Sometimes, Pandora serves up a song at work that really seems to click with me, and I give it a deeper listen later that night. I admit to knowing nothing about Natalie Walker before today, nor the extent of Thievery Corporation’s influence on this remix, except that the chill groove on this track is captivating. Cathedral-like organ plus a plodding bass line, and the singer’s melancholic voice.  The song is contemplative to start, seeming unsure in the middle, but finishes strong and confident.

Some evenings, you just want to sit still and let the noise and chaos of the day sort itself through, like a mental sort-through and cleanup. This song helps do just that.

Posted by: jdantos | October 23, 2012

Ride Report: a Washington Classic, plus Wine

Potomac River

On Sunday, K and I struck out for a day-long bike ride to do a Washington classic – the loop to Leesburg, Virginia via White’s Ferry and the W&OD trail. With a small detour planned for a winery.

  • The weather was amazing; we couldn’t have asked for much better. Mid-60s, and hardly a cloud in the sky. This was October weather at its finest.
  • Route: MacArthur Blvd. was flat and quiet on a Sunday morning, and then we switched to the C&O towpath at Falls Road to avoid some of the trafficky segments of River Road near Potomac, MD. I was nervous about riding the unpaved towpath on skinny road tires, but we took it slow, and were rewarded with 10 car-free peaceful miles with spectacular views along the banks of of the Potomac River. As an added bonus, we were now fully awake and could ride side-by-side and chat. We slogged back up to River Road after Blockhouse Point, and took that all the way around the White’s Ferry. On the Virginia side, we rode through Leesburg to pick up the W&OD trail.
  • Food: Had great sandwiches and coffee at West Loudoun St. Cafe in Leesburg.
  • Wine: After lunch, we made a stop at Dry Mill winery, just a quick jaunt off the W&OD. We had wanted to go to Fabbioli, but the biking conditions on Route 15 north of White’s Ferry looked pretty bike-unfriendly. After a tasting, we lazed on their sun-drenched back porch, sipped Chambourcin (just a little bit!), listened to a guitarist, looked at photos from the incredible scenery on the Maryland side, and relaxed. It was a great spot – we hardly wanted to leave! But we still had 45 easy miles on the trail to go, so we bought two bottles for the panniers for dinner.
  • Foliage: the leaves are just about to peak here inside the Beltway, but outside the city, the colors were amazing.
  • Total – 96 miles, according to my phone, with 7 hours moving in the saddle, and 3 hours spent sitting still for lunch, wine, and sightseeing.  I like that ratio!

A Washington classic…

Watching a hunt, complete with horses and dogs and stuff, on the dirt segment of River Road

A crucial mid-ride pitstop at Dry Mill

Posted by: jdantos | October 23, 2012

Capital Bikeshare Usage: 2012 Mid-Year Update

In the last six months, Capital Bikeshare has continued to publish trip-level usage statistics for 2012, so I thought I’d update my earlier analyses to reflect new information up to June 2012. In the last six months, Bikeshare has continued to grow in Washington, with more stations, more bikes, and more trips taken. Bikeshare expanded into Alexandria in late summer, although these statistics aren’t shown in this data. All in all, this means data on nearly 1 million new trips in 2012 has been published bringing the total trip database to just about 2.3 million trips.

First, ridership continues to grow steadily: 2012 ridership is up around 30% year-over-year with 2011. In 2011 the system topped out at just shy of 150,000 trips per month during the summer peak.  This spring and early summer saw ridership numbers topping 200,000 per month. Here’s an update of the 2011 chart, showing basic system growth – ridership by month, by member type, from inception to June 2012.

Capital Bikeshare Trips by Month, by User Type, over time. Dark green highlights the 2012 data since last post.

Second, now that the system has been in place for a few years, we can start to see seasonal and year-over-year trends. Since Bikeshare is an outdoor form of transportation, it is of course dependent on the weather, and we’d expect to see seasonal trends as the temperatures change. Let’s plot that data again, only this time, over the 12 months in every year:

Capital Bikeshare Trips, by Month, Year-over-Year. 2012 usage seems to be up over the comparable time in 2011 by 30%, or by around 50,000 trips per month.

Usage is up by around 50,000 trips per month in 2012 vs. 2011, fairly consistently across months through June.

Third, usage seems to be trending slightly towards locals, who have monthly or annual memberships, and away from the “casual” one-day or 5-day passes. Up to the end of 2011, 20% of trips were taken by casual members; in 2012 that number was down 18.7%. Here is the data by month –  casual users’ share (of a growing system) is slightly below its 2011 levels:

Percent of Bikeshare Trips by Casual Users, by Month, 2011 vs. 2012. Casual members are declining slightly as a share of overall users.

This is a bit surprising, since several Bikeshare stations located on the National Mall near tourist destinations opened in 2012, particularly in the spring of 2012, which presumably cater more to casual users than locals. Did the growth from locals in other areas swamp the growth from tourists? Are more locals buying into the system and purchasing long-term memberships? Or is this just noise? (An examination by station might provide insight)

In any case, this growth in demand in the range or 25-30% is impressive.  Of course, the growth should be viewed in light of the expansion of service (bikes and docks) during the same time period, but it shows that more are using the bikes, and doing so with longer-term rentals.

Questions remain: is the system more or less peak-oriented? More or less weather-dependent? Future posts will begin to examine this by other dimensions. But that’s it for tonight!

Posted by: jdantos | October 21, 2012

Track of the Night: Home 1, by Dubconscious

I hope you’re relaxed, because this track might cause you to space out even more. Super-spacey dubbiness prevails in this tune by the reggae group Dubconscious, and were it not for the vague wispy reggae guitar, you wouldn’t be faulted for thinking it borders on downtempo chill.

This song seems to lay claim to so much of the aural spectrum, and then uses it extremely frugally. The result is a meandering, but very precise soundscape. It reminds me of those very warm summer nights after a scorcher of a day – everything is moving slowly, purposefully, but without too much exertion.

Another good one by these guys is titled Ecclesiastes, off the album These Days. It’s much more recognizable as reggae.

Posted by: jdantos | October 20, 2012

Track of the Night: Just A Feeling, by Maroon 5

Maroon 5, despite its superstardom, is author of some great tunes outside of the Top 40, too.  I am especially a fan of Adam Levine’s vocals – that guy can really sing with great versatility, and his pitch is always 100% spot-on.

The song is a slow-jam from Maroon 5’s Hands All Over album. Although maybe a little sappy, the vocal harmonies, plinky piano in the background, and descant-like choruses make the song hang together really well.

I admit to knowing little about the origins of tonight’s track or even the remix artist, except that, well, wow – I like it. An infectious mixture of energetic, even frantic, hoppy funk interspersed with some pretty heavy dubstep, if I can even define that word. Jason Varga, DJ of the excellent jamband show Endless Boundaries (try his podcast, you won’t be disappointed) alerted me to this track – which you can download for free, or even sample other stuff by the Noisy Freaks. Try also their collaboration with Soulero for Without a Twist – pasted below.

Dubstep can be a bit of an acquired taste, and right now I’m still working on it, and can only handle it in small doses. But this song really works for me.

Steep Canyon Rangers

A simple little bluegrass piece, but what a melody, and what heartfelt, well-blended harmonies. The Steep Canyon Rangers are a great bluegrass group from Asheville, NC, who should be breaking out soon if they haven’t already. They’ve cut an album with Steve Martin, but I think that name is largely a distraction from their standalone musical prowess.

This song reminds me of hiking in the Shenandoah mountains, or biking easily down a nice easy country road. It’s great bluegrass, simple Americana, without being too overwhelmed by banjo or fiddle (although I do like me some banjo). For me, the lead guitar melody is what holds it together. It’s a beautiful, lilting song, nearly a lullaby.

This album contains many other gems, too, like the traveling song “Heartbreak is Real,” the gospel-slash-church-hymn a cappella tune “Sylvie,” and the hokey “Thought That She Loved Me.” They’ve got a new album out as of March 2012, but I haven’t listened to it yet.

Keep an eye on these guys.

Energetic and funk so thick that you can’t help but bob your head. Persistent high-hat cymbals, and a stringy thin guitar. John Legend’s warbly and soulful vocals pair well with the straight funk groove from the Roots. The bass line on this one is nearly as complex as the tapping horns. This one has the feel of an acid jazz tunes from the era of Marvin Gaye or the Funky Meters, but with a modern accessibility.

By the way, anyone who attended the Rally to Restore Sanity can attest to the fact that the Roots are an insanely good backing band – able to adapt themselves flawlessly to nearly any style and artist, and sound good doing it. On that memorable day on the Mall in Washington DC, the Roots stayed on stage for hours, backing everyone from Ozzy Osbourne to Cat Stevens.  Like that day, this track doesn’t fall short.

Posted by: jdantos | October 15, 2012

Track of the Night: Day That I Die, by Zac Brown Band

Zac Brown Band is just country enough, but just enough folk and plain-ole roots rock that it all works out. Their tunes have a feel-good lilt, fantastic harmonies, superior song composition, and just a tinge of twang.  This track from their latest album, Uncaged, has a melancholy and thoughtful verse, an anthemic chorus, and as usual, a kinda crazy middle section.  Even an a cappella moment that reminds me of the Doobie Brothers’ Black Water. This one has a cameo by Amos Lee, but it doesn’t make a huge difference to me.  This song makes me yearn for a calm rocking chair on a porch on a late summer afternoon… and then it makes me want to get into high gear, get out, and enjoy life.

Posted by: jdantos | October 12, 2012

Track of the Night: The Grass, by John Brown’s Body


John Brown’s Body

John Brown’s Body has quickly become my favorite reggae band. Following a shakeup in recent years, these guys have become a powerhouse for complex, dubby, groovy reggae tunes. I had the good fortune to catch them live last year at the State Theater, and they were some of the best horn sections I’ve seen in awhile. This track is from their latest studio release, JBB In Dub. The bass line in this one almost becomes its own lead melody line, accented as always by some great horns. This song exemplifies the most straightforward and melodic of JBB, inviting you further into the more rhythmic, expansive, lighter and darker realms of their repertoire. It spans from the boppy beats of Make Your Move and The Gold Runnin’ Remix (Dubmatix), to the sparse, spacy dubbiness of Chased By Lions, to the intricate soundscapes of Zion Triad. Fodder for future posts!

The rest of this album is also quite good; try a free download of “Wellington.”

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