Monday, March 26, 2007

Weird Science

Whoa, now this is a bit freaky. Sheep that are 15% human. From

"Professor Esmail Zanjani and colleagues at the University of Nevada-Reno have created sheep that are 15 percent human at the cellular level. Half the organs in the sheep are human. The idea, of course, is to harvest those organs to transplant into human patients."
Holy cra-a-a-a-p! Oops, it's already starting, i think i've got a sheep virus!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

New Ride

Well, i did it, i broke down and got cruiser! I wanted something comfortable to putz around town on. I decided i don't need all the speed and high-tech features, I just want something that looks good and i'm not that concerned about how well it performs. I'll be slow, but it's all about style and comfort...

Yup, i got a cruiser. It's a Schwinn! Did i scare ya? Haha, not a cruiser motorcycle, just a bicycle. I should probably never say never, but i don't think i'll ever own a full-on cruiser style motorcycle.

I picked it up at Costco for $159; they still have 'em i think. Anyway, the weather hasn't been particularly bicycle friendly for a while (35 degrees and raining right now), but come summertime, i'll be rollin' downtown and to the parks/concerts in style on my beach cruiser. Plus, it's Beaver colors (my alma mater), bonus!

Here's a couple pictures:

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Zen, Motorcycles and the education system

I'm about half way through reading 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' by Robert M. Pirsig and i came across a section that i find particularly interesting. Much of the book is philosophical thoughts/ideas and this is one of the more concise ideas. I'm actually just going to type it out word for word. I'm curious about opinions. I think it sounds like an idea with a lot of possible validity.

[His] argument for the abolition of the degree-and- grading system produced a nonplussed or negative reaction in all but a few students at first, since it seemed, on first judgment, to destroy the whole University system. One student laid it wide open when she said with complete candor, "Of course you can't eliminate the degree and grading system. After all, that's what we're here for."

She spoke the complete truth. The idea that the majority of students attend a university for an education independent of the degree and grades is a little hypocrisy everyone is happier not to expose. Occasionally some students do arrive for an education but rote and the mechanical nature of the institution soon converts them to a less idealistic attitude.

The demonstrator was an argument that elimination of grades and degrees would destroy this hypocrisy. Rather than deal with generalities it dealt with the specific career of an imaginary student who more or less typified what was found in the classroom, a student completely conditioned to work for a grade rather than for the knowledge the grade was supposed to represent.

Such a student, the demonstrator hypothesized, would go to his first class, get his first assignment and probably do it out of habit. He might go to his second and third as well. But eventually the novelty of the course would wear off and, because his academic life was not his only life, the pressure of other obligations or desires would create circumstances where he just would not be able to get an assignment in.

Since there was no degree or grading system he would incur no penalty for this. Subsequent lectures which presumed he'd completed the assignment might be a little more difficult to understand, however, and this difficulty, in turn, might weaken his interest to a point where the next assignment, which he would find quite hard, would also be dropped. Again no penalty.

In time his weaker and weaker understanding of what the lectures were about would make it more and more difficult for him to pay attention in class. Eventually he would see he wasn't learning much; and facing the continual pressure of outside obligations, he would stop studying, feel guilty about this and stop attending class. Again, no penalty would be attached.

But what had happened? The student, with no hard feelings on anybody's part, would have flunked himself out. Good! This is what should have happened. He wasn't there for a real education in the first place and had no real business there at all. A large amount of money and effort had been saved and there would be no stigma of failure and ruin to haunt him the rest of his life. No bridges had been burned.

The student's biggest problem was a slave mentality which had been built into him by years of carrot-and- whip grading, a mule mentality which said, "If you don't whip me, I won't work." He didn't get whipped. He didn't work. And the cart of civilization, which he supposedly was being trained to pull, was just going to have to creak along a little slower without him.

This is a tragedy, however, only if you presume that the cart of civilization, "the system," is pulled by mules. This is a common, vocational, "location" point of view, but it's not the Church attitude.

The Church attitude is that civilization, or "the system" or "society" or whatever you want to call it, is best served not by mules but by free men. The purpose of abolishing grades and degrees is not to punish mules or to get rid of them but to provide an environment in which that mule can turn into a free man.

The hypothetical student, still a mule, would drift around for a while. He would get another kind of education quite as valuable as the one he'd abandoned, in what used to be called the "school of hard knocks." Instead of wasting money and time as a high-status mule, he would now have to get a job as a low-status mule, maybe as a mechanic. Actually his real status would go up. He would be making a contribution for a change. Maybe that's what he would do for the rest of his life. Maybe he'd found his level. But don't count on it.

In time...six months; five years, perhaps...a change could easily begin to take place. He would become less and less satisfied with a kind of dumb, day-to-day shopwork. His creative intelligence, stifled by too much theory and too many grades in college, would now become reawakened by the boredom of the shop. Thousands of hours of frustrating mechanical problems would have made him more interested in machine design. He would like to design machinery himself. He'd think he could do a better job. He would try modifying a few engines, meet with success, look for more success, but feel blocked because he didn't have the theoretical information. He would discover that when before he felt stupid because of his lack of interest in theoretical information, he'd now find a brand of theoretical information which he'd have a lot of respect for, namely, mechanical engineering.

So he would come back to our degreeless and gradeless school, but with a difference. He'd no longer be a grade-motivated person. He'd be a knowledge-motivated person. He would need no external pushing to learn. His push would come from inside. He'd be a free man. He wouldn't need a lot of discipline to shape him up. In fact, if the instructors assigned him were slacking on the job he would be likely to shape them up by asking rude questions. He'd be there to learn something, would be paying to learn something and they'd better come up with it.

Motivation of this sort, once it catches hold, is a ferocious force, and in the gradeless, degreeless institution where our student would find himself, he wouldn't stop with rote engineering information. Physics and mathematics were going to come within his sphere of interest because he'd see he needed them. Metallurgy and electrical engineering would come up for attention. And, in the process of intellectual maturing that these abstract studies gave him, he would he likely to branch out into other theoretical areas that weren't directly related to machines but had become a part of a newer larger goal. This larger goal wouldn't be the imitation of education in Universities today, glossed over and concealed by grades and degrees that give the appearance of something happening when, in fact, almost nothing is going on. It would be the real thing.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Well, I did manage to do a little riding yesterday, despite the fact that i don't have either of my bikes within 100 miles of me. The local Ducati shop, Bend Euro Moto, is super-cool and has demo bikes. I went by there a couple months ago to check out the DS1000 Multistrada. The weather that day was pretty lousy, but they told me to come back another time and try the bikes out. So yesterday, I did just that.

First I rode the Multistrada 620. The 620 is the little-brother to the 1000, and is not really the one that i'm interested in, but they didn't have a 1000 demo. So Dave suggested i ride the 620 to see how i like the feel of the Multistrada, then ride the GT1000 sport-classic to get an idea of the power that could be expected of the 1000, since it shares the same engine. The 620 was very comfortable and easy to handle/steer at low speeds. However it felt a little nervous at high speeds.

Some bikes--typically the more sport/race oriented sort--are fairly stable and require stronger inputs to the handlebars, these bikes often respond very well to body language input. That is, shifting your position and your weight in order to guide the bike, rather than relying solely on handlebar inputs. This is preferable in my opinion because it offers more stable and smooth high-speed cornering, and also is more fun, because of the increased depth of rider involvement. The trade off--there's always a trade off--is that they are typically more akward handling at very low speeds, like in slow traffic and parking lots. My philosophy is that bikes are meant to be enjoyed carving up the twisty back roads, who cares how they handle in a parking lot! The only other Ducatis I've ridden (996 and 900SS) were both very stable and required heavy bar inputs along with body language--they were also rock solid mid-corner. So I was a bit surprised that the Multistrada was so different.

Of course, all that is in reference to bikes that are mostly spent riding at highway speed, on well surfaced roads. If we're talking about off road bikes, or dual-sports, the rules change. In those cases, it's much more important to have good control at lower speeds and in technical situations, so they typically are much more sensitive to steering input, and easily maneuvered, but at the expense of high speed stability.

Back to the 620, it fell closer to the dual-sport side of the handling spectrum. Which it should; it's meant as a very easy to ride, do-it-all kind of bike, and it's intended to be friendly to novice riders. In those points, it succeeds very well. It's just not what i'm after.

Other points i noticed are that the suspension seemed very stiff over small bumps, transmitting a lot of harshness right into the rider. I was a little surprised by that; given the nature of the handling, i'd have expected a more plush ride. The brakes weren't terribly impressive, but i suspect that could easily be cured with lever adjustments and different pads.

My overall impression was somewhat mixed: the handling was not what I'd expected, although it shouldn't be considered a fault, just a different approach; the controls were not as 'nice' as i'd expected, although this is an entry-level bike, for Ducati. The power was not particularly thrilling, but it's only a 2-valve, air-cooled 620, so i wasn't expecting much there and it actually did better than I'd have guessed. However, it was an excellent seating position, very comfortable and in control, and from what i could tell in such a short ride (not much) the seat seemed to be pretty good. And I love the looks of these bikes. My favorite is the black plastic over a red frame. The transmission shifted very positively and without delay or needing a lot of pressure.

Next i rode the Sport Classic GT1000. While I do think this is a very cool bike--especially after riding it--it's not one that i had been considering buying. The reason for the ride is that it has the same 1000cc dual-spark motor as the Multistrada 1000, so i could get a feel for the power level and engine character.

As soon as I turned the key and hit the starter, I knew this bike had something the 620 was missing--namely, displacement! The larger engine makes itself known immediately. Also, the controls felt much more refined and higher quality. Things seemed to be more in adjustment and the clutch and brakes had much better feel.

It wasn't quite as much of an upright seating position, but close. The seat sloped forward quite a bit though, and was very slippery on my textile riding pants. I wanted to sit back a little bit but just slid right back into the tank the instant i relaxed. I guess that's where i have to sit.

Naturally, acceleration was much better, though still not on par with liquid-cooled sportbikes. I believe this engine is rated at about 95hp; even my 10 year old TL1000S makes 130hp or so from the same size v-twin, but this bike is not meant to compete with the super sports. It's a comfortable and nostalgic ride that still has plenty of oomph for spirited street riding. Aside from that though, the 1000 engine also had an excellent mid-range power delivery that is very smooth and enjoyable. It just runs out of breath as you pass seven or eight thousand RPM.

There is a GT1000 that rides past me at work every once in a while and the sound as it goes by is absolutely music to my ears. I found it to be just as satisfying while on the bike. The desmodromic valve-train also makes a rather nice sound, a little different than conventional systems.

The handling of this bike is excellent. It was much more in-line with what i'm looking for (compared to the 620). It is a good compromise for an every day bike. Easy enough in the slow stuff, but not twitchy at speed, and it feels very natural to move around on the bike a bit for the curves.

I really enjoyed this bike and would love to have one in the garage. I suspect that if i did, it would probably get ridden more frequently than anything else. It just wouldn't quite be the right ticket for the longer rides, and for carrying a passenger. And something would have to be done about the seat!

Perhaps the best thing about this motorcycle is how the character and soul just shine through the appearance. I love the round fenders and headlight, the horns, dual shocks and lack of windshield. Even though I'm too young to have memories of my own about the motorcycles that the GT1000 harkens back too, it still makes me feel a wonderful nostalgia! It doesn't dissapoint in motion though, with it's modern running gear and quality.

Unfortunately, having ridden the two bikes, i'm still not sure what to think about the 1000 Multi. If it handles identical to the 620, then i'm afraid i'm not interested. However, Dave and Kathy both advised me that the 1000 is significantly more stable and fluid at speed. I'd certainly have to try it before plopping down the cash, but that wouldn't be a problem. They even offered to prep the brand new one they had on the showroom, but I didn't want them to do that until i was ready to make a purchase.

So i'm still a bit unresolved on what to do. I've more or less lost interest in the TLS. If i sell that, and the old GS750, i could get about halfway to the cost of the Multi, which would make for a pretty bearable loan. On the other hand, for the money, i could also pick up an old KLR or Bandit 1200 or something for touring, and a used 600 sportbike for the racier times.

What to do, what to do...

Before I left, i told Dave there was one thing i had to ask, or i wouldn't be able to sleep that night: can i demo the 999? I told him there was no way i'd buy it, but if he was willing to let me ride it, i'd love the opportunity. He did, and i did.

If it's been a while (about 4 months in my case) since you've ridden a full-on sportbike, you forget just how incredible they are. You become easily impressed by lesser machines, and you forget what real acceleration and precision feel like. Well, the 999 was a wake up call! The controls were all perfect, with the exception of the rear brake, which was incredibly stiff and didn't offer much feel. The front brakes were flawless though, and while still very stable, the bike didn't need to be muscled around like the 996.

After a brisk, but not all-out, run up to 5th gear on a rural road, i looked down to see 102mph registered on the display. Hmm, doesn't feel that fast. That is at once, both the wonderful thing, and the tragic downfall of sportbikes. It's wonderful because it's so much fun, but tragic because it's just not usually a good idea on public roads with Johnny Law and the neighbor's dog on the loose.

The result is that once again, i'm doubting the likelihood of being satisfied with just one bike. A man's really gotta have half a dozen or so, now that bikes are so specialized. One bike can not do it all. The multistrada may well be the closest thing for now, for me.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Twenty Years

I'm not sure of the exact date that I began riding motorcycles, but I know that 2007 is my twentieth year. As a passenger, i rode motorcycles both in the womb, and within a month of being born. I'm quite sure that i'll never stop, so long as it's within my power to continue. My grandfather is about 85 years old, and although he had to give up motorcycles a couple years ago, he still rides 4-wheelers.

I don't see myself ever stopping. And today i'm thrilled because I'm going riding for the first time in a few months. It's beautiful blue skies and sunshine. Might even get up to 55 degrees today, which is pretty incredible here for january. Recently it's been snowboarding and snowmobiling for me, but not today!

I'll smoke a wheelie for those of you aren't riding today.