Monday, December 27, 2010

Urinal Redux

Just before Christmas, I had to make a last second trip for work. Amid all the travel and the hectic, get it done in time work, I observed two things.

1. Waterless urinals are catching on and are seen in everywhere from fast food restaurants to airports.

2. They smell worse than ever.

Apparently, I'm a typical male and have little sense of smell, but I find these thing offensive. I can't imagine if they came up with a female equivalent and what that would do to most tender female noses.

So I have a humble suggestions. Lets replace the waterless urinals with potted plants. Of course, we would need lots of plants and the pots would have to be large in high traffic areas. The advantage is that guys are used to peeing on plants in the outdoors, so peeing on one indoors would be no problem. The plants and soil would purify the water and give off oxygen to purify the air. Problem solved.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


As the winter has turned colder, my mind has turned loudspeakers and am in the middle of a nice sized project. Although I find loudspeakers just as creative and involving as my other hobbies, for some reason, I have a hard time sharing thoughts on the subject. Maybe, driver compliance, diffraction, and psychoacoutics feel so involved that I am unable to explain them. Whatever the reason, the project is to build a pair of desktop speakers and amplifier with active crossovers in a hybrid omni-directional design. If you look close at the driver in the picture, you will see that the dust cap has been cut off. I'm in the process of adding mass to the coil former to lower the resonant frequency, along with other tweaks to get the performance where I want it. The monitor shows the measured frequency response of a woofer.

I guess the point of this post is to say that I haven't fallen off the face of the earth and to wish all a Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Same Tree

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself with my camera, out in the front yard, taking a picture of a cherry tree that I took pictures of last year about this time, and the year before. So I had to ask myself, why this tree?

I think the answer is that its the last tree to keep its leaves and it color. When every where I look out is in full fall color display, its hard for individual colors to stand out. But when you are the last soldier standing, like this guy, you can certainly make a statement.

Not wanting to repeat myself too often, I looked around for more color and the best I could come up with was this Kerria bush with its green branches and yellow leaves.

Now, a few weeks later and officially in December, even the cherry tree is bare. We are well into winter and, with the wind blowing through the bare branches, into the time named by my California friends as "Stick Time."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Life as an XXL

One of the strange things about being tall is that you look around the world at the rest of the people and your mind forgets that you are a different size than everyone else. Of course, logically you know that you need to buy your clothes in the tall man's store, that you have to duck your head walking through some doors, and that you have to pick your cars and motorcycles based first the few vehicles that fit. That said, in your mind's eye, you are just like everyone else.

Usually, I am reminded of reality by a photo of me and normal people. This time, it was a little web site,, that puts a virtual paper doll in your size on a variety of motorcycles to let you see how you fit.

I really enjoyed this website, but I couldn't help but think that there were a lot of bikes that looked like mini-bikes with my paper doll on the bike. Here is an example with a Moto Guzzi V7 and my head sticking out of the top of the picture. Having your hip at a tighter than 90 degree angle is a bit cramped and the knee is rather tight as well. I wonder if my shin would clear the cylinder head. Oh well. I guess if it were to be a Guzzi, it would have to be a Stelvio.

Thanks to the anonymous author of the cycle ergo website. I love the chance to virtually sit on a bike and appreciate the variety of bikes offered. I would love to see even more choices.

I not only like the ability to see riding and standing positions of knees and body, but also to get a sense of my center of gravity relative to the foot peg. To me, that speaks to a sense of control when the relationship is right.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Helmet Making Video

I have recently been working on painting my Shoei motorcycle helmet. Nothing artistic, just a bright color for safety. Still, its all hand work. Sanding, masking, and painting.

Along comes Webbikeworld with a video of manufacturing helmets at Nolan in Italy. I found it fascinating and especially like the robotic sanding and the automated painting.

Monday, November 15, 2010

People you meet on a Motorcycle, Part 4

As mentioned in an earlier post, I spent a couple of days based out of Tellico Plains, TN on my recent motorcycle trip south. Its a cute little town that sits at the edge of a plain on the western edge of the Smokie Mountains. It looks like it has been in decline for a while, but recent gains in tourism are starting a rebirth in Tellico Plains.

While there, I met Mike who is an example of the town's rebirth. He and his wife moved up from Florida to start a motorcycle outfitter in downtown Tellico. Since then, they have opened an ice cream store across the street and their grown daughter as moved up from Florida to find work in Tellico. Its nice to see growth in a little place like this, even in the heart of a recession.

One night, I went to strange little place for dinner. Imagine a food court in a mall, except that there is no mall, just a small building in a field at the edge of a small town. There is a common eating area with picnic tables inside and out. There is a vendor selling hamburgers, another beer, another pizza, and outside because of the smoke, a family selling barbecue.

I decide to try the barbecue and, while I am outside waiting for my meal to be prepared, a local pulls up in his old Chevy Suburban, sort of like this one.

Out of the truck steps a guy who looks like he could be playing in ZZ Top, a tall thin man with a long white beard and wearing denim coveralls. Also tumbling out of the truck are his 2 dogs, 4 foot tall Maramduke dogs with spots that look like a cross between a Great Dane and a paint horse.

Of course, everyone knew this guy and the lady gave me my food and then excused herself to go visit the dogs. I went into the building to find a little shade and eat my barbecue. A few minutes later, the local with the beard sidles up beside me, bends down so he can talk quietly and tells me, "I've got something really good here for you to taste." Surprised by this offer, I said no thanks and went back to my meal, but I couldn't help but wonder what I was being offered. If someone wanted to create an image of a moonshiner, they could certainly use this guy for a model.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Switching Styles

This post is in honor of Mike Weaver, a former Chrysler inmate. Mike grew up on dirt bikes and is a natural at riding them. He once told me that it took a very different style to ride a dirt bike and a road bike. He tried a road bike for a while, but he said he just couldn't adapt his riding style and felt like he was always doing the wrong thing. In the end, he sold the road bike before he hurt himself.

I spent a couple of nights in Tellico Plains, TN and a couple of days riding around that part of the Smokie Mountains. This area is famous to road bikers for the "Tail of the Dragon" and the Cherohala Parkway, both of which cross the mountains in a nice combination of curves. Frankly speaking, I found the "Dragon" to be far over-rated, a case of good marketing over a good road, but then the 4 radar cops, the 30 mph speed limit, and the line of bikes all in a row probably colored my opinion. The Cherohala on the other hand is just grand.

The same area is famous to dual sport bikers for the large network of gravel forest service roads, mixed in with a few single tracks, that cover the mountains. Even more interesting, are the roads that go back and forth between paved and dirt. These roads left a wonderful impression.

A Matter of Style

On a road bike, you lean into the corner. The faster you go around the corner, the more you lean. As you go faster yet, you shift your body off the inside of the bike so that the bike is at a little less lean angle while the combination of you and the bike remain balanced.

On a dirt bike, you don't have enough grip to lean into the corner, yet you need to lean the bike to turn efficiently. The result is that you stand up, lean the bike into the corner, while keeping your center of gravity somewhat over the tire patch.

The problem is that when you have been used to riding pavement and you come to some dirt, your instincts are all wrong. I had been riding twisty paved roads for 3 or 4 days when I came to my first long section of dirt road. Boy did I feel like a klutz. It took 20 minutes riding on dirt to get even a little comfortable. Then, switching back to pavement took another 5 minutes or so to remember the right thing to do. However, by the end of a couple of days of switching back and forth between pavement and gravel, I was switching styles with the best of them.

My advise to Mike is to get a dual sport bike next time, the bikes response will be more familiar to you. Most of them are hell on wheels on a twisty paved road with good mixed surface tires. Although they are too heavy to be much good off-road in sand and mud, give them hardpack and they are still a lot of fun. Then get on a road like Citigo Creek where you can practice, practice, practice.

The obligitory photo of a rock strewn creek, this time Citigo Creek, TN. This shot is fairly far up the road where the road has changed to gravel again.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Fall Chores

Forest shadows on the fallen leaves.

Every fall, there are chores to do around the house. One of the most odious is getting rid of the old gas in the motorcycles. I am forced to find a warm day, take the bikes out and ride through the countryside until the tank is nearly empty and then run the carbs dry. Last Sunday was the day for this chore. The sky was blue with a few clouds floating by. The temperature was up to 73 deg F. It was late fall in Michigan with most of the colors turning shades of beige and brown, but a few brightly colored trees along the way.

The story I would like to tell you is about a nice ride with my camera taking pictures along the way. Unfortunately, that is not the way it turned out. I was riding the ZRX when I started to notice the photographic opportunities. But I hadn't remembered to bring the camera. According to the gas gauge, I still had plenty of miles to go, but riding home to get the camera, it coughed and died about 1/2 mile from my driveway. By the time I rolled to a stop, I was about 100 yards from home with a small hill to push it up. Making the crest and breathing heavily, I coasted down the hill to my driveway.

On the plus side, the chore was done and going out with my camera in the car opened up dirt road possibilities that I would never have done with the ZRX. On the negative side, it would have made a better story without all that running out of gas stuff.

I guess you can say that Michigan has its own charms. One of the first that I ran across was Grandfather Maple.

He is old and wrinkled, but still has his charms.

But he is a big fellow and must have been standing by this road for a long time. Note my blue car in the corner of the photo for scale.

The fields have color and shades of their own.

St Jacob Lutheran, one of my favorite country churches.

Glenn Road invites you to explore.

More sunlight colors in the grasses of the fields.

Reithmiller Road is guarded by an Oaken Arch.

Along the way, one of our neighbors is experimenting with wind power. I should have slowed down the camera and allowed the blades of the windmills to blur into circles. As it is, you can't tell that all except the tall windmill in the foreground are spinning madly and making electricity. Each of these windmills is about 6 or 7 feet in diameter and the farm is on the edge of a wide, swampy plain without trees. If anyone has good land for wind power in Michigan, this guy is looking pretty good.

Who says all Michigan roads are flat and straight. This is a relaxed cruise kind of road.

A farmer's dam. This stream flows out of Locker Lake and the farm captures the stream for pond just before crossing Camp Road.

Autumn can be a colorful time, but soon the only color will be brown and we will be entering into stick time. The motorcycles are put away for the winter and I will enjoy the last few days of color.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Between the Coasts

So many people fly from coast to coast and look down on what they assume is nothing.

Having just travelled, as much as possible by backroads, through Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and parts of North Carolina, I am amazed at the number of people living out there in the countryside. Every little town, every bigger town yet not a city, and every country road in between, there are millions of people living out their lives.

Even in this day of sprawling suburbs and coastal megalopoli, there are more people living between the coasts than there are on the coasts. The truth is that the average American is small town and I'm happy to be part of that.

John and I happened to be talking about this subject and he brought up a website of wonderful photos which I think I will append here. These guys flew across the country and back in an old Piper Cub which means that they flew low and slow. As a result, they have a wonderful collection of photos of the country "between the coasts" and, yes, even a few photos of a big city. It just makes me itch to visit places like Zoar, Ohio, just a few miles down the road.

Vintage Flying

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Walking the Land of my Great, Great, Grandfather

When I was a kid, we would visit our grandparents in Indiana every summer. Spending time with my grandfather, he would tell stories about when he was a kid, especially about the summers that he spent with is grandfather. His grandfather was Iven Moore (apparently,pronounced like "Evan" in his lifetime).

Over the years, various members of our family have tried to find Iven's land, although the house is known to have burned down by the 1950's. Each of the attempts were frustrated by the poor memories of older family members and poor maps. One of the goals of this year's motorcycle trip was to find Iven's land.

My sister had dug into topo maps and property records since the last attempt. That, combined with satellite photos from Google gave us some idea of what to expect. The plan was for my sister and I to meet and see what we could learn.

View Iven Moore's Land in a larger map

Here is an interesting sidebar. I have a friend who is about to become a great grandmother. Her mother is 83 and still living, so she will be a great, great grandmother to a living child. In my case, my great, great grandfather was born in 1827 and passed after a long life in 1909. My great grandfather was born in 1831 and my grandfather was born in 1894. We seem to have a lot of space between generations in my family.

Iven was a master woodworker who made his living making everything from furniture to wagons. Although born in West Virginia, he brought his family down the Ohio on a flat boat and later moved to the hills of Indiana. The land he bought was back in the hills, on top of a tall hill. There, he built a 2 story log home in the shape of an 'L'. The outside was covered with clapboards to make the house look respectable and keep out the wind. The walls were said to be 14" thick.

He also built a barn, wood work shop, and a smoke house. Between their animals and fields, they grew most everything they needed. Using the woods around them for material, they made anything else they needed.

Iven sold a few acres up on the hill to the Harmony Church and part of my sister's research told of a small cemetary in the churchyard.

Fast forward to 2010 and we used GPS to find Mt. Moriah Cemetery where Iven and Belinda are buried. When gravestones are more than 100 years old, the carving have sometimes faded, so you use your fingers to make out the letters and words.

New resident guarding the old gate to the Mt. Moriah Cemetery.

We drove over the ridge to the next valley where Iven lived and drove right up the driveway of a house where Iven's land should be. I went up to the house to ask permission to walk on their land and met the current owner who was a very private man. Overall, he wasn't comfortable with us being on his land, but our stories were convincing and he knew where the old cemetery lay. In the end, he decided to take us for a walk and show us the old cemetery. As the current owner was uncomfortable, I didn't take too many pictures, but I did like the light coming through the trees (photo above) and somehow felt it might be the kind of thing that Iven or my grandfather would have seen in these woods.

This place must have always been remote. It is in a part of Indiana that is below the reach of the glaciers. The valley's here are narrow and winding. They have been eroded over the many centuries. Iven's hilltop is relatively flat, but hill side is steep and 50 to 100 feet above the valley.

The cemetery didn't hold any of our relatives, just a few forgotten graves overgrown by the forest. Someone had planted Myrtle at one of the graves. Over the years, it has grown beyond the graveyard and now forms a telltale ground cover in part of the forest.

I suppose that none of this is particularly significant to anyone other than my sister and I. Still, I felt a connection to a long ago ancestor. I imagined the home he built and felt the connection to the workshop and its tools. There is a wistful feeling from seeing and walking on land that connects to my grandfather's stories.

So here is to all of my ancestors. A line of people, experiences, and stories that are more a part of me than I realize.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Goin' South

A modern, Southern Indiana, interpretation of cabin life. I especially like the window air conditioner.

If you keep going south in Indiana, pretty soon you run out of Indiana and into the Ohio river.

Below that is Kentucky and the realization that I wasn't making much time or miles as the crow flies. All these back roads are great, but they add an extra 50% or so to the expected miles and double the expected time. I found myself looking for a hotel in Elizabethtown or E'town. This was the setting for the movie of the same name and is close to the Fort Knox Army base. That makes it a pretty lively place and a very young population. Nothing like a bunch of polite young people in uniform to make me feel my age.

Coming out of E'town, I found yet another collection of nice back roads with the biggest problem convincing myself to stop an take photos when there is a nice road ahead.

As it was election season, I was amused to find that some Kentucky counties not only elect their Sheriff, but also their Jailer. Sounds like a good scam to me.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Southern Indiana Roads

Even though my family is from there and there is a sense of history for me traveling through Indiana, I would probably take the roads of Southern Ohio or West Virginia over Southern Indiana. That said, there is no doubt that the roads are entertaining in Southern Indiana. In fact, there is a typical south Indiana landscape and road. The valleys are flat, bottom land made by creeks and rivers over time. The hills pop up steeply out of the valleys in crooked ridges that wind and fork in seemingly random design. The roads often follow the edge between the valley and the hill, sometimes popping up over the toe of a hill, sometimes winding up a little canyon, over the hill, and down into the next valley. On occasion, they climb up on a ridge and follow the top of the hill for a while.

Mixed in, there are little towns and farms and churches. And sometimes, like in Silverville, the town is quaint and the road beyond beckons.

So with all this entertainment, why do I prefer Ohio? Because Indiana has a penchant for posting a lower speed limit anytime the road gets interesting. Sometimes, even when its not interesting. So on the medium to bigger roads, you end up with a lot of 35 and 45 mph speed limits and the locals following the speed limit exactly, just like the cops were watching. Oh yeah, there is the occasional big sign stating the minimum ticket is $100 and there is a $1000 fine plus jail for being cited for reckless driving.

My solution was simple. I stayed on the county roads where the traffic was lower and the chance of getting caught speeding was much lower.

The names are fun though. On my way down, I went through Gnaw Bone, past Popcorn, and had lunch in French Lick.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Old People Time

My niece, Amanda, cares about our family and likes to visit family members, both local and far away. That said, she does get bored with the older generation. She says that old people don't like to do anything but sit around and talk.

She also talks about "old people time". Its true, young people don't even start to go out until after 9 pm and seem to stay out all night. They think of the morning as a good time to sleep, getting up a noon or later.

I don't know how this generational shift occurred. When I was young, I went to bed early and got up early, just like now. But I have to concede, Amanda has a point about old people time. She says, 'They get up at the crack of dawn and go to be when the sun goes down.' She was recently proved right. Pat and I stayed at, what turned out to be an old peoples hotel. I slept in until almost 7 and went out for a walk while it was still dark. As I was starting my walk, there were 4 older couples loading up their gear, checking out, and ready to get on the road.

I guess young people own the night and old people own the sunrise.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Low Power Grin Factor

Between the KLR and ZRX and experience with the Fiat 500, this has been an interesting summer of contrasts. For years, Bob and I have been discussing the question of how big and heavy a vehicle you really need to move you around the world. But that's a bigger question that I'll leave for a later time.

This summer, I've been interested in the intoxication of power versus the everyday fun of driving/riding. Most people I talk to believe that fast cars and motorcycles are exciting and the most fun to own. I'm not so sure. I believe that a slightly underpowered vehicle that you drive/ride hard all the time is a lot more fun on a fun/mile basis than a really powerful vehicle.

Lets take my two motorcycles. The ZRX has about 130 HP and weighs 400 pounds or 635 pounds with me and my gear. That means about 5 #/HP or really bloody fast for a street vehicle. But this bike better be upright and pointed in a straight line when the rider goes for the throttle. Even then, if you don't want a ticket, that big twist on the throttle can only last a few seconds before its shift, shift, shift, and slow down to somewhere near the speed limit.

The KLR has 45 HP, weighs a few pounds less, and ends up with about 13 #/HP. That's not slow, but it is slow enough to need full throttle and frequent shifting. That said, I can twist the throttle while leaned over in a corner and run through the gears ending up only a little too fast.

The difference between these two descriptions is key to the problem. The reality is that the faster the car, the smaller the weight/HP, the more the engineers need to compromise the turning behavior to keep it stable. That means a less tossable, less capable cornering vehicle that has to wait for the straight to go fast. For me, the lower power vehicle that turns well and can be driven/ridden flat out all the time improves the percentage of time spent with a grin on my face.

How does that add up with cars. The picture above is a composite of the Dave's AREX engine and a internet stock photo of a Fiat 500. Dave's supercharged engine is about 600 HP at about 2600 pounds or 4.7 #/HP with me in the driver's seat. My AREX is only 475 HP at 2500 pounds, so 5.7 #/HP. The Fiat is roughly 20#/HP (a guess as the HP and weight for the US car aren't published).

Even though the AREX is a pretty good handling car with massive 335/35 tires out back, the same problem as the ZRX exists. The car has to have more built in understeer so that the wheels don't spin when the throttle is opened and the car goes better when you wait for the strait.

The Fiat on the other hand is hugely tossable, is a blast to shift, and drive flat out all the time. As a person who likes to be an active part of driving/riding, I think I'll stick to the lower powered vehicles in the future.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Motorcycle Safety

Different riders, have points of view on safety equipment.

Some think, "It will never happen to me." Not sure, but I think those are the riders in tank tops, flip flops, and shorts plus a helmet tied to the seat behind them.

Others recognize the need for good safety equipment, but if its not black leather and looking good, then they can probably get away without it.

I belong to the group where the latest safety equipment is like catnip. I just can't get enough of the best or latest. The old saying is, "If you have a 10 cent head, then wear a 10 cent helmet." I feel that way about my whole body and hope my head is worth more than one thin dime. There is always risk in motorcycle riding. I want to be visible and ride defensively to try to avoid trouble. If/when something goes wrong, I want the best possible protection.

My latest acquisition is a wearable air bag. These have been used in Japan and Europe for about 12 years. They operate on a CO2 cartridge and are controlled by a tether attached to the bike. When you and the bike part company, the tether pulls the trigger and inflates the air bag.

Here I am with the Hit Air bag vest over a black shirt for good contrast. The CO2 cartridge is on the right chest.

Of course, my hi-viz yellow vest wouldn't please the black leather crowd, but to me, loud colors are great. The color causes another problem. It doesn't go well with my new Egg Yolk helmet. Oh well.

The video below shows my model of air bag inflating. The real question becomes, do I feel a little too invincible with a good armored jacket and the Air Hit vest? Can I keep my head or will I twist the throttle just a little farther?