Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Valentine's Day

So, I'm driving in the U.P. last week.  That's the Upper Peninnsula of Michigan for the rest of you trolls.  I'm listening to the radio and I hear an advertisement for Hampton Inn.  Allow me to paraphrase.

Remember last year when you got your lady some plastic flowers from the gas station for Valentine's Day?  Well, she remembers and she is still pissed.

Why don't you do it right this year and book a romantic Valentine's weekend at the Hampton Inn,   Green Bay?

February in Green Bay?  At the Hampton Inn?  I guess that is what passes for romantic in the U.P.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Customer Service? I don't think so.

About 5 years ago, I bought an all-in-one printer, a Canon.  It has done what I needed and, because I don't print that much stuff, it's still in excellent condition.  This is actually only the second computer printer I have owned.  The first one worked fine for 10 years and I only replaced it because I wanted to have a printer that did a better job with photographs.

I recently upgraded my computer and got the newest level of operating system as part of the deal.  Naturally, I go through and set-up all of my peripherals, including the printer.  Only the printer needs a driver.  Going to the Canon website I find that they don't have one for my new operating system and printer.  I contact Canon support and am told that my printer is too old and not enough people would be using my old printer with the new operating system.  It would be too much work to build a driver.  Not worth their effort.


The result is my printer is useless with my new computer.  It is basically a brick.  Canon's suggestion is that I should take advantage of a customer loyalty discount and buy a new printer.  FAT CHANCE!

So this is what passes for customer service these days, at least at Canon.  Perhaps in the whole consumer electronics industry.  They assume that they can force us into buying new hardware every few years just because they stop supporting software.  Unfortunately, short of a deeper understanding of Linux and writing my own software, it appears that they have me by the balls.

It's amazing that they can get away with this.  If the auto industry built a car that only lasted 5 years, we would get driven out of business so fast.  In fact, the average age of a car in the US market is now up to 11 years, so at least cars aren't being made completely obsolete.  My watch, my TV, my refrigerator, my alarm clock, everything in my house and including my house will last for years and years.  They won't become suddenly obsolete because somebody didn't write new software.  In fact, most things are only replaced when a worthwhile performance upgrade is worth the new price.

So what can I do about Canon and other companies of their like?  For now, I'm taking advantage of your indulgence in my little bitch session here.  I've also been on a few of the biggest retailers of Canon products and written reviews of their poor customer service.  Maybe, if we all took bad actors like Canon to task by stopping purchasing their products, and took advantage of social media, blogs, and website reviews to tell the tale, maybe they would hear us.

So, please do me the favor, stay away from Canon.  Also, let everyone know when you have similar grips with other companies.  Maybe, if we all work at this, we can make a difference.  Maybe, maybe customer service would begin to mean something again.

Hmmn...  I wonder if I need a printer at all.  Maybe I could just send my printer files to my local UPS store and have them be my printer.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Red Chair

It has been a pretty and long fall.  Last week, the wind came and blew all the leaves off the trees, but not before I snapped this shot.  Seems like a good spot for a daydream.

Another enjoyable element of this fall has been the creaky presence of the Sand Hill Cranes.  Many a time I've had 4 or 5 wandering around my yard and even past the red chair.  We have had more of them than I've seen in a long time (flocks of up to 50 gathering) and they stayed until a few days ago.  I guess that means that winter is truly here.

This has been an unusual year for me. Somehow, I've been busy all the time, but don't have anything to show for it.  Except maybe this picture and some motorcycle video that I need to edit.  It is hard to believe that in earlier years I had the time to post in this blog on a weekly basis.

Many folks think of spring as a hopeful season.  For me, that's fall.  I like to combine the cool weather and quiet with a combination of reflection and daydreaming a new future.  It's past time, so I better get at it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Just a few little psi

Those of you who have read this blog will know, I can't stop tinkering with stuff.

About 3 years ago, I bought the Kawasaki ZRX1200R as the basis for a future project.  I figured, I wasn't ready for the project, but I could ride the bike in the meantime.  What I discovered was that the ZRX series had a reputation for being a poor handling bike and, upon riding it for a while, I had to agree.  Going in a straight line, everything was fine, but go over a dip in the road while cornering, you better hang on.  And don't even think about squeezing on the throttle in a turn.

The guy I bought the bike from told me I should make sure to run the factory tire pressures at 36 front/36 rear.  So that's what I did.

Trying to improve the handling, I messed with every suspension setting I could think of.  I managed to move the handling in the right direction, but she was still scary and I still wasn't confident.

One morning, on a pure lark, I decided to blow the tires up to 40 psi.  WOW!  What a difference.  Suddenly, you could feel the front end and the rear would follow the front.  When I got home, I googled ZRX tire pressures and found that lots of other people had discovered that the factory specs were just wrong.  They said that the right specs were 36/42.  I gave those a try, along with 40/42 which I settled on as best for me.  Now I can go through a dip with confidence.  Now I can squeeze that throttle on at the apex and track the bike smoothly out of the corner.  I had a little surprise when an oncoming car crossed into my lane on a corner.  Grabbing the front brake to slow and tighten my line caused a minor steering reaction, but well within control.

How amazing it is that a few little psi could change the character of a bike.

That got me to thinking.  What had probably been happening is that the contact patch of the tire in a corner was moving laterally when the vertical load changed going through a dip.  There just wasn't enough tire pressure to keep the tire's shape under different loading.

Of course, the current style is big, fat, wide tires on bikes.  I guess people think they look good.  But doesn't the fat tire cause the contact patch to move laterally when the bike leans?  Wouldn't the bikes handling be more consistent if the contact patch didn't move laterally as far in roll?  It always has seemed that skinny tires are the best handling on a bike.  I can't say it is the whole reason, but I can say that the KLR has skinny tires and keeps up with just about any sport bike ridden at the same skill level.  So keep your fat tire style.  I prefer skinny any day.

P.S.  Note to self.  Always Google any question that comes to mind.  There is often useful knowledge there and the factory spec isn't always right.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Guido with an 'e'

When I bought my Fiat 500 a couple of years ago, I named it "Guido" as slang for an Italian American.  Besides, the name "Luigi" was already taken by one of the development cars.

A few days ago, one of my coworkers asked me to drive a Fiat 500e and give him my opinion on the steering tuning (nice - by the way).  The 500e is the battery electric Fiat 500 that was just introduced.  Although pure electric drive cars have limited range and, therefore, limited ability to replace a normal car, I knew it would have more than enough range for an overnight drive, so I took it home and out for a spin.

I didn't take any of my own pictures because, as a prototype, these cars are sometimes not up to production cars for appearance, but I downloaded a few shots from the Fiat website for you to see.

First, a couple of cool things unique to the electric 500 as compared to the gas 500.

It was a very hot day.  Since the AC system is a separate system from the motor, the AC was busy cooling the car down, even when I got out of the car to get things from Guido.  The drive motor is doing nothing, but the AC is cranking away.

The "shifter" is replaced by a row of buttons.  This is not only clean and uncluttered, but gives me some extra knee room that is appreciated.

The Drive Home

Since I wanted to evaluate the steering on the highway and on some twisty roads, I decided not to baby the car on the way home.  There is plenty of torque and power, subjectively more than Guido, so some of the time, there is a little wheel spin on hard launches until the traction control can handle the wheel spin into a nice launch slip.  Pretty soon, I'm running along with traffic in the left lane of the freeway at speeds approaching 80 mph without drama. 

That reminds me of short story.  You see, electric cars have 100% of their available torque at zero speed.  It seems that some of the Fiat guys were demoing the 500e at a press event and decided to enter the car in an autocross.  With its low center of gravity and low end torque, it finished quite well, in spite of its low rolling resistance tires.  Imagine how much fun that could be with good autocross tires.

Anyway, I finished my drive home on some twisty for Michigan roads and enjoyed the handling and torque out of the corners.  When I got home, the display told me that I had used energy at a rate of 2.9 mi/Wh.  My calculations suggest that I would have about 55 miles range to 20% state of charge, all the while beating on the car and not thinking about saving the environment.  20% state of charge is a typical "empty" for battery vehicles, so my calculaitons use 80% of the 24 kWh battery pack capacity.  That said, I don't have any information whether that capacity is usable capacity or total capacity.  It could be that there is another 20% range available.

Other than its silence, in no way did the 500e let me know it was an electric car nor limit me in driving or comfort or other features.

Back to Work in the Morning

That 2.9 mi/Wh is pretty efficient, so I decided to see how little energy I could use on the way into work.  I kept off of the freeway to keep my average speed down.  I coasted to stops and accelerated gently when traffic would allow.  Since the computer was remembering my aggressive drive home the night before, the displayed range leaving home was 60 miles.  By the time I got to work, the displayed range was up to 64 miles and the energy usage was 4.7 mi/Wh.

Think about that.  Just by changing my driving style, I was able to lower my energy usage by almost 40%.  Of course, that is true of normal gas cars, not just electric cars.  You want to save money on fuel, start with your driving style.

Doing the same calculation to 80% state of change suggests that I should have been able to travel 90 miles by trying to save energy.  Now my driving wasn't extreme.  I still accelerated with traffic and drove at 60 mph (5 over) for more than half of the miles.

With a mileage range of 55 to 90 miles, I could use a 500e and have enough range on many days in my life.  Of course, it couldn't replace a regular car on longer trips.  I remember Alan Cocconi having a motorcycle engine and generator mounted in a small trailer.  He towed the trailer and recharged his battery along the way whenever he wanted to take his electric car on long trips.

Anyway, its good to keep an open mind because the 500e is a much better car than expected.  If I had a need for another car or could get a range extender trailer, I might be tempted.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Learning and Fixing

Recently, my friend John got it into his head to find a 20+ year old Peugeot to buy as a daily driver.  He remembers the car as having wonderful steering and being a great car to drive.  The idea is to replace a Honda Accord that he considers too boring to drive.

Of course, finding parts for a 20 year old French car that wasn't sold in large number in the US could be a challenge.  Not exactly what most people think of for practicality.  None the less, he found one and dragged it home.

Parapharsing John, 'I could have paid a lot of money and found a nicely restored one, but that's not what I do.  I have to find something really rough and bring it back from the dead.'  And that's what he did, or should I say, is doing.

I got thinking about this and I can really relate.  It seems like I am only happy when I am learning something or fixing something.  I like the stimulation of learning something new and the challenge of figuring out how something works and make it better.  In that way, John and I are kindred spirits.

I have another friend who told me once that he had trouble saving money because he would find something new and exciting and he would just buy it on impulse.  It took a wife and kids to reign in his spending and only because he had no money left.

That makes me realize why I have kept and modified my old KLR for 10 years.  The process of understanding and fixing the old girl has been as much or more fun than the trips I've taken.  The thing is, after all this time, I've run out of things to change or improve on the KLR.  I am just about to pull the plug on my second motorcycle trip this year.  I realized that I have less interest in riding motorcycles at this particular moment, in part because I don't have any motorcycle projects in front of me.

Early in the year, I started researching the possibility of a new bike.  I guess that's trying to invent a new project.

I can understand Doug and his constant train of motorcycles through his garage.  If you aren't going to modify a bike, then I imagine one gets to this point of declining interest at a sooner point, so you might as well sell it and look for a new challenge in a new bike.

How strange we are.  I wonder if this is the same feeling that guys who have had 5 wives feel about their women?  ' Oh, I'm done figuring out that women.  It's time to turn her in for a new one, a new challenge.'  I wish I could understand what motivates myself and others better.  At least I'm a one bike, one car, or one women man.  At least for a while.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Color of Paint

Tobermory Harbor, Isle of Mull, Scotland

Recently, over on Doug's 40on2 blog, Doug shared some beautiful photos of St. John's Newfoundland.   The bright colors of the St. John's houses and buildings are part of the fun.

That got me to thinking about places that I have been where bright, bold colors are the norm in a community.  One of those places was not too far away from St. John's, St. Pierre and Miquelon, which is a province of France off the south shore of Newfoundland.  Another is the town of Tobermory in Scotland on the island of Mull.

What these places seem to have in common are that they are far north, on the ocean, and are filled with smart, friendly, and creative people.  Perhaps these things come together in winter.  If you were a smart and creative, sitting in a bar in the middle of an 8 month winter and looking out at a gray sky, a white land, and a slate
ocean, would you want to paint your house orange or bright blue when spring came?  Or is it just for the tourists?

Village of St. Pierre, St. Pierre et Miquelon, France