Monday, December 31, 2012

A Thin Year for the Blog

 Happy New Year.  I thought I would take the end of the year to sum up what was a good, but different year.  As the 5th calendar year of the blog, it has had the fewest posts by far.  This year, I managed only 28, including this one.  My first year, I managed 44, even though I only started in June.

Lots of reasons, I suppose.  Last year, about this time, I had a connector failure on my stereo receiver that got me thinking about audio electronics.  That has turned into a year long (it will become a multi-year project) to learn and build electronics for my home audio system.  Unfortunately, it is a little harder to blog about how good something sounds than it is to take pictures of motorcycles or beautiful countryside, so I've been struggling a little.

The big thing this year was my father and my father's house.  About a year and a half past, we moved my father into assisted living after a fall and a hospital stay.  Early in 2012, he decided that he wouldn't be moving back to his house and we needed to clean it up and get it ready for sale.  That took a lot of time, but was rewarding with memories as we dug through a house that our family had lived in for 50 years.

I've spent as much time as possible with my father, but also gotten to know my sister much better as we shared the work and expertise needed to clean out and fix up the house.  I'm happy for the time together with her and all my family.  I am also grateful for a family that isn't fighting over things and happy that my father's health remains good, although needing a little help.

I did get a little motorcycle riding in, but less than usual.  My main riding miles came on two MSTA rides in W. Virginia and Kentucky, respectively.  Those were great fun, but riding with others, you can't stop and take a picture when you want, so I came away with fewer pictures to share.

With Doug's help, I did purchase a new camera body that I am using with my father's old film camera lenses.  I still have a lot to learn, but I hope you notice a gradual improvement in the quality of some of my photos.

As for the electronics, I am listening to the amplifier on a board in this first picture as I write this.  It was designed by Dario in Italy and is called the Fremen Edition because he loves science fiction.  Even just mounted on a board with components temporarily clipped in place, this thing sound amazing.  There is more detail and image clarity than any I have heard.  In the meantime, I am still auditioning capacitors in key locations.  The capacitors alone can change the sound from warm and full to cool and precise.  These end up being a personal choice based on your speakers, room, and personal tastes.
The circuit board in the second picture is something that I designed using online software and had made by a prototype board maker.  Once finished, it will update a hand wired board for my subwoofer.  Overall, I'm learning a lot and having fun, even if it isn't easy to blog about.

I hope your year moved you in the right direction and that next year is even better.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Wishing you a Cowboy Chistmas

It's kind of weird to have a midwestern boy like me to bring you a western Christmas wish.

I made a fast test trip out to Arizona, including a trip from west Phoenix to Kingman on Sunday.  Naturally, I planned my time so that I could stop at Anita's Mexican Kucina in Wickenburg for lunch.

Wickenburg is a small, traditional town with a history of ranching nearby.  These cell phone pictures are poor, but still capture the feel of a desert cowboy Christmas.

Of course, the local picture show is a great place on Sunday morning to hold "Cowboy Church".  I am pretty sure that the pickup and the Jeep would qualify as cowboy transportation.  I'm not sure if cowboys also ride Harley's or if the bikes come from the "Twin Wheels Cafe" next door down.

In particular, I like the Christmas wreaths on either side of the Saguaro cactus sign on the theater.

I know, you aren't supposed to shoot into the sun.  But I like the contrast of the wreath on the light pole framed by palms on one side and saguaro cactus on the other.  The rustic fence with Christmas lights is a nice touch too.

I hope this season finds you well and safe.  May your life be filled with friends, interesting things to learn, and rewarding experiences.  For those of us in the north, I hope your Christmas is white.  You southerners don't like that sort of thing, so I'll just wish you a Merry Christmas.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

No, that appliance is for #1

 Somebody is confused here.  It must be me.

These low quality photos are brought to you by my poor cell phone camera.  The cell phone was the only camera available at the moment when the photo presented itself.  Of course, for neither subject does picture quality really matter.

"Bad tray, dirty tray"

Monday, November 5, 2012

Women in Racing - 50 Years Ago

The web leads you to some strange places.

This is Ewy Rosqvist.  She was a rally driver from Sweden who competed in the late 50's and early 60's.  She won the European Rally Championship, Women's class for 3 years in a row.  Also, the Midnight Sun Rally, Women's class for 4 years in a row.

Don't you love the gear.  Helmet, check.  Gloves, check.  Tank top, check.

To show that she could beat men as well as women, she won overall at the 1962 Gran Premio Argentina, marathon rally beating 280 male competitors.

Over the years, she competed in Volvo and Mercedes Benz, including several runs at the Monte Carlo Rally.

She looks like a real competitor of the time, but also like she is having a blast.

50 + years later, she is still around and enjoying the rally scene.  This summer, 2012, she awarded the Ewy Rosqvist Trophy to the top competitor in the Midnight Sun Rally.  She is 83 years old.

This picture might be my favorite.  Monte Carlo looks pretty modern in the background for 1962.  Ewy cuts her own style with the hat, sunglasses, and jumpsuit.  And then there is the Mercedes Fintail, complete with steel wheels and ready to race.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Shit Happens

No, that's not me.  It's just a generic crashed sports bike from the web.

This started out to be a funny story about a friend's minor incident.  Here's the story.

My friend rides a sport bike and was out for a nice afternoon ride on a road that he knows well.  He wasn't riding particularly quickly, but in a left turn, his front wheel suddenly slide out from under him.  For a moment, he thought he had saved it as he was able to stand the bike up and keep his balance, but then he ran out of road and found himself trying to ride on the deep gravel shoulder.  Naturally, the bike wiggled out from under him before he could get it stopped and he had a low speed, minor injury, but expensive tip-over.  The bike wasn't really damaged except for the body work.  The insurance company looked at it and totalled the bike.  I guess fairings are expensive.

So, my friend is bummed and figuring out what he is going to do next while nursing a nasty thigh bruise.  It turns out he had his cell phone in his pants pocket and the cell phone bruised his thigh.  After a week or so, he decided to take a look at the bike and see if he could tell what happened.  There, smeared on the front tire was a stripe of animal feces.  You see, shit does happen.

Since he wasn't really hurt, this would be unfortunate and funny, if it was the only thing going on.  Unfortunately, I personally know 5 riders that have had some sort of motorcycle accident in the last month.  Happily, most are just bruised like my friend in the story above.  Unfortunately, at least one is suffering from two broken legs due to a major high side.  And he is an experienced rider.

So this leaves me with the philosophical quandary.  It could just be a blue moon, a bad stretch of luck for riders I know.  On the other hand, I have to acknowledge that I can't turn off completely the competitive urges when I ride with a group.  I'm afraid my MSTA rides bring out the faster rider in me.  That, naturally increases the risk.

I'm sure that I will spend the winter thinking about this and the options.  I also realize that you can't hide from risk.  When riding, I am constantly aware of the risk and am a more defensive rider than I am a driver.  Coming back from the Kentucky ride this summer, I got back in the car and felt completely safe.  With the big car and air bags around me, I felt invincible.  Then, driving in the right lane in heavy traffic one morning, I witnessed an accident.  Traffic slowed suddenly and the mini-van to my left and ahead didn't see it in time.  To try to avoid hitting the mini-van in front of him, he swerved toward the right lane while crashing into the back of the leading van.  The result looked like NASCAR at Daytona.   The leading van ended up rolling several times and laying in the oncoming fast lane.  The trailing van didn't roll but smashed the front and ended up next to the other van after a wild ride.

If your not safe driving a mini-van, maybe you might as well ride a motorcycle.  Twisted enough for you?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Parsla, Steve, and Gidjet stopped by for a visit recently. I hadn't seen Gidjet for a long time, so it was very nice to visit with old friends.

As Steve has almost completed sale of the Jackson house, Gidjet is moving to Oakland County. Although she will likely miss the empty country roads, I'm sure she will enjoy being closer to Parsla, Steve, and the dogs.

As it happens, I just got a new camera and I realized that I didn't have many pictures of Gidjet, so I took advantage of the opportunity to snap a few pics.

Although she is showing her age a little, she has less gray hair and wrinkles than I do and I still find her trim and attractive.

While she was here, Steve took advantage of the hoist to do a little work on Gidjet. The best thing was the sound of the engine as Steve checked out his work. The sound of Gidjet going up through the gears was only surpassed by the sound of her downshift coming back.

Why is it that most modern cars do so little to move me, but Gidjet can still push all my buttons?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

It's been a Busy Summer

To those of you that follow this, sorry for not posting for so long. This summer has been busy with working on my father's house. And lot's of other excuses. Anyway, I did get away for a few days of motorcycle riding with the MSTA. This video is nothing special, but it does show a nice winding road from the helmet cam. One of these days, I'll figure out how to mount the camera to the bike so the lean angles will show, but for now, enjoy.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Pregnancy Projects

As I understand it, when a man's wife is pregnant, especially with their first child, there is a time where he wants to stay close to home, but there is not a lot he can do except wait for the child to be born. During that period, there are often what I call, "Pregnancy Projects". Some men begin the restoration of a car, some work on the house. In my father's case, during the spring of 1950, while waiting for my sister to be born, he built furniture, specifically, an electronics project desk. Basically, a place to hide away from children all the little electronic parts that could hurt them and a place for my father to use when building his next project. Actually, it looks pretty good after all these years. It is the original finish.

Overall, it is nothing special, just a sturdy and practical piece of furniture made out of veneered plywood. But as you may imagine, it has some special features that show the hand of the engineer. My favorite, both now and as a kid was the scope cabinet, on the left in the first picture. Back in those days, he had a tube powered oscilloscope that took up a lot of space. So he built a special cabinet with a place to store the scope and a tilted top to place the scope on during use. The whole thing is on rollers and rolls out of the desk itself.

Notice the copper wire on a couple of screws? It has a cubby with an open top below it. This is where he attached his alligator clip leads with the bottom of the wires hanging down into the cubby.

Now, roughly 60 years later, the desk is returning to its original use. I recently moved it to my house where it will store electronic parts and tools and be both a memory and a practical tool in a hobby that I share with my father.

Monday, June 25, 2012

One Lonely Picture

I only took one lonely picture this trip. A small town in northern Ohio. I can imagine, when the road was narrower, that this garage had old time gas pumps out front with a gas/oil sign hanging from the pole on the front.

There will be videos. It just takes time to edit.

Small Town Names Again

A couple of small towns from last weekend's motorcycle ride. I took my first ride with the MSTA (Motorcycle Sports Touring Association). They seem like a good group of people. The roads were great and I learned a lot. Many of the roads were like rally roads and you were challenged in your road reading skills. Yeah!

Both of the towns in question are unincorporated and in W. Virginia. Because of the pace, I didn't get a chance to stop and take a picture, but they do exist.

Left Hand - For all us lefties out there.


Pickle Street

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Old Man's Eyes - The Fix

I've talked before about my electronic projects. About how my eyes are getting weaker and electronic components are getting smaller. Here is another example and a fix.

The circuit board, above, is my first attempt at designing a circuit board. It's kind of fun. Lots of different options to tradeoff.

I needed precision resistors for this circuit and, it turns out that available precision resistors are surface mount devices. There are 4 sizes of surface mount resistors. I chose the biggest size, a strip of 10 resistors is shown below with a dime. The smallest size is about 1/4 this size.

Think about it this way. The size of the number printed on the resistor is between the "In God We Trust" and the date on the dime.

For another circuit, I need to solder the 8 individual terminal of this opamp. How was I ever going to see stuff this little to solder it? I needed some help.

My answer, the fix if you will, is a stereo microscope with 20x and 40x.

The rule is, when your body can't compete, cheat.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

TED Radio Hour

Because I get up at 5:00 am during the week in order to get to work a few minutes late, I tend to keep the same schedule on the weekends. As my clock radio is set to my local NPR station for morning news, that's what I hear on a Saturday morning as well. Recently, they have been playing a new program at 6:00 am on Saturdays, the TED Radio Hour, and it has been very interesting so far.

They talk to experts and researchers about interesting topics like;

What happens in the brain when you are being creative?
How does modern society devalue introverts at the cost of good ideas?
Coffee shop as model for invention environment.

All of this stuff is thought provoking and a little hard to concentrate on early on a Saturday morning. Thankfully, there is a website.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Copper Pipe Go Kart

In my March post, "Chelsea Court Memories", I mentioned that my Dad built a go kart from copper plumbing pipe. I was digging around and, OMG, there is video! My best guess for the date is 1967 and my uncle, aunt, and cousins were visiting from Indiana. My sister and all the cousins, plus my uncle get into the act. Dad was acting as pit crew and camera man.

A few things about the go kart before you watch the video.

Naturally, no sound on the 8 mm movie film originally used to capture this. I added the sound of a film projector, just like you would have heard in its first showing. Funny, it kind of sounds like a lawnmower. That's OK too.

Yes, that is a hand wound rope starter. When was the last time you saw that?

I wanted my father to buy a go kart. He thought that he and I building one would be a much better idea. He made time for me in so many ways, I'll never be able to thank him enough.

My father figured the thing that he and I could do together was solder, so he designed a frame using 3/4" copper plumbing that was soldered together using elbows and T's. The next element was plywood held on with pipe clamps and wood screws. Wheelbarrow wheels and tires and an old 1.5 HP vertical shaft lawn mower engine were selected. The steering wheel is 1"x1/4" flat aluminum stock, bent to shape, and topped by bicycle hand grips. A similar approach for pedals which were operated by steel rods to the back of the cart.

The first time I drove the cart, I mashed the go pedal and went counter clockwise around the circle. As I got up to speed, my butt slid over onto the accelerator rod. When I lifted my foot, the throttle stayed wide open. I couldn't pull myself off the rod because of the g's. It took me a couple of laps to figure out that I needed to head out toward the big street, then slide off the rod and brake.

At this early stage, a twisted v-belt drove a jack shaft which drove another v-belt to the rear axle. The clutch was a spring loaded idler wheel putting tension on the second belt. As you can see, the clutch didn't work so well. A later version saw the installation of a centrifugal clutch and the idler was eliminated.

Naturally, this thing was heavy and slow. But it turned out to handle pretty well. All the heavy copper down low must have given it a low c.g. There was one slightly banked corner in our neighborhood. When I got enough nerve to take it flat out, the kart slung right through it and I could feel the frame flex down toward the ground.

Can you believe how simple things were then?

All in all, a great memory for me. I hope you enjoyed. Oh yeah, in case you haven't figured it out, I'm the little squirt with the glasses.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Body Position - Too Tall Again

When you drive a car, you make your driving position so its comfortable, so you can see, and you have good control of the pedals, etc. With a motorcycle, your body position is so much more. And it's so surprising how much the feel of the bike is controlled with body position.

When I bought the ZRX, I recognized that it was pretty tight on the legs. I also found the bike difficult to corner, not natural at all. I've been adjusting on the suspension and that has helped some, but this spring I looked for a way to get more room for my legs. First, I looked at lowering the pegs, but the rear brake and the exhaust pipe are only about 1/2" clearance, so taking the pegs down was not an option.

Then I looked at raising the seat. The front of the seat is located by a tab that goes into a slot at the back of the fuel tank, so the fuel tank would have to go up too. As it happens, the front of the tank couldn't easily move up due to handlebar clearance and mounting concerns, so I decided to just raise the back of the tank. This had the interesting side effect of giving the bike a more forward stance that I like. It also let the stripe on the side of the tank align with the fins on the engine. Hey, this is artistic.

With some help from my friend, John Chamberlin, the best solution for the seat was to raise the whole thing by about 40 mm. Some fabrication and I was able to test ride. By the way, the plan is to add some skirts to the seat that make it come down to the bodywork and recover the seat. More to come.

Here are two pictures, one in the original condition and one with the seat and tank raised. I admit that the scenery in the original condition picture is a tad better than the background of my front yard shown in the modified picture, but hopefully you can get the change in stance.

What a difference!

I now realize that my body position had been all wrong. It was like I was sitting on a toilet made for a child. My legs were so tight that it forced my knees up where they sat on the corner of the tank above the cutouts in the tank intended for my knees. The high position of my knees caused my pelvis to rotate back and my back had to curl into a C shape in order to stretch to the handlebars. The result was not only uncomfortable, but it put my center of gravity too far aft and my upper body and arms in a poor position to control the handlebars.

The reason I know all this is the major difference the seat raising project has made. For a change, my hips are above my knees and the knees fit in the cutouts of the tank as intended. Now, my legs naturally flow around the tank and my body "grips" the bike through the tank. I had always heard about this, but never felt it. My upper body can now lean a little forward in comfort. My arms are slightly bent and I feel like I have leverage over the handlebars. Wow.

In the past, the bike took high effort to turn and the front wheel did strange things like fall into the corner. With the raised seat, turning is easy and I have much more confidence. I even like riding this bike around corners where before it was tiptoe around the corners and goose it on the straight. I'm looking forward to learning this bike all over again.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Blogger Blunders – The Hubris of Google

It seems that companies lose their way when then get large. They just can’t seem to help thinking that they know better than their customers. Look at the recent debacles with the Facebook Privacy Policy and Net Flicks flip-flopping on movie formats and pricing.
Now, perhaps at a smaller scale, Google is venturing into the realm of forcing the customer into change that is good for Google, but not for the customer.

Blogger is the blog interface for Google based blogs on It is the basis of this blog. Over the years, it has been a really good thing. It has been easy to use on a small platform that allows easy inclusion of pictures, links, and video. They allow uploading of pictures at pretty high quality and haven’t required advertising so far.
Recently, they offered what they thought was an upgraded interface. I looked at it, didn’t find any advantage over the current interface, and decided to stay with the old interface that I knew. Apparently, so did a lot of others. So last week, Blogger decided to force us onto the new format.

I was open. I gave it a try. I found that the new interface was large, slow, and clunky. It required a separate window to “preview” a post. That window required me to wait while the post saved before it would let me look at the preview. This took a very long time because I don’t have a fast connection. Sometimes the buttons didn’t work. Sometimes the preview wouldn’t update and I would have to go back and try again. Editing text was slow and jerky. I found that I couldn’t cut and paste pictures to reformat without new crap showing up in the field. I have yet to figure out how to control the space around text and pictures. Overall, I hated it. I want the old interface back.

So I went to Blogger and found that I was not alone. Hundreds of bloggers had posted how much they hate the new interface and all the things wrong with it. Google’s response was, in sum, “Get over it. The old interface is going away and you are going to have to get used to the new one.”

It feels to me that the Google people need to get out of San Francisco Bay area and learn what the internet is like in the middle of the country. My take is that the people that developed the new interface are used to having really fast computers and really fast internet connections, so they don’t see all these issues and developed a program that runs very poorly on an average computer and an average internet connection. They need to realize that most of their customers don’t have a choice but to live in a much slower lane than they do.

They also need to realize that they don’t necessarily know better than their customers. When the customer tells them it doesn’t work, they need to listen or lose the customer.

If you write a blog on blogspot and feel the same way, I would encourage you to use your blog to post your complaints. The only chance we have of making things right is to make some noise and your blog may be the best tool available to communicate with Google. After all, the reason they let us write these blogs is so that they can spy on us. OK, I'll be realistic, Google goes its own way, but I've got to try.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Power in the Pot Redux

Back in July, 2008, I made an audio amplifier from a kit for my friend, Bob Wilson. I called it "Power in the Pot" because I used a cooking pot as the power supply housing. It worked well, but unfortunately, Bob passed away in a motorcycle accident a little more than a year ago. His ex-wife, Karin, felt that the amplifier should come back to me, so late last summer, it arrived back at my house.
Through the fall, it sat in my project room, reminding me of Bob, but without any current use. I started thinking that I should find a way to use it, just to remember Bob. As always happens in these things, one thing led to another and now I am in the process of building a new pre-amp and even better power amp for my living room stereo.
A few weeks ago, I brought home my father's stereo, as he does want it at the moment and we are cleaning out his house. So last week, I married the Bob amp with speakers that my father built and made a stereo for my project room. Naturally, the sound is clear and very enjoyable. I'm playing the amp and speakers through my computer and an external sound card. Sometimes if feels like my computer is sitting on a piano. It's funny how objects help you remember people. I also like the connections, both literal and metaphysical, that happen when I combine Bob's amp and Papa's speakers.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Dreamin' about Trips

A miner's railroad running into the mine. If memory serves, above Telluride, Colorado.

In my family, we have a common affliction. Every spring, each of our minds turns to travel. I could blame my fever on our friend John Deikis who recently returned from grand motorcycle travel adventures. Unfortunately, that doesn't explain my sister's itchy foot, nor my niece spending this week on an island off Brazil.

This year feels busy and I don't expect any grand trips, but in the back of my mind, I've been thinking about a motorcycle exploration of high country Colorado and Wyoming. As a matter of fact, I ran across some old photos which got the juices flowing, so here are some pics to intice you into summer. Excuse the picture quality. They are scans of 3 x 5 prints, so not great.

Speaking of Telluride, the town is in the canyon at the bottom of the valley in this picture. And Telluride is at 8800 feet elevation.

Sometimes, the stream is the road is the stream. If you look closely, you can see the nose of our Jeep in the lower left. We had just come up the stream bottom about a mile with 1 to 2 foot bolders and 2 feet of water flowing past. The stream had high rock banks that were so narrow that we couldn't open either door. Finally, at the exit of the stream, it widened enough to open the door and take this picture.

Ghost towns and even single ghost buildings are everywhere. I love the color of the wood on these old building.

Imogene Pass is over 13,000 feet elevation. It lies on the main route between Ouray and Telluride and there was mining almost to the pass on both sides. I find it interesting to see the mountains that are only a little higher than the pass, knowing that those mountains are 14,000 feet or more.

The Crystal City Power House is a classic photo perched as it is on a rock above the river. In Crystal City's heyday, there was a dam from the rock to the other side. The vertical box shaft under the house contained a vertical axis power screw that was driven by the water and generated electricity for this modern town.

Bird Camp Valley is one of the prettiest mountain valleys that I know. In summer it is filled with wild flowers of every color.

I'm really pleased with the framing and composition of these pictures. Of course, I don't take any credit. These pictures were taken by my father on our little off-road trip in 90's. I just found them sorting out things in his house. I guess I've still got a lot to learn from him.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Here is to the winter that never was

I miss winter.

I kept hoping we would get some good winter weather. Something beautiful and white, even if it was just a late season storm that lasted but a few days.

Well, Easter has come and gone, the plants and the weather are bound and determined to bring spring. Even I have to admit that the chance for a last blast of winter are gone.

So I dug up a few pics from previous winters, just to say goodbye and see you later.

Don't get me wrong, I like spring, summer, and fall just fine. In fact, I'm looking forward to more riding weather and have enjoyed outside activities without all the clothing. That said, wouldn't you enjoy watching a sunset like that through a window with the fireplace making snap, crackle, and pop sounds behind you?

Calumet, Michigan, early in winter, before the snow banks build up to a proper height.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Bad Lighting, Good Bones

I continue to spend time cleaning out my father's home. In the process, I ran across some AREX pictures that reminded me of show time.

When we built AREX, we had little money. Nothing changes I guess. We went to two cars shows, Detroit International Auto Show (below) and Las Vegas (above), both because we were invited and didn't have to pay for show space.

Naturally, we didn't have any money for fancy displays or lighting. We just used the carpet and house lighting that were provided. Unfortunately, in the case of Detroit, that meant lighting in Cobo that was a rectangular grid of flourescent tubes. Looking at the first 2 photos, It's hard to believe that is the same car.

At Detroit, we were in good company as part of a 'Design Studio' section. Our neighbors were Pininfarina, IAD, and Bertone. We were right across the isle from Lamborghini. Overall, the car looked good, but the lighting was awful. Light in a line like that will highlight any surface imperfections. Sure is a good thing that the guys are so good at creating surface because any flaws would standout like a sore thumb. I guess the upside of the lights is that you can tell how curvy AREX is.

In contrast Las Vegas, with it's individual spot lights, was a dream for lighting.

This last photo was just thrown in for fun. This is the rear of the AREX frame during assembly of my car. I just like the play of all the angles. It's almost like sculpture.