Saturday, May 29, 2010

Ohhh... My aching Fingers...

Today was a busy, painful day. My pickup is having some clutch, transmission and electrical issues so a few hours this morning were spent wrenching on it. All that could be found wrong on this first cursory review was a broken vacuum line and a loose crankcase breather pipe.

My hands were hurting. So, I retired to my bedroom to take some ibuprofen and play a little on-line game a neighbor introduced to me. It is a first-person-shooter game that, even for this non-gamer can provide a fun little escape.

In this game I like to snipe. Not much movement is involved, just good aiming. Well, one of the other players was a little irritated with me. "Why don't you move around more? Get a higher score?"

"Well," I replied, "my fingers aren't terribly young anymore and don't move that well. Actually, they hurt."

After the ibuprofen kicked in, I went back down to clean some nuts and bolts from my bike on a wire wheel. After about a dozen my fingers started to hurt again; and I wondered... 'Just how much punishment have these fingers been through?'

And, so I retired to my computer to figure it out. Follow me if you will...

  • I have been a computer programmer since about 1988; that's 22 years.
  • If I have worked on average five days a week for 22 years, that's 5720 days.
  • An average programmer produces about 300 lines of code per day. There have been days when I produced no code, simply doing research or data manipulation or testing or debugging. Then there are the intense days when I have produced over 600 lines of code. So, I am sticking with the 300 line average.
  • And, so, over the course of the last 22 years, I have created an approximate total of about 1,716,000 lines of programming code.
  • Let's assume the average line of computer code is about 25 characters. Many are longer, many shorter. This is just a good ballpark number.
  • This yields a total of 42,900,000 characters my two little hands have produced.
  • Further, divide this by four fingers (Ignore the thumbs) and that gives us 5,362,500 characters or keystrokes per finger for the last 22 years.

That's a LOT! Is it any wonder my fingers hurt?

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Life of a Telecommuter

Well, onto a more concrete, less abstract topic... Telecommuting.

For the past month or two I have been working at home. Being a professional computer programmer does seem to lend itself to this particular mode of employment. There is also the 'cool factor...' In front of me is two laptop computers; one sporting a Windows 7 running on a seven core 64 bit Intel processor, tickling nearly eight giga-bytes of RAM. The other is sporting Windows XP Pro on a 2 GHz Celeron processor. Both have dual LCD screens, one of which is a high-def wide-screen format.

Then upstairs is my Linux file server and desktop 'play' system. Not bad on the 'geek nirvana' scale.

However there are some danger points in this mode of employment; namely, lack of saddle time.

Commuting to work yielded about 30 miles of daily riding. Now I barely get 30 miles of riding each week. That is not something easy to adjust to.

Then there is the damned kitchen. I wake up about 5:00, make coffee and take my daughter to work. I am usually in front of the computer by 6:30. Walking into the kitchen for more coffee is an exercise in self control. Ooooo the snacks and munchies that await in cupboards and on refrigerator shelves.

After the first three weeks, I started getting healthy snacks like apples and carrots and the like. But still, thoughts of cookies tickle my brain stem. Ooooo... I could whip up a batch in no time and have them baked before lunch. Who would know??? :-P

Friday, May 21, 2010

Putting the Parts Together

Honestly, this post has been tumbling around for a while, just waiting for the proper words and metaphors and the right day. From time to time, a fellow blogger and friend, Ms. M and I play off each others posts. I am not sure who started it, but she wrote an entry that inspired this one. While perhaps a bit delayed, writing this post before now would have been premature.

Rebuilding a motorcycle requires patience, time, a little money and determination. There are few shortcuts. Less patience requires more money. Less time requires more money. Less determination and the bike may never be rebuilt.

More money bypasses many of these things. With more money, people can be hired to rebuild the engine or powder coat the frame or even perform the complete rebuilding process. Doing this, however, tends to distance one from the bike; it creates a chasm of sorts.

I have a lot of parts. I have a lot of projects.

Let's say for a moment A person, an old bike mechanic walks by my garage and notices all of the parts, and the nearly complete, almost rolling frame.

He offers his assistance but tells me it will cost a beer now and then. And, the old parts I have lying around need to be thrown away, "The only way these parts are gonna fit together is if ya pitch the ones ya don't need. If ya pitch a few good ones, don't worry. We can get others or make new ones that fit even better."

He tells me it may be tough and there is no guarantee she will run when she is all back together, but he will do what he can.

Sure, I may do fine without his assistance, but here is a fellow offering to help. He loves these old bikes and wants to see this one run again.

So, do I throw out a few good parts, buy him a few beers and accept his assistance or continue down my current path, lugging old parts where I go?

Do I accept the short term hardships, challenges and possible losses to get her running well again or continue down the safer course?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Little Restraint Needed

As much as I enjoy my Sportster, and as much as I enjoy my little Rebel, there is a special place in my being for adventure riding. Sure, one can partake in riding adventures on any bike, my little cross-country adventure on my Rebel was proof of that. However, available time for such a ride is rather rare; I am only glad my boss rides and could be convinced a three week vacation was in order.

The back roads, the narrow paths, the solitude and beauty of areas less traveled has, as far as can be remembered, held a special place. While moving into my apartment, an old notebook was found at the bottom of a box. "Over 60" was scrawled in red permanent marker over its fading green cover. Inside, on the first few pages were plans and route ideas I had formulated in the mid-90's for a trip above the 60th parallel. Optimistically it was to take place in the year 2000.

Perhaps it was a bit of escapism from the facades of Las Vegas, or perhaps other things. Regardless, the year 2000 involved no travels to the Northwest Territories or the Yukon. It was spent in a certain layer of insanity.

That being neither here-nor-there at this point, I want to ride the trails and gravel roads. Both my Sportster and Rebel can do it, albeit poorly. They were not meant for this sort of riding.

A bike on my 'short list' of next stable additions is the Suzuki DR650 line of dual-sport bikes (pictured above). Last night was spent reading reviews and history of this line, and I was hooked. The DR's are light, simple, efficient, durable and popular. Alas, due to all of these fine attributes, the resell value is quite high, even for those made in the mid 90's.

Going out to the garage to grab a beer I see my project bike. 'What are you thinking??? Your adventure bike is right there! Patience!'

Sure, she is a bit heavy, weighing in at about 450 pounds dry. Sure, she is more of a 'standard' than dual-sport. Yes, it is a V-Twin, not a thumper or inline twin like other adventure bikes. But, what am I thinking? SHE IS the adventure. It has already begun! For the most part, a bolt-by-bolt rebuild by a novice bike mechanic, reconstructing a unique bike with a few additional tweeks to make her off-road worthy.

Fantasy adventures may be fun, but the concrete adventures are the ones that stay with, and are a part of us.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

An 'Ill-Advised' Ride on a Honda Rebel

Yes, the urge was there. Two years ago I took my little Rebel on an ill-advised ride from Las Vegas to Kitty Hawk and back. Last Saturday I took her on another 'ill-advised' ride. We went out on some desert roads to the South East of Vegas. Damn, that was fun. Maybe I need to get a real adventure bike.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Lessons From Mice

It was a fabulous morning. The sky was brilliant blue, the sun mild, sneaking its way up past the mountains to the east. The wind sang a delicate melody in the trees as the birds chirped out a dissonant harmony.

While taking my daughter to work at six AM, she discussed her day, "I am going to get off at noon, come home, separate the mice, have a bite to eat and then 'caterday.' You up for that?"

"Sounds like a fabulous plan, Bri."

"I really want to get those mice separated into their big tanks. They will have SO much more room and won't get pregnant again!"

As a bit of explanation, my daughter has a pet Ball Python. He eats a mouse about every other week. So, after she got him several months ago, I purchased two feeder mice for him. Unknown to me, one of the mice was pregnant. She had ten babies a few weeks later.

Bri separated them but one of the males got out and visited the female cage. You may have heard how promiscuous rabbits are. Well, they must have learned from mice. The one male got six of the females pregnant over the course of a single night.

And so, four of the females had babies that survived; about 19 babies in all. One momma mouse had only three. Bri called them the 'chill' mice. Momma was calm and enjoyed human contact as did her kids. "These," she said, "I am keeping as pets."

In all, the 'chill' mice were three females and one male, including the mother.

Prior to today, each mother and her litter were in different containers. The males and females needed to be separated so that they didn't procreate further; as they were coming close to sexual maturity.

My daughter had two nice aquarium style containers prepared; one for males, one for females. They had fresh bedding, new ceramic food dishes, exercise wheels, and just about everything a mouse destined to be snake food could want.

On the way home from work she seemed excited about her mouse chores, making sure it was the first thing she did; and it was, even with her work clothes on. After the procedure was complete, she called me in from the garage to watch the shenanigans.

The males, as males of most species do, were sniffing butts and fighting for dominance. Honestly, they were not a lot of fun to watch; running around, eating, drinking, fighting...

But the females! They were fun. Many would dig under the bedding and hide. Bri would scoop up a bunch of bedding in her hand, let it tumble out and there would be three or four mice running around on her hand.

Others females were running on their exercise wheel, the mommas knowing how it worked, but the babies would grab on and twirl around as their mommas' ran. We sat there for nearly an hour guffawing and belly laughing. They seemed to be having the times of their little mousey lives; running and jumping and making mistakes and trying again; and eating and drinking and generally being great entertainment for two humans.

After a bit we decide to break from the laughing and retire upstairs for 'caterday.' 'Caterday' is one day of the week we spend looking at goofy websites such as icanhascheezeburger and the like. And more laughing for about an hour commenced.

When were were both exhausted from laughing our brains out, I put my baseball cap on and head down stairs. My plan was to run to the store for groceries and then make dinner. There was a delay.

I look over to see what silliness the female mice were doing now, only to be faced with a horror. While we were upstairs laughing together, the sneaking sun became furious and made its way through the window, through an open spot in the shade and into the tank. Seven mice were dead and four barely holding on.

I grab the tank, pull it to the shade and sprinkle the still live mice with water. Just an hour ago they were clean white mice, living it up; playing and running and exchanging mousie stories. Now they were dead or barely living. They were burning up. We did what we could with the living ones; the last one to die, expired in my daughter's hand.

Only one ultimately survived; 'chill' momma. And even though she survived immediately, the next 24 hours will likely indicate whether she survives longer. Bri has already said that should she live, she will certainly not be snake food; she has earned a long mousie life.

Perhaps there is a lesson here. Perhaps we should play more, and not care whether we fail or succeed so much, and keep trying when we do fail, and maybe after falling off the wheel a dozen times, try it one more time.

One never knows one's last day or hour or minute. Play, enjoy life, hop on the wheel.

Friday, May 14, 2010

State of Indeterminate Unsettlement

These are not necessarily bad times in the Razor household. My daughter and her boyfriend are both employed and paying their rent. Further, my daughter starts her second year of college in a few weeks and is determined to earn her Masters in Psychology. To that end, we have been discussing graduate schools, and at her prompting, not mine!

I have two motorcycles in my garage that are running well and my VX800 project bike is proceeding well with only a few minor glitches. Nothing bad or depressing there.

The weather has been nice; not the typical Las Vegas heat of May, heralding in the blow-torch desert summer heat. There have even been a few light showers to break the endless blue skies.

Work has been interesting and thrown a few new challenges my way. About three weeks ago I started working from home. My employer of more than a few years decided to move to a different building. In their effort to minimize costs, volunteers were sought to work from home. Guess who volunteered.

Aside from the strong temptation to go downstairs to the kitchen for snacks and the occasional twinge to visit my garage to enter into some wrenching, it is actually proving to be successful.

Perhaps this is the catalyst for my recent unsettlement. Previously my daily commute required a thirty mile ride round trip. Now, I may get 20 miles of riding every week. Withdrawals perhaps?

Well, Saturday morning I have some ill-advised riding planned. A three day Memorial Day ride is in its planning stages. Perhaps these will help bring some much needed quiescence.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

A Truly 'Wrenching' Weekend

Upon review of my previous post listing the interests I have had over the years, there was one glaring omission. There are simply some things that are so entwined as to be obvious beyond enumeration. I am, and have been a ham radio operator since 1983. KA9RVK, first licensed as Novice class.

Oh, the sultry Illinois nights spend rattling out Morse Code, chatting with folks all over North America. Earned my Tech Plus certificate in 1985 and used my radio equipment to be a storm spotter. Passed my General exam in 1999 (I believe) and received the call KC7RAD. Most of my equipment was sold in the mid 2000's to cover various expenses relating to... changes. BUT, if all goes well, I shall be back on the air again soon.
And, here is my stable. On the left is "Athena", my Harley Sportster XL1200C. In the center is "Reb", my Honda Rebel. On the right is "Vixen", my Suzuki VX800 project bike. Recently "Vixen" has been the object of my attention.

Not long ago she transitioned from 'tear down' status to 'rebuild' status. I hit a wall; a wall so solid I was ready fold. It was the engine. Honestly, there are two VX800s in my garage; one rebuild and one donor. The rebuild bike's engine has issues; the cylinders need to be bored out to remove rust damage. It was my hope that the donor bike's engine would be in better condition. Better, yes, but not by much. Rust in the cylinders, bad pistons, rusty primary crank gear, carbs that required complete rebuilds. It was not a pretty picture.
Then it hit me, where are the bolts? There are these parts that require major rework and I have no idea where the bolts are. What am I doing? I am not a motorcycle repair professional, let alone one with skill to perform a bottom-up restoration! Parts with out bolts, without something to hold then into a functional piece of motorcycling beauty is nothing! Parts of a life with nothing holding them together; is that nothing as well?

After posting my frustration to the VX800 e-mail list, a fellow building a custom VX800, and author of the VX800 Restoration Project sent several great e-mails. They were the kick in the seat inspiration that was needed. It isn't about building a perfect bike. It isn't about having deadlines or hard goals each week or month. It isn't about worrying whether the bolts are all there.

It is about the rebuild and about enjoying the time spent doing what few do to an uncommon motorcycle. It is to be enjoyed. The pieces will fit together eventually. The bolts will be located. This is an act of enjoyment not toil.

Perhaps less time and concern should be wasted worrying about the connecting pieces of a life and more spent on enjoying the act of connecting. Finite things, regardless of their connectivity should be enjoyed.
And so, this weekend was spent, for the most part, in calm wrenching bliss. The radiator and general cooling system for my VX800 was disassembled, cleaned, tested and reassembled. The foot pegs, mounts and shields received the same treatment, plus the shields received several coats of flat black engine enamel
Enjoy and be mindful that the screw driver may be sharper than you think.