Norman Sperling, May 5, 2013
On April 19th, driving north through Virginia, I swerved a little to avoid an obstacle. My trailer, which had been swaying annoyingly the whole trip, swayed out of control and dragged me across 4 lanes of traffic, where the SUV sideswiped a pickup truck. SUV and trailer both ended up on their sides. NOBODY WAS HURT! Seatbelts and airbags DO work. Use them.
But both my SUV and my trailer were declared total losses. I spent 2 weeks coping with the attendant hassles, including replacing the camper. This time I chose a much more compact “Class C” RV. Thanks to insurance, I’ll end up nearly cash-neutral.
I have resumed my trek. I’m writing this from Indiana.
More than a dozen people of Fredericksburg, caught behind my wreck, instantly jumped out of their cars and ran to help me and the guy I sideswiped. There was a nurse and a medic. A forest of hands helped me climb out of the side window.
My brother, Barry, picked me up and set me back on my feet. He accomplished a lot that would have taken ever so much longer without him. He’s JIR’s mathematics editor, and I sure counted on him.
AAA insurance: fully competent and understanding. A bit slow, 3,000 miles outside their range, but highly effective.
© Norman Sperling, March 19, 2013
After being on the road for 10 days, 4 states, and 3 time zones, I have finally located enough computer parts to make this system work.
I took way, way too long to organize and stow my stuff. I now feel much more clearly that “having” something necessitates “minding” it, and I’ve skimped way too much on that for the last half century. I’ll need some years to straighten all my stuff out, and I intend to.
I finally got away by tossing lots of cartons and bags into the trailer. I’m sorting it out so I’m more functional every day.
Trailer life can work just fine. It takes different procedures than minding a house, perhaps fewer, but I’m a novice at most. I’m still on the uncomfortably steep part of the learning curves for my new way of life and assorted equipment. But now I know it works in practice, it’s not just an idea that I’ve been fostering for 4 years.
RV people are extremely nice. Usually relaxed, highly helpful, and used to novices like me.
RV parks vary enormously in quality and facilities. The ones I’ve seen so far close around 6 or 7 PM. So my old check-into-a-hotel-late habit won’t work. I’ve got to comb the enormous directory pretty early, phone the most likely ones, and arrive when I can check in and set up. It’s do-able, but calls for a different mindset.
Today: Midland, Texas. Saturday: Houston.
© Norman Sperling, July 17, 2012
The vast majority of cars are styled to look fast and strong. A lot of customers seem to want that.
But hardly all. I'm scarcely alone in preferring safety and economy. To stay safe requires NOT using too much speed. To stay economical (and comfortable and eco-friendly) requires low consumption, which implies slow delta-V.
How different are the wind-resistance profiles of a car that runs 2/3 of its mileage <30 mph (and never above 65) compared to a car that runs 2/3 of its mileage >60 mph?
I can't think of a single car marketed for us. (Maybe I just didn't notice them?) One that won't go above 80 mph. One that looks calm, not fast.
And one that won't turn heads. Cars attract attention because they are usually status symbols. But there can be good reasons to avoid attention. Security, certainly. Minimizing traffic stops. Blending into the crowd.
What's the least-catchy color: the least ticketed, least stolen, least burgled? I guess beige. What's the least-catchy shape? The car-maker who offers those will attract the notice of a significant percentage of drivers who don't want to attract notice.
This certainly wouldn't be the first time that car companies missed an important market segment. Luxury SUVs were unknown 25 years ago, with Jeeps and Land Rovers assuming users were rugged back-country outdoorsmen. But the best-furnished Jeep caught on, so somebody made an even classier one. That sold better, so they duded up more and more, and eventually made opulent luxury SUVs. This had been beyond the companies' imagination; the market had to lead them there step by step over many years.
I'm not the only customer who would buy a car closer to my needs, farther from stylists' and corporations' imaginings, if only I could.
© Norman Sperling, February 23, 2012
Car headlights are changing yet again. Tight, intense beams now glare at me on the road at night. They put out at least as much light as older headlights, but from a smaller area.
Stylists probably think this looks good. I disagree. By concentrating the source, they intensify distraction, afterimage, and annoyance from the glare.
Instead, they should try for less-intense light from broader sources. Spread the light out a lot, and the source won't be painful, yet the total illumination on the road can be greater.
The headlights of the cute Beetle 2.0 are absolutely wrong for such a cartoonish critter: stylistically, they shouldn't be hard, beady eyes, they ought to be big, googly, Tweety-Bird-style eyes. This softer source should enhance the car's appearance as well as its driver's ability to see. Somebody should offer those as after-market plug-ins.
Soft lights could serve additional functions. They could outline a bulky vehicle's shape, as yellow running lights do now. Changing their shape and placement would allow stylists to refresh each year's models with much more variety. But this has to be policed to prevent distracting oncoming drivers from concentrating on the road ahead of them.
© Norman Sperling, February 19, 2012
My ancient Nishiki bike has blown its last tire. It's been nickel-and-diming me to death for years. The seat has problems, the front wheel makes noises, spokes keep breaking, ... It's way past its prime, always needing this and that readjusted or replaced. It's worn out, and just going to get worse.
It was built in Japan in 1976. I bought it used and with rust spots, in Oakland in the mid 1980s. I probably rode it 300 days a year, roughly 5 miles each. So I've pedaled 37,000 miles on it! It doesn't owe me anything.
It's taken me lots of places. It's seen a whole lot of Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda, San Mateo, Burlingame, Millbrae, Foster City, Belmont, San Carlos, and Redwood City. In the last 2 years I've ridden it along all of San Mateo County's Bay Trail, except the part in East Palo Alto.
My son Mason says I can use his bike because he never does. I spent an hour reinflating tires, banishing cobwebs and leaves, raising and then replacing the seat (with the old one I don't like from the Nishiki). I discovered that its seat-bolt isn't 9/16 inch, it's really 14 mm, as demonstrated when I found the right wrench. I raised the handlebars the last inch that their structure allowed.
After a couple times around the block, I felt stable enough for a short jaunt. It's OK, but a very different feel. It makes me lean much more forward than I like, so my neck and wrists and arms complain. I do like the shock-absorbing rear wheel, the handlebar gearshift (no more reaching for an inconvenient lever) and the wide, knobby tires (no more dodging grates, but they feel funny vibrating as I roll).
My next bike will probably be my last. So I want handlebars that put the handles where my hands actually are - similar to my old Schwinndlebars. I want a comfortable seat like a Brooks saddle, with a shock absorber. I want strong sturdy tires that resist punctures on gravel paths, a major time-and-money waster with the old bike's thin tires.
With my Great Science Trek coming up, the bike has to fold to avoid taking up too much space in my camper. A folder would also be wise for the probably-small car and dwelling I expect after the Trek. Weight isn't an issue, though, because I use the bike for exercise. I've started looking at Brompton and Dahon, but they give me sticker-shock.
© Norman Sperling, November 10, 2011
Decades ago, safety experts decreed that pavement writing that needs more than one word had to put the first word first, then a gap, then the second word, then another gap and the third word, etc. This way, people would read the words in the proper order.
That only works if the words are widely spread. By 20 years ago, that important factor became neglected. So now they put successive words right on top of one another, where the eye naturally reads the top one first. Hence:
for the bike lane I pedal in, and
when there is a stop-sign ahead.
The requirement that the first word be encountered first is remembered, but the requirement of sufficient spacing is forgotten. This looks stupid, confuses drivers needlessly, and tells everyone that the people responsible for it are mindless followers of rules that they don’t understand ... and misapply.
Find the original spacing standard (or update it), and trumpet it so loudly that the Public Works workers in the street understand and follow it.
© Norman Sperling, November 29, 2010
Transit ridership soars when the ride speeds up. Here on the peninsula south of San Francisco, CalTrain's "Baby Bullet" doesn't actually go faster than other trains, but it does skip a lot of stops, including the slowing down for them. Ridership is up importantly because it's so fast. It's the preferred transit ... even though it's not cheap, and the San Francisco terminal isn't particularly close to all the sky-scrapers.
The speeding up comes from skipping stops. How about EVERY rush-hour train skipping every other station? First send an "Odds" train that only stops at odd-numbered stations, then an "Evens" train. Every station gets served, and all the trains get to the other end much faster.
Heading south on I-75 to outflank the violent front. Will reassess from central Florida.
The Big Bento Box of Unuseless Japanese Inventions: The Art of Chindogu. By Kenji Kawakami. Translated and additional text by Dan Papia: WW Norton, 2005. 0-393-32676-4.
reviewed by Norman Sperling, JIR v49 #6, November 2005, p29.
Rube Goldberg founded the modern era of humorous inventions in the US, and Heath Robinson did the same in the UK, in the first half of the 1900s. Even now, "Rube Goldberg contraptions" call to mind not only his cartooning style but his inventive wit.