Sunday, April 29, 2012

To Play Long, In the Sun


I bought a new camera, a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20, which I chose for its 20x Leica optical zoom, HD video, small size, good performance, manual setting abilities, and plenty of strange / odd / intriguing features to try out, including burst rates of 10 shots per second at full resolution, and 40 or 60 per second at reduced resolution, a tilt-shift looking "miniature" mode, 3D (although I lack a 3D display), a super-slow mo 220 fps video mode, and a GPS with geotagging and some limited map display abilities (maps included). There's an HDR mode (or two actually) which I need to spend some time experimenting with. Panorama. An "intelligent mode" that actually seems to work really well. 

And it has facial recognition that identifies specific faces that are entered with a name and a birthday, such that it will display their name and age later when it notices them in the frame. I tested to see if it recognizes cats' faces, to get it to display their name and age. However, it failed to recognize a cat's face. It seems narrowly designed towards humans only. On the other hand, it does a great job with photographs of people's faces, so I have gone ahead and registered Franz Kafka, Charlize Theron, and Salma Hayek, with multiple images along with date of birth, you know, just in case. My facial recognizer camera will pick them out of a crowd (Charlize and Salma, any way) in the airport now. Since DOB only goes back to 1900, though, I will have to remember to add 17 years on to get Franz's age right.

Also, a touch screen that lets you touch on anything in the scene to focus and expose on it (which happens fast), and also to touch the screen to instantly take a photo, or to control the zoom.

It does a bunch of other stuff too, a lot which takes a bit of time to get to in menus, and to select and choose. I will try it all out, and will probably end up using them. But, a lot of my pictures tend to be quick shots where everything is over in five seconds or less, where features like a lot of those which take time to set up are less useful. Except for burst mode, which may actually help catch quick shots better, as well as the optical image stabilization. The zoom and display have a different feel than my other point and shoot camera, but that makes sense since it only did 4x optical at full resolution.

Iron horse, aluminum horse

All the features really just serve to give me reasons to go spend a long time out in the sunshine riding my bike around trying them out. Is the ride about taking pictures, or is taking pictures about the ride? If I didn't blog, would I ride as much? If I didn't ride as much, would I blog? These are not actually questions which I feel a compelling need to answer. I have a digital camera that shoots bursts of 10 photos per second with a 20x optical zoom and recognizes faces! Also a ten speed from the early 70s set up as as a fixed gear flatland commuter bike with a rack! Rather than spending time unraveling questions of motivation, cause and effect, I'd rather just go ride doing things I enjoy. Perhaps doing a bit of unraveling as I go.

In bright sunlight, the camera caught the colors well

The camera has a "toy" mode, but I still want a Diana for real

I paused beneath a fragrant purple tree that was raining blossoms. Lilac? I tend not to fixate on naming the tree, so much as seeing, and in this case smelling, it. More riding, and photos, and blogging, on the way.

Oasis. This water fountain is a key part of many rides, and is nearly always cold.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Lost Rack Screw: I Got Some Splainin To Do

Location last seen: holding rear rack on a commuter bicycle

For a longer time than I am prepared to admit, the rear rack on my commuter bicycle felt as if there was a screw loose, particularly when going up or down a curb. I would stop, check for loose screws on the top connections, which felt like (for some unknown reason) the likely location of loosening, yet everything would be tight. This is, mind you, with my commuter pannier attached, containing at least a few pounds of clothes and stuff, along with a laptop computer. Something wasn't right, but a quick glance and wiggle couldn't locate the problem. I think I must have had a mental block, or lacuna, about the probability of the actual problem.

Taking a closer, more thorough look, eventually, though, I found that one of the lower attachment screws was just completely missing! How is that even possible? That was what I was wondering. That's not a rack screw next to the gaping hole, by the way, that's a rear fender screw. With that rack screw missing, there were only three other screws holding the rack onto my bicycle. Checking them, one of those three was also slightly loose. It just seems remarkable to me that the whole thing didn't just tear off the bike entirely, embedding my pannier w/laptop through my rear wheel, sending me cartwheeling into the swirling slightly salty waters of the Arizona Canal. I chalk it up to the really solid top mounting brackets on this rack. Unlike others I have seen, these are beefy hunks of steel, which appear to me more than up to the task. Thank you, beefy hunks of steel rack bracket designers for the overly generous margin of safety. The replacement screw has been installed, this time with thread locker. And I spent a good twenty minutes checking the rest of the screws, nuts, and fasteners on the bike. Before the whole thing just falls apart on me.

Next time I get that slightly wobbly feeling back there, at least I'll know what's going on, and not keep riding around with only three screws between myself and an unplanned canal swim. Now I just have to make sure not to try to tighten them TOO far. I've already posted enough about excess torque.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Brain Tree Slump Block Composition

I see the colors
Just a little playful color manipulation from the Lift Station #53 post

Shift a color here, up the contrast there, flip to negative around the corner, and presto: it's Friday. White is not white in this picture, and black is not black, although the slump block wall was white-ish, and the shadows upon it darkish. I only got in commuting miles this week, and feels like not enough. I may need to steal a few hours, in order to do something a bit more rewarding than finding out what a "slump block" is, although at least I got that going for me. A signature building material of the southwest, it is a block which is produced with a wetter-than-normal mix which is permitted so deform, or "slump" when it is removed from the mold, thus giving it the appearance of adobe, although only to someone unfamiliar with adobe. Yes, clearly I am going to have to go steal some time to put in some non-commuting miles, and soon.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

My Flower Things Bike Lane Dream

dream makers

I'm having this dream. Within the dream, I know that it's a dream, I feel it, but it's pretty real so I want it to continue.

I'm riding down the bike lane, but instead of bicycles, there are these flower things floating along. I know that it is not real to see flower things floating along the bike lane instead of bicycles, but it's rather enjoyable, and I decide that since I more or less seem to be blending in, I must be a flower thing, too. I feel floaty and easy and balanced, sort of like when I ride my bicycle, but when I look down expecting to see my legs going around in circles pushing the pedals, instead I see stems, leaves, and petals falling off me, and then I know that I am also a flower thing. We flower things are moving along at a medium pace, sometimes stopping to dawdle a bit when something catches our eye, or to stop whenever the mood strikes us to have a flower gathering, known as a bouquet, with other flower things.

Occasionally, there are bees. I do not know the exact or total deep relationship between us flower things and the bees, although it is apparent that we treat them with the utmost respect, that we always stop when they fly near us, and that they land on us and fill us with a feeling of joy. Pollination may be going on, but that's not where the feeling comes from. It's more like a heartfelt welcoming, a belonging-together, a oneness of different yet necessary, and complimentary, souls.

Also moving along the street are these large, tubular metal things which make a lot of noise and smoke. They kind of grind along in a clumsy, but fast motion, and appear heavy and dangerous. They are not flower things. They resemble the tank parts of gasoline tankers, so I think of them as tanker things, in my dream. They do not dawdle, or pause, but continue forward at a high rate of speed, with a purpose and single-minded dedication to get Somewhere Else quickly. They are in haste, and mean business. Time is money. Sadly, maddeningly, the tanker things smash through the bees without a care, leaving trembling and damaged bees all over the road. We flower things stop to try to give aid to the bees, but the roaring and wind-blowing of the tanker things makes this difficult. We try anyway.

Whenever a tanker thing roars and rumbles past a bouquet, or a single flower thing, the flower thing startles back a bit, involuntarily from the loud grinding sound and smoke that the tanker thing makes, and also loses a petal or two, or a leaf, in the passing wind. The tanker things and flower things don't seem to be working together too well, in the vicinity of one another, although the flower things in their own lane appear to make do.

Then I discover that I have this power. Again, I realize in the dream that I am dreaming, so I don't really believe I have this power, but rather just a neat thing to do in dreams: I can pick up the tanker things, and move them Elsewhere. I don't really know where I am putting them, all I know is that whenever a tanker thing passes near to a flower thing, I can pick up the tanker thing somehow, and put it Elsewhere. As I ride along and continue to pick up tanker things and put them elsewhere, there are fewer and fewer of them on the road, until there are none.

When the flower things understand that all the tanker things are gone, we all move out into the full road, and fill it edge to edge with our flowing flower thing motion. Flower things appear to be able to change their colors, so to celebrate our newly felt lack of contention from the tanker things, we all turn white. Flower things come out from their workplaces and living places, their apartments and the coffee shops, all to float down the road together. We're all going somewhere, the same place, but we're not sure where.

When we get there, though, we all understand. All the tanker things that I put Elsewhere are floating in San Francisco harbor, a great jumble and tumble of metal cylinders bouncing among the waves, and beneath the iconic red bridge with its two towers. This seems like a potential pollution issue, I realize, which causes me great panic, but the other flower things who understand my powers better than I do bouquet around me and assure me that I also emptied the tanker things of their contents before dropping them into the water, and tell me to watch. Whenever two tanker things are smashed together in the waves, they are transformed into thousands of flower things, and float on the air to join us.

We flower things, still all in white, form an unending winding linear bouquet along the hills and bluffs and streets around the harbor, and we're all watching the empty tanker things bobbing in the waves. Whenever two of them smash together, a quiet, yet distinct, flower thing cheer goes up. And from far away, drawn by the sounds of our cheers, the bees arrive, all of them. They land on us, and we are filled with joy.

Within the dream, I know that it's a dream, I feel it, but it's pretty real so I want it to continue.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bicycle Commuting Past Lift Station #53

hi-brow, a water-jet cut steel cornice by colab studio on Lift Station #53 at 7th Street and the AZ Canal

What if we all thought of each other as human beings? Not as cyclists vs. motorists, or rich vs. poor, or what designer I like or what brand preferences you identify with, or what your dietary preferences are or what sports teams I cry over, which god I love or what country you hate, but each one of us humans first, who just want to be happy and live to see tomorrow, as we each venture out to work each morning and back home each night?

Perhaps with hopes and dreams which are remarkably similar? I am not my bicycle. You are not your car. Choices are choices but the things we drive are not who we are. 

This hypothetical is doubtless an impossibility for our current state of psychological development, I realize. Read the news, or go out into the city, walk these streets if you dare, and watch how we treat one another even just moving from A to B, and see. 

But it doesn't have to be that way, or any way, for that matter. It could be any way we want it, though: we build the walls we build out of our our our own free choice and twisted, angry hearts, to delineate my space from yours, privileged from non-privileged, to separate, to protect, to isolate, to deaden the sound of a multitude of rumbling vehicles, to exclude that which is different, or foreign. 

If you want to stop people from going over a wall, you can top it with barbed wire. Or razor wire, cruel-looking tangled coils of it. KEEP OUT. Broken glass embedded semi-hidden in the top works too, or electrified wire, rabid hungry sharks in a moat, invisible infrared laser beams that dismember and cauterize simultaneously, self-aware flame throwers, red hot self-heating branding irons that burn permanent TRESPASSER scars on vandals that climb over, why not? Explosives, shrapnel, springs, punji sticks. A steel Venus flytrap with teflon, kevlar, superglue-coated spiderwire. Drones. Wasps.

The wall could be connected to your smart phone and programmed to fire barbed spikes into any trespasser who dares to cross. There's an app for that. Camouflaged bears with razor claws. Attack dogs. Angry wild boars with black teeth, and tusks, and night vision goggles. A force field that shocks. Synchronized exploding dye packs. 

Or green, sustainable solutions: focused solar heat beams, wind-powered water canons, hydro-powered air canons. Blow them off the freaking wall.

Or, this.

Human barrier which pleases the eye and delights the mind. Keep out, noble spirit.

I noticed this steel security cornice along the top of a wall around an ordinary water pumping station and had to have a closer look. The shadows playing shapes across the wall. Blue sky through wavy cut-outs. Rust and stone. And apparently it lights up at night, or will. 

Can you tell me if this world will ever get better? Will humans ever learn to be human to one another, even strangers, even those who are different from themselves? Even those who just want to go to work and return home at night to their homes and families by whatever mode of transportation they choose, without fear of anger, or reprisal, or prejudice, or wrath, or threat of death, or deportation? 

I ride as if we will, as if we can, even if I don't think it's really happening, or going to happen. It's a kind of crazy, zoned-out illusion, my bicycle commuting obsession, my generous and hopeful smile and wave at everyone.  Every human out there.

I am the water-jet cut rusty steel cornice at Lift Station #53. Look world: wavy shadows, blue sky, bright LED lights that throw interesting shifting shapes in darkness, or will, eventually. You there, human: have a happy commute. It's the least we can do for one another.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Hot April Canalocross

No, "Hot April" is not my canalocross riding partner

Love those rocks basking in the sun, with my canalocross bike leaning against them. The first ride of true heat acclimatization went well. Although we hit a blistering (for April I mean) record 105°F, I got off the trail before that. April, she was in a crazy mood today. It's like the sun wakes up the heat monster who lives underground, and he shimmers up out of the pavement to cook all who venture outdoors. Somehow, possibly by going for a swim in the canal, Hot April lured the heat monster out early this year. Wicked. And I mean that in a good way. Hot April, she can come around whenever she likes, I'll just chase her down the canal anyway, and ride through the crazy yellow drifts of fallen flowers. It may sound like I'm exaggerating. Nope, see the photos below: miles and miles of this, puddles, piles, drifts of yellow flower petals to ride through. Hot April, she brings this kind of thing on.

Flower drifts. Beats snow drifts any time. Hot April laughs derisively at the mention of "snow".

If Hot April brings fallen flowers and 105°F, what will crazy May bring? I tremble with anticipation.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Initial Impressions of eBooks

A free book on a handy gadget

I have grouched previously in this blog about eBooks, eReaders, etc, but also have mentioned that I have been and shall always be a pushover for gadgets, clever devices, indeed just about any small shiny thing. In addition, as tablet devices had already gained a handhold in my house in the form of a B&N nook, and also an iPad, I felt that I should give them an open-minded spin, if for no other reason than being able to join in the dinner table conversation with the rest of my family on terms other than the stubborn old retrogrouch troll who lives under the bridge clutching his thousands of old fashioned paper-based books.

My first spin with the nook (or NOOK: can we not be spared the grating capitalization affectations of marketing bastards? please?) was family-oriented, in that we all read the Hunger Games trilogy on our various electronic reading gadgets. Overall it went well, as all four of us read through three books with no need to take turns or trade off. Since the nook allows you to read books on six devices at the same time, we had four people in one house reading three books on three different devices at our own paces with zero conflicts. That in itself is something to consider as an advantage. On the other hand, the image of all of us gathered in the living room listening to one of us read aloud from an old fashioned paper book, rather than huddled separately in our alone spaces squinting at a glowing screen, also appeals to me. Yes, I still have reservations.

On further explorations with my nook, though, I found it also ideal for reading books of interest which are unlikely to have a shelf life greater than a gadget plus its parent company plus its DRM plus its proprietary format(s), a.k.a. one to five years max. I have a box full of that stuff, including a Handspring Visor, a Dell x50v, etc, with associated special purpose accessories, which I am certain the nook NOOK will join in due time as well. But whether for the beach, or for some easy bedtime reading, lesser works have their place, and being able to get them and read them in a convenient electronic form which kills no trees, and which is generally slightly cheaper than their paper forms, also appeals to me. Some recent examples that I read on the nook (mine is the nook color btw) were Matterhorn A Novel of the Vietnam War, Before the Lights Go Out, and currently reading Bike Snob NYC's latest, The Enlightened Cyclist. No timeless classics in that list, to be sure, but well worth an electronic supported read-thru.

Then, recently, I spent some focused time exploring some of the online sources for free books that I was already familiar with, and feel like I have struck gold. Both Project Gutenberg as well as the Internet Archive have large numbers of free books available. I was already familiar with those sources, having downloaded dozens of texts to my various other computing devices, but always with some reservations about reading on them. Reading several hundred pages on any of them just never appealed to me. None of them hold right, look right, or work right for reading long stretches of text, in my opinion. Enter the nook, which is designed to address those exact concerns, and I will hand it to its designers, it does. Downloading and reading free texts on it is not only free, but enjoyable. 

There, I said it. With one caveat: for whatever reason, when you "sideload" content, which is apparently what it's called when you put anything on the nook other than a book or other content your purchase directly from B&N, renaming it and storing it in a sensible manner is not something possible with the existing interface on its Android system. Although its Wi-Fi performance is outstanding, its web browser quite serviceable, its ability to play Flash from Youtube and other sources very credible, and its touchscreen color display beautiful to the point of only falling slightly short of the iPad's, you can't move, copy, or rename files on the nook through the provided user interface, which, in my humble opinion, sucks. Without hooking up to a PC, you are stuck with the name the file comes with, in the place the nook chooses to download it, both of which are usually not what you want.

A shortcoming which I work around by downloading to my PC first, renaming the file with a sensible naming convention, then hooking up a USB cable and copying the file to where I want it on the nook, which thankfully it does allow. I store downloaded books on the add-on memory card (microSD) in the My Files, Books folder. I know, I know, that's just crazy talk. The USB hookup would also appear to allow you to move files from folder to folder, but some online forum chatter indicates this may screw up the nook's database of stuff about books, which includes last page read, highlighting and notes you add and so on, which if true makes sense, and I wouldn't hold that against the nook. A lot of these limitations might be able to be overcome with either add-on software and utilities, and/or rooting the nook to get full Android capabilities, but I like to explore the capabilities of a device to understand it before embarking on a rash course of action that can render it a dark, silent brick. However, rooting it does apparently permit one to install the Kindle app for Android, which would allow one to read Kindle books on the nook, a sick/twisted act which may eventually cause me to go ahead.

Oh, and due to Android devices being interpreted as "mobile", you can't watch Hulu on the nook color, which is also utter stupidity. It's not mobile, no more than my notebook computer, there's no 3G or any other telephonic wireless on it, only Wi-Fi. There are ways around that, too, but again, I'm still working with the device as supplied to see what it can do.

So, wrapping this up, in addition to many classics near and dear to my heart such as the writings of John Muir, I also found on the Internet Archive the Gazette of the London Bicycling Club (see photo above). The nook color handles both the EPUB format and PDF files with ease, and I am now in the continuous process of loading it up with books of both formats. The PDF format on the nook does offer the advantage of easy zooming with very similar features as the PC version of PDF readers, while the EPUB format offers more of the eBook experience, able to adjust the font, and make highlights and notes which persist, but not zoom much.

In short, I am becoming a grudging supporter of eBooks to a certain extent. The nook color feels good in the hands, although for extended periods of reading it's a bit heavy, which leads me to assume a horizontal position with the nook propped on a throw pillow on my chest. The leather-like case (proprietary, pricey, will go into the obsolescence box along with the nook once its day is done) helps with this balancing act. A position which is suitable to a grouchy troll surrounded with his old fashioned paper-based reading material under the bridge. You kids get off my lawn with the Twitter and the Facebook on your Hulu-proof mobile devices, I got some back issues of the London Bicycle Club Gazette to read.

FTC notice and blog disclaimer

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Flowers Make the Best Bike Lanes

Street engineering at its finest

Of all the ways of indicating where bikes should go, I think flowers are the best. Brilliant yellow petals blazing in the low-angled setting sun delineate the zone of riding and wherever the flowers fall and the wind blows, I ride. Up mountains, down valleys, along side streets and down main drags, across meadows and all along the canals, yellow fire flutters through the air and aligns with various hard linear structures, cement slices and steel horizons, softening them and making them feel more life-friendly, and I ride there, me and my buzzy freewheel leaving a swirling cloud of chromatic turbulence behind. Paths, gutters, streets, sidewalks, a twisting run through the park, a crazy random bounce down a jagged desert singletrack. Ride where the flowers are. The flowers are everywhere. So now you know where to ride. BIKES MAY USE FULL WORLD.

BIKES MAY USE FULL WORLD, this sign reads

Friday, April 20, 2012

100 Again

You've seen these before, one year ago...

We had a mild winter here in the desert, and now the weather forecaster is giving a strong indication that we will blow past the 100 degree mark this weekend. In April. And I love it.

Mr. Barrel cactus also loves the heat

100 degrees is the magic number for me. Not only does it smash down the pollen count, which is key for an allergy guy who commutes by bicycle, but I find that really cold weather, like we had in Feb 2011 for example, saps my will and strength, while heat boosts those up. The hotter the better for me. I stay hydrated, get as acclimated to it as one can get to 110F, and ride harder.

The hotter days make me feel like doing more push-ups during my workouts. They push me to ride faster, and farther. Heat clarifies my mind and hardens my body. Plus, the mountain bike trails tend to empty out in the heat of the day, particularly in July and August, which is when they appear most alluring to me and my mountain bike(s). 

Welcome, April Heat! Bring it on!. The three barrels and I couldn't be happier. Cold weather, catch you this fall sometime. Let's do coffee. Have a good trip, wherever it is that you go. Take your time coming back.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Take the Cyclist Profile Questionnaire!

How often do you ride a bicycle?
How many bicycles do you currently own? How many of those do you ride weekly?
Do you usually wear cycling-specific clothing?
Do you usually wear hi-vis colors?
What type of bicycle do you usually ride?
Do you ride a bicycle for purely utility purposes, such as shopping, dining, or running errands
Is it a race or not? If it is, how fast can you go? How far?
If you carry stuff, how? Backpack, panniers/rack, messenger bag, baskets, bakfiets, plastic bags, bungie anywhere, etc.
Where do you usually ride (check all that apply): Street/road, striped bike lane, separated bike lane/way, multi-use path, dirt path, single track, downhill, sidewalk, velodrome, PBP, the steepest mountain I can find, stairs and railings downtown, anything with control cards
Do you commute to work by bicycle? How often?
Do you use multi-mode transportation which includes a bicycle?
Do you have a preferred local bike shop you visit regularly? Specify.
Do you purchase bikes online?
Do you purchase bike parts online?
Do you own a headset press? More than one? How about a derailleur alignment gauge?
Do you find ineffable joy in overhauling ball and cone bearings?
Do you change your own tires and tubes?
Do you lubricate your chain? How often?
Do you install a new chain yourself?
Do you install, replace, and adjust your brakes and brake cables?
Do you install, replace, and adjust your gears / derailleurs?
Do you currently train for and enter competitive cycling races or events?
Do you use a speedometer, cycling computer, or GPS? All of the above? Handlebar mounted transistor radio perhaps?
When you ride at night, do you use lights? Specify. Steady or flashy? Battery or dynamo? Is brighter better?
What is the average distance you feel comfortable riding in the area you normally ride?
Do you usually wear a helmet? Knee or elbow pads, or other protective/safety gear?
Coffee and bikes: discuss.
What goes through your mind when you ride?
Does cycling help? Explain.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Tucson GABA Bike Swap Spring 2012 Photos: Swiftly Flow the Days

A deal that stops traffic

The spring, 2012 GABA bike swap moved a few blocks over due to rail construction, and it's going to take some getting used to. I mean, you go to a bike swap year after year, and you kind of get used to the rhythm and flow of the street and the people then BAM! Suddenly they move it on you, and nothing is where you expect it! Utter disorientation! 

OK, it wasn't that traumatic, since there were plenty of great deals to lower the shock of the new venue. I consider this the break-in run. By the time of the Fall swap, the new location will seem like it's always been there, and I won't keep standing around trying to get a feeling for where I should go next. Instead, I'll just put on my headlamp, fuel up at the Peddler on the Path coffee van, and start grabbing bicycle deals as the sun comes up.

My dad's bass boat had that exact seat on it

Swap energy served by a very nice guy

If wheels could tell stories, these would spin epic tales

I almost felt the cash fly out of my pocket, as if it had wings, or a mind of its own

The tough business of bicycle swappage

Jump in, like a many-armed cartoon figure, did I

Mmmm, peanut butter with a Campagnolo 769 crank bolt wrench

36ers. Goin big.

Sonoran Dog from Robdogs, including roasted pepper of sublime deliciousness

I may have spent too much time spinning around, burned too much daylight, trying to get my bearings in this new place of swappage. Time really flies when you are digging through boxes filled with random bike crap! Once I located the Robdogs stand, the Ordinary Bike Shop, and with Peddler on the Path coffee in-hand, I was able to focus, and commence to swapping. I did pick up a Campagnolo 769 crank bolt wrench (a.k.a. fixie wheel nut tool) as shown above for a reasonable price, as well as some fine cycling clothing at bargain prices. Throw in some parts, spares, and some tubes, as well as the opportunity to watch some skilled craftspeople making jewelery from bike parts, and I am one happy GABA spring swapping dude. Oh yeah, and I saw some Pivothead HD camera glasses. Gimme, gimme, gimme. I don't mean to sound like some acquisitive gadget-obsessed bike nerd, but damn those were hot, compared to having a box strapped to your helmet or something similar. But maybe that's just the Sonoran dog talking.

Great swap, thanks GABA, thank you Tucson, thank you great bikey people.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Improper Installation May Yield the Fastener

U-lock bracket must remain in this position

This post emerged from my efforts to get the u-lock bracket in the photo above to stay where it should, in order to not impede the locking of the lock itself. As long as a gap remains between the bracket and the lock, as in the photo, the key turns with ease, and all is well. However, over time, the bracket was scootching up the lock and making it hard to turn the key. These keys have a reputation for breaking if you turn them with too much force (appropriate to this post, as you shall see in a moment), and plus, I just like the silky smooth effortless feel of a key turning easy in the lock, so I had to figure out how to get the set screw in this bracket to do its apparent job.

Which requires, when you get right down to it, a) positioning the bracket correctly, then b) applying the required torque to the set screw. And away we go.

How much torque is appropriate for a given fastener? It sounds like such a simple question. In the sense that, there should be a simple answer for the home bicycle mechanic. Yet, I've found out myself and posted here previously about it, there often seems to be a blurry and hard to locate sweet spot between too loose to do the job, and so tight that the bolt or fastener fails, or breaks. A real hint of what you can get up against comes from the experience of the surprise when the friction of a lag bolt going into wood becomes greater than the failure torque of the bolt, even before the head of the bolt contacts the surface of the wood. How does this even happen? And what chance do you have of preventing it?

With some late-night Internet browsing and reading, I found some good resources that provided insight into the real world engineering and factors related to these questions. I will list the better ones below, but to cut to the chase, I found a brilliant and thorough reference which set me straight, and gave me the grim truth, unadorned: the Fastenal Technical Reference Guide s7028 pulls no punches. It's a bit technical, in that it's a technical reference guide giving information about the proper usages of bolts and fasteners, but it's exactly what I was looking for. I read almost all of it, and couldn't put it down once I started. I was like a man whose eyes were opened with knowledge. When that happens, you don't always like what you see, on the one hand, but on the other, you come out the other side better equipped to deal with reality.

To sum it up, here's a direct quote which was eye-opening:

No two bolts respond exactly the same to a given torque. There are numerous “real world” complications. Things such things as dirt in a tapped hole, damaged threads, hole misalignment, and numerous other factors can absorb a large amount of the input torque and will result in a substantial loss in the preload which was determined. Some of the other common variables affecting the K factor may include, but not limited to:

• Hardness of all parts
• Types of materials
• Class of fit
• Plating, thickness and type
• Surface finishes on all parts
• Manufacturing processes, such as cut or rolled thread
• Washers, present or not
• Type of tool used for tightening
• Speed of tightening
• Which is torqued, the nut or the bolt
• The number of times the fastener was used
• The type, amount, condition, method of application, contamination, and temperature of any lubricant used

Then a follow-up quote which in one sentence hit me right between those open eyes:

However, even perfect input torque can give a variation of preload by as much as 25 - 30%.

Why was that sentence so enlightening? Because based on what I had learned up to that point, I had concluded that the various experts were telling me that proper torque spec tends to be around 65 to 70% of the failure (breakage) torque, or, 70 to 75% of the yield (bolt stretched beyond the point of permanent deformation) torque. 

Put another way, torque it until it breaks, then back off 30%. The problem which quickly becomes apparent, is that the uncertainties, even if you have a manufacturer-provided torque specification, exceed the 30% stated target force reduction. That is, even if you know how much force should be used, the uncertainties using the tools and materials available to the home bicycle mechanic are so great (on paper anyway) that going by measurement alone may result in either breaking the fastener anyway, or not getting it tight enough. And from personal experience, breaking a bolt with a torque wrench feels pretty absurd, when it happens. So, one more quote from the excellent Fastenal reference, then I will wrap up this post:

The main concern is to what extent must the fastener’s preload be known. Numerous methods are available to the public, which, directly or indirectly, measure preload. If bolt tension is desired with a high degree of accuracy, the torque wrench is not the answer. The following, which will be discussed later, are highly accurate and expensive answers:
• measuring the actual elongation of the bolt
• hydraulic tensioners
• strain gages
• ultrasonics

A micrometer is the simplest tool used to measure bolt stretch. This tool can be used only if there is access to both ends of the bolt before and after installation. Also, since both ends will probably not be parallel, several measurements, at different points around the circumference, must be made and the average taken for the final measurement.

The point to remember with the use of the stretch control method is that it is a very precise tool available for evaluating bolt tension. We are trying to measure a change in the length of the bolt of only a few thousandths of an inch. Tremendous skill will be required to determine the exact length dimensions.

Wow. Seriously. That quote shot truth into my head so directly that I couldn't sleep after I read it. It gave me momentum to plow through the mind-blowing sections about washers that indicate bolt stretch. So THAT'S what's going on here. Leading to the OSG Fastener Engineering Dept finding for home bicycle mechanics:

The uncertainties inherent in fastener installation lead to the conclusion that failure is always a significant possibility, and there's not much that a home mechanic can practically do to prevent failure, either fastener breakage or field failure, all the time. Even when following manufacturer specified torque with a calibrated dial indicator torque wrench, real world complications and factors can still cause you to break the bolt with too much torque, or fail to create enough tension to do the job, with too little torque. The best you can probably do is to tighten the bolt as close to specs as possible, without breaking or yielding it, or the parts it is joining. Which isn't much consolation, really, but it's something to think about, and to shoot for. And don't get me started on stripping the head, or galling, or fastener corrosion.

Bracket solution: tight as practical, and used blue Loctite

On the other hand, in practice, based on experience, the combination of tolerances, slop, uncertainties, and "safety factors" engineered into bolts and parts, along with "feel" and experience, most often seem to work in your favor, and most bolts would appear to do their jobs without much complaint as long as you get them tight enough.  It would be helpful, however statistically or mechanically insignificant, for providers of torque specifications for bicycle parts to indicate dry or lubricated, and if lubricated, what type of lubricant, if only to ease the mind of the mechanic a bit about one of the many factors of uncertainty.

Steel is pretty forgiving of real world factors, which is one of the main reasons we use it for so much, including fastening part A to part B on a bicycle. However, when the torque wrench clicks, it's a good idea to stop.

Other useful references I found:

also see my blog disclaimer

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Every Silver Cloud Has a Bicycle Lining

Every silver cloud has a bicycle lining.

Every shining day has two wheels in its heart.

Every golden afternoon has a ding ding bell ringing with wild abandon.

Every electric night has a bicycle with a woman speaking a language other than your own.

Each chill dawn has a bicycle leaning against a tree.

Each easy morning has a bicycle locked up at the local coffee shop. Pondering an idea.

In each fleeting moment, a spin of the pedals.

In every passing face, the promise of balanced self-propulsion.

In each revolution of the wheel, distance unrolling from your own feet.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ten Uses for Steel Trench Plates for Cyclists

Oh god I hate those things

Always trying to look on the positive side of things, I tried to come up with ten useful things that cyclists can do with these steel trench cover plates. Basically, so I don't dwell on the time I crashed hard on some in the rain due to them becoming slick as ice when wet, or obsess about what it feels like to lose control on them with skinny tires.

Number One (are you kidding me with these things??)

1. Bottle opener (preferred to skin ripper upper)

2. Rim de-taco-ification. If your rim becomes taco'd, unlikely on a bike commute, granted, but maybe you commute on your mountain bike and it has some latent tacoing from your last downhill bombing run, remove taco'd wheel, probably have to take the tire off, and bang on steel plate until it snaps sort of back into shape, or, until you destroy it completely.

3. Stopping technique practice area. If you can stop smoothly on a steel trench plate, without skidding or losing control, you can stop on anything.

4. Frame trueness checker. These plates look pretty flat. Bring your frame here, use the plate as a reference to check it . Somehow.

5. Carbon fiber fatigue test. Bring your carbon fiber frame here, and test its toughness by banging it on the plate using full overhead swings until it, or the plate, breaks.

6.  Make worse-than-fingernails-on-chalkboard sounds by removing the tires from your wheels, riding up onto these on your rims, and hitting the brakes. See number 3.

7. Drop watermelons on them from various heights.

8. Practice your frame welding technique by sneaking out here at night, and welding a partial frame onto the steel plates to create the appearance of a bicycle embedded into them, with the handlebars partially sticking out.

9. Hire one of those 3D illusion painters to come out at night and paint them so that they look like either a) pavement or b) holes, then watch the constructors' confusion as they try to return to complete their work the next day.

10. Are you like me? Do you think "plasma cutter" whenever you see nice flat expanses of steel plate like this?

Ah, much better.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Brain Wipe!

The brain wipe was complete just about the time I rode past this cactus in bloom

Riding home from work, my head was so full of urgent, contending thoughts that the twisted writhing tangle of them was pushing against the back of my eyeballs. I felt like if I removed the retaining screws which hold on my forehead cover plate (torx screws, carbon fiber cover), the pressure of all those important to-do and undone and dependent task items would cause them to sproing out like so many springs crammed into a too-small box. It was time for a bicycle aided brain wipe (BABW).

Instead of concentrating on the thoughts themselves, I focused on relieving the pressure behind my eyes, then on my evening out my breathing, then on pedaling smooth, round circles at a good fast cadence. Thinking of the DBAN boot disk (it's a computer thing for wiping disks), I started saying to myself, "Brain wipe, brain wipe, brain wipe," and whaddya know, the combination of the warm air, sunshine, spinning wheels, mental focus, and little meditation mind games seemed to work.

By the time I got to the cactus, I was nearly a blank slate. Momentarily, sure, soon as my foot touched earth, most of the contending tasks came crashing back in, but easier, I guess, with less pressure. Thank you, BABW.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

We Can Be Perfect

Be excellent to one another

Thoughts from the Easter Sunday afternoon ride.

We are indeed finite, limited, flawed, mortal creatures, with tendency toward narrow vision and selfish disposition, each of us. Yet, at any given moment, in the face of a challenge, given the setting, our own limitations, our state of mind and our own strengths, we can rise to that challenge, and respond to it as well, or better, than anyone else could, given the same comparable facts, parameters, situation. In that moment, if we could do no better, we achieve momentary perfection. On the other hand, if we find ourselves knowing that we could have done better, we fall short.

New 7th Ave underpass needed some softening up to be perfect, for a moment

Musicians know this. The organist I heard play Vidor's Tocatta from his Fifth Symphony today showed it. No one else, in her shoes, with her experience and skill, on that organ, could have done better. In that moment, playing that piece, she was perfect. She knew she could not have played better.

This is not the same as some sort of absolute and permanent perfection, but rather the possible, time and place bound, phyiscal law bound, best in class type of perfection, when a personal record (PR) or personal best (PB) is actually the best that anyone at that age, skill, experience, mental and physical state and abilities, in that time and place, could have done.

In each small choice, we decide to do what is best, or not, choose the route of perfection, or not

When a homeless person comes up and asks politely for some food, is my response perfect? I know the best response, but am I perfect in actually doing it?

When deadlines loom, and hunger, fatigue, thirst, and stress are piling up, do I show as much patience as I should with my kids? Seen through their eyes, I know what such a father can look like, and sound like, with an occasionally less-than-perfect, less-than-patient, and yet very understandable growl. Do I know better? Of course. I could be, should be, need to be perfect, though, when it comes to this.

What's a perfect dream then? What would perfection in imagination possibly be?

It's not always, or in fact is seldom, about being the absolute fastest, or coming in first, unless that is actually your potential best on that day. To achieve less, and to know that you could have performed better, is imperfection. But, to leave every last bit out there is to be perfect, whether you win or not. Playing ticktacktoe to a perfect draw every time, and laughing about it with my daughter, is perfection without winning. So is playing fairly, following the rules, enjoying the contest, and being a good sport. In fact, winning while not doing those is also imperfect. 

On this Easter Sunday, it seemed relevant to wonder if there is an intelligence in the universe which is perfect, in this sense, consistently, constantly? Still bound by physics and the possible, but in every situation, in the face of every challenge, responding in the best possible way every single time? Always making the best choice, doing the best possible thing? It would be perfect to think so, if only for a moment on a bright spring day on a bicycle, with the sun shining and everything seeming possible.

Again the moment when the desert turns brilliant yellow, and trees remind us of perfection

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Waiting for Go: DOH!

Nothing to be done....So there you are again.

The Internet is well aware of my complete, total, utter disdain for cable locks employed for securing bicycles. I don't know. Maybe basic lock-bicycle topology is too complex for your average human to grasp. Since it requires a functional combination of frame topology, successful shopping for a good u-lock, and manual dexterity to lock up bikes effectively, I guess I understand why there are so many inadequate, or downright pointless (as in this case), bicycle locking practices to see out there. Understanding does not equal acceptance, though, and this cable, easily sliced with a cheap tool itself, is not even holding the bicycle to the rack. I have to issue a yellow card for this one.

However, the yellow card alone won't cut it in this case. Some additional rules of thumb would appear to be necessary here:

  • After you lock up your bike, if someone can still walk away with it, you're doing it wrong
  • It pays to double-check your work

That is all.

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Tree Grows in Scottsdale

"A Tree Grows in Scottsdale" by Pete Goldlust and Mary Lucking

Trees: may they always grow, may the neighborhood around me always be shaded by them, may my bike rides be marked by their endless, majestic rows. Winds whispering their leaves. Their smell in rain. Their crunchy leaves underfoot in fall. Birch bark and pine cones. Acorns and helicopter seeds. Fragrant pods and resinous chip piles. Shelter in a storm. Bending in the gale. The way the ground beneath a pine can stay dry in a sudden downpour. Huddled against a trunk in a hailstorm on a mountain, shivering wet, lightning cracking all around. Initials inside a heart. Hot summer days, seated with back against the trunk, old folding pocket knife whittling a stick.

Lean my bike against one. Rest during a long hike, near sunset, somewhat slightly lost, low on water. Food bag roped up high in one, supposedly against bears. Climb one, among the middle branches, the woods seen from a different angle.

Explanatory sign, with bicycle commuter reflection

Maple. Oak. Cherry. Mesquite. Sycamore. Apple. Peach. Quetta pine. Cottonwood. Pecan. Walnut. Elm. Chestnut, American. Bay laurel. All rise. All photosynthesize. The stunners: redwood, sequoia. 


In the woods alone down by the East Verde River, I built a smokey campfire in the moonless darkness. The smoke rose up, up, through the limbs of a giant, old, overhanging cottonwood. The smoke stunned some of the tree bugs, including a praying mantis who dropped down and landed on the blanket next to me. Neither of us moved. I'm sure I resembled the blue-eyed redsnake, above, to Mr. Mantis.

Beneath a willow. Ah, beneath a willow. I think there may have been a bicycle, but that's not what I remember.

We hold these branches to be self-resplendent: that all leaves are grown equal. That they are endowed by their mother branch with certain alien creatures, that among these are caterpillars, inchworms, flying squirrels, praying mantis, and sugar gliders. That if you could introduce a three toed sloth to a manatee, and enable them to communicate with one another, and be patient and understanding as they got around to it, you could hear the universe unfold slowly, beneath this tree, this one of cloth in Scottsdale, and even the whales would lower to a hum their calling, to hear what was being said. The slow things, the bright things, the tree things worth hearing.

Cicadas along the canal. In their millions, the raucous buzzing of Diceroprocta apache that sings me to peace.