Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Ain't gonna go there

Granted, it probably won't be as fun or as funny as that all-time SyFy classic "Midnight Meat Train" but it could be close.

This was a grab shot taken through the car windshield with the Olympus FE320. It cleaned up nicely in Zoner Photo Studio. The very best camera is the one you always have with you.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Perilous bike maintenance

Liberty is one of our cats, a chubby, long-haired calico with a sweet disposition and friendly attitude. She strongly resembles a football with fur and she greets me at the door when I come home from work. She's happy to see me in the morning, rubbing against my legs as I pour a cup of coffee. I'd let her sleep in the bedroom, but her loud purr and insistence on showing her affection by getting in my face are not conducive to falling asleep.

Besides, she produces the occasional Fart Of Joy. This is a noxious gas cloud that can clear a room in seconds. Even the dog leaves. The FOJ can occur when she's happy, frightened, hungry, anxious, or fast asleep. In short, it covers all occasions. Liberty remains sweetly oblivious.

I was in the garage working on the old Bianchi. For some reason, the cats are fascinated by the bike stand, my tools, and the various noises. I always have an audience and whatever I'm doing requires constant inspection. I'm careful to shoo them away when I'm using lubricants or solvents, but they seldom stay away for long.

Liberty hopped up on the work bench to peer into my tool box. Unlike some of the other cats, she doesn't steal small items for use as playthings. I kept a wary eye on her nonetheless. The garage is not well ventilated.

Through the open doorway, Mary announced that lunch was ready. Now, I may fascinate the cats while working on a bike, but they venerate Mary - and the refrigerator - as the Sources of All Goodness. They were gone in an instant. I took advantage of that to drop the bike out of the stand and add some air to the tires with a floor pump.

I hadn't ridden the bike since fall, mostly due to the knee problems plaguing me since last summer. In cold weather, the knee hurts more. The snow in February hadn't helped. Besides shoveling for three days, I'd nearly fallen twice and I twisted the knee both times. I've been hobbling around with a cane most days.

The pain gradually eased off and the knee felt more stable, not a hundred percent, but definitely improved. That lead to the bike maintenance session.

The Bianchi was finished. I planned to ride it around the neighborhood after lunch. The back tire, however, had other plans. Later, I found it separated between the casing and the wire bead, but at the moment, all I heard was a loud bang, almost like a pistol shot.

Something crashed to the floor. "Oh, no!" Mary wailed from the kitchen. She joined me almost immediately in the garage, slamming the door behind her. Cats frantically scratched at the other side. "That scared me and I dropped your sandwich," she said, "and Liberty...well...Liberty..." She didn't have to go on.

A few minutes later, I cautiously opened the door. Liberty was finishing off the salami from my sandwich, her muzzle covered in mayonnaise. I could feel Mary's glare boring holes in my back with laser precision. There's a spare tire somewhere in the garage. It would be a good opportunity to fix the bike and go for a ride. I'll have lunch later.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Ask Dr. Wally: Helmet cameras

Dear Dr. Wally,

I've been thinking about getting a helmet camera to document the encounters I've had with local motorists. Most of them are safe, courteous drivers, but a small percentage are either baffled when they meet cyclists on the road or they're angry. I had a nasty security guard at a local business tell me I couldn't lock my bike to the fence outside. I'd really like to document this. Do you have any advice regarding these cameras?

Photogenic in Poteau

Ah, security guards. They occupy a special place in the pantheon of small-minded demi-gods, chubby county sheriff's deputies, and my waspish English teacher from high school. Get a helmet camera and use it, Pho, but don't expect that your effort will bring positive results in every case.

First, some background. In Oklahoma as in most states, there's no expectation of privacy in a public place. That means you can photograph people without their consent - provided you're not using the photos for advertising or using someone's likeness in a malicious way. You can take photos on private property, but if the property owner objects, you must leave or you can be arrested for trespassing. The photos, however, are your property and they cannot be taken from you.

Some police agencies will be proactive and try to identify problem motorists using a cyclist's video. Other agencies, however, regard cyclists as a nuisance and will dismiss even the most egregious video of an abusive or dangerous motorist. Still, with the popularity of a public forum like YouTube, these benighted police departments can be dragged kicking and screaming into the twenty first century.

Dr. Wally

Next month: Collected recipes for county sheriff's deputies from the wild cannibals of Oklahoma

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Photo musette

This lovely pile of stone is Tulsa's Union Depot, a former train station. It's now the Jazz Depot and home to the Tulsa Philharmonic. You can imagine men in fedoras and trenchcoats, tearful families seeing their sons off to war, or a Hollywood starlet stepping down from a train in front of adoring fans. I'd love to see the inside.

This is just a taste. I'm fascinated by the building and I'll undoubtedly go there again. For that matter, this is my second trip there already.

This is the first floor entry to the Depot. I like the Art Deco door handles, a nice touch considering that ordinary office doors would have been far less expensive.

This was taken with the Nikon N6006 in Collinsville last week. I like public art and I like red brick buildings, so the two go together quite well.

This was taken with the Canon A590IS earlier today. It's a motorcycle shop along Admiral Boulevard in Tulsa. This was one early alignment of Route 66, though more period buildings can be found along the 11th Street alignment.

The Canon doesn't seem to be as sharp as the Kodak Z1285. Then again, it's only 8 megapixels as opposed to the Kodak's 12 megs. I don't know if the lenses make a difference, but the Kodak has a Schneider lens too. One big failing of the Kodak is that the screen is impossible to see in bright light and there's no optical finder. I've been very tempted to attach an accessory viewfinder to this camera.

Here's another headstone from the cemetery last week too, again, taken with the Nikon N6006.

I'm a tired puppy. Besides the walking around in Tulsa this morning, I did some yard work and installed a new closer on the front door. My feets be hurtin'! Worse yet, I found out all too quickly that I'm in poor shape to be outside with a shovel in my hands.

More photos are over on my Picasa web album.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"We named the dog Indiana."

I bought a new hat, a classically styled fedora made of oil cloth. This is actually waxed cotton and it's the eighteenth century version of Goretex. The hat isn't dressy but it's certainly practical. The brim provides shade. When it's raining it keeps the water off my glasses. I hate having water droplets all over the lenses.

Number One Daughter says I look like Indiana Jones, assuming that Jones was nearsighted and walked with a limp due to a bad knee.

Given all that, this should be the prefect hat for an intrepid adventurer. So I set off to explore the deepest recesses of my Toshiba laptop. There was good reason to do so. Apparently some voodoo witch doctor laid a hex on it, or perhaps it was under the magic spell of an enchantress. On the other hand, since the kids have been using it regularly, it may just be gorfed.

'Gorfed' is a technical description of an electronic device that is not working at its full capacity - or any capacity - for that matter. It's a polite version of a somewhat more earthy, older term, but this is a family webpage after all.

Number One Son told me the computer wasn't working right. Sure enough, it wouldn't open various programs. The mouse pad was partially inoperative, and the clock indicated I was rapidly traveling both backward and forward in time.

After conversing, conferring, and otherwise hobnobbing with some fellow adventurers, the near universal advice was to replace the battery on the CMOS chip. This is the computer's internal clock and without it, bad voodoo happens. I could almost hear the drums.

I found a web page with instructions for disassembling the Toshiba, so with a jeweler's screwdriver in hand, I set off in pursuit of adventure. The first set back involved taking off the hat so I could wear binocular magnifiers. Those screws are tiny!

The battery was immediately revealed under a cover for the modem. I could see it, but I couldn't get to it. There were a few extra steps involved, like removing the battery, CD/DVD drive, hard drive, modem, memory sticks, myriad cables, and a partridge in a pear tree. The keyboard bezel had to come off, along with the keyboard, and top cover. I evicted a family of illegal Swedish immigrants, which explained all that late night singing and the rapid disappearance of my vodka. Finally, I arrived at the mother board. The instructions said to remove just the four screws holding it in place, but there were about a dozen in view. I was certain that if I chose incorrectly, arrows would spew from the walls or a boulder would crush me. Decisions, decisions.

By carefully prying up the motherboard, I was able to determine which screws to remove. The board popped out, and there, in all its glory, was the button cell battery. The damned thing has welded leads, not a clip, so I have to go find a replacement to solder onto the board!

I'm going to put my hat back on and trek off into the wilderness of Radio Shack! First, however, there was a minor plumbing disaster to take care of in the kid's bathroom, but that's another tale of adventure and mayhem.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Parent's dilemma

(First, an aside about the word 'dilemma.' I thought it was spelled 'dilemna' and in fact I found some support for that on-line. But when I checked the Webster's dictionary here in the house, I couldn't find dilemna. It's not in the OED, either. So dilemma it is.)

Number One Son found work as a security guard for a company here in Tulsa, surprisingly enough, the company that does security at the maintenance base where I work. And in a happy coincidence of monumental proportions, he's working the same shift as me! He has two weekdays off, so we ride to work together on the other three days.

This morning, it was 38F with a stiff north wind as we left the house well before dawn. I wore a windbreaker and a sweater. He had a short sleeved uniform shirt with a t-shirt underneath.

"Where's your jacket?" I asked. "It's cold out there."

"One of the cats peed on it. Mom hasn't washed it yet," he replied.

I wanted to ask 'why was your jacket on the floor?', 'why didn't you wash it yourself?', and 'why didn't you put a long sleeve thermal shirt on under your uniform?' But I stifled all that, thinking that a cold day at work would serve as a good reminder to take care of his things on his own. And almost immediately, I felt guilty for thinking that. He's my kid and there's a powerful urge to take care of him, even when he should be doing it himself.

I kept my mouth shut. Ultimately, he spent the day in the security van with the heater cranked up. Still, I wonder if I made the right decision today, but I suppose the real test of that will be revealed by his behavior. If he decides to do his own laundry as needed, I'll consider it a victory.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Crown Hill Cemetery

Crown Hill is an old cemetery that is still in use today. I've passed by it many times, and I've often wondered why it has these brick towers. Could they have served some purpose at one time, or were they meant to be merely decorative?

The oldest graves I saw dated from the 1920s. Many of the markers have the names and dates worn away by weather. Some were obviously home-made, cast out of concrete with the names scribed in with a sharp tool.

There are numerous military headstones. Most of these old soldiers fought in the Second World War, but I saw a few who served in World War One and Korea.

The photos seen here are reduced from the originals. And of course, those originals are on my Picasa web album. The full set includes 19 images.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Hump day

It's Wednesday and I'm feeling humpish. There are a few interesting bits in the news, and I feel compelled to make fun of some of them. It's that or go barking mad.

First up, this bit from the Visalia Times with the headline "Bike lanes get big boost in Visalia."

A cyclist cruises along Noble Avenue west of County Center Drive in Visalia on Tuesday. It is one of many proposed bike lanes in the city. / Ron Holman

(For some odd reason, Blogger insists on doing the rest of this in italics. I've tried to change it, but I've given up in frustration.)

I didn't make that up. If the caption is to be believed, this sidewalk is about to become a bike lane. If so, it's worse than that 3 foot wide door zone bike lane that was in the news last week. Visalia city officials should be given some credit for saying that every lane is a bike lane, and their plan to include bicycling education as part of the expansion of bike facilities is certainly laudable. Then there's this:

"Largely, the plan proposes new bike lanes for almost every new and proposed subdivision around Visalia's city-limits perimeter — but ignores many core traffic areas where bicyclists, often illegally, proliferate."

So they're saying that the heavy traffic areas and those streets that serve numerous and popular destinations aren't going to see any bike lanes. OK, cyclists can deal with that by riding in the lane - that same lane that the city says belongs to them in the first place since "every lane is a bike lane" - and they can reach their destinations.

Moving on...

CBS News has a piece titled "Bicycle Safety: 11 death-defying rules." You just know where this is going from the title alone, but here's the first paragraph:

"Bicycling is dangerous. How dangerous? Each year, cycling-related injuries send more than 500,000 people to the hospital - and more than 700 to the grave. Kids are at special risk. But everyone who rides a bike - child or adult - should be acquainted with basic bicycle safety rules. Here, with help from the National Traffic Safety Administration, are 10 of the most important ones...."

The first 'rule' is the universal wear-your-helmet admonition with the usual unattributed nonsense that it will cut the risk of head injury by 85%. By these standards, taking a shower, walking down a flight of stairs, or eating high-fat foods is a terribly dangerous undertaking.

Finally, down around the eighth or ninth rule, they get around to telling cyclists to obey the rules of the road. Well before that point, however, many will have given up reading the stultifying material.

And lastly...

Larry said that some new guy has been in the cafe a few times looking for Wally and me. Larry said his name is Andy Clerk, or something like that, and from his accent, he may be Canadian. I doubt that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police would come all this way looking for us, especially since the event in question involved nothing more than some lake trout, copious amounts of Canadian whiskey, and some brief public nudity, but we're not taking any chances. Wally and I will be up in the mountains on a fishing trip.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Funny noises

I was late getting home from work today because Number One Son and I stopped at Graingers to get him some safety glasses. Before we reached the house, Mary called. "The furnace is making funny noises," she said.

I firmly stifled the impulse to ask if the furnace was doing stand-up comedy. It's best not to ask such questions if only for the sake of marital harmony...and hot meals.

"What kind of noise is it?" I asked mildly.

"It's the fan or something. It thumps," she replied. "I just turned it off."

"I'll be home in a few minutes."

The furnace and air conditioner are as old as the house, probably a little over 25 years. Each spring, I give careful consideration to asking a priest to sprinkle holy water over the the air conditioner. He's on my speed dialer just in case either unit needs last rites.

We try to keep up with maintenance, cleaning the A-coil every couple of years, and cleaning the outside AC unit every year. The main fan failed about 6 or 7 years ago, but other than that the furnace and AC have worked almost flawlessly. But strange thumping noises had me worried.

I pulled off the covers and replaced the filter immediately, thinking that perhaps it was banging against the fan housing. When the fan turned back on, the thumping noise resumed.

I placed a quick call to my friend Wade, who does heating and air conditioning work. He said the fan may be out of balance due to dust build up, or the bearings could be bad, allowing it to wobble. "End play is normal," he said, "but you don't want it moving up and down."

The fan would have to come out. That meant removing the controller unit too. Like I said, I've been there before. It's not a terribly difficult job, but it's dirty and it's in a confined, dimly lit space. There's lots of sharp edged sheet metal in there, biding its time and waiting to taste human blood once again.

I loosened the controller and Jordan held it up out of the way while I removed the fan wiring. We managed to get it out without snagging or breaking any wires. Neither of us shed blood.

The problem was immediately revealed. The wiring schematic for the furnace - which had been attached to the inside wall of the unit - had become detached and was sucked into the fan. I cleaned the fan blades with an old toothbrush and it was ready to be installed.

This is the tricky part. The fan hangs from two slots on the underside of the furnace, two slots which are nearly impossible to see even with a couple of flashlights under the fan. It blocks the light. It took half a dozen tries before it went in, with me all the while bent over in the gloom. My arms ached. My back and legs hurt.

I re-connected the wiring and fastened the controller in place. The outer panels went back on and the furnace powered up.

The critical bit - no more thumping. She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed is pleased.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Sunday morning in Colliinsville


This first photo isn't from this morning. I took it last Saturday evening at a dance held by The Oklahoma Swing Syndicate (TOSS). They're swing dancing fans who meet each week at a church in Tulsa. I was surprised to see how many people attended that evening. And of course, watching dancers offers numerous photo opportunities. This one was taken while the pair practiced a move, meant to be a lift, but they kept missing it.

Collinsville has a 25mph speed limit on every street in town, unlike most others here in northeast Oklahoma. This is the first time I've seen a Yield to Pedestrians sign anywhere in the area. I don't know if it's in compliance with the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (interesting reading if you suffer from insomnia) but it's heartening to see the signs.

One other thing - Collinsville PD is quite serious about enforcing that 25 mph speed limit. Keep a careful eye on the speedometer if you're going through town.

Many older buildings here are brick, often red brick. Towns throughout the region were constructed at roughly the same time period, so the architecture and building materials are common themes. This is the Collinsville municipal building, formerly the fire house which - in a bit of irony - burned down one night. They built a new fire house and renovated the old one for offices. It's all red brick. Many of the streets are red brick too. They're kind of wavy, but don't have potholes.

As I took these photos, a crew was installing fresh bricks on the west side of this building.

This is the town's train station, now being used as a museum. I don't know if it's open regularly. The area around it is used for storage of the bricks for sidewalks and streets. There's an active railroad track nearby, about a hundred yards east of the station, so there must have been a spur leading here at one time. It's long gone.

There will be more photos over on my Picasa web album, including color versions of those above. I used the Canon A590IS this morning and I set it up to do black and white JPEGS as well as RAW. I have to convert the RAW images over to color JPEGs later today. (The photos are posted as of 4:15 local time. I just discovered that Picasa displays RAW files, though they've been reduced in size from the originals. Still, they look good.)

But first, I need a cup of coffee.

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Saturday, March 05, 2011

Doctor Wally news

This is just a heads-up message for regular readers. I'm seriously considering setting Wally loose on an unsuspecting world. Most of the Wally posts have been coming from the Red Dirt Pedalers newsletter, as you can see from the one earlier this week. But I'm thinking about diving back into some of that old material in order to re-post it over on the Examiner.

Dr. Wally would reach another, hopefully larger audience. He really deserves it, especially in light of the upcoming presidential election next year. The last time, you may recall, he ran unsuccessfully for the vice presidency. Recently he's been grumbling about the whole process again, so it's on his mind. He hasn't declared that he'll actually run, though he's soliciting money and numerous young women to assist in that effort. I hope he gets some cash soon, because it will help defer his bar tab at Larry's Cafe. Wally is calling it his "I'm NOT campaigning" headquarters. Larry doesn't mind because all those women help pack the place with free-spending men, especially on weekends.

In fairness, I have to say that I may run into some problems with posting on the Examiner. But I think the fairly straight forward advice pieces, while still containing some humor and satire, will be acceptable to the editor. The stories are another matter.

Other news: I did some wandering in Tulsa today - the first Saturday I've had free in quite a while - so there will be some photos to post probably tomorrow. Meanwhile, go look at these photos on The Mave Site. Here's a sample, and it's the kind of thing I'd like to accomplish along old Route 66:

In the Tulsa City County Library and in the Library of Congress, there are photos from the heyday of Route 66, when Tulsa was the Oil Capital of the World and Art Deco was the rage. I have to admit that I'm fascinated by all those old photos, and I enjoy looking for the old buildings.

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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Startling discovery in the Goodwill Store

I habitually stop in the local Goodwill store to look for old cameras, old books, old coffee makers, etc. 'Old' seems to be key. I found this Star Trek Barbie and Ken on display right inside the front door. I've never seen one of these previously, and as a dyed-in-the-wool geek, I just had to take a photo of it. Not buy it, mind you. I'm not that crazy.

The store manager saw me and said that photography isn't allowed in the store. That's OK. It's private property and they can call the shots. At least she didn't demand that I delete the images.

And on reflection, it's a disturbing image. Look carefully and you'll notice that Captain James Tiberius Kirk and Ken are holding hands! I wonder if Barbie knows. For that matter, I wonder if Spock knows. He can do that Vulcan mind meld thing, after all.

Anyway, I'm proud that our local Goodwill shop can be so open and progressive by putting something like this on display. This is Oklahoma, you know.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

In other news

I was listening to the news this morning, a story about American competitiveness and our vaunted ingenuity. The subject was 'the next big thing'. What device or system could we produce that would sell world wide and cement our reputation as the technological leader?

I don't remember who was being interviewed, but he said two things that got my attention. First, he said that American corporations are taxed at to high a rate. OK, that's pretty much dogma from any corporate spokesman. Even if we handed them gobs of money (and we do!) they'd kvetch about their excessive taxes.

Then it got interesting. He said that American corporations could be more competitive in global markets, except that they have difficulty finding suitably trained technical workers.

Do you see the connection? He complains that his taxes are too high, and in the next breath says he can't find educated workers. Excuse me? Doesn't paying those 'excessive' tax rates help to pay for schools, schools that presumably turn out a better educated, better trained workforce? It's in his company's best interest to support the schools that eventually supply his workers.

We're seeing this writ large in Wisconsin, where the governor and the majority party want to slash education spending while claiming that by doing so they'll produce more jobs. More jobs for whom? They're setting up conditions for an education and employment death spiral, as ill-prepared students enter the workforce and good jobs leave the state as employers look for better workers elsewhere. Even worse, those employers who remain will have to re-train workers, adding to their expenses. No doubt the blame will be placed on the public schools and the public school teachers, justifying yet more cuts to a 'dysfunctional' education system.

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The post-apocalypse cyclist

One of my friends is a survivalist. He stocked up on canned goods and other non-perishable foods thinking that the end of civilization is near. And he's asking me questions about what bicycle to use after the world devolves into chaos.

It's a given that sooner or later our civilization will collapse. I lie awake nights thinking about it, and rather than dwell on the admittedly slim chance of nuclear war, a meteor impact, or an invasion of aliens from outer space, I prefer to think about the very real possibility of a zombie apocalypse. Some may scoff, but when you consider that there's probably a grad student somewhere thinking that a zombie chicken would be really funny, working out a survival plan is in our best interests.

Popular culture has given us a few road signs to follow toward Armageddon. I'm thinking about movies like "Sean of the Dead". If you look carefully in the background, zombies are everywhere well before the protagonist becomes aware of them. They're shambling to work and back or waiting in the queue for the bus.

It's true. They're already with us. As evidence, I give you my teenage son and his buddies. They all exhibit slack-jawed empty stares with their ear buds in place as they send endless text messages or play video games. They listen to factory noises and insist that it's music. Communication is through grunts, hand gestures, and a painfully bored expression. Their diet consists of prodigious amounts of snack food, microwaved cheeseburgers, and energy drinks. It's only a matter of time until their conversion is complete. One night they'll run out of Cheetos and switch over to eating brains. I keep my bedroom door locked.

“28 Days Later” should be taken as a cautionary tale about the dangers posed by fast moving zombies. They could run without fatigue due to lactic acid build up in their muscles. So a bicycle would be an essential survival tool. Some would think that a mountain bike would be best for escaping a slavering zombie horde, but I have another suggestion. Any decent commuter bike will accelerate and corner faster than a mountain bike, and since it's most likely to be needed in an urban area, good pavement will be available.

But please don't wait until the menace is nearly upon you, with teeth trying to bite your arm. Get a commuter bike and start training now, this very day, and if you use it to go to work and back, you'll develop those critical skills that can save your life when the zombies attack. Many drivers are zombies already. They just don't know it. You'll be ready when they turn. And if you hear a car emitting a thumpa-thumpa-thumpa loud enough to rattle the windows in nearby buildings, that's probably my son or one of his friends. Try to distract them with a bag of Cheetos, and then sprint as if your life depended on it. It's worked for me.

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