Monday, September 2, 2013

Difficult Decisions

There are a number of difficult decisions approaching.  My heart failure continues to slowly but surely progress, and I become less able to do things.  My general mobility is decreasing, as creeping arthritis inflames and gives major hurties to my hands, shoulders, knees and hips.  For whatever reason, my elbows do not seem as affected, but whatever.
Through the years, one of the things that has held me together has been riding my motorcycles.  For the past nearly 15 years, I have been limited to scooters, because I cannot operate a shifter or a brake pedal with my fake feet, and I need the controls on the handlebars.  This has worked well, as scooters have become progressively better and more sophisticated.  My "big scooter", a Honda Silver Wing, is, for all purposes, a touring bike - sophisticated, fuel injected, and easily cruises at freeway speeds.  However, I am presently unable to ride it.  It lives, for now, in my brother Conrad's garage, and he exercises it occasionally to keep it prime.  The "trike scooter" is 150cc, and while a three-wheeler, is a reverse trike (two wheels in the front) and is also a leaner, meaning that it leans in the turns, so is not a stay-upright trike.  It is also larger and heavier than a typical 150, and more difficult to handle, but I will try to stay with it.  If I plan to remain a rider, as I do, major things must happen.
One: the garage must be shovelled out, to allow the Silver Wing to return home, and room made for proper parking for the trike scooter,as well as working space for me to revamp the 1985 Honda Elite 250.  This will cost money, as in extensive help from 1-800-JUNK or somebody, and money is a rare component right now.
Two: I must find the resources to acquire and install a Tow-Pac kit for the Silver Wing.  My brothers call these "training wheels", and I suppose they are, but it must happen.
Three: Both the Silver Wing and the trike scooter must be engineered to carry perhaps a lightweight Rollator or other walker device, to allow me to walk when I get off the scooters, which is becoming a factor.  I am already scheming and plotting to arrange these things. 
It will be an interesting winter.
OTOH, as it slowly but surely becomes more difficult for me to get out and travel around, I am getting more ruined by online shopping. I ordered several things from Harbor Freight, and the shipping & handling is $6.99 flat rate - I am 18 miles from the store, and at 20 mpg in my truck, I would spend about as much driving to the store to pick up the stuff. I will stay here and drink coffee, thanks...  :D

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Moldy, but still relevant techno

Americans remain a stunningly isolated and sheltered bunch of folk.
I was recently actually laughed at by a 24-year-old upper-middle-class suburbanite because after 36 years, I remain a "ham" radio operator and shortwave listener.  He, of course, with his iPhone, XM satellite receiver, and DirectTV, considers my old-tech radio stuff obsolete and useless.
He also has limited knowledge or understanding of the ball of rock on which he lives.  One quarter of the world population has no access to electricity. 40 percent of earthlings have no indoor plumbing.  About one sixth of earthlings have never seen a television.  Only 34% of the world population have internet access at all.  In several countries, including North Korea, Myanmar (Burma), Yemen, and most recently Zimbabwe,  shortwave receivers, satellite dishes, and walkie-talkies are illegal, and will get you fined and imprisoned.  China still severely restricts the above goodies, and though the government makes big puffery about 40% of the population having internet access, that access is strictly filtered by the government.
"Nobody does shortwave radio anymore" - really?  This is a link for a web document that will show you what is on the shortwave bands right now.

The creaky old Voice of America, from the post-WWII era, is still there, broadcasting thousands of programs from dozens of high-power transmitters, in more than 100 languages, including Special English, read slowly with a vocabulary of about 1500 words, for those with rudimentary English skills. 
Do a little research, folks.  You may be surprised.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


I have upgraded my battered and tired cellphone, and under subtle influence from my daughter and others, have agreed to take up "texting".  As a result, I selected an LG Xpression phone, with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard for typing.  I prefer mechanical keyboards, as I find on-screen keyboards ungainly.  The keyboard is small for my clumsy paws, but workable, if not at high speed.  For those who know me, same number.  I do not know all of the funky shorthand etc, so bear with me.  Don't get crazy with it, but I am textable now...

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


Doing some geekness - I have never had a GPS unit, but I found an irresistible price on a USB dongle GPS receiver that works with my little netbook 'puter.  The thing is about the size of a flash drive, and just amazes me.  Apparently, the pile here is at Lon 33.726945 Lat -86.560138 at elevation 1033 ft. Amazing. The software I am using with it [TangoGPS] has a drive function that will use the thing to show me heading, miles, current max and average speed, and displays a little map to show me where I am going. I have no idea what useful purpose it will have for me, but it is fun to play with. Next time I go somewhere in the car, I will take it along to check it out.
The other geekness goodie is this.  I am intrigued with the convenience of the "tablet" form of portable computing.  I like the quickness and convenience of touch-screen, and I have used the Palm OS for years with PDAs.  I have been tinkering with my daughters tablet, and have been impressed with the Android OS - it seems to just work, and is very easy to use.  Lindsay's tablet, however, has a 7" screen size, and that is a bit cramped. A few days ago, I came across a deal at, of all places, the local Fred's Bargain Store, a regional discount store chain.
Polaroid, a couple of years ago, released a line of reasonably-priced tablet/e-reader devices, using the Android 4.1 OS, in 7, 8, 9, and 10 inch formats, and have apparently decided to concentrate on the 8" and 10" models, and are closing out the others.  Fred's had gotten hold of a pile of the 9" model, and were bundling them with a neat little folding case that included, of all things, a real keyboard, the USB plug-in type (on-screen keyboards are small and slow, and can be a pain).  The tablet can be easily popped in/out of the case.  I picked up this, and a 32G micro-SD card, and am having a blast with it. The wifi sensitivity is not quite as good as my netbook, but it is reliable in a building, and it is fun to work with.  It did not come with the Google Android Market link (it is not listed as a "Compatible Device") but I managed to hack that in, so it is available now.  The Android internet browser is not impressive, but I loaded up the Opera Mobile browser, much better IMO.  The tablet does not have GPS, but I will pick up a USB-miniUSB adapter, and Android has an app that will hook up the GPS dongle, so that will be more fun.  I will be experimenting to see what kind of battery life the tablet will have.
This knocks out my geek budget for a while, but fun is to be had...

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

New Foots! And yes, New Flames!

I received today the new fake foots, after wearing and approving the test sockets for about three weeks, and they seem to work very well.  These are a new design of socket, done by computer, and not by the old-school plaster casting.  I put a sock of a particular kind on each socket, and each was scanned by who knows what technology, with lasers and computers and stuff, and they were apparently kinda sorta 3D printed, but in epoxy and carbon fibre.  These sockets are probably half the weight of the previous sockets,and combined with the new foot design, the shoes that I wear on the prostheses are probably heavier than the prostheses themselves!
This important to me because a) the progressive arthritis in my hips and knees make lightweight hardware less painful to lift and move, and b) my battered heart, which works at an "Ejection Fraction" [function] of less than 30%, with a leaky mitral valve to boot, gives me about 20% of my optimum blood supply, so walking at all is a strenuous activity, and the less weight I am required to move with activity, the better.  These new sockets also seem to fit very well and comfortably, which cuts down possibility for pressure sores, etc.
One thing that did remain the same from the last set was the ability for the finisher to cover the sockets with a cotton material to provide whatever pattern I would like, and could find.  I have connections for this [a daughter who works for Hobby Lobby] so I was easily able to obtain a flame design fabic, and the finisher glued in onto the outside of sockets, and finished them with clear gel instead of the usual white.  I am proud of the finished product:

Hey, somebody has to have a sense of humor about this, and it may as well be me!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

A bit of "excitement"...

A bit of... er... excitement here, coming up, of course on Sunday night, the worst possible time for this sort of thing.  Sandy was taking a shower, and the daughter went downstairs to find soapy water coming up out of the washing machine drain line, onto the floor.  The line from the house to the septic tank, or possibly the tank itself, was not flowing.  Not what one wants to see.  The tank itself is pumped out every few years, and as far as I know is working properly, so this must be a thing with the piping.  I muscled out the big drain auger, pulled the plug on the cleanout in the "go out" line, and began to auger away.  About 15 feet in, the auger just stopped, apparently having run into some immovable something, and no more progress could be made, and no drainage was taking place.  This was not a good thing, as we were out of business until at least the next morning.  The only option was to add a bit of leftover RV Holding Tank stuff to each toilet in case of emergency, and hang on.
We have an outfit that does the occasional septic tank pump-out, so we called them early the next morning, and they were able to make it out later in the day.  They were brave and dedicated etc, and worked in the on-and-off rain, digging up septic tank line from the house to the tank, which is not far, but it still involves digging.
Here is some apparent wisdom, but more likely using whatever there was on hand by a sub-development builder - the drain doings in the house are rather well-done.  Outside the house, however, the PVC line from the house to the septic tank changed to about 15 feet of clay pipe, which conducted everything to the tank.  Why this was done, I have no clue, but it was part of the problem.  Nearby, there used to be a massive hackberry tree, and tree roots had, over the years, displaced the clay pipe sections, causing leakage between the sections.  In addition, there was a large watermelon-sized rock on top of the clay pipe, apparently pushed in when the pipe was being buried when it was installed.  Over the years, the combination of roots and the rock had damaged the clay pipe, and the pipe apparently just broke up and collapsed, making for the Unclearable Clog. 
The plumbing guys worked hard correcting all of this.  The roots are no longer a factor, as the tree was taken down some years ago.  The watermelon-sized rock now resides in the ravine behind the backyard and good riddance.  When the line left the house, it needed to drop about 18" to put it in the right position to do the proper draining into the tank, and was originally done with two 90-degree fittings.  Just on the principle of easing the flow, the plumbing guys replaced this little arrangement with two 45-degree fittings to provide less of a sudden direction change, and the house-to-tank line is now a continuous run of schedule 40 PVC, buried without large rocks or other destructive debris.  The guys assured me that this part of the system should outlast the house.  I'll go with that.
So now, eighteen hours and some several hundred dollars later, everything is in prime flow again.  The expenditure puts a strain on the limited reserves, but life is good when toilets flush well, and one can take a shower...

Friday, February 22, 2013

Cheap Scooter!

I have, many are surprised to learn, a cheap Chinese motor scooter, purchased online.  Mine is apparently one of the brands that is considered among the worst, quality and support-wise.  Discussions have been conducted in online forums and live conversations about this thing, and I thought that lessons learned would be valuable here, since I know some scooter riders read this thing.  The scoot is a "different" design, a three-wheel model in a "reverse trike" design, with two wheels in front, and one in the rear, and is a "leaner"; it leans into turns much as a regular two-wheeler.  More about that later.
The scoot I have is sold by an importer under a trade name, but is manufactured by a mainland Chinese manufacturer, the Ningbo Dongfang Lingyun Vehicle Made Co., Ltd.  It was ordered online and shipped to me, partially assembled, in a crate.  Unfortunately, there was minimal assembly instruction included, and what was there appeared to be in "Engrish", IOW a poor translation, though I gathered that the assembly was to be taken quite seriously, as i was warned in the instructions that "Amusing and horse play are forbidden!".  Fortunately, on YouTube was a three-part instruction video, produced by one of the importers, demonstrating the assembly of this very model!  The documentation also included an "owner's manual" which was to the depth of what would be called, in the computer software biz, a "quick start guide". 
With notes made from the YouTube video, the assembly went very well.  The frame seems solid, well made, and the A-arms for the front end etc fit very well.  The engine and CVT driveline are apparently from Lifan, which is a fairly respected name.  The body panels, while thin and apparently low-cost, were well molded and painted, and fit well.  Those things being said, there are downsides.
Before I even rode this thing, there was substantial money and time to be spent.  The fluids supplied with the scoot, engine oil, brake fluid, etc did not even look or smell like normal fluids do, so they were all replaced before it was even started.  The "outside supplier" parts on the scoot are mostly rubbish.  The tires were pretty much unusable; the rear was badly out-of round, and one of the fronts was separating on one side of the tread, nearly all the way around the tire, so tires were up for immediate replacement; I prefer Continental, but your mileage may vary.  Two of the light bulbs were dead out of the box, with more to follow.  The whole thing had to be "wrenched", as there were poorly tightened fasteners everywhere, and lay in a supply of Loc-Tite.  The brake pads, while still there, are also rubbish. 
I repacked the front wheel bearings before assembly, but the hubs almost immediately started to loosen, and the bearings began to sound like rolling buckets of rocks, so replacement was up for them as well.
The front end, having two wheels, requires aligning to track properly, and out of the box, mine was badly maladjusted.  There was no documentation for this either, but I have done shadetree car work through the years, so it was fairly easy to figure out.  There is no adjustment for caster or camber, but simply for toe-in, and it has adjustable tie-rods, so no sweat.  The geometry is unusual, and the toe-in can actually vary with flexing of the suspension, so adjust the pre-load on the front shocks to max to minimize the flexing, and use someone of about your own weight to sit on the scooter while you are adjusting.  This will make the ride a bit abrupt, but will minimize the change in tow-in while riding.  Speaking of the shock/spring units, they squeak like crazy while flexing, so be prepared to use a small spring compressor to get access to the ends of the springs, and lube them up with lithium grease to minimize that, front and rear.
Now, rideability. Once properly aligned, the handling is very good. The thing leans more than a two-wheeler for a given turn, and that takes some getting used to, but once you have a feel for it, the unit handles well.  To be overweight (nearly 400 pounds) and underpowered (8 hp) it does well on level ground, but has some difficulty with hills. It is an efficient around-town scoot, and averages about 70 mpg.
It is not an entry-level scooter.
Re the scooters:  I have been rideless since just before Christmas, a combo of cold weather intolerance and fake foot issues. [I have prosthetic lower legs]  Sandy describes me as having PMS - Parked Motorscooter Syndrome.
The scooters are on IV with the battery maintainers, and calling my name pitifully. I am being fitted for a new pair of leggies now, and they should be ready and tuned up in about three-four weeks, so I look forward to being back on fewer than four wheels soon.
OTOH, I am driving my truck more often, so its battery is staying better charged...

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Mystified again...

I am confused again.  That happens a lot, perhaps just because I am a simple boy and don't understand things well, but this is causing me to wonder.
Years ago, downtown Birmingham was Shopping Central.  All the big stores were there, from the discount stores (S.S. Kresge) to the the high-line fashion centers (Parisian, Blach's, etc) with a huge Sears & Roebuck prominent in the mix.  As urban sprawl took over, shopping downtown became inconvenient - it was a long distance downtown from the 'burbs, if one rode the streetcars [later busses] it was difficult to bring one's shopping home, if one drove to downtown, parking was insufficient and expensive, etc, etc.
Retailers responded with the Shopping Center out toward the 'burbs - strip centers offering free parking, stores in one area, and much convenience for suburban shoppers.  The strip centers were not perfect of course, one disadvantage being exposure to weather while moving from store to store.
The next development solved many problems - the Mall.  Malls had the free parking, large numbers of diverse stores in one place, including the big names from downtown, and offered a weather-protected, comfortable environment for shopping.  Most offered a food court with passable food items, and it was possible to transfer purchases to the car during the shopping runs.  Nice.
Change happens, of course, and these huge shopping venues must eventually relocate due to changing demographics.  Two of the "new" venues in my area are the Pinnacle and the Summit.  Disturbing to me, though, is that these flashy new structures are - strip centers.  The free parking is still there, but we are back to an open environment, with sidewalk access between the stores, unprotected from weather.  The food courts are now stand-alone restaurants scattered about the edges of the parking areas, requiring long walks in the heat, rain, etc to reach them.  Is this not taking a step backward?
Back in 1960, the first mall in Alabama, and the second enclosed shopping mall in the southeast, was Eastwood Mall in Birmingham, a revolutionary idea at the time, and a destination for shoppers from all over the state, and as far away as Atlanta and Chattanooga.  Changing demographics and mismanagement led to the closing of the mall in the late 1990s, and it was razed, and replaced with a Wal-Mart supercenter, with a large surrounding - strip center. [sigh]

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I am such a fossil... [sigh]

I was having a bout of what I call "terminal insomnia" last night (one of the ironies of congestive heart failure is that we are tired all the time, but have problems sleeping), and I was reflecting on what a Luddite I am these days.
My "cage" (motorscooter rider term) is a 1993 S-10 pickup with nearly 200k miles, but it is maintained, reliable, and suits my purposes just fine. I do need to drive it a bit more often, though, to keep it exercised (another motorscooter rider thing).
My watch is a water-resistant Timex that gives me the time on a clear dial.

My cellphone is a phone.  It makes and receives calls very well.  I don't text, I don't do Facebook checkins from wherever I am, I don't check my email while I am out and about.  I actually had an otherwise-intelligent lady ask me "You don't text?  How can I let you know when we decide on a time for the meeting?".  She was truly mystified, and when I told her "You dial the number, and when I answer, tell me the time for the meeting",  she looked confused.

I still carry a Palm PDA, the old type with the little black-and-white screen, and the flip cover.  Keeps me on time. The strange-looking ball point pen thing is a retractable stylus to carry in my shirt pocket, because my creaky hands, these days, have a rough time handling the tiny little stylus that came with the Palm. I also have the Palm folding portable keyboard for text entry.

I have always had fine motor control issues with my hands, made worse in recent years by my joint issues, and my handwriting has always sucked, so I am big on keyboards.  I developed my typing skills using two fingers, the index finger on my left hand and middle finger on the right , and still use that method.  I stick with it because it works, and through the years, from the point at which I adopted the typewriter as a mere kidlet, I have typed probably more than a million words in this manner. 
In the truck, just in case I get in a true bind for hard copy, I still carry a portable manual typewriter.

My daughter has a small tablet computer, and I have not yet gotten into that mode.  I do, however, have a tiny Dell netbook with a broken screen, and am thinking of possibly repairing that, and carrying it to give me wifi access when I go places.  It is compact enough (9" screen) that it is easily carry-able, even on the scooters, and has about a 5-hour battery life on a charge.  We will see.

Monday, January 21, 2013

An update...

I have committed to a couple of people to update this thing more frequently, so a general update for now, and soon a return to general discussion and my usual token bitching.
On the upside, our daughter has finally grown weary of a useless boyfriend and northern winters, and has moved back from Illinois.  She is staying with us for a while to finish her MEd degree online, and do some student teaching with the target of doing science teaching in high-school, to the pierced and tattooed mall-rats and slackers who infest public schools these days.  Brave lady.  She did a practicum day Friday at her old alma-mater, and had mixed impressions.  She will have one more day there, teaching a class as opposed to observing, and is arranging another similar journey with a Title 1 high school elsewhere in the county. 
As to myself, on a less optimistic note, my health seems to be continuing its slow decline, but I am fighting it at every flank.  The weather has been harder on me both physically and psychically than last year, but I am adapting.  The battery powering my pacemaker/defibrillator is weakening, and will probably need replacement in a couple months, but I am told that the more current model will be better, so we will see.
Due to stump issues, the scooters remain at rest for now on the battery maintainers, but continue to call to me.  The Elite has cooling issues, but those will be addressed in time for warm-weather riding.  The Silver Wing continues to become more difficult for me to handle, and I realize that I must must seriously seek a way to finance a training-wheel kit for it.  I am leaning toward the Go-Pac kit.  This is a major step for me, and in many ways another depressing nod to my deteriorating condition, but I had rather be on the road.  We will see.