Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Stories Moths Tell

Of Moths and Other Stories

Just to illustrate the ubiquity of stories waiting to be told, just this evening I made note of the overhead kitchen light casting a star-like pattern of lights into the sink, from the holes in the nearby pasta strainer. Which then led us to discussing my wife's grandmother's old pasta colander, which she'd used for years until one of the legs broke off, after which I repurposed it into an overhead light fixture in my Man Cave shed. Which then led me to think, "That's another story needing to be told."


Here's a few thoughts I put together in video format, based on this piece, about the ubiquity of stories and the necessity to be a listener before we can be a teller.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Bike Tinkering

Bike Tinkering

No, the top photo isn't of my bike's gear train. But both of them were certainly in need of some service. Fortunately, most of the work required of bikes can be done by their owners, depending on how many specialty tools you're willing to acquire.

I've never been an athletic bike rider, but did spend many years as a kid riding on two wheels around town. I first had an "English Racer" Rayleigh 3-speed with hub shifter and a black lacquered paint finish with gold trim. At the time it looked old and stodgy, but today would exude much positive hipster vibes. My older brother got a yellow Schwinn Varsity 10-speed from our Dad, which we thought was as cool as a Chevy Corvette, and together we'd do a lot of urban riding.

I had a 10-speed bike while in the Navy, but got rid of it because it was difficult to store on the ship, and I didn't like riding the steep hills of San Diego; also, the bus system wasn't conducive to bikes back then. I don't remember the brand, but I think it was fairly nice. Later, in the 1980s, I thought about getting a bike once again and got an urban commuter bike, kind of like a mountain bike in layout but not as aggressive, more suited to city riding, and did some commuting on that. Later I got another Schwinn road bike, a 12-speed, which I had up until the late 1990s and had it converted to flat handlebars.

Then I got interested in recumbents, and got a Bike E, upon which I did more riding than any other bike in my adult life. I remember making a 50-mile ride through the White Sands Missile Range on a cloudy April Saturday morning, during their twice-per-year public opening, where they make available the Trinity Site and McDonald ranch house (where the core of The Gadget was assembled prior to being loaded into the device and hoisted atop the 100-foot tower). The ride started at the Stallion Gate on the north end of the Missile Range, and takes a 50-mile circuit, including the Trinity Site itself. I was totally unprepared for that ride in the sense that I didn't do any special training, but did fine.

I think it was me getting into motor scooters, then motorcycles, in the early 2000s that tore me away from bikes. The recumbent sat dormant, then I had my brother store it in his garage. A few years later we got these Townie cruiser bikes. They're 21-speed, not a true single-speed cruiser. My wife's has wider tires, fenders and a front shock, so it's heavy; while mine has no suspension, thinner 700cc tires and is lighter and faster. They're both comfortable to ride, but not as comfortable as the recumbent.

Several years ago a pile of clutter in my brother's garage fell over onto the Bike E and broke the seat bracket. The bike is no longer being manufactured, but I need to see if I can find a replacement after-market (or used on eBay) seat bracket and see if I can fix it up. I'd love to go recumbent riding again.

I've been enjoying writing on this French-made Hermes 3000.

Hermes 3000 at Sandia Foothills

Here's what a black Bike E AT looks like (below). It's not a true recumbent, the riding position is more semi-recumbent (the pedals being lower than the seat), but I found it ideal for city riding, as it was easy to set a foot down at a traffic stop, even with clip-on pedals; and it's not as low to the ground as a recumbent trike; although I'd love to have one of those. At that time in the late 1990s the Bike E was the best-selling recumbent brand.

The valid criticism of recumbents is they're harder to climb hills than conventional diamond-frame bikes. You can't stand up on the pedals. The trick with the recumbent riding position is to gear down and spin faster. Hill climbing on a recumbent is more of a cardio workout than a leg muscle thing. But they do have an advantage when going downhill in terms of aerodynamics. I've ridden the Bike E at frightfully fast downhill speeds, even with its tires being wider than those of an ultra-thin wedgie racing bike. The thing about recumbents is that they make the journey as important as the destination, especially important if you have degenerative arthritis and don't want to put a lot of force and vibration on your hands and wrists.

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Monday, May 11, 2020

The Thing Transformed

The Thing — Paper roll note-taking holder, latest version.
The Thing Transformed

No, the thermal Sharp PA-1050 typewriter prints lines just fine. I'm using the iPhone's panorama mode to scan this over-24-inch-long piece, and handholding it as I move it causes these wonky artifacts. I need to make a dolly that moves the iPhone smoothly across the tabletop. Also, maybe less coffee?

The Thing — Paper roll note-taking holder, latest version.

Side view (above). Note the narrow gap between the main plate and bottom, where the paper feeds under the unit from the supply spool in back to the writing surface and take-up spool up front. The supply spool free-wheels on the aluminum rod, whereas the take-up spool is driven by turning the wing nut. Note the half-round dowels at the front and rear edges for the paper to make a smoother bend around.

The Thing — Paper roll note-taking holder, latest version.

Underside (above). Note the access holes for feeding a fresh roll of paper. And the non-slip rubber pads.

Kitchen Paper Roll Note-Taker

For reference (above) is the note-taking roll holder I made for my wife. Simple design, the roll free-wheels on the aluminum tube. The thin brass rod is for the paper to roll underneath. Note the brass plate that serves to keep the paper flat while providing for a tear-edge. The version I made for my sister-in-law is very much the same. To replace the paper, the aluminum tube is pressed out with a pen cap, and fits snuggly into the holes drilled in the side brackets.

Let's get back my comment above, about using the iPhone's panorama mode for "scanning" this long piece, thermally-typed on a roll of fax paper. Panorama mode is intended for the user to hold the phone vertically in portrait orientation and slowly rotate around a scene; the phone's software stitches together a mega-sized image, much larger in pixel size than the native camera could achieve on its own. In fact, a standard flatbed scanner would also be of little use for these long sheets of paper.

In use as a makeshift scanner, I'm instead moving the phone in a line along the length of the scroll of paper. In order to have a distortion-free image I need to move the phone at a constant speed, without it tilting up, down or sideways. And, in order to achieve even exposure along the length of the paper, I need to lay it on my video table with lights ablaze. For this shot I clipped the paper sideways to a board and tilted it at an angle toward the phone; the phone in portrait orientation needed to be pointing down at an angle perpendicular to the paper, then be moved smoothly along its length at a constant speed without changing the angle. Not easy to do. In the future I need a fixture to help me do this better.

I'm one for the "elegant solution". Yes, I could cobble together a stepper-motor-and-Arduino system for moving a motorized dolly across the tabletop, or buy a video slider system, but I'm thinking of an elegantly simpler solution. First is a smooth surface that runs the width of the table, say made from spare hardwood flooring panels that happen to be in my storage shed. Next is a wheeled dolly to mount the phone onto via an adjustable ball-head mount. Then a thin wire (or string) that runs from the front of the dolly to a pulley at the side of the table, attached to the end of the string being a heavy weight, that pulls the dolly forward as the weight falls. To achieve constant speed another string is attached to the back of the dolly, around another pulley and onto a weathervane-style rotor. As the weight pulls the dolly, the weathervane rotor spins fast. Because of air resistance, the rotor can only spin at a constant speed, which helps to regulate the speed of the dolly's movement.

I first saw this method used in a Panasonic (Technics) cassette deck, back in the 1980s. Most cassette decks that had a slow-opening lid used a plastic dashpot (a cylinder and piston arrangement with a calibrated air hole) lubricated by synthetic grease, that made the lid, operated by a spring, open slowly - until the grease hardened or the rubber o-ring wore out, which was frequent. In the Technics deck, they use a draw spring attached to the door that wound around a shaft, like a windlass, that turned a 4-vane brass whirligig. The speed of the door was regulated automatically by the air friction of the whirligig spinning. I thought it was an elegant solution that proved to be much more reliable than the plastic cylinder and grease method used by other brands.

Or, another strategy might be to put a few extra lines every 11 or so inches, and photograph the scroll in sections; but that would involve preplanning, and I'm much better with spontaneity.

PS: What's all them numbers written on the paper roll? That's the subject of another blog article!

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Wednesday, May 06, 2020


Silent-Super on Holiday (Case)

With the Silent-Super attached to the lower half of the holiday case but the top half removed using its quick-disconnect feature, it sat comfortably in my lap for some relaxing springtime afternoon meditative typing onto Southworth linen paper. Normally this would be a task ideally suited for an ultra-portable, but I like the elite typeface of this machine, and its richly dark imprint.

It was recently pointed out to me that the backspace key, although being virtually the same color, isn't the same shape as the others. It must have been replaced at some time in the past, probably by a typewriter shop. Which implies that it's gone through two rough periods during its existence, followed by some restoration. A broken or missing key cap is a sign of some rough use, and I'm certain the shop, whomever it was, wouldn't have returned it to its owner without being fully serviced.

When I acquired it just a few years ago it was again in poor shape, extremely dirty and exuding a foul odor. It took me months to clean, degrease and adjust to good working order, during which time I spent countless hours typing stream-of-consciousness drivel, in an attempt to suss out an intermittent skipping problem. Not only did that process result in the problem being resolved, but it taught me the power of the typewriter to draw out from me inner thoughts that would otherwise remain hidden.

I learned to love the elite typeface with its efficient use of space on a half-sized sheet of paper.

Subsequent to the work I put into it, I sent off the platen, feed rollers and paper bale rollers to JJ Short & Sons, to be covered in fresh rubber. The result is like a virtual time machine, like I've travelled back to 1957, the year of my birth -- and this machine's, too.

These semi-portables sport sufficient features to function as an office machine, yet are small and light enough to lug around, should the need arise. No, they're not as nimble as an ultra-portable, but they perform better in most respects. Were I to downsize further my collection this, and an ultra-portable like the Hermes Rocket or Royal Mercury, could serve admirably as a collection of two.

Every time I sit down and rest my fingers on its keys I'm reminded of the power of rehabilitation, of second (and sometimes third) chances. Don't ever think for a minute that there's no hope. Just plug away and keep doing the work.

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