Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Gud Paswurds

You’ve all read the news: “Bank Accounts Hacked,” “Large Department Store Data Stolen,” “30,000 Emails Deleted.” Oh wait, that last one is from the political news. But you know that bad actors, many located in foreign countries, seem to be able to regularly access accounts that should be secure. And why is that?

Well there are many reasons and many ways these thieves gain access where they should have been kept out by locks, security, and passwords. Yet they seem to find their way in, through a window or under the floor or over the roof … metaphorically speaking.

Well there isn’t a lot you can do about the data processing security of your local bank, department store, or government; but there is one aspect of cyber security that you do control. That is your password. Make them STRONG. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, don’t let those beach bullies kick sand in your password’s face. You can have a strong password in just 60 days with these wonderful … wait, I think I got off track yet again.

You do want strong passwords. You’ve read the instructions: Include upper AND lower case LETTERS. Use numbers. Use punctuation and the other strange keys on your keyboard. (Just what the heck is a "~" or a "|") That’s called “complexity.” There are other good hints such as, and I can’t emphasize this enough, don’t use regular words called “dictionary words.” Like I said, don’t use regular words called “dictionary words.”

But there is a third method, and it is actually the best at building strong passwords. And that is to make your passwords LOOOOONNNNNGGGGGGGGGG! Sure the site requires a minimum of 8 characters, but that isn’t nearly long enough. You see the hackers use programs that quickly produce combinations of letters and numbers (and even the strange ${>~?*|` characters. Oh, and they quickly run through dictionaries of common words and names. It is better to use upper and lower case letters, numbers, and even odd-ball symbols, but mathematical analysis shows the most difficult passwords to hack by these automatic programs are long passwords (without common words or names).

Compare these eight character passwords and the estimated time for most hacking algorithms to break them:

qkcrmztd       52 seconds
kqwbv832     11 minutes
J5bZ>9p!       20 days

Note how adding numbers and caps and symbols does increase the hacking time. Doesn’t 20 days sound pretty secure? Oh, but wait, the crooks are running massive parallel systems made of modern PCs with several graphics cards installed. (Graphics cards are very fast at doing math.) So the 20 days may only be one day on a parallel system with 20 nodes.

So, it may be, that 20 days isn’t as good as it may seem from first glance.

By the way, the way this works, in most cases, the crooks have hacked some site and stolen their encrypted password file. They are now using super fast algorithms to hack these files to discover the plain text password. But then I’m sure you don’t use the same password on all your accounts, so if they do discover the password used at one retail store, certainly that isn’t the same password you use at your bank. IS IT????

So what can you do? Well my friends, (Can I call you friends even though I don't know you?), length is your buddy. Let’s start to think in terms of “pass phrases” rather than “pass words.” Length adds tremendously to the time taken to crack a password, even if it only contains lower case letters. Here’s some examples:

orange tea       98 days     (length 10 characters)
this is cool       546 years   (length 12 characters)

Of course, many sites don’t accept blank spaces in passwords. Plus they may require upper and lower case, numbers, and special characters (often from a subset of all the keys on the keyboard) no matter how long you make the phrase. Besides that, these example contain dictionary words, so I don’t recommend them anyway.

Here are some really secure passwords

I own 2 dogs and 1 cat!         30 octillion years (longer than the age of the universe)
#I own 2 dogs and 1 cat!?     285 nonillion years (yeah, I made that up … but you get the idea)

Now for the blanks and dictionary words:

Just combine some things, misspell the words, add a few characters (which isn’t even necessary unless the site requires it and “round the rough and ragged rocks” becomes the uncrackable:


Using every computer on the planet hooked in parallel, that password will take until the universe has died of a heat death before it can be hacked. It is rather long, and takes a while to type. You could make it a bit simpler and shorter and it would still be plenty secure. The important thing is to make it more than 8 characters in whatever you choose. Twelve, fourteen, that should be enough, at least with the present state of the art. When they perfect quantum computers, we will have to revisit length.

The key point is that length > complexity in the required computing time to hack the password. No matter how complicated and complex your 8 character passwords are, and no matter how many special odd characters you use on the keyboard (assuming the site will allow them all) a relatively simple 12 character password will be tougher to break than the most complex 8 character password you can dream up. And if 12 isn’t enough to give you a warm feeling, use 18 or 20.

Just remember:

Don't use common dictionary words: orange, secret, password
Don't just substitute numbers for letters: secr3t, passw0rd — the crooks know that one.
Don't use sequential letters or numbers: 12345, abcde
Don't use repeated letters/numbers or keyboard patterns: 111, aaa, qwerty, asdfgh

And, finally, Don't use the same passphrase for every site if you can help it. (If it is a trivial site, using a common password is OK. But protect your financial accounts and your email carefully.)

Why email accounts? Well guess how you reset a password, You typically ask for a reset and the site sends an email to reset the password. If someone can hack your email, they can probably reset your wonderful long password in about 1 minute, assuming they know the answer to a security question such as our mother’s maiden name or the high school you attended — which isn’t that hard to find on the Internet, now is it? Ah yes, security questions. I’d better get busy and write another note about security questions. Good security, it’s a never ending job!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


I’m pretty used to updates. My iPhone just got an update to iOS 10, Windows skipped 9 and went right to 10 just a year ago. Interestingly the just released version of the Mac OS X (that’s supposed to be Roman numeral ten) is just MacOS, dropping the "X," since, apparently, “ten” was getting crowded.

Now the Milwaukee Motor Company upgrades their engine … but only to “8.” That’s the new Harley-Davidson V-twin, and the “eight” refers to the number of valves. Divide 8 by 2 (two cylinders, you know) and you get a four-valve per cylinder design. Plenty of bikes (and cars) have doubled up on the intake and exhaust valves. It helps the engine breath easier without the extra mass of big valves. (There’s that Newton thing about inertia and mass.)

This is a brand new engine from stem to stern and HD is very proud of it. Interestingly, while doubling the valves, they returned to one camshaft to open those poppets. That’s after the last upgrade was proudly showing off its “Twin Cams.” It just shows there are more than one way to skin the old apple. (ASPCA disallows allegorical references to felines.)

While reducing the camshaft count in half, Harley has doubled the spark plug number. There are good reasons for all these changes, as I’ll discuss in the details below.

But first, let’s go to the history books and examine just how often these Milwaukee engineers have practiced engine-eering. I think a definite trend will appear.

This is the ninth big V-Twin engine in Harley’s lineup since 1903:

  • 1914-1929 F-Head (61ci and 74ci)
  • 1930-1948 Flathead (74ci and 79ci)
  • 1936-1947 Knucklehead (61ci and 74ci)
  • 1948-1965 Panhead (61ci and 74ci)
  • 1957-1985 Ironhead (54ci and 61ci)
  • 11966-1984 Shovelhead (74ci and 80ci)
  • 1984-1999 Evolution (80ci)
  • 1999-2016 Twin Cam (88ci, 95ci, 96ci, 103ci, 110ci)
  • 2017 Milwaukee-Eight (107ci and 114ci)

Besides a steady, albeit rather glacial pace of upgrading, you also notice a pattern They just keep getting bigger. Ignore the Ironhead. That went in the smaller Harley Sportster, and so it doesn’t really show the cubic inch progress. Also missing from this list is the engine Harley codeveloped with Porsche, the 2002 “Revolution.” It is water-cooled, and not put in the standard bikes, so I’ve ignored it, although surely Harley engine designers learned from it as well as these listed versions.

The design of Harley’s Big Twins has tracked the development of America’s highways. When most roads were dirt and average speeds low, the Knuck’s iron heads and cylinders handled the heat and “wore like iron.” As roads were paved and four-lane highways began to appear, riders could ride farther, faster. More power being used required increased cooling, so higher-heat-conductivity aluminum replaced iron, first in heads and then in cylinders. Design evolution of the last generation of Twin Cam was anchored by improved cooling.

So what about this new power plant? What does HD say about it? Where will we see it?

The new eight-valve engine seeks two broad goals. One is to make greater power and torque while being emissions-compliant, fuel-efficient, and highly reliable. The other is a trend visible across the vehicle industry — to achieve world-class “ride feeling” through chassis, suspension, and driveline refinement. Customer research, covering 1,000 riders in seven cities, was distilled into “The Voice of the Customer,” telling The Motor Company that riders want more power for two-up riding and more back-road agility. They want the bike to fit more sizes of people. They want cooler operation.

The standard 107 uses precision oil-cooled cylinder heads and will be found in Street Glides, Road Glides, the Electra Glide Ultra Classic, and Freewheeler trikes. A Twin-Cooled version with liquid-cooled cylinder heads and radiators will power Ultra Limited models, the Road Glide Ultra, and Tri Glide models. CVO Limited and Street Glide models are equipped with the Twin-Cooled Milwaukee-Eight 114 featuring liquid-cooled cylinder heads and radiators.

Harley-Davidson Big Twin owners love the look of an air-cooled engine’s fins but have accepted “strategic cooling” (intensive cooling of specific areas) as the price of keeping that look while improving function. In the recent Rushmore series of changes to the Twin Cam engine, this took the form of circulating liquid coolant in passages around each cylinder head’s hot exhaust valve seat and then to external radiators, as a means of keeping valves and valve seats well-sealed and warp-free as more power (and therefore increased heat) was sought.

This is only one of two basic approaches to heat management — removing excess heat to keep parts at safe temperatures. An alternative approach is to change the design so it takes up less heat from combustion — an approach that may also increase power and efficiency by keeping that heat where it works for you — in the hot, high-pressure combustion gas that presses the pistons down to drive the crankshaft.

Therefore the new eight-valve engine abandons the large surface area of the traditional deep, modified hemi two-valve combustion chamber and puts in its place an almost flat chamber of minimum surface area with four valves. A true hemi chamber has exactly twice the surface area of a flat chamber, and to achieve the higher compression ratios needed to make strong torque, a piston in a hemi chamber may need a dome that increases its surface area as well. Thus, by switching from modified hemi two-valve to nearly flat four-valve, the surface area through which heat can enter heads and pistons has been substantially reduced.

Another way to take up less heat from combustion is to speed it up, exposing heads and pistons to flame for shorter time. Faster combustion from two spark plugs per cylinder is one element used in the Milwaukee-Eight to achieve this, but a second is invisible: thousands of hours of flow and combustion simulation studies. Like all modern manufacturers, Harley has relied heavily on powerful computer models allowing engineers to explore options at the press of key. Further use of computers on the bike's themselves produce sophisticated timing and anti-detonation detection. That saves heat and engine parts.

Like the original Big Twin — the EL of 1936 — the new engines have a single four-lobe camshaft in place of the Twin Cam’s pair. Drive is by chain with automatic hydraulic tensioner. Fewer parts mean reduced noise and lower friction. Other improvements in the air intake system also reduce noise. There is a single, outstanding reason for this. Besides monitoring exhaust gas emissions, the EPA monitors noise and the rules keep getting tighter. With motorcycles, the regulations measure the noise in a cumulative, “drive by” manner. That means the noise limits include engine mechanical noise, air noise from engine and body, and exhaust noise. Ah, but one man’s noise is another man’s music. And Harley riders like the rump, rump sound most of all. By minimizing mechanical and air intake noises, you can maximize the exhaust noise that is the primary selling point of the big Milwaukee Iron.

At some point in the future, government regulations may force HD to water cool their engines, since the water jacket muffles much of the engine mechanical noises. But Harely riders like the appearance of the big V-Twin power plant — fins and all, and Harley has been very aware of these design limitations. You don’t have to do a scientific survey of your customers to know where the Harley rider sweet spot applies. Keep ‘em loud and keep ‘em clean looking. That’s the marketing report.

All this effort underlines the importance of the work for Harley-Davidson. The Big Twins, where this new Milwaukee-Eight will be installed, is the very core of Harley’s business, the “engine” that ultimately drives sales all the way down to the last key fob. It’s the heart, soul, and sound that connects to the brand’s millions of fans around the world. Part of the strategy explored by HD includes smaller bikes as "entry-level" sales and the slightly smaller Sportster, yet the money makers are the big boys. In fact, the smaller bikes are part of a plan leading to the top of the line models. Plus you've got to keep the current riders, although they are some of the most brand loyal customers in the business. But they are also mostly an aging population that needs to be replaced with "young blood."

I’m not really a “Harley guy,” but I know a few and I’m very experienced with what these guys (and gals) want. I think the nail has been hit right on the sweet spot, and this engine and the other changes to suspension and various tweaks to the overall bike design will be met with approval by their intended audience and might even add a few more to the crowd. That’s important because the Motor Company has some stiff competition from Victory and Indian, as well as the big twins coming from that small island in the Pacific. The competition is tougher than it has ever been and HD’s bottom line has shown the impact of that competition. This new power plant is bound to help in that area. Just how much it will help is something yours truly will keep an eye on. This does seem like a good direction. The new Milwaukee-Eight combines tradition with the latest engineering and should hit the intended target right on the bulls eye. Time, and sales figures, will prove this assumption.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Honda V-Four Motorcycles

One of the most influential motorcycles of all time, the Honda CB750, created a serious dent in the competition when released and almost single-handedly caused the British bike industry to stall. It began production in 1969 as the homologation of the Honda CR750. The latter was developed in response to a rule change from the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) that eased engine restrictions for race qualification, an adjustment that allowed the CR750 to win its inaugural race — the 1970 Daytona 200.

A high-performance powerhouse available to the public, the CB750 is considered by many to be the first superbike. Fit with an air-cooled 736 cc straight-4 engine, a 5-speed transmission, and front disc brakes, the earliest edition harnessed 67 bhp and reached a top speed of 125 mph. With a production run through 2003 and again in Japan in 2007, over 400,000 examples were made. One currently resides in the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame.

Thus Honda beat Kawasaki to the punch, since Kawasaki were developing a similar bike. When they realized that the 750 cc bike they had originally been working on would not hold its own against the herculean 1968 Honda CB750, they developed the 903 cc Z1 in response.

Delivered to the public in 1972, the bike featured a double tubular steel cradle that carried an air-cooled DOHC inline-four engine. Releasing 82 horses, the bike could gallop at a top speed of 130 mph while a 5-speed transmission served as bridle.

A synthesis of style and substance, the Z1 also offered an electric start, comprehensive instrumentation, and superior handling characteristics — an innovative combination of brute force and beguiling performance that set a new superbike standard.

This quickly led to copy-cat fours from the other two Japanese manufacturers and bigger models soon appeared (or in the case of Honda … several smaller displacement four-cylinder models: 500 cc, 550 cc, 400 cc, and 350 cc).

As a result, people were becoming bored with straight fours by the 1980s. Although Honda was the company responsible for starting it all with the CB750, now that Kawasaki, Yamaha, and Suzuki were churning out similar bikes — the ubiquitous “Universal Japanese Motorcycle” — it was time for something entirely different.

That something was the VF750S, announced in 1982. Starting with a clean sheet of paper and a blank computer screen, the machine was based around a water-cooled V4 with four valves per cylinder. The two banks of cylinders were set at 90 degrees resulting in almost perfect balance and minimizing vibration. Only the boxer design with 180 degree cylinder alignment could do better.

A quartet of 32mm Keihin carbs was squeezed into the space between the heads. Reving to an astonishing five-figure rpm without stress, this ultra short-stroke engine produced about 80 bhp.

So far, so good. Things began to go wrong when the new V4 was installed in a motorcycle chassis, with the cylinders pointing fore and aft and with a shaft driving the back wheel. Honda included all the latest technology, including Pro-Link rear suspension, flavor-of-the-month TRAC anti-dive forks, and a full set of electronic instruments with liquid crystal gauges. They even fitted the wheels with rims of a decent width.

Which all sounds promising enough, but somehow it was a confused design, an uneasy combination of sports bike and tourer, with an identity crisis. Test reports praised the engine for its power, smoothness, and relaxed feel at speed. On the debit side, the handling was deemed adequate at best, with a sense that the power and weight were overwhelming the suspension.

After Honda’s recent history of a producer of untrustworthy engines (early CX500 and DOHC CB750 and 900 fours, for example), some concerns were raised about the sheer complexity of the V4. This was certainly not a bike for DIY mechanics.

Sales weren’t great from the beginning, but when it became known that all the fears about engine reliability were coming true, the FV750S became difficult to sell at any price. Horror stories about camshafts and cam chains wearing out in a few thousand miles ensured that the bike became something of an embarrassment, helping Kawasaki to sell more straight fours than ever.

Soon the derisive term “chocolate cam shaft” that melted like a candy bar in the hot sun began to haunt the engine. Most of these engines, especially those driven hard, wore out cam lobes, rocker faces, and cam bearing surfaces prematurely. Honda came out with many explanations, excuses, and fixes including:

1. Incorrect valve adjustment because of forked rocker arms.

To avoid this, Honda recommended identical feeler gauges under each fork of the rocker arm at the same time, so the rocker arm doesn't tilt.

This problem is worsened by the fact that the cam caps don't extend very far around the tops of the cams. On the 500cc engines, and the later generation Interceptors, the cam caps extend much farther over the camshaft to hold it snugly in place. This may explain why the problem occurs less frequently in these bikes.

2. Variation in cam-to-bearing clearance because of manufacturing method.

To combat this, Honda developed a special tool to hold the cam in place. The service bulletin issued with this tool recommends valve clearance of .006 inches instead of .005 that the Sabre / Magna originally specified, as well as use of premium motorcycle oil, changed frequently, and avoidance of prolonged idling.

3. Improper cam chain tension.

Various redesigned cam chain tensioners have been developed.

4. Soft cam lobe material.

Later replacement cams use different camshaft material and hardening procedure, so they should last longer than the original cams. Honda offered an extended warranty which essentially meant free cams and rockers whenever needed. This warranty was discontinued in 1989 or so, and it costs about $1000 or so for parts (camshafts and rockers). Such is the cost of poor quality, a theme I’d often sing to my management team in development and manufacturing.

5. Heat

Despite liquid cooling, these engines do get hot. Usually the rear cams are the first to go because they get hottest.

Certainly one key issue was the V4 oil system. The oil system picks up oil from the sump through a strainer and routes it two ways. One goes to the filter and from there to the crankshaft. The other goes to a T joint where one branch goes to the transmission and the other splits again to feed each cylinder head. Therefore the oil is not as clean as it could be. The oil lines are of small diameter. On '83 Interceptors there was a restrictive banjo bolt in the pipes up to the heads. This was fixed for ’84.

Although many fixes were provided by Honda and aftermarket suppliers, this problem continued to plague the V4 until the 90s, with improvements provided over the years. Honda continued to improve the oil system to the camshaft, increasing the size of channels and running the oil down the center of the camshaft.

To address the handling and frame issues, only a year later, Honda fought back with the VF750F, a small change in model type, but a big change in concept. The engine had the same capacity and layout, but it was completely different inside, with a crankshaft turning in the opposite direction and chain drive to the rear wheel. Power was increased to 90 bhp at 10,000 rpm.

Addressing the dynamic weaknesses of the S, the frame was a new wraparound affair made of square-section steel tubes, crazily painted to make it look like aluminum. In addition to RAC anti-dive and Pro-Link rear suspension, the F had another secret weapon — a 16-inch front wheel, which in 1983 was the height of fashion.

The chassis was undoubtedly a good one, and the engine produced a deceptively relaxed rush of power, accompanied by a rumbly background thrum. Aided by an efficient fairing, the VF seemed to be going fast — until the rider looked at the speedometer, when the shocking truth was revealed. There had been plenty of fast bikes before, but doing 130 mph had never felt this easy.

Unlike the S model, the F found plenty of buyers immediately, and for a while, bikes were in short supply. This situation didn’t last long. Despite all the promises, it soon became apparent that the engine was still fundamentally flawed. Camshafts and cam chains still failed after a few thousand miles. After initially blaming everyone but themselves, Honda eventually admitted there was a problem, and became very generous with warranty claims. But it was really too late to salvage the VF’s tarnished reputation. Kawasaki sold even more GPz straight fours in 1983.

Disastrous though it was in some respects, the VF750F herald a new era for motorcycling, one in which bikes became almost too easy to ride at ever faster speeds, without necessarily being any more rewarding, or more exciting. Not everyone appreciated this wimpish new world of effortless two-wheeled travel, so was it a coincidence that sales were slumping, and continued to do so for the rest of the decade.

Ironically the next trend was back to the basic American motorcycle from previous decades. The Harley-Davidson big V-twin bikes with the attempted patent rump-rump (or potato-potato) cruiser sound, and decidedly more old fashioned designs became the trend in the industry.

Soon Honda and the other big Japanese companies began to copy the large V-twin designs, although with many modern accoutrements. (Actually Yamaha was first with the Virago line of cycles.) To this day the large V-twin cruisers and baggers are some of the best selling models for the Japanese companies as well a sales successes for Harley, Victory, and the resurrected Indian brand. These V-twins offer the advantages of narrow engine width and very low seat height, but it is really the sound of that engine that is the key to their success in my humble opinion. That and the movie Easy Rider!

Certainly the Japanese also have sales success with sports bikes that look like fugitives from the Daytona 200 as well as other unique touring bike designs with the Honda Goldwing.

The more complete history of the V-four would include many new models and a steady increase in displacement. The VFR was originally a 750 cc, but became an 800 cc in due course. New models featured technological innovation, such as a single-sided swing-arm, linked braking, ABS, and VTEC. The VFR1200 became the first motorcycle to feature a dual-clutch transmission. Not all of these "innovations" proved popular with riders, who often preferred the simple robustness of the earlier models.

Honda also developed a limited edition VFR, the Honda RC30, as a homologation racing platform. This motorcycle achieved some racing success, but the introduction of very light inline-four motorcycles by competing firms led Honda to downgrade its racing plans.

Honda's VF model line-up had engine capacities ranging from 400 cc to 1,000 cc. Another Honda, the shaft-drive ST1100 also featured a V4 engine, but this touring motorcycle does not form part of the VF series.

The V-four even got caught up in the short tariff war where Harley convinced the US government to add an additional import charge to bikes of 750cc and larger to protect Harley sales. This led to the VF700C model in 1987, which was raised back to 750cc the next year when the tariff was withdrawn.

Under model names of Sabre and Magna as well as the initial Intercepter, Honda produce various models of V-fours up to 1997 and even included a specially equipped police model.

The current standard bearer, an Intercepter model with definite sport bike faring and regalia is described in Honda brochures as a 782cc V-4 VTEC engine with fuel-injection mapping for better low-end torque feel. It includes adjustable seat height to better fit a range of riders, front-mount radiator for a slimmer profile, radial-mount front brakes, and all-side muffler, wheels and Pro-Arm swing-arm. There’s even a Deluxe model for 2015 with features like traction control, anti-lock brakes, self-cancelling turn signals, a center-stand and heated grips.

Self canceling turn signals!?! Doesn’t my ’96 Yamaha Virago have those? And it’s a V-twin. Still I yearn for an ’87 or ’88 “Super” Magna with the four upswept pipes and the little racing chin down under. (That's an '88 VF750C in the picture at the start of this article.) Most of the chocolate camshaft problems were fixed by then, and I’d love to add a V-four to my collection.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Motorcycle Safety Dance (or "Always wear your helmet")

Yesterday I took a long bike ride up north along the foothills above Ft. Collins to Laramie and then through the Medicine Bow mountains on Happy Jack road. What a “happy” name, “Happy Jack.”

Happy Jack wasn't old, but he was a man
He lived in the sand at the Isle of Mann
The kids would all sing, he would take the wrong key
So they rode on his head on their furry donkey

Isle of Mann … who knew Happy Jack was a motorcycle song?

No, I wasn’t riding a furry donkey. That would be a Suzuki or a Kawasaki or maybe one of those Spanish bikes, like a DelTaco.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, I am always conscious of SAFETY. Especially when I have my precious wife on the back. I don’t worry that much about me, but I’d hate for any harm to come to her. Safety. That’s my motto.

I always fasten my safety belt. I practice safe sex. I only use safety pins. I keep my money in a safe. All my guns are set on “safe” … and kept in a gun safe. (Not really. I don’t have any guns. Wouldn’t be safe.)

I even dance safe:

We can dance if we want to, we've got all your life and mine
As long as we abuse it, never gonna lose it
Everything'll work out right
I say, we can dance if we want to we can leave your friends behind
Cause your friends don't dance and if they don't dance
Well they're are no friends of mine

I say we can dance, we can dance everything out control
We can dance, we can dance we're doing it wall to wall
We can dance, we can dance everybody look at your hands
We can dance, we can dance everybody's takin' the chance

And that is the topic of today’s screed. Safety. Particularly motorcycle safety.

Motorcycles are inherently more dangerous than automobiles. In the first place, they are not as stable. A little sand in the road or some leaves on a turn and you can end up sliding into first. What would be a minor fender bender in a car, can be a serious accident on a scooter. You don’t have a steel cage around you and, even with appropriate safety gear: helmet, leathers, boots, gloves, crucifix; you just aren’t as safe as in a two ton cage with airbags, bumpers, and collapsing metal parts.

A biker does have some advantages. Even though small size (relative to an SUV) means you aren’t as noticeable, it does mean you can fit in a smaller space … like when that oncoming crazy guy tries to pass on the double yellow line and you have to share the single lane road with an impending collision.

Some argue that the greater maneuverability (and acceleration) of a bike means you can get out of the way. To me it just seems like you get quicker to the scene of the accident.

No, the main safety feature of a motorcycle, in my humble opinion, is your greater vision. There is really nothing to block your view of the road and oncoming hazards. So let’s discuss.

I will give you a visual example. Suppose you had a slice of pizza. Now lay it on the table in front of you with the pointy end toward you and the crust away. No, don’t take a bite out of it. Now that ruined it. Go ahead and finish it.

Now, put another piece of pizza in front of you with the pointy part toward you. It does look good. Pepperoni and Italian sausage. That’s one of my favorites. I’ll just take a little bite. Mmmmm. I’d better finish it now. I didn’t have lunch yet, you know.

Ok. One more time. Take a slice of imaginary pizza. Put it on the table in front of you with the pointy end closest to you. Now this will be our model of your vision.

Look down and focus on the pointy end of the pizza. This is like focusing on the ten feet in front of your bike (while traveling at 60 mph). Sure you’ll have a good view of the detail of the road and road hazards such as potholes and foreign (or domestic) objects in the roadway, but you don’t have the time (or reflexes) to avoid them anyway. Instead, focus down the road.

In our example, that means to look at the crust on the other end of the pizza. Not only is that farther away giving you more time to respond to what you spy, but it also increases your field of vision.

See how the pizza is wider at that end (the crust end). Your vision works the same way (only without anchovies). By focusing on the distance, you actually get a clear view of the entire road and the things alongside the road such as deer, antelope, moose, and skunk; as well as cars, trucks, and large ocean liners approaching at right angles (ninety degrees) to your direction of traffic. Looking to the distance actually expands your vision to the sides. You take in the entire panorama of events unfolding out in front of your motorcycle. (This works with cars too.)

You know about those cars and trucks approaching from the side roads. Sure they have a red light, stop sign, road construction barriers, and police car with flashing lights; but you know they’re going to ignore all that and just pull out in front of you. There’s that guy up ahead turning left. And don’t forget about the U-turners. By focusing on the distance you have more time to respond and your vision … like the pizza … is wider.

Hey, what happened to that last slice of pizza?

Some people argue it is safer to not wear a helmet on a bike because it can block this sideways or “peripheral” vision. It can also block your hearing. Well, that may be true to some extent, but I think that, if you play the odds, it is safer to wear the helmet. Choose a helmet carefully that preserves your side vision. Regarding hearing, with wind noise, etc., the helmet may actually allow you to hear more clearly. It depends on the circumstances and you have to play the odds.

(Someone noted that hockey players have been wearing athletic supporters with a cup for a hundred years, but only added helmet in the last ten. That doesn’t prove anything except that men have their priorities on what is more important to protect.)

Note some people argue that seat belts aren’t safe either because they can trap you in the car after the rollover and you burn up in the wreckage. But I say for every accident where the seat belt trapped someone and caused injury, there are 100 accounts where a no seat belt let the person be thrown from the vehicle and killed or badly injured. You gotta play the statistics.

There are some other advantages to being out in the open besides vision. You also have better hearing than a guy (or gal) in a car or truck with the radio blasting, talking on the telephone, windows rolled up, A/C blasting, and kids in the back fighting.

And don’t get me started on cell phones, texting, Facebooking, YouTubing, Twittering (I know, I know, it’s “tweeting”), or checking the weather reports and trying to write a blog whilst driving. (Wow … “whilst,” now that’s an old-fashioned word. Love it.)

And speaking of pizza and Facebook, also keep an eye in the mirror. Latest motorcycle accident statistics state the most frequent road accident is being hit from behind by a distracted driver. Keep an eye on the rear view mirror when stopped at a light. Keep an escape lane available (remember the narrow bike can go where no car can go) or just split the lane and pull right up to the light. Just don’t get those crazy car and truck drivers mad at you. Avoid eye contact.

I can’t think of a clever way to connect Facebook and pizza to a mirror. Maybe something about a selfie, but I see I’ve run out of time. So TTFN

Now I think I’ll go to my safe place and contemplate safety and the rules of the road. Have a safe ride.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Party on Wayne; Party on Garth

In my continual pursuit to understand the physical world, some recent reading in the prestigious Physical Review Letters journal, I encountered this article: “Collective Motion of Mashers at Heavy Metal Concerts.”

To quote an excerpt:

Human collective behaviors vary considerably with social context. For example, lane formation in pedestrian traffic, jamming during escape panic, and Mexican waves at sporting events are emergent phenomena that have been observed in specific social settings.

Here, we study large crowds (102 − 105 attendees) of people under the extreme conditions typically found at heavy metal concerts. Often resulting in injuries, the collective mood is influenced by the combination of loud, fast music (130 dB, 350 beats per minute), synchronized with bright, flashing lights, and frequent intoxication. This variety and magnitude of stimuli are atypical of more moderate settings, and contribute to the collective behaviors studied here.

Videos filmed by attendees at heavy metal concerts highlight a collective phenomenon consisting of 101 −102 participants commonly referred to as a mosh pit. In mosh pits, the participants (moshers) move randomly, colliding with one another in an undirected fashion. Qualitatively, this phenomenon resembles the kinetics of gaseous particles, even though moshers are self-propelled agents that experience dissipative collisions. To explore this analogy quantitatively, we obtained video footage, corrected for perspective distortions as well as camera instability, and used PIV analysis to measure the two-dimensional (2D) velocity field on an interpolated grid.

The results of the study shows the motion of the moshers duplicates quite closely the behavior of molecules in a gas. These gaseous phenomenon have been carefully studied from a perspective of thermal behavior (the effects of “temperature”) and advanced mathematics such as Maxwell-Boltzmann statistics. This is thermodynamics models at their loudest.

Ask not what Heavy Metal has done for you (or to you). Ask what you have done for Heavy Metal.

And there you have the shortest article I have ever written. Especially if you realize the majority of the text is a quote from another publication. People just don’t realize that I’m terse and laconic. Nor do they realize that physics is all around us … even at a rock concert.

For those so inclined, here's the original article:


Saturday, April 30, 2016

Bumper to Bumper and Side by Side

Back when I was just startin’ out, I was runnin’ a nice ’54 Ford two-door. She was a good looking sedan. I’d painted her kinda black and hand made some flames on the front.

She shipped new out of Dearborn with a 239 Y-Block, Ford’s first production overhead valve engine. A good little V8, but I’d updated her with a bigger-brother outta Mercury that had rolled down the side of the mountain leavin’ little but the engine of any value.

It was a 312 cu in V8 breathing through a four-barrel carburetor. She had 9.0:1 compression, and was mated to an automatic transmission, but I’d paired her with my manual tranny with three-speed plus overdrive. A Hurst shifter put that on the floor, and I had the overdrive switch wired to a toggle on my dash rather than under the accelerator pedal like old man Ford had intended. Gave me more control.

That engine sure looked purty with her gold-painted blocks and heads. Those long skirts were where the “Y” in the name came from, and produced around 235 horsepower stock through her four-barrel carb.

I added the "M 260" engine kit composed of a hotter camshaft, revised cylinder heads, and an intake manifold mounting two four-barrel carburetors. The kit was advertised as boosting the Mercury 312 V8 to 260 horsepower. Plus I’d done a little tuning and other things to get her just right. I worked at this gas station pumpin’ gas, but we was closed at night and my boss let me tinker around with my Ford after hours. I had a garage full of tools and hydraulic lift.

I modified the exhaust, running twin Lake Pipes. That’s a type of after market performance exhaust. The exhaust is routed from the exhaust manifold along the bottom of the car body beneath the doors. They were chrome plated. They offered a performance boost as they had less back pressure. Combined with my modified valves and heads, they really roared when I had it floored.

And my ride could breathe, sporting good performance heads due to their large valves and their unique stacked intake runner design, which flows very well. My ported and polished ECZ-G castings have flowed up to 235 cfm on the upper port. (I told you I had fiddled a bit with the engine innards! “Ported” means I’d ground out the intake ports to get maximum airflow and “polished” means that metal shined like chrome so there was no turbulence in the fuel flow for maximum “go.”)

The only problem I hadn’t worked out yet was the cooling. My original ’54 Ford radiator wasn’t really up to the task when the nights got hot and the roads ran fast. I wished I could have salvaged the Mercury radiator, but she was busted clean in two in the roll over, and I couldn’t afford to spring for a new one. So I just made due. A couple of SW gauges mounted under the dash helped we keep an eye on both the temperature and the oil pressure, and sometimes she’d start to get hot when I had her to the floor. I’d have to roll off on the gas in that case and let her cool down.

So that was what I was ridin’ out east of town toward a big hill we called the “divide.” It was a warm evening and I was keepin’ her under 80 when up ahead I spotted one of them big old Cad-e-lacs. It was a big one. A series 62 Coupe de Ville. She musta been doin’ 95. I sped up a bit to get a closer look. Soon we were bumper to bumper and side by side as I pulled into the passin' lane. When I rolled by I looked inside and — damn if I didn’t spot my girl friend, Mary Lou.

Now she wasn’t much of a girl friend. Had an eye for the other fellas, ‘specially if they had a hot car. And that Caddie was hot. But nothin’ can outrun my V8 Ford.

Sure the Cadillac has a 365 cu. in. V8, ‘bout the biggest GM made at the time. And that was hooked through a 4-speed Hydra-Matic, and she could move on down the road. But that big hog weighed 5100 pounds with all her chrome, and my little two-door tipped the scales at a bit over 3,000 pounds, so the Caddy would need the extra horses, especially as we climbed up that long hill.

I pressed the pedal to the metal and pulled out in front of that big Cadillac. As I pulled back over to the right, I looked in my rear view mirror. The Caddy musta stepped on it too, ‘cause the first thing I saw that Cadillac grille doin' a hundred and ten gallopin' over that hill. We made the top and rounded an offhill curve headin’ into a downhill stretch. It was me and that Cadillac neck and neck.

I knew Mary Lou was urgin’ her boyfriend of the moment on, and he was gonna try to pass me. He started to pull up even with my Ford. Just about then I glanced down at my temperature gauge and realized the Ford was hot and wouldn't do no more.

This wasn’t doin’ my motor no good. So I rolled back on the accelerator and let him go by. Just then it got cloudy and it started to rain. The rain water was blowin’ up under my hood and cooling off those Mercury horses. So I stepped back on the gas and tooted my horn for the passin’ lane. I rolled past that Cadillac doin’ around one twenty-five. I passed him at the bottom of the hill and it looked just like he was standin’ still.

I knew next time I saw Mary Lou, I’d just look the other way. I realized now my true companion was that Detroit iron, and I didn’t need no fickle gal anyways. I knew Mary Lou just couldn’t be true. She'd hang with me for a while, but then start back doin' the things she used to do.

After my little race I was about half way to Billings, so I just kept goin’. Stopped at a small bar in Roundup that had this band on stage. The band was called "Johnnie Johnson Trio." When they took a break, I invited the singer for a cold one, and we got to talkin’. The guys name was Charles. He turned out to be quite a car guy.

I was tellin’ him about my car and pretty soon I was describin’ all about me racin’ that Cadillac in my V8 Ford. He said he was gonna make a song out of it. I didn’t want people to know my part. Maybe some copper would hear and try to give me a ticket … if he could catch me. Or my mom might hear and get upset. So, just in case, I told him not to use Mary Lou’s name. He said he’d call her Ida-Mae. I was OK with that.

A year or so later I heard the song on the radio. He’d become a big star. I met up with him one more time in Chicago and he told me the rest of the story. He said that he performed the song around St. Louis with his group. Then he got his big break.

He had never recorded, but when he went to Chicago to see Muddy Waters perform, he stayed in town to pitch himself to Leonard Chess of Chess Records, who asked him to come back the next week with some original songs. Berry returned with his bandmates Johnnie Johnson (piano) and Eddie Hardy (drums), and a demo reel with four songs, including "Ida Mae." That's the one Leonard Chess liked best, but he asked Berry to change so there wouldn't be any confusion with "Ida Red" (a country tune popular at the time) and to fend off any copyright claims.

Berry changed the title. It was the first song the band recorded, and it proved a challenge: they recorded 36 takes.

There are a few different stories floating around about how the song got its name. Berry has said that Maybellene was the name of a cow in child's nursery rhyme, but Johnnie Johnson recalled that there was a box of Maybellene mascara in the office, which gave Leonard Chess the idea for the title.

Chess Records gave the disc jockey Alan Freed a co-writing credit on this song (and also some cash) in exchange for playing it on the radio. Deals like this led to the Payola scandals, which led to rules prohibiting record companies from paying DJs to play their songs.

But all that’s about the music biz, and I’m just interested in cars. My buddy Chuck went on to become a big music star, and he even showed up in that movie about the Delorean car with the flux capacitor. I liked that car.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Road to Perdition

This is the story of a young man. Raised up in the central hills of Pennsylvania, he volunteered to serve his country in the USN. He was promoted to Electrician’s Mate Third Class and reported to the USS Vulcan where he was assigned to the Calibration Lab. His name was Tom G. and he was a roommate of mine.

He was a very friendly guy and everyone liked him. Little did anyone realize he was on the path to perdition. It started out simply enough. A small Yamaha motorbike. A simple two-stroke ride. What evil could come from that?

But then he fell in with a tougher crowd. They had grease under their fingernails and some of them didn’t shave regularly. They wore T-shirts and denim pants with boots and some were said to use swear words and even smoke cigarettes.

He began to associate with this crowd of bikers riding choppers and sportsters and bikes from the British Isles. His speech soon included terms like “overhead valves” and “pushrods,” and he began to speak strange incantations such as “74 cubic incher” or “Knucklehead.”

Soon he’d traded in his little rice burner for a Harley-Davidson. A Panhead. In those days we called them dressers.

His die was cast. His fate was sealed. His future was predetermined. As John Steinbeck so brilliantly noted, “A plan once made and visualized becomes a reality along with other realities — never to be destroyed but easily to be attacked.” (I don’t know if that applies to my story, but quoting famous authors makes one seem educated, so I threw that in.)

Soon he was partaking of strong drink and listening to rock and roll music. One night at a bar called "Brads" that featured such music and slightly clad women, he had a couple of brews and went outside to start his big Harley. It was leaning on the reliable kick stand.

But rather than approach it from the right as was the prescribed method, he straddled the bike, retracting the safety gear, and — placing his right foot upon the starter pedal — he gave a mighty jump and came down on the pedal with all the force his 140 pound body could deliver.

Unfortunately, he lost his balance and soon found himself flat on the ground with the Harley laying at his feet, reclining on its right side.

His friends, who should have offered encouragement and assistance, just laughed. Soon Fred was laughing too. It could have been the beer, or the warm Virginia night, or just the simple humor in the event. No meanness was intended. It was just funny.

Back then we were not taught how to lift a large motorcycle. So he got on the right side, grabbed any handy lever on the bike, and with a loud exclamation and much exertion, he rotated the cycle up in a graceful arc. Sadly the motion didn’t stop when the HD was upright, but continued on until the bike now reclined on its left side. (Next time check the kick stand before lifting.)

More laughter. Soon everyone was on the ground rolling around with tears in their eyes from much cachinnation and mirth … even Fred.

I won’t say how many times our young hero flipped the bike from side to side. The details are lost in the haze of memory. But it is a warning to all who ride to take caution, especially when a few malt beverages have dulled the senses and reduced your coordination.

Watch out and perhaps you can avoid this fate that befell Fred. As Roy H. Williams so aptly stated, "A smart man makes a mistake, learns from it, and never makes that mistake again. But a wise man finds a smart man and learns from him how to avoid the mistake altogether." Consider me that smart man. After all, I can quote famous people.

And with that final bookish quote, ends this tale. Beware you readers. Don't approach your bike with perturbation. Keep a clear head. Keep that motorcycle up on two wheels. The kickstand can be your friend. (But beware of driving off with it down!)

And don’t partake of strong drink. Otherwise you may meet the devil some night behind some watering hole. And there will be no one there to help. Only to laugh. Lord save you!