Friday, December 23, 2011

A Tech Turning Point for Photos?

Ok, sometimes I'm guilty of liking the new, innovative, even weird technology. Case in point.

Lytro is a camera that uses a new approach to digital photography that may be the beginning of a major change in how we take photos. At the very least, it is an interesting thing to play with. At the moment, the main benefits of this technology are no shutter delay, plus the ability to change the focus after the fact. In future, software powered capabilities may allow independent control of depth of field, even up to allowing the whole picture to be in sharp focus. There is also the promise in the future of mild to full 3D and the possibility of moving the point of view around within a picture.

For today, the technology seems a touch expensive for a point and shoot camera and the editing capabilities are limited.

Take a moment to go to Lytro's web gallery and play with their photos. To change the focus, point at spot in the picture and click your mouse. This link takes you to one of my favorites, but you can navigate around the gallery by clicking on other pictures. You can also check out the science behind it all.

Friday, December 16, 2011


Sometimes a picture says it all. This one came in an email from Corena. Nice.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


I recently found myself on a little business trip in the Arizona city of Surprise. As usual, there was no time to visit any of my Arizona friends, just a fast trip with long work hours.

Still, to unwind after work, I went for a walk and really got a giggle out of seeing the police cars. Surprise, Police!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Goat Rodeo

This came up on NPR, but it struck a chord on another level, so I just had to share.

NPR had a story on YoYo Ma, Chris Thiele, and others with a musical collaboration called, "The Goat Rodeo Sessions". Love the music. Also liked the name, so I looked up the meaning.

According to Urban Dictionary, the number 3 definition is my favorite.

Goat Rodeo definition #3

A chaotic situation, often one that involves several people, each with a different agenda/vision/perception of what's going on; a situation that is very difficult, despite energy and efforts, to instill any sense or order into

This completely describes my day to day life at Chrysler. We just can't seem to help it.

I also like the number 2 definition. You might say it brings forth strong imagery.

Goat Rodeo definition #2

A Goat Rodeo AKA Goat Rope, is about the most polite term used by aviation people (and others in higher risk situations) to describe a scenario that requires about 100 things to go right at once if you intend to walk away from it.

Thank you YoYo. I think you and your comrades have introduced a word that will find its way into common usage.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Occupy Ducati

Just a bit of silliness. Every time I hear them talk about "Occupy Wall Street, my ears hear them say that the demonstration is in 'Ducati Park'. Of course, it really Zuccotti Park, but I can't help the way my mind works.

So here are a couple of versions, the original "Occupy Wall Street" advertisement and a tank walker doing his version of riding the bull.

The irony is that Ducati is a passionate, but rather high price motorcycle. More likely to be part of the 1% than the 99% in Zuccotti Park.

Some might say that the demonstrators are just wasting time and are likely to end up like this guy above, going up in flames.

That got me thinking though. If there were a Ducati for the 'Occupy' crowd, which model would it be. Based on both the attitude and the name, my pick is the Streetfighter. Now all we need is enough Ducati Streetfighters to form the perfect "people's microphone". It would be loud enough, maybe just not saying the right things.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

That Sinking Feeling

I had been riding for about 3 hours in a steady rain. The temperature was about 50 deg F, but I was wearing all my gear. The new overboots were nicely tucked under by rain pants and my feet were warm and dry. The rain liner of my jacket was well sealed and the insulation keeping me warm. My rain overgloves kept my hands dry.

As I rode around State College, it was raining really hard. Even the cagers were going slow. Earlier, I had stopped for a drink in a little town surrounded by Amish farms. When I walked into the store, I left my helmet on at first, just to keep my head from getting wet, but I had to apologize to the store clerk for the puddle that formed around me on their nice clean floor.

As I picked up speed south of State College, I had that sinking feeling. There was something cold down in my crotch. Slowly, the feeling spread, first deeper into my crotch, then through out the seat of my pants. Cold, wet, uncomfortable.

If you can remember back to when you were in diapers, it's kind of the opposite feeling. Or rather, in the case of the diaper the spreading feeling was the same, but everything was warm instead of cold.

If you look at the photo, you can see a little gap, high up on my left leg. This picture is looking down while seated on the bike and was taken after I got home and with only my rain liner over my jeans. It turns out that rain was hitting the front of my jacket, flowing down into my lap and building up in the folds until it found a way through the gap and inside to make me cold and wet.

Trust me to find a problem in any product. The manufacturer has already acknowledged and fixed the issue for free. He said it was the first leak in the long history of their rain liner.

As for me, I spent several hours drying out in a restaurant and rode with a plastic grocery bag over the gap for the rest of the trip. I'm thinking that I finally have my gear safe from the rain. I sure hope so.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Dream

Have you ever woken in the morning remembering a dream that was so vivid, so real, that is almost like an actual experience?

I had such a dream last night, and since it was about a motorcycle, I decided to write it down here.

In my dream, I was at a motorcycle gathering of some sort. Part of this event were people riding out from the display area and up a curvy mountain road.

In the display area, I met the owner of an excellent cafe' racer built from a 70's era Triumph Tiger. The bike was low and stretched out with drooped handlebars and strangely reversed handlebar levers that you operated with your thumbs. The bike and fenders were a dark blue-gray flat paint that made it look like old original paint.

Neither of the bikes in the pictures is an accurate representation of the Tiger, but the proportions and concept are right. Both of these photos were copied from, an excellent website documenting unique bikes in wonderful photography.

After talking to the owner for a while, I was invited to take the bike for a ride up the mountain road. Naturally, I accepted. After all, it's my dream. The bike started up on the first kick and the exhaust snapped and thrummed. Out on the road, the bike was stable and responsive. The engine provided smooth and torquey response to the throttle with just a hint torque pulse from the engine. For the whole length of the run up and down the mountain, I felt at one with the bike and woke with a smile on my face.

Not bad detail for a dream, eh? I just wish I could find a photo of a real bike that is closer to the dream bike.

Friday, November 11, 2011

An Imperfect Vacation

Part of the fun of wandering around the countryside on my vacations are the unexpected things that happen, interesting people I meet, new places to explore, surprises along the way. Most times, bad weather is just part of the adventure. Sometimes it gets in the way and is just plain uncomfortable.

This fall's little wander started with a forecast of 6 1/2 days of good temps and little rain. It turned into cold temps and rain every day but one. That, and some unfriendly people, made this an unusual trip.

Once in a while, the clouds would part as in this shot. I was crossing a ridge on Fairview Mountain when I got above the clouds. All the colors were washed clean and the view to the next ridge made it worth digging out of all the rain gear and finding the camera.

Included in this trip where experiments with the new video camera. I found that its hard to both take pictures and video at the same time. The mind set is just different. So while, I don't claim that any of the video I recorded on those few dry hours was worthy, it did mean that I didn't take my usual number of photos. And as any budding photographer knows, it takes a lot of bad photos to find a few good ones.

In this post, I decided to throw in a few pictures together with a few observations along the way.

Based on town names, I'm guessing that the settlers of eastern Ohio were pretty well read. After visiting, Gnadenhutten, the site of a late 17th century massacre of native people, I passed by Cadiz, Calcutta, Liverpool, Lisbon, and Palestine. Most of these were 19th century industrial towns with buildings like this old mill in Liverpool.

Two results from the helmet paint job. The fluorescent colors seemed to work as far as other drivers noticing me, but there is a down side. Apparently, the helmet looks like a nice bright flower to an insect. I had so many bug splats that I had to clean the visor multiple times during the worst days, just to see out safely.

I don't understand western Pennsylvania. It's really pretty empty. It's not even that curvy. But everytime there is a hint of a turn, a suggestion of a fun road, the speed limit comes crashing down. There were enough cops around that I was good boy, even on the devil's highway (666).

One interesting thing in Penn. are the junkyards. Most places these days, they dismantle the cars and store the valuable parts in a warehouse. Car bodies are often stripped and stacked or cubed and shipped to China. In Pennsylvania, the junkyards appear to be the classic rows of partially disassembled cars. If you want a part, you find the car and take it off. Ah, Tradition.

On my way through the thin part of Maryland, I stayed in Deep Gap. Leaving Deep Gap, I had to take Break Neck Road. It's like a challenge, a moral imperative. If you are a real man, you must take Break Neck Road and see if you survive. Since it rained about 7 inches of rain the previous day and night and locals were talking about washed out roads everywhere, I felt like I was taking on a real challenge. No big deal actually, just a cool name.

In the skinny part of Maryland, the southern border is a branch of the Potomac River. I came down to Old Town where the map said there was a bridge.

First of all, its a toll bridge. An old lady sat in an old toll booth waiting for her $0.25 toll. Of course, with all the rain gear, it took me some work and some time to dig out the money. Apparently, she was worried that I might pull out a weapon or something, because when I looked up, she had a large wooden mallet in her hand, poise to wack me if I did something wrong. As soon as she saw the coin, she relaxed, but I never did feel welcome.

As you can see in the photo, the bridge isn't any more welcoming to a motorcyclist. Very narrow, no guard rails, a wooden deck with gaps, and longitudinal planks laid unevenly along the tire tracks for cars. The track planks were 10 to 12" wide with warped ends sometimes sticking up and broken corners and knots making gaps of several inches. I did my best compromise between slow for the rough surface and faster for better balance. I never did feel welcome.

In West Virginia, I wandered back toward the Allegany mountains, an area I had enjoyed a few years before. Along the way, I wandered into Jordan's Run, a valley north of Seneca Rocks. The only advantage of rain is the light that comes after the rain. It took me 2 miles to find a place to turn around and come back for this picture.

I'll try to pull a video together, and maybe one more story of motorcycles in the rain.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Bicentennial Man, er Fiat

I pulled the facia on the 500 and just had to take a picture.

In this shot, Guido reminds me of the movie "Bicentennial Man". In the movie, the Robin Williams character is a robot who, when they remove his plastic face (facia) and he looks in the mirror, screams at the site of the mechanical components underneath the face. "What's wrong?," says his colleague. "I saw the inner me.", says Robin.

I pulled the facia to try to find a place for louder horns. There they are, the red discs under the bumper.

This little car is amazingly tightly packaged. Hardly any wasted space at all. The new horns just barely squeeze in between the AC condenser and the fog lights in the facia. It reminds me of a line I will paraphrase from Monte Python. Petting a rabbit, "So small, so firm, so fully packed."

The other thing I often do with a new car this time of year is to install a stronger headlight bulb. Guido's lights are OK, but I always want more. At least until I'm melting the snow off the road in front of me.

So I pulled one of the headlight bulbs to figure out what to buy. To my surprise, Fiat had already put the best available bulb in the car, one that put out more than twice the lumens of any other available bulb. These little touches always surprise me.

Naturally, I broke the bulb by dropping when trying to remove it. That way I learned that it is not only the brightest, but also rather expensive at nearly $50 per bulb.

My bad.

Friday, October 21, 2011

An Excellent Project

In the previous post, I focused on the Brit bikes at the Stockbridge show. There were lots of Harley's and lots of different and unique Japanese bikes also there. I honestly don't know enough about Harleys to understand what to take pictures of. I'm a little better at understanding the Japanese bikes, but the variety is immense. I just took pictures of what I liked, especially "the project."

But before we get into that, as most of you know, my bike number two is a ZRX1200R. Apparently, earlier in the day there were about 12 of these lined up, one of each color, engine, and tuning flavor. By the time I got there, it was a gaggle of green ones, plus a custom painted black one.

This old Yamaha caught my attention. I suspect the body and the bike didn't start life out together, but who cares, it sure looks good.

I noticed "the project" parked near the Motorcycle Sport Touring Association tent and asked who belong to that bike. The owner/builder is Martin Snuvsnuverink ( I hope I spelled that right) and he was happy to answer my questions.

First, a little bit of history. In 1976, Norman Hossack, in England, developed a double A arm front suspension for a motorcycle. It had the advantage of being light, stiff, and having significantly more anti-dive than telescopic forks. Although telescopic forks still dominate front suspension design, an underfunded, Hossack design bike was able to win five British Single Cylinder championships in the 80's.

I copied the photo above from Tony Foale's excellent book, Motorcycle Handling and Chassis Design. As you can see in the diagram, the Hossack has two forward facing A arms above the wheel and a triangulated fork. The bike steers on heim joints where the fork connects to the front of the A arms. A coil over damper suspends the bike from the fork to the frame. Steering is accomplished through a linkage to the fork.

Some of you may recognize the BMW Duo-Lever front suspension in the Hossack. BMW recognized and copied the Duo-Lever from Hossack.

Martin liked the Hossack design, had some left over Honda parts, and decided to replicate the Hossack design, or at least his version of it. He started with a Honda VTR 1000 Super Hawk. That is a 2001 era bike with a 90 degree V-twin similar in concept to a Ducati.

In this case, the engine, transmission and rear swing suspension were retained. An adjustable geometry Hossack front suspension was made from small diameter tubing, along with a trellis frame to connect the front to the back. The built in adjustment gave the ability to anti-dive, rake, and trail. The light weight tube fork is said to be much lighter and stiffer than telescopic forks. The adjustable coil over damper gives lots of tuning room. The body work and radiators are a combination of RC51 and Super Hawk. Note the side radiators in the fairing which, like the front fairing, are from an RC51.

Martin said that, when he first rode it, he was immediately impressed with the stiffness and control in steering and braking. He tried a range of geometry, including more than 100% anti-dive which makes the front of the bike rise during braking. In the end he settled for about 40% anti-dive and says the confidence in braking is amazing. The lightness of the steering are also said to be remarkable.

This detail shot shows the aluminum cams that are used to adjust the geometry, the billet upper A-arm, the Heim joint that forms the upper ball joint, and the steering linkage going up toward the handlebars.

I am totally impressed with this project. From design to fabrication to tuning, this project is ambitious and professional. Note too that the bike gets ridden and ridden aggressively. You can tell, in part, by the blue stainless steel halfway down the muffler. Thanks, Martin, for trying something different and following your own path. I'm looking forward to a few ambitious projects of my own.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Local Talent

Recently, I was coming home from lunch with my father when I ran into a little motorcycle show in the square of a little town a few miles north of my home. It was late in the day, and I met a friend who told me that about half the bikes had already left. Time to hurry up and check out the bikes.

Of course, I hadn't planned on this and all I had with me was the cell phone camera. Now I'm going to have to take back some of those terrible things I said about cell phone cameras.

At this time of day, there were mostly British bikes left, along with a few Japanese and assorted other makes. This post, I'll leave you with one Italian, one Indian/British, and a bunch of Brit bikes.

This Cagiva Elephant (pronounce 'Elle - font') is from the late 70's and was both sold as a commuter bike in Europe and, in racing form, as true dirt bike campaigned in the Paris-Dakar rally. This is a 650cc Elephant using a Ducati V twin engine. Not my choice of colors, but a serious bike in its time.

A modern Royal Enfield Bullet. It's a good thing that Triumph began to sell their retro line again, because Enfield is looking pretty good these days.

A well used modern Triumph Bonneville with a mild cafe' racer treatment. Note the turned down handlebars, clipped fenders, and racing number plate. This was no show bike, the dirt all came from hard road use. I saw the bike leave. A young guy with a cute girl on the back. Full throttle through the gears, of course.

That leads me to a philosophical question or two. Is the cafe' racer trend just another fad like choppers? Are young guys picking up the cafe' racer thing? It's clear they are mostly passing on Harley's, but could Harley catch the attention of the younger rider with a nicely done cafe' racer?

This Norton is from the time and a kindred spirit to the Bonneville cafe' racer. You could tell that this guy used his bike, a lot.

The well ridden Norton engine.

Speaking of Norton's, the 850 Commando is a pretty bike, especially all shiny like this one. I guess a cell phone camera can do alright in the right light.

Norton was an exotic fantasy bike when I was growing up. Before the Japanese bikes took over entirely, these were aggressive, fast, and manly.

One of the clubs that was still hanging out was the Matchless Club of America, Michigan branch. Matchless was a British motorcycle company from the 1899 to the early 60's. They were famous for their light, good handling chassis and their 500 cc single engines , including the single cylinder win at the first Isle of Man TT in 1907.

The red one is pretty much in "road" trim, with the addition of a racing number plate. The black one is a pure racer with a single seat and all the lights removed.

Matchless is known for it's hairpin valve spring which was used to reduce moving mass in the valvetrain. They later built hairpin spring engines that were used in Morgan three wheelers and Brough Superior motorcycles.

1958 Matchless G12 CS was a 650 cc parallel twin with slightly higher ground clearance for desert racing. This bike still used the Matchless twin. Later engines were the Norton 750 after Matchless fell apart financially and was acquired by Norton.

Matchless was owned by the same group that owned AJS, another light, fast British bike. Known as the Matchless "Cammy", the 350 OHC single is really an AJS engine from the 7R series.

Built from 1927 through 1954, this engine was very successful in racing for many years.

Another small volume British motorcycle maker with a great reputation is Velocette. Known for their high quality and innovation, Velocette was successful in racing from the 20's through the 50's. Their 350 cc won the world championships in '49' and '50'.

This beautiful Vellocette is an early 60's Velocette Venom 500 cc single. It has its cam high in the block so that the push rods could be short and light. This resulted in higher engine rpm and higher horsepower. A slightly modified version of this Venom set the record of 100 mph for 24 hours.

I am curious about the 2nd hand lever on the left side of the handlebar. My guess is a compression release for kick starting that big 500 cc single, but I am just guessing.

Pre-WW2 Vincent's were called Vincent HRD. This is a 1949 Comet 500 cc single that was apparently made just before the change in name. Racing versions of this bike won the Isle of Man TT. The name changed to just Vincent after WW2 when the company needed to sell bikes in the US and didn't want confusion between Harley (HD) and HRD. Nice versions like this are easily worth $50k these days.

Note the bronze or brass carburetor body. Not bad for a little show in a little farming town in Michigan. Also, the photo quality is a pleasant surpise for a little cell phone camera. Next year, I'll have to plan more carefully and bring a real camera.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Call me Polly Anna

Call me an incurable optimist. Although there is a long way to go, I'm seeing hopeful signs in the economy. Maybe it's just Michigan or the Midwest. And anything could go wrong and turn things back into recession. But I keep seeing and hearing things to smile about.

A short list.

Everybody I know that was looking for a job, has one. How did that happen? I heard an NPR story about how employment agencies are having trouble finding qualified manufacturing workers for their manufacturer clients. Just plain weird.

This year, I had a couple of windows replaced and the trim on the house painted (much too high off the ground for me). The paint company is using a new tech paint, so that's a little special, but they were up 20%+ in 2010 and look to be up 30% this year. The window company is having a record year and would like to expand the area they serve, but all their crews are busy and they can't find enough qualified crews to expand.

At work, we are having trouble finding enough tires to build all the cars we are selling. We have one car where we can't get replacement tires for the dealers when the customer wears out his tires because all the tires in that size are going into new car plants.

A guy that works out at my health club sells hydraulic switches and other industrial components. He says that he could sell 40% more than he is now, but the parts just aren't available.

On my recent road trip, I ran into a shortage of hotel rooms. In one Pennsylvania town, I called 1 day ahead and got the last available room in town. When I checked in, I asked why the town was so busy? Why was a little town in the middle of PA. full up on a rainy Tuesday night? The clerk replied that they were full every night all summer and through the fall.

Finally, a coworker and his wife are trying to buy a house here in Michigan. They've put in three offers in the last month, all were above asking price bidding wars, and they've lost all three houses because all they can offer is 20% down and a mortgage pre-approval.

It makes me wonder why, for the most part, the news is all so bad. Maybe, like the rest of us, the new media just got used to reporting bad news and isn't looking for good news. I hope my little list is the sign of good things to come.