Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Riding on the rims

January 13, 2020

My old bro’ Dr. Schenkenstein practices the mystical art of puncture resolution during a February 2011 ride around Bibleburg.

Do you remember when you learned how to fix a flat?

I don’t. But I’m pretty sure that in my first incarnation as a cyclist I served my time as one of those guys you occasionally see trudging gloomily along, pushing a bike, instead of spending a few moments at roadside swapping tubes and getting back after the riding of the thing.

No doubt some lucky shop handled flats for me until I got “serious” about cycling in the mid-Eighties. I didn’t have any mentors, or friends who were deeply into the sport, so I read every bike magazine and book I could lay my hands on and got my basic training and maintenance tips from a distance as I moved around from job to job, town to town, Pueblo to Colorado Springs to Denver to Española to Santa Fe, where I finally joined my first club and started taking instruction the hard way.

Flats, it seemed, were part of the price of admission to the game. You want to play? You got to pay. It’s like taking your pulls, or sharing food, water and kit as circumstances dictate. Sooner or later you have to give it up. Patch it up. Whatevs.

It’s no big deal. Unless you have been seduced by what the engineers call “progress,” fixing a flat on the fly is not rocket surgery or brain science. Open the brake caliper, flip the quick release, remove the wheel, pry off the bead, remove the old tube, check to make sure that whatever violated its integrity is no longer in the tire, install the new tube, inflate, replace the wheel, close the QR and caliper, stuff the flat tube in a jersey pocket, and get on about your business. Easy peasy. Even the Irish can manage it.

Of course, they’d have to make a short story out of it. Perhaps a song. Or maybe a podcast.

A podcast?

Yes, yes, yes — pull out your patch kits and push in the earbuds, it’s time for another thumb-fingered edition of Radio Free Dogpatch.

P L A Y    R A D I O    F R E E    D O G P A T C H

• Technical notes: This episode was recorded with an Audio-Technica AT2035 microphone and a Zoom H5 Handy Recorder. I altered the recording setup a bit, breaking out an old Auray reflection filter to help isolate the large-diaphragm condenser mic, then edited the hot mess using Apple’s GarageBand on the 13-inch 2014 MacBook Pro. The background music is “Out of Step” and “In His Own Way” from Zapsplat.com. The rim shot is from xtrgamr at Freesound.org, which also supplied the pop! (gniffelbaf) and the squeaky chain (Jamesrodavidson), because you just know that a pro like me would never, ever have a squeaky chain. Yeah, right.

¡Feliz año nuevo!

January 1, 2020

Another one bites the dust.

Well, here we are. 2020. A whole new year to play with. It’s like bringing that new bike home from the shop. Can’t wait to take it out for a spin.

Actually, I’m in no rush. It’s still below freezing out there at the moment, and it wasn’t much warmer when I took an old bike for a spin yesterday afternoon.

It was a Steelman Eurocross, and the only reason it and I were on the trails was to squeeze one final drop of fun from the old year. There was a chilly wind from the north, and I was wearing my heavy-duty bib tights, two long-sleeve polypro undershirts, a stout long-sleeve winter jersey, tuque plus cycling cap, winter gloves, wool socks, and winter shoes.

The trails were just a bit tacky, which was fine, especially when I took a detour through a gravel wash. This is a long, gradual uphill, and not ideal for 33mm tires in dry conditions unless you’re Belgian or Dutch. I put ’er in 36×28 and ground me some gravel, just like the Kool Kidz do.

All in all this proved a relaxing interlude between bouts of tech support at Herself the Elder’s place. She’s been having trouble getting her iPhone and hearing aids to make nice together via Bluetooth. The cable-TV setup is likewise challenging. Once again we find engineers making things more complex than they need to be, just because they can.

“Lookit me, I’m engineering!” Indeed you are, Poindexter, and I hope your granny writes you out of her will.

So, yeah, studying the catechism of elder tech, pondering the mysteries. Lacking faith, but doing the works in hopes of enlightenment.

After some success that can be described only as limited Herself and I came home to El Rancho Pendejo, warmed up some leftovers, watched a bit of standup on Netflix, and called it a night long before the ball dropped in Times Square.

Tomorrow, we agreed, would be another day. Year. Whatevs. Where the gravel at?

12 Days of ’Toonsmas: Day 10

December 29, 2019

A colleague thought this one might get taped up on a few shop walls.
From the October 2019 issue of BRAIN.

As noted on Day 9, e-bikes have their ups and downs. Like any other bicycle, only more so.

They ask more of their owners — check out this article from an REI master tech in Portland — and of their friendly neighborhood mechanic.

Sometimes, a fella just longs to see one of the old bikes. V1.0. The kind that doesn’t give you much help, but doesn’t give you many headaches, either.

12 Days of ’Toonsmas: Day 9

December 28, 2019

Susan Calvin was off when these two rolled off the line at U.S. Robots.
From the September 2019 issue of BRAIN.

E-bikes present both opportunity and challenge for the IBD.

One more bike to sell to the base — the old white guy who already has 15 two-wheelers in the garage but may be slowing down a bit due to age or infirmity, and wants a little assist.

One more bike to lure new customers, who may have found old-fashioned cycling too difficult, or who have decided to replace a car with something greener.

One more bike to service, because the future requires more maintenance than the past.

Our heroes at BRAIN’s bike shop acquired an e-assistant to work on e-bikes, which raises another issue, one familiar to anyone who ever read Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream.”

Artificial intelligence will not come to us from U.S. Robots, complete with a full installation of Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics and overseen by Susan Calvin, Greg Powell and Mike Donovan. It will come from Allied Mastercomputer via Ellison Wonderland, it will have ideas all its own, and it will not be our friend.

“They’re a cleaner better breed than we are,” Calvin said in an interview with The Interplanetary Press. Maybe so. in Asimov’s novels, anyway. But in real life our e-assistants will be made by us, in our image. Frightening.

You’ll want to keep them locked up at night, and not for fear of thieves.

12 Days of ’Toonsmas: Day 5

December 24, 2019

I’m shocked — shocked! — to learn the price of an e-bike.
From the May 2019 issue of BRAIN.

If this one feels a bit like the last one, well, I was trying to match the ’toon with its issue’s theme, which happened to be (wait for it) e-bikes.

Plenty of people who should know better (some adventurous cyclists among them) think $1,500 is a lot to pay for a bike you don’t have to plug into a wall socket at night. And I’ve talked to more than one velo-curious person who thinks a third of that sounds about right.

So I was speculating how that sort of customer might react upon learning the price of a decent e-bike from the corner IBD.

And you know me — ever-ready with a cheap gag (rimshot).

12 Days of ’Toonsmas: Day 4

December 23, 2019

Stoned again: From the April 2019 edition of BRAIN.

The bike business sometimes reminds me of Henri the painter in John Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row.”

Regularly he revolted against outworn techniques and materials. One season he threw out perspective. Another year he abandoned red, even as the mother of purple. Finally he gave up paint entirely. It is not known whether Henri was a good painter or not for he threw himself so violently into movements that he had very little time left for painting of any kind.

Think about it. Movements, and violently. The road bike. The mountain bike. The suspension fork. Full suspension. Steel, aluminum, carbon, bamboo. The cyclocross bike. The cruiser. The fixie. The townie. The fat bike. 1x drivetrains. 8-, 9-, 10-, 11- and 12-cog cassettes. STI, ErgoPower and DoubleTap. Internally geared hubs. Belt drive. Disc brakes. Hydraulic disc brakes. Electronic shifting. Tubeless tires. The e-bike. The cargo bike. The gravel bike.

We can argue about whether all (or any) of these movements improve upon the basic bicycle. But I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that I just want to ride the damn things. And if I have to be a quantum mechanic to work on it, I don’t need it.

Told I could have just one bicycle, I would choose a chromoly frame and fork with rack and fender mounts plus clearance for 42mm tires, a nine-speed, 11-34T cassette with a 46/30T crank, a short-reach, shallow-drop handlebar, bar-end shifters, aero levers, rim brakes, external cable routing, and 32-spoke clincher wheels (pre-tubeless “standards”).

Of course, that’s just me. One old white guy does not an industry make. But still.

In the meantime, I make fun of fads. Keep making those superhero movies, fellas. I’ll be over here, reading a fucking book.

All stove up

November 27, 2019

The HAL 9000 unit effects repairs upon the Frigidaire 666 unit.
Photo: Hal Walter

The Retro-Grouch, Continued: Some people, and the devices they devise, can be too smart for their own good.

And more importantly, for ours.

Case in point: My man Hal up in Weirdcliffe just replaced a $200 control-board/keypad widget in his $1,500 Frigidaire oven for the third time, after being ovenless since March 29. He’s slightly over it, but consoles himself with the knowledge that had he employed the local appliance-repair dude to do the job(s), he’d be out another six hundy or so.

Next time around he may fix it for good.

“If this thing breaks down again, I will shoot it full of holes,” he said. “The backside of this fucker looks like the wiring to the starship Enterprise.”

And why is that, d’you suppose? What do we require of an oven? That it boldly go where no one has gone before? Nope. That it bake things, and roast things, and broil things, and not take eight months off per annum, amirite? What do we need for that? Heating coils, a thermostat, and knobs to make it all hop, yeah?

My old Whirlpool double-decker uses analog knobs and is about as smart as an Iowa Republican. The knob that sets the clock is missing. Happily, unlike an Iowa Republican, I know what time it is.

And unlike Hal, I never have to crawl into the backside of the fucker with a toolbox, like Scotty, with Kirk hollering into his communicator.

“Captain, I canna make ’er cook nae faster! She’s about to blow!”

Channel surfing

November 12, 2019

TV or not TV? In this case, it’s definitely TV.

Any of yis care to weigh in with a recommendation for a new TV that’s not insane?

I’m hunting one for the mom-in-law, who needs it for the new digs. Nothing huge, probably a 43-incher or under, and preferably a model with easily navigated menus and a remote that doesn’t look like the dashboard of the Millennium Falcon. Just your basic Ralph Spoilsport model, a personal remote-controlled, picture-sized color TV, with matching brass knobs, the kind where you reach above the bar and press the button right there under the handy laminated imitation-masonite Wild West gun rack with the look of real wood, for the channel of your choice.

We’re dealing with the elderly and feeble-minded here, which is to say me, a guy who hasn’t set up a new TV in the better part of quite some time.

Thanks for the insurrection, and now back to our morning concert of afternoon showtime favorites — the Magic Bowl movement from Symphony in C Minus by Johann Amadeus Matetsky.

The Terminator is a wordsmith

October 13, 2019

Sweetheart, give me rewrite … and an oil change.

Ho boy. There goes the neighborhood. The Poindexters are building the next Billy Shakespeare out of 1s and 0s.

In this piece for The New Yorker, John Seabrook wonders:

Could the machine learn to write well enough for The New Yorker? Could it write this article for me? The fate of civilization may not hang on the answer to that question, but mine might.

Sigh. Remember the good old days, when automatic writing was limited to the spirits or subconscious? I have a feeling this new breed of writer will rely on a different solvent than did its human predecessors.

“Gimme a benzene. Make it a double. I’m stalled on this goddamn novel.”

Powerless

October 9, 2019

“Who turned out the lights? Strike a match, Betty Lou, I can’t see shit.”

Remember the good ol’ days, when you could make magic just by flipping a switch? Communication, refrigeration, information, even transportation, all delivered with a wave of one hand. One finger, actually. No, not that one.

And without burning down half the county, too.

As is often the case, our brethren and sisthren in California are getting a sneak peek at the future this week as PG&E returns them to the Dark Ages, that they may not be barbecued by their desires for communication, refrigeration, information, even transportation.

I wonder how much safer everyone will be with a few million generators busily chugging along next to the woodpiles.

“Crank up the Honda, hon’, ‘Dancing With the Stars’ is coming on!”

• Extra Bonus Snark: Good timing, awarding the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to three scientists behind the lithium-ion battery. We’re gonna need a bigger one, dudes.