05 December 2009

Funny name

A long time ago, we got our first digital camera and boy, did it eat batteries. Not only was it annoying, it was expensive, and as you well know -- we're cheap (uh, thrifty). Thus, I got the bright idea to get some NiMH rechargable batteries, since in my youth I had used the older NiCd rechargables to good effect in many devices.

The new NiMH rechargables have a huge edge over the now-obsolete NiCds, and that's capacity. A NiCd AA only holds about 1Ah worth of "charge", while the NiMHs hold anywhere from 2 to 2.7Ah so they last 2-3 times longer.

Since our camera was eating batteries like crazy, we got the highest capacity NiMHs we could find. We were all set, right?

Wrong. High-capacity NiMHs have this nagging little problem called self-discharge. You can charge them up but if you don't use them for a week, they're half dead. A month later, they're now useless and need recharged even though you didn't use them much, or at all! Worse, our camera's "low battery indicator" would activate after taking only a few pictures and die soon after. You see, it also turned out that NiMHs are about 1.2 volts while throwaway alkalines are about 1.5 volts. .3 doesn't sound like much but our camera was not happy about the difference.

We weren't happy, either.

This was several years ago and times have changed. Digital cameras (and other devices) are now designed to operate on both 1.2 volt NiMH and 1.5 volt alkalines, and battery makers have solved the self-discharge problem, if you know what to look for.

You can now get "LSD" or Low-Self-Discharge NiMH cells, but you have to check carefully what you're getting because the labeling is not clear. If the package says "Pre-charged" or "Hybrid" or "Lasts 6 months" or "Holds a charge for 1 year", those are LSD cells. If it isn't labeled as such, they are ordinary NiMHs and you should probably steer clear.

There's just one catch: LSD cells do not hold as much energy -- only about 2/3 as much as high-capacity NiMH... but the tradeoff is soooo worth it. The only situation where high-capacity wins is if you're charging and then totally discharging them the next day, such as a professional photographer doing a wedding or something. Otherwise, LSD is superior in every other application. And in some cases, LSD even beats throwaway alkalines! More on that later.

Though Lemontree was skeptical after our last attempt at rechargables, I put down the money for the best LSD cells available. That's where the funny name comes in: Eneloop. Yep. They're from the Japanese company Sanyo, so maybe something was lost in the translation. But in spite of the funny name, they're the best LSD for all sorts of technical reasons that would probably bore you so we'll leave it at that.

Incidentally, Duracell Pre-charged NiMHs with white tops are actually rebadged Eneloops, so if you can find them at a store they're great (Eneloops can only be ordered online). Pre-charged Duracell black-top, Energizer Hybrid, and Rayovac "4.0" are also LSD and also work fine, but are not quite as nice. I'm told Kodak also makes some LSD but I don't know what they're called.

Anyway, I have a small LED flashlight I carry in my pocket every day that takes an AA cell. With an alkaline, the brightness would start to dim within minutes as the battery was used up. With an LSD NiMH cell like an Eneloop in it though, it stays full brightness for over an hour. That's because an alkaline battery's voltage drops linearly, while NiMH voltage stays steady for most of it's lifetime. And, of course, I can feel more comfortable actually using my light instead of worrying about spending piles of money on batteries and polluting the environment with piles of batteries. Same goes for the camera, we no longer have to be stingy about using the flash so our pictures have better color saturation and are less blurry since the the camera can use a faster shutter speed.

I suspect Lemontree will remain unconvinced until we have logged more hours on the camera using the LSD cells, but Canon (who made our camera) actually says we should be able to get more pictures out of the NiMH than with alkalines (same reason my flashlight lasts longer, the voltage curve), so I remain optimistic.

So... save money, save the environment, use LSD!

...I think I just told everyone to do acid.

27 November 2009

My Black Friday

Gray would really be a better name for it though. The whole day has been overcast and drizzly, which wouldn't be so bad except I had to spend several hours out in it using cold tools in numb hands.

Even though I just barely replaced our family car's water pump a year or two ago, and have put probably less than 10,000 miles on it since then, the pump recently developed severe incontinence. So, I got to spend Black Friday morning driving around to get coolant ("antifreeze") and a new pump; then the afternoon getting soaked alternately by the rain, the wet ground, and coolant showers.

I give Volkswagen credit for making most parts on the car relatively accessible for replacement, but one thing VW totally omitted was a drain plug for the cooling system: instead, the official procedure to drain the system is to remove the lower radiator hose. Owing to the location of the hose, you must do this laying on your back reaching above your head and since gravity is not just a good idea (it's the law), the coolant will run down the hand, arm, and into the armpit of even the most careful of mechanics who had the foresight to shield his face from the gushing slimy green torrent that results.

The bright side is I got a new tool! Any job that requires the purchase or fabrication of a new tool cannot be all bad. See, I've had this mystery bottle of coolant in my garage for some time. Because I'm cheap, I buy full-strength coolant and mix it with distilled water (this method costs about half as much as buying pre-diluted or "50/50" coolant). Unfortunately, I had opened this jug some time ago and then failed to remember if I had diluted it or if it was still full-strength (it's not good to use the wrong concentration in a car). So, for the princely sum of one dollar, I got a little eyedropper looking thing with little floaty plastic balls in it. The number of balls that float indicate the density of the fluid and therefore the coolant/water mixture; thus, the mystery was solved (full-strength, if you wondered).

The downside was I ended up with an extra washer, and one nut went missing. This however is nothing unusual, so I'm not worried.

So, that was my Gray Friday shopping spree. I think I did okay.

23 October 2009

Last month Katie had to bring a snack to school for her class. We made some sugar cookies shaped like leaves in fall colors. Not real healthy, but in a moment of weakness, I gave in. We put them in individual baggies for her classmates, then in the treatbag she needed to return to school.

Tiffany and Katie caught the bus as usual, then I noticed Katie had forgotten the treat bag. I ate my breakfast, then drove to the school to deliver the bag. I got to the school just as everybody was lining up to go inside. Katie was so excited, as was her friend that she rides the bus with. They both were trying to talk to me at the same time. I quieted them and had Katie talk to me first. She burst out, "I knew you would come! It works! When I was on the bus I noticed I forgot my treatbag. So I did a prayer. And it works! Here you are!" Then I looked at Katie's friend who was also bursting with energy. She said, "That's what I was trying to tell you! She did a prayer and it worked!"

So, from the testimony of six year olds, prayer works! And I got to be an angel on an errand to answer a child's prayer that day.

21 October 2009

We were out grocery shopping. It was nearing lunchtime, so I asked Emily what she'd like for lunch today. She answered, "sandwich." "Oh," I said, "what do you want on it?" "Beans. And lettuce. With my favorite bread." She took me aback a little. It sounds nice and healthy, but how do you get beans to stay between the slices of bread? And how would it taste? It got me to thinking. Should I try making bean patties or something else. I asked Emily if she'd like red beans or black beans. She declared "red."Then if she'd like them whole or mashed. She said, "mashed." We made our way to the bakery area and I let her pick out her "favorite bread," (since I had no idea what is her favorite in this particular instance). She chose whole wheat hoagie rolls.

When we got home, I drained a can of kidney beans and mashed them. I added mayo and a little mustard, thus making a concoction almost but not quite like tuna salad. I made her sandwich first. She had the beans, pickles, tomatoes and lettuce. I watched her reaction before making a sandwich for me. She was eating it! Actually eating it! I went ahead and made myself a sandwich. I have to say it was pretty good. In the meantime, Emily took some of the bean salad out and declared she didn't like it (which wasn't very surprising). However, she finished the rest of the sandwich which still had about half the beans in it.

From this experience, I have a new standby. If I can't think of something for lunch, I can now whip up some bean salad-- though for me alone, I think I'll have to add some onions and chopped pickles.

15 October 2009

I had the opportunity today to work at the church cannery. It was a hassle to arrange for a babysitter. I also knew it would be hard work. Every time I've worked at the cannery, I have come home sore. In short, I was not looking forward to this assignment.

Canning pears was the order of the day. My job was to pick up the washed pears and place them upside down in little cones which had fingers that would grab them and insert them on a rod where they would be peeled, cored and sliced. There were three other people working with me on this job. I was at the end of the line and sometimes I had to wait for the pears to come my way. Other times I had to too many and had to make sure the conveyor belt didn't get jammed up with pears, because then they would skip out over the top and onto the floor. When a whole pear got in with the cut ones (because one of us dropped a slippery pear), a person down below in the next phase of the assembly line would throw them up to me.

Even though I didn't really want to go to the cannery today, I had fun. I got to play catch, and I got to race the machine. Both of which were enjoyable. I came home sore and tired, but it was a good day.

11 September 2009

(500) Days of Summer

Lemontree hosted a bridal shower for some relative or another, so I hopped on my motorcycle and made myself scarce for the evening.

One of my favorite shows is "At the Movies" with Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz. You may be familiar with movie critics Siskel and Ebert (Gene and Roger, respectively)? Well, these guys are their successors. Anyway, Ben and Ben gave (500) a glowing review -- and I had some free time to kill -- so even though some might consider this movie a "chick flick" I went and saw it anyway. My other choice was G.I. Joe, and while I'm sure I'll get around to watching that one eventually, I was in the mood for something with more substance and less explosions.

In a word, (500) Days of Summer is outstanding. While it falls just short of such all-time favorites as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Logan's Run, or Dune, it's right up there with the Top Ten and I will be very disappointed if it doesn't win several awards. I'm already a little miffed that I've never seen it listed on any of the streetside theater marquees -- the only way I knew it was playing in our area was by searching for it online. It might have something to do with it's "chick flick" stigma, or perhaps the short 1h 35m running time (an almost sure sign of a bad movie), or maybe it just doesn't have enough explosions.

Regardless, it's worth searching for. A word of warning, though. It is rated PG-13 for a about 60 seconds of "adult" content. Said content was actually relevant to the storyline though and not just thrown in to bump the rating up to get more viewers, unlike some movies I could mention *cough*Titanic*cough*. I don't know that I can go so far as to say it was tastefully done, but it has to be one of the least explicit scenes in any PG-13 movie, ever (uh, I still wouldn't let my kids see it).

Anyway, the movie is sometimes billed as a "romantic comedy"; it is nothing of the sort. Sure, there's some romance, and yes, there's some comedy, but (500) has as much in common with Sleepless in Seattle or You've Got Mail as I have in common with Rosanne Barr (in short, nothing). I can't even call it a chick flick because there's plenty here for guys to enjoy (I can only assume the girls will like it as well). It's got a nonlinear timeline and it has some unusual film techniques, but these odd devices all just click and work together. There was only one scene in the whole movie I found fault with, and that was just because it ran 10 seconds too long (I think because they wanted the music to swell). Really, that's just nitpicking and I couldn't find anything else to complain about.

Due to the nonlinear timeline, you might fear that the movie's ending is known well before the end of the show. Worry not, for there are some twists. I cannot say more without spoilers.

In short -- grab your spouse or girlfriend and get to the theater, for there's actually a movie worth paying the exorbitant ticket price for.

07 September 2009

It's gone

We had some good times, though.

Today I sold my old motorcycle. It was with mixed emotions, a little sadness, but mostly satisfaction. We had a good run. It was a humble bike, but it served me well... and it's not like I'll never see it again: I sold it to our next-door neighbor. Apparently he used to ride "back in the day" but some of his buddies wrecked, so he swore off them for 20 years or so. I guess SMAS (Sudden Motorcycle Acquisition Syndrome) is infectious though, because he seemed to change his mind and want one after seeing me get a new (well, not factory-new, but new to me) bike.

I was going to repaint it black, since I had a bunch of black paint laying around, but he wanted metallic blue so he bought the paint and I painted it to order.

Ironically, when I bought the bike, it was a flat primer black and I wanted to paint it metallic blue. I even painted the side covers blue but never got around to painting the tank. So, it somehow seems appropriate that right after I finally painted it the right color 9 years later, I immediately sold it. Actually, part of my reason for never painting it was to leave it a little... well, not ugly, but uh, homely. The theory was to make it less attractive to thieves, but really, I think it was mainly because I kind of liked the "ratbike" look, as if it was something out of a post-apocalyptic movie (my favorite kind of movie).

Anyway, the tank was a little dinged up and the empty mounting points for the "Yamaha" logo looked pretty stupid (the "Yamaha" badges having fallen off long ago). So, I got a chance to do a Bondo job for the first time. (For those of you not acquainted, Bondo is a two-part putty-like dent filler that you heap over the dent, then sand smooth to match the metal surface.) The tank still isn't perfectly smooth but from 5 feet it looks pretty good for my first try.

Lemontree also found a "dent puller" tool at a thrift store which came in handy. It only works for large, shallow dents, but the tank had one like that and it worked great. You use a hot glue gun to glue what's basically a big screw the middle of the dent, then you use a handle on the screw to pull the dent out. I was skeptical the hot glue would hold, but it did great, and was easy to remove by peeling instead of pulling. Thanks, Lemontree!

I had purchased the bike at around 19,000 miles, and it was at 23,997 when I got the new bike. So today, I went around the neighborhood a few times until it rolled over 24,000.0 exactly.

Here's the crazy part... I sold it today for $100 more than what I paid for it in 2000. Whoever says that motorcyles depreciate is wrong! Actually I think I just got a really good deal when I first bought it. And I have upgraded a lot of things on the bike so my asking price was more than a fair (and still less than the Blue Book). The neighbor still got a deal, I think.

I'll miss the old bike, but only a little. At least I know it has a good home.

02 September 2009

Adding some niceties to the new bike

I guess I was spoiled by my old '81 Yamaha because it has a useful helmet lock and a luggage rack I could bungee stuff to. The Ninja has a tiny space under the seat, but you can't put stuff there because it will jam up the seat lock assembly and you'll bend your key trying to unlock it. Go ahead, ask me how I know. :( Also, the helmet locks are useless for my helmet because they are right next to the hot exhaust pipes... my helmet would melt even if my strap were long enough to reach, which it's not. Not to mention, someone could cut the helmet strap anyway.

So, to address these problems, I had my personal seamstress (ok, well, Lemontree) break out her sewing machine. First, to help me carry things like pizzas (yes, every once in a while I will get a pizza on my way home from work), she made a seat strap out of this vinyl fake-leather stuff. It attaches to itself with velcro, making a loop under the seat:

Next, I got a cheap bicycle cable that I can loop through the face shield opening of my helmet and attach to the helmet lock. While the primary reason was to address the useless location of the helmet lock, it also makes it more difficult to steal the helmet (as a knife isn't going to cut a 1/4" steel cable, unless you have some kind of super-knife I've never seen before).

You can see the lock that Kawasaki put on the bike at the very bottom of the picture, which is about 2" above the hot melty exhaust pipe.

Now I just needed a place to carry the cable and a couple of bungee cords. As you know, I'm online a lot and I found a discussion forum where someone had, very cleverly, used a $12 car trash container as a motorcycle tailbag. It's the kind that hangs on the back of a front car seat with a strap -- this chap had used the strap to go under his motorcycle seat, and then tucked the back end into the grab bar (that's the sticky-uppy part behind the seat). $12 is about 1/5th the cost of the least expensive motorcycle-specific tailbag I've found, and you know I'm cheap, so off to K-Mart we went. However, once there, I discovered something even better. See, the $12 tailbag sits on the seat, which would interfere with my pizza-carrying desires. Fortunately, I found a $5 glove box organizer (hey, $7 saved!) that could instead mount behind the seat, leaving the entire seat available for pizza duty.

Lemontree fired up the sewing machine again and added two small straps, which I poked holes in and secured to the bike using the fairing screws:

Here's what it looks like loaded up:

And finally, all closed up:

I still need to do something about the useless mirrors, though. Mirror extenders are available but cost waaay to much, so I'll have to see what kind of cheap solution I can find.

25 August 2009

Getting to know you

I got the new bike (maybe I should name this thing?) registered this morning and took the scenic route home from work, turning a 15-minute trip into an-hour-and-15. It's much smoother than the old one; both use the same engine layout (180° parallel twin) but the new one is counterbalanced and runs like butter by comparison. In fact, it almost seems like a toy bike when your fillings aren't rattling loose. ;)

I was a little bothered by a raspy sound that I kept hearing, though. When I finally got home and shut the engine off, the raspy sound continued! Come to find out there's a cute little electric radiator fan that keeps the engine cool when the bike isn't moving.

I've got to do something about these mirrors, though. They give me a really nice view... of my arms. I guess even a new bike still requires work projects. Sigh.

My first modification was to remove the dorky lower fairing, it's so 90's. I think it looks much better without it, and so far everyone who's seen it agrees:

24 August 2009

New horse in the stable

After 9 years of faithful service, my old '81 Yamaha XS400 has done it's job well. Originally purchased to serve as a "learner bike", I liked it enough that I just kept on riding it. However, advancing age means things are starting to break and 28 years after its manufacture, replacement parts are becoming scarce (some are already impossible to find). So, it was time to upgrade to a bike that was a little newer and a little more popular so that parts (both junkyard and factory) were more available. The day my kickstand literally snapped off was the final motivation.

Let me introduce you to the Ninja 500R. I'd take a picture of my own bike but it's dark out. So, here's a stock photo (correct color, though):

Yes, yes, I know the first thing most people are going to think is "a sport bike? You're gonna kill yourself!". Actually, I got "you're going to die" comments all the time on my significantly more pedestrian Yamaha, so I suppose I should not be surprised. Maybe you'll call it justification, but allow me to explain the reasons I got it.

First, it's not a supersport. The "crotch rockets" or "bullet bikes" that get a bad name from dangerous riders have 4-cylinder engines with power-to-weight ratios that are unworldly. Those are the bikes that young men with more money than brains tend to destroy along with themselves at 100+ MPH speeds. However, not all supersport riders behave like that... I'd even say that the majority of supersport riders are safe and responsible, but it's the idiots that make the headlines (especially the ones without safety gear). Just like people, not guns, commit crime, it's the riders, not the bikes, that turn themselves into organ donors. However stories about safe gun owners and safe riders don't sell papers, so you generally don't hear about them.

I'll be riding the Ninja the same way I rode the Yamaha -- cautiously and within the speed limit.

Regardless, this is still not a supersport. It has half the engine, only two cylinders, which means that it cannot do roll-on wheelies -- it simply does not have the power. (This is good, because wheelies are not on my agenda.) In other words, the sporty appearance is writing checks the small little engine cannot cash. This lack of acceleration also means that insurance for it is cheap compared to a supersport.

So why the Ninja? It's a very popular bike, which solves the parts problem. The model has not really changed since 1994 (and still shares a lot of parts with Ninja 500s back to 1987). This makes the purchase price lower, because Kawasaki didn't invest any money on retooling. It also means that I can grab almost any Ninja 500 part and it'll fit my bike.

And speaking of fit, my old bike was fine for short commutes but on the rare occasion I took it on a longer trip, the seat was too far forward which made for a sore tailbone and cramped legs. I haven't made any long trips on the Ninja yet but so far it seems to fit me better. It also has a windshield, something my old bike lacked, which means I don't get beat up by the wind anymore.

I haven't rode the new bike much yet -- only to get it home -- because the prior owner let the carbs gum up (this happens if you don't ride often enough). Tonight I cleaned those up after removing the EPA anti-tamper plugs. I had to "tamper" with the pilot jets, you see, to clean them. Stupid EPA. That done, Lemontree then made me change the oil because it looked dark, and I didn't complain.

Tomorrow I'll transfer the plate and registration and get the old bike ready to sell to someone else, so it can resume its role as a learner bike. I'll make a discount for blog readers if you're interested. ;)

22 August 2009

They're like Tribbles...

"They appear to be asexual, reproducing at will."

Also known as SMAS: Sudden Motorcycle Acquisition Syndrome. Strangest thing, the silver motorcycle jumped underneath me and made me take it home.

19 June 2009

Review of the Chevy HHR

For the last week, I had the opportunity to drive a 2009 Chevy HHR for our Yellowstone trip. At first blush, the HHR doesn't have a lot to recommend it. As you sit in the drivers seat, right away you find a tacky hard plastic dashboard... ick. Then as you pull out, you notice the huge A-pillars block much of your view, especially when turning. The low-mounted rearview mirror similarly blocks forward vision, which is especially annoying given that the view through the small rear window only fills about half of this oversize mirror. The side mirrors are also oversize, which I'm sure Chevy did on purpose because visibility to the rear is so poor thanks to the large D-pillars.

Another annoyance was the low front lip that sits lower than most curbs. Parking my usual daily-driver cars, I like to pull right up until the front tires bump the curb -- no way in this car, you'd destroy the front bumper assembly before the tires got close to the curb. As a result, I found myself parking about three feet from the curb.

So, the HHR and I did not get off to a good start. The good news is, that's about where the major negatives end. I even didn't mind the automatic transmission -- and that's high praise from me, because I hate automatics and will never own a car with an automatic if I can help it. The HHR's transmission didn't constantly shift or "hunt" for the right gear when climbing and descending the hills of Yellowstone, and I especially appreciated that it didn't downshift at the slightest pressure on the accelerator (as our Mazda 5 did on last year's Colorado trip). The 'I' or 'Intermediate' selection on the shifter was also put to good use descending long steep mountains, and while engine braking was anemic compared to a manual transmission, it was adequate. Again, that's a ringing endorsement from a confirmed automatic-hater such as myself.

On a related note, the Chevy engineers did a good job on the throttle response. The aforementioned Mazda 5's front end would "hop up" as the car surged forward with the slightest press on the throttle, but the HHR had very good manners and accelerated smoothly without nose lift even when the pedal was inexpertly mashed. The brakes were similarly refined, resisting the tendancy to nose-dive even when the brakes were manhandled. The suspension and steering handling were also well-engineered (though the power steering required a bit more effort at freeway speeds than I might have liked, making one-handing steering awkward and tiring).

One interesting feature was the cruise control. Chevy eschewed the traditional Set/Accel and Coast/Resume format and instead used a new (to me) +/Resume and -/Set. The 'Set' is self explanatory, and once engaged, you can then use '+' and '-' to accelerate and decelerate. Since there is no Coast button, you must tap the brakes to disengage the Cruise (which can then be resumed, appropriately, with 'Resume'). My only gripe is the lack of a Coast button, otherwise, I had no complaints. Well, almost. If you tapped the brakes to Coast and slowed down significantly below the set speed, hitting Resume would accelerate to about 3MPH before hitting your set speed, and then it would decide to downshift for those last three MPH. Odd but not a major problem.

A major problem, incidentally, was the fact that the power windows refused to roll up if the ignition was turned off. I lost count of how many times I had to turn the ignition back on so we could all roll our windows up. I guess Chevy never expected anyone to actually roll their windows down in this day and age of the air conditioner?

No major problems with the other controls. The heat, A/C, and radio controls were logical and well-laid-out. Speaking of the radio, there was a neat feature that automatically increased the volume with road speed (to compensate for road and wind noise). I sorely need that feature on my 20-year old cars where the radio's volume can barely overpower the roaring noise at freeway speeds, but it was unnecessary on the HHR as the cabin was pleasantly quiet at 75MPH.

In short, it's not a bad car, but the visibility problems ultimately prevent me from recommending it.

10 June 2009

Motorcycle safety, part III

No pictures for this one I'm afraid, because there's not much to show. But, I purchased a headlight modulator -- this device flashes my headlight about 4 times per second when I flip my high beam on. This is useful for three reasons:

  • It's attention-grabbing. Obvious.
  • Some drivers see a motorcycle, but misjudge it's speed (leading to a collision). The same thing happens when motorists try to beat a train to a railroad crossing -- the sizes of motorcycles and trains are different than the size of cars, which makes it more difficult to judge their relative speed. A headlight modulator knocks a driver's brain out of it's "comfort zone" and forces a re-assessment of the situation.
  • Most new cars are wired so that their headlights are on all the time, even during the day. Motorcycles also have their headlights wired to be on during the day, so motorcycles now tend to "blend in" with a pack of lighted cars. A modulator helps make them stand out again (hopefully, modulators will not ever be allowed on cars).
Installation was plug 'n' play. It simply plugs into the back of the headlight for a tool-free install, which is part of the reason I didn't take any pictures. The other reason is it's hard to see a flashing light in a still photo. ;)

I don't have it set to modulate all the time, however, as the flashing in the rearview mirrors can be annoying for the person immediately in front of me. Since I'm constantly scanning side streets and oncoming traffic for people who may become a threat to me, I just flip it on whenever the situation warrants it.

You may be wondering if a flashing light is legal if I'm not an emergency vehicle. A modulator is 50-state legal for civilian motorcycles per the Federal Department of Transportation if it meets certain specifications (which mine does) in regards to flash rate and time of day (it has an 'eye' to sense the light level and automatically disable itself at night). The DOT has done a lot of stupid things, but this was one thing they got right.

And it does get noticed. A couple of times now, I've flicked it on and been satisfied to see a driver's head swivel to follow me as I ride past (they're probably thinking "is that a motor cop?"). The device was fairly expensive, but cheaper than a hospital visit. Plus, it gives some piece of mind, which is -- as they say -- priceless.

19 May 2009

Motorcycle safety, part II

All that earlier work got me nice LED turn signals, but not DRLs (Daylight Running Lights). Today I removed the headlight from the "bucket", revealing the spaghetti mess of wiring you can see to the left. Just about every electrical circuit on the entire bike passes through this bucket, but it was pretty easy to identify the turn signal wires since the turn signal stalks run right into the bucket.

Now comes the challenge. Normally, the blinker relay sends voltage to the turn signal bulbs to light them up. However, if you set them up as DRLs, the bulbs then get voltage all the time and you need to blink them off when you use your turn signals -- this is, of course, backwards.

To "invert" the signal, I used a trailer light adapter. Trailer light adapters exist because most vehicles have three wires: stop, left turn, and right turn. Trailers just have two wires going to two lamps though. This saves money on wiring and lamps, but as you can imagine, there's an extra step to make three signals transform into two signals. The solution requires a little XOR digital logic, which is a little complicated to make from scratch but you can easily buy a plug 'n' play solution prepackaged into a little box. You can pay $100 for a motorcycle specific DRL box, or you can pay $16 at your local U-Haul for a trailer light adapter that does the same thing. I, of course, went to U-Haul. Actually, I first bought a cheap one online but it wouldn't fire LEDs so I wasted some time and money there. All new U-Haul trailers have LEDs so U-Haul's adapter supports LEDs just fine.

Basically I just cut the wires going to the turn signals, and inserted the box in between the turn signal voltage supply and the bulb. This still just gives you normal signals until you connect the "brake" wire on the adapter box to any ignition-on wire: now the adapter will think the brakes are on all the time, and light up both lamps all the time (until you turn a blinker on, and then that one side blinks off). The adapter box was a tight squeeze into the headlight bucket, but it just barely fit.

The LEDs do not cast an even light like the old bulbs did, instead they concentrate most of their light in a couple of directions. From the direct front, they're not very bright but that's ok as my headlight will always be on and is much brighter than the DRLs anyway. However, once you get off to the side a little bit, the LEDs shine nicely. These pictures were taken in the evening, so they are not going to seem as bright in broad daylight but I still think these will give me a nice bit of added visibility to other drivers.

14 May 2009

Motorcycle safety, part I

I've been thinking about making myself more visible on my motorcycle, since the other day when I did a head check to change lanes and found another motorcycle riding in my blind spot. I almost didn't see him... and I'm hyper-sensitive about looking for other two-wheeled vehicles! It didn't help that he was dressed in black on a black bike.

So... I'm taking a three-pronged approach to making myself more visible. Phase 1 is marker light upgrades. Most of you are probably familiar with DRLs, Daylight Running Lights, which were introduced on new cars just a few years ago. Though motorcycles have already had always-on headlights since 1978, I want to use my amber turn signals as running lights for added visual impact (yellow is more attention-getting than white... plus, I have twice as many turn signals as headlights ;) ).

However, there are some considerations to leaving two 21 watt bulbs on all the time. One is heat -- since the signal housings and lenses are only designed to have a light on inside them occassionally, they can actually be melted by the heat generated from a continuously lit bulb. The other consideration is electrical -- motorcycles have weak electrical systems, and the added strain can kill a battery or prematurely burn out alternator brushes, rectifiers, and voltage regulators.

To address these concerns, I switched to LEDs for my front turn signals. LEDs take far less power and generate far less heat, so they are perfect for this application. Rather than replace the entire turn signal stalk, I simply purchased a LED module designed to replace a common automotive 1156 bulb -- it just plugs right into the bulb socket for the world's easiest LED installation. It's the silver cylinder you see in the middle of the bulb housing (don't worry, the amber lens was reinstalled after taking the picture ;) ). You can easily do this upgrade on cars, too, if you are so inclined (LEDs practically never burn out, so you're less likely to get pulled over and issued a fix-it ticket... the only downside is, they are pretty expensive).

Great as LEDs are, there's a catch: Old-school turn signal blinkers won't blink them. The flasher relay requires a certain amount of current to be flowing through it, and since LEDs draw less current, you get no flash. The solution is a modern electronic flasher that doesn't care how much current the bulbs draw.

In my case, installation was a snap and is completely reversible. I was prepared to cut and splice wires into an ugly mess but I got lucky not once but twice.

First, my stock blinker relay had a plug (green arrow) with female spade connectors. All I had to do was add male spade connectors (red arrow) to my new blinker and stick them into the stock wiring plug with zero modifications! This means I can easily switch back if I ever sell the bike (the expensive LEDs will be staying with me for my next bike!).

Happy coincidence number two was the mounting of the flasher. I was expecting to have to zip tie it or resort to other ghetto methods of securing it, but as it happens the stock flasher has a neat rubber vibration-isolation mount (motorcycles vibrate a lot, and vibration kills relays). My new flasher very conveniently had a mounting tab like the old flasher, only a little too wide. A few seconds with a Dremel fixed that and the new relay slotted right into the existing rubber mounting like it belonged there from the factory.

As an added benefit, my blinkers blink faster, which I think is more attention-grabbing than the old sedate pace.

All that work, though, and I still don't have running lights. That's a project for another day... stay tuned.

13 April 2009

Easter Dresses

Here are some pictures of the new Easter dresses I made for my girls. My sister gave us some ribbon the day before, so I was able to tie bows in their hair.

18 March 2009

Sack lunches III

Just one more comment on sack lunches, because I thought you might be curious. Tiffany likes the cute lunchboxes. They really didn't improve her problem much, though. The biggest problem is that what she eats is unfamiliar to the other kids, so they tell her it looks like puke (or whatever). She usually takes it in stride, but there are days it really bothers her. Her new strategy is to think up gross names for her food before her friends do. So she eats monkey brains, owl pellets, and alien blood. Right now she thinks it's fun. This morning she told me some of her friends actually tried her owl pellets and (surprise!) really liked them. She packed a few extra to share today. So far, this is a better strategy for her. Click here for the recipe for owl pellets.

17 March 2009

Pickin' Up Worms

On rainy mornings, the worms come out. Trying to get out of their waterlogged homes, they commit suicide on our sidewalks, driveways, and roads. I always feel guilty walking past a worm that I know will soon die. Over the years, however, I have come to ignore most of that guilt knowing I have so many more important things to do than save as many worms as I can before the sun takes their lives from them. To assuage this guilt (and the eew factor), I have taught my children to pick up the worms and put them in the grass. Perhaps I am only passing the guilt on to future generations, but I like to think instead that I am teaching compassion. My girls notice the creatures around them and know they have the power to give a chance of life to the helpless. They love doing it. After dropping Tiffany off at the bus, Katie and Emily slowly walk home looking for worms in the gutters and on the sidewalks. I happily point the worms out to the girls, as I seem to have a better eye for such things. I am amazed that Emily's little fingers are the absolute best for picking worms from cracks and crevices. I am more prone to injure the soft bodies, so I have given up trying to pick up the small ones. In fact, I've given up picking them up at all, content to pointing them out with the toe of my shoe. I relish in the joy and fun my girls get from such a simple thing.

10 February 2009

Sack Lunches II

After writing the post yesterday, I decided to try to find some nice containers. I started with the dollar store because I needed something from there anyway. And guess what? I actually found almost exactly what I was looking for! At the dollar store! I was very pleasantly surprised. I bought a little 4 inch round two compartment stacked box with a folding spoon. I also bought a square sandwich box and a little snack container set which were two containers with animal lids and a dipping spoon. I hit the jackpot!

So, today, as suggested by a good friend of mine, I cut up numerous veggies so Tiffany could make faces with them. Tiffany was quite excited about it. Plus I included a handful of clover sprouts Tiffany had been working on sprouting herself (to use as mustache or beard). We put some hummus and chili in the little piggy containers, included toast and a little ranch dip. It looked like it would be fun for her. Katie wants to have it for lunch today, too.

09 February 2009

Sack Lunches

Almost every day I pack a sack lunch for Tiffany to take to school. That way I know she is eating healthy, and we're saving some money besides. I try to include a variety- fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes, and she usually likes what I send. The problem, I think is presentation. There have been several times she has told me that other kids stare at her meal, poke fun at it, or even tell her it looks disgusting. I usually tell her not to worry about what they say, at least she knows she's eating healthy. I'm concerned though that she does worry about it (she is only 8 after all and she wouldn't say anything if it didn't bother her). So, how do I go about making her meal prettier and more appealing looking?

Today I sent a macaroni salad for her (whole wheat macaroni boiled with frozen vegetables with ranch salad dressing to add later). now I'm thinking I could have made it a whole lot prettier by putting the macaroni on a lettuce leaf, with the cooked veggies on that, then the dressing on the side. I also sent a cut up pear, left over chili and 2 pieces of toast to eat with the chili. I have no idea how to make pears or chili look good. Ideas anybody? I'm also thinking I should have dedicated shallow bowls with lids for her lunchbox. Right now I just send her meal in small kitchen storage containers (4oz or 8oz). Maybe that's contributing to the problem as well. I wish growing up wasn't such an involved complicated affair.

30 January 2009

Sunny Days Are Here Again!

It's still pretty cold outside, but yesterday afternoon the temperatures rose above 40 degrees! The sun was shining and it felt quite warm. As a result, I walked to the school so my children could walk home instead of riding the bus. It was wonderful! And I finally got a couple miles of walking in!