Friday, December 30, 2016

BSA Rocket 3

The history of the British Motorcycle Industry is a long and storied tale. However, by the 60s, it had fallen on hard times. Multiple mergers and government involvement and support was basically unable to save it. Many famous brands went under and really only one survived. Triumph has had a good come back, but one of the 50s and 60s favorites, BSA, is gone forever.

The causes of the death of these great British brands including Norton, AJS, Vincent, and so many others are also numerous, but one main cause was an inability or lack of updating the designs and the factories that produced these legendary bikes.

There was a glimmer of hope near the end. The merged companies of Triumph and BSA actually beat the Japanese to the punch in producing what became known as super bikes. Before Honda released their game changing Honda CB750 four-cylinder, the British delivered on a new design moving beyond the twins. They were triples sharing much in common in their basic design, yet they were also different mostly due to the rivalry between the two famous British brands.

These were both 750cc Triples — three cylinders. They were good designs, although the styling could have been improved — that’s part of the following discussion. The BSA version borrowed from their famous brand name and was called the Rocket 3.

Starting in 1968 and introduced to the press and public in March of that year as the A75 Rocket 3, along with the similar Triumph T150 Trident. Both had a 740cc three-cylinder engine set across the frame and in unit construction with a four-speed gearbox. Although many of the internals were common, the design owed much to the Triumph Twins that preceded it. Yet the BSA design was distinguished from the Triumph by having its cylinders inclined forward and its timing cover shaped to blend to the gearbox. These relatively major design changes had delayed the project and may be one of the ultimate causes of failure of these brand new competitors from the British Isles.

The frames were also different, following the lines of the two firms’ respective twins, so that the BSA had an all-welded type with duplex downtubes. The forks and wheels were common and taken from the earlier twin designs, the front brake of the dual-leading-shoe type. A four-gallon tank was fitted with an oil cooler mounted beneath it at the front.

It was a most impressive motorcycle which reached its home market in 1969 and soon built up a fine reputation. Unfortunately, its production had been delayed, and late in 1968 the Honda CB750 burst upon the scene to steal much of the triple’s thunder. For all that, the British machines sold well and works racing versions had considerable success in 1970 and 1971, winning the Daytona 200, the Isle of Mann TT, the Bol d’Or, and the Truxton.

The overall design of the BSA triple was not met with much regard. The oddly shaped tank and other features were not well received. One interesting story was an attempt to improve the looks in the X-75 project.

The Triumph X-75 Hurricane was a 'factory special' motorcycle designed by fairing specialist Craig Vetter. The X-75 had swooping glassfibre bodywork, a three US-gallon petrol tank, lowered gearing, and a distinctive triple exhaust on the right-hand side. The motorcycle is credited with creating a new class of motorcycle, the cruiser.

The X-75 was ultimately released as a Triumph model in 1973, the BSA factory having closed its doors in late 1972. Vetter was commissioned by BSA's US distributor to customize the BSA Rocket 3 to appeal more to American tastes.

When, in 1968, the new BSA Rocket 3 / Triumph Trident triples were shown to the American BSA-Triumph management, they were underwhelmed. They knew Honda had an important bike (the CB750) coming along, and they felt the triple's price of $1800 was too high and that technical details (like vertically-split crankcases and pushrod OHV valve train) were far from "cutting edge".

However, they acknowledged that the bike was fast, and a sales team led by BSA Vice-President Don Brown decided to launch the bike by using a Rocket 3 to set some records at Daytona, records which were broken in 1971 by the Kawasaki Z1.

Brown felt that the BSA / Triumph triples needed a different look to succeed in the USA, and he engaged designer Craig Vetter to give the BSA A75 a customized face-lift, with a brief to make it "sleeker and more balanced.”

Vetter created the Triumph Hurricane in the summer of 1969, and in October 1969 he unveiled the prototype with "BSA" on the tank as the new Rocket Three.

Thornton and the American officials were impressed, and Vetter's bike was then sent to the UK, but the bike arrived in England just as the BSA marque was about to end. At BSA-Triumph's design facility at Umberslade Hall, the design was seen as too "trendy" by chief designer Bert Hopwood; but after very positive public reaction to the design when it appeared on the front of US magazine Cycle World in September 1970, the UK managers changed their minds. They realized they had a large stock of obsolete BSA Rocket 3 parts that could now be turned into a premium-priced motorcycle.

Engineer Steve Mettam was given the job of supervising production for the 1972/3 season; and the Vetter BSA Rocket 3 became the Triumph X-75 Hurricane. 1,183 engines were put aside for X75 production. However, BSA was facing bankruptcy and the design went into a limited production run of 1200 as the Triumph X-75 Hurricane in 1972. Production stopped in 1973 after the X-75 was unable to meet new American noise standards.

An odd side note to this tale is that Vetter was not paid for his design work for several years. Brown revealed the Vetter project to Peter Thornton, President of BSA/Triumph North America, but as Brown's initiative had not been authorized by BSA, Vetter had problems being paid, waiting two years for his fee.

This was the last gasp by BSA. By 1972 BSA had quit production, although some Triumphs continued on. It was the end of a great and storied brand. BSA to be no more. There’s an X-75 for sale at the Mecum auction in Las Vegas at the end of this month. I don’t think I’ll be bidding on it, but I’m curious what it will sell for. BSA lives on in the hearts and minds of we enthusiasts.

Friday, December 23, 2016


Those that read my blog know that science fiction was a key part of my childhood and continued interest. Further, SciFi was one of the factors that led me to a life and a career of science. I am still consumed by the fires of speculative fiction, and reading this genre is a major part of my leisure time activities.

Regular blog readers also know my three all-time favorite authors of this style of literature are Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clark, and Robert A. Heinlein. Isaac, the “good doctor,” is probably the greatest of the three in my estimation. He was a doctor. Ph.D. in biochemistry and a professor at Boston University. But his life was soon absorbed in writing, and he is one of the most successful American authors of all time, regardless of the genre. And not just in Science Fiction. Plenty of nonfiction too. His books have been published in 9 of the 10 major categories of the Dewey Decimal Classification.

I’ve read just about everything he ever wrote, both fiction and nonfiction, and that’s quite a boast since he authored over 500 books. He wrote so much that even the total number is in doubt and depends on how you count it. But no matter how you perform the math, that is a prodigious output and it wasn’t just SciFi, but books on science, physics, chemistry, astronomy, even the Bible and Shakespeare. The “good doctor” indeed!

I don’t know when I first read the Foundation Trilogy. Probably some time in the late fifties or early sixties, but conceivably I didn’t read the three until I was in the Navy in 67-73. I don’t remember exactly when. Like all of his work, I was very impressed by the story … the scope and expanse of a tale that included the entire galaxy (what we would call the Milky Way). He imagined mankind expanding and colonizing the entire galaxy. A civilization of millions of worlds and trillions of people. Although it isn’t clear, especially in the first three books, ultimately the series was expanded and we learn what we always suspected. All these people are descendants of the men and women of Earth.

Foundation was originally a series of eight short stories published in Astounding Magazine between May 1942 and January 1950. According to Asimov, the premise was based on ideas set forth in Edward Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and was invented spontaneously on his way to meet with editor John W. Campbell, with whom he developed the concepts of the collapse of the Galactic Empire, the civilization-preserving Foundations, and psychohistory.

Psychohistory was a branch of science developed by Hari Seldon at a time when the Galactic Empire was in decline. (Compare this idea to the fall of the Roman Empire and the dark ages that followed its collapse.) Psychohistory combines history, sociology, and mathematical statistics to make general predictions about the future behavior of very large groups of people. Seldon, a mathematician, had developed the method. It could not predict the actions of an individual, but collectively and with statistical accuracy limits well known to those that follow election polls, it would describe the actions of nations, worlds, and the entire empire.

Seldon foresaw a complete collapse that would last for 30,000 years. Repeating the dark ages after the fall of the Holy Roman Empire. His plan was to establish two “foundations.” These core organizations would work, using psychohistory, to reduce the collapse to just 1,000 years and leave a reborn (and much improved and stable) galactic civilization.

The magazine short stories were collected, along with a new story taking place before the others, in a single volume published by Gnome Press in 1951 as Foundation. The remainder of the trilogy were published in pairs by Gnome as Foundation and Empire (1952) and Second Foundation (1953), resulting in the "Foundation Trilogy," as the series is still known.

Much later, in 1981, Asimov was persuaded by his publishers to write a fourth book, which became Foundation's Edge (1982). Four years later, Asimov followed up with yet another sequel, Foundation and Earth (1986), which was followed by the prequels Prelude to Foundation (1988) and Forward the Foundation (1993). During the two-year lapse between writing the sequels and prequels, Asimov had tied in his Foundation series with his various other series, creating a single unified universe.

The basic link is mentioned in Foundation's Edge: an obscure tradition about a first wave of space settlements with robots and then a second without. The idea is the one developed in Asimov’s Robots of Dawn, which, in addition to showing the way that the second wave of settlements were to be allowed, illustrates the benefits and shortcomings of the first wave of settlements and their so-called C/Fe culture. In this same book, the word psychohistory is used to describe the nascent idea of Seldon's work. Some of the drawbacks to this style of colonization, also called Spacer culture, are also exemplified by the events described in The Naked Sun.

This complete work of seven novels, some sequels to the original trilogy, and some prequels in a sense merged all of Asimov’s work. This included his robot stories with the three laws of robotics as well as the “Spacer” tales and even his interesting SciFi detective stories that starred the “stay at home” sleuth Elijah Bailey and his robot companion R. Daneel Olivaw. The early exploration of the galaxy covered in these books and tales of the Empire which predated the Galactic Federation are fit into the overall plot. Places such as the planet Solaria and mental telepathy are all combined with a search for mankind's original planet, now all but forgotten by the Galactic Civilization.

I had read the trilogy years ago, and read Foundations Edge over thirty years ago. I recently purchased the entire 7 book combination for the Kindle and read it all over the last few months. The collection was ordered the original three novels, which I re-read to remember the details, and then the sequels. Finally, at the end of the collection, came the prequels. Some what of an odd ordering time-wise, but it made sense reading it that way. Besides, with a Kindle, rather than individual volumes, it works best to just follow along the intended order.

I won’t ruin any of the stories by repeating plots or climaxes, but I did finish the series just the other night and it was a pleasing capstone for this long time fan of Asimov. Now I really do think I’ve read everything he every wrote. I don’t know what will happen to my library after I’m no longer here to read and enjoy it. It isn’t fancy. Mostly just paperbacks. I hope that somewhere, an Asimov fan will get that collection whether from a second hand store that my heirs assign it to, or possibly he or she will find it in the dump. Words on paper. That’s all it is. (Sadly the Kindle works will probably just be deleted. A downside of electronic books. They don’t fit on the shelves.)

In any case, it doesn’t matter. It is how those books and those words molded and shaped my life and career that is important. I assume there will always be libraries full of Asimov’s words for future generations to explore. After all, the Galactic Library and the Encyclopedia Galactica from the series give away Asimov’s own view of literature. A little study will quickly show that I’m not the only one influenced by the series or other of Asimov’s writings. Many a famous scientist and economist will tell of the early influence of this wide open tale.

Sure there’s Star Trek and Star Wars … they’ve influenced a lot of people. But folks my age will probably tell you of their early influences that predated television and special effects movies. Reading is the theatre of the mind, and the effects and impact are only limited by the mind of the readers.

I’ve had many mentors in my life and times. Asimov, although I never met him, was one of the more important ones. Some of my first exposure to deeper concepts of physics and astronomy, plus chemistry and many other physical sciences, was in books written by the good doctor. Thank you Isaac. Live long and prosper. (He died in 1992 at 72 years of age. But he still lives on in the hearts and minds of his gentle readers, including yours truly.)

If you’ve never read the Foundation Trilogy or the expanded series, that’s still a great place to start. It isn’t hard to find lists of all the books that are now considered part of the expanded universe of Isaac Asimov. It won’t take that long for you to read them all. Oddly, very few movies have been made from his tales. I Robot was pretty good, but you really need to read the book(s)!

Perhaps the biggest problem when tackling Asimov's work is what order to read the books. The author himself suggested this series. So this is a solid recommendation. He wrote in the Author's Note of the Prelude to Foundation that he is providing a guide for those readers that might appreciate it since the books "were not written in the order in which (perhaps) they should be read." Therein, he offers the following chronological order:

  • The Complete Robot (1982) Collection of 31 Short Stories about robots.
  • The Caves of Steel (1954) His first Robot novel.
  • The Naked Sun (1957) The second Robot novel.
  • The Robots of Dawn (1983) The third Robot novel.
  • Robots and Empire (1985) The fourth (final) Robot novel.
  • The Currents of Space (1952) The first Empire novel.
  • The Stars, Like Dust— (1951) The second Empire novel.
  • Pebble in the Sky (1950) The third and final Empire novel.
  • Prelude to Foundation (1988) The first Foundation novel.
  • Forward the Foundation (1992) The second Foundation novel. (Not in Asimov's list as it had not been written yet.)
  • Foundation (1951) The third Foundation novel, comprised of 5 stories originally published between 1942-1949.
  • Foundation and Empire (1952) The fourth Foundation novel, comprised of 2 stories originally published in 1945.
  • Second Foundation (1953) The fifth Foundation novel, comprised of 2 stories originally published in 1948 and 1949.
  • Foundation's Edge (1982) The sixth Foundation novel.
  • Foundation and Earth (1983) The seventh Foundation novel.
  • Monday, December 19, 2016

    Hacking Elections

    We’ve heard it on the radio. We’ve seen it on the TV. We’ve read about it on social media. Election hacked … likely by Russia with direct involvement of Vladimir Putin. What do you think?

    What do I think?

    Well, I think hacking is a very serious threat to our way of life, our democracy, our economy, our government and corporate information, and the US as a whole.

    What are we to do?

    Speaking as a computer professional, I believe key risk issues for our modern, computer dependent society are issues relating to trustworthiness and must be evaluated based on the entire system, and must address the entire set of requirements (not just safety or security or reliability or resilience or robustness or whatever is critical to the particular system).

    The number of key systems that depend on security is steadily increasing. This is in part the result of the reality that the systems we have to build upon are simply not trustworthy enough. (I'm referring to operating systems, network software, and Internet as a whole, etc.) However, it also results from a commercial factor that not enough commitment is made by developers and corporate users to significantly improve the situation. It also results from the fact that some government agencies such as the FBI and law enforcement in general have serious difficulties in dealing with even the already broken systems.

    Thus the preponderance of security-related stories in the journals and the press. Things are NOT getting better. Contrary, they are getting worse. The so-called “Internet of Things” has even less security (and much less update capability) than the networks and computers we’ve all become so accustomed to now. We need better system engineering and a realistic goal of trustworthiness.

    Whether it is stories of self-driven cars crashing, trains jumping off their tracks, spills (yes computers can be involved in these spills), or aviation disasters traced back to computer and automation failures, not to mention the loss of operator skills as “ease of use” leads our pilots and operators to depend too much on the automation tools built in modern devices. Remember those tales of drivers believing their GPS resulting in driving into lakes and rivers.

    Some times it is as simple as the large expensive summer home in Aspin, Colorado that had all its pipes freeze when the batteries in the programmable thermostats died leaving the furnace off during a cold snap. Sometimes it is just one line of inerrant or obsolete code in a 100 million lines of programming. Sometimes it is failure to consider the odd corner case in testing and reviews, but then humans are fallible and computer software suffers from these human failures.

    Yahoo just announced the largest hack yet and the loss of customer data — including poorly encrypted password files. And what about users that use passwords such as “password” or “S3CR3T.” (That’s secret with a numerical substitution.)

    It is important to remember that no evidence has been reported that the recent presidential election was hacked. By that I mean some entity modifying voting machines to change the outcome. The current news is really about the emails and other information stolen from the Democratic National Committee and candidate’s staff emails accessed, stolen, and then published in WikiLeaks and elsewhere.

    Very embarrassing for certain and, combined with the Hillary private server issues, created a drum beat against her candidacy. Further, it isn’t just these private communications being released, but the echo effect and constant drumming on social media combined with fake news and highly partisan news sites. Throw in the conspiracy theorists who are mostly certain the earth is flat and all those NASA pictures are fake and the moon landing was all Hollywood special effects. You certainly can “fool some of the people all of the time.”

    More subtle were results from search engine algorithm manipulation effect. The commercial advertisers know how to raise the level of a post on Google or Bing, and the political campaign staffs are well aware of these Madison Avenue tricks.

    Further, the proprietary software used by these commercial entities are protected by law and court rulings. We (and that may include the FBI and other responsible agencies) don’t even know what’s inside those black boxes.

    Do I think the election machines were hacked? Well, honestly, no. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence of that occurring this time. But then would there be evidence? In 2016 about 80 percent of the U.S. electorate voted using outdated electronic voting machines that rely on proprietary software from private corporations. Some of these corporations are led by highly partisan entrepreneurs from George Soros on the left to the Koch brothers on the right.

    A recent study by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law identified “increased failures and crashes, which can lead to long lines and lost votes” as the biggest risk of using these out of date systems, but it is important from a security perspective to realize that old software is riskier because new methods of attack are constantly being developed and older software is likely to be vulnerable.

    Some of these systems provide almost zero auditing trail and paper documentation, so it begs the question if we would even know if the actual vote was hacked. In this modern, automated world of high cost of human labor, even the paper ballets are usually not counted by a human, but rather by a machine. At least in the case of paper ballets (such as those used in Colorado), there is a paper trail to study and evaluate error rates and possible malfeasance and hacking.

    (In my opinion, this kind of auditing and recounting capability MUST be DEMANDED in all our voting machines.)

    There’s plenty of room for human error when you try to count the hundreds of millions of voters in a national election, and there certainly are some elements seeking to defraud the election through multiple votes, denying certain groups from voting, and other shenanigans. But as any office worker knows, humans are error prone, but to really screw up takes a computer!

    Will the next hack cause our entire electric grid to fail? Will the Russians or the Chinese steal the plans to our most advanced weapons? (Already happened.) And worst of all, even if we realize it happened, will we know for sure who did it?

    My advice, improve the trustworthiness of all our automated systems. It won’t be cheap. But it might be the best money we ever spent. Do I think it will happen? No, I don’t think it will. We are going to keep on keeping on our current path toward Computer Armageddon. Forget about Skynet. A.I. isn’t the threat. It’s the old fashioned human intelligence … or the lack thereof.