Friday, May 30, 2008


So, old French bikes have terrible compatibility with anything, including themselves.  Single speed it is. May not even bother painting this, but we'll see.  Really not worth trying to fix the shifters, may get a single speed hub, etc.

Robert Alverson


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

New Bike!

I have a new project bike. Which is mildly depressing, considering that means I now have two fixer-upper bikes. The new bike is a old French Motobecane Mirage, pre-80's. Picked it up from a pile of free used bikes behind the bikeshop, needless to say it's a bit tore up. However, the frame is nice, and its longer than my MTB frame, so I'm going to try to fix it up. (The MTB is from when I was 13, it's on the small size, and I've done a lot of dumb things on it, so it's pretty trashed.)

The front derailer was nearly worn through where the chain rubs when shifting, and the lower cog on the rear derailer has had all its teeth worn off. It seems that the prior owner either rode an exorbitant number of miles and kept the bike really well greased, or they didn't ride it very much and thrashed the daylights out of the shifters. Beats me. Either way the drivetrain, in terms of shifting, is pretty trashed. At this point, I'm really tempted to make it a single-speed, but really would rather have gears for making up the hill to school. So, I need a new pair of derailers, or some way to fix the existing ones.

The rest of the tear-down went really well, nothing was corroded together or stuck, and even cotters on the cranks came out clean. That really surprised me, everything I'd read/figured suggested that this would be the biggest problem.

So right now I'm looking at replacing the tubes/tires, all the cables (some were fraying), the derailers (unless they cam be repaired in a reasonable time frame) and repainting it. I just need to tear down the bottom bracket, and then the frame will be ready to paint.

I've caught a lot of flack for wanting to repaint the bike. I've had several people tell me that the color is nice, and the original lettering is nice, and similar sentiments. The thing is, I agree. The bike is really well done, and I enjoy it. However, the existing paint is chipped and flaking in areas, and there are some large patches of rust on the chain stays. Being the bastard that I am, I hate rust, and would rather maintain the structural integrity of the bike than the integrity of the paint scheme. But I do like the lettering.

I'm working on hacking the font together, so that I can stencil the current markings back on to the frame at some point. If it works, it will be epic. If not, oh well, it was a free bike.

If anyone has some hardware they want to throw my way, I'd be happy to have it.

*5/29/08: I spent some time in Photoshop messing with extracting and vectorizing the font. Long story short, I'm just going to get some acetate and copy the lettering by hand.*

Robert Alverson


More Frivolous Purchases.

I went to Logos again over the weekend: I swear that place will be my
ruin. While browsing the small-but-eclectic maritime section of the
bookstore, I came upon a book that is right up my alley.

"Extra: Titanic" by Eric Caren is a compilation of pieces that ran on
the Titanic in 1912. I really like that it includes the entire
printed page rather than just extracting the stories explicitly about
the Titanic. This makes it a neat little slice of from the era, and
provides a more general background. Sadly, it is an oversize book at
15" tall, and as such dosn't quite fit in any of my bookcases. But it
is a fun and informative read, and well worth the $5 I paid for it.

This adds to my collection of books on the Titanic, which was already
reaching an unfortunate size (or a fortunate size, depending on how
you look at it). The "Books on the Titanic" section is now edging out
Ayn rand and Arthur C. Clark and making tracks for Neal Stephenson.
It is also interesting to note that what these books lack in page
length, the more than make up for in being huge. Like the ship
itself, books on the Titanic tend to have unwieldy dimensions.
Robert Alverson


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Early Adopters

Tonight, I'm glad I'm behind the tech curve, at least far enough for it not to suck.  I'm a hardcore Google Calendar guy.  The interface is good, it does what I need it to, and it's web-based.  I found out recently that work needs me to use the Oracle Calender system.  It's web-based, has a crap-tastic user interface and too many options. I was  handed 141 pages of documentation on this program.  That's not even how to use it in the context of the job, just how to have a working knowledge of it, which is intimidating to say the least.  I'd much rather use Google Calendar, and just have Oracle Calendar import all my tasks.  Sadly, that just isn't possible without some major code-fu, which I don't have.  Knowing that it should be possible, I decided to find a workaround.

It turns out that Google wrote a little app that will sync between MS Outlook and Google Apps.  Oracle wrote an app that will sync between MS Outlook and Oracle Calendar.  Long story short, I set up Outlook for the first time in 4 years on my lappy.  In theory this should work like a charm, however, that is never the case, and the Oracle server at work is down, so I can't test it regardless.  They say I can bill them for the time spent learning Oracle: I don't know if they want me to bill them for 5 hours of trying various ways to get a calendar from Google to Oracle.

I'm glad I'm behind the curve on this one: Google made Sync earlier this year, prior to that I'd have had to pay a third-party vendor for the same functionality.  Also, this is the one time I'm glad that MS has market dominance.  (Don't tell anyone I said that.)  The argument of course being if everyone used FOSS standards...

Robert Alverson


Friday, May 16, 2008

That Magical Time of the Quarter

Ah, the post-midterms madness.  All of the sudden there are papers due, classes to go to, meetings to attend.  Plowing through it all with a healthy dose of caffeine, loud music and a stress level that's likely mildly unhealthy.  I live for this.  Forget skydiving or windsurfing, try writing back-to-back papers on stuff you hadn't even heard of 24 hours ago.  And ace them.  Scrambling down the dark alleyways of online academic journal databases, flipping between books, thats good times. Seriously.  Delicious, delicious, doing research.

One of these days I'll find someone who will pay me to do this stuff.  And that will be awesome.
Robert Alverson


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Washing Machine

Kimberly found a washing machine on craigslist over the weekend.  It was free, but according to the listing needed a new belt.  Ever on the lookout for free stuff we snagged it and brought it home, pretty confidant that it wouldn't be very hard to find a new belt, and if not, hey, it was free. 

We got it home, and I almost immediately came to the conclusion that there were no belts needed in this thing at all.  There was a large amount of rubber shavings present but these were from the rubber bushing in the coupling between the motor and the gearbox.  The washer is assembled as two stacks off the gearbox: the coupling, motor, and pump extend horizontally, and the drive shaft, clutch and drum extend vertically.  My initial thought was that I'd have to detach the gearbox to have a good shot at the coupling, but further inspection proved this unwise.  As it turns out, the gearbox is held in place and held closed by the same set of bolts, and more importantly uses a thick gel as the seal around the edge, which would have been difficult to replace.  It made a lot more sense to disassemble the motor stack (as it was designed to be).

The stack, extending from the gearbox, was as follows: coupling, motor attachment plate and bushings, motor, and the pump.  Several hoses also enter and exit the pump, and they complicated things greatly.  It is unpleasant to work in a confined space on spring based fittings, particularly ones that you need a fair amount of mechanical advantage to lever open.  After getting the hoses off the pump was an easy one to remove, being held to the motor by just two metal clips.  The motor was held onto its baseplate by a similar setup, with the addition of a retaining screw in the top of each clip.  After ganking to motor out it was pretty clear the coupling had been totaled: teeth were missing, the rubber was in pieces, etc.  Devin and Kimberly googled us up a replacement however, and two days later the new coupling came. 

After getting the new coupling in and everything re-assembled came the moment of truth.  We kept the washer our on the lawn, just in case, and hooked up the hose and an extension cord.  It powered on and worked like a champ, albeit an angry, vibrating loud champ.  But thats a problem for another day.  I was worried that I'd get it back together, only to find out the coupling had failed because the clutch locked up, or the gearbox had failed.  Thankfully that appears to not be the case, although I'm mildly concerned that the excessive gyrations it currently exhibits may be enough to cause more wear on the coupling by shifting the motor about.  Even if it does, a new coupling is still under $20, so we could go through a few more before it became prohibitively expensive.

All-in-all it's a good catch, and gave me a few hours of entertainment, so I'm marking this one as a win.
Robert Alverson


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Bride of Science

I stumbled across a copy of "The Bride of Science" by Benjamin Woolley at Logos recently and, in a fit of excess, bought it.  The book is a biography of Ada Lovelace, who is credited with being the first programmer for her work on Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine.  (As a side note, she is one of my more favorite historical personages, and she lived in one of my favorite historical periods, so I'm a little biased.)

The book is well written in general, with a bent for dry humor and ironic juxtapositions, and reads more like a novel than a historical treatise. Which is fortunate, given the subject matter: it doesn't shy away from the more torrid aspects of her life (of which there are quite a few), and in fact becomes downright sensationalist at points.  Those looking for an Ada-centric read may want to find another book, as this one strongly frames its discussion of Ada in terms of her parents, particularly her mother, and doesn't dwell on her work with the Analytical Engine for very long.  However, it does give a great deal of insight into her life and thoughts, as well as giving a good look at the intellectual/upper class in the period.

I rather enjoyed the book, but I find anything even mildly relevant to the 19th century interesting.  As far as biographies go, this one is pretty good, and not a hard read at all.  My recommendation: good for those who are interested in Ada and the period in general, bad for those who want to learn more about her relation to the Analytical Engine.
Robert Alverson