Tag Archives: products

Motorcycle Parking

For the longest time I simply wheeled the bikes into the garage and dropped the side-stands on plywood squares. Easy and cheap, but it wastes space and… well, we’ll just leave out the story of the rainy day and too much front brake as the tire rolled over the plywood. Gravity’s a harsh mistress.

Enter chocks. Chocks  aren’t only for your trailer, they can go a long way toward neatening up your garage and making bike parking a breeze.

I’ve got 4 of these (Harbor Freight #61670) bolted to the garage floor.

There’s not a lot that can go wrong. The first thing that I usually recommend for stuff from Harbor Freight is replacing the hardware (fasteners like bolts, nuts, etc.) with a better grade. But that doesn’t seem necessary in this case. The hardware isn’t great but it seems adequate for the forces involved. Just don’t over-torque the support arm bolts on assembly.

The support parts attach to the frame with through-shafts secured by spring retainers. The pivoting cradle (left side of image) locates front or back in the frame to accommodate wheel diameter differences.

Manufacturing tolerances for the support parts within the frame are another matter – they’re awful. Without modification they’ll can shift laterally which could cause a bike to drop, probably ruining a wheel. You must eliminate this lateral movement and align the pivoting cradle behind the front support to solve the problem. I used the lathe to fashion custom spacers from spare stock but a stack of washers would do just fine. Measure each of the four locations to suit your specific unit – the measurements will vary greatly. My four chocks ranged from about a quarter-inch to over an inch!

I turned some custom spacers to make up for poor manufacturing tolerances. A stack of washers would do the trick, too.

The chock is designed to accommodate fairly thick tires. It’s a perfect fit for a Dunlop D402F MT90B16 72H. But a narrower tire like a Dunlop MH90-21 54H isn’t thick enough to give solid support. For my bikes with narrower front tires I built up the tire contact areas with two pieces of quarter-inch plate, using machine screws (countersunk to avoid tire contact) to fasten them to the front support. I used Everbilt flat head Phillips #10-24 x 3/4″ screws. I drew a template for when I need to make more in the future.

Build-up to accommodate narrower tires/wheels.

After double-checking for proper placement, bolt the unit to the floor with concrete anchors – the Red Head 3/8″ x 1-7/8″ sleeve anchors (part # 50114) worked great for me.

The additional fasteners I used.

One last thing. If you plan to strap your bikes down for extended periods then I strongly suggest another anchor at each end of the arm with the eye-bolts. Those arms are thin-walled rectangular tubing that don’t take much strap tension to deform. In fact, I’d use flush anchors beneath the unit and run the eye-bolts right through the tubing into the anchors. That way the straps would anchor directly to concrete for greatest support.

Watch the coupons and sales. You can often get these chocks item for well under the regular price.

Safe, convenient motorcycle parking. Bonus – this arrangement provides easy access to battery tender cables and can even help with maintenance chores!

Addendum
In the time between this post being written and the post date I sold the two motorcycles furthest from the viewer in the illustration above. In their place is a trike – no chock needed. I uninstalled the year-old chocks and posted them to Craigslist where they sold within a couple of days for a price near to their original (discounted) cost.

Premature Flip-flop Failure

Flip-flops are pretty much de rigueur footwear for Florida. There are exceptions, of course: work boots for lawn work, riding boots for motorcycling, sneaks for walking/running  are good examples that come to mind. But I take my flip flops kinda seriously.

Back in July of 2014 I wrote about the de-lamination failure of a pair of favorite flip-flops. The gist of the article lamented how the Florida environment seems to destroy just about everything. The failed footwear had lasted about eight years before succumbing, and Pam ordered replacements which arrived that day. I expected ’em to last a similar amount of time.

Flipflop failure. Inset shows failure point, earlier duct tape hack for comfort.

They didn’t.

July 27 they fully died. I say fully because the between-the-toes part of the right foot stretched had some and became uncomfortable sometime last winter. Pam addressed that emergency with a commodity plastic pair – I think she spent a dollar. (Still, I wrapped the stretched between-the-toes part with a bit of duct tape, which helped the comfort just a little bit.  Then I dedicated them to poolside use – they were too new to throw away.)

So, let’s see… Retail cost was $59, on sale for $29.99. Sales tax, Land’s end has nexus in Florida, $2.28. Shipping was $8. Total cost was $40.27. They arrived July 16, 2014 and, setting aside my duck tape crutch, they totally failed July 27, 2017 – that’s 3 years and 11 days. That brings the cost-of-ownership for those suckers to a whopping twenty-five and a half cents per week!

Contrast that to the earlier pair, which were $30.95 (with tax and shipping) and lasted 7 years, 11 months and 10 days. Only 7 and a half cents per week.

Lets put that into perspective, you bought a new Harley for thirty large in 2006. Eight years later you bought the same bike and the cost had jumped to a hundred. And the motor blew up three years later.

Planned obsolescence? Degradation of quality of manufactured goods over time? Product abuse? Or just Florida killing stuff?

You decide.

Aqua•Comb

filter-media
Typical cartridge filter.

Owning a swimming pool is practically a requirement in Florida. Our pool, like many, uses a replaceable cartridge-type filter. The filtration system is simple, works well, and it’s easy to keep up. The trade-off for that convenience is the cost of the filter media.

In case you’re not familiar with these things I’ve included an image of a typical filter cartridge. It’s remarkably similar to an aquarium filter, but larger. Mine is about 2 feet tall and maybe around 10 or 11 inches in diameter. It’s basically a perforated plastic tube wrapped with a deeply pleated fiber media, with some support rings at either end. Situated vertically, water flows from the outside in, through the perforated tube, exiting through the bottom of the perforated tube. Any debris not caught by the skimmer basket and pump screen becomes trapped within the pleats.

A top-quality, name-brand filter cartridge costs around a hundred bucks.

My contractor suggested that frequent cleaning would extend the life of the media. It made sense. Cleaning is theoretically simple: direct a spray from a garden hose at the outside; work your way around the unit, letting gravity carry away any debris. In practice, the pleats make this a time-consuming task. And after a while, crouching on the ground with a spraying hose in one hand and stabilizing/positioning the cartridge with the other hand makes every minute feel like an hour.

I quickly learned that having spare cartridge on hand is a good idea. Swapping cartridges handling the rest of the maintenance to bring the filter system back online only takes several minutes, leaving one free to concentrate on the cartridge.

Filter Flosser
Filter Flosser. Quality made from aluminum, but not very effective. Click the image for an enlarged view and you’ll see why.

Over the years I’ve tried several tools and tricks. I first rigged a stand from PVC tubing to orient and support the cartridge at a comfortable height and angle. (It doubles as a towel rack poolside. Or maybe the towel rack doubles as the work stand?) Water everywhere! Cleaning was much more effective because it freed a hand to spread the pleats. But there sure are a lot of pleats and by the end of the job my fingers were raw! The media, it turns out, is kind of abrasive. I tried a tool called the Filter Flosser (inset), designed to concentrate a water blast between the pleats . That’s a pricey tool that’s not very effective. I even tried letting the media dry out, cleaning it with a jet of air from my shop compressor. That beat my fingers up even worse, took about as long as the garden hose and wasn’t as effective.

Enter the Aqua•Comb!

aquacomb

This awesome little unit caught my eye at the local Pinch-A-Penny, where I pick up chemicals and what have you. The guy behind the counter (who happens to own the store) told me that he bought one for himself and it works great.

I thought the price was somewhat high for plastic. But it really does work, saves a ton of time, uses less water, and makes way less mess. Okay, the tag says “…as little as 5 minutes” so it could be more – and it is. But still, nowhere near the time it took by hand. The bottom line? Worth it!

Why? The comb teeth, for one. They get between the pleats, way down deep, and they save your fingers. The water jets are fewer and, thus, more powerful. It’s easy to direct the jets down for optimal water flow as the comb teeth provide access between the pleats. For complete coverage you do need to follow the instructions, but overall it’s so fast that what reads like repeat work really isn’t.

This tool – along with its derivative products – is going to make the inventor a well-deserved bundle of cash! What’s more, it’s an American company, making products from USA sourced material with American labor. Which is more than Harley-Davidson can say.

Here’s their website, go see for yourself. If you have a pool or spa using cartridge filters – or a horse or dog (use your imagination!) – and you do your own labor then you probably need this product.

Selective Service

A friend recently asked…

I was wondering if you had to register for the draft, or you’re in that “gap” group where Selective Service was doing next to nothing? At one time, some of us had to show younger co-workers what a draft card looked like and explain it! You’re younger than I am but maybe not THAT young.

I DID have to register.

I was designated 1S because I was still in high school. Vietnam was in full swing and I watched a number of my older friends leave to serve. (Some made it home whole, some not so whole, and some never made it back at all.) During my final year, 1973, the draft was still going strong. I had left home that spring and as school wound down I was watching that lottery stuff pretty carefully. I’d soon go from a safe 1S to a prime 1A target. Now, I was a skinny little shit, not especially keen on combat. Having already lost friends there, frankly, it scared me. There was this other, fairly new designation – Conscientious Objector, or 1AO – that one could apply for, and I tried for that. As a 1AO, if inducted, I’d serve but wouldn’t be assigned to active combat. There was a bit of paperwork, I collected letters from teachers, church… wherever I could… to substantiate my application. It didn’t work. I became a 1A. Then, in the lottery, my number: 26! It looked like I’d be going in. I waited for my letter. It never arrived and in August the whole thing shut down. The active draft was one of the first things to stop, it was such a political hot button. I’m fairly certain I got very, very drunk when the news hit.

I learned, as I filled in the gaps of this story, that the groundwork for an all-volunteer U.S. military began as early as the end of January, 1973, although it took a while for the shutdown of the draft to actually happen. It leads me to wonder how many young bodies inducted after Laird’s signature but before the last kid shipped out didn’t come home…

I’m pretty sure I still have my draft card somewhere but I can’t recall seeing it for a very long time. It’s probably in that file of papers I dutifully (and securely) care for when I relocate. Stuff goes into that store after which it seldom sees the light of day.

Funny thing. Registration was compulsory when my kid came of age. It was easy, not like it was when I registered and had to personally appear at an office downtown. The process may have actually started with something as simple as an extra checkbox on his DS11 when he upgraded to an ‘adult’ passport at 16. Shortly after he turned 18 he received a letter containing his registration information. There’s no active draft today but his registration card is, actually, a draft card, should the government choose to start drafting again.

[sigh] Over the decades, like many others, my views on military service have changed a great deal.

I haven’t thought about those experiences for a long time. That was a good question, thanks for asking.

Flipflops

Florida kills stuff.

I’m convinced. Maybe it’s the heat, maybe the moisture, I don’t know,

Dead flipflops exhibiting 'talking shoe' syndrome.
Dead flipflops exhibiting ‘talking shoe’ syndrome.

but it’s something. Stuff rusts that never did before. Stuff rots, falls off, just stops working… you name it.

A week or so back my flipflops failed. Notice the ‘s’? As in plural? Yeah, both of ’em. At the same time. In the same way. The soles began to delaminate. At first I thought I had stumbled over some irregularity but no, they were falling apart. The classical ‘talking shoe’.

“But they’re nearly new!” I complained. “And they’re the best damned flipflops I’ve ever had!”

“Bullshit,” Pam scoffed. “they aren’t new. You’ve had them for years.”

They came from Land’s End so I checked the records. Pam was right, of course. I bought them on July 29th… 2006.

I remembered thinking, back in 2006, that at $24 those were some pretty expensive flipflops. I guess after having a zillion pair of those plastic $2 flipflops they were pricey.

New flipflops, just delivered.
New flipflops, just delivered.

I began thinking about what I might do… contact cement, glue, epoxy…

“Just get some new ones already!” Pam advised.

She was already at her computer. Land’s End still had ’em, but what was once cloth or some sort of synthetic was now leather. I braced myself.

$59! But wait, they were on sale for $29. She placed the order.

And today Dan, our mail delivery guy, brought ’em.

They’re comfy and look like they’ll last forever. And they’d better. Let’s see… 2006 price divided by… Yeah, these should last until around April 2034. Later, if you adjust for inflation…

But Florida kills stuff. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Aeron Wheel Disintegration

I’ve written before about troubles with the Aeron that cradles my ass. Between then and now the back failed and once more it was fully covered by Herman-Miller‘s incredible twelve-year warranty. Just like the seat pan incident, a guy was sent out to service the chair and cart away the residue, no charge.

The carpet casters were no match for the tile floor of the office. It took about a year for the grout edges to pound them into submission.
The carpet casters were no match for the tile floor of the office. It took about a year for the grout edges to pound them into submission.

Seat pans and backs are expensive. The most recent failure was not. This time it was the casters.

When I bought this wonderful chair way back in May of 2005 my floor was carpet and so I specified carpet casters. I knew well the damage that an office chair does to carpet – don’t ask. By mid-year 2007 the carpet was gone, replaced with maple plank. The carpet casters were fine for that but to reduce floor wear I added a non-spiked vinyl chair mat. Then, in December 2012, the chair got a new home on a ceramic tile floor. I didn’t give it any thought at the time but in retrospect not caring for the wheels was a grave error. By summer the casters had begun shedding their rolling surfaces! Being me, I started collecting the pieces.

I considered pursuing the warranty thing again. Then I discovered that bona-fide Herman-Miller parts were only around $50. I guessed it would be kinda hard to find service here in rural Florida so I pulled the trigger. ChairPartsOnline.com had brandy-new Herman-Miller hard floor casters in my hands lickety-split. Installation took seconds. They don’t seem to have seat pans or backs or pneumatics but WTF, I needed casters and they delivered.

The warranty on this bad boy’s still good for nearly another three and a half years. Service options research is on my to-do list.

SSD

When I built Whisky, my current work-a-day desktop, back in November 2009 I wanted to boot from one of those blazin’ solid-state drives. Bummer, though, either they were seriously expensive or performed poorly. Poorly, of course, was a relative term; for the most part even the poorest smoke conventional hard drives. Still, as the build expenses mounted the SSD finally fell off the spec list.

Sometime after the build, Seagate brought their hybrid drives to market. Hybrids combine a conventional spinning disk and conventional cache with a few gigabytes of SLC NAND memory configured as a small SSD. The system sees the drive as it would any other drive; an Adaptive Memory (Seagate proprietary) algorithm monitors data use and keeps frequently used stuff on the SSD. You’ll find people arguing over whether or not a hybrid drive provides any kind of performance boost. I wrote about my experiences with the Seagate Momentus XT (ST95005620AS) back in June 2010. Today when I build a multiple drive system I routinely spec a hybrid as a boot drive. It’s cheap and it helps.

Corsair Force Series GT CSSD-F240GBGT-BKSo about a month ago I ran across a good deal on a fast SSD, a Corsair Force Series GT (CSSD-F240GBGT-BK) and I jumped on it. The specs are just tits: sequential reads and writes of 555 and 525 MB/s respectively. (Sure, that was with a SATA 3 interface and my motherboard only supports SATA 2; I wouldn’t see numbers like that, but still… It even looks great.

Integrating the thing into a working system was a bit of a challenge, mostly because I didn’t want to purchase additional software simply to clone the existing boot drive. I’ve got no trouble paying for software I use; it simply seemed like too much for something to be used but once. So part of the challenge was to find a cost-free alternative.

Strategy and Concerns

The general strategy would be to clone the current two-partition boot drive to the SSD, swap it in and enjoy the performance boost. The SSD partitions would need to be aligned, of course, and somewhere along the way the C partition would need to shrink to fit onto the smaller SSD.

The top concerns came down to security and reliability. Erasing a conventional hard drive is easy: repeatedly write random data to each block. You can’t do that with SSDs. Their blocks have a specific (and comparatively short) lifetime and so on-board wear-leveling routines become important. When data is overwritten, for example, the drive writes the data elsewhere and marks the old blocks for reuse. And unlike conventional drives, it’s not enough to simply write over a block marked for reuse; the entire block must first be erased. The bottom line is you can’t ever know with certainty whether or not a SSD is ever clear of confidential data. Disposing of them securely, then, means total destruction.

As for reliability, a conventional hard drive has to have some pretty serious problems before it becomes impossible to recover at least some data. There’s generally a bit of warning – they get noisy, start throwing errors, or something else that you notice – before they fail completely. Most often an SSD will simply fail. From working to not, just like that. And when that happens there’s not much to be done. This makes the issue of backups a little more thorny. If it contained confidential data at the time of failure you’ve got a hard choice to make: eat the cost and destroy the device, or RMA it back to the manufacturer (losing control of your data).

Considering backups, you can see that monolithic backups aren’t the best solution because they’re outdated as soon as they’re written. Instead, a continuous backup application, one that notices and writes changed files, with versioning, seems prudent.

In my case, this is to be a Windows 7 boot drive and and all confidential user data is already on other storage. The Force Series GT drive has a 2,000,000 hour MTBF, fairly high.

Software

SSDs are fast but they’re relatively small. It’s almost certain that existing boot partitions will be too big to fit and mine is no exception. Windows 7 Disk Manager will allow you to resize partitions if the conditions on those partitions are exactly right. There are commercial programs that will do the job where Windows won’t but my favorite is MiniTool Partition Wizard. I didn’t really want to do that in this instance. The fundamental problem I had with pre-shrinking is that it would involve mucking with a nicely working system. Come trouble, I wanted to simply pop my original drive back in the system, boot and get back to work.

For cloning and shrinking partitions there are several free or almost free applications. I found that most of them have drawbacks of one sort or another. I’ve used Acronis before – Acronis supplies OEM versions of their True Image software to some drive manufacturers, it’s an excellent product. But their free product won’t resize a partition image, bummer. I used EaseUS some years back, too, but a bad run-in once with their “rescue media” – in that case a bootable USB stick. My disks got hosed pretty bad from simply booting the thing and I… wasn’t pleased. Maybe they’ve gotten better, people say good things about ’em, but I wasn’t confident… Paragon seemed very highly rated but in testing I had too many validation failures with their images. Apparently the current version is worse than the back revs. Whatever, I was still uneasy. I ended up settling on Macrium Reflect from Paramount Software UK Ltd. For no rational reason the name of this product bothered me, sending it to the bottom of the test list. Macrium. The word makes me think of death by fire. I was reluctant to even install it. About the only negative think I’ve got to say about Macrium is that it takes a fair bit of effort to build the ‘rescue disk’ – bootable media to allow you to rebuild a failed boot volume from your backup image(s). The rescue media builder downloads and installs, from a Microsoft site, the Windows Automated Installation Kit. WAIK weighs in at more than 2 GB. The end result is a small ISO from which you can make bootable media of your choice. Except for that final burn – you’re on your own for that – the process is mostly automated; it just takes a while. Probably has to do with licensing or something.

Finally, I bought a copy of Genie Timeline Pro to provide the day-to-day realtime backup insurance, mentioned earlier, that I wanted.

Preparation for Migration

I started by installing both Gene Timeline Pro and Macrium Reflect and familiarized myself with each. I built the rescue media for each, booted from the media, and restored stuff to a spare drive in order to test. It’s an important step that many omit, but a backup that doesn’t work, for whatever reason, is worse than no backup at all.

I did some additional maintenance and configuration which would affect the C: partition. I disabled indexing and shrunk the page file to 2GB. The box has 8GB RAM and never pages. I suppose I could omit the page file entirely, but a warning is better than a BSOD for failure to page. I got rid of all the temp junk and performed the usual tune-up steps that Windows continues to need from time to time.

Satisfied, I imaged the System Reserved partition and the C: partition of my boot volume, verifying the images afterward. For each partition, which I backed up with separate operations, I used the Advanced Settings in Macrium Reflect to make an Intelligent Sector copy. This means that unused sectors aren’t copied, effectively shrinking the images. Then I installed the SSD via an eSATA port. Yes, this meant it would run even slower than SATA 2 but it saved a trip inside the box.

It was at this step that I noticed the only negative thing about this drive. The SATA cable is a bit of a loose fit. It doesn’t accept a retaining clip, if your cable is so equipped. Ensure there’s no tension on a cable that might dislodge it.

Creating Aligned Partitions

Partition alignment is important on SSDs both for performance and long life. Because of the way they work, most will read and write 4K pages. A very simplistic explanation is that when a partition is not aligned on a 4K boundary, most writes will require two pages rather than one which decreases performance dramatically and wears the memory faster. (There’s more to it than that, really, but you can seek that out on your own. The Web’s a great teacher. Being the curious sort I learned more than I needed to.)  Windows 7, when IPLed, will notice the SSD and build correctly aligned partitions for you. Some commercial disk cloning software will handle it automatically, too. But migrating users are on their own. Incidentally, it’s theoretically possible to adjust partition alignment on the fly, but if you think about the logistics of how this might be done – shifting an entire partition this way or that by some number of 512 byte blocks to a 4K boundary – you’ll realize it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Better to simply get it right in the first place.

Fortunately it’s easy!

Using an elevated command prompt (or, in my case, a PowerShell), use DISKPART. In my case, my existing System Reserved partition was 71 MB and change, and the remainder of the SSD would become my C: partition.

diskpart
list disk
select disk <n>
(where <n>is the disk number of the SSD)
create partition primary size=72 align=1024
active
(the System Reserved partition needs to be Active)
create partition primary align=1024
(no size specification means use the remaining available space)
exit

You can also use DISKPART to check the alignment. I’ll use mine as an example.

diskpart
list disk
select disk <n>
(where <n>is the disk number of the SSD)
list partition
exit

My partition list looks like this.

Partition ### Type             Size    Offset
------------- ---------------- ------- -------
Partition 1   Primary           70 MB 1024 KB
Partition 2   Primary          223 GB   73 MB

To check the alignment, divide the figure in the Offset column, expressed in kilobytes, by 4. If it divides evenly then it’s aligned. For Partition 1, the System Reserved partition, 1024 / 4 = 256, so it’s good. Partition 2’s Offset is expressed in megabytes so we have to convert to kilobytes first by multiplying it by 1024. So, 73 * 1024 = 74752 and 74752 / 4 = 18688, so it’s good, too.

Whew!

It’s worth noting that what DISKPART didn’t show in the list is the tiny unused space – about 2MB in my case – between Partition 1 and Partition 2 which facilitated alignment.

Someone pointed out to me that partition alignment can be checked without DISKPART. Fire up msinfo32. Expand Components, then expand Storage, then select Disks. Find the drive in question and divide the Partition Starting Offset fields by 4096. If it divides evenly you’re all set!

Migration

I used Macrium Reflect to restore the partition images I created earlier. Rather than allowing the software to create the partitions (which would negate our alignment effort) I pointed it to each target partition in turn. When the restore was finished I shut the system down.

I pulled the SSD from the eSATA port and pulled the existing boot drive from the system. I mounted the SSD in place of the old boot drive. (Windows gets upset when it finds multiple boot drives at startup, so it’s a good idea to have just one.) I took extra care with the data cable.

I powered up and entered the system BIOS, walked through the settings applicable to a drive change, saved and booted.  Things looked good.

Living With the SSD

Wow! Coldstarts are fast. (See below.) So fast that getting through the BIOS has become the perceived bottleneck. Applications start like lightning, especially the first time, before Windows caches them. Shutdowns are snappy, too. (See below.) There’s no shortage of anecdotes and benchmarks on the ‘net and I’m sure you’ve seen them. It’s all delightfully true.

But all wasn’t perfect. After a week or two some new patterns seemed to be emerging.

Every so often, unexpectedly, the system would become unresponsive with the drive use LED full-on solid, for some tens of seconds. Most of the time the system would return to normal operation but depending on what application was doing what at the time, the period of unresponsiveness could sometimes cause a crash. Sometimes the crash would be severe enough to bring on a BSOD. The biggest problem I have with BSODs or other hard crashes is that it causes the mirrored terabyte data drives to resync, and that takes a while. Usually the System Log would show Event ID 11 entries like this associated with the event:

The driver detected a controller error on \Device\Ide\IdePort6.

And once, following a BSOD, the boot drive was invisible to the BIOS at restart! A hard power cycle made it visible again and Whisky booted normally, as though nothing abnormal had ever occurred.

Hard to say for sure, but it seemed as though these oddities were happening with increasing frequency.

Firmware Update

Prowling the ‘net I found others reporting similar problems. What’s more, Corsair was on the case and had a fresh firmware update! The update process, they claimed, was supposed to preserve data. I checked my live backup and made new partition images anyway. The drive firmware update itself went exactly as described, took but seconds and left the data intact. The next boot had Windows installing new (or maybe just reinstalling?) device drivers for the drive, which then called for another boot. All this booting used to be a pain in the ass but when the box boots in seconds you tend to not mind that much.

Benchmark performance after the update was improved, but only marginally – nothing I’d actually notice. The troublesome hangs I mentioned seem to occur on bootup now, when they occur at all. They seem less ‘dangerous’ because they don’t interrupt work in progress at that time. So far, anyway, I just wait out the length boot and log in, followed by a cold shutdown. The next coldstart invariably goes normally, that is, very, very fast.

What’s going on? Maybe some periodic housekeeping going on in the drive? Maybe some housekeeping that was underway when I interrupted with a shutdown? Or maybe it’s that data cable? Remember, I mentioned it’s sort of a loose fit without a retainer clip. Time will tell.

Videos

I goes without saying that SSDs are fast. Many people like to judge that by how fast Windows loads. I threw together a couple of videos to illustrate.

System Startup with SSD
00.00 - Sequence start
01.30 - Power on
04.06 - Hardware initialization
13.20 - Video signal to monitors
15.83 - BIOS
23.93 - Windows Startup
39.83 - Login prompt
44.93 - Password entry complete
54.50 - Ready to work

Power on to Windows startup duration is 22.63 seconds.
Windows startup to login prompt duration is 15.90 seconds.
Password entry to ready-to-work duration is 9.57 seconds.

 

System Shutdown with SSD

00:00:00 - Sequence start
00:08.32 - Shutdown initiated
00:24.27 - Shutdown complete

Shutdown initiation to power off duration: 15.95 seconds.

 

iPad

People that know me know that I’m not a big Mac fan. By extension, not a big Apple fan either. That’s why people that know me are astonished when they learn that there’s an iPad in my house. The initial shock gives way to questions so I figured I’d just handle some of them here.

My friend Will, just the other day over on Google+, said “Trims atas advise nya.” Oh, wait a minute. iPad2That’s spam from some shitstain with an anonymous gmail account. Will actually said “Rick, what do you use it for? On TV people are watching videos, email or looking at pictures on it – nothing very interesting. Is it a glorified internet appliance?”

Well, it’s a funny thing. Tablets have been the Next Big Thing for a while and everyone has been bringing them to market. For most, er, scratch that, for everyone except Apple, success in the tablet space has been varied. For Apple success has been astounding. Eventually, I figured, we’d have to get one to play around with, to see what all the hype was about.

I think it started with a TV commercial. I casually said to Pam, “So maybe you want one of those?” and she said she wouldn’t mind. So a few days later I drank some Kool-Aid…

I’ve gotta admit, the iPad’s an absolute marvel of design and engineering. It feels really good in your hand, looks really great to your eye (both the display and the form-factor), and the UI is slick and responsive. Besides the device there’s not much in the box: a cable and charger cube (which promptly got lost for weeks) and a cute little Apple sticker. I powered it up, answered a few questions, and in a minute or two I was exploring the built-in apps. Apps. I was playin’ with apps. I felt so… trendy. We picked up the Smart Cover a day or two later. It, too, is a product of incredible thought and design. Just as you hold it near, wondering how it attaches, it attaches itself magnetically, in perfect alignment. Forty bucks.

Getting the iPad onto my network was a bit harder. We have two active WiFi networks in the house. Each serves different purpose and both are reasonably secure. (Hold your comments about being neighborly and running an open hotspot; I don’t care and I’ll only ignore you.) So I cleared the way for the iPad and tried and tried to get authenticated. Didn’t work. A search turned up plenty of others with similar problems. I forget exactly which magic incantation did the trick but after a while it was working. And here’s the thing: other than that initial hurdle the iPad connects and makes itself ready to communicate the moment you pick it up. The secret? It keeps a periodic chatter going with the router or access point, all the time. It’s always ready.

Instant-on network performance like that is usually a battery suck but Apple seems to have nailed the power management. Battery life is several weeks to a month.

“Huh? Did you say a month? Don’t you use it?”

Yup, that’s what I said: a month. And, mostly, nope, we don’t really use it all that much. None of us do. Three different people with three widely varying sets of interests and the iPad hasn’t become relevant to any of us. WTF.

What I sought most from such a device was simple (and, I might add, completely satisfied by my old netbook). I wanted to read, mostly stuff from my network where I keep a fair library of subscription material. I wanted to write, notes, posts like this, etc. And I wanted to be able to control different parts of my network, logging into a Linux console, adjusting this or that, maybe a bit of ftp to import or export a file or two, maybe shutting things down during an extended power failure.

Producing written material with the virtual keyboard is an exercise in futility. I’m not the best keyboardist in the first place but my meager productivity dropped like a stone. Y’know how they say to use strong passwords for stuff? Let me tell you, the way you need to switch modes for numbers, caps, punctuation, and everything else will have you setting your passwords to ‘asd123’ – and wishing you could skip the digits altogether – in no time flat. Forget writing.

On to reading. Well, this is actually pretty good. The display is nice, like I said. Consuming some written matter – WIRED comes to mind – the content designed for this device is, in some ways, superior to the print experience. You miss out on the tactile enjoyment of well-laid-out pulp – the color, the rich fonts – but the ease of navigation (no continued on page 134) and embedded multimedia could be a valid trade. Sometimes, at least. I mentioned that I have a rather large cache of subscription material – professional publications, books, newsletters, etc. – on a server here. The vast majority is in PDF format of one type or another. Reading any of those makes for a pretty good experience. The iPad will try to add them into the built-in iBooks app, which simply means that they’re downloaded and stored locally for use off-network.

Next up, handling network chores. Nope, can’t do that. Maybe buying a terminal app would fix that, maybe not. I’m not pressing because I have other alternatives. Also, you can’t get files onto or off of the iPad. In fact, the very concept of files on the iPad seems profoundly foreign. I’ll bet a dollar Apple would call that a feature.

Now, Pam’s expectations are markedly different from mine. She’ll play a few games, use Google+ and – gasp – Facebook, and use the Web browser. She’s bought a few apps. Sorry, can’t tell you which ones. Since the iPad is hers, it’s tied to her computer and it synced with her iTunes library painlessly and quickly. I can tell you that the Google+ client, while touted as made for the iPad, is simply an iPhone app that lives in the middle of the screen. Sizing it for the larger screen looks chunky and childish. When I tried, Hangouts didn’t work at all. Sort of too bad, that, as the hardware seems like it’d be perfectly suited to video conferencing. YouTube videos play nicely, but content-rich sites that don’t offer Flash alternatives fail.

I expected Damian to play with the iPad but he doesn’t. Not at all. Some weeks after it had been floating around in such obvious places like the dinner table, he said “Oh? We have an iPad now?” That was that. I don’t think he’s touched it since. That was a little unexpected since I think he’s in the target demographic. Oh well.

I’ve got a few closing random thoughts… The lack of multitasking hurts. The instant-on, instantly-connected Web browser – albeit a weak one like Safari – is a definite win. The lack of Flash can sometimes make a Web site unusable. Not that I’m arguing for that insecure wart on the side that is Flash, but some sites, well, that’s what they do. Sort of the way a site might be built for IE and render poorly on a standards-compliant browser. You can wish for a long time that it weren’t so. The security model kinda blows. I wouldn’t store any confidential stuff on the device. The virtual keyboard encourages the use of weak, easy-to-use passwords because good ones are such a pain to type, yet even routine updates prompt for the Apple account password.

The bottom line? I guess all told I spent something under $800 for the device, a cover and some apps. Worth it? For design, lots of points. For usefulness, very few points. Did I learn some stuff? Undoubtedly. Do I feel trendy? No, I feel like I threw away a wad of cash.

If I knew then what I know now, would I buy an iPad? No.

[edited 29 October to include this unique use for the device.]

Guitar Addition

Ah, that kid o’ mine sure knows how to push my buttons!

He wants my guitar, my beloved Splatter Strat, that I bought back in 2004. (I recently wrote about some modifications I made to it – see Supercharging the Stratocaster.) He can’t play, but he wants to. I’ve told him over and over that he can use it any time but he wants it nearby, not where I store it. So every time he sees me eyeing another axe he goads me: “Go on, just buy it!”

He knows.

Well, the other day, just shy of 7 years since I bought the Strat, I bought a limited run Les Paul Studio 60’s Tribute.

Gibson Les Paul Studio 60s Tribute
Limited run Gibson Les Paul Studio 60s Tribute in Worn Cherry Burst.

Damian’s birthday’s coming up, Pam and I reasoned, and with a month or so before school starts it’s a good time to help him establish a practice schedule… I gave him the Strat with two conditions: I could play it when I wanted and he’d give me first dibs if he considered getting rid of it. We threw in a VOX Pathfinder 15R and a bunch of other goodies. He seemed pleased.

As am I. Oddly, I was originally looking for the Les Paul Studio Faded because of the outstanding reviews – not to mention the price and availability – but when I played the two side by side the choice was clear. Wow, those P-90 pickups were white-hot. Needless to say, it helped that Pam really liked the finish!

It’s taking some getting used to. The first thing I did was change the strings to my favorites and get into the requisite setup. Amazingly, it took almost no tweaking at all! The action’s just a tad higher than I prefer but only the tiniest bit. I think I’m going to try to get used to it. The sound is, well, like a Les Paul.

Oh, and Damian? He’s been practicing some every day. His fingers hurt but I’m pushing him to increase his session duration. He’s listening, which is good.

Eventually he’ll not only look like a rock star, he’ll make noises like one, too.

Bike Parts – Deal Gone Good

I love it when I have the opportunity to talk about companies that do things right. Here’s one: Will Powered Products.

Will Powered Products is a small company out of Dingman’s Ferry, PA that produces a limited line of high quality motorcycle parts. Hand grips, foot pegs, cable clamps – stuff like that. Simple stuff. But made from serious metal, cast and machined with quality and workmanship that you just know will last forever.

I first ran into Barry Will at a swap meet a couple of years back. I had gone through several sets of Harley-branded hand grips on my Dyna and I was sort of idly looking for something better. Funny thing, the Harley-branded grips start out looking and feeling great but they just don’t hold up over time. The Will Powered Products grips are machined from solid aluminum. They’re kind of expensive at nearly three times the cost of Harley-Davidson grips but they felt like they’d outlast the bike. I mulled it over as I wandered the show floor and ended up buying them on the way out. Today they look and feel just as good as the day I installed ’em.

Clutch Cable Clamp
Solid aluminum clutch cable clamp from Will Powered Products. Click for larger image.
I saw Barry again at the Jersey Giant show/swap meet last April. This time it was his polished cable clamps that looked interesting. Ever see the stock Harley-Davidson cable stays? Cheap, plastic-coated slivers of spring steel, they’re functional but kinda ugly. Anyway, I needed two clamps but there was only one on hand. Barry promised to ship another right away so I paid for both and took one, handing off a business card with my shipping address. As I walked away from the table – sans receipt for the cash purchase – Pam gave me a questioning look. “I don’t think I need a receipt, he’ll do the right thing,” I said. “It’ll be worth the price to find out if my judgment’s still good.”

This is where things got interesting. After the weekend Barry emailed that he had sent the camp. And a few days later he emailed again saying that it had come back for insufficient

Keychain as jewelry
Keychain as jewelry, Damian's idea. He's thinking it needs something in the center, hasn't figured out what yet. I'm wondering what the center is made from, just in case I need to put it on the drill press.

postage – and that another would go right out. A few days later it arrived. Bummer, though, it turned out to be the wrong size for my needs. I emailed Barry, sent it back the next day and left for some travel. When I returned from St. Louis the correct-sized clamp was waiting. But that’s not all. Also in the package were two key chains styled after their dipsticks, AND three bucks – cash – presumably to cover my return shipping.

There are a few basic principles at work in this story. The principles are proven – they work in business and in life. Do what you say you will do. Will Powered Products did exactly that every step of the way, from shipping to keeping me informed. When something goes wrong, assume responsibility and do what’s necessary to fix it. Don’t make excuses. Mistakes happen. There were a few in this story but each were always handled as well as could be expected. Barry even mentioned that they took the extra step to ensure that their stock was correctly identified for size in order to reduce the possibility of future errors. Delight your customer. Throughout this extended transaction I always felt like I knew where things stood, so there was no anxiety or tension. Then Barry stepped up with unexpected extras in the end.

So, two thumbs up to Barry and Will Powered Products! Check out their Web site and if you’ve got a need for that kind of stuff for your bike then don’t hesitate to do business with them. They’re an American company making high-quality products that are absolutely worth the cost. You’ll know that the moment you hold one of their parts in your hand.

As for me, maybe some of those spiky footpegs are in my future…

Obligatory disclaimer: I don’t have any interest in Will Powered Products other than that of a satisfied customer.

Naturally Flavored

We drink a lot of Snapple. More accurately, Pam and Damian drink a lot of Snapple. I remember when Dr. Pepper bought ’em some years back and I remember the controversy when some of the ingredients changed… Cost-cutting, like everything else.

But what prompted this entry was the label on a “limited edition” Papaya-Mango bottle the other day:

 

naturally flavored
Recursive labeling. Naturally Flavored with other Natural Flavors.

Which leads to the question, aren’t all flavors natural? What constitutes an unnatural flavor?

 

Mercedes Auto Commercials

Have you seen the recent Mercedes automobile commercials on television?

You know the ads I’m talking about. The ones that show drivers – and I use that word loosely – praising the Mercedes on-board systems for saving the life and limb of some poor, unsuspecting soul when they – the so-called driver weren’t paying proper attention.

“I didn’t see them!” they exclaim.

Well, if you’d have been paying attention then maybe you would have seen them.

I’m torn. On the one hand, as a technologist, I applaud the engineers for the incredible systems they’re building. I don’t think we’re all that far away from seeing self-driving automobiles. Have you seen Google’s? On the other hand, as an invisible motorcyclist dodging drivers inattentiveness and errors every day, I know all about how each and every auto feature that distracts from the task at hand does exactly that. (And sometimes the feature doesn’t even need to be part of the car. I’m thinking of the guy I saw in the minivan last year, in rush-hour highway traffic, with a laptop (!) balanced on the steering wheel, tapping away, oblivious. I throttled up, risking a ticket, and put the dope well behind me.)

I’m thinking that I might one day put on my Mercedes-buying clothes and stroll into a dealership, posing as a potential buyer, and learn firsthand about how they market this stuff.

Mexican Coke

Mexican Coke US label add-on

Mexican Coke

A while back I ran into some Mexican Coca-Cola at the local Costco and just had to have some. You see, it’s made with real can sugar as opposed to the high fructose corn syrup crap they put in seemingly everything these days.

Why do they do that, anyway? Take a perfectly good ingredient and substitute junk for it. Cost, I guess.

Truth be told I only drank a couple out of the case. I’m not a big soda drinker. But the ones I had were just incredible, the taste immediately transporting me back to my childhood. The stuff even smells different.

Notice on the bottle, under the logo, the capacity is shown. On the other side of the bottle the logo is just plain, unlike bottles sold here. Also, the added label. Flat, stuck imperfectly to the rounded surface with adhesive, showing the ingredients and such, mandatory for all food products. Placement of those labels was inconsistent, which suggests that they may have been hand-applied some time after the fact.

In my experience it’s hard to get decent, sugar-laden soda today. A few brands pride themselves on it. Jones comes to mind. And a couple of times a year I have Old Doc’s Soda Shop ship me a few cases of Dublin Dr. Pepper. The independent Dublin Dr. Pepper plant continues to make the stuff the way it was made back in the beginning, while the other bottlers have ‘modernized’ and stopped using real sugar. If you can manage it, try a Dublin and a regular one side by side. The difference is unmistakable.

Thanks, But No Thanks

Unmatched Pleasure
Ad spotted at Wawa Store #912. Click for full-size.

“Unmatched Pleasure”

That’s what the sign promised.

Y’know, friends, as far as I’m concerned there’s simply NO pleasure in the whole wide world that matches the pleasure of gum disease. Unless, of course, you can find some way to cram tooth loss into the mix.

Well, your search is over! Here’s the product that’s done it.

I bought all that I could fit in my truck. NOT.

I think I’m going to package a hammer with a nail. The marketing sheet will promise that if you use the product properly – that is, by pushing the nail through your hand with the aid of the hammer – it’ll deliver the unmatched pleasure of a hole in your hand.

Maple Syrup

Maple Syrup
Maple syrup = liquid gold

Yes, it’s true, that’s $21.99 on my receipt for a quart of maple syrup from my supermarket the other day. I nearly dropped the jug when the handheld scanner displayed the price. My next thought was that it was a mistake. But no, the display tag agreed. The smaller jugs had a wildly higher unit price so into the cart it went.

And there I thought fuel was expensive! Silly me.