever ridden the Coast Starlight, or Amtrak in general? How about with a bike. A little bit about all those things in this video. Join me for a trip south out of Seattle past Tacoma with a few key pointers, that soon, you will never get to see by train again! I’ll show ya the Tacoma narrows, plus a few other suggestions. Give this video a watch to learn how wrong I can be about what is or isn’t an island, learn about whether the Tacoma Narrows bridges have fallen down recently, and also whether they do or do not connect to an island!

So many things to know, all fascinating, give a viewing for a ride along the Tacoma waterline. Until next time, may your transiting be a most excellent experience.

Cheating Hills

Ever since I moved to Seattle some years back, I’ve ridden all over the city pretty much all the time, any weather, by bike. But even amidst all this riding combined with tons of requisite hill climbing, I do enjoy cheating a hill climb every now and again. These are some of the ways I do this, and a giant thanks to KC Metro and Sound Transit for providing solid, reliable, and kick ass services to be able to pull off these hill cheats!

Capitol & First Hill Cheats

The easiest ways when riding to get up to the top of Capitol or First Hill, or mostly to the top of Capitol or First Hill, is to use the LINK, and secondarily the Capitol Hill Streetcar (which is by no means fast, but it’s real easy). The reason I bring up these two modes as the easiest, is because you can just roll on and roll off with a bike. No need to rack anything or go to any trouble, just on and off, with an ORCA swipe off of the vehicle. Let’s take a further look at the map of these two options, but first we should look at where the tops of Capitol/First Hills are here.

The two hill tops.

On this map above there are the two red rectangles, 1 is of the first and largely most populace and business heavy area of Capital Hill and First Hill. The 2 rectangle is of the higher, and has less business and more residential part of Capital and First Hills. Both areas have things anyone in Seattle will generally want to swing by on a semi-frequent basis if they’re into food, art, music, parks, or what not. It is, after all, pretty much the heart of downtown here. To the right of the 2 rectangle leads to Central District, Madison Valley, which is a huge drop from the hill tops. The other directions, such as westward into downtown Seattle are both huge drops from areas 1 and 2.

That leads to the first of several maps for the Capitol and First Hill cheats. First up, is the Sound Transit LINK light rail service. The downtown segment of course is just a small snippet of the overall line, but that’s perfect as it gets us up the hill pretty quickly and easily. One can board at Westlake Station (2 below) or anywhere south really, and then ride to the stop designated by 3, the Capitol Hill stop. Then just take the elevators up to the service. Boom, you’re now at Cal Anderson Park (the big green park there near 3) and can get about easily to anywhere in box 1 from the map above. The other hill here, is climbing from point 1, in the Pioneer Square area up to any point north. Since between 1 and 2 is also a significant, albeit less severe hill, just like going from point 2 to point 3.

The Sound Transit LINK Service, that red line on the map.

Next up, the Capitol Hill Steetcar.

Capital Hill Streetcar

This is a great option, the downside being it is really slow compared to the LINK and even when exhausted, it’s probably faster by leaps and bounds to just ride. But hey, we’re talking about being super lazy here!

Starting in the Pioneer Square are, start at 1 to 2 is almost no hill, but provide two stop to board. Then 3 is up towards the midway point on the hill and near some pretty awesome asian food places! As is, of course 2 and the not shown stop between 2 and 3. Getting to 4 reaches the top of First Hill near the hospital zone. Which is great to deboard and then just downhill it to 12th, Broadway, or over to 12th to swing into any of those joints. Staying aboard though, while piddling the day away reading a novel or something, you can climb the next hill to point 5 and onward to the end of the link on Capitol Hill for the easiest of access via all downhill at that point.

Except of course for the final peak, of the second red rectangle from the first map. That one, is only accessible via hill cheats by boarding a bus and racking the bike. Some I tend to refrain from doing except at my most laziest (which is still pretty frequent). That’s where this next map comes into play, it’s a soup of buses and all that which King County Metro operates.

King County Metro Busses

On the above map, the busses that’ll get you to the very top (rectangle 2 in the first map), include 10, 11, 12, and 2. To get to the top of, if for example you don’t want to swing into the tunnel for the LINK or board the Capitol Hill Streetcar, First Hill board the 2, 12, 3, or 4. They’ll all get you up the super steep hills! Two other bus options that will get you into the 1 rectangle in the first map, include the 48 and 49 busses. If you’re aim is to just cheat yourself into a nice lazy ride to the 1 rectangle, any of these busses will work. Which means there are multiple places downtown that you can board, or from other points in downtown, to get up the hill without needing to put in any excessive amount of energy!

As a freebie, it’s also fun to just take the transit up, then have a downhill ride for the hell of it! 🤙🏻

That’s it for my Capital Hill cheats, I’m thinking about writing up Phinney Ridge or maybe Magnolia or Beacon Hill cheats next. Let me know if you’ve got a hill in Seattle you’d like cheats for and I’ll build up a list of routes.

Conference @ SEATAC Trips

A few months ago I attended a conference out at SEATAC and haven’t, until now, managed to get a trip report written up. This is simply the story of my trips to and from the conference, with a little added context and information Transit Sleuth style.

Outbound to SEATAC

Let’s talk about the strange town of SEATAC. First thing, SEATAC stands for Seattle-Tacoma, and is the combination zoned area between Seattle and Tacoma. This area is where some people in yesteryear decided there ought to be a shared international airport. In creating this airport they also decided to incorporate and turn it into a self-governed geographic region. Eventually this self-governed region with an airport became a self-governed town with an airport.

The conference for various reasons was being held in a space out at the airport, directly across the street from Airport Way. This made it an obvious transit trip that would involve the light rail. The only question for me was would I connect at University District or in downtown Seattle at Westlake. I could take either the KC Metro 44 Bus from Ballard to University District or KC Metro 40 to connect downtown at the Westlake stop.

I opted for a trip to University District to start the two part trip for a simple reason. There would be numerous places that would be open early to get some coffee and food at.

I departed downtown old Ballard at about 5:25am on the 44. The Starbucks stood open at this hour in Ballard but the Ballard Coffee Works was not open. There were a few people milling about at Starbucks and a few getting on the buses coming through, but not anywhere near the number that would be in the area in about one more hour.

I boarded and we made good time, with few people boarding between Ballard and Wallingford. I write a few, but by many US standards there was a lot boarding, numbering over 25 between the two town centers. As we made our way through Wallingford however, in just those several stops, another 30 people or so boarded.

Once me made the turn in the central city area of University District I got off and walked the block over to Cafe on the Ave. It’s a coffee shop that makes a decent breakfast and other items, plus has a pretty chill environment in which to eat. At this hour, now right around 5:50am, there were only 3 patrons in the cafe excluding me.

I ordered a cap, which came in sizes, again a coffee snob alert that clearly the definition of what a cappuccino is has eluded the establishment. But I digress, it’s pretty good espresso so no complaints! I ordered the 8oz size but inquired if I could just get a traditional standard cap size, which unfortunately they didn’t have available.

I sat and did some banging on the keyboard while waiting for breakfast. In short order, just a few minutes, my eggs, hash browns, ham, and English muffin arrived along with the “8oz” fake cappuccino. The plate was the standard American foray into a plat that was as big as my side torso with a splattering of food everywhere. Far more than one should reasonably eat, even if going out to work the fields or do hard labor. Thus, I ate about 35% of what was on the plate and was a happy camper.

Finished, I departed and found a Limebike, rented it and biked over to the University District light rail stop. On my way in, like a good sleuth, I made a number of happy little observations.

Inbound observations

The beauty of the sunrise was on full display over the eastern horizon. Glimmering with an blinding brightness, impossible to view except looking askew of the rising fire orb. To the left or right however the run of light along the Earth’s surface, scattered with buildings, trees, mountains, and water screamed a gorgeous expanse. The golden tips of trees and the yellow and orange interlaced among all this was striking.

Back to the Trip

As I rolled through the southeastern intersection of walkways, a couple sat embraced as the sun rose, looking southeast toward Mount Rainier. Smiling and looking in each others eyes, budding love giving off a clear aura around those cutesies.

I rolled on as the Limebike battery started to sputter as I rolled onto the pedestrian overpass that connects to the University District station. I made it before it became a brick, locked the bike, confirmed it since sometimes the Libebike locks flake. Then I stood among the group of fellow transit riders to take the elevator to subsurface levels.

I watched the surface disappear from the elevator windows as we went down. A few seconds later the platform came into view and two LRT Vehicles stood ready for passengers. I checked which departure was in queue next and boarded the train. This departure, at 7:25am was boarded to approximately 35% capacity already (that’s about 60% of seats taken, considering a large % of capacity is standing room).

The LINK LRT rolled forth at 7:28am toward Capital Hill. In precise timing, minutes later, we rolled into the Capital Hill Stop. With short order we continued and onward through Westlake Station, University Station, Pioneer Square Station, International District Station, and onward through SODO, Beacon Hill, and the remaining stops.

More Sleuthing Observations

I’ve noted more than a few times, that something about LINK LRT is dramatically rougher in ride quality than Trimet’s MAX LRT. The thing that seems to come up as the issue is the tracks are laid funky. The few sections on MAX that had this ride quality issue in the past were replaced and haven’t had the issue since.

This issue I speak of specifically, is when the flanged wheels of the LRT vehicle hunt for the center position. This causes a jarring back and forth of the vehicle as it travels forward, and thus a somewhat rough ride. It also seems compounded, that maybe these vehicles are lighter and bouncier, suspension is bouncier, or something is causing these vehicles to hunt back and forth like this versus some of the comparative light rail around the United States.

One thing that might make this even more evident is the fact that a lot of the tracks are on raised right of way and when a vehicle is hunting between each flange at 50 or 60 feet, or higher, up in the air it’s a bit unsettling.

Last observation for this run, was the peculiar nature of the path the light rail runs out of downtown through Beacon Hill, heading east, then southeast along various neighborhoods in the street but then raises up again heading west across the interstate and rail lines. As this turn to head back south again is made one can face north and see the city in the distance and Boeing Field in the foreground. It makes it very clear that the most direct and efficient route to the airport was not the route chosen. Another one of those odd US traditions of disabling transit by purposely choosing inefficient routes so it would theoretically connect to points where people are located. It’s always seemed like one of the most inefficient methods of transit planning and operation.

…the day continued… but I just went and posted this without completion of post. Maybe I’ll be able to wrap this one up one day.

 

Sunday Transiting Sunset Hill to Greenwood to Downtown Seattle and Around

A few Sundays ago I did something I haven’t done in ages. I took a walk to 85th and 32nd northwest. That’s slightly further up the hill in the Sunset Hill Neighborhood.

There on the corner sits a coffee shop called Cafe Fiore, A solid, 3rd wave, high quality style coffee shop. It often has little pastry items and few Top Pot Donuts. Once I arrived a few observations immediately came to me. The line was in the ~20+ minute range. Almost every seat outside along the sidewalk, all 12 or so of them were packed, and every seat inside was taken up too. Clearly I wasn’t going to be able to sit down, relax, and think introspectively.

I looked to my right as I crossed the street to Cafe Fiore, starting to contemplate where I would, or could, go instead. The choices aren’t numerous at this point, as I was on foot and the only option is to get a bike-share e-bikes bike (what the hell does one call these things really?), otherwise it’d be a 20+ minute walk to the closest establishment that would have anything to eat let alone something breakfast and coffee related. I pulled out my phone and checked if there was one of these limebikes.

Not within a 15 minute walk.

But wait, duh, the King County Metro Bus Line 45 ends right here, there is a bus sitting 50 feet from me. Sometimes before coffee I’m a bit stunted. I checked the next bus departure time on OneBusAway, that was in 4 minutes, “JACKPOT!” The bus travels from here, 85th and 32nd northwest, all the way to the area where the university stadium and light rail station are located. There are hundreds of places to go get some breakfast, coffee, or whatever I want between here and there!

I boarded once the bus driver returned from her short break. The driver, as Seattle area bus drivers are, was friendly and appeared to be having a pretty good day. She wore a big smile as she drove us off toward the next stop.

Seattle streets, if you didn’t know, are a range of surface materials. Some of the streets are black top, a vast number in the city are cement, and there are a lot of bus pads that are cement. A bus pad is where the bus stop has a custom pour of cement laid out since the buses are so heavy. A bus after just a couple of months starts to destroy black top, as it’s very weak, and cement is super expensive. So to save money the bus stop itself – or wherever a bus or heavy vehicle stops frequently – is paved with cement to prevent damage and increase the time between needing to pave the street.

In addition the era in which cement was poured is a determinant on ride quality as is the age of the black top. Suffice it to say we get a wobbly, slightly bumpy ride on the black top that has regular stopping on the surface after about 3 years. The cement however, lasts a good 1 to 5 years os ro before ruts, imbalanced segments of cement, or cracks and holes become commonplace. Let me tell you though, this whole segment along 85th is well past it’s prime and has uneven cement segments, poorly repaired black top interspersed within that, and is just endless shakes, wobbles, and heavy vibrations.

As with most routes in the city, it’s almost unbearable to read, work on a laptop, or otherwise. It’s one of the things I miss the most about Portland’s transit. The road surfaces – and obviously the smooth riding light rail – is the majority of the routes vs. this violent vibrations nonsense. Luckily for me, this doesn’t both unless I’m trying to use a laptop or sip a drink. Otherwise it’s just a wobbly massage of sorts.

Greenwood

I didn’t stay on the bus long. The bus ride along 85th was about ~6 minutes. Eventually we arrived near the Greenwood Towncenter area where 85th and Greenwood cross. Here sit a bunch of shops, food options, a giant Fred Meyer, and other assorted options. Also a great bike shop, which I plan to get to in a later post, it’s a MUST VISIT!

I crossed Greenwood on the south side of the intersection with 85th. Then turned at 85th south on Greenwood, walking down the east side of the street. I wasn’t sure entirely where I’d go to get some morning food and coffee. I didn’t need to go far though. I found Chaco Canyon. It’s titled as an “Organic Cafe” so seemed it’d fit the bill. I like it, but the added information one might need to know is that this is a largely vegan, sometimes vegetarian “Organic Cafe”. Thus, not merely an “Organic Cafe”. Lot’s of tasty grains and kale to your hearts content, ya know, if you like being healthy and all. Nice place with a relaxed atmosphere to enjoy a bite to eat along with a coffee.

Ok, coffee snob time though. This is no 3rd wave, or 2nd wave coffee, it’s something in between. They’ve got an espresso machine which is slightly used, seems a bit ill-maintained, and temperatures weren’t achieved giving the overall roast a funny taste. I know it was funny because the roast is a Stumptown roast I know well, and with it’s preparation it ended up just being a bit off. I added almond milk too, for a theoretical cappuccino, but it ended up just being a latte since the proportions were completely off. I’d recommend the Chaco Canyon for eats, and will likely go back myself, but don’t get your expectations up about a solid cup of 3rd wave espresso. It might even be better to opt for a tea option which looks pretty appealing, along with their home made chai.

I left after eating my bowl and writing up a bit of this blog article. I walked another block up the street and found the Bake Shop. I went in, at first to just look for a moment. But opening the door I was greeted with a wonderful “Hello, welcome in!” and immediately felt like maybe I would find a thing or three to pick up. I perused the bakery display and found an amazingly, wickedly, sweet laced, euphoria inducing, vanilla flavored macron. Ordering that and another cappuccino I sat down. It seemed like I could rightfully expect an actual cappuccino here!

I got both items and wow, that macron was superb. The cappuccino was on point, the roast a little on the bitter side but good, angled more toward the Italian roast. To summarize this stop, I enjoyed the hell out of everything! Yum!

Bus Observations, Weekend Riders, Happy Waving

After that treat I walked back toward the KC Metro 5 bus stop across the street, thinking I had 7 minutes. But the bus was pulling up and I had over a block to converge still. Clealy that bus wouldn’t be caught. I was a little perplexed, rarely are the tracker apps off by that much. I realized my folly however, I’d been looking at the D Line arrival at 85th street way over on 15th! How had I managed to do that, yikes! I corrected it, and found the next 5 was arriving in 12 minutes. Not bad, good headway, so I’d just turn around and walk up Greenwood heading south to the next stop. I turned and off I went.

The air out this day was nice, with a temperature of about 70′ fahrenheit. About 85-90% cloud cover, which is providing an excellent environmental condition to stroll down the street in. Simply put, I’m loving the weather on this day! The sun glare was slightly minimal today too, which is always a nice bonus. Sometimes even with the cloud cover the sun glare is intense.

As we rode onward a few scenarios occurred which always just make the morning bus ride, especially on the weekend, that much better. A little camaraderie among riders if you will! I’d boarded and the 5 rolled onward.

A few minutes into the ride a couple boarded. They walked back to near where I and another individual behind me had taken seats, the 2 seats side by side, but we were both just sitting along, with the row seats empty. This couple, the woman sat down, and the man looked about for a seat to sit upon but instead just stood by his friend. The person, and I, at almost the same time, turBus Observations, Weekend Riders, Happy Wavingned and said, “oh sit here I’ll bounce over to another seat, then you two can sit together”. The other passenger and I looked at each other, then at the couple so they could decide where they’d go and we swapped about and the couple sat together and I sat with this stranger. We said hello, and in normal Seattle freeze etiquette smiled and enjoyed our ride forward.

The beautiful thing about that, is to know that other people are paying attention too. That others also are watching out for each other and it isn’t just me, or just that one person. The beauty of transit during these times of the days is that it’s full of good people going about their lives trying to do right for themselves and right by others. Seattle is wonderful for this and full of these good people. We sometimes miss this because of the stupid news endless giving the anti-social, hateful, and miscreant homeowners (i.e. not all homeowners, just those loud hateful ones) far more voice than they should ever have.

A little further the 5 turns and passes a Cafe Vita. In the window of the cafe a small child waved happily at everybody on the bus. It was the kind of exuberant, curious, and happy smiley with a wave added that the riders on the bus, myself included, all returned a wave – and I suspect a number of smiles – toward the child. The woman sitting with the child noticed and smiled back at everybody as she chuckled at the child’s exuberance.

Languages

Later on we rolled toward the Aurora Bridge and two babushka joined the bus and sat down, speaking Russian. I know of enough Russian word usage now, not enough to know the exact phrasing, but enough to pick up a lot of sentiment in conversations. These two women, dare I say, were happily discussing their families. I have come to realize, that it is very common among Russians, similarly to southern Americans, to get all up in the business of their families and routinely up in the business of their friends. It’s somewhat hilarious and in some ways, for those that are into that lifestyle, a happy thing to see. They continued their conversation.

As we rolled further onward into the city, with just minutes passing. The conversation in Russian continued, a conversation in Spanish began, with a conversation in French starting just a few seats in front of them. I listened enjoying the sing song chaos of cacophony of these conversations. They weren’t being loud, just conversational level, and with my hearing the way it works, it all flows in that crisp precise but chaotic way into my ears.

As we rolled over the Aurora Bridge and onto 99 just north of downtown Seattle, I  I’d gotten my laptop out. I typed away at the keys while the bus had some of those violent Seattle road shakes from the poor cement surface. Seattle routes being the garbage they are. But I worked through it, with frequent use of the backspace and delete keys. At some point while my fingers put words onto the screen I decided I was just going to ride into downtown Seattle to make the transfer to the 40 bus for my trip home.

The 5 entered the city through the new confluence of the Aurora Tunnel and the surface streets above. We exited there, and it was a lovely view to see the construction as those streets were being turned back into a more pedestrian friendly, usable, urban, people focused streets instead of the highway car sewer that it was. We cross Denny, kind of the gateway street to downtown, then cut left onto 3rd Avenue in the Belltown Neighborhood. The driver stops at Pine & Pike eventually.

The next stop is tranquil, especially on a Sunday. There are two women waiting with one man standing about halfway down the block smoking. It’s almost a scene out of a zombie movie besides the few of us waiting. In just a few minutes the northbound 28x arrives. It isn’t my 40 bus, but this one interlines with the 40 bus north and I could easily just transfer further up the route. The timing of the two also makes it easy to do as transferring to the trailing 40 is usually just 1-4 minutes different. On a nice day like today, even missing the trailing bus would be just fine.

I decide to go for the 28x, largely because then I could escape the infrequent yet annoying puffs of cigerette smoke spewing from the guy smoking halfway down the block. Generally I don’t really care that much but if I have a solution to rid myself of the smoking problems, I’m game so let’s do it! Off the 28x zipped, north out of the city the same way the 5 had just come into the city. But as soon as we cross the Aurora Bridge we immediately loop off, around, and down into Fremont. As we turn onto Leary I pull the stop cable and get off the bus.

With that this transit adventure story ends. Until next time, may your transiting be most excellent!