Sunday, December 31, 2017

Merry Christmas and Twisty New Year

In addition to a really nice family holiday, I have been spending time between Christmas and New Years planning routes for a motorcycle ride this summer.  I know, thinking about motorcycling in the middle of winter is crazy, but certain types of mental illness are not preventable.

Naturally, you can do a lot of planning online these days, but there is no substitute for going there.  Every route that I planned at home needed "adjusting" once I saw it in person.  Happily, I can have fun driving these roads in the Fiat and exploring is fun, no matter what the weather.  Well, almost any weather.

I learned a long time ago that it's difficult to take good pictures of curvy roads, so I've taken the liberty of showing screen clips of Google Maps, both terrain maps with fun roads and street view of select corners.  Full kudos and honor is due to Google for their wonderful maps and full credit for the map images and street shot views.  Full warning, Google street view shots vary in quality depending on when they were taken and where along the road, so the screen shot above is more than a bit fuzzy.  The road is fun, though.  I just love a high speed esses section like this.

Naturally, I took a few shots myself, but only with my poor phone.  It's easy to tell the Street View shots, mine are winter with ice and theirs are summer with leaves.

This is Ohiopyle Falls with ice on the edges.  I do like exploring in winter.  The trees have lost their leaves and the snow lights up the shadows, so you can see many things that you would miss in summer.  Let's just face facts.  I have an itchy foot and have to travel to scratch that itch, no matter what time of year.

I wouldn't have wanted to try this road in winter.  Better saved for summer.

This is what happens to the bedrock faces along the road.  Water seeps out between the layers of rock and forms icicles.  They are everywhere in Ohio and W. Virginia and they are as varied as they are beautiful.

 Here is wishing you and yours a wonderful new year.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Christmas Amp

I never expected the inside of an amplifier to festive, but the amp I just finished seems to give off that vibe.  I can say that I'm happy to get it working.  For what seems like a month, it has been kicking my butt.  Nothing like letting a little smoke out of some components to let you know you have screwed up.  But at least it's colorful.  When you first turn it on, it has yellow neon for about 30 seconds, then red and green LEDs lighting up the green and blue boards.

This amp is the most expensive, least efficient, and most dangerous I have done so far.  For least efficient, it puts out 25 watts of useful power but uses 180 watts just sitting there with no music playing.  That means the thing is like a space heater with heat rolling off the top all of the time its on. 

Regarding dangerous, there are 350 Volts running around inside this thing.  Part of the extra time taken to trouble shoot this baby are because I was waiting for the volts to go down.  350 Volts will kill you.

Its too early to say whether its worth the effort.  I certainly hope it sounds good.  At least its mostly finished and I can turn back to working on motorcycles.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Nose Pictures

My father used to enjoy taking close up pictures of faces.  He would move in so that the frame was filled up with just eyes, nose, and mouth.  He called them nose pictures and I liked them.  They were unusual, but also a nice representation of the person.

It seems that I have unconciously developed a kind of nose picture that I take when possible.  In this case, it's close up pictures of hood ornaments and, occassionally, badges.

Recently, I went to the Hemmings Concours in Lake George, NY with my old high school friend Dan.  Lots of interesting cars, but I liked the hood ornaments best.

Of course, horns can be nice too, but there is no way to avoid the photographer being in the reflection.

A Studebaker badge isn't a hood ornament, but it's a nice detail anyway.

Of course, hood ornaments started out as radiator caps.  Here is a nice one from an MG racer.

The classic hood ornament is the Packard Swan, although Packard referred to it as a Cormorant.

Although I guess Studebaker was trying to compete with Packard.  Is that a swan or a goose?

The gazelle was a Chrysler hood ornament in the 30's, although something similar later became the Chevy Impala trademark.

Stutz was using a goddess.  I think it is either Athena or Minerva, the difference being Greek or Roman.

An some hood ornaments are just fun.  I am assuming that this one is aftermarket and just for fun.  Either way, it is interesting to find on a Studebaker.

 If you find yourself enjoying hood ornaments the way I do, the link below will take you to pictures of many more fun and interesting ornaments.  Of course, all the pictures above are mine from the Lake George event.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Signs of Autumn

As autumn comes on,  I count on different signs to let me know its really here.

The sure sign of fall's arrival is a visit from the sandhill cranes.  Some of them always stop in my yard for a visit before heading further south.  This image comes from an internet image.  It seems the cranes in my yard are just a bit camera shy.

Actually, the first indication of their arrival is there unique call.  Some have called it prehistoric and others have described it as the sound of a creaking of a screen door.  The sound image below was downloaded from and was created by Corsica_S.  Of course, Blogger doesn't make it easy to share sound files, so I had to put it in a video.  The only thing there is a title and 1 minute of sound.

Sandhill Crane from Jac Brown on Vimeo.

As the season goes on, the cranes fly south and the sound is replaced by shotguns and bird hunting season.  But late in the season, there are always one or two trees with strong color late into the season.  In the past, it has been a Cherry tree in my front yard with bright orange/red leaves that hang on even until the snow.

Alas, this has been a tough weather year in my yard.  Strong storms have blown down two trees, one of those being the beloved Cherry.  So this year, I turned my attention to my back yard where the combination of the dark greens of the white pine contrast nicely with the yellow/orange of this old oak tree.  It reminds me of that line from the Shawshank Redemption, "There is a big hay field up near Buxton....One in particular.  It's got a long rock wall, a big oak tree at the north end.  It's like something out of a Robert Frost poem."

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Identifying Cars from the Video

In the last post, I showed a video based on home movies of car racing.  One of the things that fascinates me is the variety of cars on the track and in the parking lot.  Some of these cars would be worth millions of dollars today.  Others, we don't even know what they are.

The one that shows in the frame before you start the video is an Elva Courier,  I would love to have one of those.

Starting with a mystery, the sports racer in this freeze frame is quite unusual and I haven't been able to even come close to identifying it.  It is very wide and low and has a very rectangular shape in plan view.  My memory tells me that this is the Flying Shingle raced by Ken Polman, but the existing pictures of the Shingle don't match at all.  By the way, the Flying Shingle was a very creative effort.  It had a steel tube chassis with no suspension (go-kart style) to save weight.  It was powered by a 700cc Mercury Outboard boat engine.  The complete car was said to weigh about 300 pounds.

 Somehow, I remember that Mercury outboard engine in this very low car, but memory does funny things over more than 50 years.

Staying in at Waterford, I love the smaller classes.  Mini Cooper .vs. NSU Prinz TT .vs. Hillman Imp with Volvo, Fiat 500, and Beetle thrown in for fun.  One of the fun things about Waterford is that it puts a premium on handling, so the feature race on Sunday was when all of the closed wheel cars raced together and there was usually a ding-dong battle between a Mini and a Corvette for the overall win.

 I also love the battle between the front engine and rear engine Formula Junior cars in the early years.

The big cars had lots of Corvettes, Mustangs, Camaros, and one E-type, but there was also a few pure, big bore racing cars. The 1969 part of the video has an amazing range of big bore racers.

McLaren Mk 1 Can Am racer

 Lola T70 Can Am racer

  Porsche 906

 Porsche 904

Pretty fancy stuff for a little club track like Waterford.

By the time we got to Watkins Glen for the F1 in 1971, things were pretty interesting in F1.  If you remember, 1971 started out with outrageous, suspension mounted wings flying high above the body.  The crashes mounted quickly and so did the regulations that limited height and forced wings to be body mounted.  By the time the cars got to Watkins Glen near the end of the season, the cars had evolved into some of the prettiest and ugliest F1 cars ever.

Does everybody remember the "tea tray" March?  It was there and competing.

On the other hand, I have always found the McLaren of that year to be beautiful.

The Ferarri is quite nice too.

 The Tyrrell may not be quite as pretty, but it was effective (1971 champion) and iconic.

Did you find anything else worthy of note?

Greg found a number of cars that I hadn't called out with a photo, so here we go.

Ford Lotus Cortina

Ford Anglia

Hillman Imp (on of my personal favorites)

Lotus 7 Series 4 (I assume you all found the earlier series Lotus 7's)

 NSU Prinz TT or known as just the TT

The business end of the TT

Renault Dauphine

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Car Racing in my Youth

My father was a great guy.  My parents recognized my love of cars early and my father supported that any way he could.  One example is the homemade go-kart that I posted about a few years ago.  He also supported my racing bug with slot cars which is the step that got me building my own stuff.

But the biggest influence was when he took me to a car race at age 10.  That was Waterford Hills road racing in 1964.  The best I can tell, we went back in 1969 and went to a lot of races in 1971 (Waterford, MIS endurance race, and Watkins Glen F1).  Somewhere in there we also attended the first Can-Am at MIS and a Formula 5000 race at MIS as well.

For several years, I have intended to go through our home movies of these races and turn them into some sort of video.  I finally took the time and the result is linked in this post.  Be forewarned.  This is no great cinematic accomplishment.  They are just home movies with the usual lack of cinematic skills.  More than that, these come from Super 8 film which means they are blurry flickering with no sound.  What I do hope you find interesting is the thin slice of culture and time that they represent.  The cars are fascinating and surprisingly diverse.  The shots of people are interesting, both as fashion and the size of the crowds showing the popularity of road racing at that time.

The video is about 12 minutes.  Feel free to freeze frame and see if you can identify the cars.

Early Waterford and Other Road Racing from Jac Brown on Vimeo.

 I will try to identify interesting cars in the next post.  Should be fun.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

My "Princess and the Pea" Butt

 You remember the fairy tale, "The Princess and the Pea".  In the fairy tale, the princess couldn't sleep because she was sensitive to a pea that she could feel through many, many mattresses.  I borrowed this image from a Kool School video to illustrate the idea.

Sometimes, I think I'm as sensitive as that princess, at least where it comes to motorcycle seats.  When I bought the KTM, I knew in advance that the original seat was made for riding off-road while standing most of the time.  It was incredibly narrow and firm, so it would never do for long distance riding.  I planned changing the seat before I even bought the bike.

So, at New Years, I sent my seat off to BMS for their special treatment.  What came back was beautiful and seemed like it would be comfortable based on  riding around locally, but on my first long trip, I just couldn't stand it.  My butt hurt so much that I spent all my time thinking about my butt rather than enjoying the riding.

Upon my return, I gave BMS a call and they offered to modify the seat to try to improve it.  And I admit, it was improved.  The picture below shows the revised seat with a larger, more open butt pocket.  I was comfortable enough for the first day, but the second day and each day after I was back in the "pain in the butt" penalty box.

Compare that seat to the Russell seat on my old bike.  The Russell is old school and admittedly ugly, but it's been comfortable day after day on long trips for 14 years.  Hmmn.  Maybe I'm not such a princess after all.  There are several differences between the BMS and Russell seats.  First, the Russell is 4 inches wider and more of a dished shape, while the BMS is flatter and narrower.  The Russell is firm, but softer foam than the BMS.  The result is that Russell seems to spread out the pressure needed to support your weight.  The BMS seems to have a higher average pressure and I suspect high pressure in local areas.  Also, the BMS has a seam across the back of the butt pocket that is just far forward enough that I can feel the seam as a pressure line.

That pain in the butt I have been experiencing feels like high pressures areas under my sit bones and at the seam.  The flesh and muscles in that pressure area don't like that high pressure.  As I understand it, high pressure on the tissue decreases blood and, therefore, oxygen flow to those tissue.  When tissue  don't get enough oxygen, they shift into a survival modes.  Unfortunately, that mode generates lactic acid which your nerves react to as pain.  In extreme cases, this leads to bed sores.

At least, that's one of the possible explanations.  If you search on the subject of butt pain, you will find a staggering range of possibilities.

All that got me to thinking about the aging part of this equation.  This certainly wasn't a problem when I was younger.  Even 10 years ago, I didn't have this kind of sensitivity.  Have you ever noticed that many older men have lost their butt?  Some even need to use suspenders because their shrunken booty doesn't give their belt anything to hang onto.  It seems we aren't as active and are thinning out our cushioning in the process.

As we get older, it seems like we need more stretching, more different types of exercises, and a balance between those exercises to keep the weaker muscles from screaming at us.  Since I don't like suspenders and I don't enjoy butt pain on the bike or anywhere else, I decided it was time to work on this in the gym.  I still need to redo the KTM seat, probably a Russell, but maybe I can improve my end (pun intended).  The things I will do to ride motorcycles.😉

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Tweaking the Pumpkin

Let's face it.  I'm a person that like to modify things.  Likes to make them my own and work well for me.  When it comes to motorcycles, I seem to do that more the ever.  Frankly, I don't understand those people who buy a motorcycle, ride it for one year, then sell it.  They tell me that they enjoy the experience of the motorcycle as it is.  That doesn't work for me.  For example, I have been tweaking on the new KTM all the first season and I am finally getting it working well enough to decide that I will keep it.

It was really the most recent tweaks that got the bike talking to me.  I had gone down the wrong road with stiffer springs.  That made the bike harsh without improving suspension feedback to the rider.  After going back to the stock spring rates, I set the sag for those springs, used the clickers to adjust the shock/forks with in the available range of adjustment, and those things made a better ride compromise, but it still wasn't talking to me.

The previous owner had dropped the triple trees down the forks by about 12 mm which decreased the trail/rake.  I brought them back up to factory level and that helped the feedback a bit.

The final tweak was tire pressure.  Both Kawasaki's like high tire pressure.  In fact, depending on the specific front tire, a low front tire pressure on the KLR can result in a high speed wobble.

Force of habit I guess, I had been running the KTM about 4 psi above the "loaded" tire pressure recommendation.  Dropping the tire pressures down to the "loaded" recommendation made all the difference.  It helped both steering feedback and ride comfort.  Now I have a bike that is well controlled for ride, yet envelops most bumps.  At the same time, talks to me in a way that gives me very good confidence.  All of this with a minimum of flex and shake.  Nice.

I may someday try to tweak the shim stack in the compression fork to be a bit more digressive, but for now I am happy with the suspension.

Coming back to this question of riding a bike one year and then selling it.  It seems to take me a minimum of a year just to get the suspension setting right.  I keep wondering what they are missing by not taking time with the bike.  Oh well, each to his own.

In case you are wondering, the nickname "Pumpkin" seems to be sticking for the KTM.  After I made it all orange and black, a friend of mine saw the bike for the first time.  His question to me was, "Is that your pumpkin out there?"  I like that bike in orange.  Not only is orange the company color, but it makes the bike more visible and the color has a lot of flop that works very well with the angles and curves of the body.  So, pumpkin it is.