Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sven Kramer, Dutch Gold Medal Speedskater vs. NBC

I must start with a disclaimer, that although I am Canadian, and theoretically should not care whether Sven Kramer is an A-hole or not, I am married to a woman who, though born in Canada, is of Dutch descent. So I am going to be using my personal insight into the Dutch character, along with my background in dealing with two languages, and the problems that arise from translations to help me.

The videos of the interview have all been taken down from youtube, which is really too bad as I never saw them and I am relying strictly on second hand accounts. So briefly, Sven Kramer won a gold medal for the Netherlands in the Olympics, and following the win, was interviewed by an American reporter from NBC. The actual wording of the start of the interview went something like this.

NBC reporter: "If you can say your name and your country and what you just won here."

Kramer: "Are you stupid? Hell no I'm not going to do that."

Speaking later in a Dutch interview, Kramer explains: "Come on, this is ridiculous. You've just become Olympic gold medal winner. She was there when it happened and then you have to sum up your whole biography, etc. She's crazy."

Predictable Outcome: Sven Kramer is now better known in the USA as "the guy who says 'are you stupid'", than the speedskater who won a gold medal. And by a strange twist of fate a week later during another event, one of Sven's skating coaches, gave him an incorrect lane change signal that cost Sven the gold medal. Whether that was deliberate or not I'll leave for another day.

My in-depth analysis of the "stupid" comment.

I am fully aware that I do not know what speedskating event Sven was in, or even who he won against. But to be fair, I have a greater interest in the subject of "insulting people in foreign languages" than I do in speed skating.

Let me start with one of my other specialties, "The Dutch National Character". And for starters, here would be a typical Dutch reaction to that statement: "Are you stupid?".

And that may in fact be all you need to know about the Dutch character. Number one they speak directly, and this is true whether they are speaking their own language or one of several others in which they are probably also fluent. Secondly, they are well known for not embellishing the truth with flowery phrases.

Now getting back to to Sven with the "Are you stupid?" comment. Sven was actually being very polite by putting the word "Are" in front of the word "you". By doing so, Sven is probably aware that his comment does not make a statement about the reporter, it is simply asking a question. The reporter is free to answer "Yes" or "No" or "I don't know". If Sven was trying to be obnoxious, he could have simply turned the words around and said "You are stupid" and end the interview right there. And that would probably have been more to the liking of the NBC reporter and the American public.

I think the Canadians could learn a lot from the Dutch in this area. For example, when an American reporter came to the dressing room of the Canadian Women's hockey team after they won the gold medal, and asked them to come back on to the ice for a few more pictures, the correct response would have been "Are you stupid?". Instead, the women emerged from the dressing room, posed for some pictures, and then one of the American reporters ran off to the IOC committee to report a breach of etiquette and morals, as apparently it was indecent to bring the celebration out to the sacred Olympic ice. And so, the Canadian team was required to make an apology for their bad behaviour, while the US press had a field day with a great story that was far more interesting to Americans than the story of their team losing to Canada.

Now to tell a different story, one that helps once again to understand the Dutch character. This time Mary Ann and I took her Dutch niece to Niagara Falls. She was visiting Canada for the first time. Typical of of younger Dutch people, she spoke very good English. So we went down the ramp for a cruise on the "Maid of the Mist" which is Niagara Fall's most popular tourist attraction (not counting the actual Falls). On the way down, we were stopped by the staff and told to pose for a picture. I told them we were not interested in buying pictures. They responded "The pictures are included in the price of the ticket". I'm sure Katrein understood what they said perfectly, just as I did. We had just been told that our boat tickets included a complimentary picture. So at the end of the cruise, we actually paused at the photo booth and Katrein picked out our free picture, and she was told "That'll be $35". She immediately dropped the picture back on the counter, said "I'm Dutch", turned and walked away.

Now you could substitute many, many phrases in there. First, in case it is not obvious, we were simply lied to when they asked us to pose. Although this may be acceptable behaviour in North America, it would not be acceptable in Holland, apparently. Instead of "I'm Dutch", she could possibly have used the alternate phrase "Are you stupid?". Because in Holland, only stupid people would lie in such a blatant way.

In North America, however, it is not nice to ask people if they are stupid. It is about like asking a blind person "Are you blind?" when they run into a post. Or asking a deaf person "Are you deaf?" when they don't hear you say get out of the way.

So Katrein had a better answer, which wasted no words in stating that although the Maid of the Mist staffers may have tried a stupid trick on us, she, being Dutch, was certainly not stupid enough to fall for it. And my advice for Sven Kramer: You could have answered the NBC reporter the same way, and she probably would not think it was an insult.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Motorcycle Preload Adjustment Made Easy

My first motorcycle had no preload adjustment on the rear suspension. Of course I did not know this when I bought the bike, as I didn't know anything about motorcycles. But I started to learn as I started hitting bumps at higher and higher speeds.

A good suspension has lots of travel, which means the amount of vertical movement from the top to the bottom, usually inches or centimeters. You could measure this yourself, if you lifted the rear of the bike until the rear wheel starts to come off the ground, then push the bike down until it will not go down any further without distorting the tire. By the way, if you can manually do this, you may have a bad suspension. Anyhow, the distance you have moved the rear of the bike up and down (if you could actually do it) is equal to the travel. Technically, the travel is the wheel's full motion while the bike remains fixed, but if you can imagine, this is exactly the same if the wheel is fixed while the bike moves. Usually four inches is a reasonable amount of travel for a street bike.

As you ride the motorcycle, hitting bumps, the wheel will move up and down between the two limits on the travel. If it moves up too far, it will hit the top of the travel with a jarring impact. It is called "Bottoming out". If the wheel moves down too far, it reaches the bottom of the travel and the wheel will begin to lift off the ground. This is called "Topping out". The one a normal rider feels the most is bottoming out, because of the spine crunching jolt felt through the seat. Many shock absorbers have a rubber cushion to soften the impact, but you will feel it anyway.

Most recreational riders do not feel the bike topping out, because there is no jarring impact. Also, topping out is usually very brief, so the engine does not have enough time to pick up speed. But if you top out coming over the crest of a hill, you will be airborne for so long, that you will hear the engine start to rev up.

So any motorcycle suspension will have these two limits, the top and the bottom of the travel. If you are always hitting these limits, you may need a stiffer spring, or more damping. But a motorcycle is usually designed properly so that you will not need another spring - unless you are dealing with an aftermarket shock absorber. I bought a pair of aftermarket Koni shocks for my second bike, and I did not get the correct weight springs on the first order, so I had to order a stiffer set of springs the second time.

The most frequent adjustment, and the one provided on almost every motorcycle shock except my Honda CD175, is called the preload adjustment. I show the preload adjustment in the picture, with the three positions marked A B C. A is the "Lowest" and C is the highest. Which means if you turn the collar until A rests on the two knobs, (as shown) the bike will sit lower by a few millimeters.

The reason that this preload adjustment is provided, is to try and make sure that when you are riding without any bumps, or sitting still on the bike, that the spring will hold the bike in the middle between topping out and bottoming out. Actually, you probably don't want to be in the middle. It is better to set the preload so the suspension is closer to topping than it is to bottoming. I'm not really sure why this is, but my guess is that for the most part, you would prefer to top out than to bottom out. And although neither one is really dangerous, at the very worst, bottoming out could hurt your spine, while topping out could result in losing traction and crashing.

Another reason for the preload adjustment, is that when your bike is loaded with more weight, such as a passenger, the preload adjustment helps return the bike to a more level position. Keeping the bike level is important for many reasons. First, is the aim of the headlight. Second, is the ground clearance under the bike especially when cornering hard. Third is the steering geometry. I had another blog about driving in a straight line where I mentioned the importance of "rake and trail". Well, if the bike is not level, it will alter the angle of rake and the length of the trail, which may alter the steering of the bike enough to make it dangerous in extreme cases. Usually, the standard shocks that come with the bike will not permit you to alter the preload so much that the bike becomes unstable. However watch out if it is an aftermarket shock!

A lot of people think the preload adjuster changes the spring stiffness. But the way that the preload adjuster works is not by changing the spring "stiffness", because the stiffness is a characteristic of the spring determined by the number of coils and the thickness and strength of the metal. Stiffness would usually be quite difficult to change. But the preload adjustment is a cheap, effective, and reliable way to keep the bike level under a heavier load by merely moving the collar up.

In my picture, you can see a yellow double headed arrow, which kind of shows the distance between the end of the spring and the shock absorber end. By adjusting the preload, you are effectively lengthening or shortening this distance, so as to keep the bike level despite changing load.

Just to make sure you have got it, if your bike is loaded heavily and is bottoming out, set the preload on C. If it is very lightly loaded, and you maybe are having trouble reaching the ground, try setting it to A. (in the picture it is set to A.)
Update: I have written another blog on spring stiffness here:
Spring Stiffness

Little Light at the End of the Tunnel for Toyota

Some new ideas have been coming out about Toyota's problems, so just to do an update.

First, many Toyota owners have been discouraged about the resale price of their vehicles. Apparently somebody figured out that there has been a 4% drop in resale value of Toyotas that can be blamed on their acceleration problems. I'm not particularly worried, as generally I drive a car into the ground. And Toyota resale prices were probably a little too high anyway. When I bought my Toyota, I could get a new Matrix cheaper than a used one. The used one had some extra features, while my new one was the base model with no options, but still, I won't pay more money for a used car.

I think Toyota is going to have to change their image a bit. I used to think this was the car grandmothers would drive, and all the young, hip, people were driving the "Zoom Zoom" Mazdas. But with the throttle problems everything has changed. Toyotas are now the cars for the thrill seekers, the risk takers. Mazdas and Hondas have become the cars of choice for grannies,nannies and soccer moms. If I might suggest a slogan for Toyota to go with their new market demographics: "Oh what a feeling and get the **** out of the way!". Mazda is obviously going to have to come up with a new slogan, as "Zoom Zoom" just makes them look like they wish they came up with the stuck throttle idea first.

A few people have been posting their own thoughts on youtube about what might be causing the unintended acceleration. As far as I know, Toyota has never really been able to prove what was causing this. The floor mat theory was obviously just guesswork, because by the time they checked the wrecked car in the Santee crash, the floor mat was not actually blocking the pedal any more. And of course, there was nothing wrong with the engine control unit (ECU) or the throttle pedal mechanism either. (or the brakes, except for being burned out from being dragged at 180 kph for five or ten minutes.)

One idea put forward was radio frequency interference, for example from a cell phone. Toyota throttles now operate on a principle similar to modern airplanes, which is called "fly by wire". Instead of a push/pull cable going to the throttle, there is an electrical wire from the gas pedal to the ECU. The ECU is a computer that actually controls the engine speed. The ECU interprets a signal that comes from the pedal to decide what speed is desired.

The idea is that if the ECU were to receive a "fake signal" or interference from a cell phone (for example), that once in a while the cell phone signal may match a digital signal, and the computer may interpret this as an order to set the speed at maximum acceleration. This theory is reinforced by the notion that the FCC no longer requires RF shielding on many electrical components. And the airlines worry about RF interference enough to tell passengers to turn off their cell phones while in flight.

This theory could explain why Toyota has not been able to trace the problem, if it comes from random external radio frequency interference. But, Toyota does have RF shielding on their ECU. Secondly, I think the signal from the pedal to the ecu is probably analog, not digital. And even if it was a digital signal, and vulnerable to interference from random cell phone signals, you might expect that at least half the time it would result in a sudden deceleration. As far as I know, no "sudden deceleration" problems have even been reported. Anyway, I'll let the people at Toyota mull that one over, if they haven't already thought of it.

(Toyota engine management system from Toyota Motors)

Some other youtuber dropped the throttle pedal mechanism in freezing water, and put it in an oven at 250 deg. F, and it continued working without sticking both times. Basically what you would expect from Toyota.

I'm sure when Toyota was doing this kind of testing, that they were probably looking at the signals coming from the wire, and not just checking if the pedal was sticking or not. Yes, I am pretty sure Toyota does this kind of testing, because you don't build a car that works this well without doing some serious testing. Even American carmakers do that.

Since almost all these problems are happening in the USA, I decided that Toyota needs to explain the problem in a way that some Americans understand better than science. For the people who believe in pacts with the devil, evil spells and miracles, offer to install a fish symbol on the trunk of their cars. And certainly remove any of those fishes with little feet and the word DARWIN inside. To help avoid any future problems of sudden unintended acceleration, advise them to read the Toyota owners manual literally, as if it were the inspired word of God (especially the part about how to shift into neutral, and how to shut off the engine). Tell them if they have any more problems with their Toyota, it will be taken as indication that they have made a pact with the devil. That should cut down on the complaints.

To wrap up this episode of the Toyota saga, our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper has decided to hold his own inquiry into the Toyota throttle problem. I was not aware that any of these problems had happened in Canada, but Stephen seems to feel better if he is mimicking stuff happening in the USA, so let him have his fun.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Canadian Women Win Hockey Gold, Apologise to US for Celebration Gone Wrong

Last night I enjoyed the gold medal hockey game where the Canadian women won against the USA. And when I woke up this morning, the fun still seems to be going on, at least in the media.

ABC News has picked up on a post game slip-up by the Canadian team, that needed to be investigated by the IOC, and as a result of the investigation, Team Canada apologized. At the heart of the matter was Canadian player Marie-Philip Poulin, who scored both goals in this game, and was caught drinking a beer after the game. Be patient, I'm coming to the scandal as soon as I can, I'm almost there. Marie-Philip is only 18 years old, and as everyone in Canada knows, it is illegal to have a beer in British Columbia unless you are 19 years of age. Unfortunately for Marie Philip, British Columbia is the actual province that was hosting the Olympics. Not Alberta, not Quebec, where it would have been OK. To make matters worse, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police neglected their law-keeping duties, and did not tase Marie Philip, or drag her away in handcuffs, which, of course what should have happened according to the laws of our land.

This story could be interpreted as the end of rule of law in Canada, if we ever had it. Or it could be interpreted as a slip-up by someone who was not exactly sure what was allowed in BC. Here is to the way this story appeared on the ABC news web site. Titled BOOZING OLYMPIC HOCKEY TEAM IN HOT WATER

"The players stormed back onto the ice half an hour after beating the United States 2-0 on Thursday and staged a raucous celebration — smoking cigars and swigging beer and bubbly.

Haley Irwin poured champagne into the mouth of Tessa Bonhomme, gold medals swinging from both their necks. Meghan Agosta and Marie-Philip Poulin posed with goofy grins.

Goalies Charline Labonte and Kim St-Pierre posed at center ice for Poulin, lying on their stomachs with a giant bottle of champagne resting just above the Olympic rings.

Rebecca Johnston actually tried to commandeer the ice-resurfacing machine.

Poulin, who scored both goals for Canada, doesn't turn 19 — legal drinking age in British Columbia — until next month. The drinking age in Alberta, where the Canadian team trains, is 18. Photos showed Poulin on the ice with a beer in her hand.

Gilbert Felli, the IOC's executive director of the Olympic Games, said the antics were "not what we want to see."

"If they celebrate in the changing room, that's one thing," he said, "but not in public."

In a statement released late Thursday, Hockey Canada apologized.

Let me translate from American to Canadian

"Stormed back on to the ice"="were asked to return to the ice from their dressing room by the press to get some pictures"

"Staged a raucous celebration"="did not stop celebrating for the picture session"

"Smoking cigars"="They were smoking something that was not marijuana, a first for BC actually"

"Swigging beer"="drinking beer" (Canadian beer is something we drink, American beer is something you swig, if you can get it down at all.)

"poured champagne into the mouth"="did not pour it over her head" (In Canada we don't waste champagne)

"gold medals swinging"=??? I'm not sure about this, in the USA it could mean swinging the medals completely around their necks. In Canada it could mean swinging back and forth a little on their ribbon.

"posed with goofy grins"="posed with grins" Canadians do not think our grins look goofy.

"lying on their stomachs with a giant bottle of champagne resting just above the Olympic rings"="were lying down fully clothed with a normal celebration-sized bottle of champagne sitting on the ice near them and also somewhere near an Olympic symbol embedded under the ice surface." (i.e. no Olympic rings were desecrated in this celebration)

"actually tried to commandeer the ice-resurfacing machine"="was given the seat in the Zamboni" and furthermore, for our American cousins, a clarification is probably needed: no guns were involved. That's just how we "commandeer" things in Canada. The Zamboni was never involved in a high speed freeway chase either.

"the antics were "not what we want to see""=""If that's the case, that is not good. It is not what we want to see," (is what he actually said when an American reporter went running to tell him what was happening, and before he had a chance to investigate. The actual words used by the reporter are not known. But they may have been as overwrought as in the ABC story above.

"Not celebrating in public"="Not celebrating where US reporters can see them"

So this story if nothing else is a great lesson in how use of words can completely slant something quite innocent into a sleazy insult to the purity of the Olympics. And, in the spirit of the Olympics I am going to refrain from making any counter-allegations against the American hockey team, either the men or the women.

The Canadian team apologised for coming out of the dressing room again after the gold medal.

We should not need to apologise for living in a free country, and no apology was needed for a Canadian hockey team "celebrating in public".

Photo (used without permission!): Star-Ledger photographer Andy Mills captured 18-year-old Marie-Philip Poulin, who scored both goals in the gold-medal game, drinking Molson Canadian beer. Star-Ledger is a US newspaper website from New Jersey.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Looking at Motorcycle Rear Suspensions

After suffering with a condition that made riding painful, I am now even more aware than usual of the benefits of a motorcycle rear suspension to smooth out the bumps on the road. Why these days, even bicycles have suspension systems, and that was unheard of when I was young. There is also a Wikipedia article on motorcycle suspensions.

Recently, an advertisement for a motorcycle air suspension system caught my eye. Although this suspension is not actually available for the Vulcan 900, if the accessory was right, why not get a new bike to fit it? But first, is that accessory worth it, and will I be able to ride comfortably again?

I have had experiences that made me aware that accessories are not always as promised, so I am a real skeptic of manufacturers claims. This particular system is an air spring/shock absorber, a compressor pump, and handlebar switch to control air pressure in the spring. What I like about it is the fact that there is a handlebar control, which presumably means that you could change the pressure while riding.

The way a suspension works is by allowing the rear wheel to move up in reaction to hitting a bump in the road. A spring holds up the back of the bike, and as the rear wheel hits the bump, it moves up quickly, which compresses the spring. How far it moves up, and how much the spring is compressed, depend on a lot of factors such as spring stiffness, the weight of the bike being held up by the spring (i.e. not including the weight of the wheels themselves), and damping stiffness. The greater the sprung weight, the slower the bike will move up. The softer the spring, the less the back will move up.  Spring stiffness is measured in lb per inch. A 100 lb per inch spring will compress one inch with a force of one hundred pounds. Finally, the less damping, the less the back will move up, although it will continue bouncing up and down more after the bump.

Motorcycles have very little sprung weight compared to cars. So there is not a lot of mass to absorb the bump, unless you yourself are a real heavyweight.

Now to consider some of the design issues of an air spring, which is a rising-rate spring, meaning the deflection resistance force (in pounds per inch) increases as the spring compresses. I don't see a problem with that, as long as it is understood that the spring will get more harsh as you let out air (unlike a car tire for example).

On an air spring you make the ride softer with a bigger air chamber. I don't know of any accessory air shocks that have variable chamber size - other than the natural change in size that happens each time you hit a bump in the road.

The damping mechanism is very important to the ride quality, and with these aftermarket accessory air suspensions, I don't know how good the damping is. You might assume very good, with a system costing about $1500, but I don't know for sure. The damper (sometimes called the shock absorber in a car) is the part of the suspension that dampens or slows the motion of the wheel, usually using a piston driven through oil or some variation of that. Without a good damper, you may either have a harsh ride, or you may have a wheel that hops over the road surface. Only a good quality damper will be able to give a smooth ride AND keep the wheel glued to the road. Those top quality dampers usually cost a thousand dollars all by themselves.

What makes me a bit suspicious is the fact that most of these air suspensions are available for Harley Davidsons, and usually their owners are not too interested in ride quality. What they want is the ability to drop the suspension so the bike is practically dragging on the ground. i.e. They want it for show.

Another problem with air suspension is air leaks. Sure, you can keep on pumping it up, if it has that thumb switch. But how often will it be springing leaks. There's usually a good reason why the motorcycle manufacturers don't fit these to all new bikes. Making a good reliable and effective air suspension is not as easy as it sounds.

You do see a lot of big trucks with air suspensions, and Bob was telling me a story about a friend of his, a long distance truck driver, who called him on a cell phone because his truck was losing air. When a truck with air brakes leaks air, it has to stop, as the loss of air will activate the brakes. So he was stopped at an offramp. When Bob showed up with some tools he could not see his friend, although as he walked around the truck, he eventually heard him calling for help from underneath. His friend had crawled under the truck to see if he could spot the leak, and as he was looking, the air suspension settled on him, luckily not crushing him, but he just couldn't get out. Metal springs don't do that. Actually this situation probably would not happen on a motorcycle either.

My 1982 Honda GL500 had a hybrid air suspension. It was an air boosted metal spring. To adjust the air pressure, I had to use a tire pump, not an on-board air compressor. I don't know why exactly, but it did have the smoothest ride of any bike I ever had, and it was also a really good handler on the corners too. It also happened to have a "Pro-Link" system, which is a single rear shock with a rising rate linkage, very similar to the system I have on the Vulcan right now, except for the air spring booster.

My BMW motorcycle had a very good suspension too. No rising rate linkage, no air bag. Just a single shock absorber mounted on one side of the wheel. It was also a one sided swing arm, that was strong enough that it never deflected or wore out in all the time I had it, 150,000 km and 15 years.

The BMW was the only motorcycle I had that came with a screw to adjust damping rate. I must have had the bike for about ten years before I decided to try fiddling with the adjustment, which was on the rear only. One reason why I left it alone for so long was that it was a very good suspension. On my first test run on the bike, I had gone over a railway level crossing at much too high a speed, and hardly noticed it, compared to the jolt I felt on my previous bike.

The first time I adjusted the damping was before a long trip to Quebec, I decided to try twisting the screw to minimum damping, just to see if there was any difference. For the first day's ride with minimum damping, it felt a bit softer, but not an extreme difference. Once I got into the mountains in Quebec, and the road got rougher, and the speed picked up, I began to notice something new and a bit scary. If I hit a big bump at high speed, my butt bounced right off the seat. It was happening so often, that I was beginning to stand up as I approached each bump. For some reason, it never occurred to me until the next day, that this was in any way related to me turning the damping to minimum.

Next day, before heading back homeward, I turned the adjustment back to centre. I immediately felt the difference as I pulled out of the motel parking lot. It was a slightly harder ride. But I never had my rear end bounce off the seat after that. So that was a good lesson to learn.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Why has the Global Warming Debate Turned Political?

Why has Global Warming become a political issue more than a scientific issue?

Before going in to this, I want to say that recently, political parties on both sides have admitted that global warming is a man made problem. In the last US election, Democrats and Republicans both pledged to do something about Global Warming. However, the rank-and file conservatives, and the conservative political commentators on TV and in the press, have generally continued to call global warming a hoax.

With very few exceptions, global warming deniers are conservative. Those few liberals who deny global warming would need to be looked at on a case by case basis, but I suspect that most of them would turn out to be false liberals, or somewhat confused about what liberals stand for.

So why do conservatives call global warming a hoax?

Conservatives in the USA tend to be more religious than liberals, and are guided more by the bible than by scientists, especially when those scientists deny God's creations and deny the literal truth of every word of the bible. Conservatives sometimes refer to Global Warming as an alternate form of religion.

In the USA, conservative has come to mean "opposed to governmental control and opposed to taxes", especially since the rich are taxed more heavily than the poor. One of the most obvious solutions to global warming would be to use government regulations, oversight and taxation. So Conservatives would prefer that global warming be a hoax.

From an article by Richard S. Lindzen 1992, who is one of the most respected global warming skeptics, (and coincidentally a "smoking causes lung cancer" skeptic and heavy smoker)

"As Aaron Wildavsky, professor of political science at Berkeley, has quipped, "global warming'' is the mother of all environmental scares. Wildavsky's view is worth quoting. "Warming (and warming alone), through its primary antidote of withdrawing carbon from production and consumption, is capable of realizing the environmentalist's dream of an egalitarian society based on rejection of economic growth in favor of a smaller population's eating lower on the food chain, consuming a lot less, and sharing a much lower level of resources much more equally.'' In many ways Wildavsky's observation does not go far enough. The point is that carbon dioxide is vitally central to industry, transportation, modern life, and life in general. It has been joked that carbon dioxide controls would permit us to inhale as much as we wish; only exhaling would be controlled. The remarkable centrality of carbon dioxide means that dealing with the threat of warming fits in with a great variety of preexisting agendas--some legitimate, some less so: energy efficiency, reduced dependence on Middle Eastern oil, dissatisfaction with industrial society (neopastoralism), international competition, governmental desires for enhanced revenues (carbon taxes), and bureaucratic desires for enhanced power."

Conservatives have realized that any money put into global warming may be withdrawn from military budgets.

American conservatives have a negative view of the UN and of international cooperation. International cooperation is almost a necessity in combating global warming. And some transfer of wealth to developing nations may be required, which is generally opposed by conservatives.

Conservatives understand that to combat global warming, we must conserve energy, meaning reducing wasteful consumption and wretched excess. This would obviously impact rich conservatives far more than middle class liberals.

Conservatives, almost by definition, do not like to change, like to keep things the way they are. If we are going to do something about global warming, big changes are needed. Conservatives will generally oppose big changes.

Here are some examples of liberal opinions and goals that may make them more likely to do something about global warming than conservatives.
  • Taxing the rich and profitable corporations is necessary
  • Scientists can tell us more about climate change than the bible or religious prophesies
  • We should live more frugally, conserve more, reduce waste
  • The gap between rich and poor, between rich countries and poor countries should be decreased
  • Reduced military spending, other than what is strictly needed for home defence
  • Making the world a better place
  • Reduced dependence on foreign oil (hence foreign military invasions)
  • More government oversight of corporations
  • Saving the environment
So, inside the scientific community, global warming is debated along scientific lines, but in the press and on TV the debate generally falls into a political alignment, with conservatives far more likely to call the threat of Global Warming a hoax.

Pictures: I photoshopped two pictures to illustrate the impact of global warming at the North Pole. Can you tell if it is winter or summer? (Hint, the sun is up) And what time of day it is? All time zones converge at this point, so take your pick.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Canada's Winter Olympics 2010

I have not written about the Vancouver Olympics yet, but I'm about to take care of that little oversight. And for you, Canadian sports media, commence ducking now.

First to congratulate Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue for their gold medal in ice dancing. I got to confess I just can't watch that sport any more since I saw Jessica Dube get hit in the face by a skate. I don't even know if they banned that particular dangerous move from the competition. But Scott is a relative of one of my brothers-in-law, so I feel obligated to write this.

Now back to the fun part, slamming the Canadian press.

My first criticism results from a game that the Canadian Womens' hockey team played early on, where they beat Slovakia 18-0. The Canadian press worked them over for scoring too many goals. My own opinion is that the Slovakians are big girls, they are in the Olympics, and if 18 pucks end up in their net, they just have to deal with it. Now I would have a problem if the Canadians were taunting them, yelling hateful things, etc. etc. But no, it was done in the finest tradition of sports. Somebody has to lose, and the Canadian team was obviously working up towards trying to win the gold. They don't need the added responsibility of making sure the Slovakians think they are a better team than they really are. On this one, the Canadian press who criticised our team earn a rebuke from me.

Next is the constant harping on the Canadians not winning enough medals. Apparently, our Canadian Olympic Committee started the slogan "Own the Podium", giving the impression that we would be the outright overall winner in these games. Really? Hey, I'm a Canadian, and I never for one second thought of that as being a serious commitment, or I would have started betting money on it (and I could get about 500-1 odds, I might add). No it was just a slogan. This is sports, we are up against teams from countries much bigger than ours with far more sophisticated drug programs. I only expect to compete fairly. Anyway we DO own the podium. As Mary Ann says, we will own it, but we should wait till the Olympics are over before we put it out for a garage sale. So another rebuke to the Canadian press: Drop it with the "Own the Podium" comments already. If you got your hopes up, think of it as a good thing not a problem.

So now it's pretty much established that the Canadian press is going to complain about our athletes whether they win, or lose, and probably also if they draw. I think our main problem is actually the press.

Now we come to something altogether different and unexpected. The CBC's coverage is so bad it is cringe worthy. It seems that for the first time, the CBC is not the official network of the Olympic Games, as the Canadian Television Network (CTV) outbid them. As part of the contract, it stipulates that no other Canadian network is permitted inside an Olympic venue, or to interview the athletes. So the CBC's Olympic coverage is limited to filming correspondents standing outside Olympic venues in the dark, all alone, telling us they are not allowed inside the games. It was funny for the first five minutes I guess. But this is what? the second week and they are not letting up. This morning I switched on the TV and there's the CBC reporter standing beside a dumpster outside in the cold, telling me he is standing beside a dumpster because he is not allowed in to the games. Next time they draw up that contract for exclusive coverage, they need to put a restraining order on the CBC crews, that they should not even be allowed in the Olympic dumpsters.

And one more show that I'm going to slam just because I never did like it. It's on Sun TV, called the "Casino Rama Grill Room", hosted by Gareth Wheeler. Its an irreverent look at sports, and Gareth himself takes the persona of an opinionated loud-mouth. Which may or may not be his real personality, I don't know but he makes it seem pretty genuine. Anyway I watched for a few seconds this morning, and one of his guests said (about the Olympics) that the problem is really with all of us here in the press. "Yes" I thought. "For once, these guys are on to something." But no, I was disappointed to hear that the "Problem" is we still cheer for our athletes even when they don't get podium finishes. So, another rebuke goes to the Casino Rama Grill Room, for making a stupid observation. You were right that the real problem is with the press, it's just not the problem you think it is.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Observations on Motorcycle Luggage

The day I took possession of my first motorcycle, I already had luggage I needed to carry, and my first trip was from the Honda dealer to my home 135 miles away. My small suitcase was tied to the back seat with a lot of string and I headed for home. Everything was fine until I hit the last 45 miles which was mostly washboard gravel road. I had seen plenty of washboard road in northern Quebec, but never with a motorcycle. Washboard is a term used to refer to a rippled road surface, created by the passage of wheeled vehicles, and it is generally full width (shoulder to shoulder of the road) bumps about three to six inches high and about twelve to twenty inches from crest to crest. On a bike with 2.5 inches of suspension travel in back, it is a bone jarring ride, and in 40 miles you may expect to bounce 200,000 times. Honestly I had never experienced anything like this before. True to Honda's reputation, the bike held together under the abuse. However, my suitcase did start to come loose, which I found out by reaching behind while the handlebars bars were being violently shaken, which was not safe. I stopped and retied the luggage even tighter. I tried to slow down, but that only made the hammering worse.

For the rest of the ride, the suitcase kept coming loose. I was retightening and checking every few minutes. The next three months or so of riding my motorcycle consisted of finding a way to strap the suitcase to the luggage rack. On this model of Honda, there was a luggage rack under the removable passenger seat. I finally resorted to baling wire, wrapped over and over the suitcase. Although it took a good ten minutes to wrap it around, at least it didn't come loose, but as luck would have it, part way through the trip I needed to get something out of my suitcase.

I don't know how this discovery came about, but I do remember that around this time my mother sent me a package that included "Bungee cords", which I believe were one of the great inventions of the late sixties. (The term bungee cord as I mean it is an elastic cord with a metal hook at each end for securing cargo to a luggage rack outside a vehicle.) The bungee cord was the "magic bullet" solution, and never again did the suitcase come loose, nor did I have to spend ten minutes tying it down.

Over the years since then I have used bungee cords thousands of times, and I am familiar with not only their weaknesses, but I have a feel for how to attach them so that they don't come off. Apparently bungee cords are not fool proof. For example, they do weaken with time and lose elasticity. And you shouldn't overstretch them, and you should not use them to tie down a rolled up sweater, as the wind may get into the sweater and gradually work a sleeve out until the sleeve gets caught in the back wheel spokes. In other words, yes, things can still go horribly wrong.

About ten years ago, I noticed a new challenger come on the scene, the "Nylon Strap". Soon motorcycling friends of mine were telling me that bungee cords were a thing of the past. These nylon straps looked much tidier and more professional than the often mismatched bungees, but the bungees had proven their worth to me over twenty years and I wasn't about to give up just like that. One morning I was meeting up with a new riding acquaintance for a trip to the USA. He noticed my typically mismatched bungee cords and remarked that I should upgrade to the newer nylon straps as those bungees were not much good. Anyway, he had his tent and sleeping bag strapped on the back with neat black nylon straps. It was not long before I had to stop my bike to recover his sleeping bag and tent that had gone bouncing down the road in front of me. I still use bungee cords to this very day, although granted without the washboard roads there may be other alternatives that could work. Call me a dinosaur.

With specialized motorcycle luggage, each type of bag is designed to go in a specific place on the bike, and each place has advantages and disadvantages. There is the tank bag, which is much in favour in Europe, and that is the place to carry fragile heavy stuff as the ride is smoother on the tank, with less stress on the frame.

Americans have been slow to discover the tank bag, in fact the cruiser riders probably never will because it would block their view of the speedometer, and possibly the road too, as the seats are sometimes very low. American riders have generally gone with saddlebags and trunks. The trunk is usually a box mounted at the very back of the bike over the taillight. Trunks over 15 cm high were illegal in Germany, just to give you an idea of this divide in opinion between Europe and America. Trunks are not good for holding anything heavy, and on a rough road they get an awful pounding. So that's where you may want to keep your hat and maps. But not your camera or beer.

Next we come to saddlebags, an item that is quite popular both in America and in Europe. In England they are called panniers. The disadvantage of panniers is the width, which can make parking a problem, or in European traffic may also pose a problem, as motorcycles can get very close to cars over there apparently. The width also reduces fuel efficiency, as they stick out in the breeze. The two common ways of opening the saddlebags are bottom hinged, more popular in Europe (no idea why), where the door is the entire side of the case and the top hinged, where the door is the top of the case. I guess you can access all your stuff more easily with a bottom hinged case and big door, but since it usually falls out on the road, that is why you might prefer the top hinge. My BMW had the bottom hinge cases, and I fixed the problem by always packing my clothes in another bag that I stuffed into the saddlebag.

With saddlebags you have hard types and soft types. Hard means plastic or aluminum with locks or catches. Soft bags are leather or nylon with snaps or buckles. One real problem that happens over and over with the soft bags is they sag until they contact the mufflers, then they start to melt and finally burn. You are usually totally unaware until a car passes you waving frantically, then you pull over to check, and put out the fire.

Hard cases with locks are best if you need to leave your motorcycle parked with all its luggage. So far I have never had anyone steal my motorcycle luggage, but apparently it can happen. I usually leave my bike parked at McDonald's or Tim Horton's while I'm eating and I can keep an eye on it. At night it's parked at a motel, where I unload it. Or at a campground where I have never had a problem with, or even worried much about, theft.

Just one more comment about European styles vs. American. American tend to carry more luggage. At one campground we were talking to an American couple who were driving two Goldwings and two trailers to carry their stuff. Mary Ann and I were making do with just what both of us could bring on the one BMW. Then I read a funny account in a motorcycle magazine by a European couple motorcycle camping in America. (on one bike with no trailer). They were walking around and noticed an American couple also on one motorcycle with no trailer setting up their camp site. Thinking they had finally discovered Americans who thought like them, they stopped to chat and asked "How did you pack all this stuff on the bike?" The woman answered "We couldn't put all that on a bike!! We Fedexed it to the campground."

Picture: A Harley-Davidson Sportster loaded for camping. You think I photoshopped it as a joke? No. It's taken from the official Harley Davidson motorcycle camping adventures camping website.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Informal Debating: Recreational or Practical?

You could probably tell from a number of topics in my blog, that I like debating, or as some (like Mary Ann) may call it "arguing". A lot of people do not like debates, and don't even like to read about controversial subjects such as politics and religion. That's why I have started putting a "topic menu" on my blog.

There are many reasons I like to debate, discuss, argue, or whatever you want to call it. But one reason I still like to do it is that I try to maintain some perspective, that stops me from getting in too deep.

A way to maintain perspective on controversial topics is to be aware of the different types of debates that are out there. Some need to be avoided altogether, others are unwinnable, others are just for fun. Some topics are traps for the unwary. So let's just take a survey.

I don't want to prejudge these, but first you have some controversies that are commonly known as your crackpot conspiracy theories. The JFK assassination is an old one. Much newer is the "Truther" movement trying to prove that the buildings in 9/11 were brought down not by planes but by controlled demolition. One of the oldest I know is the "Area 51" conspiracy stating that the US Air Force is hiding Aliens somewhere in Nevada. While these are generally harmless topics, they not my favourite subjects. Anyone who wants to engage you in an argument on one of these topics is so much better prepared than you are, it will not be fun.

Next you have fundamentalist religious debates. They generally break down to the basic science vs. supernatural type, with a little bit of ethics thrown in for good measure. Almost always, these debates are a trap, more of a "recruiting ploy" rather than an honest inquiry into the nature of God and ethics. You cannot win a recruiting ploy any more than you can win an argument with a vacuum cleaner salesman. So it's not really that much fun, unless you eliminate the recruiting motive first. That's where you make it clear that no recruitment is possible (not easy to do actually), and take the offensive, not the defensive position. Recruitment debates go badly when you are always on the defensive, for example "Have you ever thought about Jesus as your personal saviour" ans "Ummmmm... no?". That's being defensive. And if you don't watch yourself you will end up chanting Hare Krishnas at a local airport before you can say "Kali-Santarana Upanishad".

In a religious debate, a more offensive position is the safest. Take a stand in saying that the religion in question is actually devil worship, and you are trying to rescue the believer from the clutches of Satan. That way it's more fun for both of you.

Now for politics. The most fun divide in politics to explore is the whole left vs. right thing that is so popular today. On the right the warmongering Fascists, on the left the tree hugging peaceniks and Socialists. I identify most strongly with the left, although every once in a while I find myself agreeing with some obscure point on the right. But it's getting so much less frequent as the positions seem to be getting more extreme. This is usually a fairly safe and fun debating topic, although all too often cut short by somebody accusing the other of being a Nazi.

There are fun nationalistic debates like "Canadian beer is better than American beer". Or more serious ones like "Canadian health care is better than American health care". In Canada, almost 99% of nationalistic debates are in relation to the USA, that's just a fact.

There are also usually some interesting debates going on in the public media, for example every time big business is getting in trouble destroying our health or the environment, a major "debate" breaks out on TV or in newspapers about the controversy of "Smoking" "Pollution" or "Global warming". Debates like this are fun because of their popular exposure. Due to their constant exposure in the media, a lot people are interested in the topic. But in the same way it also gets a bit boring because you end up debating the very same stale old stories with a lot of different people over the course of years. Yes debates like this go on a long time, and the old debunked arguments resurface over and over.

I would put some debates into the "Personal choices" category, such as whether to wear a loaded gun or carry a tazer or neither. Whether to drive a Hummer or a Prius. Whether to ride a motorcycle or a scooter or take the bus. If about motorcycles, it may be which is better, a Harley Davidson or a Yamaha?

Then you have the eccentric debates like "The Earth is Flat", promoted by the Flat Earth Society. As tempting as it may be to engage, don't bother. It's mostly about luring you into a trap with the promise of an outragously easy proposition to debunk, then it turns out to be impossible, because these people have been defending the flat earth theory for years. You may be right, but you can't prove them wrong.

There are actually an infinite number of things to argue about. Do you want an example of a good use for arguing? Say you're out on a first date with a girl, and you get uncomfortable, with nothing to talk about. Getting into a rousing debate about carrying a gun vs. Tazer will not only break the ice between you, but could lead to you making an interesting discovery that will avoid some serious pain later in the night.

Why Not a Smaller, Cheaper Motorcycle?

While I was in the hospital, I was reading the June 2005 Cycle Canada. It had road tests of a couple of interesting motorcycles, and I noticed in their specs, one appalling number. It was the fuel efficiency. The motorcycles were the 2005 Honda VTX1800N at 7.5 l/100km and the 2005 Yamaha Roadstar Midnight Silverado Canadian Special Edition at 6.7 l/100km. The second bike was a little better, and the engine a bit smaller at 1700 cc.

With these bikes, not only is their fuel efficiency in the same range as my Toyota Matrix, but so is their suggested retail price.

If anyone needs to know why American and Canadian consumers are in debt, and the price of oil is through the roof, you only need to ask people why they continue to buy ever bigger bikes, and avoid the 400 cc class of bikes. At the same time as you are running your psychological testing, you may just want to ask a few other questions like: Did you pay cash, if not how much down and what interest rate?

Don't get me wrong, I like a big honking motorcycle as much as the next guy. But I would consider several things in my purchase that other buyers apparently don't care about. First, can I afford it? By my definition, I can't afford it if I have to borrow the money to buy it. I can understand that people sometimes have to buy cars on credit, but a car can be justified as transportation, not a motorcycle. Yes, you can use a motorcycle for transportation, but that argument is delusional if you already have a car, or could buy a nice new car for less than the bike.

Another issue I would look at is the fuel efficiency. A lot of people just don't care about it, and that's why bikes are being designed and sold whose fuel efficiency is pitiful. Their owners like to brag about the power or the torque of the motors and how good that makes them feel. What makes me feel good is not wasting fuel, and any motorcycle that can't go as far on 10 litres of gas as my Toyota, is wasting fuel just as surely as if it had a hole in the gas tank.

By comparison to these hulking bikes, my 2007 Vulcan 900 with about half the engine size, gets between 3.9 and 4.7 l/100km. This is not really spectacular, but at least it beats my car, while the purchase price is also about half of the cost of the Toyota Matrix. This, I would consider reasonable for a big bike. But once a bike gets to be more than the car on price and fuel consumption, I'm starting to think someone is playing me for a sucker.

I have actually once owned a bike that got ridiculously poor gas mileage, it was my 1972 Yamaha 250. However that bike, if you ran it slow, could get consumption down to 3.5 l/100km. But the way I normally cruised it was about 7 l/100km. Anyhow the purchase price was very cheap, and so was the gas in those days. Back then I didn't even think about asking for fuel efficiency numbers, I just figured that a 250 cc bike would not use that much gas, I was wrong.

You can't just go by the size of the engine to determine the fuel efficiency, obviously. The stated size of the engine is the total size of all the cylinders, or technically the area of the piston top multiplied by the length of the piston travel. Normally this would be a good indication of how much fuel is sucked in to the engine on each turn of the crank. But many factors can change the theoretical or the practical on-road fuel efficiency.

Among the theoretical factors is the engine speed (Actually, crank speed in rpm) compared to road speed in top gear, the faster it spins at a given road speed, the more gas it sucks in. This depends on the gear ratio of the vehicle. Another consideration is supercharging or turbocharging, both are ways to get more than 1000cc of fuel into a 1000 cc engine, using a pump instead of atmospheric pressure. My Yamaha 250 was another example of "cheating" because a two stroke gets twice as many power strokes as a normal engine, so even though the pistons were 250 cc, they worked like a 500 cc four stroke. (To be more accurate, like a 375 cc four stroke, because of the holes in the walls of the cylinder near the bottom).

Then we have engine management, basically how efficiently is the gas burned? Any unburned gas going out the tailpipe is just like unburned gas going out the tailpipe. i.e. a total waste. Two stroke engines lost a huge amount of gas out the tailpipe, and did it mostly at high speed to help keep the engine cool, apparently. That's one reason why they ran so much more efficiently at low speeds. Any good, modern fuel injection system will be more efficient than an old fashioned carburetor, so that's another item to consider.

And finally, we come to the vehicle itself, where low wind resistance is important on the highway, and low weight is more important in the city to get better fuel efficiency.

One last point, and that is to address the perceived problem of smaller engines, that don't have enough power for some people. Mary Ann's Burgman, with 400cc can cruise at 120 km/hour, consuming 4 l/100km. You do not really need to go faster, as this speed (which is is technically illegal), handily matches actual traffic speed. Maybe you live where there are steep hills, maybe you need to accelerate hard to get on to the freeway. Most people could learn to use the gearbox better, shifting down a gear or two makes a lot of difference. And I would suggest that if you could drive with a little more anticipation, you would often eliminate the need to play "catch up". In other words, speed up a little before you get to the bottom of that steep hill, or maybe get on the gas a little earlier on the on-ramp. Yes you will have to learn to corner a little faster, but it's better than wasting gas on the entire rest of the trip. And the best place to learn all of these power increasing techniques? On a small motorcycle.

Picture: Taken at the Motogiro America, a "race" with 175cc and under bikes, a common technique of reducing wind resistance is leaning down on the gas tank.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

My First Experience in a Socialized Medicine Hospital

This Blog is rate R for rude, crude, and a bit disgusting too. It's an adventure in Canada's Socialized health care system for a motorcyclist of 61 years old. You have been warned.

Getting old and riding a motorcycle, things happen. For example I got a bladder stone, which caused extreme pain when hitting a bump on my Kawasaki Vulcan. I also had to ride my bicycle standing up. A couple of times I had blood in my urine. My urologist said he needed to take a look, which means running a tube up the urethra, which you can look up yourself if you don't know what it is. In the tube is a camera, which the doctor used to find large stone in the bladder, the likely cause of my problems. He suggested I get it removed for free (this is Canada), but I said if removing it is more painful than looking at it, I would keep it a while longer till it got really bad.

A couple of years later, amounts of pain ranged from none at all to some, but mostly no real inconvenience. Lately I decided that if I ever wanted to do some serious riding, I needed to be sure that this bladder stone would not act up, so I said lets schedule the removal.

The removal is done by sending a tube up the urethra, but this time it would be surgery, where I was unconscious. They use this tube to shatter the stones with ultrasound then flush the particles out the urethra, so no cutting into my organs. It would be day surgery, meaning I could go home the same day. Also, quite an adventure for me as I have never before really tested out the Canadian Health Care system.  Our system is the subject of some controversy, as it is free for Canadians, therefore it is "Socialized Medicine" and scorned or praised by the various political camps in the USA.  In America, it's pay as you go medicine. If you don't pay, you don't go.

I arrived at the Hospital and was checked in by a series of friendly, efficient clerks who compiled a three ring binder of all my paper work, and sent me to a room to get changed. I put on the hospital robe and lay down on the bed and found some car magazines beside me which I started to read. A nurse came in and hooked up my hand to an IV, which stayed connected all the time I was in the hospital. It is a tube that runs from a bag of fluid on a pole to a vein in your hand. If you want to walk around you have to push the pole with you and not get the tube tangled. Right on time, a porter arrived and whisked me and the bed off to the operating room, where my doctor, and a group of other people were readying the procedure. It was all very efficient and clean, everything was double checked, and when I woke up I was in the recovery room with a young cute nurse. When you are 25, more than half the nurses are old, when you are 61, most of them are young and cute. Anyhow, at this point I was hooked up to a second tube, which was a catheter going in my urethra again, and this time it was a tube to drain out urine into a bag, so now I didn't need to pee in the toilet any more, it just drained in to the bag.

I was thinking just how useful this catheter might be on an Iron Butt rally, where you would not need to stop as much to pee. In fact, you might never need to stop if you rigged up a drain hose down to the road surface with a shutoff valve when you needed it.

I was supposed to wait a while until the catheter was removed, and then try to pee on my own. If I could do it, I could go home by 6:00. Unfortunately, I couldn't. Not enough anyway, so things started to get complicated. My nurse couldn't get hold of the doctor, he had gone home. She said I would need to stay overnight, and she would have to reinsert the catheter and contact the doctor the next day. This was about 6:00 pm.

She was unable, despite her best efforts, to get the catheter all the way in. It was kind of painful. So then she found another nurse with more experience, and the two of them tried together. This time I was given a shot of morphine in the arm, and from this point on things seemed to get a lot more humorous, as they both hammered away on my penis. Finally the more experience nurse said, "Do you have an enlarged prostate", I answered, my doctor tells me it's the biggest he's ever seen", and then she said, could you try coughing? I did, and it started to move. I was still in a lot of pain. I coughed again and it went all the way in. By this time my bladder was really really full, adding to the discomfort, but as soon as they got it in and released the valve, the pressure started to decrease as the urine flowed to the plastic bag. I remember one nurse saying "you just had a baby!" Of course she was kidding.

Then they called for a porter to take me up to a bed they found for me for in the regular hospital (up to now I was in Day Surgery). The porter was taking a while, so the nurse said I'll push you up there myself, it'll save time. So laying down on the bed, this nurse, and another to help pushed the bed and me along the hallways, and each time there was an obstruction they would say "coming through" or "we don't know how to drive". In the elevator, I asked if TV hospital programs are realistic to people who actually work at hospitals. I found out that to these Nurses, anyway, they thought E.R. was very realistic, and daytime soaps were not. I was actually thinking of "Scrubs". 

I got to the seventh floor room and was welcomed by another nurse, and put in a room with two other men, with the nurse's desk next to my bed. She helped me adjust the bed, and she was the second nurse to notice I has the IV tube wrapped around the pole. I guess all nurses must refer to people who walk around with IV's and get them tangled in the poles as "Pole Dancers" they think it's quite funny.

The Night Nurse told me how to use the phone to call Mary Ann to come for a visit, and I used the phone to also ask Mary Ann to bring some Motorcycle Magazines.

The Nurse (also called Mary Ann) asked me if I had eaten anything all day. Actually I had two crackers with grape jelly and a cookie and a ginger ale in day surgery. She asked me if I wanted something to eat. I said I was thinking of getting a donut at Tim Horton's. Every hospital in Ontario must have a Tim Horton's in the lobby. She said "You're not going to enjoy that donut much when it's on the way back up, and besides they're not healthy." How would you like a sandwich, or a jello, or a juice or a pudding, or maybe all of them? I said that sounded good and she went off to get them just when Mary Ann arrived with my magazines.

I asked Mary Ann if she wanted to look at my bladder stones, as they had given them to me in Day Surgery, and were in my personal effects bag. She said no. I insisted, and she had a look, and was quite amazed at the size and number of them. 

Meanwhile my lunch arrived, and the night nurse put a button on the bed, and explained it was to call the nurse if I needed help. I said, but you're going to be right beside my bed at your desk all night. She said, but once in a while I step out, and so I'll know if you need me then.

Soon Mary Ann left, I spent an hour or so reading the motorcycle magazines, interrupted by the nurse checking my blood pressure, temperature, pulse and whatnot. And being very friendly too. Then I turned out the light for the night. The rest of the night was not very restful, because the nurse spent a lot of time in the dark with a small flashlight emptying urine bags, and the other two patients were in a lot of pain and needed pain killers, and were also throwing up a lot, and I was hooked up to two separate tubes, I still had the I.V. going to my hand. So I could hardly move all night.  The good part was I didn't have to get up and go to pee during the night, the first time in years. When I'm at home and I can't sleep, I turn on the TV. But the stuff going on in hospital is way more interesting than night time TV.

In the morning the Doctor came back, and we decided I would go home with the catheter still in, instead of trying to take it out and see if I could pee on my own. I was very nervous after the experience the day before. But now I'm wondering if I made a mistake because I can hardly walk with this damned thing in, it's only comfortable when I'm not moving.

Now I have a home care nurse coming tomorrow to take a look, and Monday to remove it. Also a I got three prescriptions to take, free because they are covered by my hospital visit.

And because we have socialized medicine, it is all taken care of. I mean I don't have to pay, just show my health card. Yes you may think that I pay a lot of taxes, maybe a do pay taxes, but so does everybody. It's not just the taxes you pay, it's the quality service you get for them. I think I got very good quality service. I've been to expensive Caribbean resorts that I enjoyed less than my overnight hospital stay. I think it is possible for socialized medicine to work a lot better than the out-of-control costs of health care in the USA, where people lose their homes when they get sick, even if they are covered by insurance ahead of time.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Did Somebody Need to Kill the Two Stroke?

Does anyone still remember when Honda was the only Japanese motorcycle with a four stroke engine? All the rest were the infamous "two strokes". I have only ever owned one "two stroke" engine, and when I bought it, I knew nothing about it. Kind of typical of my motorcycle purchases. All done in too much haste, with lots of time to think about it afterwards.

I was actually looking for a Honda CB350, which of course would have been a four stroke like my first bike, the Honda CD175. Just bigger. Motorcycle sales were apparently booming in the spring of 1973, and the Honda dealer was sadly sold out of his fastest selling model. Being kind of short on funds, and not in the habit of buying stuff on credit, I decided to pass up on the bigger bikes that were for sale. But at the Yamaha dealer, there was a forlorn leftover 1972 model, the DS-7. It was a 250, if you looked close enough, you could see the difference (the 2 even looked like a 3 the way it was written on the side panel). I asked if they had the 350, and was told no, they were sold out. It seemed like my choice was limited, and I hesitated because I wanted something a bit more powerful than my 175. But the savvy salesman had an ace up his sleeve. In those days, they could let you take a test drive. So he rolled it out of the showroom, and gave me a helmet, and pointed me up the road. It was quite a rush to be back on any bike a year after selling my CD175. But then I turned the Yamaha onto a steep uphill road in Sherbrooke. Before I continue, let me state that we have no steep uphill roads in Kitchener. This particular road in Sherbrooke was challenging to my 56 Chevrolet, and a few times I had stalled going up it because I could not shift down to first gear, as there was no synchro on first, and I didn't know how to double clutch. I pretty much had to stop at the bottom and climb it in first. Which was why I avoided it. But here I was on a new motorcycle, and there was the hill, it was irresistible.

So I pointed it up the hill kind of like pointing a space shuttle at the moon, shifted down and gave it full throttle. Lucky it was not the Yamaha 350, or I would have found myself and my passenger lying at the bottom of the hill while the bike sailed over the crest 3 feet in the air. But this was only a 250, and thank God for that, because I was totally blown away at how we accelerated effortlessly up the very long and very steep incline to the top. I went back to the dealer and signed the papers for the bike. It was only $800 new.

A few days later, it was starting to dawn on me that this prodigious amount of power from a mere 250 was being made by an unconventional combustion process. Not exactly black magic, but something quite unheard of in usual American automobiles. It turned out it was a two stroke motor. Now what was this going to mean to me?

First, was the sound. It actually sounded at idle like it was rattling instead of purring. Maybe that was normal. Then there was the oil. Apparently I had to add oil to an oil tank every 600 miles or so, as indicated by the sight glass, or the engine would blow up. On the other hand, there was no engine oil to change, so that might be good.

As I looked more into the theory of the engine design, I found that the main difference was in the number of strokes. A stroke is defined as a complete one-direction motion of the piston in the cylinder. The most important stroke is the "Power stroke", where the piston starts at the top, and burning, expanding gas pushes it down with great force, creating power to push the motorcycle forward. In a four stroke engine, three other strokes are needed to set up a power stroke. One to push out the used up fuel, one to pull in fresh fuel, and one more to compress that new fuel just before the next power stroke. That all made sense to me even if it does not to you.

Now what does a two stroke do? As the name implies, it has only two strokes to do all the same stuff that apparently is needed in a four stroke. A brilliant idea, if you can do it, as it results in twice as many power strokes per turn of the crank. The way it is accomplished is even more brilliant, as it is done with far fewer moving parts than a four stroke. Once you understand it, it is simplicity itself. The understanding part can take a while though.

I will make a modest attempt here. First, of course there is a power stroke. But during the power stroke, the piston is also doing a compression stroke. What???? Yes, it does the compression stroke on the UNDERSIDE of the piston, compressing the fuel in the crank case instead of the cylinder. What the heck good is that, unless you are going to spark off the gas in the crankcase to drive the piston back up to the top later. No, that's not what they do, all power strokes take place in the combustion chamber. The compression under the piston is not actually the full compression stroke, it is just a preliminary compression, and when the piston gets to the bottom of its travel, the compressed fuel is TRANSFERRED from underneath the piston to the top of the piston through a hole known as a transfer port. At the same time as the new fuel is coming in under pressure, it is pushing out the old exhaust gas ahead of it out the exhaust port. The coming of the new fuel and the pushing out of the old both happen at the bottom of the stroke, and then the ports close as the piston comes up again on a final compression stroke, and the two cycles repeat.

Whether you think it is simple or complex, it certainly is different, and lots of other issues come up. Like what about the oil pool in the crankcase? Well there is none. You mix oil into the fuel and that's what lubricates the crankshaft and connecting rods. A person familiar with car engines might wonder how this can ever work, but it does because all the bearings are ball bearings, which work well in mist of oil, fuel, and air.

Another issue you may not think of, with an air cooled engine, the piston and cylinder only have one stroke to recover and cool off before the next power stroke. So a common ailment of two strokes is overheating and "Seizing" meaning that the engine locks solid, the rear wheel too, and suddenly instead of just riding along, you are sliding down the road at the same speed with the locked rear wheel fishtailing about. And people wonder why I'm not scared that my Toyota throttle may get stuck under the floor mat.

When I returned my bike to the dealer for the 500 mile checkup, the mechanic informed me that these bikes were not designed for continuous high speed highway riding, and that I should stop every 30 minutes and let it cool off for 15 minutes before continuing. Advice that was totally ignored as I used to run with  full power up grades that were up to 20 km long, and quite steep in places.

My main problem was in the fact that two strokes are very sensitive to exhaust pipe shape and back pressure. And they put out a lot of soot, which coats the inside of the exhaust pipe, and begins to reduce performance within 10,000 km. I never even knew that exhaust pipes needed to be cleaned out on these things until I was stranded with a non-functioning bike in Moosomin Saskatchewan, and somebody suggested cleaning out the baffles.

The animated 2 stroke combustion cycle, I picked two that looked good, there are many worse ones on Youtube

A similar motorcycle to hear the distinct sound.

Top Picture: Me on my new Yamaha 250 in the spring of 1973

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Myth of the Simple Motorcycle

It seems a lot of people like the idea of a simple motorcycle, and I have felt the same myself. But is there any real reason why I would want one? I guess the assumption is that a simple motorcycle is also cheap, and can be repaired with bubble gum and a popsicle stick. It may also be lighter, and have fewer things that could go wrong with it.

I am torn between wanting a simple motorcycle, or wanting all the comfort and conveniences technology has to give. I already have one of the simplest motorcycles you could ever want, the Honda CD175. One set of points, one carburetor, four valves in all. Gravity feed fuel tank. It doesn't even have a paper oil filter to change, just a centrifugal cup inside the engine. The electrical system is simple enough that you could actually put the wiring diagram on one page.

It is one of those bikes, that one person could probably have a chance at understanding the entire thing if it was all taken apart. Even the carburetor and possibly the gearbox. Yet it works well, and can do 100 kph on the highway after forty years.

Compare that to some of the new motorcycles with electronic cruise control, radios, anti-lock braking, drive shafts, fuel injection, computer engine management, electronic ignition, satellite navigation systems, liquid cooling, even airbags. All covered by intricate plastic panels that take forever to get off and re-attach.

I love some of the instructions I find in the shop manual for my newer bikes. If I want to replace the clock on my BMW, first "Remove the front fairing". To adjust the valves on Mary Ann's Burgman 400, first "Remove the passenger backrest pad". I mean, come on. With the Honda CD175, I could swap in a reconditioned engine and transmission in the same amount of time. And I have two of those lying around. The first instruction in the CD175 shop manual to remove the engine is just common sense. "Shut off the fuel cock at the tank".

My Kawasaki Vulcan is one of those motorcycles that have the appearance of simplicity. One front brake disk, without ABS. Only two cylinders. Superficially it is simple. Really nothing at all fancy or luxurious. Like the CD 175, it does not even have a tachometer. Unlike the Honda, it has a rev limiter so I don't really need the tachometer.

But the 2007 Vulcan has all the modern engine management stuff, like fuel injection and electronic ignition. Much of the complexity is hidden beneath the surface. Even the surface is hidden beneath the surface, as there is a plastic cover over the engine that looks like an engine.

As long as nothing fails, I don't care. In some ways it is less maddening than the CD175, which despite its simplicity, can develop weird intermittent problems that take days if not weeks to troubleshoot.

Finally, I think the appeal of the simple machine comes down to the satisfaction of understanding how it works. But there are some technological items now that I would not want to give up. Hydraulic disk brakes really stop your bike when you need them. Fuel injection burns more efficiently, and starts instantly even if the bike has been left standing for months. Electronic ignition never needs adjusting. Counter-rotating balance shafts help keep things from falling off your bike, and fillings from falling out of your teeth due to vibration. And these new technologies seem to not break down much either, at least not in my experience. So you give up, to some extent, the fun of constant maintenance, and the understanding that comes with it. And you substitute the fun of not having to understand it, so I guess you have more time to do other things like surf the Internet or maybe even do some riding.

Picture: The Ural Sahara motorcycle and sidecar. I don't think you can beat the Russians when it comes to making simple stuff that works, like the AK47 assault rifle. Even on their space capsules, they didn't take a ten million dollar urinal module, they just pissed out the window.

Apparently the Ural works, I never had one so I don't know. But I have read hilarious stories from Ural riders in the past. In one Iron Butt rally story by Paul Pelland, a valve push rod broke, so he phoned his support crew to discuss the problem.
"Alex told me if the glue didn’t work, just find metal, make pushrod.”
He succeeded in doing it and finished the race. Notice: Finished, not won.

On another ride across Canada, a Ural was stranded and needed to be towed and repaired three times north of Lake Superior. The rider found it embarrassing that the same tow truck driver came all three times. ("American Borders" by Carla King) Apparently more modern Urals today work a lot better than the older ones like Carla's.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Lesson from The Flat Earth Wager of 1870

Once again I want to call into question whether debating should be used as a technique to settle arguments about the validity science. For example, Creation vs Evolution, or whether global warming is real or a scientific hoax.

I have been reading the book "Flat Earth, the history of an infamous idea" by Christine Garwood. There is a historical precedent that we might be able to learn from that we can generalize to all science vs. non-science arguments.

This historical debate was about the flat earth in 1870. It involved AR Wallace, who was coincidentally the co-discoverer of evolution.

A. R. Wallace took up a monetary wager against flat Earth promoter John Hampden. To win the wager, Wallace had to prove, to the satisfaction of a third party referee, that the Bedford Canal had a curve to its surface.

Wallace set two markers at a height of 13 feet above the water, one was at 5 km., the other at 10 km. He then used a professional surveyor's telescope with cross hairs, also at thirteen feet height and observed that the furthest marker was lower than the middle marker, by about 4 feet. The previously agreed impartial observer, William Carpenter, was then allowed to look through the telescope, at which point he joyously declared the points lined up therefore the canal was flat. No amount of persuasion could convince the observer that the middle marker was higher than the furthest marker.

Finally after days of wrangling, another judge, Walsh, was chosen, and he said that the difference in height of the markers clearly indicated curvature of the canal water surface. Furthermore, Walsh discovered that William Carpenter, the previous referee, was a close associate of John Hampden, and Walsh issued a statement in which he included the comment "The deception was, to say the least of it, 'unscientific'." (speaking of the choosing of William Carpenter who did not disclose his close collaboration with Hampton)

As a result of this comment by Walsh, John Hampden claimed that he was being libelled, and also accused the new referee of colluding with Wallace. Hampden took legal action to prevent the wager money being given to Wallace. After years of fighting in court, A.R. Wallace won the money, but ended up no further ahead after lawyers fees, and had done nothing to stop the spread of the "Flat Earth" philosophy.

What we can learn from this, is that scientists and anti-scientists do not have the same standards of fairness. Why would I say that, and how could I ever confirm it? Of course it can never be confirmed that anti-scientists are all cheats, and it does not even seem to be a reasonable statement. I would go further, and say it makes me sound like a lunatic that I would even propose that all anti-scientific people are liars and cheats. Therein lies the paradox that prevents a debate from being a good way to settle the matter.

For any debate to succeed, you need to have both sides willing to listen to reason, to abide by observed facts. But that very idea is at the heart of "The scientific method". If you can show me two people willing to listen to reason, and abide by observed facts, I will show you two scientists.

But the world at large, observing this debate, sees only two equally earnest sides, pro science vs. science deniers. If the pro science side ever at any time in exasperation, insults the science deniers for their lack of logic, for their hardball tactics, for their deceit, a whole new argument is launched. This new argument is about personal honour. In the new argument, the scientists were the first to insult the other. And they lose.